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November 1, 2016

Living in Peace

Living in Peace

All you have to do is pay a visit to Google News and read the headlines, or go to any page on Facebook, or scroll through your Twitter feed, and you’ll quickly see that we are not living in peace. Far from it. Take a look at a random sampling from the headlines at Google news.

Trump: Clinton’s foreign policy plan would start WWIII

Or this…

New York Times
Mosul Fight Unleashes New Horrors on Civilians

tank

 

Or this…

Why Pakistan Still Sees Huge Militant Attacks

Or lastly, this…

Al-Shabab attack’ on Kenyan town Mandera kills 12

Don’t get me wrong, this was by no means the extent of the violence reported; in fact, if I had included the vitriol from Facebook and Twitter, especially dealing with the elections, I wouldn’t have had room in the post. Living in peace is a difficult fact to prove.

 

Living in Peace…

…should mean just that. Living in a world where you don’t have to worry about some lunatic pulling a knife on you, or shooting you, or pushing the button to start a war. And that’s a nice vision, but the world hasn’t been living in peace for a long time. A very long time.

A History of War

Just look at our own country. We sprung to life with the Revolutionary War, followed by the War of 1812, then the War with Mexico, the Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Granada, Gulf War, Iraq War, Afghanistan… and interspersed in here were numerous wars on the American Indians, the Cold War, and others. If you add Great Britain’s history to the mix, I don’t think there has been a moment’s peace for three hundred years.

War Has Even Infiltrated Our Language

Think about it. Everything these days is a ‘war on something.’ A war on drugs, war on crime, and so many more.

And the hatred doesn’t stop with war. We dislike or distrust people based on any number of things: color, religion, sexual preferences, gender, and more. And why is that?

Because you don’t know them. You don’t understand them. You haven’t lived the life they live. I’m not saying fall into the ‘woe is me’ state of pity, but do try to empathize. Do try to put yourself in their shoes for just one minute, then, after you’re situated and comfortable, imagine it’s a lifetime.

Sometimes it seems as if we object to living in peace. As if we purposefully avoid it.

We Could Learn From the Animals

My wife and I have an animal sanctuary. At one point it had 55 animals of all kinds: pigs, horses, dogs, cats, one wild boar and even a duck. And yet, with all of those animals, we never had a serious altercation. We were living in peace.

No one killed or even hurt one another; in fact, the only problems we’ve had have been two incidents with coyotes. Below are two pictures showing one of our dogs, Slick, with the animal who became his best friend, Louise the duck.


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And even more proof of their cohabitation abilities, is the pic below. It shows one of our horses eating with the pigs. And in case you didn’t know it, most pigs don’t like to share their food. And this is not a rare occurrence. Joe (the horse) eats lunch every day with them.

 


horse and pigs eathing lunch and living in peace

 

 

Perhaps the best example though, happened a few years ago. A stray cat wandered onto our property, and about a week later, gave birth to five kittens. Less than a month later, a coyote killed her. And that night the kittens all went to sleep with Dennis, the wild boar, perhaps knowing it was the safest place on the farm. There’s not a coyote in the world crazy enough to mess with Dennis. Several times, when I went out to feed him in the morning, all five kittens were sleeping on his back. Below is a picture of Dennis.

 

 

That pic was when he was a little more than a year old. He’s now almost five years old. He weighs about 450 pounds and has 4″ tusks. One last pic.


freckles and gracie living in peace

 

This is a picture of Freckles and Gracie. Gracie is the brown dog and she’s blind (caused by long-term diabetes). Freckles has assigned herself as Gracie’s companion. She goes everywhere with her, barking to let Gracie know which way to go, and instructing her on what to do. It’s a heartwarming sight, especially if you knew Freckles, as she is not friendly to anyone else.

There are many more tales from the sanctuary, and thankfully, all of them are good tales. Not to say we don’t have our moments of heartbreak, but never has an animal given us cause to be concerned. That’s a lot more than I can say about humans.

Come on, people. It’s time we grew up and joined the rest of the world in being civilized.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series as well as books about grammar and publishing. See the complete list here.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.

October 28, 2016

Should You Buy Your Own ISBNs

ISBNs For eBooks

Many authors choose not to buy ISBNs for ebooks, although under certain circumstances— especially with distributors—you still need them. Depending on which distributor you use, you might have to pay a small amount for that unique identifying number. I know that Smashwords and Draft2Digital offer them free. Bookbaby and eBookpartnership and a few others charge a small amount—Bookbaby charges $19, and EBP charges $15. (If you use EPB’s conversion service the ISBN is free.)

If you go direct with the retailer you don’t need an ISBN. Amazon, Nook, Apple, Kobo, or Google don’t require them. (Unless something has changed recently.)

But I’m not here to talk about ebook ISBNs. We’ll do that in another post. I want to discuss the ones that seem to cause all of the trouble and confusion—ISBNs for print books.

ISBNs For Print

Are ISBNs required for print? — Yes[1]. In fact, an ISBN is required for each version of print. A 6×9 paperback would need one, and if you decided to do a hardback it would need another. If you wanted a large-print version, you’d need a third. Audio books would require yet another ISBN.

