Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When Things Don't Work...

Sometimes you just have to put an end to things that don't work. I found myself in that position today with Sony. Of all the retailers that Smashwords distributes to, they have been the most flakey. They seemingly ignored several updates, then they had two accounts for me. The latest was that they removed 4 of my 5 books. All the problems with the others retailers have been quickly and easily fixed with an email to Smashwords, but Sony hasn't been easy in any respect. Baker-Taylor's Blio is snails pace slow, but they have yet to mess anything up. Kobo lost two covers, but that was quickly fixed. Sony has just had far to many issues and it hasn't been a money maker so there is no reason to continue.

As a company, Sony makes some good products. I'm on my third Sony TV (because I've upgraded, not because I have had any problems). I've had good luck with most everything of theirs I've tried, but distributing to them as a retailer has been rough and I don't need to be worrying about what will happen next. So, it is time to part ways. If anyone reading this has a Sony ereader, please use Smashwords from now on. If you ask nicely, I may even give you a coupon for a free ebook.

Best of luck to the rest of you using Sony.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dreams of Asimov

Today I stumbled upon the text of Paul Krugman's introduction to a new collectors edition of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. He has remarkable insight on the inner workings of these stories. Asimov's own view was rather simplistic - that they were a galactic retelling of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It's also a far cry from what we SF fan boys/girls love about the series. The best thing of all is how well Krugman nailed it. I read what he had to say and lights went on. Not only do I now understand Asimov just a bit better, but I understand my own writing better as well.

All writers can point to things they did in their formative years that shaped how they write. Asimov did that himself. He was a pulp fiction and science junkie. I have to admit that my SF addiction started at the age of 7 (or was it 8... hard to say when it caught me) with Star Wars. I have the Brian Daley Han Solo books that I bought at school from one of those book catalogs. I have a stash of the Marvel comics, yellowed with age and dogeared and torn from frequent reading. But I really have to point to that Science Fiction Book Club hard cover compilation of the trilogy (back when it was just those three books) as when my world exploded. Star Wars was great, but Foundation, Dune, and so many other worlds opened to me from that one well read, now water damaged, volume.

Asimov was sparse. He stuck to the story and didn't get distracted by too many descriptions or too much back story. He was a scientist with a fertile imagination and it shows. But he did concentrate on the characters, however flat they may seem to some. His stories are all about people. Even the Foundation Trilogy, with it's epic saga of a dying galactic empire and the two foundations that will save civilization, is told in vignettes of what people do to make it happen. I'd like to think I have come away from reading his stories with that same urge, to tell stories about people. I hope I learned from him better then I did from some of my classes in school.

One of the wonderful things about Asimov and modern technology was finding a treasure trove of old interviews with him on YouTube. I compiled a playlist of 17 of those videos that I would urge everyone to watch. They explain a lot about his characters. He was warm and personable and funny - most of which comes through in his characters. I've never seen them as flat, but his writing is sparse in character details, he only told just enough for what the story needed. His characters certainly came alive in my mind as I read, and evidently for Krugman as well. The man was a genius and it shows, both in his writings and in interviews with him. I don't consider Asimov one of the greats, I consider him THE Greatest, the Master of the genre.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What The Hell Are You Writing About?

Sometimes I have to ask myself this question and I'm sure others do, too. I know I've sometimes wondered this about some of my favorite writers. I mean, is it just a good story, or is there something more to it?

First off, writing science fiction, my setting conveys a lot of what I think and hope we will do as a species. We have made great strides in our acceptance of the various segments of the human population so I'm assuming, after some initial rough patches, that we would get along with other species. Please note, I do not use the term 'race' as it is inaccurate. When we encounter another sentient life-form, it will be a different species. Race is for superficial distinctions within a species.

I think that as we go forward as a species, we are likely to maintain most of our traits. I don't foresee us changing all that much, not in the course of time I am covering. I think that will get us in trouble a time or two. I haven't revealed much in what has been printed so far, but there are a couple of major wars in the past including one that led to a severe dark age. I see old animosities dying off in our modern world and I've applied that to how we will end up forging a galaxy wide society.

We will have people who abide by the law, people who skirt it, and people who ignore it. I like to concentrate on those who skirt it. Let's just say I was far too enamored with the smugglers of Star Wars and the traders of Asimov's Robot/Foundation. Oddly enough as Firefly celebrates its 10th anniversary, it had no influence in the world I've created. I didn't discover it until after I'd written Pirates of I'ab. Still, Malcolm Reynolds belongs to that same surly bunch of renegades. Ven Zaran strives to keep up the illusion of having a legal business.

