2012-12-30

12-30-2012: Getting the math right

I have to agree with a fellow writer whom I got to know while attending Launchpad earlier this year - the holiday time sure puts a major crimp in productivity.  (You can see his post here: http://www.matthewsrotundo.com/blog/) I thought I would get some writing done this weekend but only managed less than 1,000 words.  This morning I unexpectedly slept in later than I thought possible and then encountered problems when we got to the bookstore.  Problems?  Like what, you might ask.  Well, since you asked, let me explain.

I prefer to keep the numbers I use in my books as realistic as possible.  For example, if I say I want to be traveling past a certain point at a speed of 15 Km/sec then I had better be correct when I say how much acceleration I will have to apply and for how long to achieve that velocity.  I have a spreadsheet that I rely on to do the math.  Today, I found an error in it and it took me most of an hour to figure out which one of the equations I was using was wrong.  Instead of writing, I spent time fixing the spreadsheet.  Still curious?  Okay - here's how it all went down...

A fleet is poised to attack a planet.  They are stationed 50 million kilometers away.  I first dumped in some numbers wondering how long it would take them to get there at 300G's acceleration.  Simple - divide the distance in half (for acceleration and deceleration time), punch in 300 in my magic spreadsheet, and BINGO, the answer appeared - 3.6 hours.  Multiply that by two for total travel time.  The maximum velocity attained by this calculation was something on the order of 12% light speed.  Too fast for me.  So, I decided to just let them boost at 300G's for an hour and then coast for awhile and then decelerate at 300G's at the other end.  I have a different set of equations for that.  Total travel time turned out to be 1.3 hours - What?  How can using less acceleration get me there faster?  Red alert - red alert - red alert.  Error - Error - Error.  Must analyze.

It took a long time to find the problem and a longer time to run the numbers against several websites to ensure they were correct.  The spreadsheet is now fixed.  If you're interested in the spreadsheet I plan on putting it up on my web page in a few days.

Speaking of my web page.  I will be uploading the new Galactic Alliance covers there as well as my spreadsheet.  I've not had the time to update it recently (the darned holiday again).  Check back in a few days if you're curious.

Happy new year!  I hope 2013 treats everyone well.

2012-12-17

12-17-12: New covers are out

Today I uploaded all new covers as well as minor updates to all 3 Galactic Alliance books (Translight, Chroniech, Honor Thy Enemy).  The updates take care of a few additional grammatical errors discovered by a few readers as well as myself.  The new covers are available now on Amazon.com (U.S.) and should be available on Amazon's foreign sites in a few days.  I've also done the same with all the other distributors via Smashwords.  It generally takes them a bit longer to upload changes so if you're a Nook or iPad user you won't see the new covers for a few weeks.

I keep a list of words I have a tendency to screw up; words such as: border vs boarder, ore vs oar, loose vs lose, its vs it's, accept vs except, and their vs they're.  For some unknown reason, I like to mix those up.  I've also been guilty of over using the dash - you know - the little line you can use to break up a sentence - like this.  Not to mention the fact that I don't quite use it right--you're not supposed to to have a space surrounding it.  Another blunder I tend to make is to always put 's after the name of an alien species when referring to them.  "Tholtaran's are an interesting species."  I cleaned up a few of these hanging errors in the new release.

I want to thank Heather Zak, wife of my very good friend AJ (Arnold J. Zak) whom I've known since high school for doing the new covers.  Her artistic skills with a computer are very good.  If you want her to do a cover for you let me know and I'll put you in touch with her.  Price is VERY reasonable.

In other news, Peacekeeper has passed 60K words.  I've ironed out the last minor wrinkle in the story and it's smooth sailing from here.  All I need do now is to finish putting the words down.  Then it's back to the beginning for a second run through.  I hope to have that done before the new year hits although it's going to be very close.  Of course, I'm not sure why I'm working so hard on this since everyone knows the world is going to end on 12-21-12 anyway.  Anyone know of someone who's throwing an end of the world party?

Comments on the new covers compared to the old ones are welcome.

2012-12-12

12-12-12: Peacekeeper update

It's the middle of the week and I just remembered I had not provided an update for some time.  Current word count is 57,900.  Looks like I'm on target for finishing the first draft by the end of the year.

I've started doing something I never thought would work out for me - I've been carrying a notebook around with me so I can write a few paragraphs when I have some idle time.  My job often has periods of idle time. In the past, I've used this time to work on problems of my current project in my head.  Recently, I decided to start carrying a notebook around with me.  Yesterday was a particularly slow day and I managed to write nearly 900 words!  All I had to do was to type them into the computer.  Now that's a good use of time, so guess what I'll be carrying around with me from now on.

Last night, I visited a mentally challenged individual who lives in an adult care facility around the corner.  He had seen the article in the newspaper about me and wanted to see me.  A nurse at the nursing home where my mother-in-law stays also works at this other place.  She talked to my wife and the arrangements were made.  I presented him with two books and we sat and chatted for about an hour.  He has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic with complications.  He seemed very intelligent and well-versed in science fiction.  He seemed pleased to see me and this morning I learned that he talked about the visit for hours after we left.  It's good to do something like that for others.

Today I received two packages that have made my day.  I am now the proud owner of every episode of FarScape as well as Star Trek The Next Generation.  Lots of things to watch when I decide to take a break.

Finally, I thought I would include the new covers for the first two books of the Galactic Alliance series.  Heather Zak, the wife of my best friend from high school, has been working very had at creating new covers for the entire series.  She is working on the last one now and I hope to have them all out by early next year.  So, here they are:



2012-12-02

12-02-12: 50,000 words and counting

I am making good progress on Peacekeeper with 50,000 first-draft words complete.  This morning, I was up at 0430 so I could get some writing done in the morning.  Later today we are going to the bookstore where I should be able to throw more words into the electronic box.  Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to be able to publish the novel until around May of 2013.  Before you start screaming at me, let me explain how this works.

The hardest part of writing a novel is getting the first draft done.  Once that's complete, you have an entire story written.  I hope to finish this part by the end of the year.  Next comes the rewrite.  For me, this is a very important stage because it allows me to go back and fix parts of what I wrote earlier to better conform to what was written later.  I have a to do (todo?) list of things I need to enhance, change, and fix.  The entire rewrite can take a month or longer depending on how much time I have to work on it.  Let's assume the best and it takes me a month - now we're into February.

At this point I have a fairly complete, well-structured novel.  Since changes have been made, I will read it again and make more editorial changes.  That usually doesn't take more than two weeks.  Next, I read it yet again but this time at high speed to ensure that the entire storyline holds together.  Once that process is done the book is pretty much complete.  Two final steps remain.  My wife (who is also my copy-editor) does her magic on my sometimes terrible grammar.  I am getting better though and she finds fewer and fewer mistakes to fix.  She is not a science fiction fan and her detailed look at the book will take a month.  This puts us at the middle of March.

In March, the nuclear plant I work at shuts down for a refueling outage.  I shift into 12 hour days, 6 days a week, for about 2 months.  During that time I will not get any writing or proof-reading done.  Immediately after the outage, I will incorporate my wife's changes and make a final pass through the book checking with her before any other changes are made.  Then it can be published.  Oh - hopefully by then I will have a cover for it as well.  The wife of my best friend from high school days is redoing all my Galactic Alliance covers and she will also be doing the cover for Peacekeeper.  I'm sure she will have it ready by the time I'm ready to publish in May.

Sorry - but that's just how things are turning out.

One more item before I go back to writing.  One of the unique advantages of being an indie publisher is I can count daily book sales as well as monthly totals for each book.  I used to use an Excel spreadsheet to track these and generate graphs.  As the number of books I tracked rose, the spreadsheet became more of a pain and I shifted over to using an Access database.  Graphing from Access wasn't working out and so I looked for alternatives.  Since I use Quicken to track the financial end of writing I thought I could use it to track book sales.  I created two accounts, one for Amazon and one for Smashwords.  At the end of each month, I simply make an entry for each book (Translight, Chroniech, Dragonverse, etc.) in the appropriate account and put down one dollar for each book sold.  Quicken graphing can now show me graphs of monthly sales by book or by seller.  When tax time comes, I hide the accounts.  I still use the Excel spreadsheet to track daily sales.

Okay - enough blogging.  Back to writing...

2012-11-25

11-25-2012: I made the newspaper

This morning was a day I've been waiting for all week.  The local newspaper (The Ashtabula Star Beacon) decided to make me their feature in today's Neighborhood section.  I ran down to the local gas station to pick up some copies and received a very nice surprise - my picture was on the front page of the paper!  I did not expect that.  The newspaper has an online presence and here is a link to the article if you would like to read it:  http://tinyurl.com/c924oph

Peacekeeper is moving along quite well with over 47,000 words written.  I've passed through a lot of the hard stuff and all the rest is just waiting to be written.  It's getting late in the year and I don't think I will be able to have it done, edited, proofed, and ready to publish by the holidays as I had originally hoped.  I must, however, at least finish the first draft by March.  I am planning on attending Millencon in Cincinnati on March 15 and 16 (as a fan, not a writer).  On March 18 I begin working six days a week, 12 hours a day as the power plant I work at shuts down for refueling.  This will last for at least two months and I will not have any time to write, edit, or proof.  My writing gets put on hold.

