2017-10-17

10-17-2017 Rewriting

Many of my novels are written using two or more timelines that eventually converge at some point. Keeping these two timelines synchronized can be a pain in the neck especially if you're a seat of the pants writer like me. That's one reason I bought Aeon Timeline. Unfortunately, I didn't start a timeline when I started work on Collision Course and now I'm paying for that oversight.

About a week and a half ago I discovered that my parallel timelines were way out of sync and I needed to go back and do some serious rewriting. This time, I created a timeline in Aeon Timeline. I'm having to move entire chapters, insert new ones, and cut and paste huge blocks of text to get things to line up. Doing this in Microsoft Word would be a chore especially because I also need to constantly refer to my notes. Scrivener keeps my notes in a window at the bottom of my screen and allows me to simply drag chapters around, move blocks to a holding area, and do all the editing I need.

Additional writing in my novel will not happen until I get the timeline fixed. I'm not sure how long this is going to take especially since my time to write is limited these days.

Also, I'd like to remind anyone who reads this to check out my website and take a look at the Tools page where I've put a bunch of calculations I've found useful when writing science fiction. If you find an error or you would like to see any other calculators added, please let me know.

2017-10-06

10-06-2017

My science fiction calculation web page is live! This has been a goal of mine for many years and today it's become a reality. When I started writing science fiction, one of the things I prided myself in was trying to keep the science as real as possible. To do this, I built an Excel spreadsheet with all sorts of useful numbers and calculations. I've always wanted to put these calculations and numbers on a website but the old host of my site did not allow me to use JavaScript.

Some time ago, I embarked on a program to learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. When I had a workable website up and running on my local PC, I opened an account with a different host and moved my site to them. About two weeks ago, I learned enough about JavaScript to feel confident in building my long awaited calculator page. It went live today.

You can view the site at: dougfarren.com. Feedback is always welcome.

The entire site has been hand-coded and has been purposefully built to be clean and easy to use. The code is responsive allowing it to display properly on anything from a cell phone to a high-end computer system. I have also used code that should be understandable by almost any browser.

Enjoy!

2017-10-03

10-03-2017

Today was a no writing day. Even though I'm on vacation, I went into work to run the Monthly Performance Report. This report must be completed within the first week of every month. I do the work management portion. It used to take my predecessor three long days to generate the data. I have a computer program that spits out the needed numbers in less than five minutes. The numbers must be transferred to our reporting system and I'm the person designated to enter them. I also attended a short training session I'd signed up for before going on vacation.

As soon as I got home, I began working outside getting the yard ready for winter. Seemed strange though since it was almost 80 degrees outside. But I was on vacation and the work needed to be done.

I did just recently finish reading Creating a Website: The Missing Manual. I highly recommend it. One of the last chapters was on JavaScript. Based on the examples given, I felt confident enough to begin building a web page I've been wanting to build for years--my science fiction calculator. Yesterday, I built the first of the pages and after a few trials and errors managed to get it working. My goal is to have this series of pages ready to be rolled out by the time I'm done with my vacation. That will be a cause for celebration because I've been wanting to put the spreadsheet I've used for many used into the public domain for a long long time.

2017-09-29

09-29-2017

The fun thing about being a SOP (Seat Of your Pants) writer is the times when the story takes off on a different track than I anticipated. This usually happens when my characters are engaged in a conversation. While writing one such conversation this morning in Collision Course, the characters made some comments that have added a new layer of interest to the story. I was simply writing down what the characters would naturally say and the result is a new twist to the story. I love it!

If you ever want to learn a difficult subject and you learn best by reading a book, you've got to check out the Missing Manual series. I am nearing the end of Creating a Website the Missing Manual. I've learned plenty from this well-written book. It is now filled with little stickies poking out from the edges of the pages so I can find the good stuff inside when I need it. Even though the chapter on JavaScript is tiny compared to the monster Missing Manual I have on the entire language, I believe I've learned enough to begin to design my science fiction calculator on my website. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

I am on vacation as of today and I will have every morning for the next week to write and work more on my website. There are days when I wish I had a jack built into the back of my skull so I could just upload the knowledge I crave. Often, I need to keep myself from reading too fast because I know that doing so will not help me learn. Until our technology gives us the ability to upload information directly into our brains, I will just have to remind myself that learning takes time.

2017-09-26

9-26-17

Just a quick update: I've been reading up on website development and wanted to set up a forum on my new author website. Before trying that, I think I'll figure out how to link this blog with the site and also include all the little tips and tricks I've learned over the years about self-publishing. The website is still in its infancy but more things will be added as time permits so keep checking back.

Some time ago, I switched from doing weekly posts to less than weekly. That will most likely change as I've decided to try to blog more and to blog about what's been going on in my writing and working life. Linking this to my website should also help make the site a place to visit more often.

Finally, the long-term goal of the new website is to build my science-fiction calculator into the site. That's going to take some time but please have a little patience as I do have a full-time job and a book to write.

2017-09-10

New Website

My new author website is up and running. Right now, it does pretty much the minimum required for it to be considered a halfway decent website. I'm still working my way through several books on Web-site design (currently reading Creating a Website: The Missing Manual, and CSS: The Missing Manual at the same time). I will most likely be making some minor changes to the new site as I learn more about website design. Once those two books are done, my next major project will be to learn JavaScript.

Learning JavaScript is going to take some time but is a necessary requirement for me to move on to the next phase of my website project--putting my science fiction calculator on the web. Ever since I started writing science fiction, I've relied on an Excel spreadsheet to perform calculations so I can keep the known science real. Some of these calculations can become quite complex and doing them by hand over and over again was simply not an option. I share this spreadsheet with anyone (author or not) who is interested in using it. Once it's on my website, anyone can use it.

When not reading up on website construction or web-based languages, I have been working on my current book. Right now, the word count sits at 35,698 and it's moving along well. I still have no idea how this one is going to end but I do have several possibilities. The story itself will usually point towards a satisfactory ending as I continue to add to it.

If you've been reading my blog or know me personally, you know that I'm a Microsoft Access developer. For the past couple of years, I've had a very stable system of programs that perform my automatic updates. This system needed some changes to make it easier to maintain as well as to improve the response time for changes made in the monitored data sources. Adding new automatic reports was especially difficult. I created a new set of programs using most of the original code and rolled them out last week. Unfortunately, I failed to perform the multi-day testing I said I would.

The code tested fine in development and seemed to run okay in production. I never put a new program into production on a Friday and I'm very lucky I did not. There was a tiny little bug in a single line of code that caused a bit of an embarrassing flurry of emails to upper management. One of my reports is scheduled to run at 0445 in the morning. The report generator used to check for reports to run every 3 minutes. Immediately after midnight, the code noted that the 0445 report had not run for the day. The check to see if it was actually scheduled to run was not correct and the report began sending itself out once every 3 minutes until 0445.

I saw it when I came into work at 0530 and I also stopped another report that would have run until 0600. The bug is one that is known to many programmers and is called a day-crossing error. I failed to test it properly. The corrected version has been running without error for more than a week now and I've also set the timers to check for a new report every 10 minutes instead of every three. The timer logic was copied from the database updater which continues to run every 3 minutes.

