Sunday, July 24, 2016

Cool Books for Hot Summer Nights

So often we use metaphors of heat: "hot off the press," "hot new author" etc. to create excitement about a book we want to promote. Yet right now, with a dome of unbearable heat settled over so much of the US, it just doesn't seem to be appropriate.

A Man and a Plane by Joseph T Major

Who could stop Hitler? Germany in 1933 tottered on the brink of revolution, dissolution, and destruction. The Nazis were some kind of a solution.
There was no one who could be an alternative.
A stroke of fate took from the scene one man who could have made the difference. In that fateful April of 1918, Germany's hero fell from the skies.
And if he hadn't?

(I read this one in draft, or rather, several different drafts in the course of transforming it from idea to novel).

Bitter Weeds by Joseph T. Major

"There are bitter weeds in England." The Dunkirk Evacuation was a great deliverance. But some of the soldiers did not make it. If someone had only known . . . A troubled man, a man divided between two nations and several natures, delivered from the continent, pursues a twisted course in a wilderness of mirrors to serve his masters. A woman staging a great pretense that is almost true finds herself in the heart of darkness, seeing the advance of evil. Their relatives and connections each struggle with his or her own burdens as the horrors of war spread. The simple kindness of stopping to give the dead some small dignity begins a wave of change that will wash across the world, in this first volume of a series highlighting the great and the petty, the powerful and the victims, and finding both pain and hope.

(This is the first in a series that is currently up to five volumes: No Hint of War, The Road to the Sea, An Irresponsible Gang and The Ten Just Men. I've read the first and half of the second, and would be reading faster if only I had no obligations in life to attend. Unlike A Man and a Plane, it's a story of small changes that build in significance through the course of the story arc.)

Fleeing Peace by Sherwood Smith

Siamis said, “Your young friend Liere is not going to enjoy the trap she’s walking into, I fear. But you figured that out, did you not? Why didn’t she listen to you?”

“To snap her fingers under your nose,” Senrid retorted.

“Irresistible.” Siamis smiled gently. “But it’s going to cost.”

Fifteen-year-old Senrid is newly king of the difficult warrior kingdom Marloven Hess . . . just in time to lose it, and find himself running for his life. When Senrid is captured he overhears a secret—one he can use against the enemy, a charismatic, handsome man named Siamis who can read minds, and who enchants people just by talking to them.

Liere has always known she was special, which just increased her loneliness and sense of isolation. She can hear others’ thoughts, and she senses the real emotions below the fa├žade. When a golden-haired man named Siamis comes to her village and enchants the entire town around her, she finds herself on the run.

Liere and Senrid couldn’t be more different, but their goal is the same, to locate the powerful magic that will unravel Siamis’s world enchantment.

Chased by powerful enemies, Liere and Senrid are tested to the max as they form an alliance of kids to aid them, and gain magical support from surprising sources.

Neither ever expected to discover something even more powerful than magic: friendship. First written when Sherwood Smith was fifteen, this is the story of how Senrid and Liere first met.

(This is another story I read in draft over the course of its development, from photocopies of fragile hand-written notebooks through typescripts and printouts to digital files. JRR Tolkien was not alone in discovering that it is not easy to reconcile the visions of one's youthful exuberance with the work of one's more mature older self).

Poor World (CJ's Notebooks Book 4) by Sherwood Smith

CJ and the gang of girls from Mearsies Heili like their adventures fun and villains to be defeatable by a well-thrown prune pie. In fact, they laughed at the very idea of stories about kids who have to Save the World . . .

Until it happens to them.

Written when Sherwood Smith was a teenager, this is the story of the M girls up against the toughest challenge of their lives so far.

(Another novel I got to play auntie to, as it went from that first draft in a crumbling notebook to polished prose).

