The hard work after writing a book manuscript…

December 14th, 2017

I’m going to commit blasphemy by disagreeing with newly famous sci-fi writer Hugh Howey. I can’t remember the source of the article, but in it he stated: “The hardest part of getting a book published is the actual writing.” Maybe the creator of Wool is on such a pedestal now (he’s a self-publishing success story), no one should dare question any pronouncement he makes, but I will do so. Maybe how he published Wool (like episodes from a soap opera) was easy for him, but I don’t recommend serialization…and moreover claim there is a lot of hard work needed after writing a manuscript that he seems to be ignoring.

Let’s assume the author has the best possible MS (trade acronym for “manuscript”) s/he can produce. Maybe s/he’s already paid for some editing and feels ready to send it out. First, if s/he wants to traditionally publish, s/he’ll send it out to agents and publishers (many indie publishers AKA small presses will consider un-agented MSs). That’s hard work but more time consuming than actual financial investment. That choice is mostly justified by the fact that a traditional publisher will front the publishing costs—editing, formatting, cover art, and maybe some initial marketing. If s/he wants to self-publish, which is more efficient, s/he’ll need to spend money as well as time finding people who will do all those things and do them well. Either way, the author’s post-MS life won’t be easy.

I’ll be brutally honest here: While Howey’s plot was a good one, it didn’t seem original because it reminded me of an old short story where the main character is trapped in a missile silo after a nuclear attack (the first person who can tell me the title will receive a free ebook from my oeuvre of her or his choice). It also reminded me of S. G. Redling’s Flowertown, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and Brian Aldiss’s Starship (a real favorite of mine). If you’ve read these books and Howey’s, you’ll understand why I say this. Of course, none of that really matters, because Wool is still a great story. Its main weakness can be found in the ashes of serialization, which made it easy for Howey to publish Wool, but should never be rectified by just sticking disconnected parts together to make a novel.

There is a whole spectrum of publishing now, from 100% DIY indie (not recommended) at one end and a Big Five publishing contract at the other (also not recommended for the author who wants or needs some personal TLC—that’s only given to the reliable old mares and stallions in the Big Five publisher’s stable). Anywhere along that linear continuum, the author will find post-MS life is difficult.

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Doug Jones has won!

December 13th, 2017

A heartfelt thank you to 50+% Alabamians for this surprising victory. You might not be very progressive, but you’ve shown middle-of-the-road is OK too when compared to alt-right bigots hiding behind religion. Special thanks to women voters (overwhelmingly for Mr. Jones, for obvious reasons), blacks (Jones reached out to you and you responded), and those GOP members who deserted a sick pervert (write-ins, probably not for Jones, but not for Roy Moore either). This is a huge slap in the face for Mr. Trump and his fascist sideman Bannon, and it’s a good omen for 2018 and 2020. I withdraw my call for a boycott of sweet home, Alabama.  Welcome back to a saner U.S.A., Alabamians! Organize and resist for 2018….

Is sixty the new forty?

December 13th, 2017

Although I’m encouraged by all the young readers and writers I meet on Goodreads (“young” is a relative term, of course), fiction writers shouldn’t ignore baby boomers and older readers.  People are living longer, and older people are more likely to be avid readers because they’re less likely to be distracted by streaming video, social media, video games, and so forth. Normal seventy-year-olds aren’t fanatical Twitter users either in general, with certain infamous exceptions.

I’ve already written a few books where aging is a subtheme. The first, The Golden Years of Virginia Morgan, is where DHS agent Ashley Scott worries about retirement and being alone, and uncovers, among other things, a government conspiracy that “solves the problem” of aging agents and scientists who might blab Top Secret information in their senility. Scott is Detective Castilblanco’s friend.  He too has thought about retirement as his wife and he adopt a relative’s children (see Family Affairs and Gaia and the Goliaths—the entire detective series is on sale now at Smashwords until December 24).

Rembrandt’s Angel is my main fictional bow to themes involving aging. Scotland Yard Inspector Esther Brookstone kicks some butt even as she ponders retirement; she becomes obsessed with recovering a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two.  Esther is in her sixties; her paramour is in his forties.  She proves sixty is the new forty in this torrid love affair which heats up the novel.

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Sweet home, Alabama…

December 12th, 2017

It’s the state that’s well on its way to elect an exploiter of underage girls as Senator with complete support of the GOP establishment.  It’s the state that thinks George Wallace is a hero and martyr.  It’s the state that’s still living the Civil War.  It’s the state where evangelists are racists, bigots, and not Christians.  And it’s the state whose football team is overrated and doesn’t belong in any post-season game, let alone the college playoffs.  It’s the most infamous state in the union right now, folks, and full of contradictions.