Luckily, nobody seemed to be too upset and I sent out an apology later in the day after I gave people enough time to clear out the email storm I caused. I also got a call from corporate IT and had to explain to them what had happened. When you write complex programs like these, errors are bound to happen. The key is to respond to them quickly. The entire system is built to alert me to errors when they happen. I also now ensure I get every single email that is sent out and I get it sent to my home address so I'm always in the loop.

Time to get back to preparing for a family picnic we are hosting.

2017-08-27

Eclipse 2017

My original plans called for me and my wife to leave Ohio on Saturday 8-19, stay overnight in Wytheville, and then continue to my dad's house in South Carolina the next day. News reports of huge traffic jams caused my wife to become concerned about getting stuck in traffic for hours on end which would not be a good thing considering she has leg problems. The plans were changed Thursday night. I left Friday morning by myself and drove the entire way without stopping. I did hit some traffic, but nothing like the media was predicting. In fact, the traffic jams failed to materialize until after the eclipse.

I watched the eclipse from the comfort of my dad's back porch. What a show! During totality, the crickets, cicadas, and tree frogs started singing. A large spider on the deck downstairs came out and began dismantling her web. Venus became visible and the corona was the only thing providing light. And then, as quickly as it had become dark, the sun reappeared and the show was over. 2 minutes and 30 seconds of memory that will remain with me for a long time to come.

If you missed the 2017 eclipse, you will have another chance in 2024. This one just happens to pass over my area and I will not have to travel anywhere to see it.

I did manage to get some writing done while on vacation. Collision Course now stands at 32,342 words putting it over 1/3 of the way to completion. I have a fuzzy idea as to how the story is going to end and I have a few scenes in my head that I know must get into the manuscript. Other than that, this story has been unfolding as I write it. So far, so good.

I've also begun the process of moving my website over to a new host. The initial site that viewers will see is complete and waiting to be viewed. All I'm waiting for now is the actual transfer to take place. Moving a website from one host to another is not as easy as one might think. The entire process will most likely take about 10 days as the current host wants to wait for the longest time possible before releasing the domain for transfer. Luckily, the people at X10Hosting have experience in doing this and all I had to do was to put in a help desk ticket with them and then contact my current host. They're handling the rest. I will let you know when the new site is available.

A couple days before I came back home, the bottom fell out of my daughter's car--literally. This triggered a series of actions my wife and I had discussed concerning the fate of her current car about a month or so ago. We weren't expecting to implement this plan for a few years. I arrived home on Friday at 11:30 AM. By 1:30 PM, we were at the car dealer looking at cars. At 5:15 PM, we were the owners of a new Hyundai Ioniq. My daughter picked up my wife's old car on Saturday.

2017-08-06

Some updates

Collision Course (my current work in progress now stands at 25,154 words. I am moving into a part of the novel that should move along very rapidly as long as I have the time to just sit and write. It's starting to turn out better than I had originally hoped. The ending, however, is still going to be a problem. Luckily, I'm not there yet.

I haven't written a blog in a few weeks and nobody seems to have noticed. That could be a good thing in that perhaps writing a weekly post was too much. These days, people don't have a lot of time to read everyone's posts. Attention spans are also becoming shorter because there is simply so much more out there for people to look at and enjoy. A shorter attention span though could also mean that I should write more as it keeps people's interest focused on coming back to my blog.

Here's how I figure it: If you are reading this because you're interested in hearing about the progress I'm making on my next novel, are interested in learning a bit about the self-publishing process, and have an interest in what I am up to in my life, then you would set your browser to subscribe to the RSS feed of this blog and then read up on what I have to say when I say it. Trying to remember to go to my blog every week is most likely not what is typically done. I would assume that most people out there have automated things and use the RSS feed.

Now that I've typed all that, I certainly home Blogger.com provides an RSS feed and that most people know how to use it! I'm not going to worry about it though.

I've been doing some learning on how to build websites. I've already read a few books on the subject and I've started to apply my new found knowledge on a new author website. The new site is nearly ready for me to cut the cord on the current host. Before I jump into learning JavaScript, I intend to learn as much as I can about HTML and CSS. To bolster my knowledge, I've ordered 3 more books: HTML: The Missing Manual, CSS: The Missing Manual, and How to Build a Website: The Missing Manual. As you can see, I have a high opinion of the Missing Manual books. If you want to learn something, go to one of these first if available.

I want to mention a touchy subject and I apologize to those authors out there who might disagree with my opinion on this matter. Authors must promote their books, that is a given. But over-promotion can be worse. I no longer use the native Twitter app because it is filled with advertisements. If I visit a website and the first thing that happens is a full-page ad pops up, I'm out and I doubt I will ever return. If I'm following someone on Twitter and the only tweets that person writes are promotional in nature--then I'm most likely going to unfollow that person.

There is a fine line between 'correct' promotions and overdoing it. Sure, your readers are interested in that fact that you've published a new book. They might be interested in knowing it's out in a different language. They might have missed the first or even the second tweet. But send out a promotional tweet too often and I start to wonder why you're on Twitter to begin with.

The same goes for Facebook, Google+, and the other social media sites. I do promote my books on social media, but I do so sparingly. I've never been an "in your face" sort of author. I prefer to see my books promoted by other means, like word of mouth. It's just my opinion. Blasting your book out there over every social media platform you can every day for weeks on end might give you a good sales boost. For me, I subscribe to social media because I want to know what the people I'm following are doing. I don't like to be blasted by promotional ads. If I want that I'll watch live television--something I haven't done in years.

Time to get back to writing.

2017-07-23

Progress report

After being stuck in writer's limbo for a couple of weeks, Collision Course is now once again growing in size. Fighting off a touch of the flu certainly did not help but things are now moving along. The word count now stands at 21,629 putting it at about the 25% mark. I will be getting back to working on it as soon as this is posted.

My studies into how to author a website are moving along. I now have a fairly good skeleton of my new author site up and running on my new host. I'm continuing to learn. Unfortunately, the more I learn, the more I discover that I have more to learn. There are so many different web technologies out there that keeping up with them (much less learning them) is quite a challenge.

My approach to this entire project has been to start with the basics (HTML and CSS) and work up from there. Others, anxious to begin, might have started with a website builder such as Adobe's Creative Cloud and just used the application's GUI to build a site. But doing that does not provide any insight into the underlying code. I don't want to just build a website, I want to know how it works.

After I have a firm grasp on HTML and CSS (within another week or so I believe), I will start learning JavaScript. Following that, comes PHP, Java, and then maybe Sass and Less. In between, I might take a closer look at Modernizr. Who knows, I might even decide to learn Python and Ruby as well! Okay, maybe that's pulling off more than I can chew because while learning all the above, I still need (and want) to write. There isn't enough time in the day for me to learn all this. It's frustrating and fun all rolled up into a slippery vibrating package that's hard to get a grip on.

Being a self-published author is not easy because the author has so many additional duties beyond just writing. It takes a lot of time and often a lot of sacrifices. I watch very little TV and when I do it's done at 1.5x or 2x speed. I've gotten very used to watching an entire movie at 2x normal speed. Reading for pleasure is a rarity these days.

Because I have so much to do, I'm keeping this post and future posts short. I might even drop back to a single post every couple of weeks instead of weekly. Time to get some writing done!

