SELF-PROMOTION SUNDAY: Coming Soon from Ione D

Arlys Endres as Ione D

Arlys Endres as Ione D

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it’s been more fun since acquiring a collaborator, my amazing friend and partner Arlys Holloway. Though at the time she had little writing experience, she has proved to be a very capable co-author. Our character “Ione D” was her idea, as part of a Facebook campaign she devised to promote my steampunk novel, Fidelio’s Automata. Ione’s name is derived from the middle names of Arlys’ mother and father. I immediately fell for the character and decided that she had to star in her own series.

As a man, writing in first person for a female protagonist has been challenging for me. Arlys has been an incredible help, editing and rewriting my draft dialog from a woman’s perspective. Creating this series was partly a marketing move since these days women dominate the audience of avid readers. Though Ione is quite progressive for her time, to our sensibilities she’s a very old-fashioned and proper girl. We felt this would make Ione a refreshing change for the people of our cynical modern era.

Our first Ione D story, Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, takes place in the 1890’s as the 19-year-old Ione moves with her parents to Guatemala, where her father has been appointed the deputy to the US Ambassador there. There she visits the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal, makes an amazing discovery, and uncovers a sinister plot. Our second book takes Ione back to London, the city where she spent much of her childhood. She’s attending the first Royal Epicurean Exhibition, a pet project of the new King Edward. His Majesty aims to rehabilitate the image of English cuisine, featuring a fiercely competitive cooking contest. We’ve been working on it diligently and expect to release it early next year.

Another of our projects is to produce a paper edition of the Mayan Marvel book. Since as a novella it is shorter than a typical book, we plan to supplement it by including artwork at the beginning of each chapter. This project will hopefully be completed in early 2017 as well.

I’d like to remind readers that I haven’t given up my plans to publish a sequel of Fidelio’s Automata, called Fidelio’s Insurrection. The Ione D project has delayed my original plans to get to it next year, but I’ll get to that correctly.

Continue to check out my Sunday blog posts for news of another opportunity to win free books and swag from Nakota Publishing (that’s us!)

Review – Throne of Bones

I first heard of Vox Day in conjunction with the #Gamergate scandal. Day, also known as Theodore Beale, is a writer and game developer who’s become controversial for his outspoken conservatism. My first encounter with his work was a short political book called SJW’s Always Lie, a harsh critique of the so-called “social justice warriors.” The book outlines a simple strategy for protecting oneself from the fanatical progressives who try to silence anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders. Despite his tendency for hyperbole, I enjoyed Day’s abrasive style, and decided to take a look at his fiction. I selected his 2012 fantasy novel Throne of Bones, Arts of Dark and Light, Book One.

In its print version, Throne of Bones is approximately 850 pages, almost as long as a George R. R. Martin work. Due to my busy schedule, and the fact that I’m always reading several books at a time,it took me several months to finish it. But I persevered, and I found it quite enjoyable.

My biggest complaints about Throne apply not to this specific work but to the fantasy genre in general. I prefer novels of about half that length, so I can finish them in a reasonable about of time. There are also too many point-of-view characters and story threads. Just when I get caught up in one of these narratives, it switches to another. If there were just 2 or 3 threads, I’d read on, expecting the author would get back to it soon. When a novel has 7 or 8, I become frustrated.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to recommend this book. Of the plethora of characters, most are well-rounded and interesting. You might expect a notorious radical like Day would create characters who are purely good or evil. Thankfully, he does not. In that way, he’s a lot like (he’ll wince at this comparison) Game of Thrones Martin. This depth of character is complicated by their mores of their world, which are nothing like our modern, tolerant ways. Take for example the general Valerius Corvus, who has his own nephew executed for disobeying orders during a battle. He is a tough, unyielding bastard but is also one of the book’s most sympathetic characters.

