Monday, August 12, 2013

Legal Aspects of Publishing

Legal Aspects of Publishing

o   Copyright
                + Unless the work is in "public domain" you should use caution when quoting work, including
                                song lyrics, poems, etc.  To obtain permission to use musical works, you will need to      
                                contact ASCAP or BMI to find out who owns the rights to the work, and you will need to
                                pay royalties for any quote beyond a single line.
                + Book and song rights may be owned by more than just the author - the publishing company
                                often owns most of the rights to a work.  Send requests with an authorization form and
                                include a SASE to facilitate the process for the person or company you are contacting.
                +Rights are protected for 95 years from publication date or 120 years from production date for
                                anonymous work, and for 70 years after the death of the last living contributor.  So, if
                                you and Joan Rivers co-write a book, you can be sure the book will be protected for all
                + You cannot copyright an idea.  Do not become infuriated if someone writes "fan fiction" based
                                on your work - the person is not stealing from you.  If you created the world of
                                "Bumarth" keep in mind you do not own that idea.  Other people can write in that world
                                and be protected.  Many people have written in the Star Wars universe, for example,
                                and for contemporary fiction, set in "planet Earth in the year 2013"
                + What is protected are your words.  similar words can be protected also, but only if to a
                                common person the new phrase draws images of the original too closely (e.g., "Duke, I
                                am your father.")
                + You can copyright the content and cover of your work
                + Avoid the "Poor Man's Copyright" method in which you mail yourself a copy of the work and
                                keep the sealed, stamped envelope in a safe until you have to present it in court.  This
                                does not hold up well in court, and lawyers are notorious for raising doubt as to the
                                validity of any evidence presented, and a stamped envelope is an easy target.
                + Copyrighting can take 30-90 days to process for electronic submissions.
                + Copyrighting a work costs $30 for online submissions, $60 for traditional (snail mail).  You will
                                need to submit a summary of your work, along with a complete copy. 

o  Trademark
                + There are two types of marks that can be protected by the government: A word or phrase
                                ("Coca-Cola", "UPS", "What can Brown do for you?"),
                                or a symbol/picture (ups_logo.jpg).
                + A logo can be protected one of two ways: specific to the color, or black and white (which
                                protects all variations in color).
                + A  "™" means the person or company is claiming exclusive use of the phrase or logo, but is not
                                registered with the USPTO - so they may not be protected.  However, infringing on this
                                claim can still leave you open to a lawsuit.
                + A "®" means the product is protected by the USPTO and you cannot produce anything similar
                                with the same name or similar logo.  The basis for infringement is in the perception of
                                the consumer, so it is a subjective assessment in a court of law.
                + A "SM" symbol is like a trademark, but it protects a service rather than a product (Tanning
                                session, delivery service).
                + You can trademark a publishing company name or logo, or a subsidiary name or logo
                + Trademarks can take 7 to 18 months for review for electronic submissions, and last 7 years.    
                +Trademarks cost $375 for traditional filing, $325 for electronic filing.  Keep in mind there are
                                other fees that you MUST pay in addition to the filing fee, and those vary depending on
                                the type and the planned use.  Expect to pay closer to $900 to $1,000 per trademark. 
                                You should also do an extensive search to confirm that you can lay claim to the
                                trademark before you file, or you will lose your money and your time.  For more
                                information on fees for trademarks, go to

o   Using real names in your work - Libel (Note that laws vary by state - this is a generalization)
                + The law protects two aspects of a person's rights - the "Double "D"s: disclosure and
                                                - Disclosure is the right of a person's embarrassing secrets to remain      
                                                                private.  Even if true, these details should not be in your book unless
                                                                they are crucial to your story.  For example, "Al Roker pooped his
                                                                pants".  He has admitted this, but it does not mean you should use it in
                                                                your book or story. 
                                                - Defamation  is the declaration (as fact) of negative information about a person
                                                                or business.  If you include something negative about a real person or
                                                                company, be sure you have PLENTY of supporting evidence in case you
                                                                need to defend yourself in a lawsuit. 
                + You can protect yourself by having your subjects sign a waiver stating that they allow
                                the use of their name and description in your work for "liberal use".  This is not
                                easy to obtain from people, but you can try.
                +You can also place a legal disclaimer on the copyright page to state the work is fictional, or
                                fictional "based on true events".  Regardless, you should avoid using real names.
                + The law protects opinions, so you can declare your statements as opinions rather than fact.
However, you must truly believe the statement and be able to swear under oath that it is an opinion.