2017-07-16

Trying on a new hat

Not much progress has been made on Collision Course since last week. I seem to be stuck in a loop trying to decide which path to take at this point in the new novel. Until that's resolved, I'll most likely work on assembling a new hat to wear--that of website author.

I have been building my new author website on a free hosting platform and so far the results are okay. Last week, I finally got the formatting to look like I wanted--on Chrome. But Chrome is not the only browser out there so I decided to test it out on my phone. It looked great. Next came Internet Explorer. Not so good. Using caniuse, I learned there was a bug in Explorer on how it behaved regarding one of the tags I was using. Back to the drawing board.

I should point out that I started off using NotePad++ as my editor just so I could become used to entering the tags correctly. During the hours long trial and error to fix my code so it would display properly on both Chrome and Explorer, I switched to CodeWriter. This still required me to do the endless edit, save, switch to browser, refresh, cycle and it quickly became a pain in the neck. I did solve the problem and things are working much better on multiple browsers.

Thinking there must be a better way, I began my search for a better HTML editor. I eventually found Brackets. This editor seemed to have everything I dreamed of. A quick internet search, however, found nothing in the way of a user guide. How the hell am I supposed to learn a powerful program if there's no user guide? I wanted this editor but nowhere could I find a manual explaining what it is capable of and how to do it. I was about to give up when I found a series of videos explaining how to use Brackets. Lisa Catalano has not only put together a fantastic series of videos, she's also one hell of a web designer and I learned plenty while also learning how to use Brackets.

Being a self-published author means wearing many hats: Writer, editor, business manager, accountant, sales manager, promotion manager, document formatter, and observer just to name a few. If you want a website, you most likely need to fashion a website author hat as well. Like many authors I know, I'm also a software developer. I use my writing skills every day during my day job to maintain the User Guide and the Technical Reference Manual for every application I write. It's common sense. Brackets is a fantastic product. It's lack of a manual almost caused me to pass it by.

Now I have to go fix another problem before I can get back to work on Collision Course. I use Microsoft Media Center as my DVR. Two weeks ago, the guide began showing "No Data Available" for all channels. This meant our shows would no longer be recorded. I eventually managed to coax the system into doing a partial download of the guide and we had information on the lower channels. A few days ago, that information became unreliable and only went out about 7 days. Nothing available on the upper channels still.

I called the cable company--not their problem. I called Microsoft--Media Center is no longer supported--not their problem. Finally, I found a drastic solution. After I post this, I will be replacing my guide with one developed by the loyal community of Media Center users. I hope it works.

2017-07-09

Characters

Collision Course -- the final title of my current novel -- now stands at 20,763 words. That count will most likely not change for a few weeks as I shift my focus from writing to finishing my website. Even though I've had a three-day weekend, I didn't get much writing done. When writing becomes too high of a priority, other projects begin to slip and all of a sudden you have so much to do besides writing that it's overwhelming. There are only so many hours available in a day.

This post will not be accompanied by my standard email. I've decided that if people want to read my blog, they will subscribe to it or see the post on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter. I am reserving the emails for important announcements only. In last week's email, I asked people for their opinion on this and received only one feedback. I can only conclude that people really don't read the emails because they are sent out every single week. That changes effective today.

Yesterday's author meeting was interesting even though we only had a group of four. I missed last month's meeting because I was at Launch Pad and I guess they had 16 people show up. I read a chapter from Collision Course and everyone asked if I planned on bringing back one of the characters in the chapter. I had not originally planned on doing so but after hearing the positive feedback on that particular character, I will be changing my mind. A good character, even a minor one, makes a story interesting.

The characters in a story should reflect the fact that society is not made up of people that are all alike. Even in a futuristic science fiction story like mine, people will be different. We all have varied personalities and each character in a story should be designed as a separate person different from all the others. Creating such characters is difficult because authors will be tempted to model many of their characters after themselves. Become an observer of people. Pick a public spot and just sit, watch, and listen to how the people around you behave. When you create a new character in your story, try to imagine how that character is different than all the others.

Collision Course is set in a future several decades from now. Humanity is actively interacting with several different species from multiple worlds. The character described above, is a Native American who is the captain of a starship. Even in the future, humans will remain a diverse people with many sub-cultures. Not everyone will be a white American. Your stories should include a diversity of characters from many cultures. But be careful! Don't rely on your culturally defined belief as to how a person from another culture would act. Seek out someone from that culture and talk to them. Open your mind to the fact that not everyone on this planet is like you.

2017-07-02

Progress

Course Correction (still the temporary title) now stands at 17.879 words. I'm still in the process of fixing the story line. If all goes well, things will be back on track by the end of next week.

Progress has been made with my website upgrade project. Yesterday, I opened up an account with X10 Hosting to build a test site. After a few false starts, the new author website is up and running. Now that it's on an actual server, I can open it with my cell phone, tablet, and other machines and browsers. So far, it looks okay but there are definitely some tweaks that need to be made. I have a new book to read (Responsive Web Design with HTML5 and CSS3) that should help. I'm using a free account and this is just a test site. Once I'm happy with how it looks, I have several options. I can transfer my domain name to X10 Hosting and continue to use the free site or I can copy all the files to a paid host and run the official site from there. So far, I'm leaning towards the first option but we shall see.

I was unable to get Filezilla to work on my Windows 10 machine so I'm looking for an FTP program that's free and works on Windows 10. There's quite a selection so I'll be spending some time today looking over reviews and such.

In the non-writing world. I saved myself about $200.00 last week by doing my own repair/modification of our relatively new dishwasher. About a year after we got it, we started getting an error display and the dishwasher would stop. The machine was still under warranty so we called and someone came out to fix it. The problem turned out to be very common--a fan unit in the top with a solenoid-operated valve that does not properly close. A year after it was replaced under warranty, the same thing happened.

I took the fan module out and took it apart. Turns out, the tiny spring that holds the rubber valve closed is far too wimpy. I used a pen spring to give it some more strength, reassembled the unit and reinstalled it in the machine. It's run for three complete cycles now without an error. Fixed!

Finally, if you happen to be a developer who produces Microsoft Access, Excel, Word, or PowerPoint applications, it might not be in your best interest to upgrade to the latest version every time a new version comes out. If a client has an older version, the application will most likely fail especially if you do any VBA coding. Microsoft versions are always backward compatible meaning if a client has the newest version they can still run your application. The reverse, however, is not always true. The major problem is with the Office applications library. If this happens, you will have to change the references by running the source code on your client's machine and then recompile.

2017-06-25

Restart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017-06-18

Launch Pad 2017

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

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

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

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

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

2017-05-28

Cover Creation

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

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

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

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

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

2017-05-21

Why Write

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017-05-14

Formatting for Print

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

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

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

You're looking for the following:

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

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

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

2017-05-07

Formatting

The formatting of Peacekeeper Pathogen is now complete. All of the corrections suggested by my two proofreaders (my wife and Ekkehard Flessa) have been entered and both the Kindle version and the Createspace (print) version are complete. All that's left now is to build the full cover for the print version and then wait for May 29 when the book will be released.

