Steelgods, eBooks, more

on Wednesday, December 28, 2011
As much as I think J. A. Konrath is kind of a massive jerk, there is no denying the man has made a crapton of money off his eBooks. As one of the early adapter of the Kindle market, he worked hard, got his name out there, wrote quality thrillers (and wrote consistently) and is now reaping massive amounts of rewards from it. Like I've said, I certainly respect him and it's totally awesome that he's pioneering this new way to write books, and the numbers can't be ignored (I'm just saying he has a tendency to be...blunt about his opinions).

My only beef with the whole "eBook Revolution" is the successful people still have a tendency to ignore the thousands of eBook writers (good writers, mind) that still sell next to no copies. It's easy to say "I'm successful, and look, here are two more people that are successful! So clearly this is the best option for everybody!" but what about all the other people who were taking it totally seriously, working on getting their name out there, and still didn't see more than a hint of success? It's easy to dismiss them as "oh, they didn't try hard enough" but the fact of the matter is that luck is still part of the equation. Just as it is with traditional publishing, luck on being accepted and selling a novel (and it doing well) is still prevalent in the eBook world. The only difference (and one of the appeals of eBooks, if you are the kind of person who likes this) is that your failures are completely your own in the eBook sense. With traditional publishing, you first have to gain approval of an agent, then approval of an editor, then (often times) that editor's boss, and then once it's out there you have to gain approval of the readers. The eBook scheme skips directly to the readers, but also puts all the work squarely on the author's shoulders. Also, not having a physical product can decrease the amount of exposure (a book will be on a bookstore shelf, even if it is hidden away in the back). You can't really schedule signings for an eBook (unless everybody brings their Kindles).

Granted, I know lots of the responsibility of representation still falls on the author when he/she is published by a publishing house, but at least you have a hint of a leg up.

Anyway, the point of this is how I personally will apply this to my business model. I've already put Paradise Seekers out and squarely fallen in the 98% of Kindle publishers: I didn't even make enough to pay off my cover artist. Steelgods is currently seeing the most success with agents and editors of all my work so far (I'd like to think it's a better book, but honestly I'm thinking its the query that's improved), but the looming stormcloud of impending rejection still hovers overhead. Also, unlike Paradise Seekers, Steelgods actually has a second book finished (and a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth plotted), so if Steelgods falls off the bus, it's taking the rest of the series with it (unless it gets a total re-structure and re-submission in the future).

The fact of the matter is that I write really fast (don't use this last month as an example; it has been on/off with regard to word count). Both Steelgods were single-month projects, and I intend to keep it that way with the rest of the series. Death's Aria, which was unfortunately positioned on the same month as Christmas and New Years, will be finished in two months at the very most. Paradise Seekers was also a one-month project, though I will admit it was more of an experiment than a "greatest hit" of what I've written.

If all the Kindle market needed to be successful was a blitz of book-flooding, I could probably pull that off. I've decided to design my own covers from here on out (I know Photoshop and Illustrator as well as the next person, and there are plenty of free public images just waiting to have a boatload of effects filters thrown over them) should I take the Kindle route, to cut back on costs. I'm still not sold on that being my main source of publishing (or if I'm even going to go back to Kindle publishing), but it's interesting considering it.

That's it for now. Merry Christmas and all that, and have a good 2012. Maybe I'll make a New Years Resolution post. Maybe not.

Merry (belated) Christmas!

on Monday, December 26, 2011

Why I own a Mac: Adventures in Windows

on Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Disclaimer: While I do prefer Macs, I (usually) have nothing against other OSes. I don't consider myself a Mac elitist, I just prefer them. I have duel-booted Windows and OSX (and sometimes Linux) on all my Mac computers, because I like being able to play games. I do own an iPhone, but I also own an Android tablet (Kindle Fire) and am perfectly satisfied with it as well. Really, it's an operating system, I don't understand how people get so upset about what other people like to use on their computers.

However, this anecdote was far too entertaining to not share, so here we go.

