Archive for September, 2010

Sep 19 2010

IP glitch

Published by under Uncategorized

If you had difficulty connecting to this site in the past week, I’ve discovered the problem. The nameserver for alastairmayer.com was returning the wrong IP address. Since my local access takes a backdoor route to the server, I didn’t realize the problem until I got a few complaints. Sorry about that! (For future reference, until I re-host the website, www.alastairmayer.com and www.ajwm.net should give the same IP address.)

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Sep 15 2010

Writing as entertainment

Published by under Writing

The other night, more like 3 o’clock in the morning, I was working on expanding “The Chara Talisman” to a more-publishable length. (Whatever happened to those 65K-word novels I grew up with, anyway?) Making the novel richer and filling in details that I’d skipped. In many ways I’m a “adder-inner” writer rather than a “taker-outer” (see Dean Wesley Smith’s blog post on rewriting (or not) for an explanation of these terms), so there’s nothing surprising there. But what I added in that night would have pushed the novel in a completely new direction.

In this case, what started out as a scene where our intrepid heroes arrive at a planet and visit its only settlement, an isolated agrarian colony, before going off after their main objective turned into a scene where they find the colony deserted, with strong parallels in my mind (not necessarily the story) between that and the colony of Roanoke whose population vanished sometime between 1587 and 1590. Fascinating, but completely derailing the current novel. I could make it work, at another 50,000 words and a total change in emphasis in the story. That’s better saved for a different story, I think, so next day I backed up a bit and headed that plot thread in the correct direction.

But where did that Roanoke parallel come from? Well, sure, the parallels between small isolated colonies that have been out of contact for a few years no doubt dredged it out of my subconscious. Now my inner reader is saying “this is a neat idea, what happens next?” and my inner writer is trying to respond. Which kind of gets in the way of what my inner project manager is telling me to do, which is finish up the novel I’m working on before plunging into something else of that magnitude.

A lot of writing, at least in certain genres, is like that. It’s an intellectual puzzle game – toss up an idea and see where it leads. Endanger your protagonist and then see if you can figure a way for him to save himself without “cheating” by going back and writing in the seeds of the solution into an earlier chapter. It’s a real thrill when you find a solution that depends on something you just happened to put in several chapters back, which you did not (consciously) intend to be part of the solution to a problem you hadn’t even thought to throw at the protagonist yet. When it’s a surprise to the writer, odds are it will be a surprise to the reader, too. Of course with a skillful writer the reader will never know if he put the solution in before or after he created the problem. (And a less-skillful writer will just throw in a deus ex machina solution that doesn’t depend on anything that went before. How unsatisfying.)

Writing is a solitary occupation. In many ways its also like a game of solitaire — or better yet, like one of those “choose your own adventure” book games where the pages are blank and you get to fill in what happens. How cool is that?

And now I need to go fill in a few more pages in an adventure. I want to see what happens.

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Sep 09 2010

“Congratulations — you’re published!”

Published by under T-Space,Writing

A bit breathless (see some of my previous publications on the right) but that’s the subject line for the email from Amazon DTP telling me that my Kindle edition stories/books (see Monday’s post are now on-line and available for sale. Now, before you rush off and buy them all, let me save you some money.

There are four new Kindle editions. Two are short stories (“Into the Fire” and “Snowball”), one is a novelette (“Renee”), and one is a collection (Starfire & Snowball) of all the above plus a bonus story (“The Gremlin Gambit”). The collection is the best deal at only $2.99. Individually the stories add up to $3.97, and you don’t get “The Gremlin Gambit,” although that’s available on-line from Mindflights.com, or from here as a PDF. (The story “Snowball” is also available in the anthology Footprints, available from Amazon in trade paperback edition.) As a bonus, I’ve added an author’s introduction to each story.

Amazon has some odd pricing rules. The minimum price — other than “free” — is $0.99, and they offer a better royalty percentage starting at $2.99. I may offer up a short story as a free sample in the future; I’m still getting my feet wet (and watching out for piranha — this is the Amazon). I expect buyers will opt for the better price point of the collection, Starfire & Snowball.