In the past, I would have just uploaded everything and then made the book available for sale. Pre-orders, however, are an important part of getting a new book off to a running start. If a book is released without doing pre-orders, it starts off at the bottom of the enormous pile of books being sold on Amazon. If the author chooses to run pre-orders, all of the pre-orders are applied on the day the book is released instantly moving it up a bit in the ranks. If you are thinking of reading Peacekeeper Pathogen, please consider pre-ordering it now. Even if you are not able to read it right away, the electronic copy will always be on your shelf waiting.

Ensuring a manuscript is free from grammatical errors, has a solid story, and (in the case of a series) does not conflict with what's been told in past books provides the reader with a good experience. This is a requirement if an author wants to be viewed as a true writer. Properly formatting the book's interior is a sign of a professional writer. Many writers pay for these services. Some have received poor results. I am lucky to have an international cooperative to help me get my books ready for the rest of the world.

My wife and I live in the State of Ohio in the United States. My content editor (Lee Dilkie) lives in Canada. My cover artist lives in Minnesota. My final proofreader (Ekkehard Flessa) is a German engineer. Without the help of these people, I would either have to pay to have my book professionally edited. I didn't always have this much help. Lee and Ekkehard were readers who were kind enough to send in corrections to my earlier books. Now, they are people I trust to help me produce the best book possible.

Formatting for Kindle is simple and easy to do if you read the formatting guidelines available on Amazon's website. I use Microsoft Word and a small set of specialized styles to create the Kindle version. Amazon can take a Word .docx file and convert it to Kindle format. I do a thorough check of the converted book using Amazon's online viewer.

Formatting for Createspace takes a bit more work. I use Createspace to produce the printed versions of my books. Formatting for print is more difficult than formatting for Kindle and I did a lot of research a couple years ago to ensure I was doing it correctly. The knowledge I gained from that research caused me to go back and completely reformat all my previous works. Instead of going into the details of this formatting process, I will save it for next week's post.

My studies into website design are progressing very well. I've finished a slightly out-of-date 600 page book on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I read it quickly just to get an overview of things. Now, I'm reading an up-to-date book on those same subjects. I have other books on standby that will be read as I continue learning. When I feel I have reached a point where I can start work on my new author website, I will build it using a small server I've set up on a laptop connected to my home network. If all goes well, the new site will be ready to upload when my contract with my current host runs out.

As always, if anyone has any questions I might be able to answer, please feel free to email me. I reply to all valid requests. My email is: author at dougfarren dot com

2017-04-30

Peacekeeper Pathogen

Peacekeeper Pathogen is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Pre-order sales do not become active until the day the book is officially released. In my case, this is May 29. On that day, all of the pre-orders hit my Amazon indicator and my book will start off somewhere near the middle of the pack in the ranking instead of at the bottom. That's why it's so important to collect as many pre-order sales as possible. If you're interested in reading this book, please pre-order and help give me a boost.

Sales have been okay recently but there has been a clear downward trend again over the past couple of weeks. I've had several people recommend that I raise the price of my books--I could not disagree more. I am a firm believer that this country is heading for disaster and it's all driven by greed. Just because I can charge more does not mean I should. I do treat my writing as a business and businesses are gauged by their profitability. I don't charge the business for my time to write a book. I am totally self-published and my only costs are what I pay to have an artist build a cover. My actual cost to create a book is very minimal.

There are other costs associated with my writing business:

  • Mileage linked to attending meetings, selling books, getting to the airport for business trips, etc.
  • Partial cost of the internet to my house.
  • Business card printing.
  • Paper and other office supplies such as software license renewals and purchases.
  • Writing-related trips (Launch Pad in particular).
  • Magazines and books associated with the business.
When it is all compiled at tax time, my writing business has a variable record. I took a loss three years ago and broke even the last two. This year, because I'm limiting my trips to only one (Launch Pad), I will show a profit.

Raising my prices might bring in more royalty payments but it could also have the opposite effect. If I raise my price too much, then people will be less inclined to buy a copy. Since I don't rely on my book sales to support myself and my wife, I can keep my prices low enough to cover my business expenses and make my books affordable at the same time. I would rather see a large number of sales than a large royalty check. It's the thought that there are large numbers of people out there who are enjoying my books that keeps me writing. That is why I write.

I haven't been working on my next book at all this past week. I've been concentrating on learning how to build web pages. I'm almost done with one book and I will be starting on another soon. I have prepared an older computer to be set up as a local web server (Ubuntu operating system and full LAMP install as suggested by several author friends). The long-range plan is to hand-code my author website and have it fully tested and ready to roll out on a new host when my contract with my current host is up for renewal.

2017-04-23

Dilemma

 My current day job is doing Microsoft Access programming. I love to write code! The joy of seeing a program you've written running, generating the data you asked it to produce and functioning correctly is hard to describe. One might think that after work I would rather spend my free time doing other things--like writing. Not so recently!

I've embarked on a quest to learn web programming. This involves becoming familiar with many different technologies. For now, I'm focusing on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Using just those three technologies, a person can build some incredibly sophisticated websites. Recently, I've been torn between continuing my web studies or writing. It's been a tough choice.

Writing at one level is a lot like programming. Both work within the semantics of a specific language. Both involve stringing together the small pieces of that language in a specific pattern to produce a final product. Both require the creator to think ahead--often far ahead. Rewrites are common and mistakes can cause the whole thing to stop working. I love writing and seeing a final product available for purchase and seeing the good reviews is also a thrill that's hard to describe. When programming and writing both become a priority, a dilemma is created.

Why am I working on learning web technology? Several reasons: As some of you might recall, the power plant I work at could be sold or closed within the next 18 to 24 months. Learning a new programming skill will help if I need to find a new job if I'm laid off. I also would like to revamp my author website. Right now, that website is being hosted by a company that insists on forcing the subscriber to build websites using their proprietary web-builder software. Although it's pretty slick, there are now things I want to do that can't be done on this host. I plan on moving my site to a different host where I can hand-build my website as I see fit.

I did manage to finish the first chapter of my next book though. It's a sequel to Off Course and it will provide a hard link between that short 2-book series to my Dragonverse series. Science fiction and the world of dragons all come together--who could ask for more? It's not going to be an easy book to write because one of the primary characters is an AI. Once I get past the first few chapters though, I think things will begin to move along quickly.

Speaking of books, Peacekeeper Pathogen should be on its way to my second-level review very shortly. The first round of proofing is nearly complete with only three chapters remaining. I'm hoping to have it in the hands of my German reader by the first of the month. I also just got back the revised cover art and it looks perfect. That will allow me to begin working on the cover. If all goes well, you will see it when I post next week.

2017-04-16

Spring

My wonderful wife is nearing the end of her review of Peacekeeper Pathogen. She has only a few chapters left. If all goes well, I will be entering all her changes and sending the book off to my final proofreader in Germany. While he does his review, I will be working on finalizing the cover and formatting the interior for both Kindle and Createspace (ebook and print version). When I'm not actively working on Pathogen, I will be working on my next book or continuing my studies of HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript.

I don't have a name for the next book yet. I'm thinking of titles such as: Back On Course, Weapon, and Psycho Ship, but so far none of those seem to fit. I've had to restart the first chapter of this book three times before getting it right. The first writing was all wrong and it just didn't work. The second revision's timeline just didn't work and it would have required too much explanation as to why the crew of the ship did things they way they did. Finally, I got it right yesterday morning and now the book can move forward.

