Friday, May 29, 2009

UP and Adventure

I expected to like the new Pixar movie UP. I've liked all the others, and it had balloons! Take a look at the cover of my novel Lighter Than Air. It was obviously destined to be a movie for me.

However, ten minutes into the movie and I had all my expectations changed. It wasn't wacky kids getting into adventures. It was about the gray haired old guy Carl, who's heart and the love of his life Ellie were aimed at adventure, but real life got in the way.

The thing is, I'm a gray haired old guy, and my heart and the love of my life are aimed at adventure. The only difference is a few choices Mary Ann and I made early in our marriage to "Travel now! We might not have the opportunity later."
And so we did. From weekend trips when I had no vacation time and gas was cheap, to the later years when we submarined off Grand Cayman, or flew in little planes across Africa, or followed the wildlife in Yellowstone.

Mary Ann found her calling as a nature photographer, and I discovered the great joy of finding the right "place" to inspire my writing. There is travel with nice hotels and fine food, and we do like that. But the bulk of it is taking the road we've never see before, or heading down to Galveston to ride out Hurricane Ike, or finding creative ways to get from A to B by visiting the whole alphabet, making a trip to a science fiction convention into a 15 state marathon.


Just such an opportunity is coming up soon, and it can't come too soon.

So the movie spoke to me. I made life choices differently, but that's beside the point. If things had happened differently, that could have been me facing old age with nothing left but a grand gesture to try. It made me all the more grateful for Mary Ann and the wonderful opportunities we have enjoyed. It made Carl's loss of Ellie deeply emotional for me. I doubt I'll ever be able to watch it without tears. And I intend to watch it again soon.

Getting Ready to Shovel the Muck

I just scared away a little green heron that was fishing in the draining pool for frogs, tadpoles and maybe small snakes. All the big snakes have already escaped the dropping water level. The heron had been perching on that white hose floating in the middle for several days now. This is the worst the pool has ever gotten. A combination of my knee problems, travel, a failed pump, and a restricted budget combined to keep the water green through the cold months.

I bought a small sump pump and dangled it off the diving board and it's been running several days now, slowly draining off the water. I've got it suspended well above the mud and leaves so it hasn't clogged up yet. I have to get the debris removed and the sides scrubbed as well as I can before the pool repair people come out and repair the main pump. I didn't want to immediately try to suck mud and leaves through a new pump.

There are also probably several hundred tadpoles still in the deep end and I'd love to rescue some of them. I tried last time with little success.

UPDATE: I was wrong about the big snakes. One was hiding under the leaves when I tried to scoop him up. He made a mad slither down to the water.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Golden Girl ARCs

As I mentioned before, I'm rushing to get Golden Girl published close to Worldcon to take advantage of any interest from my Golden Duck Award win. And that meant getting Advance Reader Copies into the hands of the pre-pub reviewers Like Right Now, even though I don't have the cover art ready yet. Today, most of them went off by FedEx to their destinations. So, just in case you haven't run across an ARC before. Here's what this one looks like. The cover is plain, and the insides have a few placeholders, like the page that says "dedication and acknowledgments" and another that simply says "map". Still, the text is in pretty good shape with only a couple of additional proofreading passes left before publication.

The back cover has a blurb, and since I have no pretty picture to tempt a reviewer to pick up my book in front of the 20,000 other books on the "to read" list, I made sure I mentioned my awards first thing, even before the short description of the story.

ARCs are a necessary evil. They aren't "pretty" yet. They cost more to produce than the final published version, and I have to ship them FedEx to some places for speed and to prove something to them. (Don't ask me what.) In addition, the odds against getting a review from these places is so stacked against a small publisher that I don't expect to get anything out of the exercise. However, lightning might strike, so I do it.

In fact, if I had a bigger list of pre-pub reviewers who would look at my work, I'd add them to the list. Third-party recommendations are the only way I'll ever grow my audience.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Time Travel Stories: Echoes

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, in the process of preparing for my next novel, the time travel story Golden Girl, I have been digging into my archives, unearthing a few time travel short stories for your reading enjoyment. Here is the first one, a short, compact tale titled Echoes. It is only 1350 words long, so it should be a quick read. I was inspired to write it by the 1975 Roger Zelazny story, "The Game of Blood and Dust", which is as compact a time travel story as you're likely to get.

