Thursday, February 27, 2014

Another Collection Coming

The other day my friend James R. Tuck Jr. offered to assist me with a Kindle and CreateSpace collection of my short stories. Given what I'd already been pondering about collections vs. individual short stories, I gave it some thought and decided to take him up on the offer.

James has already gone into the independent Kindle publishing world himself, with this new Deacon Chalk project his newest offering. Although my preferred style of cover is more elaborate (see some of my commissioned covers here), this cover is more professional-looking even though it's more simplistic. Between the better-looking cover and the fact longer works generally seem to sell better, I have high hopes for this project.

So what's going in it? For starters, all of my Kindle stories, including the story "Coil Gun" that appeared in the anthology Pressure Suite: Digital Science Fiction #3. All of my previously published works with the possible exception of "Nicor" as well--although I have the right to anthologize it, Amazon might not take kindly a substantial chunk of material being available for free elsewhere. I had to e-mail a message-board somewhere to have them take down the text of "I am the Wendigo" somebody posted after its original purchaser shut down but before the website disappeared from the Interwebs. Fortunately, since "Nicor" would be one of perhaps ten stories, I can claim it's just an excerpt. :)

And there'll be some new content never before seen by anybody other than some people in my writing group, including the sword and sorcery tale "Lord Giovanni's Daughter" and the supernatural animal tale "Sam." Maybe the terrorist story "The Past Is Ashes" will put in an appearance, although I've got that out to a potential buyer at the moment.

And guess what else there'll be? Some authorial comments by me, including how these stories came to be. You'll get all sorts of spiffy back-story bits, including shout-outs to famous authors like Saladin Ahmed and Mary Robinette Kowal who've given me good advice.

Not sure when it'll come out though. I'm very busy with graduate school. Fortunately unlike the Andrew Patel collection, this doesn't involve creating (much) new content, just tinkering with stuff I've already got.

BTW, buy James' Special Features. I just did. :)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Guest Post: An Introduction to Schooled In Magic

Here's another guest post by Chris Nuttall. Take it away, Chris!

An Introduction to Schooled in Magic

One of my favourite themes in science-fiction and fantasy is the concept of a person from our world being transported back in time or into an alternate world where the rules of science are different and magic exists.  Lest Darkness Fall and Island in the Sea of Time are examples of the former, A Wizard in Rhyme, The Narnia books, The Wiz Biz and The Wizard of Oz (and sequels, spin-offs, etc) are examples of the latter.  Often, the lines are blurred; Harry Potter, to some extent, is a variation on the fantasy version of the theme.

Such stories work on two levels.  They’re exciting stories (they have to be) but they also let us see the alternate world through the eyes of everymen heroes from our own world, allowing us to see the differences and changes in the timeline thanks to the time traveller.  This allows the writer to sidestep one of the most common problems with alternate history, the need to explain the point of divergence to the reader without either absurd conversations or long expository pieces of text. 

But something that tends to annoy me about the fantasy version of the theme is that they rarely have room for modern technology.  A Wizard in Rhyme has modern technology rarely working in the alternate world, while even The Wiz Biz runs through the ‘magic as computer programming’ theme rather than introducing modern technology.  Indeed, the only book I can recall where the newcomer Stranger in a Strange Land introduced modern technology to a fantasy world was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and that may not be considered fantasy at all.

[I’m pretty sure that I’ll be bombarded with emails about other exceptions to this rule .]

Schooled In Magic and its sequels follow the adventures of Emily, a shy and somewhat emotionally amused teenage girl (and history nut) from our world as she is accidentally kidnapped into another world by a necromancer with bad intentions.  Rescued in the nick of time by another magician and warned that the necromancer is still after her, Emily is sent to Whitehall School of Magic and told to learn how to use magic.  For Emily, it becomes a struggle to fit into a new world where nothing is quite as it seems and her mere existence brings her enemies.  But she starts to adapt and win friends...

And after that, when it dawns on her that quite a bit of what she considers normal on Earth is utterly unknown in the nameless world, she starts suggesting ideas to her friends.  And each pebble she tosses starts off a ripple of changes that sweep across the world and sometimes come back to bite her in some very strange ways.

