2014-03-30

Western Reserve Writer's Conference

Yesterday, I attended the Western Reserve Writer's Conference held bi-annually at the Lakeland Community College. As conferences go, this one is very local and quite small. Sign-in and continental breakfast (with obligatory coffee of course) started at 0830. The kick-off meeting began at 0900. There were a total of 9 presentations being given in three groups.

The first presentation I attended was "Creative Thinking For The Creative Writer" given by Michael Wilson. He has written a book on the subject that is due to be published soon. I've never been a fan of what I call 'formalized thinking' but his presentation did have some interesting ideas. I took the handout and will review it again later. I doubt I will buy his book but I might use some of his techniques if I ever become stuck.

The second presentation was "eBooks: Good News and Challenges" by Sandra Gurvis. This speaker talked like she had just downed a 5-gallon pot of coffee. She read from a paper and went so fast I think she left most of the audience behind. The presentation was geared more towards writers who have not yet published their work. I did pick up some useful websites for promoting my books if I ever decide to go that route.

The last presentation of the day I attended was given by a lawyer named Steve Grant titled "Developing Issues in Today's Publishing". Steve is a copyright lawyer and he had a lot of interesting information to put out. He also answered quite a few questions from the audience. This was perhaps the most interesting presentation of the day.

In the end, I walked out of the conference feeling a little underwhelmed. I did pick up some useful information but it's what didn't happen that bothers me the most. I was hoping the event would have been more of a way for local writers to meet each other. Instead, everyone showed up, sat and listened to the various presenters in isolated groups, and then went home. The most animated individual there was Kevin Chapman who was trying to drum up some writers to attend his writer's group. I took his card because I'm seriously thinking of attending a couple of his meetings.

There is a need for writers to network with each other—especially local writers. I ran into two members of our Barnes & Noble writer's group at B&N after the conference (I went there for lunch and to write) and mentioned this to them. They suggested we try to put together a Lake County writer's meet and greet. It's an excellent idea! Now all we need to do is figure out how to make it happen.


Work on Peacekeeper 2 has been progressing well but I can sense a major snag in the plot coming up. I've sort of created a situation where my main character will be removed from the action. Since I can't allow that to happen, I need to find a way to keep him involved—I'm sure I will. Just one of those little glitches that can pop up during the initial draft. If your tracking this sort of thing, the novel's word count now sits at 39,816.

2014-03-23

BSinSF - Superhero nonsense

* * * S P O I L E R  A L E R T  * * *
The Man of Steel

I just finished watching The Man of Steel. Unlike the other Superman remakes, this one focused more on his alien origins. There were cool spaceships and advanced technology and a whole lot of really bad science. Of course I enjoyed the movie. I'm a sucker for scifi action flicks and I usually put my higher cognitive functions on hold while watching the show. But afterward my brain kicks back in and complains.

I would like to discuss two very big complaints that's common in many science fiction movies. The first involves energy supply. Kryptonians exposed to Earth's atmosphere suddenly develop the ability to shoot incredibly power beams of energy from their eyes. Where does the power for this come from? The can manipulate gravity and are capable of multi-mach flight. Again, this is an energy-intensive operation. The fight scene at the end of the movie uses up more energy than an operating nuclear power plant!

The point here is that you must always consider the energy required to perform an action. If your ship has a planet-killer weapon (aka Death Star) you'd better have a viable power source and you should have at least a ball-park idea as to how much energy is required. It's okay to exaggerate a little but don't go overboard.

Damage assessment was another major flaw in the movie. Superman gets spun around and then flung into a building. He crashed through it, and another, and another, etc. He appears to be hurt but not only is his suit unharmed, but he has nary a scratch on him. His enemy flings a locomotive at him which flies across multiple city blocks before crashing down on him. Again, not a single scratch. This is against all the laws of physics. I would love to have seen them maintain the alien aspect of superman and at least try to keep the science at least within an order of magnitude within reality.

Ironman was another movie that defied the damage assessment rule. Stark is a normal human with human frailty. I don't care how good of a suit you build, if you hit a building hard enough to go through the wall the impact is going to turn the human body inside the suit into mush. Kinetic energy is unforgiving. It also can't be created out of nowhere like in Star Trek. Why does the Enterprise shake like it has been hit by a solid object when an energy bolt strikes the shield? There's not enough kinetic energy in an energy beam to shake a multi-thousand ton ship! Don't fall into this trap when you write science fiction.

For a good laugh and some useful insight into just how bad the physics are in movies please visit http://www.intuitor.com/moviephysics/ for an eye-opening experience. The sad part about this is that most people don't even know they're being misled. Spaceships do not fly like airplanes; there's no sound in space; energy beams cannot be stopped by a transparent shield; energy is not unlimited.

Enough of the rantings for the day. Peacekeeper is now at 35,677 words. The story is moving along nicely but there will be a lot of editing to do later on. I've also been toying with an idea for a YA novel in my head. I did some research into what actually constitutes a YA novel and I think I can do this. It might be my next project.

Finally, I will be attending a local writer's conference on March 29 at Lakeland Community College. I have no plans to attend any cons this year.

2014-03-16

Book sales

Peacekeeper now stands at 33,605 words.

So what causes book sales to go up? What causes sales to drop? Does anybody really know? Oh there are books out there by people who claim to know, people who, for the price of their book, will tell you how to market and promote your book and how to boost sales. I don't think anyone really truly understands what drives most sales. I had a spectacular run up of sales in 2012 so some people who know about this believe I'm some sort of expert in this matter. Believe me--I am not!

