2016-07-17

Smooth Integration

Update
I've been spending my time building a detailed timeline of the Galactic Alliance universe. While doing so, a few timing errors have been revealed. Luckily, I have complete control over the content of my books and fixing the issue is as easy as a quick update to Amazon. I will be making those adjustments before I finish Peacekeeper 3 – Pathogen. The program I’m using for the Timeline – Aeon Timeline – is easy to use and a wonderful addition to every writer’s toolbox. For a more in-depth review, see last week’s post.

My wife is in the final chapters of her review of Dragonverse Origins and I’m hoping to begin my final formatting very soon. It’s been taking her a long time but after looking at her calendar (more on that in a moment) I can see why – she’s been very busy!

Smooth Integration
As a computer programmer, a heavy user of computer applications, and a science fiction author, I often wonder why computer applications don’t integrate well with each other. Things are slowly getting better, but the user must choose their applications very carefully if smooth integration is something you want.

Computers, like novels, should just "feel right" when properly designed. A glitchy computer program or one that uses an odd way of doing something will quickly become a pain in the neck to use instead of being a helpful tool. A novel that expresses things differently than what is expected, jumps around too fast, or presents the story in poor prose will quickly be set aside. 

All of the Microsoft Office applications seem to work together more or less seamlessly but that’s because they’re all part of the same family and it’s expected they work together. Aeon Timeline integrates smoothly with Scrivener allowing writers to build their timelines as they write the story. For some, this would be a huge help.

Google’s calendar application is an example of a program that works seamlessly across multiple platforms and devices. It’s why I use it as my sole calendar application. The other day, I was decided to put my wife’s calendar on my own. She's a heavy user of her calendar and it is used to remind her of everything from having to call a friend to sending out birthday cards and going to appointments. When I need to make plans, it would be nice to reference my own calendar as well as hers. Putting her calendar on mine was a snap.

When I looked at it though, I noticed that a large number of items were missing. Investigating, I discovered she had somehow began making entries using something called “HTC Sync Manager (Outlook)”. There’s not a lot of information about what this application does but I’m assuming its purpose is to sync your calendar with Microsoft Outlook. Since these events and reminders are not stored as part of Google’s calendar, they’re not displayed on the computer or on a shared version of the calendar. That’s a problem!

One of the reasons I put my wife on Google calendar was to prevent a loss of all her events and reminders if she needed to replace her phone. When she moved from her old Samsung to the HTC, I had to resort to a third-party program to move her calendar data. Never again! I found that HTC Sync Manager is installed by default and somehow my wife had begun using it. Although her events showed up on her phone, they did not appear on any other device – bad news. This told me her reminders and events would be lost if her phone needed replaced.

I spent a few hours manually copying her events to Google calendar and deleting the HTC Sync events. I then I disabled the HTC Synch Manager. Now, when I look at her calendar on my account all her events are there and I know they’re backed up and available anywhere from any device.

This goes to show you that you might have things on your phone that vanish forever if your phone needs to be replaced. I automatically backup my phone’s data to the cloud – one never knows when your phone is going to stop working, get dropped in the water, or stolen. Some people (like my wife) carry their entire life around in their pocket. If you do, make sure your life remains intact if something catastrophic happens to your phone.


Technology should do this automatically. Because it doesn’t, people lose all sorts of important information every day. Not just on cell phones, but on computer hard drives as well as the internet. Never rely on a single storage location. Back up your work – back it up automatically – back it up in multiple locations if you can. Someday, you’re going to thank yourself for doing so.

You should use the same rigor when writing. If the story is not flowing, clashes internally, or is a pain in the neck to simply read – then something's not right and it must be fixed. A story should have a flow to it and read as if it's a natural extension of your mind. If you have beta readers and they consistently tell you the story is good but something seems a bit off about how it's presented – listen to them! Find the problem, dig deeper into their feedback, and then fix your story. Your readers will appreciate it.

2016-07-10

Timeline software

Updates
Words written in Peacekeeper Pathogen = 0. Not the greatest update is it? But, that's not to say that I haven't been busy! I'm on vacation (again) and hope to restart work on PK3 very soon. But first, I need to finish a project I recently started -- creating a full and complete timeline for the entire Galactic Alliance universe. More on this in a moment.

Dragonverse Origins is finally getting very close to being done. I have a possible complete cover and after showing it around at the writers meeting yesterday, I will be making some small adjustments. The feedback was very positive.