The novel’s setting is Selenoth, a Tolkien-like fantasy world. It contains the expected races of humans, elves, dwarves, goblins, and orcs, with some interesting twists. In particular, the elves are not noble and pure like Tolkien’s; they possess a cruel sense of humor and have a xenophobic, genocidal history. Humans on Selenoth are organized loosely in three political groups. The first and most prominent in the story are the Amorrans, denizens of a Roman-type empire that speak a Latin-like tongue and practice a strict, quasi-Christian religion. They rule over a vast number of subservient cities and territories, none of whom possess Amorran citizenship. Secondly, there is Savondir, a neo-French kingdom with a complex aristocracy. Unlike Amorr, which forbids the use of magic on pain of death, Savondir employs battle-mages as part of its military forces. In the third group are the barbarian Dalarn, Viking-like reavers who inhabit the Wolf Islands in the far north.

Much of the action consists of warfare within and between the various human groups, as well as battles against the blood-thirsty, cannibalistic goblins. As I said before, Day does not soften these cultures in line with modern, Western sentiments. There is plenty of killing of and by the protagonists. Amorran martial discipline is enforced by the threat of summary execution. Male-female sex roles are similar to those seen throughout human history, with women taking a subordinate (though often conspiratorial) role. Only among the elves do females have a prominent place in society, due to the magic powers of their virginal sorcerer-priestesses.

My biggest issue with Selenoth society is the imbalance that should be caused by the Amorran ban on magic. I don’t understand how they would not be defeated by Savondir or the elves, both of whom have a magical advantage. The long-lived elves are relatively aloof from human concerns, but the Savonner nobles are as cruel, arrogant, and power-hungry as their Amorran counterparts.

Regardless of what you may think of Day’s politics (and I personally couldn’t care less about an author’s ideology,) Throne of Bones is a great read. If I were to subtract a star for anything, it would be the book’s marathon length and complexity.

The Penguin Makes Music

My fourth and final overview of open-source software for creative people involves music. In my youth I had many years of musical training, which until recently was going to waste. It’s not that I didn’t have the means – I own several electronic pianos – but I wasn’t motivated to play on a regular basis. Linux changed that, by making it easy to compose my own music, which makes things a lot more interesting.


Linux has no shortage of musical tools available on-line. One thing that differs from the other areas I’ve discussed so far is that with music, one must use several tools in tandem. This is more in the spirit of the UNIX/Linux tradition of discrete components, rather than an all-in-one application such as “The Gimp” image editor or Libre-Office Suite. This allows for more flexibility but also makes things more complex. I’ll list the open-source tools I use for creating music, and you can be the judge.


JACK (the JACK Audio Connection Kit) is a sound daemon (server) which provides the backbone of all music applications listed below. It’s like a virtual patch-board, allowing the interconnection of audio and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) data between “JACK aware” applications. Unfortunately, not all programs are configured to use JACK, which is why it’s not yet the de facto Linux sound system. Because it takes control of your system’s audio, you will need to turn it off to play sound from your web browser, for example.

* QjackCtl

This is a graphical tool for controlling JACK without the use of typed commands. QjackCtl creates a list of audio devices, both hardware and software, that can be used as inputs and outputs. It lets the user define input and output connections between them, like a virtual patch bay. It’s not strictly necessary but makes JACK a lot easier to use.

* Fluidsynth

In order to create music on a computer, you either need to record sound from an external device, or to create sounds using a digital specification. “Sound Font 2” is a popular format for the latter; it’s been widely distributed on-line. Like JACK, Fluidsynth doesn’t have its own graphic interface. I found it interesting that Fluidsynth’s default sound fonts contain all the same instrument voices (piano, organ, guitar, trumpet, etc.) as the built-in selections on my Yamaha electronic keyboards. I’ve also found free sound fonts on-line which can produce other sounds such as percussion.

* Qsynth

This is a graphical front-end application for using Fluidsynth, much as QjackCtl is an interface for JACK. I haven’t used Qsynth extensively, except to select sound fonts (voices) for the MIDI sequencer application I’ll describe next.

