Thursday, March 31, 2011


A few weeks ago I decided to bite the bullet and generate Kindle versions of my stories as either collections around a theme or as stand alone pieces.

Signing up with Amazon was the easiest part of the process but once I had an account I had to figure out how to generate the mobi format the Kindle requires.  My previous experience with producing a Smashwords eDocument was that it took a lot of fiddling to produce an acceptable document.  I did not want to put that same level of effort into each story since the return on time invested would be so slight at best.

Fortunately I use Scrivener as a writing tool and much to my surprise and delight it was able to produce documents in mobi and epub formats through an easy to use interface. The process that evolved while putting a Sam Boone collection together was first to produce txt versions of each story, then paste that into one of my Scrivener "cards" (each card representing a chapter), and finally compile the story in mobi format and review it on my Kindle reader.  This took several iterations until I finally figured out which were the proper settings needed to make the result more book-like.

The only difficulty was producing a decent cover, since it is the cover that hopefully will attract the eye of the potential reader. For this I used a combination of my own photography, Photoshop elements, and Gimp.  It took several tries to get the aspect ratio correct.

The next, and agonizingly difficult step was pricing the collection.  There is damn little guidance in this area so I stepped back and looked at the pricing of the genre magazines.  Analog and Asimov's both sell for $4.99 an issue.  An issue contains roughly 62,000 words, which equates to about 200 words per kilobyte.  Doing the math means that reasonable pricing should be about $0.0000811312 per kb.  But consumers don't like the prices to be too specific, so I had to round up or down AND pay attention to Amazon's 30% and 70% guidelines, one of which has a $2.99 minimum. Using that as a guide I priced the collections to come as close to the 70% minimum as possible while maintaining the integrity of the collection's theme.

Uploading involved putting all of the metadata in place on the Amazon menu and then waiting forty-eight hours for acceptance before it appeared in the virtual store.

Later I discovered Calibre and am now able to produce copies of my collections in any format and, even better, convert any eDocument from whichever of the dozen eFormats to any other.

All I have to do now is hope that someone, somewhere will buy the stories. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stretching Exercises

I just completed a decent (IMHO) 7500 word short story. What started as a single thought went from idea to finished draft in just ten days using the processes I've described elsewhere in this blog.  The effort was not very strenuous; even putting on an emotive layer and coloring in the world didn't prove that difficult. Satisfied with the result, I sent it out into the wild to find a home.

While casting about for the next story, looking at the latest ideas I'd at least written down, I realized that I could do any of those as easily, as quickly, and with an equal level of quality.  Doing the same thing in the same way does nothing to advance one's facility with the writing affliction or expand one's horizons.  Further, doing the same thing again and again might keep me from writing stories that grasp the hearts and minds of the readers,  that resonate with the human condition, and that take the reader out of themselves and into worlds of wonder.  To accomplish that I might have to step outside of my comfort zone and, perhaps, even outside of the SFF genre.

With that in mind I've started fooling with a pure plot sans content, doing research into possible McGuffins, and playing with character descriptions/viewpoints/alternatives in the hope that something useful can be glimpsed in the resulting mess.  It might be a nugget or a shining gem that comes from this exercise that will propel me to new heights.  On the other hand it may be that I'll reach some insurmountable barrier I have neither the skill nor insight to climb.  It may be that I'll finish a story but it won't be worth reading or fail to find a market (not a new experience by any means.)  For all I know I might take an abrupt right turn at some point and produce another Sam Boone -for God's sake!-- or a masterpiece.  Embarking on this without a firm goal in mind is frightening and uncomfortable, but that shouldn't stop me.

I have to try to become a decent writer.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Symbolic Draft

In her excellent guide to writing novels - Beginnings, Endings, & Middles - Nancy Kress stated that the final draft, after all the other window dressing and plot shifting is over,  is where the symbolism makes itself known.  Her point is not that you slather symbolic import over perfectly good narrative as if it were another coat of paint, but that you have finally reached a point in understanding your story where what was unstated now becomes clear.  Of course, you have to make certain that the reader sees this too so, with a few tweaks, a word here and there, and a bit more description (or less) is all that is necessary to effect this transformation.

In going through the third draft of my latest I came to that symbolic realization while trying to put a bit more emotional color into the two protagonists.  Suddenly I realized it was not a simple, heroic story at all, but a comment on man's inhumanity to man and where the ethical boundaries lie when the stakes are high. With that insight I am now embarking on the fourth and hopefully final draft.

Wish me luck.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Emotive Writing

After reading a bunch of old reviews I come away with the impression that I have been a rather cold writer, delving seldom into emotional issues. In part this is because I write "hard" SF where the emotional opportunities are few and the primary focus is on the facts, not the feelings of [name you thing]

I have always longed to write an insightful, significant, and touching story.  Perhaps one that would evoke tears or incite longing for what might never be or could have been.  I want to elicit emotion, feeling.  I want to engage the reader on both an intellectual and emotional level. It should be about something universal yet applied to not only the protagonist, but to the reader as well. Instead I find that although I have managed to produce salable stories, some parts of which might touch on some of the above, none of them reaches a level that I would be proud of producing.