Here are two examples of opinions: "That Joseph - I don't like him. I believe he goes home and drops on all fours every night and licks his dog's bowl clean." This will be deemed a statement with malicious intent, because there is no basis for your opinion.

Compare that to the following: "That Joseph - his breath always smells like Alpo. I truly believe he gets home and eats out of his dog's bowl." That's a protected opinion.

                + If a person is deceased, it is called "calumny" - and it is protected by law.  Usually a dead
                                person cannot be defamed because they have no character to defend.  However, if the              
                                accusation reflects poorly on somebody else, you can be sued.  For example, "Robert
                                Ferguson, deceased, in his final years, hosted wild parties filled with drugs, alcohol, and
                                kinky sexual orgies."  This would be fine, unless Robert Ferguson lived with his wife and
                                kids in his final years.  This implicates the wife and the kids, and they can each sue you
                                for defamation.
o   Using a pen name
                + Pen names are used to write in different genres than the ones for which you're known (e.g.,
                                Stephen King with "The Green Mile" or "Shawshank Redemption").
                + Publishers ask you to use different names in a few of your works
                + You write too many books.  They say in writing your only competition is yourself, and that
                                couldn't be more true than for a prolific writer.  If you release 5 books in a month,
                                readers will most likely only choose one to buy, then turn to a different author.  Unless
                                it's the Harry Potter Series.
                + To protect your family or yourself from rabid fans
                + To hide gender
                +Using a pen name can affect inheritances, royalty checks, and copyright.  It cannot protect you
                                if you use it to plagiarize someone else's work, defame someone, or break the law.         

o   Legal disclaimers and what they protect
                + A legal disclaimer will protect you legally, but it will not stop someone from suing you.  Also, if
                                you use real names, products, or places and defame them using accurate descriptions to
                                the real-life version, you will not be protected.
                + Always use a legal disclaimer.  If your book becomes a bestseller, there will be thousands of
                                people who will try to get a free ride and take your hard-earned money the easy way. 
                                Don't make it easier for them.

o   The title of your book
                + The title of your book cannot be copyrighted unless it becomes an implied copyright.  That is,
                                you can't title your book, "50 Shades of Gray" or "The Perks of Being a Wallfower".
                                Some variations can be used, but it must be significantly different, such as "80 Shades of
                                Gray" or "The Perks of Being a Floorflower", but not "50 Shades of Grey" and "The Perks
                                of Being Wallflowers".

o   Characters
                + Characters cannot be copyrighted, unless you copyright them in design (like in graphic novels
                                and comic books, or children's picture books).  Don't waste your time with a Sysyphean
                                task suing someone who "stole" your character.
                + Character names cannot be copyrighted, but they can be trademarked if they become a brand,
                                like "Yoda", "Darth Vader", Harry Potter, etc.  These trademarks only protect the name
                                when used in reference to that character specifically.  So, if you create a dog character
                                named "Harry Potter" the trademark does not apply.

o   Lawyers and liars
                + Lawyers are expensive, but sometimes necessary to protect you in your career. 
                + Have a lawyer review every agreement, contract, or legal document before you sign it
                + A signed napkin can serve as a contract, so don't sign anything if you don't agree
                + Do not let your ego blind you - the recent boom in independent authors has opened a
                                floodgate of scams, including fake publishing companies, agents, and more.  Before you
                                agree to any terms or submit work to a website (an implied agreement in the eyes of
                                the law), have a lawyer review the terms. 
                + If it was too easy to secure a publishing contract, it's probably fake.  Do your research - look on
                      , and similar sites.  Ask
                                other authors.
                + Join a reputable writer's guild or organization - they provide agent and publishing company
                                listings and also publish reports on scams.
                + A typical entertainment lawyer charges between $70 and $150 per hour for consultations, and
                                $300-$5000 for document review.           