So, click the Echoes link, read the story, then come back here to answer the following questions:

  1. Does this story give a satisfactory explanation why with the entire range of future history and advancement yet to come, we don't see any evidence of future time travel visitors having come to visit us?
  2. How many of the mentioned characters and events survive in our historical records and are there any unexplained gaps that might suggest tampering?
  3. If you discovered evidence of time singularities, what would you do?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Publishing Timeline: Golden Girl

Looking back at 2008, I felt that I had published too many books too quickly. Counting the second printing of Emperor Dad, I had pushed out four novels, and if the artwork for an anthology hadn't fallen through, there would have been five new titles. In retrospect, it was a bad move. With my parents health declining and their subsequent deaths, a couple of those novels were indeed published, but pretty much abandoned to the fate of books that are hidden in obscurity. I did a loop through New Mexico to talk to book store owners when Roswell or Bust came out, but Extreme Makeover left the people in far northern California with not a clue about the locally set novel, and much the same happened with Lighter Than Air and the people of Upper Peninsula Michigan.

So this year, I had intended to spread it all out and publish three books with more careful attention to building the buzz and all that marketing stuff. Falling Bakward came out on schedule and I spent more time making contact with the people near Chamberlain, SD where that story was placed. I still don't have the sales skill set, but I'm getting better.

But then, Lighter Than Air got a Golden Duck Award. I had to add a Worldcon appearance to my schedule so I can attend the ceremony. Suddenly, it became very desirable to have a new book just coming out at the beginning of August.

While the technology allows me to get a book through the publishing loop and out the door in two or three weeks, that's crazy from a marketing perspective. I deeply desire to get my books on library recommended lists so students can discover my adventures on the school library shelves just as I discovered Heinlein and Asimov. Libraries have tight budgets and political issues that make many librarians conservative about ordering books. To play it safe, you can't even get on the library lists without a 'starred review' from one of a handful of review magazines, like Publishers Weekly and Booklist. The top review organizations are flooded with books, because every publisher wants their titles reviewed, and their guidelines are strict. They want copies months in advance. Three or four months in advance of publication.

Today is May 19. Worldcon starts August 6. In the best of all possible worlds I can't make that window, but what I can do is set a September publication date and have a few early copies on hand at Worldcon. So now the rush is to get those review copies off. How rapidly can I generate a handful of advance reader copies?

Well, for one thing, I only sent the artwork request to the artists a few days ago. I can cross my fingers and hope that the art comes in promptly so I can meet the publication date, but the artwork isn't necessary for advance reader copies. The text has to be relatively solid and easy to read so the reviewers can appreciate it. Just a couple of hours ago, I completed a good first pass at the layout of Golden Girl. I've got to print out a proofreadable paper copy and be satisfied by sometime tonight. I'll have a PDF uploaded to Lulu by tomorrow and order my ARC's delivered promptly. Then Fedex them off to the review organizations.

Why Lulu, when I use LightningSource to print my real copies? It's economics. Lulu has no set-up charges, but costs much more per unit. LightningSource has a setup charge, even for revisions, so the cheaper unit cost only makes sense once I start ordering the books by the hundreds. The Lulu ARC's won't be available to the public, just me. From a publishing perspective any printer would do.

So, time for me to get back to proofreading. I hate deadlines.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Time Travel Stories

When my son Thomas was preparing to head back to Dallas to start his new job, for no particular reason, we started debating modern physics and just how real this stuff was. I had great fun explaining vacuum decay and he was concerned that physicists were too likely to take math at face value and ignore logic. We also got into time travel and the paradox issue. Which was great, because I'm done with the plot editing of my upcoming Golden Girl and am down to tweaking the little things.

Probably, I'll have the novel converted over to InDesign and send it to Lulu to make the handful of pre-pub review copies I'll need sometime this week. This time, the cover art is lagging, so I'll make these early copies with plain covers. I still have months to go before release date, so I'm not worried (much) about getting the cover prepared. I'm getting it done by the same artists who did Emperor Dad, Lighter than Air, and Falling Bakward, and they've always been very professional.

Golden Girl is my first time travel novel, but I've written a number of shorter stories in that sub-genre. I'm seriously thinking of hauling out a few of those and letting them out in public, either as web-stories or possibly read them aloud as podcasts. I don't know yet. I even have enough of them to print a little anthology. Decisions, decisions.

