Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sandestin

We're at the Sandestin resort on the panhandle of Florida for Mary Ann's nature photographer convention.  I'm killing time with this posting as she's frantically finishing up her photography portfolio prior to talking to various editors.  And yes, that does mean we've brought her whole office with external hard drives and high end color printer with us into the resort.  But that's normal for us.  At least this place has good solid high speed wireless internet.
The resort itself is nice, with interesting places to visit while she's off in her conference events.  I went over to the candy store last night and was far too tempted by the chocolate.  I'll have to keep that under control.
But even the fanciest places have their problems.  They've been painting down below ground level in the parking garage and vapors have crept up and triggered the fire alarms in random bursts.  It added spice to Mary Ann's last minute preparations.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

More iPhone Writing Notes

My iPhone novel experiment is close to 40,000 words right now, and it isn't a hardship.  That's the important part I think.  Sitting down in random moments to blast out a paragraph or two will happen if it's nearly effortless, but not if it's a chore.

There's a couple of points about transferring the data I'd like to comment on.  Before, I said that you had to email the notes to yourself.  That's no longer the case.  Independent programmers have been at it and there are a few ways to move the data around that don't depend on shipping the data through the Internet.

The first thing I tried is a bit hackish.  On the Uninnovate blog, it details a python script that decodes the iPhone backup files and breaks out all the data types.  From then, you point the Sqllite Data Browser at the notes database file and the content of the notes is available to export to a text file.  This is great and I've done quite a few chapters this way.  Of course I'm a command line geek at times and it's totally natural for me, but hardly the mass-market GUI way of doing things.  There is another gotcha as well.  The text you get this way has a slightly different encoding.  Most everything is fine, but non-ASCII characters shift a little.  For example that non-breaking space that appears in the email export route is instead a different glyph altogether.  And when I put an accent mark on an e in a word, it was decoded into an entirely different character.  These are easy enough to work around and preferable to the email route, but it left me looking for an alternative.

So I ran across MegaPhone, a $20 shareware tool that is a GUI data transfer tool.  Getting the notes data out is very simple, and plus, the encoding is the same as email, so that's a bonus.  The software does advertise a bunch of other things as well, such as allowing editing and moving data into the iPhones Notes as well.  I was less impressed by my experiments on that end.  For one thing, I was excited at the possibility of putting a PDF file to be read later into the notes, but it wasn't what I had hoped.  It converted the PDF into what I imagine is HTML.  My goal was to be able to proof the formatting of a PDF document, and that was totally gone.  Plus, once you use any other font than the designated Marker-Felt font, the note looks horrible against the yellow lined note background.  

I'm sure there are other tools out there as well, but probably I'll go with MegaPhone for easy note export and limited note import as well.  It fills a gap until Apple provides a better native solution.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reading Day

I checked the mail. No CD with artwork. This is day 8, and if the battered Amazon mailer with Bill Crider's new book in it hadn't been sitting there in the mailbox, I'd have been in a really rotten mood.
But as busy as I've been lately, I really need a day like this to do any serious reading.  I'm one chapter into Of All Sad Words, and Sheriff Dan Rhodes already has mayhem and destruction to deal with, and a growing cast of suspicious characters. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I Really Need to Teleport

The artwork CD didn't arrive.  It's been a week since it was mailed.  The delivery lady said they were still catching up from Valentine and the postal holiday.  But that still leaves me stranded with the clock ticking on my projects.  
So, time to go see Jumper.  I'd been planning to see Steven Gould's movie...or rather the movie based on his book, since it came out.  Honestly, I've been hoping it would be a monster hit that would make greedy Hollywood types go hunting for some other novel about teleporting teenagers that they could make more movies about.  Hey, I'm willing to option.
But the first reviews I saw were less than stellar.  I had to go see it myself.  
So, I did.  I liked it.  It was quite a travelogue, with the hero popping around all over the world.  The storyline was fairly simple.  Loner kid can teleport, has fun for eight years, and then has weird secret organization hunting him down.  Mayhem ensues.  Oh yes, there was a girl, and his mysterious mother.
I can understand where the reviews were coming from.  Samuel Jackson, playing the villain, just walked through the role.  If you saw the movie for him, it was only worth two stars.  But since I wrote a teleportation novel myself, I was interested in how our works differed.  
There were lots of differences, of course.  Jumper uses a psychic gift, very much like Bester's The Stars My Destination.  My Emperor Dad has technological teleportation, with creative software to make it personal.  But both stories touch on how disruptive teleportation can be to the existing economy.  And both have powerful organizations out to stop it.  I personally recommend that every school in the country should buy both books and use them as study guides on the topic of disruptive changes.  Feel free to use the links above.