You wanna know why I own a Mac, even if it means taking crap from everybody? Well, here you go.
Bec bought Office 2010 from work, because she's been using Office 2003 since...well, 2003. A few years ago we upgraded her from dumpy 32-bit Vista to better 64-Bit Windows 7. We had to do a clean install, so she was able to install her 32-bit version of Office 2003 just fine.
Skip ahead to now.
Bec buys the software. She tries to install it after a lengthy 2 GB download. It gets to about 75% when it throws up an unknown error and crashes.
We re-download it and try again. Same error. I manage to navigate MS's KB articles and find out this random error is actually because they gave us the 32-bit version, and instead of checking compatibility before installing it just installs and crashes with a random error. Remember: this is first party software from a first party distributor. All this is Microsoft owned.
I check back on the site. After logging in and confirming a purchase we manage to find a faq. In the middle of the faq, under a tiny bullet point, it says they only sell the 32-bit version. Note that you can only get to this AFTER purchasing the product; I tried on my computer without signing in and it was inaccessible. Oh, and as a bonus? No refunds.
So now I have to PIRATE a version of MS Office 2010 so that we can use what we paid for. Fair enough, I pirate a 64-bit version of a straight disc rip. I have to install Alcohol 52% and mount the ISO like a fake disc, wasting more of my time, but at least I have it.
I go to install it and…bam, throws up an error before even getting to the setup screen. It seems that in order to install the software I have to DELETE the installer left behind by the OLD 32-BIT VERSION that was put on in secret. Ok, whatever, I delete it. Of course it forces a restart. After it reloads I try to install again. ANOTHER error. This time, it says since Bec has a 32-bit version of Office 2003, in order to install the 2010 version that is 64-bit (and the only version that’ll run on her OS), I have to delete that. Ok, fine.
I go to install it using control panel. Again, first party software installed on a first party OS. I load it up. It “prepares to uninstall” for about a minute. It then “gathers resources to uninstall Office 2003.” The box goes away.
Nothing happens.
I try it again. Same thing. Crashes. First party software with a broken uninstall.
No biggie, Norton does this all the time and they have installers. I google “Office 2003 Installer” and find MS’s Official way to uninstall it. Look that over a minute, if you find it. See how it has like ten steps? Great. So it links me to a site to download the uninstaller. I get to that page and, guess what? There’s about a billion language updates, but no uninstaller. Fantastic. Again, this is the official Microsoft site. For first party software. On a first party OS.
So I finally find a link on their site and click it and…it takes me to the Microsoft Office site where it tries to sell me Office 2010 but has no uninstaller. Yes, really. I google the software name: same link, same thing. Either the file is too old or their links are bad, because there is no way I’m getting this damn thing off.
So I have a last thought. I go into our closet, drag our massive tote of technology stuff out, dig to the bottom and finally find the Office 2003 32-bit disc. I shove that puppy in and hit “run setup.” It opens the file in explorer instead of launching the executable. So I open the Setup.exe. It takes about two minutes before getting me to a menu, where I FINALLY can Uninstall Office 2003. To my incredible surprise, five minutes later after it’s gone it doesn’t require a restart.
So I go to install it again. Another error. Apparently, Bec installed an add-on to Office 2003 that allowed it to read Office 2007 files (ex. .docx vs .doc). Instead of just deleting this when we uninstalled, say, the ENTIRE OFFICE SUITE, it decided this should hang out and Office wouldn’t let me install until it was gone. I go into control panel (because this doesn’t have a disc if control panel breaks the uninstall) and…it deletes. But it requires a restart. Even though the software it was tied to is gone. Awesome.
So FINALLY, after downloading Office twice legally, pirating it, installing a third party program to run it, uninstalling three separate programs, and digging out an old disc, the software finally installs.
And Windows forces an update restart in the middle of the installation process.

Let’s compare this to when I updated Pages to the latest version, which is the Mac’s version of Word. And, to keep things fair, my original Pages install was on Leopard, and I’m currently running a 64-bit version of Lion, two OS levels up. Here is what I did.
-       Opened the App Store
-       Bought the update.
-       Hit “update.”
-       Waited about five minutes. I played VVVVVV while I did this.
-       It was done. No restart, no nothing, no deleting the old version. Ran perfectly on launch.

Say what you want, but THIS, dear reader, is why I own a Mac. 