I've been on vacation this week and I've managed to get a significant amount of writing done.  Thanksgiving is behind us but Christmas is looming ahead.  Lucky for me, my wife is a master at buying Christmas gifts all year long and most of our shopping was complete a long time ago.  Unfortunately, since I spend my time either working, writing, or spending time with family, I have not yet purchased a gift for my wife.  I really don't like malls especially this time of year but I will have to endure them to go on my quest for the perfect gift.  Wish me luck.

2012-11-19

11-19-2012: 42.5K Words and counting

Writer's block is extremely frustrating!  I sit at the keyboard knowing exactly where the story needs to be.  There are piles of words that are just waiting to hit the keyboard.  But those words can't happen until I get past the point I'm at now.  I write a sentence, pause, then delete it.  I stare at the screen then rapidly bang out 3 more sentences.  My fingers hover over the keyboard then those sentences hit the trash as well.  If I had been using a typewriter there would be a pile of wadded up paper on the floor next to me.  In situations like this, I've found it's best to just walk away and do something else.

This is what happened to me a few days ago.  I wrote many sentences and all of them ended up in the bit bucket.  Frustrated, I closed down Scrivener and fired up the latest Star Trek movie.  My wife was out and I had the house to myself which made the whole situation even more frustrating.  I had lots of time to write and I was spending it watching a movie.  Poor use of time.  But the movie was what I needed to allow my brain to work on the problem behind the scenes.  As the Enterprise sailed off with Kirk in command I had my answer.  Scrivener reappeared and the word gates opened.  By the time my wife came home I had written 3,200 words with plenty more ready to roll.  All in all, a great day's worth of writing.

Peacekeeper is moving along quite well now.  I have a clear vision of how it will progress from this point forward.  I have notes of things that need added earlier on as well as things I will have to revise but I'm not going back now to fix things.  I will press forward until the novel is finished.  Only then will I go back and fix what needs fixing.  After that, it's second pass editing time.

I do have one bit of exciting news to report.  Last week, I received an email from a reporter at a local newspaper, The Ashtabula Star Beacon.  Apparently, the paper wants me to be the feature story of the neighborhood section of this coming Sunday's edition.  I've already done the phone interview and sent some more details answers to the reporter via email.  A photographer will be showing up at the house today.  I'm quite excited, especially since I did not solicit this interview.  The paper contacted me.

One more piece of information and I will get back to writing.  Sales have been slowly slipping for months.  I do expect sales during the holiday season to drop as people focus on buying presents for their families.  It was the slow slide up to this point that had me concerned.  Well, not really concerned, they're not my primary source of income.  I've always been a bit skeptical of how much advertising affected sales - until now.  My wife sent off 250 cards using VistaPrint.  Two weeks later, there was a small, but statistically noticeable increase.  Was it the cards?  I think so.  Did I get a good return on investment?  Maybe.  Sometimes advertising works, sometimes not.  I'm still on the fence.

2012-11-11

11-11-12: Peacekeeper on a roll

Last week I was working 12 hour days and was unable to write even a single word.  But, that did not stop me from at least working on Peacekeeper.  During idle moments at work, while taking a shower before bed, and while trying to get to sleep, I was thinking about the book.  Consequently, I made significant progress this weekend.  I get my best writing done early in the morning.  As long as I can stay away from all the other things I could be doing in the morning I can get a lot of writing done.  Saturday and Sunday I was up at 0500 and made good progress on Peacekeeper.

Peacekeeper is turning out to be a very different sort of science fiction for me.  It is more of a mystery than a knock-down drag out space-warfare novel.  There will be battle scenes but there's a lot of stuff leading up to it.  I've been trying to develop my characters a bit more as well as explaining the cultures of some of the races who are members of the Alliance.  It's difficult to develop a whole new culture because we tend to always think that all alien cultures will be like our own.  But how can they?  They're aliens!

I have also mentioned a planet that could easily get me in trouble.  My coworkers have jokingly been trying to get me to write a book titled 'Porn Planet'.  Of course, they want it to be an adult XXX style novel with all sorts of imaginative futuristic ways for adults to have fun.  I have graciously declined.  But, the possibility of such a planet intrigues me and so I have mentioned it in Peacekeeper.  I've not yet decided if my main character will actually go there or not in this novel but it at least opens the door for a future adventure with a more adult theme - something I've tried to avoid.  Science fiction, however, can often be pretty racy and now I've opened the door a bit to let some of it appear in my writing.  Peacekeeper has a bit more adult situations in it than my other novels and might not be appropriate for the very young.

In more personal news, I am now back in touch with another of my best friends from high school.  This guy is totally off the grid.  He does not own a cell phone, does not use banks, and only drives trucks that are older than 1986 because they have distributors and no computers.  He lives in Washington State up in the mountains.  He was one of 3 best friends I had in high school.  The other one still lives in Minnesota and I video chat with him at least once a month.  The last was not doing so well last I heard and I haven't spoken to him in 6 years.

2012-10-29

10-29-2012: The Perils of Not Outlining

Last week, I spent a great deal of time thinking about a tiny piece of my current work in progress.  It revolves around how a potential enemy could gain access to an unsecured link into the military's communication network.  Because of my work schedule, I didn't get any writing done - just a lot of thinking. By the time Saturday rolled around I still had not solved the problem but while thinking about it my subconscious had been busy revising what I had previously written.  Saturday is the day we usually go to the bookstore.  I write and drink wonderful coffee while my wife reads.  I fired up the laptop, opened up Scrivener, and started re-reading the last few paragraphs to get the creative juices flowing.  That's when my brain informed me that the plot needed a bit of action and I would have to throw out most of what I had written last weekend.  Even though I've ended up rewriting the last two chapters, my subconscious was right and the story is better with the new material.

Peacekeeper is starting to solidify into a respectable novel.  I have a whole list of things I need to go back and fix but I won't work on those until the rest of the story is complete.  With my work schedule of late and the holiday season upon us, it's going to be a challenge to finish the first draft before I start working 6 days a week, 12 hours a day for the refuel outage.  I will do my best.  As for retirement - I seriously doubt I will be retiring any time soon so slow writing will just have to continue.

I've said this before, I don't do outlines.  The story pretty much comes to life as I sit at the computer.  Often, this way of writing can result in the destruction of previously written material to make the story better.  I've tried outlining, it doesn't work for me.  The human brain is a marvelous hunk of complexity and it works in mysterious ways.  I've come to trust that little voice I hear every so often because more often than not it's right.  I also know that when I'm 'in the groove' and the words are flowing off my fingers as fast as I can type, I might, at times, discover that I'm writing something I never planned.  Instead of stopping to figure out what the heck is going on, I just keep writing.  I love it when I can surprise myself.

Yesterday, I dropped by Createspace to change the cover on "Off Course".  I discovered two things: 1) Createspace has a new distribution channel which I did not know about - I signed on.  2) My prices were way too high.  I went through every single book and dropped the prices as low as I could while still making a tiny profit.  I'm surprised someone hadn't said something about such high prices.  I think Createspace must have lowered their production cost allowing me to sell the books at a much lower price.  If you want to buy a printed copy - check out the new prices.

In other news, we have taken over custody of two very lovable outdoor cats.  They're brother and sister.  I love cats but I'm also allergic to them which means that even though they are allowed in the house they will be spending the majority of their time outdoors.  For the summer, we bought them each a small cat house where they can sleep during the night.  For the winter, I built them a house.  I took a child's playhouse, set it on a platform, sealed up the openings with plexiglass, insulated it, put up a shelf for them to sit and look out the window, installed a small thermostatically controlled heater, and gave them a heated pad to sleep on.  It took some training but they now use the cat door without any problems.  Late last night I discovered a flaw in my design - I forgot to caulk the edge.  The carpet inside the house is soaking wet because of all the rain we've had.  It wicked in from around the edges.  A dry floor was installed and caulking will be done first thing in the morning before I head to work (I'm on second shift this week).

2012-10-17

10-17-12 Peacekeeper and Scrivener

Peacekeeper is beginning to move along albeit slowly.  I'm having a hard time finding my 'groove' recently.  I believe the issue has to do with distractions.  There was a time when I did a lot of computer programming.  I loved it and there are times I miss the thrill of watching a complex piece of code execute flawlessly.  Speaking in the tongue of C or VB was always fun.  A few weeks ago, I was asked if I would like to finish a project I started nearly 2 years ago.  Even though the possibility of being allowed to continue work on the project is slim (manpower issues) it triggered that old 'programming' mode inside me.  I've been reading a couple books on Visual Studio and C# programming.  That's my major distraction right now.