Waiting for the Mail

How about 'Full Service Writer'?  Being a writer who's also trying to publish, I'm still running up against barriers erected to ward off the hordes of the self-published.  Admittedly, they are weakening rapidly.  Some places won't review self-published books and I understand.  I had an email from a contest judge that had read Emperor Dad and complimented me on how few typo's he noticed.  In his words, most of the time he couldn't get through the first five pages of a self-published novel without be inundated by errors.  If I'm in a category that is widely acknowledged as having vastly more works produced for love than with any professional rigor, I have to find some way to let people know what to expect when they toy with the idea of clicking the BUY NOW button on Amazon.
Getting reviews and hopefully contest recognition would be good.  I hear books sell better with shiny WINNER stickers on the cover. I've been sending out books to anyone who will review them and entering any contest that looks legit.  Feel free to let me know of others.
But I've also been working on making the books themselves look professional.  I have three new covers (three titles) posted on my cork boards where I have to look at them every day.  I want to give myself every opportunity to tweak something that doesn't look good, before it's time to launch the books.
And that time is coming.  Within the hour, a CD will arrive in the mail (cross fingers) and I'll have the artwork for book three.  Once I finish that cover, a clip goes in the filler pages of the others, finishing the last step for them as well.  With luck, I'll have something nice to show off at my table when Aggiecon arrives.  See you there.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Book Scans and Search Engines

I'm of the opinion that putting samples of my works out on the Internet is a net gain.  Of course, there are gotcha's.

Google Books is the biggest known instance of a search engine company scanning books and putting parts of them out for people to sample, plus whole books in some cases.  But there are others.  Amazon has the option of putting scan samples of your books.  Today I ran across another.  Books.live.com from Microsoft.  

My first title, Emperor Dad (buy it now) is on Amazon's Search Inside pages because I uploaded them the cover and interior instead of a scan.  

I printed Emperor Dad through Lulu, but I'm the publisher, using Lulu as printer and distributer.  When Lulu offered to submit the book to Google Books, I agreed, since it cost nothing.  Unfortunately, a couple of months later, I discovered that it had finally appeared, but the sidebar information showed flagged Lulu as the publisher.  Since I'm trying to do my best to let people know about Wire Rim Books, I contacted Google Books and asked that the publisher meta data be corrected.  After a few days and checking with Lulu, it has finally vanished from Google Books.  On my todo list is to re-submit the book with the correct publisher info.

So, with this history, I began searching the books.live.com site for how to submit a book to their service.  Since they flagged it, I checked the contract they required.  Sign a contract with Microsoft?  Hmm.  I've heard far too many horror stories about that.  I read it carefully.  One sentence killed it for me.  "You agree not to make any public announcement about this agreement without Microsoft’s prior written consent."

I can't blog about the contract?  The other services didn't even have a contract that I could see.  So the way that I see it, I need to get all my blogging out of my system before I consider signing up for their service.  That may take awhile.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

More on iPhone Writing

I'm still playing. Here are a few more things I've learned.

  • About 5000 words is the best length for a long note.  Longer than that still works fine, but if you leave the note and come back to it, then scrolling to the bottom takes too long.  Also, if you're doing editing on the iPhone, a too-long note makes it harder to find the text to edit.
  • Don't try to format the text on the iPhone.  Don't add paragraph indents, for example.
  • Email the text to yourself.  There's a nice icon in the notes window for that.  It's not an attachment, just included text.
  • Once you cut and paste the text into your word-processor, then you can apply a style that handles the paragraph indents, etc.  
  • For some reason I don't understand, many of the spaces in the text will be 'non-breaking-spaces'.  Carefully use a find and replace to convert those to regular spaces.  If you're not careful, some word-processors will treat both kinds of spaces as the same in the find and replace dialog, so don't just delete them.  Change them to regular spaces and then use whatever technique you normally use to standardize single/double spaces where appropriate.
  • If your target is some website, like the sample I used in the previous blog entry, then seriously consider some way to format your sentences with CSS or some other technique.
  • Currently, there's no way to move text into an iPhone note, so if you need to import/edit/export, then you'll have to do it in email messages.
  • Writing dialog is not optimized.  Until new versions of the software are released, starting and stopping quoted strings is a struggle you'll just have to get used to.  
  • The iPhone text entry system appears to learn new words from you.  For example, in my experimental story, the girl character's name is Glu and although the iPhone almost always wants to convert that to Flu, it is learning, and has carried that custom word into other text activities like composing email.  I see a market for a custom word editor utility before long.
  • The iPhone text entry system is inherently a spell-checker, but there's no way to turn it off.  Nor is there a way to check for correctly-spelled, but wrong words in context.  There's no substitute for detailed proofreading.  

That's all for now.