* Rosegarden

This is the program I spend most of my time using. Rosegarden is a application for music composition and editing. It includes a MIDI sequencer, which can be used as an input to capture notes played on a MIDI instrument (such as my aforementioned Yamaha keyboards.) To do this, I invested in a bit of hardware, the E-mu Xmidi 1×1, a specialized cable which connects the twin round MIDI connectors on my instruments to a USB port on my computer. (I ordered one from for under $30.) If you’re new to this technology, I should note that a sequencer does not record sounds but notes (pitch, duration, attack, etc.) which can be mapped to any sound. This allowed me to make my piano sound like a guitar, ukelele, and an electric bass. As an alternative to Qsynth, you can install the Fluidsynth plugin, which allows you to map an instrument voice to a given track directly in Rosegarden.

Once your melodies and harmonies have been captured, you can edit them in several formats, including the standard sequencer matrix display and old-fashioned music notation. Having had classical training, the latter is my preferred method. This allows me to capture a melody on paper simply by playing it on the piano. Since I’m not very adept in improvisation, it really helps to have the music in front of me. Thus I can improve and embellish on that first performance, re-recording and re-printing it as many times as necessary.

Sadly, I had issues with bugs. In the Linux world, we install applications from the Internet using a command called “apt-get”; this fetches a version of the program created specifically for your current version of Linux. Because I use an older installation of Ubuntu (14.04) and don’t want to update until the next stable long-term Ubuntu is released next spring, I was “stuck” with Rosegarden 13.06. This worked fine for composing, but there were problems when exporting my musical tracks as sheet music. Therefore I downloaded and built a newer Rosegarden (15.12) from source code. It’s a task not for the faint hearted, but it fixed most of my problems.

* LilyPond

If you want to print out the musical scores you create in Rosegarden, the LilyPond program is the best way to do it. LilyPond is a music engraving program, which produces high-quality sheet music from the LilyPond-format (.ly extension) files you can export from Rosegarden. It’s a command line program which accepts a file called “” and converts it to “somefile.pdf” in Adobe Acrobat format, which allows it to be viewed onscreen or sent to a printer.

As I stated earlier, Rosegarden 13 had a bug in producing the lilypond “ly” input files. This caused the Lilypond program to become “confused” about how music was to be broken up into measures, to the point that it would sometimes make a line of music run right off the page! I was able to edit the “ly” files in a text editor to fix these issues, but that was a time-consuming annoyance that made it well worth upgrading to Rosegarden 15.

* JACK Timemachine

If you want to convert your new music into an MP3 file that can be played on your phone or iPod, there are a few more missing pieces. Rosegarden lets you play your music files over your computer’s speakers, but to hear it on another device, you need a “recorder” application such as JACK Timemachine. When you launch this program it appears as a device in the configuration list of Qjackctl. You connect the output of Rosegarden to the input of JACK Timemachine, and then play and record your piece, which is saved as an audio file in 64-bit WAV (w64) format.

* Sox and LAME

Bear with me; we’re on the home stretch. The aforementioned JACK Timemachine is a very simple program that only records music in one format. To change it into a more usable file, you need a music converter such as Sox (Sound Exchange) the “Swiss Army knife” of audio file conversion. Sox is a command-line tool that allows you to convert the w64 files into more playable formats such as WAV and OGG. Unfortunately the popular MP3 file format is patented and technically requires royalties to be paid; therefore Sox (being free of charge) does not include the MP3 plug-in. For do that you must recompile the Sox program from source with an MP3 plugin (requires a fair bit of computer expertise) or better yet, install the “LAME” MP3 encoder to do that last conversion. Why Sox can’t include this function, and yet it can be in LAME as a separate program, I have no idea. Leave that one to the lawyers.

I apologize for this long post and hope it hasn’t been too intimidating. If open-source music tools are complicated, they make up for it in their flexibility and power. Best of all, they’re free, with plenty of help available online. Remember, most of these open-source programs are also available for Windows and Mac. Happy composing!