When Infodumps Go Right

This was the second image I found when I Googled "infodump." In retrospect, I'm very grateful SafeSearch was on. 

Infodumps. We all know what they are (but here's an infodump about infodumps anyway). Basically, it's when somebody in the story (either the narrator, another character, or the main character him/herself) buckles down and blabs about everything the reader needs to know. I put emphasis on reader here because a common stigma (and problem) with infodumps is they dump stuff the characters already know. Essentially, it's a paragraph, chapter, or section that focuses on explaining things that will need to be known in order for the rest of the book to progress. Usually this entails a bit of foreshadowing, a lot of expository dialogue, and loads of text while people don't do things.

A classic example is the chapter The Council of Elrond from The Lord of the Rings. Basically, Tolkien needed his readers to be up to speed on the world's events, the significance of the ring, and the exact details regarding the quest. Unlike the movies, The Fellowship of the Ring didn't start with the backstory regarding Sauron getting his finger cut off and the importance of the ring of power. While Gandalf does provide a bit of information to Frodo back in Hobbiton, it's more of a mini-infodump to tide him over until he's in Rivendell and can get the whole thing.

Growing up I hated this chapter, especially on re-reads. I already knew everything Elrond was saying, and the chapter is really really long. There is very little in terms of actual story progression: basically we are getting a history lesson that is capped off by finally saying what everybody should do. You'll note that in the movie (as mentioned above) they essentially broke this scene into two pieces: gave the history as a prologue, explained what needed to be done during the actual scene. This helped the movie flow faster.

So how do we "fix" infodumps? Well, there's several ways. The first is to just forego them completely. A clever enough writer can explain everything the reader needs to know about their world, characters, and magic through scenes and dialogue. This way the action keeps flowing without heavy explanation. The Way of Kings, despite being an incredibly wordy book, does this fantastically. The Name of the Wind, despite having several scenes set in schools and with instructors, never falls into the trap of straight infodumping: something is always happening that caused the infodump. It's that other trope scene we all love: where Luke is being trained by Obi-Wan or Yoda, and they are actually teaching the audience lots about the Force rather than just Luke.

It's worth noting, however, that doing this wrong can make your book extremely difficult to read. Many readers like having it told to them straight; it gives them the big picture and makes everything fall into place. Having to extrapolate everything from scenes and dialogue can be difficult, especially if you are trying to cater to a younger audience, so you might have to throw in some little, more concrete infodumps as a foundation for your explanations set through dialogue and scene.

The obvious trap to avoid (as I've said already) is to just spout information about your world for a chapter without anything interesting happening. Sometimes it's necessary, and if your world is interesting enough it's easier to forgive. If you are doing it as a long dialogue, having characters interject or ask questions can also keep the pacing and make it less of "storytime for the sake of the reader." This seems to be a common problem with new authors. You have this awesome world, awesome magic, and you are just dying to let that cat out of the bag. You've waited five chapters, dropping hints and subtle references, but now you can't hold out any longer. You explain everything in great detail, your awesome ideas and fantastic world down to the minute detail, and your audience all puts your book down and goes back to playing Skyrim.

Last point: determining what goes into an infodump. Eventually, no matter how good you are, you'll probably have to give in and explain some stuff eventually. Tolkien did it, so that means it's totally legit. What isn't legit is over-explaining, or giving too much information. As stated above: fantasy writers often are planners, with grandiose visions of worlds and magics and races and all sorts of things. It's hard to restrain yourself from just explaining everything at once (after all, you are doing an infodump anyway, what could it hurt? Right?). Don't. It's a universal rule to only tell characters (and the reader) exactly what they need to know right then, and then trickle down the rest of the details throughout. Provide the foundation for the house, and maybe a few walls, but don't furnish the whole thing in one go. Give only what is needed, and the rest will come throughout the rest of the story.


The only reason I brought this up is I'm in the middle of an infodump chapter in Death's Aria. I usually hate writing these. I'm bored by infodumps, and so writing them is doubly painful. However, I'm really enjoying it this time around. Questions I've had about the world are being answered (this might be the fault of discovery writing, to be honest), a stage is being set for the rest of the novel, and after the infodump is dropped the second act kicks in full swing. It's an exciting time (especially since the characters dumping all this info are interesting), and it's (finally) getting me pumped to write this novel.