CreateSpace hands out free ISBNs as if they were candy. It’s understandable, as they only cost CS about $1.00 each. But they also offer other options for $10 and $99. The question is, should you buy them.

The free and $10 options for ISBNs can only be used with the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. If you plan to use Ingram to print in addition to CS, you’ll need your own ISBN or the $99 one from CS—or the one Ingram sells. I’m not trying to convince anyone that they should or shouldn’t purchase an ISBN; I’m simply going to show you that it makes sense to do so.

Costs of Printing A Book

Costs CreateSpace IngramSpark
Upfront Cost Free $49[2]
Annual Cost Free $12
Book[3] $4.45 $4.86
Discount 40/60% 30/40/55%
Gross profit[4] $4.55/1.55 $5.64/4.14/1.89

As you can see, CS is free to set up your books. Ingram charges a flat rate to set up, plus a $12 yearly fee. In addition, you will be charged $25 for changes made, so make sure your book is finished and the way you want it before submitting to Ingram.

Note the difference in discounts also. The 30% option is new to IS, but it has always been available with Lightning Source, in addition to a 20% option. Managing your discounts allows the potential for significantly higher profits. It all depends on your distribution strategy. We’ll cover that later.

Let’s take a look at the cost of ISBNs and where to purchase them. I’ve only listed the most common places to acquire ISBNs for print books, and that’s assuming you are using either CS or Ingram. Regardless of who you use, if you live in the US or the UK, Bowker and Nielsen are primary choices.

Cost of ISBNs

Quantity ISBNs CreateSpace IngramSpark Bowker Nielsen
1 Free/10/99 85 125 112 [5]
10 Free/100/990 850 275 225 [6]
100 Free/1,000/9,900 8,500 575

Let’s look at a few facts:

  • An ISBN is required for print books[7]. You don’t have an option.
  • If you use the free one or the $10 one from CS, you cannot use it elsewhere, which means if you decide you want to take advantage of Ingram’s distribution later on you’ll have to buy another one.
  • If you use the $99 ISBN from CS, you can use it elsewhere, but only if you don’t opt for expanded distribution.

Logic

Since you’re going to need an ISBN, you should do everything you can to make sure it’s to your advantage. Many authors decide to use CS’s free ISBN, and they don’t print with Ingram. That’s one option, but if you think you’re going to sell at least a few books outside of Amazon, it’s probably not your best option. You’d be leaving money on the table.

Let’s look at some sample data.

Book Sales

The chart below is based on CS supplying Amazon at all times, using a 40% discount. I have allowed that CS would sell as many books in expanded distribution as Ingram would, even though it is doubtful. My books sell consistently more on Ingram.

Books sold Amazon sales Other sales Inc. CS Inc. IS Yrly CS Yrly IS
10 per month 5 5 $31 $38 $366 $452
20 per month 10 10 $61 $75 $732 $900

These numbers look good even when you consider the cost of the ISBN and the cost of uploading to Ingram. If you sell only ten books per month, you’ll earn your ISBN cost back in a little more than one year, and that is assuming you pay the high price of just one ISBN. If you buy a pack of ten, the ISBNs only cost you $27 from Bowker, which means you make a profit the first year using Ingram. Every year after that is gravy.

The numbers in that chart might be optimistic for most people. For the big sellers they’re nothing, but most indies aren’t going to hit 10 print books per month, per book.

But imagine if you had five books.

The numbers really start to add up at five or more books. Let’s look at another very realistic chart.

Book Sales Based On Five Books

Books sold Amazon sales Other sales Inc. CS Inc. IS Yrly CS Yrly IS
30 per month 15 15 $93 $115 $1,098 $1,356
40 per month 20 20 $122 $150 $1,464 $1,800

With this estimate, I only counted on either 6 or 8 books per month, per book—not an unrealistic number. Let’s take the lower of the two estimates—30 per month. You would end up earning $258 more with Ingram than you do with CreateSpace. At 40 per month, you’d earn $336 more. (You still have to deduct your additional expenses from those earnings.)

Bottom Line

You may never reach the kind of numbers I’ve listed in these charts. But then again you might far surpass them. Either way, I hope this gives you some data to help in your decision making. And if you want to see a detailed comparison of the benefits of CreateSpace VS IngramSpark, take a look at these posts:

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction booksincluding the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

If you want to make sure you get all the good posts, sign up for the mailing list.


  1. If you intend to sell them in stores.  ↩
  2. Members of ALLi receive a discount.  ↩
  3. Based on 300 page, B&W, paperback, perfect bound, cream paper, matte cover.  ↩
  4. Based on retail price of $15.00  ↩
  5. Includes a one-time set-up fee of $46.  ↩
  6. plus VAT  ↩
  7. If you plan on selling them online or through brick-and-mortar stores.  ↩

October 18, 2016

Poisonous or Venomous?

Poisonous or Venomous?