o   Artwork / Photography
                +Try to get the artist or photographer to produce work for you as "work for hire",
                                which means the rights to the work are all transferred to you.  If you fail to do this,
                                you may have problems down the line when using the work on business cards, flyers,
                                advertisements, etc.
                + If you do your own photography, be aware that the photographer retains all rights to any
                                photographs, but it is recommended that you get signed disclaimers from any
                                subjects (people) who appear in the photograph to avoid problems in the future.
                + If your photograph contains any trademarked product, try and get permission to use the
                                product in your photograph or edit the trademarked portion with photo editing
                + Stock photography can be purchased for commercial use at or similar
                                sites, or you can hire someone to do art or photography for you.
                + Work for hire (photo and art) can cost you from $100 to $750.

o  Royalties
                + The royalties you earn will vary depending on your contract, and if you self-publish you will
                                need to check the terms offered by the website or publishing house. 
                + Agents typically charge between 10 and 20% royalties, with 15% being the most common. 
                                Have a lawyer review your contract before you sign it.

o Works for hire
                + Writing for a publication (magazine, journal, newspaper), ghostwriting, copywriting,   some                                     freelance writing, etc.
                + When you do a "work for hire", you usually give up rights of ownership and grant them to the                                                publisher or purchaser.

o   Plagiarism
                +  If you have contracts with various publishers be careful quoting your other work.  Depending
                                 on your contract, you may actually be plagiarizing yourself.  Ask Neil Young - he sued
                                himself once for copyright infringement; well, not he to himself, but one record
                                company sued another for copyright infringement when Young copied lines from one
                                song and added them to another.
                + Plagiarism occurs even with paraphrasing if proper credit is not given to the original author.

o   Citation and MLA / APA Standards
                + Formal citations are usually not necessary for fictional works, but be aware that in the literary
                                field MLA is the standard.  Thus, you need to cite line and page numbers if you quote,
                                paraphrase, or use a concept presented by another writer in your non-fiction work.
                + is a great way to quickly type an ISBN number or enter the
                                details of the work and get the proper way to cite the work.  
                +  Even personal accounts and interviews need to be cited.

o   "Cease and desist"
                + Before bringing a civil lawsuit against anyone, keep in mind that civil suits are ruled by
                                preponderance of the evidence.  That is, whichever side presents the most plausible
                                case will win, even with reasonable doubt.  you must establish two things: intent and
                                - Intent is established by proving that the offender did the stealing on purpose.  This
                                                is simply established by first sending a "cease and desist" letter, demanding the
                                                offender remove the stolen portion form their work.  Your letter should be very
                                                specific with whatever it is you are claiming - provide complete paragraphs,
                                                descriptions, etc.  Define your claim to rights (trademark, copyright, service
                                                mark), the date or year you secured those rights, and a statement that you are
                                                demanding immediate correction to comply with the law.
                                - Plausibility is established by proving that the person had the means and opportunity to
                                                come across your work and has seen it in detail.  If your work is available on
                                       ,, or other popular website, you have that
                                                established already.  Facebook, your blog, and your personal website do not
                                                count, unless the person is one of your followers or friends.
o   Tools to help monitor who is stealing from you:
                + Sign up for Google Alerts (, which will send you an email whenever
                                the specified terms appear on a new website or search.  Others include Yahoo
                                (, and
                +Pay a company to monitor your online presence.  Here's an article on that:

o Websites recommended also include: DemonJack and

Saturday, August 10, 2013

It's Always Been There!

Shark Short #5 - another kids' story.  Enjoy!

It's Always Been There!

I quickly swam up to where the guys were swimming in circles, around some human in his tight black suit.  The man was taking pictures of the guys and feeding them some tuna carcass - you know, the usual.  I waved a fin for Perry to come over just outside the group to where I was.  I was so excited for him to see.

"Do you think she'll notice," I asked as he swam my way. 

"Oh my GOLDFISH!" he screamed.

"What?  Is it that awesome?" I asked.

"It's hideous!  Why would you do that?" he asked in shock.

"What?  It's just a gold tooth.  I got it at the old wreckage by the reef.  One of the eels found it for me, and it fit perfectly over my tooth.  Maybe you didn't see it clearly.  Thsee?"   I opened my mouth and showed him my new gold canine.