The first chapters are still awful, in case you were wondering, but we'll get back to those later.

Write on, write on.

on Thursday, December 15, 2011
I apologize for my blogging absence this past little while. Life, it seems, is insistent on keeping me busy. There are a few interesting things that have happened recently, however.

First off, I had a birthday! So I'm old now (or older). It was a pretty low key affair, with both my wife and I taking work off to basically hang out. I got the oil changed on the car (woo), had a good time just maxing and relaxing, and had a great homemade sweet n' sour chicken dinner.

As for presents, I got a copy of Gears of War 3, a buttload of Nutella, but the best present was this:

Aw yeah
My wife was researching older TVs because a while back I mentioned our retro games would probably play/look better on an older television than on our LCD. She looked it up and found Sony Trinitrons are unanimously the most popular older televisions for retro gamers. She was going to buy one online but their prices were a bit high ($50+), so we ended up going out and looking at thrift stores on my birthday just for fun. Lo and behold, in the first store we looked in we found the exact one my wife wanted, and for extremely cheap too. We snatched it upand brought it hope and you can see it there, attached to the NES, SNES, and N64. We borrowed some furniture that wasn't being used by our upstairs neighbors and set the whole thing up. And there it is! Now the writing room has an added bonus of being packed full of retro video games to further distract me from writing.


Speaking of writing, Death's Aria is going decently. I've taken a few days off writing due to general stress and it being my birthday, but I'm getting back into the groove now. Not much to report other than that; it's going pretty quick and I'm shooting for a usual 2.5k/day goal.

That's  it from me for now. Expect a review of the Kindle Fire shortly. I jailbroke/rooted mine and put a bunch of emulators on it (as you can see, I already own the retro games, so I don't feel guilt about this :P) so I'm liking it a bit better now.

Kindle Fire, Yo!

on Wednesday, December 7, 2011
For those who know (or don't know), I work a part-time day job doing phone tech support at NuSkin (where my wife also works). Anyway, it's a pretty decent job if you don't mind doing call center stuff, but what makes working here AWESOME is when Christmas rolls around and they throw presents your way. NuSkin had a record year this year, so as a reward (in addition to a few bundles of cash) everybody got a Kindle Fire!

Yep, this thing. 
Now both my wife and I got original flavor Kindles last year for Christmas (and I promised a review but never gave one, but here is my new review: THEY ARE AWESOME YOU SHOULD GET ONE THEY ARE ONLY $80 NOW DUDE), so I'm left wondering what the crap I'm going to use this thing for. So how about I compare it to the original Kindle and write a review?


See, I just got this thing yesterday. For those not "in the know" about Kindles, most of them use eink technology, which basically means it reads exactly like ink on paper. It's fantastic, and as somebody who stares at screens all day at work (then at screens all night when either writing or playing video games or whatever), it's a HUGE load off of eyestrain. It really is just like reading a book, which is why I think the original Kindles are fantastic and any book lover should grab one.

This thing, on the other hand, is essentially a stripped-down Android tablet with a full color screen and glass on the outside and all that. Basically a cheaper iPad, complete with apps, movie watching, etc. This means no eink, despite this still being heavily marketed as an ereader. So...does it work?

Well, I'm going to read through a few books on it before giving my final review. Out of the box? I don't like reading on it, frankly. Movie watching is great (I'm a Prime member so I have both Netflix and Prime's video library to pull from) and apps are...there (I have enough of them on the iPhone and the iPhone is more portable so...). Internet browsing is pretty good but I hate their keyboard (it doesn't register taps as correctly as the iphone/ipad does, despite it being bigger than my iphone). It runs pretty smooth but I have had a few missed taps already, especially with trying to hit the tiny gear "settings" button in the corner.

So yeah, that's my new Christmas toy. Expect a review when I get around to it. Currently I'm preferring the original Kindle, but hey...who knows. Let's finish Reaper Man on the Fire and see how that turns out.

Killing Darlings: First Chapters

on Tuesday, December 6, 2011
You gonna die. 