Don’t Fear the Penguin, Part 3 – Linux Publishing Tools


At one time, Linux aficionados who write – especially self-published authors – faced the hassle of getting access to a system running Windows or Mac to get their books ready for publication. Those days are over. The open-source world offers increasingly powerful tools for writers. Though I’m not aware of a Linux version of the popular writer’s tool Scrivener at this time, I’ve never really felt a need for it, except for its handy e-book conversion feature. Now there are other options.

The first is Calibre, a general-purpose e-book management program created by Kovid Goyal. The program allows you to catalog your e-books, read them on your computer, and synch with your e-reader device. More important to me as an author is the e-book conversion feature. Calibre lets you import your word processor document, apply formatting, and generate features such as tables of contents. It also lets you view and manipulate the raw HTML code that comprises your book, which is really handy for both editing and troubleshooting. I want to give props to the program’s creator, because when I posted a question on the program’s forum, he answered it personally.

At this point I must note that there are two ways a writer can proceed in book creation, One way is to do the formatting in a standard word processor and a conversion application to get it ready. I’ve tried this in the past (on my first book Centrifugal Force) and it was a troublesome approach. Conversion tools inevitably mess up some of the formatting, particularly if you’re using Open Office or Libre Office rather than Microsoft Word. The better approach is to do as little formatting as possible up front, saving if for the publishing program. With this approach it’s helpful to use unique and consistent text markers for specific features of the book, for example, to use asterisks or hash-tags to indicate scene transitions. These can be updated by using the search/replace features of the publishing program. This is how I did my second book, Fidelio’s Automata — and I didn’t have to reboot to Windows AT ALL to do the conversion.

This brings us to the topic of desktop publishing. For those of you have never used one (PageMaker and QuarkXPress ) are popular non-free options), it’s a whole different animal than word processing. Desktop publishing applications are focused on layout, and making the printed matter look good. Word processors do this, but not well. For example, I’ve gone through a rather involved process to make Open Office suppress page headers on the first page of each chapter. Another important consideration is that just-in-time publishers like Lightning Source require a very specific type of PDF (PDF/x-1a:2001) to be submitted for book manufacture. Yes, any good word processor can export a generic PDF, but can they embed fonts and do other necessary setup?

For desktop publishing, the Linux world has Scribus. In the past the program had a number of serious problems. The worst was that the stable version didn’t create the correct PDF formats; for that you had to use an unstable beta version of the program. As of version 1.4.5, this is fixed. Another weakness affects Scribus’ most powerful feature, its scripting facility, which allows you to perform repetitive programming tasks quickly. Scripts must be written in the Python language, which isn’t at all difficult for someone who already knows programming. The difficult is with the program’s library functions, which the script must access to do anything useful. The Scribus help files contain a reference, but it’s not thorough enough. It took me hours of tinkering to figure out how to do search/replace within a multi-page document. It’s also not totally intuitive how to insert or delete pages without corrupting the left/right formatting. As with most open-source programs, there’s an online forum; unfortunately most participants seem to be doing short works like newsletters or fliers, not novels. There are “how to” books for Scribus, but I hate buying a general-purpose book to learn one task. Sometime soon I will convert my notes into a quick step by step guide for novel creation, which I’ll make available for 99 cents on Amazon, along with my custom python formatting scripts.

As you’d expect both of these programs are also available for Mac OSX and Windows.

Next week’s installation, if I don’t get distracted by any wacky news events, will discuss Linux tools for musicians.

About the illustration: some people are crazy enough about Linux to get the Mighty Penguin Tux embedded in the skin. Tattoo by Kyle Dunbar.


Linux Art Tools for the Talented (and untalented)


The movie Naked Lunch would not have been nearly so dark if, instead of turning into a cockroach, the protagonist’s typewriter would have turned into an adorable penguin. So in honor of the second installment in my Linux posts, which deals with image manipulation programs, I decided to create one. Unfortunately, due to my lack of artistic talent, it ended up looking more like penguin roadkill than anything – but you get the idea.