I recently picked up a book titled Philosophical Explanations by Robert Nozick.  I didn't realize that philosophy books were so hard to read!  It's like reading a book on quantum physics when you have only a knowledge of basic algebra.  Heavy stuff.  But, I'm plugging my way through this massive 650 page book in the hopes of expanding my limited awareness of my surroundings.  I also have magazines to read as well as several books on how to improve my writing and some science fiction I've been wanting to get to.  Time seems to be something I'm in short supply of.  Anyone know where I can buy some more?  Perhaps when I'm retired. . .yah--like that's going to happen soon.

I thought I would give one final update on Scrivener.  My bottom line after using it for quite some time now is that I like it.  I haven't tried to compile anything yet but for creating the first draft of a book I find it to be most useful.  The ability to display document notes as well as two separate documents simultaneously is a big advantage.  I like that it remembers where I left off.  There are ways of getting something about the same with Word or OpenOffice but it's not as smoothly integrated as Scrivener.  In the past, I would have to create two documents and then open then up and resize them so I could see them both.  With Scrivener it's part of the program.  I do have one word of advice - read the manual carefully!  I wanted to work with my manuscript as a single, large document and I thought Scrivener had a way of doing so.  It took some digging and I had to read the words carefully but I did figure out how to do it.  Many of the features are not self-evident so, please, read the manual.

2012-10-11

10-11-12 Short story complete

This last week has been an incredibly busy one for me.  Even though I've been off for the last 7 days, I've not had much time to write.  We have taken over the care and feeding of a pair of cats (brother and sister) from across the street.  Mamma cat had kittens some time ago and lost both of them.  We decided to get them spayed and neutered.  With winter on the way, we decided to set them up with a nice shelter.  My wife ordered a playhouse which I had put together a couple weeks ago.  I spent most of my 7-day finishing that project.  The playhouse now has plexiglass windows and is insulated.  There is a nice ledge inside for the cats to lay on and look out the window.  The floor is carpeted and a heated pad is as well as a heated water dish are inside.  Tomorrow we begin introducing the cats to their new home.

I also spent time doing family things.  We drove to Sandusky to visit my daughter.  I spent time mulching the leaves and putting the outside in order for winter.  Even though I was busy, I still managed to squeeze in some time for writing.  I put Peacekeeper on temporary hold in order to work on a short story.  The people I went to Launchpad with are putting together an anthology of sorts and they put out a call for short stories.  I normally don't write them but an idea for one did pop into my head.  I didn't want to forget about it so I decided to write it to make sure it was complete before the submission deadline.  The first draft is now done.

Peacekeeper will be back on my radar as of tomorrow night.  I'm rolling to night shift starting on Thursday night.  I can usually get a few hours of writing in when I'm on this shift.  But, things are starting to get very busy at work so I may or may not have the time.  I will have to go back and edit the short story in the near future but until then I'll be working on Peasekeeper.  I have a little over 30,000 words written right now.

Right now it's a little after three o'clock in the morning and I'm pretty tired.  I need to stay up for at least another 3 hours.  If I try to work on Peacekeeper I will fall asleep at the keyboard.  So, instead of working on writing, I'll be firing up an action-packed movie (Avengers comes to mind) to keep me awake.  Hopefully though, when I next blog I will be able to report some progress on Peacekeeper.

2012-09-28

Backup plan saves the day


About a week ago my wife’s hard drive began reporting eminent failure from the drive's SMART system.  I've been working 12-hour nights and I let it go, hoping it would last.  I did, however, create a system image just in case it didn't last much longer.

The other day, it began sporadically rebooting. I pulled her failing HD out and replaced it with an identical one from a system I had retired a year ago but kept around in case I needed it.  I fired the computer up with the Windows Recovery CD and restored her entire system in about an hour. Twenty-four hours went by and then I got a call at work telling me that the Quicken file we use to track our money was out of date. Oops! I had totally forgotten that Quicken was the ONLY program that stored data on the C: drive!

I was not worried though. Because of how I had set up our backups everything was easily fixed. I use I-Drive to back up our financial stuff. Quicken makes a backup copy after every 5th time it is closed. I also have a batch file that runs daily to copy the Quicken master file and backups over to the I-Drive which is cloud storage. You might be thinking that I was still out of luck since the daily backup would have already overwritten the cloud version with the older version – and it did. But, I-Drive maintains a history of previous versions. It was a simple matter to go find the version that existed prior to the HD replacement and restore it. All my wife had to do is reenter the changes from a day ago – a piece of cake since I told her to keep the receipts set aside until I fixed the issue.

The above situation simply proves a point I’ve been trying to impress upon others for a long time – hard drives can and do fail and having a good backup system in place can prevent data loss. I use I-Drive to backup my financial data and Dropbox to synchronize my book files between the various computers I might be using. I also have a large 2 TB network drive (Seagate GoFlex Home if you're curious) that is used to back up all of the other data I have laying around.  I periodically make system images which are stored on external drives.  I keep my data (well most of it anyway) separate from the operating system drive.  For the REALLY important stuff I have a small portable drive that either sits in our firebox or in the bank's safe deposit box.  

I have always been a fanatic about backing things up – and now I know why.  Now it's time to write!

2012-09-24

Writer's block and how I overcame it

It happens to every writer-the dreaded blank mind-writer's block.  It might last 60 seconds, an hour, all day, or for much, much longer.  This happened to me while working on Peacekeeper.  I had just finished writing a scene and was about to begin chapter 15.  Nothing, nada, a blank mind.  Crap!  I have a rare opportunity to spend 4 hours writing and I've got nothing. Crap!

Writer's block can be devastating to a writer who thinks they must write a certain number of words each day.  I write what I can, when I can and when writer's block hits I have to put writing aside and let my subconscious mind work its magic.  I close down Scrivener, get up, and walk away.  But, I don't stop thinking about the problem.  I do other things to help take my mind off the novel.  I read, mow the lawn, get things done around the house, watch TV, or surf the web.  The trick for me is to get my mind on something else allowing the subconscious to work.  I will periodically check back with the problem, reminding my hidden self that there's something that needs resolved.  I think about the problem driving to work, while taking a shower, and as I'm trying to go to sleep.  The last seems to work best.

This time the block lasted 3 days.  The solution, as it normally does, came to me seemingly out of the blue.  I was sitting on the couch with my wife watching TV when my subconscious alerted me to the fact that it had solved the problem.  An entire scene suddenly popped into my head.  Being a good husband, I didn't just get up and run to the computer room.  I will admit that my interest in the program playing on the set was now close to zero.  I ran the scene over in my head, told my wife about the epiphany, and then proceeded to fill in the details.  By the time my wife had to go to bed, the scene was clear with words on standby to be typed.

I was working my way into a night-shift schedule and after my wife hit the hay I hit the keyboard.  I managed to hammer out quite a bit before sleep started to interfere.  I was forced to go to bed with more words ready to write.  The next day I continued writing and as I did the next scene unfolded without any problems.

If writer's block strikes, perhaps simply walking away for awhile will help break it.  The subconscious mind is a wonderful, incredible, tool.  Let it do it's job and keep prodding it until it produces an answer.  Peacekeeper is now at 29,300 words.  Hopefully, I will have time from 0300 until 0630 (I work from 1830 till 0630 but the second-shift crew doesn't leave until 0300) for the next 3 days while I'm on night shift to add to that count.

Just finished "Beginnings, Middles & Ends" by Nancy Kress.  You can read my review on GoodReads at: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/68317.Beginnings_Middles_Ends.  I'm now starting a rather thick book titled "Philosophical Explanations".

2012-09-16

Time management

Jake Kerr, a fellow Launchpad 12 attendee, posted an interesting tweet the other day: "My recent promotion at work has been the absolutely worst thing to happen to my writing.  Need more hours in day."  I feel his pain!  I have a job that demands a lot of my time.  I also try to give my wife head of the line privileges in the list of things I must do.  Writing is often item 3 or 4.  But, proper time management can allow me to squeeze a little bit of writing time out of a busy schedule.  The key to proper time management is to get your priorities straight.

I cannot write when there are people talking around me, especially if the conversation involves anything I might be interested in.  I can, however, read during those times.  To write, I need to concentrate and think about the scene I'm trying to develop and how I'm going to put that scene into words.  I can't do that when there are distractions.  When I read, I am taking in information and I have developed the ability to tune out the rest of the world.  What that means for me is when I have some time but I can't concentrate on writing I can read.  That allows more time later to write.  At the moment, I'm reading books on how to write which are important to me and therefore have a fairly high priority.

If I find myself with time at work, I think about my current project.  This allows me to start writing almost as soon as I sit in front of the keyboard.  I might only get a paragraph or two written before something interrupts but that's a paragraph I won't have to write later on.  Let me give you an example of how I manage my time.  Yesterday my wife went out with a friend leaving me to myself for most of the day.  I had a huge list of things to do.  I did 2 of them while she was in the shower.  While I was doing another I thought about what I was going to write.  Two other items needed concentration so I thought nothing of writing.  When everything was done I could do one of several things; Read, watch some TV and relax, surf the web, or write.  I grabbed the netbook, set myself up outside, and spent 2 hours writing.