When it comes to the stories, I firmly believe that the characters should take center stage. Regardless of the story, it is the characters we remember long after we finish reading. And characters, like real people, should never be simple. Ven Zaran is anything but simple. For one thing, that isn't even his real name. It's an alias he adopted when he left home to travel among the stars. I thrown hints here and there, but he took the name from his childhood best friend, Zaran, and a legendary vid drama hero, Vendarka. He took a last name and made it his first name and a first name and made it his last name. So he doesn't hesitate to adopt more alias's to broaden his ability to smuggle goods.

But what good is a character without flaws. It is those flaws that make us relateable. While Ven is a consummate smuggler, he has ghosts from his past that led to a drug addiction. He meets a women who gives him the strength to break that addiction, only to fall back to it when she is lost temporarily in Well of Dreams and then in Interlude of Pain. Each time it rears up it is harder to escape. The harder it is to escape the more danger it poses to his career.

One thing I often get frustrated with in science fiction is character development. All too often characters develop by gaining new positions. A trader becomes a prince or mayor. That isn't very realistic. Most people work for years on end at the same job, working up to the pinnacle of their field. For the real traders out there, the freighter captains and truck drivers, that pinnacle is often owning their own vehicle and making their business a success. That is where Ven is headed. He's a trader and that's all he's ever wanted to be. Like Kirk promoted to Admiral, Ven just wouldn't do well as a corporate executive. It isn't him, though I do have something fun planned. I've been planting the seeds in each of the books and there are hints in one of the short stories in Edge of Hyperspace.

I have other stories in mind. I have another series in early development that will explore inter-species communication and be a bit more violent. I have another that is a good epic space opera yarn about someone in the right place at the right time who becomes a hero. With a twist, there isn't a single human character in it. It takes place on the far side of the galaxy. That one is more developed, I just need to find my materials (not easy for a pack rat like me).

People and Places, that is what I write about. People that we can relate to in settings that are incredible, but at the same time, just ordinary for these characters. While I won't claim to be the next master of science fiction, I am out tell a good story and paint a picture of the tapestry of our future as I see it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Holiday Season Is Near

There is always lots of excitement this time of year. Here in the US we have the standard holidays of Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years. For writers we also have National Novel Writing Month (and I still would love to go back in time and tell the founders that November is not a good month). But with the coming holiday season we also have the biggest sales period of the year. Like it or not, Christmas is THE major gift giving holiday.

For those of us who have self-published, it is a season filled with opportunities. Many of us are preparing new titles for release, some are scouring their existing work to make sure they are perfect. Oddly, for ebooks, I've heard that the big sales period isn't leading up to Christmas, it is Christmas day and the following days as people with new ereaders search out titles to fill up the empty space so they have something to read.

In the current landscape of self-published ebooks, it takes some planning to time things just right. You don't want a title out for too long or it won't show up as prominently. But with companies like Smashwords distributing to other retailers, you also want to be early enough so your title is in all the retailers by Christmas day. That takes some doing. I was no where near ready last year so I took my time and didn't put out my first book until the end of January. Now, after 10 months of experience, I think I am ready for the challenge. I'm probably deluding myself, but we'll see.

My offering this season is the third volume of the Zaran Journals. We pick up with Ven a few years after Pirates of I'ab and things don't start out well for him. I've dealt him a pretty severe blow and now he has to come to terms with it. Actually, if you've picked up Edge of Hyperspace, you've read part of the story. Seeking Justice, featuring Wally, is an excerpt of sorts. You'll have to look for Interlude of Pain and pick it up if you want to know what Ven and the rest of his crew are up to.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Long Road

Now that the news media have moved on to other things, most people will probably let Malala Yousafzai slide off their radar. I have no intention of doing that. She is smart and courageous and definitely worth continuing to follow as she starts down the long road to recovery. For those who share my interest, I'm putting up a video from last week of Malala and her family. There's no sound (just so you don't turn the volume way up because you can't hear anything). Her father seems very pleased but Malala herself looks much better, but you can see that the left side of her face lack much movement. I don't know if that is damage from the bullet or pain killers, but is does show that her injuries are still pretty serious.

