2017-06-25

Restart

Sometimes, a writer must scrap large swaths of work to put the story back on the right track. I just had to do this for my current work in progress. I never outline. I've tried doing it but it's just not my gig. A few days ago, I realized that the way I got my characters into the situation they needed to be in was not really something that could happen. It was also quite boring and boring is not what a reader wants to read. So, I inserted a blank chapter and began to write.

The new storyline reads much better. I am now in the process of adjusting the remaining chapters to conform to the new series of events. I think I can reuse quite a bit of what I'd written earlier but I'm going to have to make some changes to keep things consistent. The good thing is that I caught it early and not much later.

This isn't the first time I've written myself into a corner. Even authors who outline get themselves stuck in unworkable situations from time to time. Stories often tend to take on a life of their own especially when the writer is totally immersed in the work being created. I would say that out of the 11 books I've published, I knew how four of them would end before I started writing them. One of the joys of writing my own stories is not that I control everything in my universe, it's the surprise I get as the story reveals itself as I write.

Course Adjustment (not firm on that title yet) currently stands at 15,834 words with 1,889 words in my holding bin. Those are the words I chopped out so I could reset the storyline.

My efforts to learn HTML 5 and CSS 3 have been paying off. I have a preliminary new author website up and running on my local PC. I have a book on the way that's filled with information on how to build a responsive website. This is a design that uses the power of HTML 5 and CSS 3 to allow a single website to look good on any device without having to write a bunch of complex code. I'm still learning and experimenting (which is how I learn a new programming language).

My current contract with Webs.com does not run out until May of 2018. Early next year, I will be opening an account with a new host and building a test site under their sub-domain. After making sure it displays properly on as many devices and browsers as I can find, I will transfer my domain name to the new host and build my new author site there. Why am I moving from Webs.com? Because I am stuck using their proprietary website builder instead of being able to build my own site by hand using HTML.

Another reason is that I have an Excel spreadsheet I use to verify the math in my science fiction stories. I hope to put that on my website for anyone to use. That will require either JavaScript or server-side Java to run and Webs.com does not support those goals.

If you're looking to build a simple website, Webs.com offers an inexpensive alternative. If it's small enough, the cost is free except for the cost of obtaining and holding onto your exclusive domain name. It was a good choice back when I was just starting but it's time I moved up to a different level.

2017-06-18

Launch Pad 2017

In my last post, I explained I would not be posting until I returned from Launch Pad. I arrived home late Saturday night on 6/10/17. I slept in late the next day and still had unpacking to do so I decided not to post last weekend. I had a great time at Launch Pad and met another group of fine writers. Funding this year was even tighter than last and next year looks like it's going to be even more of a challenge. Unfortunately, this will most likely be my last trip to Laramie.

Although sales have been okay, they are not great enough to justify the expense of making the trip to Launch Pad. There is also the looming possibility that I might be unemployed in the near future because of what is happening to the nuclear power plant I work at. If you've followed this blog or the news, you know that FirstEnergy (the company I work for) has decided to get out of the generation business and is selling all their power plants--including mine. Because we don't know if the plant will be sold or closed, I'm preparing for the worst--unemployment.

I might have a title for my next novel. It was suggested by one of the Launch Pad attendees while we were discussing our current projects. The possible title is Course Adjustment. So far, I have written 14,264 words in the new novel and I hope to have it finished by winter. That will allow for editing and cover art creation to take place over the cold weather with a release set for early next year. After that...well...I'm not sure. I do have a dragon book in mind but the Dragonverse series does not sell as well as I would have hoped. People these days seem to read more military science fiction. I guess it's just a sign of the times. Perhaps I will have more luck if I write a horrific book involving an alien species without any compassion towards humans.

I used to think that the people of this planet would eventually learn that cooperating together for the good of all makes more sense than fighting each other, spreading hate, or thinking only of oneself. It is obvious, however, that we have not managed to set aside our primitive, caveman mentality. There are a few individuals out there who actually try to work for the betterment of all humanity, but the vast majority of people are simply not evolved enough to even realize they are still behaving like the primitive people we were a few hundred thousand years ago.

It's a beautiful day outside and I intend to enjoy it by drinking a calming cup of green tea, listen to the birds sing, and get some writing done.

2017-05-28

Cover Creation

Reminder: Today is the last day to pre-order your copy of Peacekeeper Pathogen. The book will go live on the 29th. Pre-orders help a new book get off to a running start instead of starting off at the bottom of the list.