There are a few things that can cause a dramatic increase in sales though: Having your book mentioned or talked about on a show like Oprah or Ellen can result in a huge spike in sales. Having your book turned into a movie of course is a no-brainer way but this requires incredible luck. Winning a prestigious award might cause a small increase because most non-writers know nothing of these awards. Promoting your book on Facebook, Twitter, internet ads, Google+, and other online sources might give you a small, temporary increase in sales. Sending out a pile of postcards in the mail will most likely not result in enough sales to cover the cost of printing and mailing them. Doing signings at book stores or libraries does not seem to boost overall sales at all. So what drives sales?

Several surveys suggest that most people buy a book based on the recommendation of one of their friends. In other words--word of mouth. Following behind this are the people who buy a book because it was written by an author they've read before and liked. Next in line are those who just browse the list of books looking at titles and covers. These people will buy a book based on its visual appeal followed by the description then the reviews and finally the price.

Not every author can enjoy strong sales for long periods of time. I had my run with the Galactic Alliance series back in 2012 when Translight rose up the Amazon chart to stall at #178 of all books sold. I know I have a faithful following because sales spike when I release a new book. But the days of selling hundreds of books a day appear to be over. What caused that spike? I have no clue. But I am very happy to say that even though daily sales are low, they are steady. I still get the occasional good review which boosts my confidence and makes me want to write more.

Learning to write a great book is a never ending process. I read books on how to improve my writing. I read other books with an eye towards how the author structures her sentences and paragraphs. I read internet articles and magazine articles on how to improve my prose. And most importantly, I listen to my readers. I have always responded to their emails and I listen to their comments. I work at a nuclear power plant and we continue to strive to improve--training never ends. It's the same with writing.

Next week is my last week as an instrumentation and controls technician at the nuke plant. I'll be working nights and then I have a week's vacation. When I return to work I report to my new desk as a maintenance planner. This is a good move for me for many reasons. Wish me luck.

2014-03-09

Amtrak writer residency

Ok--so I don't stand a snowball's chance in... Well, you get the point. I'm talking about the exciting AmTrak writer's residency that officially opened its doors for submission yesterday afternoon. If you're on Twitter you've probably seen the flurry of discussions concerning this event. If you want to learn about how it all started, check out this article on the Wire website. I was glued to my Twitter feed all week waiting for the announcement. It finally came yesterday as I was walking into B&N to attend my writer's meeting. I sat down, fired up the laptop, and put in my submission. Now the waiting begins. If you're interested, check out the link above and put your name in the hat. Yes that means I'll be pushed farther down the list but it's more appropriate to share this information than to keep it private in the hopes that I'll be one of only a few to submit. Go for it!

Peacekeeper now stands at 31,309 words. I received some very positive feedback from my reading at the writer's group yesterday as well as a couple of interesting suggestions. I wish I had time to get into the suggestions because it highlights just how important it is for writers to hang out together and exchange ideas. Perhaps in another post???

Yesterday morning, in the middle of working on new material for Peacekeeper, our power went out. This is perhaps one of the scariest events that can happen in a writer's life (a total hard drive crash without having a backup is the worst). I was not working on a laptop either. If I had been, the laptop's battery would have kicked in. I was on my main system. Luckily, both of my desktop PCs are equipped with battery backups. I lost nothing. And, because I power the router and modem with the UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) I was able to save my work to DropBox in case I had to transfer to the laptop. The power was out twice; once for 15 seconds and a few minutes later it went out again for 6 minutes. Others in our area weren't so lucky. Forty-six thousand people lost their power for most of the day. The lesson learned: Backup your work and either write on a device that has a built-in battery or buy a UPS for your desktop. I use an APC XS 1000.

I was hoping this would not happen, but United airlines (which is backing out of Cleveland as one of their hubs) has changed my flight to Denver. I had originally booked a flight putting me there at the decent time of 2:34 PM. Now my arrival has been pushed back to 5:59 PM. It's a 2-hour drive to Laramie from Denver and I'm supposed to be driving a group from the airport. Luckily, nobody has been selected to attend Launch Pad yet. I've alerted Mike Brotherton of my late arrival and he can inform the new attendees of my flight times so they can plan their flights around mine if they desire.

That's enough for me--time to get some writing done.

2014-03-02

Peacekeeper 2 update

Today's post is a little abbreviated due to our having an overnight guest and I don't want to be rude.

As of this morning, Peacekeeper now stands at 29,789 words putting the novel at just over 1/3 complete, assuming a final word count of 85,000. Last week, I told you about a suggestion from one of my readers that has improved the book enormously. Those improvements required me to add a completely different beginning. Thanks to Scrivener, doing so was a piece of cake.

If you've read Peacekeeper, you will recall that the main character—Tom—formed a unique relationship with an alien named Lashpa. Peacekeeper 2 continues this relationship and delves deeper into the problems of inter-species relations. I haven't gotten there yet but I will also be explaining the difficulties a cyborg faces in forming a close relationship with a non-enhanced individual. The results should make for a good character story. And for those who want the action, there will be some of that as well. Space battles, powerful weapons, and incredible ships.


Making the above changes would have been a nightmare in any other 'standard' word processor. Scrivener, however, made it a snap. After adding the new first chapter, I had to move a couple of scenes around to put things into the right timeline. Each scene is a separate file in Scrivener and moving them around is as simple as dragging the filenames. Throughout the entire rewrite process I didn't have to worry at all about renumbering chapters or putting in scene separators at the proper location. Scrivener does it all when I build the final product. If you're a writer and you haven't looked into this wonderful program—do it now.

Finally - Don't forget that Launch Pad is now taking applications. If you're involved in any way in the entertainment industry (writer, editor, publisher, producer, agent) please consider putting in an application to attend this incredible workshop. You will not only learn some science but you will get to know a group of individuals who share the same interest as yourself. I am so glad to have attended in the past and I'm looking forward to doing it again and again.