He looked confused.  "Who cares about your tooth?  I was talking about the black sea urchin on your head.  What... why?" he said, holding his fins out.

I reached a fin to the top of my head and felt the spiky thing on my head. 

"Oh this?  What are you talking about, it's always been there!"

"No it hasn't, Ronald," he said sternly.

"Sure it has.  Remember at your party two years ago?"

"Ah, I'm thinking no." 

"Well, maybe you just weren't paying attention."
Just then, Todd came swimming my way.  The human was heading back up to the surface, so the fun was over.

"What in the SHELL?"  He screamed before breaking into uncontrollable laughter.

"Do you like my new tooth," I asked, "I got it to impress Lola."

"Forget your tooth, man.  Ronald, why are you wearing that RIDICULOUS thing on your head?"

"Oh, the urchin?  What are you talking about, it's always been there."

"You look like the humans, how they wear those sea urchin-looking things on their heads."

"That's their hair.  And I have always had this.  That's why Lola likes me - because I have hair like a superstar."

"No, man. She'll never talk to you again if you show her that."

Kyle swam toward us  and when he saw me he just fell into hysterics.

"What?  Don't tell me you're laughing at my urchin."

"What were you thinking when you put that thing on top of your head?" asked Kyle.

"Really, Ronald.  Of all your silly ideas, this has to be the worst," added Perry.

"You better go hide, man.  Look, Lola's coming," whispered Todd.

"Oh man, what should I do?" I asked.

"HIDE!" screamed all my friends in unison.

I quickly hid behind a rock and watched as Lola swam toward the guys.  She was so beautiful.  Her dorsal fin was so smooth and pointy.  Her gills opened and closed like a jellyfish swimming.  Her beautiful black eyes were hollow, empty - just the way I like them.  And her teeth - her four rows of teeth were just perfect.  Her teeth went every which way, her gums nice and pink.  She was chewing on a lionfish, one of its flamboyant fins hanging out the side of her mouth.  She was so beautiful.

"Hi Lola," said Kyle.

"You look especially scary today," said Perry.

She looked left to right at the guys and continued swimming toward the reef.  After she'd passed, I came out.  "Oh, man I want to take her out for tuna one of these days," I said.

"Good luck while you're wearing that thing," said Kyle.
Ugh.  The love game was so hard to play.  I swam away from the guys and stayed by the rocks, swimming past all sorts of other marine life.  I reached the wreckage and went into the sunken ship to explore it a bit. 

"Hey handsome," I heard a voice call out from behind me.  I turned around and saw that it was Lola.

"Oh!  Hi... Lola,"  I said, as I tried to cover the urchin with my fins, but they were too short unless I turned my head to the side - but that would just look awkward.  I decided to play it cool and forced a smile.

 "Wow, nice tooth!" she said.

I had forgotten about the gold tooth.  "Oh, this old thing?  An eel gave it to me here at the wreckage," I said.

"I like it!"


Lola came over to me and looked closer at it.  "Wow, it's really fancy."

"I know.  The minute I saw it I knew I had to have it.  Hey, what are you doing for dinner?"

"I don't know.  I was thinking of hanging out near the reef - some human is bound to come down to feed us."

"Oh!  I was going to do the same thing.  Why don't we go together?" I asked.

"Sure, I'd like that!" she replied.

We spent the day swimming together, scaring sea turtles and exploring the reef.  When dinnertime came along, we almost missed it because we were having so much fun together.  As we swam toward the guys, who were already circling a couple of humans, Kyle turned toward us. 

"Hey guys," he said, "What are you guys up to?"

"We just came to play with the humans and have a nice tuna dinner," I said.

"So... you guys together now?" asked Perry as he came toward us.

"Yep.  See?  Lola is wearing my gold tooth," I said.

"But what about - you know - the thing on his head?" asked Todd as he joined our group.  I could see the humans taking pictures of us in the distance.

"What?  The sea urchin?" asked Lola.  She turned to me and looked at it.  She squinted her eyes.  I gulped hard.  Oh no, I thought, I forgot to take it off!  Now what was I going to do?

"Yeah that hideous black sea urchin," added Perry.  "Do you like it?"