Yesterday, while at Barnes & Noble, I built the print-ready cover for Peacekeeper Pathogen. Now that I've standardized the overall look of my covers, creating a new cover is not very difficult. Here's the process:

  1. After ensuring the interior is formatted correctly and ready to be uploaded to CreateSpace, it is converted into a final PDF. I do look at the final PDF to make sure the conversion was successful and I got the results I was looking for. At this point, I note the page count (370 in my case).
  2. I then go to CreateSpaces cover template generator and enter the required parameters (Interior type, trim size, number of pages, and the page color). Clicking on "Build Template" results in a zip-file holding a PDF and a PNG file. One of these will be used to build the print-ready cover.
  3. I open the PDF template in Adobe Photoshop Elements. I load up my cover art as well as a photoshop file of my last book.
  4. From this point on, it's just a matter of dragging the components of the cover from one location onto the template, altering the text to get the title correct, and making slight adjustments to the size of the various objects so they all fit comfortably in the template.
  5. The final result is saved as a high-quality PDF. The results in Photoshop are shown below:

When I'm ready to publish, the print-ready cover is uploaded as well as the interior and everything is combined to create the final product. The interior is automatically checked for correct margins and basic formatting and you can preview the results. Since the print process can slightly alter a cover, the people at CreateSpace will ensure that the components of the book all work together to create a good printed book. If things aren't quite right, they can make some alterations to get things right. If you don't like the final results, you just upload new files and do it all again.

Next week, I travel to Laramie, Wyoming where I will be helping out with another session of Launch Pad Workshop. I will not be writing a blog post during my trip. I am looking forward to meeting another interesting and talented group of people. I will write-up a short summary of my trip when I return. Because of how this trip's travel times worked out, I will most likely not be posting anything here for the next two weeks.

2017-05-21

Why Write

My current project stands at 5,869 words. I am making slow but steady progress. I leave for Launch Pad in two weeks. I should make significant progress during my time there. I have now reached the point in my HTML/CSS/JavaScript studies where I need to start working on a website. As with any language, just reading about it does not mean you know how to do it. One must actually use the language to truly understand how it functions. I plan on doing that starting today.

Yesterday, my wife and I went to see a movie named The Fight For Space. It was produced like a documentary one might see on PBS. I am old enough to remember sitting in front of the television when we first set foot on the surface of the moon. I was also there when the last foot left. Fifty years ago, we had the technology to put people on the moon. Most of that technology is now lost. NASA is developing the SLS, a massive rocket that will become their latest heavy lift vehicle. It's sad to think that all the billions of dollars spent on developing the SLS is wasted because--when it's finally ready for service--it will be about as capable of the Saturn V. Think about that for a moment. We had a heavy lift rocket that we used to send people to the moon 50 years ago. How advanced would that vehicle be if we had continued to improve it instead of setting it aside? It's sad. The Fight For Space is an eye-opening movie and if you ever get a chance to view it--do so.

I've always believed that a person should choose a career they enjoy. I got the itch to write as far back as junior high school. But I also developed an intense liking to science fiction and that led to my interest in technology. My dad was a ham radio operator and I borrowed quite a number of his books on electronics. I read every book in our school library on computer science as well as the physical sciences. In addition to electronics, I became interested in nuclear power. Back then, nuclear power plants would send you a packet of information if you wrote to them. I managed to get several and soon I was learning all about nuclear power. My dad was also a computer programmer and I picked up on that as well. When it came time for me to join the workforce, I had plenty of choices.

I began my working life as a computer operator. But, bad choices when I was young led me to join the Navy. That led me into the nuclear power industry. Looking back at the things that happened to change the course of my life, I am amazed because a single wrong choice, a change in timing, a missed chance encounter, could have put me far away from where I am now.

I work at a nuclear power plant. I'm a recognized subject matter expert on several complex systems because of my electronics and computer background. I write computer programs for a living and I write. I am doing everything I love to do. But just enjoying writing is not enough for some to actually write and publish a book. Going all the way is not easy--so why do I write?

I don't write and publish my writing for the money. Having the monthly royalty income is a blessing, but it is not my primary reason for writing. I don't write for the fame. Unless you're a superstar in the writing field, there is no fame in writing and I don't think I would enjoy it anyway. I write because I enjoy knowing that the worlds and stories I create are being enjoyed by others. I write because I have the itch to do so. I edit and have others look at my work and I learned how to properly format a book because I care about my end product. I write because I love to immerse myself in other worlds.