Sorry it has been so long between posts, but I had the unfortunate luck to have experienced two heart attacks and two strokes last year, and all within a few weeks. And no, they weren’t the result of a poisonous or venomous snake. It kept me in the hospital for four months, and since that time I have been learning to do things with a mostly-paralyzed left side. I didn’t get to the point of being able to type again until earlier this year, so it’s been a long road. I don’t expect to get back to full swing, but posts should be more regular, like once a month or so.

As to this particular post. I didn’t know where to publish it, here or on my No Mistakes Publishing blog, but I ultimately decided here (obviously) as I often write about animals. Hope you enjoy.

Now, the Post

For all of you writers out there—if you are planning to have your hero or heroine fall prey to a poison or venom, make sure you use the right word. If not, someone will pick up on it. So, ask yourself before you write, is it poisonous or venomous?

There was a question on one of the quiz shows—how many poisonous snakes are native to North America?

The answers ranged from ‘0’ to ‘4’ and ‘5’.

The one who answered ‘4’, was probably thinking—copperhead, coral snake, cottonmouth (water moccasin), and rattlesnake. I don’t know what the one who answered ‘5’ was thinking. But the one who had the correct answer was the contestant who said, ‘0’. She was correct because there are no poisonous snakes—at least not in North America. The only one that I am familiar with is the Asian Tiger Snake, which secretes poison from the toads it eats. This snake also is venomous, so it is one of the few animals that is venomous and poisonous. (Now, there is a quiz-show question for you.)

There was another circumstance where an author used snakes as one of the key factors in their mystery. The author continually referred to them as poisonous snakes (though they weren’t). After the first or second mention, I became annoyed. Even worse, in the acknowledgments, the author even mentioned having consulted a herpetologist for advice. (The author should have found a better herpetologist.)

What’s the Difference?

Despite what you might have heard all of your life, snakes (most of them) are not poisonous—they are venomous.

The terms poison and venom are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. It is the delivery method that distinguishes one from the other.

I know. I know. This is getting picky. But if I’m reading a mystery and the author says someone was killed with a .45 caliber bullet when it was a .22, then I’m going to be upset. Confusing poison with venom is the same thing; there’s no difference. If it was venom that killed someone, I want to know. If it was poison, I want to know that.

Snakes, a few lizards, jellyfish, cephalopods, wasps, spiders, etc., inject venom, not poison. If you are bitten by a black widow spider, she injects venom into you. If you grab hold of an arrow tree frog, or eat belladonna, or happen to have had dinner with Cesare or Lucretia Borgia during their heyday, then you are/were poisoned.

Poisonous or Venomous?

To set the record straight—if a substance is injected into you, as in, bitten, stung, etc., then that is likely venom.

If you absorbed or ingested something, then you were likely poisoned. (You might absorb poison by touching a poisonous frog or you might ingest it by eating improperly prepared blowfish.)

poisonous or venomous?

Asian Tiger Snake, one of the only animals known to be poisonous and venomous.  


What Else is Poisonous, or Venomous?

To summarize the poison/venom comparisons, likely candidates are the following:

Poison Venom
arrow tree frog snake (like rattlesnake)
belladonna spider (black widow)
chemical substance lizard (gila monster)
Other plant jellyfish
Cane toad lionfish

This is by no means a comprehensive list; in fact, this is a pitifully short list, omitting hundreds of poisonous and venomous creatures and plants. For a much more comprehensive list see Wikipedia’s articles on poisonous plants and venomous animals, but don’t let it scare you.

poisonous or venomous?

poisonous or venomous?

black widow  


Have I Been Poisoned?

Have you recently had dinner with the Borgias? If not, you’ve probably been bitten or stung by something venomous.

If you’ve been poisoned, you have either absorbed or ingested a toxic substance. A poisonous animal can only deliver toxic substances if another animal touches it or eats it. (Think of a poison dart frog or a blowfish.)

Venomous animals always inject their venom, whether that be by fangs (snake or spider) or stinger (wasp, bee, jellyfish, etc.)

Exceptions to the Rule

As mentioned earlier, there is only one animal I know of that it poisonous and venomous—the Asian Tiger Snake. It earns this distinction because it is naturally venomous, and gets it’s poison from its diet—poisonous toads/frogs. The poison is then secreted through the snake’s pores and can be absorbed through touch.

poisonous or venomous?
one of only two species of ‘venomous frogs’ that I know of  

The Asian Tiger Snake is unique, however, the Greening’s frog is almost as rare. It is one of only a few species of venomous frogs known to exist. They live in South America (Where else?) and have ‘horns/spines’ on their heads that are filled with venom. The venom is so deadly it is said to be more potent than the venom produced by Brazilian pit vipers.According to Carlos Jared, in a BBC article another frog that lives in the rainforest of Brazil, known as Bruno’s casque-headed frog, has spines capable of producing venom 25 times more potent than the pitvipers. Calculations by Jared and his colleagues suggest that a single gram of the toxic secretion from a Bruno’s casque-headed frog would be enough to kill more than 300,000 mice or about 80 humans.

I don’t know about you, but I intend to stay away from frogs if I’m ever in South America.


Are All Snakes Dangerous?

