Monday, April 30, 2012

Arlo and Jake part 2

I'm learning. Slowly but surely, I'm learning.

I've rewrote the outline a couple of times, trying new base concepts in the story line, like making Jake a replacement for the Chief Engineer instead of just being conscripted and working his way up the ranks.
Not real sure why I liked that change but it seemed good at the time.

I also added a new Chapter One that set up Jake's past a little instead of plopping him into the fray immediately, so to speak. I let a fellow author review it and voila, the obvious comment of 'you don't need that intro chapter, Dad, I liked it better the first way.'

And she was right.

My goal had been to rough out an outline and first couple of chapters, finish out the outline as far as I could and then start writing.

Instead I did 2 things I should not have done.

First, I recast my main characters place in the world, from lowly seaman recruit to chief Engineer replacement. That's going to limit what I can do with him script wise if I'm just looking for a good 'rags to riches' story in space. I need him to start at the bottom and claw or fall into the higher ranks.

Second, I wrote a really great intro chapter that slows down the start of the story a lot.

So. I'll go back to my original plot and make Jake and Arlo climb the ranks. And I'll save the intro contents, using them later in the story.

I don't think anything I did was wasted time, it's just that frustration of not seeing where I was veering off the good path until I was well into the woods.

Ain't writin' fun?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Arlo and Jake Enlist

Sorry for the late post, been down and out for a few days. Feeling well enough now to post more on my 'quick story' exercise.

'Arlo and Jake Enlist' is progressing nicely. I have chapter One and Two in draft and the story is fleshing out nicely in my head. I'm almost done with the outline now that I have a story concept and first chapter to power the story.

I think I have story concepts for at least 10 books about Arlo and Jake. The series takes our two unintentional heroes through out the universe, rising in the ranks, serving Captain Starla and wooing Lt. Tillet.

The stories are basically cowboys in space but I'm really trying to add the right level of humor and romance so everyone has something to like.

I'll post an outline next and a snippet of the first book. Here's a little from the draft of Chapter One from 'Arlo and Jake Enlist'.
Keep writing!

Arlo and Jake Enlist
snippet from Chapter One
“I’m telling you, Arlo, retirement is going to be awesome.” I murmured, stroking Arlo’s snout ridge absently. Gazing out from the porch of my beach house, I scooched my butt around in the old wooden lounge chair, trying to get comfortable.
I glanced down at the big, emerald-green panther chameleon perched on the flat chair arm, and chuckled. “Forty years twiddling bits was enough, Arlo. It was time to stop making the corporate fat bosses fatter and live the good life. Wadda ya say, buckoo?” I glance over my Fat Tire at my little cold natured buddy, waiting for a reply; sort of. After half a dozen bottles of my favorite brew I tend to forget Arlo is only talking back to me in my imagination. I think.
And right on cue he turned his freaky little left eye 180 degrees to look back at me, keeping the right one glued forward. A tiny little Sean Connery voice echoed in my head. “Sure, Dude. You coded like a lion, man. You deserve to kick back and watch the hotties strut down the beach. Live it up Dude, for tomorrow you die.”  His eye flicked back forward. You’re creepy me out, little buddy. Hmmm. One more brew and it’s time to lay off for the afternoon.
I took another swig and straightened on my new Hawaiian shirt, bright green parrots in a jungle scene. I settled back and looked up to the beach just in time to catch a pair of beach bunnies sliding by in the latest swim suit fashion; flesh colored, almost invisible thongs bikinis. Nice. I’m not sure if it’s fashion or just a creative way to use knitted dental floss but my complements to the designer. Sigh. Too bad I have grand kids older than they are.
I settled my favorite straw hat down a little further on my head and tipped the bottle at the redhead. Usually the girls passing by just ignore me and my old fashion displays of gratitude but this time she actually smiled and gave me a little wave as they walked by. I think my heart actually stopped for moment. Now what the hell would you do if she came over and started talking to you? Iron willed you are not and all you’d remember afterwards are the lack of tan lines. Would you remember the color of her eyes? Hmmm, I’m sure she had eyes but... no, got no clue.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Writing a quick story

We interrupt this blog to make it more interesting. I've got lots more to say about writing Genome but I need to do some writing this week or I'll go nuts. So you might as well follow along.

I've got an idea for a series of novelettes that should be a lot of fun. I want to outline them, write the first book and get it out there. The more you write the better you get, it's that simple. At least that's what everyone says.

Onward into the dark my friends!

The basic series premise so far involves Jake, a recent retiree (hmm foreshadowing? '-) and his pet lizard, Arlo. Finally easing into his golden years in Port Aransas, Texas, his life takes a definite twist when they are 'conscripted' by a passing space frigate. Jake and Arlo begin their adventures in the Mekalon Space Fleet.

Yes it's cheesy. Frigates in space. Conscripted 'sailors'. Arlo suddenly gains conciousness. And of course the Captain is a beautiful humanoid privateer. Who saw that coming?

I'll post more as the first book fleshes out. Time to write. Hard to port, me buckoos!