This morning I had several things to do including updating this blog.  This blog is writing.  As soon as it's finished I will fire up Scrivener and keep working on Peacekeeper which I thought about this morning during breakfast as well as last night in the shower and while falling asleep.  I have words in my head ready to hit the keyboard.

I just finished reading "Characters and Viewpoint".  I give it 3 stars.  Good information but a bit heavy on the examples.  I think the examples could have been shorter as reading too much of an example detracts from the lessons the author is trying to give.  Overall though it was a good book.  I also finished reading "Spider Star" by Mike Brotherton, the person responsible for Launchpad 12.  I also give it 3 stars.  Good reading.  I am now reading "Beginnings, Middles, & Ends".

Peacekeeper has undergone some revisions since I last posted making the word count now 26K.  As Stephan King would say, 'The delete key is your friend'.  I ended up throwing out large chunks of stuff I had copied in from 'The Elite of the Alliance'.  I am now into completely new material as I have diverged too far from that ancient novel for me to use it anymore.

I have about an hour before my wife gets up.  Gee, what should I do?  Surf the web?  Tweet?  Watch a science fiction show I've been wanting to see?  I know - WRITE!

2012-09-07

Peacekeeper update

My short story was rejected by Lightspeed magazine.  There's no shame in that.  Many authors get rejections on good stories and I'm not upset at all.  I've submitted it to Analog magazine.  They have a 5 week wait before replying to submissions.  If Analog turns it down (very possible) then I will put it up on my website.  I will let you know what happens.

Looks like most of the Launchpad friends came back from Chicon-7 with some sort of flu - they're calling it the chicrud.  Appropriate.  Oddly enough, I've also come down with some type of sore throat that's been lingering for 4 days now.  It doesn't slow me down but at night it makes sleeping a bit difficult because that's when it decides to get dry and more sore.  Taking zinc and supplements to fight it.

Peacekeeper is coming along nicely with over 30,000 words now sitting inside the hard drive.  This book is a bit unique for me because I'm using chunks from another book to create this one.  I copy a chapter and then spend a couple days editing it, adding new material, and deleting huge pieces of it.  Now that I have 7 novels under my belt I can easily see why 'The Elite of the Alliance' could never have been published!  The storyline is about to diverge from that old novel and new material will soon be flowing.

I am constantly amazed as to how the subconscious mind works.  One of the scenes I copied had the main character save a passenger liner from pirates.  There are no pirates in the GA universe!  But I needed to do something to add some adventure and mystery at that point in the book.  I rewrote the scene adding a bit of mystery to the book.  Truthfully, I didn't have much more beyond that.  The other day, as I was thinking about stuff much farther along in the story I discovered that I needed that scene to help knit together the developing story line.  Same goes for the bit I decided to put at the beginning.  I did it to kick-start the book.  Now, it's going to play a pivotal roll in things.

Finally, I sat down and put together a list of cons I will be attending next year.  Not sure what I will do there, but I'm going.  Next year is going to be a busy one for me.  The nuke plant I work at is shutting down for refueling between 3/18 and 5/5.  That's 12 hour days, 6 days a week.  Writing might just be put on hold.  But I should manage to attend the following: Millennicon (3/15 - 3/17 in Cinncinatti, OH), Convergence (7/4 - 7/8 in Bloomington, MN), and Dragoncon (8/29 - 9/3 in Atlanta, GA).

2012-09-03

Short story renamed

After getting some very favorable feedback from an award-winning author concerning my first-ever short story I decided to take his advice and change the name.  What was once titled 'Obsessed with Life' is now 'Gift Giver'.  The story has been through final editing, converted into a manuscript format, and submitted to Lightspeed magazine.  If accepted, I will be locked out from publishing it anywhere else for 4 months - typical for such contracts.  After that, I will submit it to Analog magazine.

Work is progressing on Peacekeeper.  I think I've solved most of my problems with the plot and the few remaining ones should work themselves out as the words hit the hard drive.  I've been taking large chunks of 'The Elite of the Alliance' and dropping it into Scrivener for use in Peacekeeper.  The delete key has become my friend as 'The Elite of the Alliance' was written 25 years ago and is in need of some serious changes.  One thing I've got to watch out for though is to not let the action of the book drop off.  I have some ideas about how to keep things moving while my lead character is becoming a Peacekeeper but there are some small risks associated with the technique I plan on using.  I did it in 'Honor Thy Enemy' and it seemed to work out well.  I plan on bouncing between Wilks's time in the academy (which is important) and action that is happening all across Alliance space.  I hope it works.

About half of my friends from Launchpad are at the Worldcon in Chicago (Chicon 7).  I wish I could be there with them but the logistics just didn't allow it.  I hope to head to Dragoncon next year as well as a couple of smaller cons to get my feet wet before then.  I keep in touch with most of them via Twitter.

It's beginning to look like retirement won't be an option for me for at least another 5 years.  That means I will have to manage my time to balance family, working, writing, and social networking (listed in order of priority).  It's a juggling act that can often become frustrating.  Not having to work would free up a huge block of time allowing me to have more time to write and work on my social network.  Time management is very important for the working writer!  For instance, yesterday was spent doing quarterly taxes and a family cookout.  This morning was taken up by social networking (this blog for instance), updating my web site, and looking into advertising options.  You don't see writing in there do you?  That will be later - don't worry.

2012-08-24

Scrivener update

Quite some time ago I mentioned that I was going to give Scrivener a good try by using it to write Peacekeeper.  I used to use OpenOffice primarily because it could output directly to PDF, it was free, and it always returned me to where I was working in the document when I last closed it.  I also had a tiny netbook that ran Linux and OpenOffice ran on it quite nicely.  Now I have all Windows machines and I recently switched to using Word.  There are advantages to that program as well: it highlights possible grammatical errors, everyone can read the files it produces, and all my publishers require it for submissions.

But I kept hearing such good things about Scrivener - so good I had to give it a try.  My initial response was "this won't work for me".  It lacks some essential features (I'm using the Windows version - the Mac version is an entire version number ahead).  It won't do mirror margins, page numbering and header/footer formatting are tricky, and the native file format is incompatible with every other word processor out there.  Despite these issues, I went ahead and started using it for Peacekeeper.  I'm now a fan!

Scrivener has some unique features that I've come to love.  The ability to keep notes for each chapter as well as for the document as a whole is the one I love the best.  I also use the dual editor feature which allows me to keep all of my reference material handy at the bottom of my screen.  I have reference documents for characters, general notes, alien life forms, and planets.  The program also keeps track of where I was in each document (chapter or reference document in my case) so when I reopen it I just start typing.  It's a VERY handy program.  I accidentally left Scrivener open on my desktop last day when I went to the bookstore.  I added 4 chapters and edited another one while there.  I was surprised to find that Scrivener didn't complain and the changes were picked up without issue on the desktop machine.  There is a warning in the manual not to do this sort of thing but the program handled it without any problems.

So what about the issues I mentioned?  No problem.  After compiling the final document (Scrivener's word for generating a final output file) in Word format, I can open it in Word and do my final editing, pagination, margination, and all that stuff.  But, for actually writing - Scrivener is now my chosen application.  It's inexpensive too and the owner is very receptive to feedback.  If you're interested you can try the program for free.  Their website is:  http://literatureandlatte.com/trial.php

Peacekeeper is being written by scavenging chapters from an unpublished novel I wrote back in the 80's titled "The Elite of the Alliance".  This should make writing the story faster than generating it from scratch.  Still, there's a lot of editing to be done.  So, if you see a quote like I made above that said I added 4 chapters in a single day, that does not mean I actually wrote them.  I moved them into the book and they need to be edited.  Still working on the issue of the AOH but I think I'm closing in on a possible solution or two.  In the meantime - the writing continues.

2012-08-21

Odd computer problems

I've been having some odd little computer problems over the past week.  Not sure what the deal is.  The Google Chrome browser has a strange glitch now when I open up a site in a new tab.  I have to move to another tab and then move back before things start to work properly.  I've had to reboot a couple of times because my quad-tuner card is no longer recognized by Media Center, and downloads seem to be running slow even though speedtest shows I have a 35 MBPS download connection.  Just before writing this, Google+ wouldn't let me enter a post - kept saying "Opening".  I might have to switch back to Internet Explorer if things keep up.

Today's APOD article is a fascinating video of DNA.  If you like science of any sort this is one video you've got to see.  You can find the video on YouTube as well at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjPcT1uUZiE&feature=player_embedded

I've finished "Obsessed With Life" and have had it reviewed by my copy-editor (my wife) and my dad (thanks Dad!).  So far the comments have been good.

I got some more work done on Peacekeeper over the weekend.  I'm still unsure how the meat of the story is going to play out.  I've got this little issue with the Army of Humanity and why they are building modern warships, who is supplying them with the weapons, and where are they hiding the ships.  Plus, there's always the question of what are they planning to use them for?  This wouldn't be the first time I've started a story and not known what I would do once things got rolling.

2012-08-17

Short story writing is difficult!