There is one thing to keep in mind—whether we’re talking about a venom or a poison—with few exceptions, most of them are not lethal. And not all of the same kind are even venomous. Take the scorpion—of the more than 1,000 known species, only about half a dozen are harmful to humans. And of venomous bites by copperheads, rattlesnakes, water moccasins, and black widows, more than 90% are not fatal.

We have had 9 dogs bitten by copperheads, and not a single one died. One of the dogs (a stupid one) has been bitten 5 times now. A bite to him is barely more than a bee sting—a testament to immunity.


I hope you learned something from this post. Not all snakes and spiders, etc., should be killed.

As a writer, I hope you also learned the difference between venomous and poisonous, and that you’ll use that in your writing from now on.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series as well as books about grammar and publishing. See the complete list here

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

PS. During the past 16 years, we have caught and relocated 34 copperheads, 4 water moccasins, and 15 black widows (female). They were taken to a secluded spot in the woods several miles from here.

If you want to learn about more words like this, check out the first of my grammar books, No Mistakes Grammar, Volume I, Misused Words.

Never use a word the wrong way again

photo credit: Snakes are cool!!! via photopin (license)

photo credit: Dendrobates tinctorius (7) via photopin (license)

Bruno’s casque-headed frog (A. brunoi) (Credit: Carlos Jared/Butantan Institute)

January 27, 2015

The Bad Side of Sanctuaries

Life Is Short

I often talk about our sanctuary and how much fun we have with the animals. It’s true. They bring a tremendous amount of joy to us, and great rewards for the work we do. But there is a bad side to sanctuaries, and it’s the part I hate.

Last year was a tough one. We had numerous pit bulls dumped on our property. I wrote about some of the experience here and here.

We lost one of our more difficult cases—a pig named Pearl, and in October we said goodbye to a dog I cherished, a giant Great Dane named Briella. But the year of sadness had just begun, because we lost two more pigs in the next two months, both long before their time.

Bonnie was a sweet, shy, and loving pig who had been with us for 10 years. Ten years is a long time, but I think it was the special circumstances surrounding her that made us form such a strong bond, so let me back up and tell you a little about…

Bonnie’s Story

Back in December of 2004, Mikki (my wife) received a call from Animal Control. A sales rep at one of the furniture companies had called them and said a wild pig was living in the woods behind their warehouse. Animal Control had tried catching her but hadn’t succeeded, so they called Mikki.

The wooded area was only about 2–3 acres, but it was dense and sticker bushes were everywhere. She scoped out the area, and figured out what we needed. Within a few days, Mikki had built a trap and come up with an idea to catch her. Needless to say, since it was a pig, the idea involved food.

We set the trap, covered it with bushes and vines and placed the food in the trap. We figured she had to be hungry, as it was cold and there wasn’t much ground for her to forage. But this was a wily pig. After two weeks, we hadn’t even seen her. We found tracks, heard her deep in the brush a few times, but not even a glimpse of the real thing. It was like we were after Big Foot.

A few days later, we left some food outside of the trap to see if she’d take that. When we returned the next day, that food was gone, but the food inside the trap was still there. This was one smart pig!

A Much-Needed Rest

Mikki had spent hours per day there to no avail. Christmas was approaching, so she took a few days off. When we returned just before the new year, we discovered the pig had given birth. We didn’t know how many babies, but it looked to be four or five based on the tracks we saw in fresh mud.

The danger of those babies dying sent my wife into panic mode, and for the next two days, she stayed—day and night—sleeping in the van and roaming the woods trying to find the pig’s home. She still had no luck, but about one week later she struck gold, catching the mother pig and three babies.

My wife should have been ecstatic, but she wasn’t; she was even more worried because that meant at least one, if not two, baby piglets were out there on their own. We didn’t know how long a pig that young could survive without their mother, especially in such cold weather.

For two more weeks, Mikki spent almost every day at the site, but she came home at nights. We started to think the pigs were gone, when the sales rep called and said she spotted them early one morning—there were two of them.

Renewed Vigor

That news elated my wife, who packed her gear and set off to find these pigs. For three more days—and nights—she tried, but no luck. The pigs were eating food we left, but they wouldn’t venture into the trap. We even rounded up six volunteers one day to traipse through the woods with Mikki to try and roust them out, but we never saw them or heard a peep.

Mikki and I had to go on a business trip, and it killed her leaving the hunt, but she recruited a few volunteers to keep watch. On the third day, we got the call.

The Hunt Was Over

My son picked up the pigs and brought them to the sanctuary. Somehow, they were healthy. We arrived home a few days later, and it was a sight to see. These babies were so full of play, and so happy, it made it all worthwhile.

Take a look at the video of Bonnie and her sister playing. This was during their first week home. Now you can see why they were next to impossible to catch—they’re fast!


 

The picture is of the babies and their mother grazing in the field.

 

This picture was taken a few years ago. Bonnie is on the left,
and her siblings are scattered about. I think they were searching
for acorns—a favorite fall pastime.