Eldritch Embraces: Putting the Love Back into Lovecraft by Michael Cieslak

Combine the mind splintering horror of the Cthulhu Mythos and the heart shattering portion of that most terrible of emotions - love - and what do you have? You have Eldritch Embraces: Putting the Love Back in Lovecraft. This collection of short stories from some of the best working in the fields of horror and dark speculative fiction blends romance and Lovecraft in a way which will may make you sigh, smile, weep, or leave you the hollow shell of your former self.

(I have a short story in this one: "Beach House on the Moon.")

Ice Storm by Leigh Kimmel

Everywhere Evangeline looks, a thin coating of ice makes objects gleam in the sunlight. Yet the beauty proves deceptive, for it hides a deadly secret, one only she can recognize.

In her youth, Evangeline had aspired ot master the powerful magics of her world. Those dreams died the day her Gift awakened uncontrolled and plunged her into a vision of a full fleet battle. The Admiral's Gift will not be denied, and for Evangeline there was no choice but to trade her mage's robes for Navy blue.

Now she is faced with an enemy she cannot fight save by magic. Except those who bear the Admiral's gift are forever barred from working magic.

(A nice, chilly selection, this short story was one of the finalists for a writing contest at LoneStarCon II, the 1997 World Science Fiction Convention.)

The Workhouse War by Leigh Kimmel

An afternoon for sketching in peace – that was all Nadine Darby wanted. She thought she was taking a shortcut to get past an overgrown levee and gain a better view of the Mississippi for some landscape work. Instead she ended up somewhere else. A place called Elyssium, where the past walks alongside the present. Where you can see a modern car pull up and a Confederate Navy officer climb out, talking on a cellphone.

On the riverbank Nadine met a strange little man who told her he was an artist as well, and showed her his sketchbook to prove it. But no sooner had Nadine made her first friend than she discovered all was not well. She watched in helpless horror as a young man was pursued, arrested and beaten by thugs from an institution that goes by the official name of the City Orphanage, but is generally called the Workhouse by the inhabitants of Port of White Fleet.

Nadine can count herself fortunate that she fell into the company of a man who has little use for this organization. But his efforts to help her attain her artistic ambitions instead attract the attention she must avoid, and draws her into quarrels that have simmered for decades.

Can Nadine thread her way through the myriad perils of this world and save herself and her new-found friends? And even if she defeats the Workhouse, will it be at the cost of losing everything she's found here?

(A little Christmas in July).

If you read and enjoy any of these selections, please consider rating and reviewing them on -- reviews are critical for getting onto recommendation lists, which are critical for indie authors.

PS: I'm hoping to make these promotional posts a recurring, if irregular, feature of my blog. If you have indie or small press

(Crossposted at The Starship Cat and The Billion Lightyear Bookshelf

Friday, January 02, 2015

The Magnetic Attraction of Old Words

One of the most difficult things in a rewrite is actually making serious changes. You know the existing text isn't right, but is it enough to just  make a few little nips and tucks here and there, or does it need a complete reworking from the ground up?

And even when you do, you'll often find that you're going right back to the same old phrasing, especially if you're looking at the original text as you're rewriting. It's so bad that some writers have even suggested that you should put your first draft aside, then summarize it from memory and write the new text afresh.

I'm noticing this problem myself as I'm rewriting The Steel Breeds True yet again. For instance, there's a scene that now happens in a different place than in the earlier version of the story. I was trying to just rewrite it line by line, but as I re-read the new version, I'm realizing that it's just not working this way. And as I keep struggling with it, I'm coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that the only way to fix it is to write a completely new text. A lot more work than just changing wording here and there, but the only way to make the changes that need to be made.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Like Grains of Sand

It's said that a few grains of falling sand can set an entire dune face into motion, even create a catastrophic slide. And similarly, a relatively small change in a novel can have enormous effect as they percolate through the storyline.

As I've been rewriting The Steel Breeds True, I did a little tweaking related to the majors of several of the key characters. At the time I didn't think it would have much impact -- but as I've been working on it, I keep discovering places where I have to rethink whole scenes, including the rationale for those characters to be present at a given place.