Keep writing!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

To Tweet or Not To Tweet. Really?

ePub authors must act as their own agents and publishers. Along with the freedom to write and publish without the 'overhead' of editors, publisher, agents, et al, comes realisation that those people and institutions do provide value IF you can get a book with them. Which is the rub of course.

So as I continue my journey into self publishing I find I need to learn to 'tweet'. Add all you own jokes about 'tweet-cred' vs 'street-cred' here.
My friends that graciously push me along in the social media jungle have strongly suggested I create a twitter account and start 'lurking' about ePub, self publishing, writing and any other tag I can think of.

'Lurking' is where you sign onto your twitter account, search for your subject and then just read the feed. You are a passive observer to the subject, finding out what the community is interested in and talking about. Once you get an idea how/why/what/who/etc is slicing through the cyberwaves, you can start entering into the stream and contribute.
For the record, tweeting seems like a glorified chat room to me. Much like FB seems like a glorified user group. Call me crazy.

The hope is that I'll be able to make friends and associates in the ePub area and benefit from their experiences and expertise and vice versa.
OK. I created my twitter account at Twitter, and now I lurk. You'll not be surprised that my account is @garyalanhenson. I'm so predictable. It's a gift.

Today I'm going to take the plunge and get my virtual feet wet. I'm actually going to tweet.

Once more into the tweet,dear friends... sorry, couldn't resist.

Keep writing!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Moral Support

You can never have enough support.

I worked very hard for a very long time to create 'Genome'. I had lots of starts and stops. I lost and regained my confidence many times. I had many moments of anguish over nothing. All though this I had the moral support of friends and family, especially my wife Debbie and my daughter Amber. Towards the end I gained a surprise friend and supporter in Rocky Angelucci, a budding author himself. I'll post more about his book when he publishes, which should be very soon.

I didn't work with a writers group, though I could have, there are several in the area including one I worked with a few years ago. I wish that I had made more of an effort to meet and work with them again during this process. It was all my fault not theirs.

If you have a writers group in your area, go to a meeting, introduce yourself and PARTICIPATE! Bring in snippets and pass 'em around. Ask for readings. Ask for help. Ask if anyone has similar tastes and projects. Do readings for them. Encourage them and be a sounding board for their work no matter what stage it's in, even if it's not your cup of tea.

I'm not into supernatural romance novels. I didn't even know they existed to be truthful. But I was contacted by S. C. Mitchell (check out his blog 'A Writer's Haven' ) after he read one of my blog posts. We found out we have similar backgrounds but he writes for a different audience. So I bought one of his ebooks ( There's no such thing as Werewolves ) to see for myself. I like Steve's writing style and how he drew me immediately into his characters lives. I like other things about this book but I'm doing a review so you can read that later.

The point is that I pushed myself into a new area and found another support system. Steve and I correspond now and he's even doing an interview with me. I hope Steve and I keep trading ideas and between us I'm sure we'll both benefit. We each sought out support, stepping tentatively out into the dark, outside our comfort zones. It's paying off.

I'll let you know as I find more ways to help you. Stay turned and keep writing!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

How big is 'enough' for a novel?

I struggled a bit with how many words I needed to classify 'Genome' a true novel, versus a novella or other shorter work. I cruised the web looking for the definitive authority, the writers pages, the wiki entries, SOME place that sounded official.
I found so many contradictions I gave up. I decided to pick one so I picked the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America word counts. You can check it out here if you're interested.

This cleared the way for me to decide if I wanted to try for novella (17,500) or novel ( at least 40,000) word count. That was important to me because I wanted my first book to be a 'normal sized' novel rather than 'just enough' to call it a book. I wanted to push myself and see if I had the stamina to get out a novel.

Shorter works are just as important to literature as a novel. Since it was based on my screenplay I felt it should be a novel. You know; 'based on the fantastic novel Your Favorite Author, this movie adaptation, etc, etc' only in reverse.

I knew I had enough for a novella already but I didn't have the 40,000 mark. I think I was around 30,000 or 40,000 when I decided to push on and see what I could do. I'm really glad I did and I would recommended the exercise to you as well.

Here's why: it made me go back and actually read the book again and 'taste it' so to speak. Reading it as someone else would for the first time. And I found that it was weak.

As an example, I hadn't really fleshed out the Geek squad yet, there was only Jerry the uber geek. Here was a great plot line I could explore. The result gave the company a more believable feel because now the major characters had better developed minor characters to interact with. Minor characters maybe, but characters that lend a lot of interest to the plot and add that tension an author is always looking for.

I also decided I could really expand on the AI character of 'PIP'. Expanding the Geek squad also helped expand PIP and gave me an additional chance to play with their interactions. As I said in a previous post, expanding on PIP was a blast and makes the book much better overall. Score!

Towards the end of the book I have a scene in a graveyard that I just didn't like. I was still light on my target word count so I decided to chuck what I had and rewrite it. It was a challenge to say the least! I was around 55,000 words by then and I was just trying to get past 60,000. But rewriting the scene just to get a better word count actually became secondary to making it much better once I dove in.