 

Something Is Wrong

We had a lot of fun with Fiona (the mother) and her babies over the years. They earned the nickname of “The Wild Bunch” and they made sure to continually earn that nickname, too.

Early this fall I noticed something wrong with Bonnie. When I called the group for lunch, she was slow to respond.

When a pig is late for lunch, you know something is wrong. Pigs don’t miss meals.

Bonnie’s behavior continued for a few days, but then she seemed to return to normal. After another week, though, she was back at it, some days even missing her meal. We called the vet, but he found nothing. Mikki checked her and found nothing. We were puzzled, as Bonnie wasn’t that old, not compared to some of our other pigs.

The next week was hit and miss, but I noticed when she did eat, she wasn’t eating as much, or with the same gusto as she normally did. I started bringing her special treats: apples, tomatoes, grapes, and occasionally cantaloupe (her favorite).

It soon got to where she wasn’t eating at all, but every day she came when I called, and she waited on the side of the fence, staring up at me, knowing I had treats for her. She would stand still and let me pet her while she ate, something Bonnie had never been fond of doing.

A Few Last Treats

The next day, I bought her two cantaloupes and she got to eat one all by herself. I swear that pig was smiling while she ate. She even seemed to have some of her energy back.

I told Mikki about it that night and we thought maybe she was improving. The next day, when I went to feed, she didn’t come when I called.

My heart sank. I knew. I knew she wasn’t coming.

I called twice more, but when she didn’t show up I went looking for her. She was in her barn, snuggled in the hay.

Goodbye Bonnie

We buried her under a couple of big oaks. She loved acorns, so we thought it would be appropriate.

This was Bonnie the day before she died. I didn’t often get pictures of her, but for some reason I took one that day. I’m glad I did.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

BTW: If anyone has an urge to make a tax-deductible donation to our sanctuary, I won’t stop you. And Dennis, AKA, the Great and Wonderful—will look favorably upon you.

Our site isn’t set up yet, but you can email me at jg@tuskanyfalls.com for details. Thanks!

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

January 13, 2015

Christmas and Lasagna

Lasagna Is Part of Christmas

If food isn’t one of your priorities, you might want to skip this post. On the other hand, if you want to see what a great Christmas dinner looks like, read on.

Family And Food

My apologies for missing a few weeks of posts, but family and holidays take precedence, especially when food is involved, and being Christmas, we had lots of food! Below is a picture of the pan of lasagna Mikki made. She also made a few more pans for friends who had begged and bribed her. For those of you who haven’t been told a few dozen times or seen my many posts on lasagna (one of my favorite dishes), I’ll state it again…

Mikki makes what I think is the best lasagna in the world. Bar none.

 

 

I know what you’re thinking, that I’m biased because I’m her husband. Not so. To give you an idea of how good her lasagna is I’ll relate a true story.

My brother’s wife (now his ex-wife) loved Mikki’s lasagna so much that even though they are divorced, she still comes to dinner when lasagna is cooked (and she brings her new fiancé). I’m not certain about this next statement, but she may have negotiated the “dinner invitations” as part of the divorce settlement.

So, when it comes to food, I don’t hold back on my criticism, or praise. If Mikki makes a dish I don’t like, I tell her. When it comes to food, there is no room for political correctness.

Back To Dinner

My wife is always complaining about what she cooks, swearing that it isn’t up to par, when in fact, it’s magnificent. The joke around the house is that if she owned a restaurant she would greet everyone with something like this:

“Lasagna is the special tonight, but you probably won’t like it. It’s not as good as my usual.”

But I have to say that this year my wife outdid herself. She credits everything to a new frying pan—the CucinoPro—and although I admit it’s a great pan, I think it had more to do with my wife’s cooking skills.

 

 

Two days before Christmas, she started. Before she was done she had cooked 12 pounds of meatballs, and 46 pounds of lasagna! The one big tray pictured below weighed in at 30.2 pounds. The other three trays totaled 16 pounds.

On top of all that, my ex-sister-in-law and her fiancé brought wine–lots of it.

I told her she didn’t have to, but I think she wanted to ensure her seat at the table for next time. I also think that her fiancé realizes that if it comes down to a decision between him and the lasagna–he’ll be left holding the short straw.

No Gifts For Me

When I was a kid—like all kids—I loved getting gifts. Nothing has changed except the kind of gifts I look forward to are different. I no longer crave material gifts, just family and friends—and a good meal. So my son was kind enough to provide me with additions to Mikki’s fantastic meal. He cooked two of my favorites:

 

A mushroom medley to be enjoyed on crostini.
And one of my all time favorites—homemade ricotta with pears and cinnamon.

Needless to say, we munched on these all day—until it was time for dinner—and then we waited a few hours and started up again.

I’m embarrassed to say that I was caught eating the ricotta and pears the next morning for breakfast.

Unfortunately, like all good things, this too came to an end. But I kept these pictures so I can tease myself as we race toward Easter Sunday, when it starts all over again.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy some of these pics.


My niece Emiliana learning the family recipe.
Meatballs in the new pan. (below)
 

Mikki making meatballs (12 pounds of them!)