As a result, it's turning out to be a lot harder to rewrite this thing than I'd expected. I'm starting to wonder how much longer it's going to take.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fear Is the Mind-Killer

Years ago, when I first discovered Dune, I was blown away by the intricacy of the worldbuilding and the depth of the concepts. In many ways, it completely rearranged my worldview, to the point that I began seeing my everyday life in a completely different light.

And recently I had an experience that made me recall Dune and the ideas I discovered in it. I was working on a short story for a contest, on a tight deadline, and the words didn't want to come. It was almost as if the story were fighting me. I tried the usual tricks -- writing by hand, jumping ahead to the next scene, etc. and while I'd get progress for a while, soon things would jam up again and I'd be staring at page or screen, unable to get things flowing.

Finally I was down to the last hour before the deadline, and I had a couple of scenes that I just couldn't get to write. It was like the creative part of my mind had frozen up solid.

And then I realized I was literally afraid to write them because they touched on a Sensitive Subject. Not the SJW issues that the notorious Requires Only That You Hate used to reduce writers to gibbering wrecks at the keyboard, but I was still afraid that they would bring down the terrible hammer of disapproval, the accusation that I hadn't just written badly, but also revealed myself as a Horrible Person.

The story's set in an alternate timeline in which the Apollo 1 astronauts got out in the nick of time, and although they bore the scars of their narrow escape for the rest of their lives, they got to have lives. It's now several decades later, and the Second Mars Expedition is returning to the Earth-Moon system to spend their quarantine period at the moonbase -- and the mission commander is Roger Chaffee. And deep in my gut, I was afraid that someone would see that as gratuitous, a thoughtless slap on an old wound, that by showing the world in which he survived as one with a more advanced space program, I was saying that he died for nothing, and therefore I was a horrible, thoughtless person.

And once I realized that was what I was afraid of, I faced it squarely, told myself that nobody had ever said anything of that effect about A Separate War or Holovideo. I'd even made combox posts on various blogs to the same effect without anybody bringing down the hammer of condemnation, so surely I wouldn't get attacked for a story. And then I was finally able to write those scenes and get the story in. Not my best effort, but in by the deadline.

So yes, fear is the mind-killer.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Working with Old Materials

Right now I'm looking at very similar problems with both of my current novel projects -- in both cases, I'm working with old materials. I'm trying to write Holovideo from an outline I wrote in the early 1990's, an outline in which I assumed a lot of stuff that never got onto the page, but have since forgotten. And while the current text of The Steel Breeds True was written in 2001, right after the 9/11 attack, the storyline goes back even further, all the way to the second half of the 1980's. As a result, there are a lot of unexamined assumptions in that text, things that I carried over from the earliest versions of the story without really thinking about.

So while on the surface it might seem like most of my work has already been done for me, there are ways in which it's actually almost harder to work with this old material than writing afresh might be. I'm stuck on Holovideo because I reached a chapter in the outline in which there's just no there there, nothing to unpack into text. And The Steel Breeds True is turning into a real uphill struggle because of the continual fear that the whole story is rubbish and there's just no salvaging it, and if I do put it up on KDP, everybody will laugh and point.

Which means that I'm having to put a lot of emotional energy into overcoming my own doubts and keeping pushing forward. As a result, I really fell behind when I was having to deal with two back-to-back conventions and all the bookwork that comes with selling at them.

However, we're now out of convention season, and as I'm switching our sales to online mode for the winter, I'm hoping that I can get some serious forward motion happening on both fronts.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


If you've been following Holovideo on JukePop Serials, you may be wondering when the next chapter will be coming out. It's going to be a while, because there's a problem. I'm stuck.

It's not the kind of stuck where the writer has no idea what happens next. I have a complete chapter by chapter outline. The problem is this: it's twenty years old. I originally started writing Holovideo way back in the early 1990's, when I was working at a community college and a local collector brought in a bunch of memorabilia from the early days of television. That got me to researching, which led to a number of story ideas, Holovideo among them. I wrote out a complete outline and the first several chapters, then lost interest and moved to another project.