While working on the second revision the other day, my MalwareBytes suddenly decided to identify Scrivener as ransomware! It moved the executable into the quarantine folder and refused to allow me to move it back until after I rebooted. I then had to tell MalwareBytes that Scrivener was not malware. I was then able to restore the program to its correct location so I could continue writing. What's odd about all this is Scrivener has not had an update in a long time. Very odd. At least I know my MalwareBytes is working to protect me, even if it is a bit overzealous.

Last Monday, I attended the annual Books and Cooks event at one of our libraries. This was my third time and, as like the other times, I sold no books. But events like this are not just about sales. It;s about supporting your local library and making yourself available to the public. Although I didn't sell any books, I did add some names to my mailing list and I got to talk to some people who were interested my reading my books. Since the library is only a few miles from my house, the only thing I lost was a few hours and none of that is what I would consider as wasted. I sat next to another wonderful author I've known for several years and we had a very good discussion concerning author-stuff.

The title of this post is Spring. Spring is when most people spend a considerable amount of time cleaning the outside and the inside of their house. It's where the term Spring Cleaning comes from. I took the opportunity to build a new edging around the mulch bed at the front of the house. Last weekend, I cleaned up the back porch by putting the cat houses away, power-washing the cement on the side of the house, and swapping the lawn mower and the snow blower. I also spent some time going through my computer and cleaning out all the old junk that no longer needs to be there.

Spring cleaning for me also involves going through all my writing materials and getting them organized. I empty the desk drawers and reorganize them, getting rid of things that I no longer need or filing things that were just put somewhere with the intent of being filed later. I go through my books and make a prioritized list of which ones I will read next. I like to live an organized life and doing a good Spring cleaning on my writing life is something that certainly helps.

2017-04-09

I'm Back

It's been a month since I last posted here. During my absence, I was working 6-days a week 12-hours a day. Obviously, that does not leave much time for writing or blogging. In case you're curious, here's what I did during the last month:

I work at a nuclear power plant and we shut the unit down every 2 years for refueling and to perform maintenance on items that cannot be accessed while the plant is running. Prior to taking my current job position, I was a technician in the instrumentation and controls department. During outages, we would perform many duties, some of them I no longer enjoy. Dressing out in an anti-contamination suit and climbing up a 60 foot ladder in 90 degree heat combined with high humidity is no longer something I want to do. I did it for many years and now I have a desk job.

My duties during an outage are to support the needs of the OCC. That's the Outage Control Center where a group of skilled managers direct the activities to keep the outage schedule on-track. My normal day began with getting up at 0200 and arriving at my desk around 0300 each morning. We use a collection of computer programs that read our schedule and generate a plethora of reports for use in the OCC. It is my job to assist in making sure these reports are generated without any issues. I also have a series of reports that I have developed that I run throughout the day to keep the OCC staff informed.

I'm also available to provide anyone in the OCC with ad-hoc data-mining requests. I also run a series of programs I developed that others in the organization use and it is my job to ensure that these programs continue to run without any issues. When problems arise, I am there to correct the code or figure out why the data is not being processed in a timely manner.

When I'm not actively supporting the OCC, I spend my time writing Microsoft Access database programs for the Work Management department I work for as well as other departments throughout the company. My major project this outage was the completion of the conversion of a Visual Basic 6 program I'd written in 2003 for our simulator group. This program tracks the configuration of the simulator down to the location of every wire as well as tracking all work that needs to be performed to keep the simulator in compliance and functioning properly. I am happy to report that the simulator program (called SCMS or Simulator Configuration Management System) has been successfully converted to Microsoft Access and is currently being tested.

We also broke a record during this outage. The plant was offline for 29 days 10 hours and 41 minutes making this the shortest outage in the plant's history. Having worked there for 30 years, I was very happy to see this record being made.

Now that the outage is over, I can get back to working on writing. But writing might not be as high a priority as before. With the possibility that the plant I have worked at for so long could be closed, I decided I need to boost my computer skills in case I need to seek employment elsewhere. I'm an expert Microsoft Access programmer but having just that one skill is not enough these days. I have started learning HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I also plan on becoming more experienced with how to program Microsoft Excel and Word.

Peacekeeper Pathogen is still being proofed by my wife and I hope to have it ready for a second proof by my friend in Germany in under a month. I have a preliminary cover but after having it peer reviewed by other authors I'm going to ask my artist if she can't make a few changes. In the meantime, I plan on working on my next book. It's a sequel to Off Course.

Time to get back to work!

2017-02-26

Going Silent

Next week, beginning at the stroke of midnight on Sunday morning, the power plant I work at will begin a refueling outage. Every two years, the plant shuts down for extensive maintenance and to replace about one-third of its nuclear fuel. During this time I will be working 12-hour days. I will be getting up at 0200 and sitting at my desk by 0300 every morning except Wednesday when I will have to be there an hour earlier. These strange hours are due to my responsibilities during the outage.

Each day, the schedulers put out a new schedule for the work that is to be done. This schedule is published by 0300 unless there is an issue that needs to be resolved. At 0313 sharp, an automatic computer program reads this schedule and generates a plethora of reports that are then distributed to the workgroups and management. If the schedule is not ready, this automatic program must be manually stopped until the schedule is fixed. Monitoring this massive report generator is part of my job.

I also manually generate my own reports from our scheduling system and these must be created and either printed and delivered or converted to PDF and shared with the rest of the organization. All this takes a few hours each morning. The reason for the shift in time on Wednesday is because the other person who does this has elected to take Wednesdays off. He is the person who is normally responsible for shutting down the report generator if needed but when he's not there, that responsibility falls to me. Instead of having to alter my working schedule by many hours each Wednesday, I've selected my working hours to be such that I can easily come in an hour or two earlier if needed.

After this flurry of activity in the morning, my day slows down. I will be monitoring a group of report generators I've written that help the group of managers in the Outage Control Center keep track of the progress of the outage. When I'm not doing that, I'm usually extracting data from our various databases to answer ad-hoc questions from management. In my spare time, I'll be working on building and enhancing the database applications I'm responsible for.

Because of my odd working hours, I will most likely stop publishing this blog until the outage is over. We are committed to having an outage of 28 days 3 hours. So, this might be my last post for at least a month. If I have time during the outage, I will post, but as of now, I'm not offering any guarantees.

My wife is slowly making her way through Peacekeeper Pathogen and I have high hopes she will be done by the end of the outage. I've been keeping ahead of her with another editing pass through the manuscript making small changes and fixing things that were missed in the other passes. I've already received a couple of preliminary cover ideas from my cover artist and so far I like what I see.

Finally, I'd like to make another plug for my Launch Pad fundraiser. The application window is closing in a few days but the fundraiser will continue to collect donations up until the workshop starts in June. If you think keeping the science in science fiction as realistic as possible, then you should consider helping keep this workshop alive. Large donations are becoming harder to find and small fundraisers like the one I'm running are vitally important. If you want more information on this wonderful workshop, please let me know. I would be happy to discuss it with you.