Cover, Starfire & Snowball Starfire & Snowball, a collection which includes all the stories below, plus “The Gremlin Gambit”.
The first Jason Curtis adventure, in T-space. Sometimes the only way out of the frying pan is … Cover, Into the Fire
Cover, Snowball There’s nothing left of humanity but some hardware and footprints on the Moon. What do aliens make of it, and what happened?
Jason meets a girl, and then…
    “‘Starfire, this is Kakuloa control. Are you declaring an emergency?’
    Air hissed out of a bullet hole in my cockpit, yellow and red warning lights lit up my control panel, the fuel system leaked, my heat shielding was probably damaged, and my spacesuit was on the wrong side of a door to an airless compartment. Was I declaring an emergency?
Cover, Renee

The above images link to the amazon.com pages. These ebooks are available from Amazon UK if you’re on that side of the pond. So, please give one of the above a try. If the stories aren’t quite to your taste (and while “Gremlin Gambit” has fairies, none of the others are at all fantasy) well, Amazon does have a refund policy. If you like them, please recommend to a friend. Happy reading!

Oh, and if you don’t have a Kindle, or something on which one of the free “Kindle for X” programs will run (PC, Mac, iPhone, etc), then please add a comment below. I’m looking at making these available via other channels. Cheers!

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Sep 06 2010

Adventures in the Amazon

Published by under Writing

As I mentioned last week, I spent much of the past few days adventuring in the Amazon — Amazon DTP (Digital Text Platform) that is. That and getting a couple of my stories, which happen to be adventures (of Jason Curtis, owner/pilot of the Starfire) Kindle-ready and uploaded for sale.

The process is pretty simple for a work of fiction (ie no fancy formatting or graphics as might be needed in a textbook). I ended up spending most of my time working on images for the “covers”. That’s not strictly necessary. A plain gray rectangle with the title in plain text would work, but wouldn’t attract many customers.

I used the Gnu Image Manipulation Tool, the GIMP, a free/open-source imaging suite that is remarkably powerful. I kept learning new tricks. One strong suggestion: layers are your friend. Put each element — background, foreground images, title text, etc — on different layers, especially if you want to re-use some of them on different covers to maintain a theme e.g. for a series. For example, here are the cover images for the first two Jason Curtis stories:

The art itself is a mix of free-drawn and pieces of images from public domain sources (mostly NASA photos).

Converting the text is dead easy with a good editor (like vim) and a basic knowledge of HTML. Amazon’s upload process will convert other formats, including MS Word .doc, epub and Mobibook .prc, but does the best job with straight HTML. What I did to convert my text from OpenOffice was to, first, replace all italicized (or underlined) text with the same text surrounded by HTML <i> and </i> tags. (This involves regular expressions. I have no idea if MS Word is capable of this. I use Linux as my main desktop OS.) Then I just copied the whole thing and pasted it into new .html file that I’d opened with vim. A few global search-and-replace’s converted quote marks and m-dashes. The HTML header portion I cribbed from Shala Kerrigan’s web page on Kindle formatting. I previewed the HTML in my Firefox browser to make sure it wasn’t too horrible, and double checked with Amazon’s “preview” tool once uploaded.

It takes a couple of days between uploading the ebook (or estory) and it appearing for sale on Amazon’s site, as they run some checks and get their databases populated. You need an Amazon DTP account, but you can set that up online in a matter of minutes.

I have a couple more things to prep and upload yet. I’m making my story “Snowball” (which appears in the Footprints anthology) available as a standalone story, and I’m also going to put up a collection, Starfire & Snowball, with the Jason Curtis stories, “Snowball”, and “The Gremlin Gambit” (published in MindFlights last year). Amazon price-points are a little odd: it will be cheaper to purchase Starfire & Snowball, which includes the other stories plus, than the others individually — but it will pay a better royalty to the author (that would be me). So, go for the collection.

The next step, after I get back to doing some actual writing for a bit, is to convert these to some different formats and check out the programs at Barnes & Noble and at Smashwords. That and figure out the marketing side of all this. 😉

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Sep 01 2010

Writing Wednesday – 7

Published by under Writing

I’m having second thoughts about these Writing Wednesday posts. As I mentioned when I started, they were partly at the urging of another writing blogger who encouraged my more SF-genre slant on things, but I feel like much of it is just going over the same ground that several other, and more experienced, writers also cover. I’d rather write about new stuff, be that about writing, science, publishing, or whatever. So I’m going to put the “Writing Wednesday” titles on hold, although I still expect to post here on a regular (for some chaotic value of “regular”) basis. Sometimes even about writing.

This week I’m actually gearing up to do some publishing. I have a backlist of several stories that I’d like to experiment with in terms of making them available for Kindle or other e-readers. That’s a channel which is rapidly growing in importance, with Amazon reportedly now selling more e-books than hardcovers (and catching up quickly to paperback sales). I’ll be spending the next few nights and part of the weekend playing with different formatting tools and making “covers”. More on that project when I get something uploaded to Amazon.

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