I wish her continued improvement and health. I'll post more when I find out more.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bravery and Courage

As a writer, I'm always looking for examples of what makes a good leading character. It is rare to find one in real life and a shame to only stumble on it after a tragedy. I'm speaking of Malala Yousafzai of Swat, Pakistan, who was shot in the head a few days ago. The story of what she achieved and the tragedy of her shooting might finally be what Pakistan needs to rally against these vile thugs.

I thought about how best to share what I'd learned and as I looked into material to share, I came across this video on YouTube. It is a documentary titled Class Dismissed by Adam Ellick, shot in 2009. Keep in mind that the 14 year old who got shot is eleven in this 3 years old video.

While we are used to the big action heroes of the movies, like Harry Potter, here is a real life example of what it takes to stand up for your beliefs. Malala has real courage and I sincerely hope she pulls through and can recover from this.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Other Side of the Tour

This summer I participated in the Master Koda Blog tour (see the archived posts on the left for posts from my guest bloggers). I've decided I need a post that links to all my posts on my fellow tour participants sites. It lasted for sixteen weeks, so here are links to my sixteen posts.

Week 1: Meet Scott Seldon
Week 2: Score for a Book
Week 3: Oh The Humanity
Week 4: Mr. Scott Seldon Interview of a writer
Week 5: Where Does the Nook Take Scott Seldon?
Week 6: In Silence Pictures Speak
Week 7: The Kernel that Exploded
Week 8: Pulling Teeth – The Journey From Trader To Smuggler
Week 9: What Makes a Space Trader?
Week 10: Forging Books One At A Time
Week 11: A Trader and a Pirate walk into a bar…
Week 12: Avoid the Corners
Week 13: Interview with Scott Seldon
Week 14: Snips Happen
Week 15: Spotlight on Pirates of I’ab
Week 16: Summer School for Writers

As you can see, that's a lot of posts. If you only read one, read Week 6. It's a flash fiction called Naomi’s Mural. Originally only Week 16 was on my own blog, but Week 3's post is no longer there so I reposted it on my old blog.

Well, time to get back to writing the latest Ven Zaran novel. It doesn't have a title yet, but I'm leaning towards Dust Between Stars or A Piece of the Game. I'll keep you updated.

Monday, October 8, 2012

What is Science Fiction?

This question has long been on my mind and it has come up again lately. It is my genre of choice so I should know the answer, but the problem is that there isn't one answer. I can only give the one that I have come up with that satisfies me.

As the name implies, it is fiction that relies heavily on science for the setting, plot, etc. To what extent science holds sway determines whether it is Hard SF or Soft (as in space opera) or even cross genre. Now Hard SF is a difficult beast. It is firmly rooted in proven science (no theories, extrapolations, suppositions), though it does tend to push technology forward. It also tends to be rooted heavily in science, whether that be scientists as characters, a science problem to solve, or something else along those lines. Hard SF has its fans, though I'm not really one.

That said, there is Soft SF, the mainstay of science fiction literature, cinema, and television. There are common themes that aren't so based in science, such as faster-than-light travel, transporters, laser swords, mystical beings, ESP, and a whole host of things. Still, it is grounded in science, even if the stories tend to be more the grand adventure or quest.

I've read some articles recently that imply that some sf has gone really soft, almost too soft, by bringing in almost magical things. Some of those are long standing mainstays of Soft SF. I recently picked up a copy of C.L. Moore's Northwest Smith stories. Most were published back in the 1930's. While the character had the hard feel of a space smuggler, most of the stories dipped into Greek and Roman mythology for the villains and then retold it as alien and ancient. Star Trek and Star Wars follow right along with that.

I've also come to the conclusion that while we label things and divide them into specific groups, in reality things slide from one sub-genre into another. Stories have different settings and different levels of technology and different levels of reality. Typically, the stories are set in the next few hundred years and slide from Hard SF to Soft SF, to some sort of fantasy/horror/literature crossover. But you can have stories set much further in the future (like Asimov's Foundation series), you can set it in the past (like Star Wars), or the near past (think Steampunk), or even the present (Starman and Galaxy Quest). So there is a huge range within to work as an SF author.

For my own writing, I prefer to concentrate on the far future and extrapolate scientific and technological developments, but stick to things I think could and may be discovered and developed. I try to keep it real and avoid outright fantasy. Still, it is Soft SF, specifically space opera.