Lasagna

Now that I’ve looked at all the pictures, I’m hungry, so I’m off to find something to eat. But thanks to everyone for stopping by. I wish everyone a fantastic new year.ciao,Giacomo

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction booksincluding the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

December 16, 2014

Do Animals Mourn Over Death?

Animal Grieving

I’m sure many of you have seen articles or TV shows, or something that depicted animals grieving over the loss of one of their own. Dolphins and elephants seem to comprise the majority of the examples, but the list is far wider than just those two. My wife and I have had an animal sanctuary for about 20 years, and we average 45 animals at any given time. Despite the amount of work involved, and the money, it is a unique opportunity for us to observe a lot of animal behavior. Unfortunately, I had the chance to do just that a few weeks ago.

A Great Loss

One of my favorites on the sanctuary was a giant female Great Dane—Briella. She weighed 180 pounds, and stood 34.5 inches at the shoulder. Her chest was 44 inches. This was a big girl! You can get an idea of her size in the pictures below.

         

But Brie’s size isn’t what made her special. Great Danes are often called “Gentle Giants” because of their amiable personalities, and it was never more true than with Briella. She loved everyone she met, whether it was a person, a dog, a pig, and even cats.

Despite her size, she was terrified of our little dog Freckles—a fifteen pound monster that picked on poor Brie constantly.

We knew that Great Danes don’t live long. In fact, their lifespan on average is 6-8 years, earning them another, less endearing nickname, “The Heartbreak Breed”. Because of their size, they are prone to hip dysplasia and a host of heart diseases.

We knew all of that, and yet we had high hopes—she had turned 10 years old in September and was still going strong. She looked as if she had lost a few pounds, but not much. And she still ran every day, and jumped four-foot fences as if they were nothing. If Freckles was after Brie, I think she might have jumped a six-foot fence.

          

The First Signs

One night in late September, I noticed she appeared a little thinner. I said something to Mikki about it and we thought it might be just old age. The next week she was noticeably thinner again. We took her to the vet, and discovered she had cancer, and it had spread throughout her body. When we weighed her, we discovered it was worse than we had imagined—she was down to 125 pounds. The vet said there was nothing to do for her.

We said our goodbyes and had the vet put her to sleep. Then we brought her home to bury. Mikki always lets the other animals smell whoever passed, to let them know what happened. When we first started the sanctuary I wondered if this was crazy, or if they would realize what had transpired.

I don’t wonder anymore.

A Time To Mourn

We brought Briella to the big gate separating one part of the property from another. All the dogs were lined up, and each one sniffed her, then they all sat down and just stared for a few moments. After that, everyone went back to their business—all except Butters (Brie’s sister).

Butters stayed at the gate and watched as we buried Brie. Two hours later, she was still there. And four hours after that.

For the next week, Butters went out early in the morning and planted herself by the gate, most of the time just staring out where Brie was buried.

If it had been any other dog, I might not have thought it so odd, but the thing is, that for the ten years we had Butters, she almost never went outside. She would venture out once or twice a day for half an hour or so, and to do her business, but that was the extent of it. This was, without question, a period of mourning her sister.

The behavior continued for another few days, but not as diligently as before. Every morning she’d come out to the gate, but she didn’t stay as long. By the end of the second week, she was back to her old routine of staying inside almost all day. It was a touching display of emotion, and it wasn’t the only time we’ve seen this. The pigs have shown it and even Joe, the horse. But those stories are for another post. All I can tell you is if I had ever questioned, “do animals mourn over death”, I no longer did.

For a long time, scientists refused to recognize that animals had a full range of emotions, but more of them are finally coming around to realizing they were wrong. If you ever get to see it firsthand, it is undeniable, and it’s something you won’t forget.

We don’t have many videos of Briella, but this is a short one of her stealing a cookie from the table. It is times like these when I regret not taking time for that extra video.

 

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

PS: For a heartbreaking story of an animal mourning, check this story about Ciccio, the dog

December 9, 2014

How To Tighten Up Your Writing

I’m Having A Very, Very, Very Bad Day

Have you ever taken a hard look at the word very? I’m not talking about the use of very as an adjective, or even the use of very as an adverb meaning “truly” or “the actual fact”. I’m referring to the very we hear every day, many times a day—very as an adverb meaning “to a high degree”.

Here are a few sample definitions from Merriam-Webster:

  • Exceedingly (very hot)
  • Exceedingly (didn’t hurt very much)

These are the uses of very that grow very tiring.

What Prompted Me To Write About Very?

At night, after all the animals are fed, I set up at a desk in the kitchen to write. Our family room is next to it and my wife watches TV or reads there. One night while she was watching CNN, I heard Anderson Cooper and another newscaster say the word very so many times I had to stop. I asked my wife to use the DVR and rewind, and this time I counted. In about 24 minutes of air time, they said very 18 times. On two occasions, there was a repeat as in “this was very very serious.”

Ordinarily I wouldn’t care, but these are professionals, reporting for a major news channel. Can’t they do better than very?

The Danger of Intensifiers

An intensifier is described by Merriam-Webster as:

a word (such as really or very ) that gives force or emphasis to a statement.