Sale!
The first book of my two series (Dragonverse and Galactic Alliance) are both on sale right now for $0.99 each. This sale ends on the 14th. Please help get the word out concerning this sale as I don't do things like this very often. My thanks to those who do so. I don't heavily promote my books and rely mostly on word of mouth to get sales. I hate advertisements, especially ones that continually intrude on my life. I do understand that they are useful -- I've discovered Scrivener and other usefull applications through ads. What I don't like are the people who send out tweet after tweet or bombard their Facebook page with the same post every 30 minutes pushing their book. I did post the sale on my social networking sites twice but you won't see any more.

Timeline Software
I believe I've mentioned this in a couple past posts -- building a useful timeline is not an easy thing to do! In the past, I've resorted to using Microsoft Excel and just laying it out from left to right with dates and events all on separate lines and each cell representing a single day. The length of each event is indicated by changing the color of the cells. I make the cells as small as possible to fit as much as possible on the screen. This works, but it's a bit of a pain. If I needed to track events associated with a single person or place, this would be nearly impossible.

Recently, I ran across a blog post (forgive me if I can't remember who's it was) that talked about a program called Aeon Timeline. What made me take an interest and research further was the fact that the program was written with writers in mind. I did some research, read the reviews, and then downloaded a copy. You can try it out for 20 days before purchasing a copy. I'm about half-way through my trial period and I can tell you I will be buying it before my time runs out. I gave a short demo of the program at my writers group and several people expressed interest. One said it will solve her problem of keeping things straight in her complex fantasy world -- especially when she learned she can create her own calandar!

A concern of mine is that the Peacekeeper series, which takes place between books 2 and 3 of the main Galactic Alliance series, will eventually run into the last book of the GA series. The problem is that I don't have a complete GA universe timeline. I've spent the last week building one. It's going to be a few more days but I will eventually have the entire timeline for the series laid out.

The program was apparently developed for use on the Mac first and then transported over to Windows. I believe it was written by a single person. As a programmer, I can tell you that it takes a lot off work to produce a program of this quality and complexity. Paying the $50.00 to own a legal copy is worth it especially since the developer had to hire another person to move the program over to Windows (or so I read).

The program is also able to interface smoothly with Scrivener so you have access to the timeline from within Scrivener. I have not yet tested this feature but once I become familiar with Aeon I'm sure I will be making the link between the two.

The user's manual is on-line only and for me, this is a problem. I did find a PDF user manual for version 1 and it is helpful. The developer did say he was working on a PDF version of the manual and it will be released soon. I can tell that the manual was written by the developer because it lacks the sort of information a user might be looking for. It does a great job of covering the user interface, what each button does, how to add entities and characters, and generally how to get around the program. What it lacks are the examples of how to apply this program to the real world problems. I'm guilty of making the same mistake in my own manuals and that's why I call them Technical Reference Manuals. A user's manual should contain examples of how to apply and use the program to solve everyday solutions. There are a few, but not many. All that aside, the user's manual is a good place to start to get to know the program.

I've looked into several ways of building a timeline and Aeon Timeline is by far the best one for writers. If you need a timeline program, download it and take some time to play around with it. I suggest you read the user's manual first so you're not eating away at your 20-day free trial period. Play with it. Get to know it. See if it solves your timeline problem.

The below is a partial list of the program's features:

  • Ability to create a user-specified calendar with full control over days, months, years, etc. Timelines can have only a single calendar. (Too bad a multiple calendar feature is not available - I could use it for my Dragonverse series).
  • Assignments of characters, places, and story arcs to each event. You can add more of these assignment items such as adding an entity called "Book" to show where each event takes place in a series.
  • The ability to display the events along with the intersection of characters and other assigned links. This allows the author to identify where a character is throughout the story.
  • Events can use a calendar date or just start at zero and move forward in time.
  • Interfaces smoothly with Scrivener.

2016-07-03

Sales

Update
I have not done much work on Peacekeeper 3 this past week. Blame it on having other priorities or being stuck on the plot -- take your pick. I did, however, solve the plot issue the other day and I should be back to working on it soon. My wife has also not made as good a progress as I'd hoped in her review of Dragonverse Origins. I will be stepping up my 'reminders'.

Sales
Writers write because they are called by an inner voice to do so. But sales are what keeps writers going back to the keyboard with new ideas. I've been struggling with the slowdown in sales now for several months and it seems to be getting worse. This does have an impact on my desire to write. This morning, as I was catching up on Twitter before writing this post, I learned I'm not the only one with this problem. Book sales are falling -- a lot.