You can easily donate any amount by going to: https://www.gofundme.com/launch-pad-workshop

2017-02-19

Writing Groups

Up until recently, I've been going to the same writing group for nearly 5 years. Due to an unfortunate series of circumstances (bad weather, health of the group's founder, and a hacked computer) the group has fallen apart. I hadn't been to a meeting for about 3 months and when I finally had a chance to go, nobody showed up. I sent out an email and nobody seemed to know what was going on. This month, I went again and the only other person to appear was the group's founder. Her computer was hacked and she has had no access to her email account for some time. Unable to keep the group members informed, things fell apart. I fear the group is no more.

I've always enjoyed getting feedback from other writers. I've also tried out other writers groups. There is another one that meets at a library and yesterday I decided to go to that one. The location and timing are such that my wife cannot attend which is why I chose the other group over the one I attended yesterday. I've always learned something from the feedback I receive at a meeting and I believe it's important for a writer to get periodic feedback.

Choosing a writer's group is a personal choice. Some groups get together to talk about what's happening in the publishing world or just to discuss things like how to format a book, how to find an agent, or other topics. I prefer a group where a member reads something and the others comment on what was read. It's better if the group asks the writer to bring printed copies to comments can be returned to the writer for later reading. This type of constructive feedback along with the questions concerning the overall feel of the piece can help a writer improve. The key here is the feedback should be constructive. Instead of saying, "this sentence is garbage," the person thinking that should say instead, "I think this sentence could better be written as ...".

I took back 5 different sets of written comments on the short piece I brought. Many commented on the same parts of the text. When that happens, take note! That means there's something to be learned here. Read the comments carefully, think about them, and incorporate them into your writing skills. If only one person comments on a section, take that into consideration as well. Every comment is valid and a chance for even an experienced writer to learn.

The piece I brought was from Peacekeeper Pathogen. It had already been gone over twice. While the general feeling was it was good, the group did have some specific comments. Taking those comments to the bookstore afterward I quickly saw a pattern. I accepted most of the comments and made changes. I learned. Now, when I write and edit, that new knowledge will help me become a better writer. In fact, I will most likely go back and take another look at the entire manuscript knowing that my mind will see things differently.

Another way to learn how to write better is to read. Pick up a book from a well-known author and read it. Read it slowly. Identify the paragraphs and sentences that strike you as well-written. Even if you don't consciously see something, your brain is picking up on the writing style and learning. The trick is to read it slowly. If you find yourself picking up the pace because you are enjoying the book, then slow down. Savor the words. They didn't become well-known because their writing is bad!

2017-02-12

Taxes: Manual or software-assist?

Update
Peacekeeper Pathogen: I’ve finished my second revision pass and the manuscript is now in the hands of my proofreader for grammatical review. In case you don’t know, my proofreader is my wife. While she does her review, I’ll be pursuing a cover for the new book and then possibly working on the next book (which I’ve already started).

Taxes
This year, I decided to do my taxes the old-fashioned way—by hand. Honestly, I don’t think it took any longer. Doing them manually is much cheaper and when you're all done you know what it is you are putting your signature on. Today's tax preparation software is good, but people should be familiar with doing it manually as well. Even with a business (my writing), my taxes are fairly simple.

Filling out Schedule C is not difficult, but it is time-consuming. Since I have to fill out a Schedule C, the tax preparation software is no longer free. It took me about the same amount of time to do my Federal tax last year as it did to do it this year. The only thing that’s different is I filed electronically last year and I paid $40.00 more. This year was free except for the cost of postage. Ohio taxes are always done electronically so there’s no difference there. For me, it makes more sense to save the money and do things manually. But, there’s an even more important reason—accuracy and knowledge.

Being walked through a tax form by a computer program that asks you a series of questions makes things easy, but when it’s all said and done, do you really understand what it is you're signing? Are the final forms correct? What if you’re audited? Saying, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t sure how to answer that question when it popped up on the screen,” isn’t going to fly with the IRS. You are signing that you understand the entire contents of the tax form and that it is as accurate as possible. By actually sitting down, reading the instructions, and doing the forms manually, you understand exactly what it is you are signing for.


Errors on electronically generated forms are very hard to detect. If you do things manually, errors are more easily identified because doing them manually forces you to understand what is contained in the form. Sure, the tax software will do some basic checks, but it has no way of knowing if you completely understood the instructions. These days, people need to take the time to understand what they are signing for. Knowledge is power, read the instructions, read the IRS publications (they aren’t that difficult to understand), and learn about things.

I wrote the above few paragraphs at the bookstore the other day. When we got home, we allowed someone to use our computer to do their taxes. Last year, I walked this person through the process and did most of the work myself. This year, I decided to step back and let her learn on her own. Her taxes are about as simple as you can get: basic income and an HSA. Because the software just presents a series of questions, there were problems with the final forms. She didn't understand a few of the questions and (as I talked about above) made some assumptions. I had to show her how to fix the problems.

The first major problem occurred when the checks flagged her HSA as being taxed. She had entered her HSA contributions on the wrong line. When we went to correct this, the program said she would have to upgrade because of the form 8889. Remember, this started off as "Free". She desperately wanted the money as quickly as possible so she went ahead and did the upgrade. When it came time to submit, we discovered the financial institute that was handling the transaction now charges a fee for the service. None of this was identified in the software's home screen!

In the end, she found herself paying what she would have paid to have her taxes done by one of the tax preparers in the area. And that was just Federal! The program tried to get her to pay an additional fee to file the State taxes electronically. I stepped in and told her that in Ohio, you file your taxes electronically for free.

In my book, it's better to do things manually. It's cleaner, you learn something, and you know what you're signing.

2017-02-05

Solar Eclipse

Update
It's Sunday morning and I'm about 75% done with my editing pass of Peacekeeper Pathogen. I will get back to editing as soon as I finish putting out this post.

My place of business does an annual auction for Harvest for Hunger. This year, I donated two complete signed sets of all my books. While this will most likely not result in any sales, it sure feels good to know that I've contributed to a good cause.

Launch Pad
For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know I'm a huge supporter of the Launch Pad Workshop. If you are involved in the generation of science-related material that can be viewed by the public (such as science-fiction writers, script writers, movie producers, editors, etc.) and you have a desire to expand your knowledge with a group of like-minded individuals, then please apply to Launch Pad. If you are selected to attend you will enjoy an experience that will shape your life and give you pleasant memories for the rest of your days. If you have a few spare dollars in a savings account or you are getting back a little from your income taxes, please consider donating. I've made it easy by setting up a GoFundMe account.

2017 Total Solar Eclipse Preparations
On August 21st, the first total solar eclipse of the sun to be viewed in the United States in 40 years will occur. Where will you be? If you haven't made your travel plans yet, good luck at finding a place to stay. Based on the reports I've been hearing, every hotel, motel, campground, bed & breakfast, and even rooms to rent all across the path of totality are now sold out. I made my hotel reservations 7 months ago at a hotel 400 miles outside the path and two days before the eclipse. At the time I made the reservation, I was told there were two rooms available. I'm sure they're booked up now.

That hotel is not my final destination. It's just a waypoint on my trip from Ohio to South Carolina. I will be comfortably reclining on my dad's porch when the eclipse starts. His house sits just over 1,000 meters from the exact centerline of the path of totality. What luck!