Lola turned her mouth sideways and looked up into her head.  "Hasn't it always been there?"

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Five Lessons From Mother

Shark Short #4.  Enjoy!

Five Lessons From Mother

As I sit and write this paper I am looking at my cat, Morgot, jump from the windowsill to my bed, then to my nightstand, and then flat on his face against the floor.  Never mind the fact that he's fat and clumsy, he's also dumb.  So dumb that I often find him staring at his own shadow for several minutes at a time.  He's 8 years old, he should have learned by now that he has a freakin' shadow.  But this has been my life.  I have learned many things in life that will help me one day, but the most important ones came from my mother.

My mother used to say, "Gracie," she would say, "you must learn these little lessons that nobody is going to teach you in life [I wish I knew why when I was a kid].  And one day, these will help you out of a tight spot."  So here, in all their glory, are my mother's top life lessons.  Read with caution.

1.  When you can't brush your teeth, chew on grass.  I don't know where she got this crazy idea, but my mother's first lesson did me no favors in elementary and middle school.  As a kid you tend to forget quite often to brush your teeth in the morning.  So I would confidently arrive at school and head straight for the grass.  I would drop to my knees and grab handfuls of it and shovel it into my mouth, chewing it for a few minutes, then spitting it out.  It never occurred to me that nobody else was doing this, and I would spend the entire day with green teeth. It wasn't until Mrs. Delaney saw me one morning in seventh grade that I learned the awful truth.  My reputation followed me through high school, and I was unaware of my nickname until a "typo" appeared under my picture my senior year, naming me "Grazer Feldman."

2.  If you run out of gas, get a man to pee in your tank.  Thanks mom, for that timeless piece of wisdom.  My car exploded, ok?  MY CAR EXPLODED.  The guy who peed in my tank?  Yeah, he had tried to warn me, but I assured him I knew what I was doing; I told him I had years of experience fixing cars.  I forced him to do it, even as he warned me that my engine would stop working if he showered it with gold.  I cheered him on, mother.  And worse, as my car burned to a crisp on the side of the highway, the guy - who was very cute, by the way - chuckled and told me it sucks to be me.  Then he asked me where I learned about cars.  I had to make up a ridiculous lie - I told him it was in Kantucker, Kentucky (where I was from - ?), and I was forced to tell him our cars ran on pee 'up them parts'.  Then I had to awkwardly ride in his car the whole way to the next town, 55 miles away.

3.  Get a cat.  Get several cats.  They are smarter than you, and if you want to get smart, you need to start spending time with others who are smarter than you.  Well, I already told you about Morgot, so we really don't need to go there, but my mom had two cats, "East" and "West"; so named because each one sat on one of her shoulders.  What I always wondered, though is if my mother was facing east or west, the cats should be named "North" and "South".  After raising Morgot, I realized how my mother got so smart.

4.  When you dance, always keep one hand on your waist - it keeps you looking feminine.  Oh, college.  Imagine seeing a girl who looks like the Chiquita banana lady on the dance floor every night.  I know, a woman with bananas on her head is not what college guys are looking for when they go out to a club.  Sure, I didn't really have bananas on my head, but dancing with my hand on my waist the entire time, did I really need bananas? 

5.  When you go to the beach, wear knee-high boots, it keeps the sharks from recognizing that you're alive.  Yeah, sharks and nearly every other living thing on the planet!  Not to mention how difficult it was to walk out of the ocean with boots full of water.  I just Googled "weirdos at the beach" for shats and gaggles and found TWELVE videos of myself, labeled "Return of the Living March of the Penguins".
Yes, that's ME waddling like Frankenstein's monster out of the water.  They have made an entire video series of me at the beach.  Different boots, same idiot.  Screw you sharks.  It's all your fault.

Now that I think about it, how am I still sane?  Anyway, if you ever catch yourself chewing on grass while you pee in your gas tank with a hand on your waist, a cat on your shoulders, and wearing knee-high boots, hit me up.  We could totally hang.

