Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

The end game…

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

If you’re a reader, do you peruse what’s at the end of a book? Many authors only include a short bio, especially those reliable mares and stallions in the Big Five publishers’ stables, but as a reader, you might like a wee bit more, right? What can authors for you beyond that ubiquitous bio, especially authors of indie books and those writing for indie publishers (small presses)? Consider it a bit of dessert after that full meal corresponding to the book you have just read that tells you more about your favorite authors.

I’ll go through the back material I’d like to see as a reader.  For the first page:

A thank you to the reader.  Here’s an example: “Thank you for reading my novel, The Vienna Gig. There are so many good authors and good books, I’m honored you chose mine.” Most of the old mares and stallions don’t bother with this.  The advantage of such a message beyond showing a wee bit of humility, even for them, is that it’s the perfect place to continue on to ask for a review on Amazon: “If you have the time, please write a short review on Amazon—other readers and I would find such a review beneficial.”  Readers who have finished your book and arrived at this message, probably liked the book, so it’s also likely the review would be positive.  This message is also a good lead-in to…

A list of the author’s similar books.  The writer can start this list with something like “If you enjoyed this book, you might also enjoy:”  If the current book is in genre X and the author also writes in genre Y, I’d just list the genre-X books, but that’s up to the author.  Many authors put the list of their other books in front. I’d do one or the other, but not both, and something like “Other books by John Q. Author:” sounds a wee bit cold at the start of the book, although it’s typical of Big Five authors.

The author’s website.  I’d end this first page of back material with “For more information, visit my website:

Let me say here that any omission of these points by a Big Five author might not be the old mare or stallion’s fault—Big Five publishers generally dictate the book formatting, often to the author’s chagrin.  These publishers aren’t known for a lot of TLC for either readers or writers and will support their authors only until they think they’re ready for the glue factory AKA “you’re fired!”


The hard work after writing a book manuscript…

Thursday, 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.


Is sixty the new forty?

Wednesday, 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.



Thursday, 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.


The Dr. Carlos stories…

Wednesday, 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!

Names and personalities…

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Do you name your cars?  We do. We called our dark green Camry Katie—she was an Irish lass, you see.  We call our dark red Accord Mr. Rose—that’s a pun connecting the color with Axel Rose of Guns and Roses fame.  An old Tercel was called Charlie Red—he was supposed to be copper-colored (Charlie  Brown), but the dealer couldn’t get that color in stick shift.  All our cars have personalities because naming people or things is related to their personality.

Characters names in books have to be chosen carefully for the same reason.  I often do several iterations because, as I’m writing, I say to myself, “X wouldn’t do that!” (Or, at the risk of appearing schizoid, the character might tell me I have it wrong.)  I could change what X does, but it’s often better to find a replacement name that feels right to me (and the character).  As a consequence, I don’t suffer from writer’s block, I suffer from name block.  I find it hard to continue until I find just the right name.

Let’s consider Bastiann van Coevorden, a main character in Rembrandt’s Angel (he also had several cameos in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” on sale now at Smashwords). He’s an Interpol Agent and Scotland Yard Inspector Esther Brookstone’s paramour.  I describe the character as looking like David Suchet’s Hercule Poirot, who was Belgian. Poirot is a French-sounding surname, of course, so why didn’t I make Bastiann Belgian or French instead of Dutch? My main excuse is that the Dutch king was involved in Aristocrats and Assassins, where Bastiann first appeared, so I made him Dutch. His mother was French, though, as you’ll discover if you read Rembrandt’s Angel. After all these verbal acrobatics, my choice of name still matches the character’s personality. Maybe “matches” isn’t the best word.  In a sense his name defines his personality, and vice versa. He’s the Hercule Poirot half of the romantic pair; Esther is the Miss Marple half.


Looking back v. looking ahead…

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

To my U.S. readers…Happy Thanksgiving! This holiday involves both looking back and looking ahead. Be thankful for the good things in your life and your abilities to fight the good fights, and help those in the world who are downtrodden and exploited and have neither. Celebrate the good things in your past and forge your better future.

