Tag Archives: Fiction

Surreality Kindle Scout Campaign: Last Day

Just a quick note before spending the rest of the day hanging out for my wife’s birthday. This is the last day of the Kindle Scout campaign for Surreality. Thanks to everyone for their support so far. I’m not sure how things are going to go, but either way there have been so many of you who have sent their well wishes and nominations, and that means a lot.

If you haven’t voted, there’s still time. Go to https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2VSHAGFXNJ50T and nominate Surreality. If Amazon decides to publish it, you get a free copy. Remember to vote before midnight tonight.

Thanks so much to everyone!

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The Yearly Debate

I think a decent swath of us who consider ourselves independent authors are having a little debate with ourselves right about now. It’s the time of year when we all consider writing a novel, or more specifically, speed writing a novella.

That’s right, it’s soon to be National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo) where a bunch of people around the country take a stab at 50,000 words in 30 days.

November is a busy month for me. Beyond just Thanksgiving, there’s my anniversary and my wife’s birthday in the mix. I’ve tried NaNo a couple of times, and finished it in earnest one year. My NaNo novel still sits on the “to be finished” pile. And there have been other times when I’ve certainly hit the word count, be it working on Dark Matter, or even with my technical writing at work.

NaNo sometimes feels like something only a beginning author would do. Truthfully, I’ve found that, at least for myself, blasting out word count is not the way to good prose. I can easily produce 2500 words a day if I put my mind to it, but lately I’m much more happy to just write 1000 pretty good ones.

My current writing moment is an interesting one. I’m in the middle of promoting a book for publication, preparing the print edition, and potentially writing the sequel. I’ve got several books that have been sitting on the “to be finished” or “to be revised” piles, and I’ve got a half finished serial for this blog I haven’t forgotten about. Certainly adding 50,000 words to one of those areas wouldn’t be a bad thing. But I also don’t want to distract myself too much from the goal of getting Surreality out there (that book is almost across the finish line).

I’ve been contemplating some kind of a reading goal, or a review writing goal. Maybe 1-2 reviews a day (try to knock my NetGalley review percentage into respectable territory), but that seems to be getting a little away from the goals of the month. Ditto for working on fractal book sequel material (another book on the “to be written” pile involving programming and more pictures and research).

I think the best way to think about this month is as a way to kickstart and focus on some aspect of your writing. For a lot of people, that’s rough drafts, revising, plotting or whatever. For me … well, I’m not really sure.

The guy who actually started bugging me about this stuff is my good friend, Brian. And in that spirit, here’s what I’m thinking. Brian, more than just about anyone, has been wanting to read Dark Matter, which needs a complete rewrite before I would even consider it. And considering that it has been a couple of years since I wrote the original draft, I need to reread before I rewrite. So here’s the deal. I am going to try to read all 200,000 words of Dark Matter in a month. And maybe write 10-15K on Surreality 2 (don’t worry, not the actual title). That’s a long way from getting my book into Brian’s hands, but it’s a start.

This is where my commute and a Kindle that can read to me are going to come in handy. I had this bat-crap crazy idea to write Dark Matter with no chapter breaks, with the idea that I’d add them in revision. This first read will be brutal.

How are you using NaNo?

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Writing Technology Fiction

Want a free copy of my latest book? Nominate Surreality on Kindle Scout and if Kindle Press decides to publish it, you get a free advance copy. Thanks to everyone who has voted so far. Because of you, Surreality was a “Hot and Trending” book yesterday. But there’s still a lot of time in the campaign left and every vote helps more than ever. Read the first two chapters and vote here:

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2VSHAGFXNJ50T

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The hardest part of this picture was selecting the color of the floppy. I still have about 100 of those things.

There are two kinds of technology books: ones that take place in the present day, and those that take place in the distant future. Both present a unique set of challenges to the author. Anybody who’s watched a technology film from the 80’s – 90’s that involved long disk write times to floppies or command lines knows what I’m talking about. Those movies seem so adorable now.

Future technology isn’t much easier. Sure, you can swing for the fences with things like cloning, teleportation, robots, etc. But you never know when the real world is going to catch up to you. And if you go for really over-the-top tech, well then you’re basically playing with magic.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned from writing a technological mysteries:

Characters carry stories, not keyboards: First and foremost, your readers must care about your characters, no matter what they are doing. Write characters who end up in a different place than where they started, who possess flaws and have goals and you’ll keep people coming back even if the tech eventually looks out of date.

Not everyone has a smart phone: I worked at the library my senior year in high school (2002-2003). That was the year we were just beginning to phase out VHS tapes from the collection. DVD players weren’t much more expensive than they are now, but not everyone has the money for extraneous entertainment. People still use the library for the free internet and computers, even if they have an active social networking life. Just because something new and shiny has come out doesn’t mean everyone will have it.