Only a special kind of chaotic and evil mental wiring in Alabamians’ heads can explain these contradictions.  How is it that a population claiming to be Christian can be racist and so tolerant of sexual perversion?  OK, I get it.  There is that “correct” alt-right white, racist, and perverse Christianity, what Alabamians believe, and then there’s that “incorrect” form that considers blacks and other minorities sisters and brothers and tolerates abominations like those practiced by the LGBT community. Alabamians see the pervert-in-chief in the White House as their political savior, yet forget all the teachings of their true Savior.  The only nice word I can think of to describe the situation is HYPOCRISY.

As far as white Alabamians are concerned, everyone else should leave the U.S. in order to purify the country.  Roy Moore has as much stated this, and he has plenty of fruitcakes who agree with him.  That’s fascist thinking.  Their alt-right mental makeup allows no place for reason, logic, or true Christian love and understanding.  Every person interviewed as a Roy Moore supporter I’ve seen came across as ignorant but also all too comfortable in their bigotry and hypocrisy.  They’d rather be red and wrong than tolerant and correct.  Maybe not all, but too many are Roy Moore supporters.

Roy Moore (no relation, but I’m ready to change my last name!) is just another George Wallace; both are part of a long line of racists, haters, and bigots from the Deep South, the land where the KKK is considered God’s army.  Alabama is the heart of old Dixie, always has been, and that summarizes its modern position and everything that’s wrong with the state.  Roy Moore hides his racism and bigotry under the cloak of religion; at least Wallace was open about his mental aberrations, although I suppose he also used God to justify them often.

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Monday words of wisdom…

December 11th, 2017

A perv, a con artist, and a fascist walk into a bar. Bartender says, “What’ll it be, Mr. President?”—seen on a church sign.

***

The entire “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” is on sale now at Smashwords until December 24. The NYPD homicide detectives’ cases usually start out in New York City but expand to national and international crises as they fight all sorts of criminals—gun runners, sex traffickers, evil hedge fund owners, drug smugglers, terrorists, and more. The crime-fighting duo also have their own personal battles to fight. These seven ebooks make excellent holiday gifts for the reader on your gift list—maybe that’s you? Use the coupon code when you checkout at Smashwords to receive a fantastic sale price and hours of reading entertainment!

In libris libertas!

FAQs…

December 7th, 2017

Let’s remember Pearl Harbor today–for the brave who perished on that day, as well as a reminder to all of us about the horrors of war.  As sabers rattle again in the world, peace is more in danger than ever.  And now we’re in danger of destroying our world.

[Readers often ask me questions, and I try to respond as quickly as possible, but some things are asked more than others, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to do a FAQs post. Of course, you won’t find answers here to embarrassing or private questions, but you might find answers to questions you were dying to ask—if not, contact me via email. While you’re at it, you can sign up for my email newsletter!]

Why do you have so many books? Not really, but if you want some reasons, here are a few: (1) I love to write; (2) I have many stories to tell; and (3) I started slow, trying for that elusive traditional publishing contract, but made up for loss time with the help of Carrick Publishing run by my friend Donna Carrick in Canada—not exactly 100% DIY on my part, but a very efficient operation with smart women doing what I’m incapable of doing.

Why write mysteries, thrillers, and sci-fi and not more popular genres like horror and romance? (1) I don’t read much horror and romance; (2) I can’t write horror and romance, although there might be some elements from those genres in my fiction; and (3) horror and romance seem to downplay interesting and troubling themes I’m concerned about.

Do you write only fiction? Except for blog posts (even some of those are short stories), everything I write now is fiction. I’ve been doing it for more than ten years.

Do you read only fiction? Nope. I read a lot of non-fiction. My webpage “Steve’s Bookshelf” has many non-fiction books listed. And there are fiction genres I’ve never read.

Are you an indie author? Never 100% DIY and a mongrel now with Rembrandt’s Angel (Penmore Press, an indie publisher), but always indie in spirit. This allows me to maintain my own voice and not write as someone thinks I should write. That’s a freedom not even the reliable mares and stallions in the Big Five’s stables can have!

What motivates you to write? Telling a good story that will entertain readers.