The nameless world itself is largely medieval, set after the last great empire had shattered, leaving a handful of successor states facing the necromancers, who are slowly strangling the Allied Lands to death.  The large kingdoms are ruled by tyrannical monarchies, while city states are semi-democratic and magical families help tie the various kingdoms together.  Technology is in stasis, largely because of a combination of social pressure and magic filling in the holes, but the laws of science still work the same way, at least on first sight.  There’s nothing to stop Emily introducing all kinds of ideas, from steam engines to gunpowder, that will change the face of the world forever ...

If, of course, she isn’t stopped.  And there are many people with a vested interest in stopping her before the ripple of changes become a tidal wave that will sweep away all they know and replace it with something new.

Schooled in Magic is available in ebook form now.  A free sample can be downloaded from here, then you can download the book from the links here.  And you can read my annotations (warning; spoilers) here. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Emberverse Fan-Fiction: Storm Surge

Here's another piece of interesting fan-fiction, courtesy of my alternate-history forum. It's called "Storm Surge" and it's set during the events of S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire, whose fictional world has come to be called the Emberverse.

On the forum there were some people who disagreed with Stirling's decision to have the local military in the Pacific Northwest basically march into Seattle and die in a futile attempt to maintain order as civilization collapsed, if that indeed was the case.

(I vaguely remember a reference to General Thurston, the leader of the "United States of Boise" at the very least getting his family out of Seattle, so some of them might've ended up there. Getting through the mountains in the middle of that kind of insanity seems like a really dicey proposition though.)

One of the people said that the survivors of Fort Lewis, if they managed to keep themselves organized and establish some kind of safe haven in the aftermath the way those who became Clan McKenzie did, would become a deadly enemy for Big Bad Norman Arminger and his nascent neo-Norman regime in Portland...which is why Stirling basically had them die.

One of my personal philosophies is that anybody can complain, but coming up with a viable alternative is more difficult. In this case, the fellow whose handle is GovernorGeneral decided to take up the challenge and wrote the tale of how a couple brigades at Ft. Lewis rescued some elements of Washington's legal government and established an enclave centered on Aberdeen that's taken control of a substantial chunk of western Washington, an enclave that as of the last update has attracted the attention of Arminger's "Grand Baron" Eddie Liu...

It's a pretty good story so far. I'd like some more description of the scenery and characters since none of them (besides Eddie) are from the books and thus none of the readers would know what they look like.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Oops, I Did It Again

After a chat with a friend from my writing group at this year's AnachroCon, I went and changed The God of the Wet Wood back to The Thing in the Woods. Although the title is rather generic-sounding, there was the danger that due to the rapid growth of "monster erotica" (so much that I actually found a small press willing to publish it now), somebody would think a book combining "god" and "wet wood" was something rather raunchy and not, you know, the teen Lovecraftian horror novel that it actually is.

Oh well. My writing group is going to go over the whole manuscript tomorrow night and maybe they'll come up with some ideas for a better title. One group member suggested I call the novel "the rough beast" (an allusion to Yeats' "The Second Coming," my favorite poem), but the title doesn't really fit well with what the monster actually is.

One reason I picked The Thing in the Woods is that the phrase comes up in the text of the novel in a significant way (not going to say anything here due to spoilers). Any new title would need to be similarly relevant to the text.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Four-Story Andrew Patel Collection?

My friend Jeff Baker, in an addendum to a guest post I wrote for him awhile back, said that in order to really get one's Kindle sales going, one should have 20-25 items available. Counting the new Spanish version of "I am the Wendigo," I only have eight KDP stories available at present alongside the professionally-published Kindle anthology that hosted "Coil Gun."

I do have another short story planned (although it needs more revision and so it'll be awhile), with another cover courtesy of Alex Claw. However, I do remember reading online somewhere that stories priced at $0.99 don't sell as well as more expensive offerings due to the theory they're not very good. I had "The Beast of the Bosporus" and "Picking Up Plans In Palma" priced at $1.25 for awhile (and "Beast" is still $1.25 on Smashwords) due to their length, but I think Amazon lowered the "Beast" price to $0.99 on its own and I lowered "Palma" to $0.99 to try to get more sales.