I had not realized that the scene was just plain 'unfinished'. It ended the story of course but that's all it did. It didn't give me that roller coaster ride, adrenaline rush I thought it should have. It didn't take advantage of all the 'foreshadowing' I had written into the story. It was pretty dull. Nuts. So again I dove in to a rewrite. I explored several possible plot paths until I found a much more satisfying end to the story. Again, SCORE!

So I'm not advocating you pick a word count for your book based on my expectations or the SFFWA for that matter. I'm advocating that you decide for yourself if 40,0000 or 60,000 or 100,000 is what you consider the right size for a novel.

The lesson for me was that the word count was less important than the exercise of rereading the book, reconsidering if each part or character had some room to grow. I would have missed some great opportunities otherwise. As I continue to write maybe I'll just 'know' when everything is right. Until then I'll stick with what works for me.

BTW, I haven't tried the discipline of XXX number of words a day yet. Does anyone have useful experience on that method?

Keep the muse happy, write something great today!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The making of an AI

One of things I had the most fun with in Genome was 'PIP', the laboratory Artificial Intelligence 'character'. You can try to guess what 'PIP' is an acronym for or better yet grab the book and find out!

PIP grew from being a text based interface that Jack used to run the genetics lab to being a full fledged AI. PIP evolved into a holographic avatar that continues to 'mature' and morph as the book goes along. 'She' is integrated with the holographic modeling 'room' (think holo deck on steroids for you Trekkie's), running the labs and interfacing with the other book characters.

It was a real challenge to show PIP 'growing' along with the rest of the story. I introduce a very simple version of the modeling interface software at the beginning of the book along with the other characters. As the book progresses, the characters grow up and so does PIP. Sort of.

PIP allowed me to integrate a team of geeks into the story line as well. The team creates and enhances PIP's capabilities throughout the story line, even up to the end. It gave me more characters to interact with and gave the story a lot more interest.

It was also a place where I could try out some long brewing ideas from my imagination bank. I had a lot of fun with the 'what if' parts? In this case, what if an AI could morph in context with the human it was interacting with? And what happens when the AI gets it wrong? What if one of its creators is obsessed with early TV actresses and bombshells? Isn't imagination wonderful?

PIP ended up being an integral part of the plot. She moved the story forward in several places, becoming what I like to refer to as an 'enabler'. An enabler is some physical or conceptional 'thing' that the reader just has to accept as 'possible' for the story to work.

An example of an enabler might be 'subspace' in the Star Trek TV series. In many story lines they added 'subspace' with some other techno term and voila! you had the answer to the current problem facing the intrepid crew of the Enterprise. (BTW, I'm a true fan of the series. This is just a ready example.) In the Star Wars series of course the enabler is the 'force'.

I actually backed off on some of my original ideas for PIP. I didn't need them to move the story forward and I realized that I could use these ideas in the next Genome story. Having PIP 'grow' is going to be pivotal in the next story and it's going to be a blast to work on her more. So I smugly put those ideas back in my pocket.

So. I'll introduce you to PIP. Say hello to my readers, PIP. "Hello to my readers," pipes up the silky voice from your speaker. "I hope to entertain you soon! Too bad you don't have a holo projector on this computer."

Say goodbye PIP. "Bye, bye for now."

OK, now you've been introduced to one of my cool characters.

Time for you to work on yours!

Happy writing!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Getting it 'Published'

More about writing 'Genome' in later blogs but I want to stop here and fast forward to getting the book 'published' via ePub 'publishers'. If you've got a book ready it's time to get it out there. You wouldn't be reading my blog unless you're thinking about taking the ePub route to fame and fortune.

Of course if your goal is really fame and/or fortune writing in general and writing for ePub most likely will NOT get you there. From what I've seen and read so far in this first book adventure, ePub provides you with a cheap way to put your book in cyber-shops but by no means guarantees it will be seen or will sell. Author beware!

I publish on Amazon through their 'Kindle Direct Publishing' program.

I publish on Barnes and Noble through their PubIt! program.

Both programs allow you to publish 'non-exclusive' as long as you don't sell your book at a greater list price on the other sites. I priced 'Genome' the same on both sites.

You need to visit the program sites and read all the terms and conditions before you consider putting  your book up for sale anywhere. Though similar there are subtle differences between publishers, including how you set up your accounts and what royalties you are paid.

I joined the B&N program first because I have several Nook Color tablets and I saw the program advertised there first. It wasn't until I had published that friends complained that they couldn't read it on their Kindles and what the heck was I thinking?

So I quickly read up on KDP program and decided it was well worth the effort to enroll in both. As I'm reading more and more ePub author comments, I'm learning that there are other ePub venues that I need to pursue as well. But since I have a real job twiddling bits (software geek) I can only do so much research at a time.

I'm going to prioritize the next bottle of Grey Goose martini's to be a search for the next publisher I use. I'm slow and easily distracted; writing is a perfect career choice, don't 'cha 'tink?

More on my adventures with ePub publishers next. Yea.

Write more stuff, ya'll.