For what it’s worth, I did the attached illustration with the GIMP, an open-source image editing program similar to Photoshop, without the hefty price tag. The name is an acronym, GNU Image Manipulation Program. (The word “Gnu,” which you’ll see applied to a lot of things Linux, stands for “Gnu is Not Unix,: a bit of computer geek humor.) Like many of these open-source programs, it has versions for Windows and MacOS as well as Linux. The GIMP has a steep learning curve, but you don’t need a manual, just Google. There are thousands of fellow GIMP users out there who are more than willing to help you. Like any serious imaging program, it lets you work with layers and transparency. I have used GIMP for finalizing the cover art for my last two books. Once the artist has completed the illustrations, I use it to add the title and author name, the back cover blurb, and the lettering on the spine. GIMP saves images to its own format, XCF, but you can export things as PNG, JPG, and all other major formats. When I imported the Fidelio cover art from a Photoshop file; it wouldn’t display correctly, but I was still able to extract the layers and paste them into a new document. All in all, the GIMP is a very powerful program.

Inkscape is another image program I’ve recently started using. Unlike GIMP, it’s not a photo editor but a vector drawing program. It’s more equivalent to Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw. Vectors are not fixed-size pixel drawings; rather they’re abstract mathematical objects that can be scaled up or down with ease. I’ve got a lot of experience with the latter because I use it in my day job to create files for our laser engraver. Therefore I was looking for an equivalent program I could use on Linux. The first thing I tried was to import a Corel Draw file. It was only partially successful, as the “hairline” (zero width) vectors did not come across. It does far better if you export from Corel to SVG format. Inkscape does, however, have its own hairline vectors, a necessity for drawing “cut” lines for the laser. As with the GIMP, Inkscape also has versions for Windows and MacOS.

In the Linux world, one of the paradigms seems to be, why use an existing application when you can create your own? Consequently there are many open-source graphics programs to choose from. The ones I mentioned above are the ones I use the majority of the time. However, I can’t neglect mentioning a handy little program called xfce4-screenshooter, which in Ubuntu Linux pops up every time to press the Print Screen Key. It shows a thumbnail of your screen image, and gives you the option of saving it, copying it to the clipboard, opening it in a graphics viewer or editor, or posting it to ZimageZ, a free hosting site for images and photo galleries.

Penguin photo from


Fidelio’s Automata is now in print!

To prove this site is not just about sedition, but sci-fi as well, I’m announcing the release of the print edition of my new book Fidelio’s Automata, To celebrate, I’m having a sale on Amazon. The e-book versions of Fidelio, as well as my previous book Centrifugal Force, will be available for $0.99, starting Sunday for four days only!

Many of the low-priced books on Amazon are not much more than pamphlets, for which 99 cents is an appropriate price. Less than a buck is a real bargain for a 300-page steampunk adventure. Escape to the America of 1901 – an exciting time when technology was transforming the world. It was the era of the innovators: Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers, and many others. As one would expect from the genre, in this alternate history things turn out a bit differently.

Fidelio Espinoza, a brilliant and idealistic young Cuban, arrives in the United States with the goal of perfecting his spider automaton, a machine that will free humans from the dangerous, backbreaking work of mines and factories. Here he meets Hank, a cowboy turned Quaker who has vowed to atone for his sinful past, in particular, his participation in the recent war with Spain.

Despite all the progress and social upheaval of the Gilded Age, this is a time when Fidelio, a gay man, must hide his true nature or risk ostracism or worse. For the devout Hank their friendship poses a dilemma: should he respond with judgment or acceptance?

After a prototype of Fidelio’s creation falls into the wrong hands, he and Hank join forces with eccentric genius Nikola Tesla to prevent this creation from being used in the service of oppression.