So here's the plan. I've got two stories centered on supervillain Andrew Patel ("Ubermensch" and "Needs Must") already available and ideas for two more stories focused on the further consequences of the events of "Ubermensch." I'll write both of those stories and package them with the first two in a four-story collection selling for $3.00 each. Although short stories aren't necessarily worth the time spent on them, this would be providing my fans something different at a somewhat higher price point. And the second two stories (tentatively titled "Actions Have Consequences" and "New Friends, Old Enemies") won't be available individually, at least at first.

Should this gambit succeed it might be worthwhile to write more stories following Andrew Patel, both a planned set of prequel stories involving a rival supervillain based on the Nuwaubian Nation and more stories set after the original tetralogy following the rivalry between Patel and the hero Silverbolt. And perhaps pricier deluxe editions of the original stories that've got illustrations of key scenes?

Hmm...that's an idea I could implement for all of my stories...

Friday, February 7, 2014

Guest Post: The Real World Is A Messy Place

Here's another guest post courtesy of Chris Nuttall...

The Real World is a Messy Place

The Empire’s Corps series (currently eight books on Kindle) is intended to serve two purposes.  First and foremost, it is intended to be great entertainment, precisely the sort of books I like to read.  Second, it is intended to illustrate many of the problems facing our world, be it the poor state of education (Reality Check) or the issues in dealing with an insurgency with insufficient resources (The Empire’s Corps) or the poisonous effects of bureaucracy and political corruption (When The Bough Breaks).  One of those problems is just how politics can cast a long shadow over military operations 

... And how politics can lead to poor decision-making processes.

One of my readers suggested that the situation in Retreat Hell, the new novel in the series, was similar to the situation in To The Shores, the previous novel.  That is only true on the surface (and not really even then.)  The military issue of To The Shores was remarkably straightforward.  All the heroes had to do was get from Point A to Point B before time ran out, which involved fighting their way through a succession of enemy strongpoints and mobile forces that tried to bar their path.  There were, at least on the surface, no outside powers that might become involved, nor was there any need to pacify the galactic media or the locals themselves.  The whole war boiled down to a simple march up through enemy defences.

Retreat Hell presents a very different situation.

The only thing worse than having allies, as Winston Churchill once pointed out, is not having allies.  And allies can be very useful, particularly in the modern field of war.  Our soldiers may be the deadliest on the planet, but when they are forced to interact with local civilians they have very real problems understanding or relating to them.  Thus we have the problem of our soldiers becoming convinced that the local civilians are all against them, which tends to lead to abuse and a general lack of concern about their lives.  And having the ability to put a local face on military operations helps to move the burden of the war onto our allies, which is the only long-term solution to some of the problems we face.

However, having allies also has its downsides.

It is a simple fact of geopolitics that every country has different political priorities.  America and Britain grew powerful through command of the seas; France, Germany and Russia simply couldn't afford to build formidable navies when they also had to build vast armies.  In modern days, American attempts to limit the ABM commitment to Poland have been resisted by the Poles, who fear Russia (with good reason) and want a much greater sign of American commitment to their defence.

Our allies have also caused problems in the War on Terror.  The requirement to use Pakistan as a supply line into Afghanistan has made it difficult for us to strong-arm Pakistan into abandoning the Taliban completely.  Pakistan has been hedging its bets in the region, which makes a great deal of sense when you realise that the Pakistanis fully expect us to abandon Afghanistan sooner or later, while they cannot do the same because Afghanistan is right next door.  Further, as our allies have local problems of their own, they cannot always support us to the extent we would wish.  For example, the provisional Iraqi government was none too keen on the idea of turning against Shia militias in Basra and Baghdad, as these militias provided a key source of support (and would be potent enemies if turned against the government.)

For Retreat Hell, the Commonwealth is faced with a comparable no-win situation.

The insurgency on Thule is opposed to the Commonwealth.  If it wins, and it has a very good chance of winning, the Commonwealth will be asked to leave Thule.  If that happens, a powerful industrial node will be lost to the Commonwealth.  Complicating matters is the simple fact that a hostile interstellar empire is right next door and is clearly supplying weapons to the insurgents, which raises the spectre of them handing the planet over to the outsiders as soon as they win the war (and thus tipping the military balance further against the Commonwealth.)  And the hostile power might just invade on its own.

So what choice should the Commonwealth make?  Send assistance to a local government that is far from ideal or leave it to sink or swim on its own?