Software can do anything, except it really can’t: I’ve been binging old NCIS episodes on Netflix. It’s kinda cute how McGee breaks through complex encryption in a few seconds, something that would normally take a supercomputer a couple of years, or even centuries. Most hacks of major corporations involve human, not technology, failures. Skipping some realism allows your plot to move forward, but you often can get a lot more out of setting a few rules. One of my editor Brian’s best comments was asking me what video game avatars could and could not do. Avatars at the end of the day are puppets operated by someone at a keyboard, meaning that in emotional moments we’re not getting the same facial cues as if we were talking in person. That can set up some real moments of disconnect that drive the narrative in new directions if you follow the rules.

No techno-babble: A lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation solutions to problems can be summarized this way. Really complicated, possibly nonsense, technical explanation from Data or Geordi, followed by simple analogy the audience can follow from Picard or Riker. Sometimes Troi, who apparently doesn’t know the difference between quantum strings and filaments. Our relationship with technology raises a lot of interesting questions that can be addressed in fiction and non-fiction alike. It shouldn’t just be intelligent sounding filler in-between moments of plot. You don’t use big words you don’t know do you? Then why would you talk about a Hisenphram Gigaplexer Automonatron? Not a real thing, unless making up technology words counts as a patent. Then it’s mine.

Feel free to make a few jokes that only 10 (Base 2) people will understand, but keep it under control, okay?: I’m an engineer and I like engineering jokes. My current favorite is PEBKAC = “Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair”. That’s funny to some of you, and inside jokes can engage your core audience. But too much and your average reader will just feel lost. And even with smart phones and ubiquitous internet, nobody is going to take the time to look up all your obscure jokes. They’ll probably just put the book down, or ask for a glossary. This is a rule that can be a little hard to follow.

What’s your favorite technology book or movie?

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Review: They’re Not Like Us Volume 1

They’re Not Like Us Vol. 1: Black Holes For The Young

Writer – Eric Stephenson, Artist – Simon Gane

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Tabitha has heard voices all her life and she’s had enough. No one will believe the voices are real, not her parents, not her therapist, no one. After a failed suicide attempt, Tabitha wakes to the face of a man who tells her that not only are the voices real, but she’s not the only one with abilities.

But the man who calls himself “The Voice” doesn’t care about saving people. The world has done nothing to help people with strange gifts, so why should they help the world? With their abilities they can take anything they want, and they’re willing to kill for it. And the first thing Tabitha must do if she wants to be part of their group, after surrendering her name, is kill her parents.

Eric Stephenson does very stylized work. His other well-known comic Nowhere Men, imagined the fab four as scientists and brilliant engineers. He’s good at concepts, but not always execution. It’s clear that some of the characters are more or less evil than The Voice and there’s a fair amount of manipulation going on, but there’s really not anyone to root for. If you find out that all of the people in a room have killed their parents so they can beat people up for cool vintage headphones, you’re not going to like those people. Sure some of them are more broken up about patricide than others, but they all did the deed.

The majority of the plot involves Tabitha (called Syd by The Voice) trying to reconcile finding other people like her with the terrible things they do. She can understand some of the vigilante justice part, attacking perverts who can’t even see where the hit is coming from, but that’s not the same as saying that regular humans are somehow less than you. She’s angry that her parents subjected her to psychiatric treatment, that they didn’t believe her, didn’t try to understand her, but she doesn’t want them dead.

Jordie Bellaire’s colors evoke a period feel to the comic though it’s set in the present day, while Gane’s lines give most characters an angular feel, pointy chins. and smirking expressions. True emotion does come through for Blurgirl and Syd, but for most others the look is mostly self-satisfied even when it’s not supposed to be.

The final confrontation with Tabitha’s parents is a nice bit of closure, but the setup for the next arc doesn’t have me that interested. The Voice is just a manipulative bastard, and I’m not sure I want to hear him talk anymore.

This looked interesting, and chapter one ends with a good hook. But by the finish I was ready for it to be over.

(3 stars | Expected more from this)

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Giving Scouting Another Look

A little less than a year ago, I wrote about a new Amazon program called Kindle Scout.

The bottom-line is this:

  • Readers read excerpts of books and vote for their favorites (up to 3 per month). This voting data is used by Amazon to consider the next crop of books it will publish out of Kindle Scout. If a book you voted for is picked, you get a free copy.
  • Authors whose books are selected get a $1500 advance, 50% eBook royalty and a 5 year exclusive Amazon publishing contract (plus marketing promotions, audiobook and international sales,etc.)

According to the Scout FAQ you retain print rights, which you can use to publish the book through a traditional publisher or through CreateSpace. It’s a little unclear if the book would be eligible for Kindle Matchbook (free or discounted eBook copies for purchasers of the physical book) under these circumstances.

Keeping print rights is actually important to me for a couple of reasons:

  • The fractal books were too expensive to produce print copies, so I never got something I could hold in my hand after a year and a half of work. This was understandably a little disappointing.
  • Print copies allow me to gift my book to friends easily, with signed copies.
  • I can take advantage of unconventional local scale marketing by donating books to little library boxes.
  • There’s at least the possibility that I could sell the book to local independent book stores.

The pros and cons of going with Scout seem to be these:

Pros:

  • Money up front.
  • Amazon featured marketing, beyond the programs you can get through KDP.