I love time travel stories. There's nothing quite so likely to generate philosophical side-thoughts. From the writer's perspective, you have to tackle a number of issues right up front. Can history be changed? If not, why not. If so, then what happens to events and lives that were abandoned by the change. Do they vanish and fade away, and if so, what about the memories of the time-traveller? Does the change cause a branching universe? If so, then where does the energy of it's creation come from?

Lots and lots of questions, and for every choice, there's the possibility for a good story. That's one thing I kept trying to explain to Thomas. It doesn't matter which I believe, it just has to make a good story.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Golden Duck Strikes Home

A couple of years ago, with my brand new Emperor Dad book in my hand, I was talking to another author when he pointed me to one of the officials of the Golden Duck Awards. We shook hands and he took a glance at my book, noticed the 2003 copyright date I'd put on the front sheet and told me it wasn't eligible, but if I had anything new come out, to be sure and let them know.

Well, I learned two things then. One, I was stupid to have put the 2003 date (when I sold it as a PDF) on a book I published in 2007, and two, that I should take him up on the offer. So, starting with my next book, I send a copy of every freshly minted book off to the mailing address listed on the Golden Duck website. Three titles with 2008 copyrights went off to Illinois.

Of course, as with most contests, I get no feedback, and I don't really expect any. Contests get swamped with submissions, just like editors and agents and reviewers, but I know that books sent out don't ever really get wasted. Some of them get read. Some get donated to libraries. Some pop up on ebay.

And sometimes, an email arrives. Last year, I was notified that I was a finalist for the Darrell Award and I dropped everything to go to Memphis, just on the off chance I would win. I did, and it made a wonderful difference to be able to put that award winner tag line when I introduce myself.

This time, there was none of that maybe stuff. It was a simple, "You won the Eleanor Cameron Award." First thing I read this morning, and I had to hunt around the house to tell Mary Ann because she was out in the yard weeding the garden. I always enjoy the way she whoops at good news. Lighter Than Air had won a Golden Duck!

Then I had to find the Worldcon site so I could sign up and be there for the awards ceremony. Suddenly, Montreal is on my schedule. Good memories from the last time we were there. I'm looking forward to it.

But there are a ton of things to do. I've got to change the cover on the book to flag the award. Email all my friends. Notify every store that has a consignment copy so they can maybe advertise it. I won't get it all done today, that's for sure.

But it pays to enter those contests.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Monsters Around the Corner

A couple of events occurred recently that I filed to my 'monsters' idea bin. Walking distance from my back yard is Brushy Creek, and a news article hit the local paper about a feral hog that was tearing up the local farmland. This 365 pound beast did not go down easy, surviving multiple gun shots, and killing two kevlar-protected hunting dogs in the process. Given the locations mentioned in the story, my yard was well within the range of the beast and none of the propery line fences would have done anything to slow him down.

Added to that train of thought was a story passed on from friends the Gregersens who have a house at Namwianga Mission in Zambia about roving elephants moving into their neighborhood. These aren't gentle zoo performers, but wild beasts who tear up farmland (and farms) and can cause widespread destruction. Talking to David, he thought they were coming out of Zimbabwe. With the breakdown of the economy there, all wildlife protections have been tossed aside and just like the Zimbabweans crossing the river to find food and work in neighboring countries, there are wildlife refugees as well.

So...what makes a wild animal a monster? What caused me to put these reports into that category? For one thing I've rejected the idea that monsters are make-believe. I don't know when that anti-fairytale got started, but monsters are more than imaginary creatures hiding in childrens' closets. The common fable is that there are no monsters anymore and that the world is a safe place.

I suppose the shift to an urban environment where the only animals to be had are pets is part of it. But I suspect that the endless parade of serial-killers as TV entertainment speaks to the fact that if all the monsters with teeth and claw are gone, we'll grow some of our own.

But as far as hogs and elephants are concerned, why would I call them monsters? What makes them a different case than Sissy the Dog sleeping at my feet? Sissy can certainly show her fangs if she feels threatened.

I was buying a round bale of coastal hay over near Coupland the other day and as I chatted with the farmer, the feral hogs came up. I wish I had the gift for accurate quotes but I don't, so I'll paraphrase:

"It's probably the drought. I've run up against a couple of feral hogs this year. It's unsettling. I'm used to thinking I'm at the top of the food chain but they seem to disagree with me on that subject."

And maybe that's the answer. I've looked into the eyes of an elephant who took objection to me and had no respect for human superiority. Sharp tusks, great strength, anger and no inclination to back down – that's good enough a definition for me. There are still natural monsters about and I like it that way.