There are some precautions you must take to properly observe an eclipse. Even if the sun is covered in clouds, even during totality, NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN! You might think you're safe because you're eyes aren't burning, but you're staring into a naked fusion reactor that's emitting huge amounts of dangerous radiation. Don't do it. I've already purchased my eclipse glasses so I and the others with me can safely observe the event. If you don't want to spend the few dollars to buy a pair or eclipse glasses (or forget to do so) you can always resort to the ancient technique of using a pinhole viewer. Instructions for this simple device can be found online.

If you miss the one this year, you will have another change in 2024. This one takes a different track across the nation and just happens to pass over my house. Making plans to see that one will be easy for me.

Planning Ahead
The 2017 solar eclipse is a great example of an event you need to be prepared for. If you have waited until now to make your plans, you will most likely be disappointed in the type of arrangements you end up with. There are many other life events a person needs to be planning for--some of them have to be planned many years in advance. Retirement is the one most people think about, but there are others. Unexpected car repairs and other expenses, sickness, taxes, and bad weather. It's okay to live in the moment, but you must also plan for the future. Even driving provides an example of how important it is to plan ahead, even if only by a few seconds. If you are only watching the tail of the car in front of you, you might not have enough time to avoid the accident that happens two cars in front of you. Read the road ahead - far ahead. Plan your life and look into the future as best you can. If you don't, your life will be a lot bumpier than you like.

Time to get back to editing.

2017-01-29

Self-Publishing Tax Preparation

Update
I am almost half-way done with my editing pass through Peacekeeper Pathogen. If I continue this pace, I will be able to hand the manuscript over to my wife for her grammar check toward the end of February.

Tax Preparation
Tax time is approaching and it's time for me to begin gathering up the documentation and paperwork needed to file. You might think that doing taxes when you have a small business (which is what writing is) is difficult and time-consuming. Actually, it's not.

I used to do it all by hand but now there are several very low-cost tax preparation software programs available. Still, a person needs to be organized and prepared before sitting down to do your taxes. Each year, I like to post what I do to prepare for tax-time in the hope of helping other authors avoid problems. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • The miles you put on your car for writing purposes are tax deductible. But, if you are audited, you must have detailed records showing starting mileage, ending mileage, date, vehicle, and the purpose of the trip. You will also need to know the mileage on your vehicle at the beginning of the year and the end of the year.
  • Business-related expenses. You would think that this is a no-brainer, but many authors fail to realize all their benefits. By using a program such as Quicken, you can track all of your expenses and automatically categorize them in a format acceptable to the IRS. Did you discuss writing with another author over dinner? The trip and the dinner are a valid business expense. So are advertising, office supplies, parking expenses, travel expenses, book purchases, etc. Other valid expenses include writer magazines, professional organization membership fees, and anything related to your business.


  • Writing income is something you must report, but how many people compare what appears on the 1099 to what was actually deposited in their accounts? If you have Amazon 1099s, you should do this comparison because there's an interesting glitch in how Amazon reports things to you. Did you know that Amazon extracts a small (about 3%) fee from your earnings as part of the cost of converting foreign currency into your local currency? If you have foreign sales, make sure you add up all of your Amazon 1099s and then compare this against what was actually deposited in your bank. You will find that your deposits are slightly smaller than what appears on the 1099. The difference is the conversion fee and this is a reportable business expense.
  • Do you have savings accounts? Make sure you get the interest you earned on all of them. Do you pay bank fees such as account maintenance fees? These are tax deductible as well. Just make you have the paperwork to back it up.
  • Do you use a part of your home exclusively for writing? This can be a small area in one room but it must be exclusively used for the business. If so, deduct it! 
Keeping track of all your business expenses, incomes, and activities in a detailed manner throughout the year makes filling out your taxes easy. The hardest part is making sure you have all your paperwork together so you can start the filing process. Being organized is the only way to properly run a business.

2017-01-22

How Long Does it Take to Publish a Book?

Update
Lee Dilkie (my content editor) has finished reading Peacekeeper Pathogen (AKA PK3) and has provided a plethora of useful feedback. Now that I've been away from the novel for several weeks, I can begin editing with a fresh mind. I started that process yesterday and have gotten up to chapter 5. If all goes well, I hope to have the book edited and ready for proofing in a couple of months. My wife does the proofing and she usually takes a couple months to work her way through the book. She is not a fan of science fiction. She also doesn't really "read" the story. She looks more at the sentence level looking for grammatical errors and sentence structure. I have a content editor precisely because my wife is not a fan of science fiction and because she is so focused on the structure of the individual sentences. After I input all of her changes, I send the manuscript off to Germany (email delivery time of about 17.9 milliseconds) and let Ekkehard Flessa (a German engineer) have a look at it for additional proofing suggestions.

If the timetable works out as predicted, I should have a new book up on Amazon in about 5 months. FIVE MONTHS!???? Let's talk about this time-frame for just a moment because it's important.

Timing
Five months is actually quite aggressive. Years ago, back when I didn't know all that much about publishing, I wondered why it took a year or more for a major publishing house to get a book published. Now that I have a small team to help me in my own publishing process, I understand why. If you're an author, you will want your book to be in the best shape possible when it is released to the world. It should have a good cover because a book is still sold by its cover to anyone who is not searching for your book by name. The manuscript should not have any grammatical mistakes (okay, a couple are fine because even major publishing houses miss a few). The sentences should flow and sound natural and entertaining. The interior of a printed book should be properly formatted following industry standards. If your book is an ebook, the interior should follow the standards set forth by the distributor.

All of this takes time. None of it will matter though if your story is not one that people will want to read. Put it all together and you have a book that will bring you an income for many years. If you try to rush any part of this, you will end up with a product that does not sell and all your effort will have been wasted.

I am exceptionally lucky to have the team I have. Lee Dilkie and Ekkehard Flessa are people who've read my books and were vocal in pointing out flaws in the content as well as the grammar. As a self-published author, I believe it is my duty to listen to what my readers are saying and I read every review. If someone emails me direct, I will reply. Lee's and Ekkehard's comments were always right on the mark so I asked if they would like to become beta readers. I am very grateful they've accepted and my books are better because of their feedback.

Another member of the team is Heather Zak. She is the wife of my best friend from high school and is my preferred cover artist. She reads the first draft of the manuscript and starts working on a cover early in the process. Her covers reflect what happens in the story and are beautiful works of art.

Publishing a book is a team effort. If you are looking to self-publish, look around at the people you know and assess their talents. If you can find a cover artist, content editor, and at least one proofing editor, then you have your team. If not, you might want to look into having your book looked at by a reputable editor. It will not be cheap and you must do your research before signing an agreement, but you will not regret doing so. If you think you can do this all on your own, you're wrong. Even editors use other editors to check their own work.

You spent months or perhaps years working on your book. Now that it's finished, take the time to put the polish on it. If you don't, if you try to rush to the finish line and get your work published, the only thing the world will see is a book full of errors, bad sentences, and poor design. How do you want the world to see you? As a professional author who's written a wonderful story that's a pleasure to read or as someone who slapped a story together and blasted it out to the public without any thought as to what it looks like?

Finally, readers of this blog should know that I'm a huge supporter of Launch Pad. I've started a GoFundMe campaign to help support this year's workshop. Please consider donating. Even a small amount helps. I would also like to ask if you would take a moment to help promote this workshop by putting out a shout for the GoFundMe campaign on your own social media accounts. The link is:

https://www.gofundme.com/launch-pad-workshop

Thank you!