Readers, do you want your favorite writers to get on to that next book? Writers, do you rest on your laurels, or do you push on to that next book? Some writers in the past only had one good book in them. Harper Lee and her friend Truman Capote are examples; although the former published a rejected version of To Kill a Mockingbird that became its sequel, and the latter had other works besides In Cold Blood, they are known only for those two books. This happens a lot for authors whose books are placed in that catch-all category “literary fiction.” Some writers write many books, and, for genre fiction, publishers as well as readers want them just to get on to that next book.

I push myself to write the next book. I jokingly describe this as my muses getting after me; they’re really banshees with Tasers, who know I have many good stories in me (I’ve never had writer’s block). But I’m really talking about pushing myself. Actually, not pushing—writing is so much fun that I want to tell the next story to the world (but the muses should learn that takes some time!). So I rarely look back to the books I’ve written and get on to that next book. Yeah, it’s a bit like an addiction. I consider it a healthy one.

It consequently cost me some angst to look back at the “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy” in order to make the bundle I call Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection.  Why do I call it angst?

First, preparing the bundle required editing, lots of it, the only other thing in my writing life more tedious than PR and marketing my books. I’m good at editing and bad at PR and marketing, but both are tedious, and I’d rather be writing—that causes angst.

Second, the bundle is an experiment. I’ve never published one before. I’ve seen and heard mixed reports about how effective bundles are. Some of the ones I’ve tried as a reader didn’t satisfy and were instead like buying an LP for a few good songs, because the unrelated novels contained in the bundles were by different authors and just didn’t hold my interest. If you don’t know what an LP is, think of a CD collection of oldies where you only like one or two songs. Or a Baskins & Robbins ice cream store with only one or two flavors you like. I’ve had better luck when the bundled novels are all by the same author, though, so that mitigated my fears a wee bit.


An interview with Brent Mueller…

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

[Sometimes I interview my characters. I know it sounds a wee bit schizoid, but they often spur me on when I’m writing their stories. I often feel I don’t give them enough credit. Here’s one of them who’s an old friend.]

Steve: Brent, you appear in all the novels in the Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection. You must be pleased that your many adventures during many centuries are now found in just one ebook.

Brent: Yes, thanks to you. Both Jenny and I are happy with how that came about. Maybe more readers will get to know us.

Steve: Speaking of Jenny, did you ever think you’d find her after all those years? When she disappeared in that ET ship entombed on Saturn’s moon Helene, it must have been quite a blow to you.

Brent: That can’t begin to describe it. And losing Rita was a second blow. It’s hard to get beyond losses like that.

Steve: Were you jealous that Jenny was with Henry Posada all that time in the ET ship?

Brent: I got beyond that. First, I found Jenny. Second, Jenny and Henry were just computer memories stored in that ship’s AI along with those ETs. Besides, Jenny and Henry were good friends when they worked for Isha Bai at the U. N. Space Agency.

Steve: Did losing Jenny lead to your becoming a Guide to the Way?

Brent: Yes. That helped me get through that ordeal. But losing Rita at the Battle of Sanctuary fractured my belief that I could help anyone find the Way. If I lost it myself, how could I lead anyone to it?

Steve: And you participated in many more space battles. If you’ll forgive me for changing the subject, what was it like to have those ETs who were with Jenny and Henry on the ship in your own head?

Brent: Weird. Jenny helped me through that. I think she felt a little guilty about it. It was a side effect of finding her, after all, but I never blamed her. That event sort of got lost in the shuffle because we became very busy, first saving Swarm from going crazy and then outwitting Negrini, that mad merchant. Near-Earth space was a lot more peaceful after that.

Steve: Do you regret that stopping that mad merchant ended all possibility for interstellar communication that is faster than that achieved by starships carrying messages, reminiscent of the old Pony Express? (more…)

The Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection…

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Survivors of the Chaos, Sing a Zamba Galactica, and Come Dance a Cumbia…with Stars in Your Hand! are the books in my “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy.” Now you can obtain them all in one ebook, The Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection, for a price less than all three, and even less than the first book! This bundle is a new experiment for yours truly and represents my continuing efforts to entertain as many readers as possible.

First, what is a bundle? They have become popular, but they’re collections of several books. They might be all by the same author or by different ones writing on the same theme or in the same genre. Every bundle offers readers a lot of good entertainment at the best price they can find in fiction books. My bundle is only an experiment because it’s my first bundle, but modern readers probably see a lot of them offered.