Creating an Elevator Pitch

Creating a solid elevator pitch:

1.  Keep your pitch clear and concise, without jargon or words that are too complex.  Keep it simple.  

Example: "I am the author of 'Shark Shorts, a collection of short stories about sharks that goes beyond 
the ordinary.  If you're a fan of Discovery Channel's 'Shark Week' then you'll love my story.  But you'll 
also love it if you like stories that are out of the ordinary."

2.  A question in your pitch is usually good.  It allows the listener to interact with you and shows that you're 
not just reciting lines.  However, keep the questions close-ended (with only two options for answers, such as 
yes-and-no questions).

Example: "Have you ever wondered what it would be like if there was a 'Headless Hammerhead?'  (Wait for 
answer - maybe the answer would be a question such as, 'How would you know it's a Hammerhead?' - which 
would be a really good sign because it shows interest)  You can then go into your pitch, "Well, I wrote a book
of 'Shark Shorts' and one of the stories explores the possibility of a shark that haunts the ocean as the 'Headless 
Hammerhead'.  Hi, my name's Giovanni.  Here's my card."

3.  Stand out.  If your story is a mystery, don't start with, "I wrote a mystery..." - that's a sure way for the person 
to just tune you out.  Start with something that sets your story apart.  

Example: "Did you know you could make clothes out
of spider silk?  Yeah, It's stronger than Kevlar (the stuff used to make bullet-proof vests), and it can even stop bullets. 
I wrote a mystery in which a serial killer uses a spider silk robe when he attack his victims, and it's what gets him caught.
I'm Giovanni, the story is 'The Wistful Heads', and here's my card."

4.  Always be ready to answer questions without rambling.  If someone has to cut your pitch short, you're dead.  "Oh, how many
books have you written?"  "Well, I have one that's a psychological thriller titled 'Separation Anxiety', one that's a collection of
short stories titled '8:51 On the Blinking Clock and Other Stories', one that's a mystery..."  terrible.  remember that the person you're 
pitching will not remember even one title you spew out at him or her.  

A better response: "I have five books in various genres.  What do you like to read?"  "Horror"  "Ok, I have that.  Here's my card, my
name's Giovanni.  You can see all my books on my website."

The key is to practice your elevator pitch so that you do not fumble or ramble.  Recite it to a tape recorder.  Play it back and see what 
needs to be changed.  Recite it to people.  Get feedback.  Take a written version to a critique group.  Have a teacher review it.  But 
most importantly, have fun learning this technique.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Gourmet Shif

Shark Short #3.  It's a children's rhyme - my first ever.  Hope you like it!

The Gourmet Shif

I am a Gourmet Shif, a Gourmet Shif am I
The hardest part of my long day
Is when I have to heat, to heat the oil to fry.

Living underwater stinks - these things they just can't stay
Where I plate them really nice
In the pan or on the plate, or in the cup or on my tray

Everything just seems to run, to run from me they do
If I'm cooking, seeking help
They run like I'm a spook, telling everybody "Boo!"

I ask stingrays to help me, then I ask the turtles
"Aagh!" they scream, they flee from me
(Plating meals and heating oil are not my only hurdles)

"Assistants needed," I call aloud, through the ocean rovin'
Lonely shark with no assistance
Something different I must make, perhaps I'll use the oven

"Won't someone help me," I call again, "help me for goodness' sake!"
I see them hiding in the reef
Without heat and without help - how long now to bake my cake?

I was a Gourmet Shif, A Gourmet Shif I was
But without help I am a Fish

Simple, boring, little Fish who cannot even make a sauce! 

There, In the Depths

Shark Short #2

There, In the Depths

Sari placed her mouthpiece in her mouth and looked over at Homer, who was so terrified of the dive his face had turned white.  She gave him a reassuring nod and placed her mask over her eyes after she checked her gauge one last time.  She then gave a thumb's up as she climbed to the edge of the boat.  Tiny, the boat's captain and Sari's best friend, called out, "Good luck - don't spook any sharks, now."

The last comment caused Homer to look back, wide-eyed.  "Thhh uhh shuhhhk daww theya?" he said, pointing toward the water.  Tiny looked up - his big, hairy belly bouncing to the rhythm of his laughter.

"Yeah, so you better be careful!  Good luck."