Early last week I was off to a quick start on my first ever short story 'Obsessed With Life'.  I hammered out over 1,700 words in about 3 hours.  I thought I would have no problem getting the rest done during my 30 minute lunch breaks at work - Wrong!  When I started this I had two possible endings in mind.  After my writer's group meeting I discarded one.  I am now about to start on my 4th attempt to finish this little story.  The first three endings just didn't cut it.  Wrong pace, wrong perspective, just didn't work.  But, I think I have a good ending ready to type and I hope to have it done by the end of the day.  Writing a short story is a little more difficult than I first thought.

I have finished 'The Bohr Maker' by Linda Nagata.  It's an excellent read.  She just published a short story in Lightspeed magazine.  Although I'm not into the slash and gash fantasy stories I read hers anyway - more for an insight into her writing style than for the story itself.  Stephen King said there are two things a writer must do to become a better writer: Read and Write.  Recently, I've started reading not just for the story but to see how other writers write.  Everyone's style is different but that doesn't mean you can't learn from reading.

Next up on my self-study reading is a book by Orson Scott Card titled 'Characters & Viewpoint'.  It's part of the Elements of Fiction Writing series put out by Writer's Digest Books.  I've just started it so I will withhold comments for now.  There are several books in this series and I went ahead and bought all of them.

One final note.  Linda Nagata's daughter took an awesome picture while visiting a volcano in Hawaii. In case you've forgotten, Linda was one of the authors at Launchpad with me.  You've got to check out this photo:  http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/traveler-magazine/photo-contest/2012/entries/144977/view/

2012-08-12

Obsessed with Life

After a week of working nights (which leaves virtually no time to write) I've managed to find the time to get some writing done over the weekend.  I temporarily put Peacekeeper aside to work on a short story called Obsessed With Life.  I was up early both Saturday and Sunday and the story is nearly complete.  I hope to have it finished by next week.  My wife will then look it over and do her proofing magic and then I'll have my dad take a gander at it.  Once all the changes from those two readers are incorporated into the story I will have one of the Launchpad folks look it over.  I hope to get it published in a magazine both in the US and abroad.  I'll let you know what happens.

I've been reading 'The Bohr Maker' by Linda Nagata (another indie author I met at Launchpad).  So far I'm enjoying it very much.  I'm about 65% complete.  I plan on giving it a good 5-star review once I'm done.  Nice job Linda!

2012-08-09

Stephen King : On Writing

I just finished reading Stephen King's "On Writing".  This book was recommended by several of the people from Launchpad.  It was a good read and provided a window into the mind of a very good writer.  He does point out that every writer has his/her own distinct method of writing.  Some use outlines, some develop detailed plots, and others (like him and, interestingly enough, myself) simply let the story evolve on its own.  Like me, Mr. King starts off with an idea for a story and then just starts writing.

I have requested permission from the publisher to use a quote from the book in all my future novels:

"Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes.  The object of fiction isn't grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story … to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all."

In other news, as soon as I have time to write, I will be working on a short story.  Peacekeeper is coming along nicely but the short story will have priority.  Don't worry, it won't take me long at all to write it.  I have the entire story in my head complete with two possible endings.  One of my new friends from Launchpad will be reviewing it (and choosing the best ending) and then I'm going to submit it to several magazines starting with Lightspeed.  This will help promote my other books.

Finally, I had another stellar review on Amazon.co.uk (the UK version of Amazon.com) of "Honor Thy Enemy" which included a mention of the entire Galactic Alliance series.  Five stars: "I've just finished the trilogy from the Kindle store, took about a week as I have to work. As an ageing, lifelong fan of Space Opera (but I prefer 'hard') science fiction this is great stuff! It's reads as well as Asimov and Niven, has twists like Heinlein and engages like Bear and Bova.

Really looking forward to Peacekeeper and much, much more.!" 

It's reviews like the above that will keep me writing!  Thank you Garrath Earnshaw "Country Boy" (W. Yorks United Kingdom) and everyone else who have commented.

2012-07-30

A writer's education never ends

In previous blogs I may have given the impression that I felt much like an apprentice in the presence of masters while at Launchpad in Laramie, WY.  This feeling persisted even though the organizer (Mike Brotherton) as well as other heavily published authors in the group explained to me that I was doing very well as an author.  Despite these reassurances, the feeling persisted - until today.

I have to thank a tweet by Nova Ren Suma for allowing me to clarify where this feeling came from.  Now that I know the source, I can honestly say I no longer feel like the underdog.  In fact, I am now confident in my ability to write a good story.  My reviews and sales are proof.  So what was this tweet?  She was in the Denver airport leaving at the end of Launchpad when she spotted a copy of her book 'Imaginary Girls' on the shelf.  She apparently yelled out 'Oh My God!' loud enough to scare away a nearby passerby.  That tweet got me to thinking.

As an indie publisher, my books will never appear in bookstores, I will never get to see them on bookshelves in an airport, and I will never see them show up in a flyer from any book club.  Also, because the mainstream publishing industry is unwilling to admit that there are some very good authors out there, none of my books will ever be eligible to win any awards.  As an indie, I am barred from joining the SFWA even though I've sold over 42,000 books since I first started my indie career in 2009 (almost 16,500 copies of which are Translight!).  Oh, I can join as an affiliate member but what what that get me?

The bottom line in all the above is based on my reviews and sales as well as the talks I had with other authors who went to Launchpad 12 I have no reason to consider myself as anything less of a writer than they are.  I may not have an MFA, but I write good stories.  I'm a writer - a good one.

But, no matter how good you are, education in your chosen field is always an ongoing effort.  Professional athletes, scientists, chefs, and anyone who wants to remain competitive in their chosen field must always strive to improve their talent.  This can be accomplished through classes, books, or interfacing with others in their field.  Today, I've purchased a small stack of books about writing.  I am also planning on attending some of the local conventions (cons for short) such as Chicon, Comicon, Dragoncon, and others.  I have met some wonderful people at Launchpad and I intend on staying in touch with them.  One of these days I will retire and write full time.  Perhaps by then an indie publisher will be able to be recognized by the likes of the SFWA based upon their works and not based on who they are associated with.

2012-07-29

Day 6 - all good things must come to an end


A woodpecker hammering away on the side of the brick building woke me up this morning a little after 0600.  On the walk over to the classroom I saw some turkey vultures hanging around on the roof of a building.  The classroom building was all locked up - it is Saturday.  Walked over to the Turtle Rock coffee shop for breakfast.  I was the first to arrive but soon Farah, Sarah, Matt, Jody, and Jake all were present.  Walked over to the classroom at 11:00 for a late start.

Jim Verley started off with a presentation about scientific literacy.  This sparked a huge discussion concerning how the education system is failing in the areas of science and art.  Lunch was Chinese.  Robin Christian gave an impromptu talk about the difference between film and books.  Mike then continued on with a discussion of galaxies.  We took a break to take a group photo then Mike resumed with a lecture on cosmology.  After the last class we all went to a nice place called Sweet Melissa.  Had a great vegan lasagna.  Had some more great conversations.  Got a ride back to the dorm where I went to bed a bit early – 11:30.

It is now nearly 0700 Laramie time.  I'm all packed and ready to go.  Robin Christian stopped by my room this morning and announced he was not feeling well.  Said he forgot to drink any water yesterday.  This altitude makes the humidity quite low and sufficient water intake is a must.  Hope he feels better.  I have not had any effects from the altitude.  It might be because of the herbs my wife asked me to take before arriving here.  The only way to know for sure is to come back next year and not take them - I don't think so.

I'm going to miss all these people.  I hope to stay in touch with them and, perhaps, run into them again at a 'con or two.  I might even consider coming back next year and paying my own way plus room and board if Mike will let me.  That way I can get to know another group of writers.  All in all this has been a fantastic experience - one I will cherish for a long time.

2012-07-28

Laramie Day 5

Several of us rode into town while a bunch of the others went hiking.  Visited several shops and found a few trinkets to bring home.  Afterwards we met at Mellow Yellow (an Indian restaurant) for lunch.  We all arrived quite late back in the classroom where Mike continued with a discussion of black holes.  Interesting info:  If the sun were to become a black hole, the Schwarzschild radius would be 3 Km.  Because we started late, Mike went right into his lecture on galaxies.  After a short break, Geoffrey gave us a lecture on interstellar flight.  Just prior to the lecture we presented Farah with a birthday card and sang happy birthday.


This morning (Saturday) I was awakened by the hammering of a woodpecker on the brick wall of the dorm.  I walked to the Turtle Rock Coffee House for breakfast.  It's located about a half block from the classroom building.  Had a great breakfast and coffee.  Farah and Sara showed up followed by Jody and finally Christian.  Jake arrived as I was typing this.  (I don't have my references so my apologies if I misspelled anyone's names).  On the way over to the coffee house I spotted about a dozen turkey vultures on top of one of the buildings.