During the normal course of conversation, you would miss the occasional use of very, but far too often language is riddled with such usage. And writing is even worse. I quickly did a search of my work-in-progress and discovered a few too many uses of very. It forced me to think about that saying—tighten up your writing—in a new light. The good news is that it’s very easy to avoid using “very”.

There is a quote by one of my favorite authors.

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very,” and your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~ Mark Twain.

Of course nowadays, no editor is going to strike out the word damn, but the point is well taken.

Very, used in this context, is known as an intensifier, but in reality it weakens sentences.

How To Fix The Problem and Tighten Up Your Writing

Very is almost always used by writers and/or speakers to make a point, to emphasize something. There are far better ways of doing that. Here are a few examples:

Instead of saying… Say…
Very hot scorching[1]
Very angry enraged
Very pretty gorgeous
Very clean spotless
Very fast quick or rapid
Very hungry starved
Very cold bitter or freezing[2]
Very stupid an imbecile

I think you get the point. Very is not needed in almost every case when it is used as an intensifier. Take a minute and use these examples in sentences. Say each sentence using very, and then each one using the alternate word. I think you’ll see what I mean.

Here are a couple to try out.

  • It was very hot today.
  • It was scorching today.
  • She was very angry at her husband for cheating on her.
  • She was enraged at her husband for cheating on her.
  • I’m very hungry; I haven’t eaten all day.
  • I’m starved; I haven’t eaten all day.

Other Problem Words

I’m picking on the word very, but the rest of the intensifiers are just as guilty. Here’s a very short list.

  • So, as in he is so short.
  • Too, as in that is too much.
  • Really, as in she is a really nice person.
  • Rather[3], as in he was a rather nice chap.
  • Incredibly, as in that was incredibly cool.
  • Absolutely, as in that was absolutely the best.

There are plenty more intensifiers to consider. Wikipedia has a good list for reference.

Bottom Line

The next time you’re talking, or especially when you’re writing, avoid the temptation to use very. Start with that one intensifier, and once you have that down as a habit, start on another one.

If you like grammar posts, here’s one on a saying people mix up all the time.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction booksincluding the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”


  1. or 104°  ↩
  2. or cite the temperature  ↩
  3. used quite often in the UK  ↩

December 1, 2014

How To Use Markdown

Markdown Spices Up Your Writing

Markdown was developed by John Gruber.

Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).

The above was taken from Gruber’s website.

I shied away from trying Markdown for a long time because I don’t know how to write code or do html, and I don’t understand anything that goes beyond simple typing and styles.

But I was intrigued by what seemed like the simplicity of the language, and even more so by the beauty of it. Imagine turning plain text into beautiful documents without a lot of trouble—or so they said. Finally I broke down and decided to give it a try.

After a few feeble attempts, I was about to give up. The basics were easy enough:

  • Using # for Headings
  • Using – or * for unordered lists and numbers for ordered lists
  • A simple > turned text into block quotes
  • And using one asterisk on each side of a word or phrase produced italics. Using two bold.

All of this was fine. But when I ventured into more complex territory I became frustrated. Simple tasks like right and left alignment, making tables, inserting images, etc. It seemed as if I needed to attend software development classes just to get by.

But the lure of what it could do inspired me to keep trying.

One of the nicest things about learning how to use Markdown is the freedom it gives you. I can write entire blog posts on my iMac or iPad without my fingers leaving the keyboard. And then, with a few more keystrokes, I can post it to WordPress, Tumblr, and many other places, including categories and tags.

Here are a few examples of how to turn dull plain text into a great post.

How To Use Markdown

For headings, you simply use hashtags, so when I use one hashtag whatever follows it will be transformed into a primary heading, like this:

This Is How You Make A Heading

If I used three or five hashtags it would look like this:

This Is How You Make A Number Three Heading

And a Number Five Heading

To make a list, you have a few options. I choose the hyphen. Place a hyphen and then a space and whatever follows it will be preceded by a bullet point. (Note, you have to have an extra line between the previous text and your list.)

  • This is a list, but I didn’t have to leave the keyboard to make it.
  • And this is line two.

And this is a block quote (made by using a >followed by a space and then text.)

The Hard Stuff

Everything I’ve showed you so far has been the easy stuff. How about tables and footnotes and images and links?

I have to admit that, at first, I was put off by these and so I wasn’t getting the benefit I should have from Markdown. I would end up writing a post, putting it on WordPress and then inserting images the way I had always done before. If tables were involved it was trickier. And then I got the idea of using a text shortcut app to get the results I wanted.

The following is an example of what you need to do to insert images from your media library on WordPress.

<a href="http://giacomogiammatteo.com"><img src="IMAGE" width="" height="" border="0"></a>

As you can see that’s a lot to remember, so I simply made a shortcut in my shortcut app that expands to this when I type “imagelinkgg”.

Let’s Break This Down

The “gg” part of my shortcut tells the expansion to insert my website address for giacomogiammatteo.com. If someone clicks on the image that will be in the post, it will take them to that site. If I’m writing a blog for my career site, I simply use “imagelinknm” and it takes clickers to “nomistakes.org”.