Was it some fault of my upbringing - my parents insufficiently cruel or uncaring or my environment so unappealing?  No, I can't remember any period where I felt neglected, ignored, or otherwise abused. All in all, I've had a happy, contented life.  Even during periods of unemployment or sickness things have not been all that dark. Is that my problem?  Does a writer need a depressing childhood or flawed relationships to produce emotionally meaningful work?  Do I need some emotionally wrenching experience to enable me to mine the depths for material? Perhaps I am simply not sufficiently talented and capable of only producing the journeyman stories that fill the pages between more memorable works and that I am a mere foot soldier in the war of words.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I often wonder where the ideas come from, the little flashes of insight, memories, or facts that are the germ of a new story. Random events, articles in magazines, the papers, or on the Internet spark something that grows into a "what if" moment.  Usually I chew on it for a while, exploring how it might be worked as a plot, device, or character, fitting it with whatever else gets dredged up in such moments and then, if it seems workable, added to my story ideas file or discarded if it doesn't look like something I'd enjoy working on.  Mostly, the new story ideas come when I'm in the middle of writing something else and don't have time for digressions (as opposed to most writing time when I am desperate to digress into anything more interesting than plastering words on the screen.)

At a con several years ago I joked that I got my story ideas from a guy in New Jersey who, for ten bucks a month, sent me a postcard filled with story ideas.  That got a laugh, but when more than one fan came up to me for his address and asked if he had a subscription service. I began to wonder if I couldn't start a business of thus relieving the legions of conceptually impaired of their money by offering just such a service.

It wouldn't take much.  Every day I have at least three ideas for a story but only the time and energy to write one or two a month.  That means I must discard eighty or ninety story ideas each month for one reason or another.  It would be no great labor to prepare such cards and mailing them would cost little extra.   In MBA terms the project would allow me to realize frangible economic gains from capitalizing on my excess productive capacity with little inventory dissolution.

Exciting as that possibility might be I blush at prostituting my writerly soul with such mundane concerns.  Besides, there can't be that many idiots out there who think they can actually buy story ideas, are there?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Scene Theory 105

  I plotted the latest short story initially as an ten line outline with only a word or two of description on what it might contain.  Using that  outline as a guide I created more complete scene descriptions, changing the single words into sentences and, to be honest, adding more ideas.  I put the scenes in the order I wanted - in this case as chronologically continuous sequences - and then wrote each scene, fleshing out the sentences, and ensuring that all the scene elements are there.

When I completed all of the scenes I had a first draft that contained all the action sequences, dramatic point, and established the principal players, primarily the protagonist and antagonist and the forces that drive them.  I did a final check to make sure that the flow felt right.

During the second draft I tried to develop the characters into more than plastic action figures.  This involved filling out some personal background details, imbuing them with recognizable personalities, and developing the multiple relationships among the principals.  Giving them names and roles not already in the first draft is an important addition at this stage.

At the same time I tried to paint a word picture of the environment where the characters are performing.  This meant creating a more complete world where weather, insects, and plants existed.  I tried to appeal to all the senses - sight, sound, smell, and the way movement feels as you pass through a glen or wade across a stream. How does water sound when rushing over a rock filled stream, for example.

The driving force of the second draft was to make the story come alive for the reader and put as many associative hooks into the story as possible so that the reader becomes the protagonist, becomes one with the world I created.

The final draft is making certain that the logic holds, the details are "correct," and that spelling and punctuation are acceptable.  After that it is a matter only of finding a welcoming home for the beast.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


After reading yesterday's post I want to assure everyone that I am not contemplating suicide   I was just in a funk from not being able to write anything decent - a dry spell, nothing more, that passed within a day.

I think every writer goes through these periods of despondency, these dark hours when you doubt your ability to produce anything of worth.  It's part of the manic-depressive cycle of creativity where periods of depression are counterbalanced by manic happiness where words pour out of you like a golden shower and nothing, absolutely nothing written has any faults whatesoever.

Of course, that opinion changes when you start editing.

So today I revert to my manic state and write, write, write, ever hopeful that this day will actually be good instead of just feeling that way.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


One day it hits you that there will be an end to this; that one day you will close the unfinished piece you are working on and simply walk away from the keyboard, never to return.  On that day you will realize that all you have written, the millions of words you've edited, the few that managed to be published, and the too-many pieces of unsold stories languishing in the dark recesses of your hard drives are nothing more than scratches in the sand, doomed to be washed away by the rising tide of other younger writers who will together produce more in any single day than you could in your entire life and further, that many of them will not only write better than you, better than the anyone whose writing you now admire, but most likely better than anyone you're read.

 Maybe the well of creativity has dried up for you on that future day, perhaps a string of rejections has finally etched away the last of that thin armor of hope that has sustained your production of submissions, or perhaps it has simply tired you of the race, the performance, the struggles, and the effort.  Maybe one day you simply decide that the charade is pointless to continue and resign yourself to the fact that all your work will disappear into the heat death of past memory.

You know, I think there's a story there . . .