Some people will hear that and believe that Amazon is just not reporting all the sales. They will argue that authors really don't know how many books they've sold on Amazon and we have to just take the company's word on it. Those who tend to believe in conspiracies will swear that Amazon is selling books, reporting fewer sales to the authors, and pocketing the unreported revenue. I don't believe that. Amazon's sales system is totally automated and a programmer would have to write the code to cheat the authors out of their due royalty. I'm sure this would not go unnoticed.

So what's happening? I don't know. Maybe people aren't reading as much these days. Maybe they're spending more time on social networking sites, playing games, or any number of other activities that desire your time and attention. But the fact remains, sales are down, and writers are beginning to notice and talk about it.

As a writer, slow sales are depressing. But, knowing I'm not the only one seeing this helps a lot. We writers can be an odd bunch. We spend hours alone, hunched over a keyboard or a notepad spinning lies in the form of intricate stories for other people's enjoyment. Like a child, the story is nurtured and fed. It grows up and matures until it is ready to begin its life in the world as a published work. Because our stories are like our children, because we've invested so much time and effort into preparing them for the rest of the world, we tend to want to protect them and to see them prosper. When they don't, we see it as a sign that we were poor parents. But, if everyone's stories are not doing well, then we can rest assured that we've done the best we can and it's not our fault that our children are struggling.

Sales of my books have dropped but they have not hit zero -- at least not for more than a few days at a time. If anyone is curious, send me an email and I will gladly share my numbers with you. Sometimes being open and honest about sales with other writers (and readers) can help the rest of the community. A lone writer has all sorts of odd thoughts about things. We write alone -- but that does not mean we must become hermits. Knowledge is power -- it can also enlighten us.

Other News
Just a quick note about a new program I've downloaded. One of my main concerns with the Peacekeeper series is maintaining a consistent and accurate timeline. I've tried various ways of doing this and none seem to work out well. Excel has worked best for me but it was a pain to set up and maintain. Yesterday, I downloaded Aeon Timeline. The company's website says the program was written with writers in mind and it interfaces with Scrivener -- the program I use to write. I haven't opened it yet, but the reviews look great and I'm anxious to give it a try. It's a bit pricey at $50.00, but it does allow you to try it for free for 20 days -- a great feature. If the software lives up to its hype, I will gladly hand over $50.00. I will let you know how this program works out in a future post.

2016-06-26

ID2

Get the Word Out
I'm putting this first because I'm asking everyone who reads this to do me a favor. Over the next few days, please put out the word on as many social networking sites as possible and at least once a day for a few days, about this bundled ebook offering from https://storybundle.com/scifi. There are two reasons I'm asking this: 1) Launch Pad gets some of the profits from the sales; 2) I have a short story in the Launch Pad anthology.

The bundle of science fiction stories is something you will be able to enjoy for a long time. The pricing is exceptionally good. And, best of all, some of the proceeds will go toward supporting Launch Pad.

Update
My wife is making fair progress on Dragonverse Origins. Her intention was to do quite a bit of proofing yesterday at the bookstore after we saw Independence Day Resurgence. As we sat down with our coffee and snacks, a friend of ours that we got to know in the bookstore appeared. The rest of the time was spent talking and no proofing got done. That's life. Proofing for my wife is not a full-time job. She stays pretty busy and she fits proofing in when she can. It's sort of like my writing -- I fit it in when I can.

IDR was, in my opinion, a good movie. Like most science fiction movies, you have to turn on part of your brain so you can enjoy the movie. There were many totally bogus scientific screw-ups -- enough to give those who know plenty to rip the movie to shreds. But that's not why I go to see movies like this. I think it would have been much better if the science was accurate, but most people don't know what good science looks like. Spacecraft do not fly anything like airplanes. Giant ships like those depicted in Independence Day (especially in Resurgence) are predicted to be impossible to build and can devastate an entire planet simply by orbiting them. But, all that aside, I enjoyed the cool alien weapons and technology used in the movie. I just pretended the ships involved were much smaller.

As for work on PK3 (Peacekeeper Pathogen), like my wife, life tends to get in the way. That's not to say that I haven't made any progress. I've added a couple thousand words since my last post. But I have also been doing a lot of thinking about this book and I've solidified the story in my mind. This is important because I wasn't exactly too sure how the book was going to play out. I have a good plan in mind now.

My writing style is known as the SOP or pantser style. This means I typically start a book with only a vague idea as to where it's going. Some authors are outliners -- they will outline each chapter from start to finish before starting on the book. Some are in between. But even a die-hard pantser will admit that they at least have some idea what they want to do with the book. If they didn't, then they wouldn't have started writing the story in the first place. I start with a central theme, an idea of what the story will revolve around. For the original Peacekeeper, it was all about what becoming a peacekeeper is like. For Translight, it was about mankind's first interstellar ship and first contact. All stories must have a goal even if it can't be put into words. A writer will take the central idea -- the core of what he or she wants to write about -- and develop a story that uses that central idea to achieve the story's goal.