Do you model characters after real people? No, but they might be composites of people I’ve observed. I’m a people-observer, so over the years I’ve developed many character sketches. You might recognize some of your own character traits, but I’m careful about including real people. The one major exception is in Aristocrats and Assassins, a novel in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” where the royals in the book are indeed real, but they perform admirably in the novel.

Where do you get your ideas? Similar answer: over the years, even before I started publishing, I’ve collected what-ifs, plot ideas, sketches of characters and settings, themes, dialogue snippets, and so forth. As a result, I don’t know what writer’s block is.

Why not audiobooks? Cost—you need to hire a good reader, and I can’t afford that. Most indie publishers (small presses) can’t either.

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The Dr. Carlos stories…

December 6th, 2017

Carlos Obregon, medical officer on the starship Brendan, stars in various short stories of mine. You can find them in the collections Pasodobles in a Quantum Stringscape and Fantastic Encores! Dr. Carlos is Sherlock Holmes at times, while his intern Julie Chen often plays the role of Dr. Watson. But are these short stories mysteries or sci-fi? They’re both, of course, for the most part—always sci-fi, but many also mysteries. This isn’t new in sci-fi. Old master Isaac Asimov created the sci-fi mystery, in particular with The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun, two novels where Earth cop Elijah Bailey teams up with android Daneel Olivaw. Most sci-fi stories have some mystery elements, of course, but putting a traditional crime story in a futuristic context seems to bring out the best of both genres.

One of the best recent sci-fi mysteries I’ve read is Adam Troy Castro’s Emissaries of the Dead. It combines many conventional sci-fi elements into a crime story—weird ETs, strange settings, and an interstellar conspiracy that broadens the scope of merely solving a murder case. Clarke’s 2001 and 2010 are sci-fi mysteries; so is his Rama series until the Rama engineers are outed. My young adult novel The Secret Lab is also a sci-fi mystery. Readers can probably think of many more examples.

Dr. Carlos is an amateur sleuth, of course, and he also takes care of the medical challenges, his main job. The Brendan is in the Space Exploration Bureau’s fleet; the SEB is an agency of the Interstellar Trade Union of Independent Planets (ITUIP), a federation comprised of many near-Earth planets. The evolution of ITUIP starts in the “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy” (now available as a bundle) and continues with Rogue Planet. Dr. Carlos lives at the end of this timeline, far in the future. My goal is to include Dr. Carlos in a future novel as an homage to Dr. Asimov, but the reader can get to know him in the short stories.

Dr. Carlos is something of a rascal who often creates his own problems. He’s knowledgeable about Human and ET history, not a mean feat when considering the lengthy future history of near-Earth space I’ve imagined. He might also be considered an expert on trivia. He drives the Brendan’s captain crazy sometimes, and doesn’t always follow SEB rules. In the long run, though, he creates order out of chaos in the short stories describing his adventures.

While some short stories merit expansion into a novel (the short story, “Marcello and Me,” found in the Pasodobles collection, will become an example), I probably need a more complex plot if I’m going to do honor to Dr. Asimov. Hopefully that’s not a problem—I have many ideas for crime stories, and giving them a future setting should be possible. So Dr. Carlos will probably get his own novel.

I love this character. In some sense, he’s an alter-ego who can have adventures that I can never hope to have. But maybe that’s a characteristic of all sci-fi writers?

***

Pasodobles in a Quantum Stringscape and Fantastic Encores! have new reviews—see my webpage “Books & Short Stories.” These speculative fiction collections are excellent ways to try out my sci-fi for any reader on your gift list—that might be you? Many hours of varied reading entertainment illustrating my belief that short fiction isn’t dead in the publishing world.

In libris libertas!

Reading v. understanding…

December 5th, 2017

Those who are accustomed to my blog posts—minimally, an op-ed comment on current events on Tuesdays and something on reading, writing, or the publishing business on Thursdays—might find it strange that I’m placing this post here on a Tuesday. There’s a simple explanation: reading and understanding what we read are building blocks in the democratic foundation of our country.

A dear friend and I were talking over the holiday about reading “popular science” articles. These are supposedly designed so that an “intelligent layperson” can develop some understanding about an esoteric bit of science or technology. I complained about Scientific American’s overly detailed articles in fields I’d like to learn more about for my sci-fi writing. “Don’t worry about it,” said my friend. “They’ve dumbed down the articles now.”

