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.