Sari, who was looking back at the pair, squinted her eyes - the only indication that she was laughing.  Then, without warning, jumped in.  Homer remained, looking into the water with eyes wide, praying and cursing at himself for agreeing to do this.  And for what?  To impress a girl?  He put his mask over his eyes and climbed to the edge.   In his terrified state, Homer forgot to check his gauge before closing his eyes, taking a deep breath, and diving in.

Tiny laughed to himself and then walked to the stern to look over and watch the new couple's descent into the deep.  As he leaned over the edge, he saw what could only be a massive great white pass far below, out of the view of his two friends.  It was the largest fish he had ever seen.  Instantly , Tiny screamed to warn the two, but it was useless.  They were encased in water, like a cherry inside a mold of Jell-O.   He ran to the chest to see if he could find anything that could serve as a warning, but only found a flare gun.  That wouldn't work - and he might need it if something were to happen.  Damn, he thought.  I hope the beast keeps swimming away from them.

*                              *                              *

Homer's eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the low light, and he fumbled to light his lamp.  He could see Sari in the distance, deeper and farther out than he was, oblivious to his location.  He swam past several fish, thinking the entire time how good the chill that burst inside him every so often felt.  It was the chill of anxiety, of fear, of excitement.  The ocean looked so much more beautiful in person than it did on TV.  It was also far more terrifying.  For some reason, he always thought that scuba diving would feel like being in a room.  Maybe it was the way things were filmed  for TV and movies.  The ocean felt vast, scary, dark; but at every turn there was something magnificent to which no TV could ever do justice.

After some time, he could see that he was drawing closer to Sari.  He didn't want to look up, fearing that seeing just how deep he was would send him into a panic.  As he closed in, he could see what looked like a coral reef or some sort of rock formation in the distance.  He knew that's where Sari was headed.  He also knew that this type of thing was where the scary stuff hid: octopuses, eels, and sharks.  Damn the Discovery Channel.  Shark week had just passed a week before.  He was an avid fan, but he never wanted to encounter one in person.  Now all he could think of was white tips, makos, tiger sharks, and - of course - great whites.

He tried to focus on something other than the thoughts of sharks, but it wasn't easy.  The silence was nerve-racking, the only thing he could hear was the "Darth-Vader"-like breathing and the occasional release of bubbles from his tank.   Inhale, exhale.  Inhale, exhale

Luke, I am your father.  Ha ha.

The he could see Sari stop and turn around to wave him in her direction.  From the corner of his eye he thought he saw a huge shadow pass behind her, which sent a chill down his spine and made him colder than he already was.  But he was sweating.  He felt feverish.  Be strong, he thought to himself.  He continued forward. 

As he swam, he felt something tug at his leg.  Immediately he stopped and yanked his leg close to his body and almost dropped his lamp as he felt his leg with both hands to make sure it was still there.   He breathed a sigh of relief and focused again.  Inhale, exhale.  Inhale, exhale

Sari pointed two fingers at her eyes and then one to the rock formation.   Homer nodded in understanding.   He then pointed to himself and then to her, asking if he should follow her.  She nodded twice and turned to head toward the rocks.   Their lamp lights scared off a few smaller fish, who scurried to hide behind rocks, but didn't seem to affect some of the larger fish.  Sea anemones covered the rocks, their tentacles flowing in the water like windsocks.   Several animals peeked over the rocks in curiosity, watching the two new creatures unfamiliar to them. 

The rock formation was not a reef, but rather like a city of rock.  There were arches the two swam under; openings that led to terrifying darkness; and cliffs.  Homer was amazed at how much the topography of the ocean floor resembled that of dry land.  The pair followed down the cliff, which went about 40 feet down.  The explorers noticed that the city of rock continued at the bottom of the cliff.  They followed.   Inhale, exhale.

At one point, Sari turned and tapped Homer to turn around, too.   What he saw was unnerving and wonderful at the same time. 