Some translations are in order. First, there’s no such thing as “popular science” anymore. Science isn’t popular, from outright attacks on it by religious fanatics and politicians who are sycophants for Corporate America, unwilling or otherwise, to teachers telling students that they should study something else because science is too hard (especially egregious when a male teacher adds “…for girls”). In all age groups, many consider science and technology to be the root of all the problems society faces, and there are many others who encourage such an opinion.

Second, “intelligent layperson” is all too often another oxymoron nowadays. I’m not speaking to the obvious cases where someone believes dinosaurs and human beings coexisted and the world with all its wonderful diversity of flora and fauna was all created six thousand years ago. I’m talking about the average Joan or Joe who reads something but can’t understand what they’ve just read. Call it what you will, it’s an indictment against popular culture. At the critical lower levels in our educational systems, teachers over-emphasize getting through the words—understanding is secondary. Certain content is emphasized; there’s not much practice analyzing and digesting new content. Too many people read something that’s devoid of facts but don’t have the background or even common sense to know better.

Third, “dumbed down” is a nice way of saying that essay and book writers know all about the problems mentioned above and bend over backwards to compensate in order to get their message across. The latter is a struggle that’s becoming increasingly difficult, even for fiction writers, where “dumbed down” has destroyed serious literature.

Even if we get people to read with all the other distractions they have—streaming video, social media, video games, and so forth—getting them to understand what they are reading is a high hurdle to jump over. I’ve often read a review of a “popular science” book and asked myself, “Did the reviewer read the same book I did?” That would probably happen with fiction too, but I don’t bother to read those reviews unless I’m making excerpts for the PR and marketing of my own books.

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Monday words of wisdom…

December 4th, 2017

If I were to run, I’d run as Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They love anything on Fox News.—Donald Trump

***

The entire “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” is on sale now at Smashwords until December 24. The NYPD homicide detectives’ cases usually start out in New York City but expand to national and international crises as they fight all sorts of criminals—gun runners, sex traffickers, evil hedge fund owners, drug smugglers, terrorists, and more. The crime-fighting duo also have their own personal battles to fight. These seven ebooks make excellent holiday gifts for the reader on your gift list—maybe that’s you? Use the coupon code when you checkout at Smashwords to receive a fantastic sale price and hours of reading entertainment!

In libris libertas!

Special post: With this tax bill, the fascist oligarchy prevails…

December 2nd, 2017

The Senate just before 2 a.m. today passed the most egregious tax bill in America’s history! These scurrilous sycophants of the oligarchy of rich elites, Corporate America, and the coalition of haters and bigots has struck yet another blow against the poor and middle class, worsening the plight of the former and adding another nail in the coffin of the latter.  Happy Holidays from the Grinches at the U.S. Senate, folks!

You’d think that such an important “reform” (the polite term for their “f**k-you” tax bill) would require a Senate majority to pass. But no, the GOP pulled another sneaky work-around yet again and squeaked through with a 51-49 simple majority. Let’s analyze how egregious this fascist coup is.

First, they would have added less crippling debt to future generations if they’d just voted for a national program to construct euthanasia centers—at least Mr. Trump could claim he’d started on his promised infrastructure program besides building more resorts and golf courses! The sick and the elderly will have shorter lives because you can bet that McConnell, Hatch, and their cronies convinced deficit-hawks that they’ll be able to offset the deficit increase by substantially cutting Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, as well as gut the ACA. Sen. Marco Rubio has admitted as much. Maybe it’s already in the bill. With characteristic sloppiness, the bill that was approved had last-minute changes added, many penciled in, so no one has even seen a final version—what are they hiding? Sen. Bob Corker, no sterling representative of human compassion but the only true conservative among the GOP senators who are traitors to the American public (that includes Sens. Flake and McCain, by the way), saw through this ploy. Apparently adding to the deficit is no longer a worry—the good old boys will get theirs and be long dead before our children and grandchildren slide into poverty and America becomes a Third World country.

It was both sad and amusing (black humor) to watch Wall Street’s reaction through this process. Corporate America showed its true colors and continues to follow the business model of 1930s Germany in supporting the wannabe dictator in the White House.  They’re trying to squeeze more blood from the poor and middle class masses who long ago lost all hope of narrowing the income gap between the rich elites and them. The DOW went up and down—up, as it seemed the tax bill would pass and send more money to the investors; down, when Lt. Gen. Flynn fingered Il Duce’s son-in-law and continued to collaborate with the special prosecutor. It’s almost as if Wall Street encouraged the sleazy collusion with the Russians that allowed Narcissus le Grand to win the 2016 election.

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