Second, are there economic reasons for publishing a bundle for the author, not just readers? Sure there are. In my case, books #2 and #3 above have never done well because ebook #1 was overpriced and the print book wasn’t competitive either. All too often people understandably didn’t want to read #2 and #3 without reading #1. The latter was published in my POD era by Infinity; I didn’t determine the prices. At that time, ebooks were new to publishing. Of course, Big Five publishers still charge as much for ebooks as print books, but Infinity and other PODs were often worse. That’s nothing against them. Infinity was a lot nicer to me than Xlibris, for example, but being nice doesn’t cut it when outmoded business models are concerned. Publishing is a competitive business. An author has to compete with many good books and good authors these days.

For The Midas Bomb and Soldiers of God, also Infinity books originally, I simply created second edition ebooks; I also did that for Full Medical, an Xlibris print book originally. But for the trilogy I had two goals: create a second ebook edition of Survivors of the Chaos as well as encourage readers to read books #2 and #3, Sing a Zamba Galactica and Come Dance a Cumbia…with Stars in Your Hand! They make the trilogy one continuous and epic story about humanity’s future in the galaxy.


I made this!

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

We have a justifiable pride when we complete a DIY project (that’s “Do It Yourself” for the acronym challenged). I remember putting together several Heathkit electronic devices—that defunct company sold many kits for DIY projects from radio amateur equipment to stereo component and color TVs (my mother’s first color TV was a Heathkit). You have to be careful with DIY, though, when you write a novel. In this month of NaNoWriMo (“National Novel Writing Month”), the ultimate take on DIY in the writing business, watch out!

First, you can’t rip through it from your what-if or plot idea to a finished MS (that’s “manuscript”—acronymese is a disease!). Whether your content editing comes after a rough draft that follows an outline (making you a “plodder”—so why are you participating in NaNoWriMo?), or during your writing (making you a “pantser”—the only way you could possibly be successful in NaNoWriMo), it takes time to get anywhere near a polished MS. You can’t write a novel in a month—at least not one I’d ever want to read!

Second, don’t try 100% DIY after you have that MS. You’ll need copy-editing, formatting, and cover art to turn that MS into a publishable book. The smart indie author pays for that because s/he knows that even though she might be a skillful writer, s/he doesn’t do those three things as well as a pro editor, formatter, or cover artist. Pay for those. Or find a small press that will pay for it. It’s like that Heathkit electronics component—one couldn’t put something so complex together without that little book of instructions that comes with the kit. Pros make it easy for the kit builder; DIY can lead to disaster.

Third, in today’s competitive publishing world, don’t try 100% DIY for PR and marketing. A small press might help some with that, but almost all authors need to add a bit of pro help to the mix. If you’re good at social media, you can do a lot of DIY, and here’s one place your DIY-self can go forth and conquer—in fact, it’s best that you personally do a lot of it with your website, Facebook and Goodreads author pages, and participating in online discussions. But there are groups and websites who’ll promote your book at a reasonable cost, and they’ll reach many more readers than you can. A bit of DIY is required to set that up, of course. Beware, though: higher cost does NOT necessarily mean more effectiveness.

Pride in your book should go far beyond just writing your story. It must include doing your best to offer readers a polished and entertaining product. Whether you have many readers or not, there still should be pride in doing your best. And you don’t have to be 100% DIY to do that–and shouldn’t be. I felt pride in those finished Heathkit projects. I could say “I made this!” even though it was Heathkit that did a lot of the work. So, write your story, whether short fiction or novel length, and finish it correctly by NOT being 100% DIY!


Now’s your chance to read epic sci-fi! The “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy” is now a bundle. You can read all the books in the “Chaos Chronicles Collection,” a $5.99 ebook that costs less than the ebook for the first novel in the trilogy. The novels, Survivors of the Chaos, Sing a Zamba Galactica, and Come Dance a Cumbia…with Stars in Your Hand!, take you from the Chaos years of an Earth dominated by multinationals and controlled by their mercenaries to Humans’ first interstellar colonies and a first encounter. You will meet strange ETs, good and bad, bipeds and collective intelligences, and experience mystery and intrigue, as Humans expand into near-Earth space. Soon available on Amazon and Smashwords.

In libris libertas!