It's been a very nice morning sitting among fellow writers.  Listening to them talk about the people they know, the books they've read, and the places they've gone has caused me to once again think that I don't quite fit in.  But, my book sales are on par with theirs.  I think this feeling comes from the fact that they are writers who have been closely involved with other writers for quite some time.  They go to conventions and I have never been to one.  They are all associated with major publishers or magazines and I am not.  I would really like to feel like I fit in but that's going to take some time.  I need to start going to the cons as well as connecting with other writers.  I don't think I'm out of their league - I'm more like a foreigner visiting a country with an unfamiliar culture.  I plan to try to stay in touch with as many of them as possible.


Class will be starting in less than 30 minutes.  The last class while we are here.  I am very glad to have had this experience.

2012-07-27

Laramie Day 4 and other stuff


Even though I went to bed after midnight I still woke up at 0600.  I walked over to the classroom building early and grabbed breakfast at a place called 'Elements' inside the classroom building.  Very good!  Mike Brotherton started out with a lecture on the deaths and end states of stars.  I learned that it's the neutrino that actually causes a star to explode.  

After Mike's wonderful but short lecture, Geoffrey Landis took over to tell us about terraforming.  There's a lot more to altering a planet than one might think. Lunch was Mexican again and again very good.  Geoffrey then presented a lecture titled "25 things you need to know about real spaceships".  Very informative.  As a sidenote – Mr. Landis complimented me on my Excel spreadsheet I had sent to everyone in the class as being 'excellent'.  I've been developing this spreadsheet for a long time and have used to to check the science in most of my books.  If you want a copy - email me (author@dougfarren.com).

The next lecture was about the phases of the moon and the seasons.  I was shocked to find out most people don't know why these occur.  Two very informative animations (available on the web) were shown that explained these concepts extremely well.  This was followed by a very entertaining lecture about amateur astronomy.  After class, we all went to Mike's house for a party/get together.  Had a really good time.

While at the party, I received a tip concerning a writer named Dean Wesley Smith.  Smash his name together and add .com to find his website.  Very informative for indie writers!  I will most likely be following him as well as purchasing one of his books about indie publishing.  There was a long discussion about pricing.  For now, it seems like my plan to price all my books at $3.99 is okay although he recommends a range of $4.99 to $7.99.

I've also leaned that my book sales are on par with many of the other writers here at Launch pad.  The only thing differentiating me from them is the fact that I have never been to a con (short for convention) and I have not really interfaced with a lot of writers.  This workshop is the beginning of a change in those differences.  I no longer feel like the underdog.  I'm beginning to feel like an honest to goodness writer.

2012-07-26

I'm a grandfather - again! Also, Laramie day 3


I had to change this blog post in the middle of typing it out.  At 0740 Wyoming time (about) my third granddaughter entered this world.  I posted a picture on Twitter @author_farren.

Laramie day 4:  Up at 0530.  Room is very cool.  High today is only going to be 77 – nice.  Walked to the classroom early to get away from the sun that tends to blast on my computer in the morning as well as the constant drone of the fan.  Very nice walk.  Classroom is much quieter and cooler.  Mike Brotherton started the day with a lecture about Extra Solar Planets.  Geoffrey Landis (Mars rover team) then took over with a lecture on space habitats.  Lunch (pizza) was followed by a lecture on stars from Christian.  Next, we trucked over to another classroom where we played with images on a computer.  Went out with the group to an Indian restaurant called "Mellow Yellow".  The food was pretty good.  

The highlight of the day was a trip to the WIRO observatory which began a little after 8:00 pm.  The roads up the mountain were rough but were not quite as bad as we had been led to believe.  The view from the top was incredible.  I haven't seen that many stars since I was out to sea in the Navy.  Took a bunch of pictures and movies.  Mike brought his night vision goggles.  I've GOT to get me a pair of these!  We all took turns using them; looking at Andromeda, picking out Mizar and Alcor (binary star system), and looking at the bulge of the Milky Way.

Four grad students live at the telescope.  I felt sort of weird because we were all hanging out in their living room.  The telescope was a really cool piece of equipment.  The drive back down was no problem either.  We did surprise a deer on the road.  It was very confused looking back and forth between the sheer cliff on one side and the steep embankment on the other.  After a couple minutes of back and forth it finally ran up the embankment.  Arrived back at home base around midnight at which time I promptly went to sleep.

2012-07-25

Laramie - Day 2

Woke up around 0400 - wonder if it's the altitude?  Finally got out of bed at 0500.  Worked on a financial database for my authoring business I've been developing for about a week.  This will replace my spreadsheet which has become a bit unwieldy to use.  I'm also hoping to incorporate some automation in processing Smashwords and Amazon sales data.  Took shuttle bus to class.


Michael Brotherton started off the day with a lecture on "The Electromagnetic Spectrum, Light, and Astronomical Tools".  It's interesting being in a class with a group of people such as us.  We frequently have side discussions and it's during these side discussions that I seem to learn the most.  For instance while discussing the spectrum Farah Mendlesohn just told us that carrots used to be purple but the Dutch bred them to be orange.  Earlier in the day we all picked a lunch item from a local restaurant and they had it delivered.  I had a chicken sandwich – pretty good.


After lunch we had a lecture from a professor (Dale - couldn't get his last name) from Cornell about dust and asteroids.  Following that, Mike talked to us about motion and energy in space.  We then walked over to another building.  We had to use the tunnels (underground hallways actually) to get there as it was pouring down rain.  We then spent some time in a lab where we saw spectrograms of various gasses.  I managed to take a couple of photos that turned out pretty good.


To round out the day, about half the group went to eat and the other half  went to see The Dark Knight Rises.  I went to the movie.  Not bad.  Went to bed quite late.

Nova Ren Suma (one of the authors) was complaining about having a bad headache.  That's one of the signs of altitude sickness.  Others then mentioned that she was not alone.  Thanks to my wife, I've been taking an herbal supplement called Breathe from Life Shield and I have had no problems adjusting to the higher altitude.

I also finally found out how to calculate the distance between any two stars given their right ascention, declination, and distance from Sol.  I will be building this into a spreadsheet for later use.

2012-07-24

Laramie - Day 1

Day 1 in the classroom was enjoyable.  I didn't sleep too well the night before but I had no problems staying awake during the class.  Started off with a demonstration of just how big the universe and space in general is.  Even so, distances on those scales are very hard to conceptualize.  We were then given a tour of the solar system - interesting stuff these planets of ours.  I learned that many millions of years ago, Venus could very easily have been much like Earth.  Seeds for a story there!

Lunch was Mexican from a local restaurant.  Afterward, we were introduced to Mars.  I can think of no better person to talk about Mars than Geoffrey Landis.  He is part of the Mars rover team.  Fascinating.  Although many of us still hungered for more, we had to call it quits around 6:00pm as everyone was beginning to get tired.  Luckily, no telescope night due to clouds.

The time change and a slight lack of sleep hit around 9:00pm.  Called it a night and went to bed.  The room was noticeably cooler last night but I still woke up several times.  The mattress is rather hard.  I actually woke up a little after 4 but tried to go back to sleep.  I finally gave up at 5 and started my day.  I will have breakfast in my room this morning (Subway flat bread ham, egg, and cheese) and then look into taking one of the shuttles to the classroom.  Although the walk was pleasant I think I prefer to ride.

I have had the opportunity to talk to a few of the people here and we have hit it off pretty good.  There is another indie author here (Linda Nagata).  I hope to do some more mingling later - I really need to learn about these 'cons I keep hearing about.  Sounds like I should start planning on attending at least one a year.

2012-07-22

Launch pad workshop - arrival day

Well folks - I'm in Laramie Wyoming for the Launch Pad Workshop.  No issues at the airport and I managed to find the group at the Denver airport without any problems.  We kept in touch via email (on smart phones) and Twitter.  The ride to Laramie was a long one especially since I was in the middle of the back seat of the van.  I was sitting on a very uncomfortable seat belt hook which refused to get out of my way.  My knees were quite sore by the time we arrived.

Check-in at the dorm went well.  We are all on the 6th floor.  They weren't kidding when they said these rooms get HOT at night.  It's quite cool out and my room is still very warm.  They did provide us with a small 9" fan to help cool the room but without any breeze at all the room has not cooled down.  We all went out to dinner at a place called The Library.  I had a local brew called Nitro Big Nose - very smooth, and a burger called a big Kahuna (burger with pineapple, jalapenos, and fixen's) - also good.  Tomorrow we start classes.

I managed to get quite a bit of writing done while at the airport and on the plane.  I expect to get a lot more work done in the mornings since we are not supposed to meet in the classroom until 9:30am.  I like to get up early so I'm sure I will have a lot of time on my hands to write.  I think our days and evenings will be pretty packed though.

I will let you know how things go during the week.

2012-07-21

Updated website

Just spent most of the day updating my website.  The site's host uses a product called SiteBuilder and I took the plunge and upgraded.  I didn't realize I would have to rebuild practically the entire site.  I did incorporate some changes suggested by a business-savvy coworker.  The new site is up and running with a couple of minor glitches.  My web counter has vanished and I can't seem to add a Facebook Like or Twitter feed button.  Ticket in with their help desk - more to follow.