As any follower of my blog is probably aware, my biggest difficulty with editing is my attachment to the original manuscript. Often times I'm fully aware a manuscript has problems, but my sort of fervent devotion to what is obviously crap makes editing more obnoxious than it should be.

This blog post doesn't really have much to do with that. It has to do with awful first chapters.

Brandon Sanderson on Writing Excuses has frequently pointed out that the first chapters are what tend to go through the most rewrites. As a discovery writer, I can echo this sentiment whole-heartedly. First chapters are often considered the most important part of book with regard to hooking readers. After all, if you can't get 'em in the first 10 odd pages, a reader will probably set a book down for something more interesting. So as authors we sort of get attached to our first chapters, wanting to be certain they are the best ever, and so when we produce something that seems to fit the bill we latch on.

When, in truth, we should kill it.

I can honestly say that every book I've ever written has an awful first chapter, and some of those extend to first scenes or entire first parts. For me, I swear this issue seems compounded with the discovery writer issue: when I'm starting a new novel, I usually don't have either the flow of the book or the flow of the main character down when I start. That's something I have to figure out by writing it. How will this character's voice play out? How will he/she react? While I have the general sense of a character's motives, personality, etc. it hasn't really been tested.

Which means my first chapters usually end up like this:

1. The main character (and whatever side characters are around him/her) is completely two-dimensional, acting off my basic idea of how he/she should act. This makes everything they say completely predictable and utterly boring.

2. People act completely off the wall randomly because I've realized #1 and am trying my damndest to not let it happen again HOW IS THIS HAPPENING IN ANOTHER BOOK I'M GOING TO HAVE TO SCRAP ALL THESE CHAPTERS ARGH.

3. Usually the actual plot is fine and interesting, because I need my "hook," but the writing style, pacing, and characters are completely wrong.

4. They all slowly get refined down until a chapter or so (or more, if the book is particularly bad) in, until we finally hit the final product and everything is great for the rest of the book.

So...what does this mean for me? Well, it means I have some editing to do.

I have Gears with an alpha reader currently, and she is very good at pointing out the inconsistencies with Cevan (and everybody else's) character during the first portion of the book. This is also the only part of the book Writing Group 2.3 got through (pity, since I swear it gets better) and the reaction was similar: I had no idea what I was doing. There's plot there, it's interesting, but what the heck is going on with the characters? Who knows.

I'm also suffering this problem with Death's Aria, so much so that, even only five chapters in, I know that I'm going to have to change a good portion of the beginning. While I still refuse to go back and edit until a book is finished, it's like a looming dread over the rest of the book. The first part of a novel is so important and also really exciting. You meet these characters, who will be taken on crazy journeys only a few chapters later. You are introduced to clever subtleties of the world and get really excited to see where things are going. These really have to be good, or else your novel will suffer.

Like mine do. So watch out Gears, Death's Aria, and the rest of you. You may be safe for now, but we are going to "cut a bit off the top" at my next available opportunity. It might take one rewrite or it might take ten, but you are going to behave and you will like it!

Here I go again

on Friday, December 2, 2011
Death's Aria is officially back on track. I finished the chapter I left hanging last month, and am thinking of fun idea. I'm going to be slamming through this book as fast as possible, hopefully with enough time left before the next semester to take a break before tackling Naught but Glass again. I'm guessing that's going to mean I need about 60-70k in three weeks...ish. Easy. Assuming I don't start a new character in Skyrim.

Speaking of Skyrim, here's the main theme! It's awesome!

Listen to that when writing about fantasy and stuff! It'll make it more awesome!

Not much more from me. I'm excited to get writing again, and to get this book finished and sent out. I'm still waiting back on Steelgods (got another rejection yesterday), but the best way to keep my mind off it is just to write more, so there you go.

In completely unrelated news, a new Nightwish album (as mentioned before) came out's ok. I'm actually sort of let down that it isn't really what I expected after waiting almost five years from Dark Passion Play, but it's Nightwish and it has a cool song with bagpipes and METAL, so I guess I can't complain.

Oh hey, here's the theme played by Lara, my favorite youtube person. The Skyrim theme, not Nightwish.