Time to get back to writing.

2016-06-19

Planning ahead

Update
I have made no progress on Peacekeeper 3: Pathogen due to other priorities. All of the recommended changes to Dragonverse Origins that my wife has suggested so far as part of her editorial/grammatical review have been entered. I’m hoping she finishes up by the end of next week. I’ve also managed to spend some time working on a very short story called either The Lives I Touched or The Bridge (I haven’t decided which yet). This is a short story that I’d started, read at one of our writer group meetings and then forgotten about. The other day, several members of the group asked if I’d finished the story – apparently, they really enjoyed it. So, I’ve dusted it off and I thought I would see if I could finish it. I’ve made progress but it’s not done yet. I’m not sure what genre to put it in though. It doesn’t really fit into any specific genre.

Planning ahead
Last Friday, I attended a retirement lunch for a fellow worker who decided that it was time to move on to the next phase of his life. I’ve been seeing a lot of these recently and one of these days it’s going to be my turn. That started me thinking about long-range planning. There are too many people I know who never look beyond tomorrow. Many have a hard time looking more than a few hours into the future. If you don’t have a clue as to what you’re going to do in the coming days, then you’re going to be in serious trouble in the future. This applies to almost every aspect of life from finances to health.

I asked the man retiring last week what his plans were and he seemed to know what he would be doing during his retirement years. Keeping busy, keeping your mind active, and knowing where you are going are all important things to be doing. If you have no plan for your life when you retire, then why retire in the first place? Like most of my coworkers, he’s been putting away money into various accounts over the years and now he can enjoy the benefits of years of hard work. That’s financial planning and it’s something that many people today seem to lack.

This sort of long-range planning can be applied to your writing career as well. Do you know what your next story will be? Do you have a notebook of ideas for future stories? Are you always looking for ways to improve yourself? Do you listen to your readers? All these – and many more – are part of what a writer should be thinking about. If you don’t have a plan, you’re just fumbling around in the dark without any guidance.

Let’s say your next story gets the attention of enough people and it begins to rapidly climb the Amazon charts. You hit the top 100 for a week and sales slowly begin to drop off. If you’re one of those who have no plan, you might take that huge royalty check and go buy a new car. You might even quit your day job because, after all, you’re a top-selling author! Your attitude might change and pretty soon you believe you’re better than other authors. Admittedly, this is an extreme example, but it’s possible. So let’s see what happens as time continues to march forward.

Sales continue to slowly fall. Since you want to remain a top-selling author, you rush to finish your next book. You fly through your editing, slap together a cover, and upload it to Amazon. Sales rise but only for a few days. Next year, when it comes time to pay your taxes, you discover you don’t have the money in your bank account to cover what you owe the IRS for those few big royalty checks you spent. Book sales are still sliding. You call up your old boss and he sadly tells you that your old position has already been filled. Desperate, you crank out another book while living on Raman noodles and coffee. The reviews for your last book are terrible and sales continue to fall. Soon, you’re living on welfare without any future.

Okay, that’s an extreme example, but it’s entirely possible. People who get ahead look toward the future and keep the past in mind. Even professionals continue to work to improve what they do. No writer is perfect and the skill of writing can always be improved. Read books on how to write, listen to what your readers have to say, ask for honest feedback and actually hear what they tell you. Think about what you will be doing next week, next month, next year, and for the next hundred years. A hundred years? Why not? Medical technology is advancing rapidly and there may come a time in the not too distant future when human lives can be extended. So why not start planning for that eventuality now?

If you’re smart, you should continue to plan for what will happen to your legacy when you move on to the next plane of existence. What will happen to your royalty checks (they're not going to stop just because you're dead)? Who will manage your website? What about all those stories you have laying around that were never submitted? Can your wife or your executor get into your phone, your bank account, your computer, or the hundreds of other online accounts you have scattered all over the internet? Will anyone even know you have those accounts?


Plan for the future. Plan for how you will live out the rest of your life and plan out how what you’ve done in life will be taken care of when you die. If you don’t plan ahead, you may as well just be walking along with your eyes shut.

Right now, my plan is to finish Dragonverse Origins so I can see sales go up at least a little. I'm also working on Peacekeeper: Pathogen. Sales have been done and the only way to see them rebound is to get a few more books out there. Time to end this post and get back to writing.