In other news - I'm all packed up and ready to head to the airport bright and early tomorrow morning for Laramie Wyoming.  Unfortunately, the weather report for that area is calling for scattered thunderstorms the entire time I'm there.  Now that really sucks!  It's kind of hard to see the stars when it's raining out.  I will keep a journal and try to blog a couple of times while I'm there.

2012-07-20

Watch the copy and paste!

My apologies to my blog readers concerning my last blog's readability.  I had cut and pasted the last post from the SFF website into the blog not realizing that I would alse be pasting the entire HTML code as well.  The text was unreadable.  I have fixed it.  I will review my posts from now on and edit the HTML as necessary.

I've been stuck on chapter 4 of Peacekeeper for about a week.  I think I finally figured out how to proceed last night.  Here's the problem: I have a lot of preliminary stuff I want to get into the book but it might detract from the book's sense of action.  I really don't want to take out the details of how the book's main character is transformed into a cybernetic Peacekeeper but I might have to drastically shorten it to keep the action going.  I thought I could base a large part of the book on an ancient unpublished manuscript titled 'Elite of the Alliance' but after reading most of what I had written nearly 30 years ago I've realized that most of it will never be published.  I can, however use bits and peaces to spice up Peacekeeper and that's what I'm going to do - with modifications.

I leave for Laramie Wyoming in two days and I'm a bit nervous.  From what I've been able to find out about the other attendees, I am the ONLY indie author among the group.  Everyone else has won awards and is affiliated with a major publishing house.  I am definitely the underdog.  Although I'm nervous, I'm not going to just sit in a corner.  I plan to establish some good relationships while there and to gain some insight into how other authors work.  To me, the additional knowledge I will gain in the area of astronomy is secondary.  Book sales are still very slow and if anyone can provide some guidance on how to boost sales it will be these people.  I'm looking forward to this trip.  I will try to blog as often as I can while I'm there.  I also plan on keeping a daily journal which I will post on my website when I return.

If anyone would like to contact me directly I can be reached at: author@dougfarren.com.  If you would like to be included in any mailings concerning new releases please indicate that and I will put you on my list.  I don't send out many such emails so don't worry about receiving a bunch of junk from me.  I never include someone on the list unless they specifically ask and I will always send out such mailings using the BCC option.

My next blog will most likely be from Laramie.  Wish me luck!

2012-07-15

Timekeeping

Here's a problem I haven't seen discussed anywhere before. The basic question is: "How should time be kept on multiple planets?" At first glance this might seem like a simple question with a simple answer - "Duh, just divide up the planet's day into 24 hours and go from there!" I disagree.


Let's take an extreme example: Humans have colonized a new world. Measured by our standards the planet rotates once every 36.5 hours and has a 451 day year. If you simply divide up the day into 24 hours you end up with a second that's a little over 1.5 standard seconds long - unacceptable. What's the solution?
One possibility is to continue to use our standard length of time and to simply declare the day to be 36 hours, 31 minutes, and 18.5 seconds long. At the strike of 3621:18.5 a new day begins. Confusing - yes, but it could work.


Now let's complicate things even farther. As an author, I find it boring to write a book where humans are the only life forms in the galaxy. So now what happens when multiple species, each with their own unique timekeeping system, decide to colonize a new planet together? How should time be kept? It's doubtful they would use hours, minutes, and seconds. I doubt they would use weeks and months either. Their method of keeping time would be just as alien as they are to us.


One more thing to consider - in any star-spanning civilization the need to compare events across space will occur. The news might report that Earth's President was newly elected on February 10th, 2155 (Earth time). The population of a human colony world might want to know what that translates into in their local timekeeping system. How can so many planets keep their historical records in synch? (Sorry Einstein, I'm going to ignore simultaneity issues for now.)


Here's one proposal but it's far from perfect: All the races agree to a central timekeeping standard. Each planet maintains two timekeeping systems; local and galactic.


As a side note - a savvy business traveler making stops on multiple worlds would have to have a sophisticated, programmable timekeeping device in order not to be late for his meetings!
I've started an SFF discussion concerning this at:  http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?p=690410#post690410

2012-07-08

Scrivener so far

The other day, I spent a few minutes taking my Word version of Peacekeeper and moving it into Scrivener.  The process was quite simple.  I imported the Word document and then split it up into chapters.  Scrivener works with 'documents' which are actually bits and pieces of what will eventually become your final manuscript.  The first document is labeled as 'Front matter' and it contains two sub-documents; Title page and dedication page.  I do this because I don't want page numbering on these pages and I also have to have different title pages for Amazon Kindle, Createspace, and Smashwords so putting all these different pages in the front matter section makes generating the final document easier.  You can select which items get put into the final document.

I then split the two chapters I've completed as well as my partial third chapter into separate documents.  I removed the chapter headings from each chapter.  I did this because Scrivener will put this at the top of each of my chapters as well as automatically numbering each chapter.  This is a good feature because it allows me to move chapters around, delete entire chapters, or add a chapter without having to worry about manually renumbering all of them (a pain in the neck I tell ya).

I always keep another Word document for holding notes, character information, and general junk I need to keep track of.  I imported that into the References section of Scrivener and then split it up into a document for characters, timeline, alien races, and misc.  Now, instead of having to open two Word documents, resizing them to fit on my screen, and then rolling down to the bottom of my manuscript before I can start typing, I simply fire up Scrivener and it's all there.  It even goes back to where I left off.  Start the program and start typing.  Quick notes associated with individual chapters are now stored in the document containing that chapter.

I'm still learning the program and I will keep you posted as to how it works out for me.  Now it's time to get back to writing.

2012-07-06

Peacekeeper, Scrivener, and sales

In a previous blog I talked about Scrivener's lack of mirror margins and that I had decided it wasn't for me.  Well, I keep hearing good things about this program so I've decided to give it a go.  It still lacks some features I consider necessary but there are work-arounds.  So, before I write it off totally, I've decided to write Peacekeeper using Scrivener.  At least if I find it does not suit me at all I can still generate a Word document of what I've written and continue to work in Word.  I'll let you know how this little experiment goes.

During some recent idle time I came up with a new chapter 1 for Peacekeeper.  It sets the story going far better than how I originally started it off.  Now, the original chapter 1 is now chapter 2.  The first chapter of a book should ALWAYS hook the reader into wanting more.  The new beginning does this.  I'm also working very hard to apply a lot of newly learned writing techniques to enhance my character development as well as to make the story more enjoyable for the reader.  I won't have time to write tomorrow as I'm spending the day at the drag-strip.  Ever since I was a kid I've wanted to watch a drag race.  Now, at aged 54, I finally get to do it.

Sales have been disappointing of late.  What happened to my fantastic sales back in February?  For no reason at all, Translight suddenly took off and skyrocketed up the Amazon ranks until it came within a hair's breadth of making the top 100.  Then, again for no reason at all, sales began to slide and it hasn't stopped.  I have no explanation for the burst of interest in the book but I would sure love to find out why it happened.  I continue to get very good reviews and I've even released a third addition to take care of some editing issues. I do have new covers in the works but I doubt they will help restore the Galactic Alliance series ranking to where it was in February.

My wife is planning on sending out another round of advertising cards to see if that will help.  With sales being what they are it can't hurt.

Although I am a bit discouraged, I'm a writer and, as such, I will continue to write.  The people who send me encouraging emails concerning my books are the ones who keep me writing - Thank you!

2012-07-01

Yesterday I purchased a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) for my main system.  I not only use it to write and maintain my web pages, but it also serves as my media center server.  I chose the APC Backup UPS XS 1000G.  These little units have come a LONG way since I last had one.  It is equipped with a front panel display showing the current load, battery status, and input voltage.  I can touch a button and see output voltage, output frequency, event counter, time remaining on battery, and load in watts.  The unit has 8 outlets: one is designated as the master which can control two other outlets.  Power down the master and the other two power down as well.  It can also provide surge protection for a phone line as well as a cable line.  I really like this unit.  I picked it up at Best Buy.  Now, I never have to worry about a power surge, voltage brownout, or complete loss of power causing my main system to lose data.

On the writing front (that's what this blog is supposed to be about right?) I must admit that I haven't done much actual writing for about 2 weeks.  Family matters and work have had priority.  That doesn't mean I haven't been thinking though.  For instance, last Friday I had an eye appointment.  While sitting in the chair waiting for my eyes to dilate (always fun) I came up with a new chapter one to replace the one I've already started.  Peacekeeper will eventually be finished.  At the moment, I'm actually still working on some of the details inside my cluttered brain.

2012-06-24

When Ships Mutiny is published

I am happy to announce that When Ships Mutiny has been published.  For those who use the Kindle, the book should be available within a couple of days.  If you get your books from any other retailer, it might take several weeks before the book appears because I upload to these from Smashwords and they do periodic bulk uploads.  If you are anxious, you can directly download the book from Smashwords by following this link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=when+ships+mutiny

The printed version will take about a week before it is available as I still have to run through the process at Createspace.