That’s all great, but the magic comes in next. See the “image” part of the Markdown? All you have to do is replace that with the url of the image on your site and the image will appear. I’m going to show you a link for a pic of one of our rescues, Hotshot.

That doesn’t even begin to address all that you can do with Markdown. Once you grow accustomed to it, even complex posts become easy, and, as I said, the best news is you can write all of this on your iPad and publish it in minutes. I’m sure you can do it on other tablets, but I think there are far more Markdown apps for the Mac and IOS.

Here’s a link to a post I did on CreateSpace and IngramSpark. It was written on my iPad, tables, images, and all.

But That’s Not All

One of my favorite things is being able to make signatures embedded with images and links, and all using plain text Markdown. Here are a few examples:

Please note, you can click on any of the social media icons to connect with me, or the book trailer link to view that.


Have a great day,

Giacomo

Giacomo (Jim) Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

Book Trailer
Website: Giacomo Giammatteo
eMail: gg@giacomog.com

youtubetwittertumblrslideshareredditpinterestlinkedingoogle-+Facebook64

 




The best part of all is I can produce that signature using my text expansion app simply by typing in ggsig.

Bottom Line

I’ve only touched on the basics of what can be done, but the bottom line is Markdown can make your life simpler and help you come across more professionally. If you do guest posts, it’s only one click away to export your Markdown post into an html document which can be uploaded in seconds to a WordPress blog—images and all. Your host will love you for it.

I hope you got some use out of this. If you did please consider signing up for the mailing list

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

November 11, 2014

What Makes A Good Book?

How Important Is Character Development?

Since books have been written, and especially since “bestsellers” have been on the minds of publishers, almost everyone has tried figuring out what makes a good book.

Some people swear it’s plot—that a well-developed mystery with a few good twists will keep readers turning pages. Others swear that character development is the key—the glue that holds it all together. And there is a segment of the analysts who insist it is neither plot nor character development, but storytelling that drives word of mouth, and therefore, sales.

Regardless of what it is, it doesn’t seem to be the same thing for all people. Take a look at the books on top of the list of bestsellers and you’ll find the reviews often have more conflict than the books. I just checked Gone Girl, which has been lingering near the top of the list for a long time. It has an astounding 29,000+ reviews on Amazon, and more than 4,600 of them are either one- or two-star reviews. That means that for every three people who felt the book was fantastic, another person thought it was garbage.

So, who is right?

Nobody’s right. And everyone is right. Different books appeal to different people. Look at some of the other bestsellers and you’ll see what I mean.

Divergent (book one in the series) got almost universally rave reviews, but Allegiant (book three), received more than 4,600 one- and two-star reviews out of 14,000+. Far worse than Gone Girl fared. And Fifty Shades of Grey had almost 10,000 one- and two-star reviews out of a total of 27,000+.

 

What does that tell you?

Nothing, except that something in those books got people talking. Some conflict made people think and discuss the books, which in turn drove sales. Once a book crosses a certain threshold, it doesn’t matter whether it is loved or hated, as long as people are talking about it.

What Is It That Makes You Buy The Next Book?

Or put a book down?

  • What makes you stay up late reading, even when you’re tired?
  • What makes you eager to pick up the book and start reading again?
  • What makes you put a book down, and quit on it?
  • What are your pet peeves?

It seems more and more difficult to write a book today that is considered realistic without resorting to foul language. What do you feel about that?
What are your thoughts about violence in books?

Do you like books where the killer is known up front, or where you have to guess who did it?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment or drop me a line.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

November 4, 2014

What A Copy Editor Can Do For You

Don’t Ignore The Copy Editor

If you’ve ever wondered what a copy editor can do for you, you’re not alone. It’s a decision that thousands of self-published authors face each day, and many of them choose not to engage a pro. I think that’s a decision made on budget and not on common sense. I’ve put together a short Infographic to demonstrate just what a good copy editor can do. If you want more details, check out the posts I did here and here.

 

what a copy editor can do for you

 

 
This is but one tiny example. A good copy editor will transform your manuscript into something beautiful, something precious, something error free. And that’s what you want. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read where mistakes and typos almost made me put the book down. In fact, I messed up a few months ago and uploaded the wrong ebook, using the one I had sent to beta readers instead of the one produced after the copy editor. I was mortified, but fortunately I caught it about one week after it went up.

If I had to choose only two things to spend money on when it came to my book it would be a great cover designer and a great copy editor.

###If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”




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  • This blog will be a little different from many you see. Contrary to the characters in my books, I don’t really kill people, or catch those who do, so the blogs might be about reading, or writing, or animals. These are the things I have great passion for. It might also contain posts about food, or ancestry, or substance abuse. My oldest son is a great cook. My daughter is a genealogist (rootsintheboot.com) and my youngest son is a recovering drug addict. He has been clean for three years, and runs a rehab center (intoactionrecovery.com).

    I hope you enjoy the posts, and please let me know what you think.

    Ciao,

    Giacomo

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