2017-01-15

Tax Thoughts

Update
While waiting for Peacekeeper Pathogen to be reviewed by Lee Dilkie (reader turned content editor), I've been catching up on my reading and television shows. The writing itch however, got the best of me yesterday and I pulled out a short story I'd started a very long time ago but never finished. Yesterday, I finished it. It's not very long and it's not really science fiction. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it now that it's done. I also began work on my next novel -- a sequel to Off Course which I haven't named yet. I only added a few hundred words, but I can officially say it's been started.

Yesterday, we were supposed to have our monthly writer's meeting at Barnes and Noble. My wife dropped me off and took off shopping for sewing material. I didn't see anyone from the group but it was still a bit early. When the meeting time arrived, nobody was there. I haven't been to a meeting since October either because I was at an event selling books or the weather was too bad. But yesterday it was nice out and everyone should have been there. I emailed and texted everyone I had contact information for. Only one person responded and she had no idea what was going on. She was actually at another meeting. I hope to hear back from someone soon. In the meantime, I asked to be put back on the mailing list for another group I've been to before.

On the way into work last Friday, I had a deer run out of the woods and slam into my car. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw it get up and run away. The impact did a little bit of damage to the edge of the cowling just forward of the front tire. When you live around here, being hit by or hitting a deer is to be expected at least once in your driving career.

Tax Thoughts
Tax time is approaching and it's time for writers who treat their writing as a business to begin thinking about gathering up everything they will need. I have a reminder in my Google calendar to record the mileage on my cars on January 1st of every year. The reminder triggers two days, one day, and then 12 hours from the start of the year. That way, I have the mileage recorded for tax time. I also have a checklist of things that I will need prior to sitting down in front of the computer to begin working on my taxes. This list will be printed out soon and hanging next to my computer. As paperwork comes in or each item on the checklist is completed, it all goes into a file folder or an electronic folder on the computer so everything is together.

Running a business requires a lot of documentation and a well-organized method of keeping this documentation for at least 7 years. If you don't have a system now, you should give some serious thought about setting one up. Tax time might only come once a year, but the documentation needed to file your taxes will arrive at unscheduled times all year round. Being organized will make tax time easy and it can also make surviving an audit much easier. I normally put out a short series of tax-related posts just before it's time to begin filing your taxes. I plan on doing the same again this year.

2017-01-08

Quick Update

Not much to report this week. Waiting on a report from Lee Dilkie on Peacekeeper Pathogen. In the meantime, I've started thinking about and doing some research for my next book which will be a sequel to Off Course. My biggest problem with this book is I can't seem to answer the question: "How do you stop an unstoppable warship?" When I have the answer, I can begin work on the novel.

I've also been catching up on television and scifi shows I've had on standby while writing. Even though I've not been writing for only a couple of weeks, the itch to write is beginning to appear. Soon, the itch will be unstoppable and I will have to start writing something.

There was a news story the other day concerning one of the nuclear power plants owned by the same company that owns the one I work for. According to the analyst, there is a 50% chance the plant could be closed down resulting in the loss of a little over 10 million dollars in tax revenue for the surrounding community as well as the State of Ohio. It will also result in the loss of several hundred jobs which will impact families and communities far more than the loss of tax revenue.

My own plant is officially up for sale. The possibility of someone buying it is much greater because we are a much larger facility and we make a ton of money when the plant is running. But, there is no guarantee that I will have my current job after the new owner takes control. I'm not incredibly worried, but the possibility is there. I've always been a long-range planner and the prospect of being unemployed (especially with our nation's current health care insurance problems) does not sit well with me. So, I am heavily weighing the possibility of cutting back on my writing so I can learn a new programming language. I am very well versed in Microsoft Access and I'm pretty good at SQL. I used to be very good at VB6 (no longer used much) and even longer ago I was good at C (back when DOS was king). Today, Java seems to be the language to learn and so I might embark on that particular path.

If I do decide to learn a new language (about 90% sure at this point), it will impact my writing and will result in a delay of the next book. But, that's life.

2017-01-01

2016 Review

2016 is now history. It was a year I hope to forget but I know I can't because of all that happened. Humanity lost many people that were a part of our past -- people that will live on in our memories and in the media for many years into the future. We saw Brexit and soon we will see just how it will affect the UK. There were terror attacks, wars, police shootings and shootings of police, the standoff at the Dakota access pipeline, the tainted presidential election that has split this country and will continue to do so, and many more events I would rather forget. Based on what has happened in 2016 and the path this country is taking, I don't see 2017 being much better.

Being depressed about all the bad news has made 2016 a year to be remembered as well as one to be forgotten. I'm lucky. I live in a small community where most people seem to get along with each other very well. I work at a company that promotes equal opportunity and where everyone is treated with respect. I don't see the things that many other people see and I don't have to deal with the things that many people have to deal with every day. That does not mean that such things don't concern me, because they do. For me, 2016 has changed how I see people. I am more distrustful and far more opinionated than when the year first began. Our future looks pretty bleak and I hope things will change.

I accomplished a lot in 2016. Here is a short list:

  • Finished and released Dragonverse Origins.
  • Started and finished writing Peacekeeper Pathogen.
  • Attended Launch Pad.
  • Raised enough funds for Launch Pad to pay for the cost of one of the vans as well as provide a generous donation to help Mike Brotherton continue the workshop.
  • Revised the interiors of all my existing books to conform to today's professional publishing standards.
  • Revised the covers of all of my existing books to provide a consistent look and feel.
  • I was promoted at my day job.
  • Completed several Microsoft Access projects at my day job.
  • Completed a full revision of a complex Microsoft Access database application that had been giving inconsistent results.
  • Designed and wrote a near bullet-proof watchdog program that monitors the other programs used to keep my database system updated and generate hundreds of daily automatic reports. This watchdog program has allowed me to take vacations without worry.
  • Started work on a major rewrite of an application I wrote in 2003 (SCMS - Simulator Configuration Management System) that no longer runs under Windows 7. Original was written in Visual Basic 6. The new version will use Microsoft Access per owner's request.
  • Provided financial assistance to several family members when they were in need.
  • Updated my website.
  • I learned about Amazon advertising and successfully applied it to boost sales.
Looking ahead:
  • I will finish and publish Peacekeeper Pathogen.
  • I plan to start and hopefully finish a sequel to Off Course that firmly ties that book to Dragonverse.
  • Raise funds to support Launch Pad.
  • Attend the 10-year anniversary of Launch Pad.
  • Finish moving SCMS to a full Microsoft Access platform.
  • If possible, begin the final book in the Dragonverse series - Children of 2 Universes.
  • Learn a new programming skill - I have not yet decided if this will be learning about web technology or a new language such as Java or C++, or a combination of these.
  • I will be at my dad's in South Carolina during the total solar eclipse. This is something I've been planning on doing for the last 7 years.
  • I hope to make sure my brother and sister are both in South Carolina with me. If this can be arranged, it will be the first time all three of us have been together since the passing of my mother and it will mark the first time they've visited my dad in his South Carolina home.
Let's work together to make 2017 a better year.