So when I decided earlier this year to pull it back out and serialize it at JukePop, I thought it would be an easy task. After all, it was a pretty straightforward story, so all I'd need to do was unpack each chapter from the outline into a developed text, polish it, and post. What troubles I did have in keeping to my publishing schedule mostly involved external crises -- a death in the family, conflict over the estate, business activities taking over my schedule and leaving no writing time.

Once I got those out of the way, I thought I'd be back on track. Chapters seemed to be flowing reasonably well, even if I didn't seem to be getting all that many +votes. And then I started in on Chapter 20, and looked at the outline and realized there was just no way I could get a complete chapter out of what was there. Obviously my twenty-something self had an idea there, but my forty-something mind could no longer get into that headspace.

Which means that I need to take some serious time to re-reading the existing nineteen chapters, figuring out where the story needs to go, and reconstructing the outline to get me to that end. And that means some serious unbroken thinking time, which has been scarce on the ground of late.

I'm hoping that once I get these last two conventions of the year done, I may finally get the time I need. It may depend on what the Thanksgiving holiday is like, but with a close family member in precarious health, I may end up spending a lot more time visiting with them than writing. So I'm not guaranteeing anything in terms of schedule, just that somehow I am going to see this novel through to the end. It may take me a month or two to fight my way through to the end, but I'm not going to just leave it dangling forever.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

When It All Looks Like Crap

Right now I'm at the worst part of the revision process with The Steel Breeds True -- the point where everything looks like crap, and I'm starting to wonder if the story itself can even be salvaged, or if it would be better to just toss the whole thing and try something else. That dreadful moment when I fear that if I do offer it for sale, everyone will laugh and point.

It's a longstanding problem for authors. I remember several of my favorite authors telling about coming to a point in the writing of a novel when they felt as if it was the biggest pile of crap ever gathered in a single place, and were seriously considering giving up on it. Yet they all persevered and often the novel in question turned out far better than they feared -- in some cases, even won awards (back when awards still meant something, and hadn't been politicized into worthlessness).

But all of those writers had one thing going for them -- the knowledge that their work would receive editorial oversight. If it really was as bad as they feared, if it were so stupid and badly written that everyone would laugh and point, it would never reach the shelves. The editor would either reject it outright or require substantial revisions to bring the work up to a presentable standard.

However, with the rise of indie publishing, authors who are going that route don't have the safety net of editorial oversight. They can hire an editor, but that requires money, and when you're first starting out, the availability of the necessary funds isn't a given. And of course you have to be sure that the freelance editor you've hired is familiar with the genre you're publishing in, and is willing to understand your vision of the work you're trying to write rather than imposing their tastes and views of what it ought to be. You do have the option of firing them if it doesn't work out, but there's always the risk that you won't realize it isn't working out, especially if they're pleasant to work with -- after all, this person is an expert, so there's a tendency to defer to their opinions even when your gut is telling you that their advice is taking the novel in the wrong direction.

If hiring a freelance professional editor simply isn't in your budget, there's also the option of getting it looked over on a volunteer basis by a trusted beta reader. You want someone you can rely upon to have a good eye for problems, but not to try to take the story over and force it into their mold. This person doesn't have to be a writer -- sometimes a person who is just a very avid reader can make the best beta reader, for the simple reason that they don't try to rewrite the story for you, but instead will be able to identify the places where they lost interest or became confused.

The worst situation is when you can't afford to hire a professional and can't seem to drum up any interest in being a beta reader among the people you feel comfortable in approaching about it. Because then you really have only two options -- muddle through as best as you can and trust your gut as to when it's ready to put up, or put it away. And there are arguments in favor of both. The argument for the first route is that at least you put up something, and if it gets a bad reception on the market, you always have the option of either rewriting it and republishing it (something which is particularly easy with e-books). The argument for the second is that putting up a bad book has a very real potential to damage your brand in a way that can be very hard to overcome with future books.