On the wall of the cliff was the entrance to an underwater cave.  The entryway was so massive he felt he was standing at the gates of Hell.  Inhale, exhale.  Inhale, exhale.  Inhale, exhale.  Sari pointed at Homer and herself, then pointed to the entryway.  Homer shook his head and tried to yell in opposition, releasing a massive amount of bubbles up toward the now invisible surface.  Just as he was going to try and scream another protest, he noticed a shadow cast over them.  Both divers looked up and released clouds of bubbles as they tried to scream.  Directly above them was the horrifying shape of a massive great white shark.  The two immediately scurried toward the cave without having to signal each other.  It was the obvious place to go.  Inhale, exhale.  Inhale, exhale.  Inhale, exhale.

Inside the cave, the Homer turned off his lamp.  Sari tapped him on the hand and fumbled for the switch to his light.  Stupid, vision is our advantage.  Don't you know sharks can smell you, ever with the lights off? she scolded him with her eyes.  He didn't understand.  Homer's hands were shaking, he was colder than ever - even colder than the time he was stuck outside his car for four hours in the middle of a blizzard in Denver after the mall had closed; but he was still sweating - profusely now.  Inhale, exhale.  Inhale, exhale.  Inhale, exhale.  Inhale -

Homer froze in place as he saw the massive shark enter the cave where they were hiding.   It moved slowly, as if stalking its prey.  It looked side to side to the rhythm of the fin that propelled it forward.    The two lovers pressed themselves against the wall as close as they could.  They held each other's hands.  Hold your breath, Homer.  Unable to hold it much more, Homer released a bit of air, sending bubbles up with a 'glup'.  Hold steady, Homer.  'Glup', another small set of bubbles floated up carelessly.  Come on, leave, you fucking thing!  'Glup', went another group of bubbles.  Hold it, hold, it Homer, your life depends on this, man. 'Glup'.  'Glup'.  'Glup'. 

Suddenly, he couldn't hold it anymore, and he released a cloud bubbles so large it could have filled the sky.  In desperation, Homer kicked and flailed his arms punching Sari in the face stirring the bubbles into a chaotic storm that blurred their vision and sent homer into shock.  Then, he lost consciousness.  Sari shook the unconscious man but remembered the shark.  She looked over and flashed her light in its direction - it was heading right for her.  Closer, closer, determined to devour both of them.  Sari closed her eyes and prayed, then opened them.  To her astonishment, there was no sign of the shark.  No trace of it ever being there, just  the remnants of a school of fish, the rest possibly spooked by Homer's panic attack.  Homer. 

Sari looked over at her lover and grabbed him under his arms, then loaded him on her shoulders.  She headed back up the way they'd come. 

*                              *                              *

"Hey, welcome back!"

Tiny's words barely made sense to Homer, but slowly his consciousness gripped him tighter and tighter until he recalled what had happened.  "Sari!" he called out.

"Shh, shh, shh.  Calm down," said Tiny, helping Homer back to a lying position.  "She's ok.  You guys had a scare is all."

"Sh-sh-shark," said Homer.

"The medical crew is coming.  Don't mention anything about no ghost shark to them.  They'll have you committed."  Tiny looked over at Sari, who could not look either of the men in the eye.  Her wetsuit was pulled down to her waist, every hair on her body standing straight.  Her hands were shaking.

"It was a ghost, Tiny.  For fuck's sake," she said.

Tiny stood up and looked at her.  "I saw the god-damned thing right after you guys jumped in the water.  It was real, goddamnit."

"Tiny, I know what I saw.  It was there one minute, and then gone the next.  Unless there's a fucking fish that turns into the fucking Hulk to scare divers.  You're such a fucking asshole.  Fuck!"

"Ok, calm down.  We can't tell this to anyone else.  We all saw the thing.  You say it disappeared before your eyes.  Fine.  I believe you.  But we can't tell anyone," Tiny looked up as the helicopter passed them.

"They'll be over us any minute to pick him up, but swear to me, Sari - don't say anything.  We'll be the fucking laughing stocks of the entire world."

"I need to find it again."  But in a shark cage.  Did you write down our coordinates?"

"The coastguard report will have them.  Promise me, Sari."

"Fine, fine.  I promise."

The pulsating rhythm of the propellers became louder as the rescue chopper descended toward the "Gone Missy", Tiny's pride and joy.  A rescuer climbed down the ladder to retrieve the newly unconscious Homer.  On his climb down, he saw what could only be a great white below the surface, circling the boat.  It was the largest fish he'd ever seen.