Writing takes time. So does learning a new programming language--something else I very much enjoy doing. I've been writing an average of one book a year since 2009. I still love to write. But, I also love computer programming. The urge to learn a new programming language has gone up a notch with the possibility that I might find myself unemployed. My priorities are shifting and writing is beginning to slide down the scale and is slowly being replaced by programming. Hopefully, as time goes on, I can find a happy medium where I can continue to do both with plenty of time left over to spend with my wife.

Life is about balance. It's a constantly changing balancing act where a person must live in the present while planning for the future using the experience gained from the past. Finding that right balance is the key to living a happy life. I'm happy now. I plan to be happy in the forseeable future.

2017-05-14

Formatting for Print

I actually managed to get some writing done last week. My newest novel now has a whopping 5,127 words spread across 2.5 chapters. The first chapter was peer reviewed at the writers group meeting yesterday. One of the advantages of using Scrivener to write a novel is the ability to quickly and easily take notes when people are talking about your writing. Simple corrections can be made in the text via any word processing program, but Scrivener has a spot where you can jot down notes for each document. For me, a document is a chapter. When I get complex feedback, I can just write a few notes and then later, when I have more time to edit, read those notes and incorporate them into the manuscript. Scrivener does require time to learn but once you've become familiar with how it works, you'll never to back to writing in a standard word processor again.

Last week, I mentioned that I would be talking about how I format a book for CreateSpace which is where I get my printed copies from. Even though I use Scrivener to write my novel, I use Microsoft Word for my final editing and formatting. I subscribe to Office 365 and Word has the ability to output a document to PDF which is required by CreateSpace.

If you've never formatted a book before, you should spend some time researching how to properly format a novel. The internet is full of examples and I highly suggest doing your research. An improperly formatted book will instantly label you as an amateur and many readers will move on to other authors. Pay attention to the type of books the article is talking about. Children's books are not formatted the same as a science fiction novel and those are very different than a book on photography. Go to the bookstore and pick up a pile of books similar to what you're looking to publish. Look at how the interior is formatted and take notes.

You're looking for the following:

  • How are the page numbers formatted? Where are they located on odd and even pages?
  • Look at the font that's used and how many different types and sizes of fonts appear.
  • Where do chapter headings appear? 
    • Are they always on an odd or even page?
    • What font style is used?
    • Where on the page is the chapter heading and how is it separated from the start of the chapter?
  • If footnotes are used, how are they separated from the main text?
  • What line-spacing is used?
  • Is the text justified? Is the first line always indented?
  • What's on the title page? What's on the next few pages?
  • How wide are the margins?
All of these and more are things you must keep in mind when formatting a book for print. Ebooks are relatively simple by comparison! For my novels, I have a set of rules I follow for interior formatting. They are:
  • Text is in Georgia 11, line spacing of at least 15 points (pts), justified with window and orphan turned on.
  • Chapter headings and titles are in Calibri.
  • Chapter 1 begins on page 1.
  • Chapters always begin on an odd page which puts it on the right-side of an open book.
  • First paragraph after a chapter or section break is flush left. All other paragraphs use a 0.3" indent.
  • Page numbers are at the top and formatted so the page numbers are at the outside edge of the printed book.
  • Inside margin is set to 0.8" with an outside margin of 0.5". Top and bottom margins are set to 0.7". The inside margin might be increased if the book has a lot of pages.
  • Hyphenation is always turned on.
To format the interior, I use Word's two-page format so I can see two pages at once. When doing this, it is very important to realize that when the book is printed, the page on the right of the printed book is actually the page on the left in Word. To get all of my chapters to start on a right-facing page, I either insert a blank page or (if there is a small amount of text on the last page) I adjust the line spacing of the paragraphs a few pages back by very small (0.2 points) increments until the chapter lines up properly. I try to keep the amount of white space on the last page of a chapter to a minimum but this can't always be avoided.

Formatting a book takes time but it is an indication that you care about the product you're asking the reader to purchase.

If anyone wants more information or has any questions I can answer, please feel free to email me. I won't give you a guess if I don't know the answer. It's better to say "I don't know" than to steer someone in the wrong direction.