If they don’t send help, they will lose access to Thule when the insurgency takes control.  And the Commonwealth’s reputation will be called into question by every other planet facing internal troubles.  But if they do send help, they will have work with their allies and their allies may want the Commonwealth to act in ways contrary to their own best interests.  And they would run the risk of exposing their flanks to a sneak attack ...

Which choice should they make?

Retreat Hell can be downloaded from Amazon Kindle; free samples are available here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

January Writing Contest Results

I've found more people to do the monthly writing contest with and as a result what was originally supposed to be for the summer of 2013 continues apace. Here's the breakdown of the 11,348 words I wrote for my different projects:

For starters, the single biggest block of new content was written for The Atlanta Incursion, the sequel to The God of the Wet Wood (formerly The Thing in the Woods). Around 3,700 or so words, most of which comprise a prologue in which some Atlanta gang-bangers run into something a bit more frightening than the rivals they intended to ambush. The story takes place around Georgia State University, so I'm going to need to do some exploring when the weather is warmer. The events of this story take the overall saga on a more science-fiction trail, although the overall tone is horror-based.

Next in terms of content is the fourth Wastelands novel, whose tentative title is Return.  Ironically for a series whose first tale has been described as a "boy book," most of the material I've written after the second book has focused on a female-dominated harem intrigue subplot. Irony. Around 1,500 words or so.

After that, I translated "I am the Wendigo" into Spanish in hopes of making more foreign sales. I read an article about some...dubious Kindle stories that made the author $30,000 a month at one point and one thing that stuck out was that she had them translated into German. I can't speak German, but I can speak enough Spanish that I could grind out a translation myself or (what I actually did) translate it a paragraph at a time using Google Translate and correct for mistakes, idiomatic expressions, etc. No sales of "Yo Soy El Wendigo" so far, but I did move a few in Mexico, Spain, Italy, and surprisingly the USA when I set it for free for a couple days. That was around 1,500 words there.

I also wrote another 1,000 words for a different project. Not going to say what it is--if I can't sell it to The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction under my own name, it'll go on Kindle under a pseudonym to avoid causing job problems later. Sufficient to say it fits into the "Bizarro" sub-genre and involves heavily-armed little people. Around 1,000 words.

The God of the Wet Wood saw another 1,000 words added, mostly new material from the POV of the female lead Amber. I was hoping to get it to at least 50,000 words, but I got it only halfway past 47,000. Two of the prospective markets I've found will only accept works of 60,000 words plus, while one will do shorter e-books but only print 60,000+ works. Since much of my strategy for marketing an actual book involves book signings, that simply won't do. Hopefully the critique I'm doing on 2/10 will help me find a solution.

I also wrote 780-odd words for a fourth short story featuring my supervillain protagonist Andrew Patel. I've got a cover for a four-story collection featuring my first two stories "Ubermensch" and "Needs Must" and two plotted stories further exploring the consequences of the events of those two, so now I need to write some material. :) A $3 anthology with four stories might seem a bit more credible than four individual stories for $0.99 each.

The rest of the word count consists of odds and sods, including some new material for my neglected SF novel The Cybele Incident, some material for the *seventh* Wastelands novel, and a cover letter for The God of the Wet Wood. February is looking a bit busy with graduate school and a paper I'm presenting at the University of Georgia, so I'll have my work cut out for me.

New Title for "The Thing In The Woods"

Here's an update on my primary writing project, the teen Lovecraftian horror novel The Thing In The Woods. When I brought the cover letter to my writing group for critique, pretty much everybody agreed that the title is lame. Since this is something I've had my doubts about for awhile now, this wasn't something I argued about.

One of the group members suggested I do a search for quotes from Shakespeare and use one of those as the title. After all, how does Something Wicked This Way Comes (an allusion to Macbeth) compare to The Devil in the Carnival?

Well, I couldn't find any relevant Shakespeare quotes, nor could I find any from Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, or H.P. Lovecraft (those would be best of all) I felt were appropriate. So I decided to come up with a new title based on the subject matter.

So behold, The God of the Wet Wood. The phrase "the wet wood" comes up in the novel itself, so it's appropriate.

Of course, the writing group is going to critique the entire novel Monday, so that might change.