Cons:

  • Lower eBook royalty.
  • Less control over how the book is priced, marketed.
  • Long Amazon exclusivity. Less flexibility to try other channels.

Truthfully, I’m on the fence about this. I like the control that comes from going “full indie”, but I recognize that can make it a lot harder for a book to be discovered. And there’s a certain amount of upfront interest that has to be generated for the book for it even to make Amazon’s cut.

Have any of you tried Scout? What has been your experience?

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing

Changing a character’s name

Have you ever gotten to the end of a novel and realized that three of your characters have names that start with a K, or that most of your names rhyme? Maybe you’ve come up with a name for a criminal organization that is universally hated by your beta readers. What do you do?

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The theory would be that you could just Find/Replace all of one name with another name and then you’re set. But this can introduce new problems. What if your new name introduces sentence rhymes that weren’t there before? What if a character who had a two syllable name, suddenly has a four syllable name? Sentences have an unconscious flow, and it can be difficult to just pull a switch without introducing hundreds of little tweaks.

I’ve used all kinds of schemes for naming characters. Sometimes I stare at my bookshelves and look for last names I like. Other times I use a name I’ve heard somewhere out in the world. Or sometimes I go through baby name lists online for the most popular names of people of a certain age.

I’ve pulled a couple of name switches and spelling changes in Surreality between drafts. I used to have a three-C’s problem that I solved by changing one C to an S and one C to a K. One name with an “ay” sound was switched for another. Spelling changes are easy, as it doesn’t fundamentally change how a word sounds, only how it looks. Full name switches are tricky, particularly if you’re used to a certain name. Your mind can get fixed on what you’ve already picked, making it hard to find something better.

So what do you do?

  • Have patience – The original name may have been part of a long brainstorming process, or come into your mind fully formed. But chances are there was some unconscious thought behind it either way. Give your mind time to come up with something new.
  • Try to find something that sounds or looks similar – You’ll have less flow tweaks if your replacement name has similar properties to the original. Of course this might make it harder to find something your brain thinks is better.
  • Remember you’re the author – If other people don’t like your name, that may not be a problem. Beta readers are a very small sample size. If you like something, that may have to be good enough.

MacBook_option_keyThis is all by way of saying that after looking at over 1500 different hacker slang words, I still haven’t found something I like better than what’s in the draft. Kyrkas was a contender (it’s Swedish for church, and is a reference to the Mac feature key, see left) until I realized that would give me a four K’s problem. I’m gonna keep looking, but I may also just have to trust my instincts.

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Things I’ve Learned In The Last Year

And it’s not even over.

It’s been a busy year with serial novellas, final revisions, book reviews, and myriads of project ideas. Writing is about experimentation, about learning new things, and about remembering the old things we should already know. Here are a few of mine:

Perspective Jumps: For a serialized book like The Sky Below this can be a little tricky to follow (hopefully better once I have the full book complete). But perspective jumps can be a nice way to inject fresh viewpoints, and to give the reader information other characters might not have. It can certainly be frustrating if you really want to find out what happened to one character, but are forced to read another (though one author has a novel solution to this). My current project will probably jump between 2-3 perspectives at fairly regular intervals. This used to be something I did all the time (in my first novel) but got away from because I needed focus, or it was too difficult to follow. And maybe I needed time before I got the hang of it, but I’m loving jumps now.

Research: Want to never get a good night’s sleep again? Check out crime stats for your neighborhood. You’d be surprised what goes on. There was an (attempted?) robbery at a Huntington Bank down the street from me earlier this month. I used to do the old trick of [insert specific term here] or [write description of area there] so I could move on in drafts, but it’s amazing how even a little cursory internet searching can spur ideas for plot threads. Specificity is key to both reader engagement, and writer enthusiasm. I used to try to fumble my way through descriptions assuming my vocabulary was vast and always accurate. My wife will tell you, it is not.

Keeping the flow going: You might be tempted to take a writing break. And sometimes this is needed. But less often than you think I’d wager. Often the grind of getting back into a groove is not worth the recharge period. I finished revising book one on Monday, celebrated by watching The Maltese Falcon and eating some delicious enchiladas, then started writing book two on Tuesday. Granted, I’m kind of a nut. A day or two is certainly okay. Just don’t make it a month.

Read, Read, Read: Articles, blogposts, comic books, books, anything you can get your hands on. Both for ideas and technique. It feels like you’ll never have time, and indeed I’ve had to come up with creative solutions to reading (including my Kindle that reads to me in the car), but the time is always well spent.

Environment: I’m kind of a restless person. I was always looking for the perfect writing spot, which often happened to be the coffee shop closest to a Half Price Books or favorite bad food place. But for the last month and a half I’ve worked exclusively at home in my basement. Sometimes the dogs bug me. Sometimes I get the itch to go out. But it’s kind of nice just working in the same place every day. I try to keep the distractions to a minimum, especially multi-tasking (burns or file sorting, plus miscellaneous internet tooling around). And it helps to have both coffee maker and beer fridge in easy reach.

What have you learned in the last year?

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