Here is the description of the book:
Fernando Munoz, call sign Cipher, is a vengeance class battleship built to protect human colonies from the Evendi. While trying to find the truth behind an accusation made by one of his fellow ships, Cipher uncovers a dark secret hidden deep inside himself.  Finding the need to spread the word to the other ships, he unknowingly initiates a sequence of events that would affect not only the entire human race, but the Evendi as well.

As always, comments and feedback are welcome.  If you read the book, please put a review on the site where you purchased it.

Enjoy!

2012-06-21

Scrivener

I have recently heard some good things about a writing program called Scrivener.  I downloaded the '30 day' free trial to give it a try.  I spent two days reading the comprehensive user's manual and found it to be confusing and unclear.  Pressing on, I loaded up the program and discovered that my 30 days was up - it had been only 2 days!  I fired off an email to Scrivener and received a reply in less than 20 minutes.  They acknowledged the error and gave me a free activation key.  Essentially, they gave me a free copy of the program.  That's a point in their favor.

I had hoped to use Scrivener to solve my multiple format issue.  I have to generate a PDF to send off to Createspace for the printed version of the book.  This requires different formatting for odd/even pages as well as ensuring the page count starts on chapter 1.  I also have to generate a strictly formatted Word document for Smashwords along with a Smashwords specific cover page.  Finally, I must generate a Word document that can be fed into MobiPocket Creator to generate the input file for Kindle.  Scivener seemed like my best overall solution.

After downloading a revised version, I fired it up.  Within two minutes I found an error.  I reported it and got an immediate feedback that it was a known issue.  I also tried for about an hour to figure out how to get it to generate odd/even formatting as well as how to start page numbering on chapter 1 without result.  I found a page numbering work-around but one should not have to resort to work-arounds.  The formatting options for a compile are unclear, counter-intuitive, and buried beneath layers of program interface.

The program has promise but at the moment it is not a polished product.  I can do everything I need to do in Word.  I will keep checking to see if the development team makes any improvements but for now Word is my program of choice.

Now I am going to get back to work on Peacekeeper!

2012-06-19

Family matters

What a busy weekend!  It all started about a month ago when my dad told me he would be driving up to see the new house - he lives in South Carolina.  My wife suggested that we try to bring my sister here to surprise him - they haven't seen each other in about 10 years.  So, we called, she got off work, and I bought her a plane ticket.  About 2 weeks before he arrived, my daughter called and said their car had been stolen.  Now we've been talking about replacing my Cobalt but had decided not to.  This caused us to reconsider and so we helped pay for her flight here (she lives in Georgia) and then went out and bought a new car.  I made arrangements for my other daughter who lives in Sandusky Ohio to drive down as well for a family reunion.  I tried to get my brother to fly or drive here from Virginia Beach but he's a roofer and had just fallen off a roof and busted his ankle up pretty good.  Everything was set.

I got real nervous when a problem at the power plant reared its ugly head and it was looking like we were going to have to shutdown to repair it.  That would mean 12 hour days for me over the weekend when we had everyone arriving.  I told my boss that under no circumstances would I be coming into work - non-negotiable!  He took me off the schedule.  Friday arrived.

I drove to the airport and met my sister first (her plane had been delayed about an hour).  We waited around until my daughter and granddaughter arrived and then headed back home.  While at the DMV getting the Cobalt transferred I received two phone calls: My other daughter and granddaughter along with her boyfriend had arrived at the house and; My dad had arrived at the hotel.  We concluded the transfer and headed for home.  Along the way, I called my dad and told him it was okay to head for the house.  The big surprise was about to happen.

My dad arrived and my sister slipped out the back.  After relieving my dad of a box full of wine and cheese and saying hello to his wife my sister appeared from around the corner.  Remember - me dad did not know she was coming.  His jaw nearly hit the sidewalk when he saw who was there!  We had a wonderful reunion.  Four generations sitting around a table having a great time sure was a sight to see.  Everyone is now safely back home.

Now I can get back to writing!  My own edits on WSM are now complete.  I am waiting for my wife to complete her copy-editing.  I should be able to publish by this weekend.  I have downloaded a copy of Scrivener and I plan on taking a few days to explore its functions before starting on Peacekeeper.  Still waiting on covers for the GA series before releasing the third edition.

2012-06-04

About to start work on Peacekeeper

For those who have been bugging me (Charles and Jeff for instance), you will be happy to know that I will soon begin work on Peacekeeper - another Galactic Alliance book.  This one fits between book 2 and book 3 in the timeline.  Before I begin though, I must finish my third edition review of HTE.  I should be able to do that today but if life gets in the way (as it often does) then I will finish it early next week.

Being a writer who also holds down a full-time job is not an easy task.  Finding time to do writer work is often a challenge.  It's a balancing act between needing to take care of the things that I must do around the house (mowing, repairing, putting new things together), spending time with my wife and her family (mine are all out of State), and writing.  Here is how a typical mid-week day goes for me:

When I'm working my normal day-shift at the plant I get up at 5:00am and I'm out the door by no later than 5:30am - often earlier.  I carry my netbook with me and it's the first thing that gets set up when I arrive at my cubicle.  I make a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of tea, then either write or review until the morning meeting starts.  This typically gives me about 30 minutes each morning for writer's work.  I also work on my books when there is nothing else to do (which is exceptionally rare) as well as during my 30 minute lunch break.  I work 10 hour days and I prefer to spend time with my wife when I get home (she appreciates the time as well).  Some days I have to do other chores such as mowing the grass, repairing something around the house, or putting something new together.  Often, I don't do any writer work in the evening during the week.  I get most of my writing work done on Saturdays when we go to the bookstore.  I also usually get up well before my wife which gives me time to blog, read emails, and write.

It's all about time management.  Which means it's time to send off this blog and get to work before my wife wakes up.  But now I hear a strange noise coming from somewhere else in the house which I must investigate first - then it's back to reviewing.

2012-05-28

Dropbox just saved me a lot of work

If you have never used Dropbox before - consider it!  I do a lot of my editing away from the house.  I use my netbook at the bookstore; I take the book to work on my portable hard drive and then back it up when I get home; I use my desktop; and I have two full-sized laptops that I use on occasion.  Except for the portable hard drive - all of my work is stored in the Cloud using Dropbox.  I just finished making the third edition changes to Chroniech on my netbook, loaded it up to Dropbox, and then went to my desktop to do some final spell-checking because the netbook's batter had died after 10 hours of use.

During the spell-check, I noted that some of my edits seemed to be missing.  I did some checking and discovered that the edits I did on the first 18 chapters were missing!  Luckily, it was easy for me to learn which chapters I had edited and which ones I had not (long story and too much detail).  Dropbox saves copies of all previous versions of anything uploaded to it.  I think I must have forgotten to sync my portable hard drive and that's what caused me to lose the edits.  The previous revision history of Dropbox saved my ass!  I used the latest and merged it with a previous edition to recreate the final product.  Took all of about 10 minutes.  Saved me about 3 days of work!

The good news is that Chroniech edition three is ready for its new cover.  Waiting on the Zaks to generate them.  Heather sent me a new cover for Off Course.  All I can say is WOW! - AWESOME!  I need to add the title and my name to the cover art and then upload it as the new cover.  Will be doing that soon.

My memory for faces has never been very good and it failed me miserably yesterday.  We were visiting my mother-in-law at the nursing home and a man pushing a chair on a cart strolled by, stopped and said something to me.  I said something in reply but had no recollection as to who he was.  He didn't even look familiar.  My wife said he was looking over at us on the way past earlier.  He said his mother was checking out and going home.  We asked a nurse for their last name.  Boy was I embarrassed when I learned he is an electrician who works at the plant.  To help offset my horrible name and face memory system, I've started a document showing the pictures and short biographies of all the people who will be attending the Launch Pad Workshop with me.  I doubt it will help much but I've got to try something.!

View or purchase my books at Smashwords. Visit my web page.

2012-05-26

Galactic Alliance update

I am now about 75% complete with my review for the third edition of Chroniech.  New book covers for the existing GA series are in the works.  I have completed the final version of the cover for 'When Ships Mutiny' (see attached image).

The list of people attending the 2012 Launch Pad Workshop has been posted.  My wife spent some time looking at all the people who will be attending.  Looks like I might be the underdog in this group.  As an idie author I feel honored to be able to attend and I am looking forward to interfacing with the distinguished group of writers, editors, directors, and others who will be attending.


View or purchase my books at Smashwords. Visit my web page.

2012-05-17

Third edition of Translight is ready to receive its new cover.  Working on Chroniech now.  New covers are in the works.  Speaking of covers, Erik Zak (son of my high school friend) has completed the cover for When Ships Mutiny.  In a single word - AWESOME!  I am very pleased.  I'm attaching it here.

I spent the last two days working my tail off outside.  I dug up two bushes and transplanted them to a new location only a few feet away.  Removed a miniature Christmas tree that didn't belong and put down new mulch.  Oh - captured a racoon and took it to the woods where it belongs.



View or purchase my books at Smashwords. Visit my web page.