So I think that the real answer to the question is that SF has to be grounded in science. Whether it be Hard SF that sticks to just the facts, or Soft SF, that plays loose with what is possible. And as a side note, it is Soft SF that inspires scientists to make new discoveries more than Hard SF. It is Soft SF that brings in the dreams of what might be and can lead to them really happening.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

End of a Career

The delivery of Endeavor to California marks the end of a career. Not Endeavor's, but NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 905. In just a few weeks, she will mark the 42nd anniversary of her first flight, by which time she may have made her final flight.

The Boeing 747 (model 747-123) was constructed at Boeing's Everett, Washington plant. All their planes carry a construction number an line number (often written as 20107/86 for this plane). She was built for American Airlines and carried the registration number N9668. Her career with American Airlines was brief, less than four years, before she was sold to NASA. From 1974 to 1977 she was modified to carry the space shuttles. Inside, she was gutted down to her framework, except in the bow where she still has her original spiral staircase and the forward first class seating.

In 1977 she got to work. Her career with NASA started with Enterprise. The flights included five very important drop tests. To do this, 905 (as I'll call her from here out) dropped out from below the shuttle and then the shuttle flew (if you can call it that) to the landing strip at Edwards Air Force Base. The first drop test was with the engine covering, but the important tests were the ones with the [fake] engines exposed, just as her sisters would do when landing after their missions.

This was the beginning of a close associate between 905 and Enterprise. Before Columbia had ever rolled out, Enterprise had been hauled around and been processed just like it was a flight worthy orbiter. 905 delivered both Columbia and Challenger to Florida and retrieved the various orbiters from the landing strips they used besides at KSC.

With a fleet of 4 operational orbiters, NASA purchases a second 747 (a 747-200 SP) registered as N911NA, or just 911, to do half the work. 911 flew for the last time earlier in 2012. It has fallen to 905 to deliver Discovery, Enterprise, and now Endeavor to their new homes. That job is now done and it is time for her to retire. She first flew on October 15, 1970 and is about to make her last flight almost exactly 42 years later.

Goodbye 905. Thanks for your service. You will be missed as will your 6 most notable passengers.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Election Season or Writing Season?

With the Presidential, Senatorial, and House elections ramping up for November Election Day, a question tugs on my mind. Outside of the results, do we writers even care?

My answer is no. I know who I am voting for and I'm slated to get a mail-in ballot. I'm far more concerned with what I am going to write in November (as in National Novel Writing Month).  I've been hard at work (except for August) slaving away on Volume 4 of my Zaran Journals series. Volume 5 is my target for November and I have precious little prepared. To be fair, by the time you get to a fifth volume, there isn't much need for world building or character creation, that part is done and ready at the drop of a hat (or space suit helmet). No, it is the actual story that I will torture my characters with. As the days tick by, it is that stress that worries me, not who my choices are in any given race for office.

I guess it is one of the hazards of being a writer. I have a deadline. I have to know what my story is and where it starts by the end of All Hallows Eve so I can start my NNWM project on All Saints Day. I have to plan out when I can write, how much, and what days. I have less than the whole month to produce my goal, a complete novel written in a 30 day period (well, just the rough draft). If you have picked up either Well of Dreams or Pirates of I'ab, you have in your hand the length of work I intend to write in November. Just a hair over 110k words in 11 chapters. I have to have a story to fill that and be interesting, exciting, and that develops my characters in the direction I want them to go. The normal goal is about half that.

I've done it before, I can do it this year, or so I'm telling myself. Fortunately, if I don't finish by December 1st, I have a secondary deadline, December 23rd. I don't want to make use of that because I want to write a short story or two for more immediate publication in December.

So, while I am concerned with who will win in November on Election day, here in Colorado the polls are already indicating who this state will pick for President and neither of our Senators is up for re-election so the results of election night are out of my hands. I'll get my ballot filled out and sent in as soon as I get it and join the masses obsessing over the results that first Tuesday, but aside from that, I will be way too focused on Writing to give it much attention. November belongs to us writers, so for me, it is writing season, not election season.

Sites Now Linked

While I wasn't able to get everything spaced perfectly, my site and my new blog are linked. If you have come here looking for the older posts, click on Archived Posts on the left. Moving forward, this is where you will find all new posts. Enjoy.


Moving In

After my experience this summer participating in the Master Koda blog tour, I think it is time to migrate from the ad hoc blog I've had on my Google Sites page and make a real blog here on Blogger. My challenge was to get the same look. I think I may have that, but there is still some tweaking to do before I truly move in. But the move is in progress. If you find this page before I finish the process, please go to for the latest updates.