Announcing a New Flash Fiction Anthology

Announcing “Christmas in Love: A Flash Fiction Anthology” edited by George Donnelly and featuring a story by Yours Truly. This new collection of short works is now available on Amazon.

The Kindle version is available FREE for a limited time so act now!

From the description on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MQVG0JL

From an unexpected twist on a classic Christmas tale and a soldier returning home from war to a pair of girls waiting for an unlikely Christmas wish to come true and a creepy evening in a museum, fill your briefest moments with this collection of 18 flash fiction stories.
Commuting to work? Grabbing a quick coffee? Each story tells a complete tale in but a few short minutes with the added promise of a lifelong introduction to new indie writers.
You never know, you might just find your next favorite author.
Christmas in Love, the third anthology in the Flash Flood series, is a hand-picked selection of master works in romance, science fiction and fantasy themed for Christmas and guaranteed to keep you engaged.

If you like Christmas and science fiction, this would be a perfect (and frugal) gift for yourself or friends and family.

Steampunk Holiday Promotion, Part II

ione_telescope

Ione D spies a holiday promotion!

Time marches on. I have long last begun the formatting of Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, my first literary collaboration with Arlys Holloway. Although the novella has been available in e-book format since May, it doesn’t seem quite real to me until I have a paper copy I can hold in my hands. This edition will be supplemented with chapter illustrations by Ben Gill, a very talented local artist we met while working on our play in conjunction with Phoenix Pride.

It’s exciting to take another step toward bringing these stories to life. Someday, perhaps we can find an artist with the time and inclination to work with us on a graphic novel version. For the author, it’s akin to writing a script, complete with scene direction. Artistically, it’s a much larger amount of work, which is why graphic novelists often outsource the inking and shading to a country with lower wage rates. We sure hope the Donald doesn’t find out, or we may be in trouble! Seriously, though, from the comic, it’s a short hop to a full-blown animation, which has always been a dream of mine. How about a score by steampunk luminaries such as Abney Park or Steam Powered Giraffe?

While we do that, we’re also editing the second book in the series, Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident, which takes place in London in 1901. Our progress has been slowed a bit by the demands of our day jobs. Hopefully, we will both have more free time after the holidays.

In honor of this next step, we have declared a fiction giveaway contest. No money is required; all you need to do is like and/or share the relevant post as it appears on my Facebook author page today December 4th, or last Sunday’s post (it’s a Steampunk Christmas) in which we first announced it. All who do so between now and December 11th will be entered into a random drawing. First prize is a free novel in paperback form, either my steampunk novel Fidelio’s Automata or my earlier work, Centrifugal Force. There will also be five second prizes of a free e-book download from our works listed on Amazon. For the paperback, we’ll need to have your physical address of course, but don’t worry, we won’t spam you and we never share that information. (Due to the high cost of overseas shipping, US addresses only please!)

https://www.amazon.com/Miss-Ione-Mayan-Marvel-Adventures-ebook/dp/B01G2TBBPU

A Pause To Appreciate

arizonascene

We all have different things to be thankful for. The pilgrims, who gathered together in November of 1621, were glad to be alive after a harrowing first year in the New World. Their new friends the Wampanoag were thankful for the land and its bounty, an unspoiled place that still belonged to them. Though we seldom think about Thanksgiving from the Native American perspective, it should remind us all that what the things we love most can easily be lost.

Today, however, on this cool Sunday afternoon, washed clean with the rain, I don’t want to dwell on the negative. In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I’d like to express my thanks for the following:

For free speech in America, still unparalleled in the world.

For all the brilliant writers who have entertained and inspired me.

For the technology that has revolutionized publishing, and the opportunity to express myself as a writer.

For Linux and the free software that allows me to make the most of the creative process.

For lessening tensions between the US and Russia, and hope for lasting peace in the Middle East.

For Arizona, a place that brings together the best of urban life and the natural world.

For the many friends, colleagues and acquaintances over the years, with their different beliefs, faiths, and backgrounds, who have enriched my life.

For my loving family that accepts me despite my numerous quirks.

And for Arlys-Allegra, who is wonderful beyond words.

Life is good!

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!)

WRITERS’ WEDNESDAY: Writing for the Theater: A Horse of a Different Color

Theater Masks

Something appealing, something appalling…

When I joined a theater group a few years ago, I already had experience writing novels and stories. The transition was not as easy as I’d expected. Although a novel can be adapted to a script and vice versa, the two are different art forms. At the time I decided it would be easier to create a new work. I remembered stories my girlfriend Arlys had told me of her weird on-line dating experiences, and voila, a musical comedy was born! I’ll save the rest of that story for an upcoming Self-promotion Sunday post.

The first rule of script writing is that your audience – producers, directors, and actors – expect it to be in a specific format. Using a word-processor template can make this easy. There’s a reason for using the archaic Courier font: it helps keep the timing consistent. As a rule of thumb, a page of dialog should last a minute on stage, but in practice that can vary greatly.

Secondly, converting standard prose to script can be challenging. Your pretty description and narrative must be replaced with scene and stage direction, which should be as concise and utilitarian as possible. How thorough you make these directions is a matter of personal style. Some famous playwrights, such as Pinter, use almost none. In any case, you will surrender much of your creative control to directors, actors, and set designers.

This conversion will be easier if you follow the cardinal rule of good writing: show don’t tell. In the theater, the writer shows through dialog and action. A good set can be helpful, but a play can be just as effective on a bare stage. If necessary, a character can play the role of a narrator, but this device should be used sparingly.

Comedy is a difficult genre in any form because humor is a personal thing. Unless you’re a natural, I suggest writing comedy with a co-author. The social dynamics of collaboration will help you come up with better, funnier jokes.

Music adds another layer of complexity. It’s good to have a song occur early in the scene, for maximum impact. Of course, the flow of the dialog will determine the ideal place for a song to occur.

Theater writing has its positive aspects, of course. Even if it’s not your primary mode of expression it’s a good exercise. It incorporates a social element that the solitary habit of writing normally lacks. Larger cities often have showcases for local talent, and they’re always looking for new works. These provide good opportunities for publicity and increased name recognition.

In this short post, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic. My primary message is not to underestimate the challenge of writing for the theater, but also to point out its potential rewards. As the saying goes, there’s no business like show business!

For some dramatic storytelling, check out my books on Amazon.com.

Self-Promotion Sunday: My Journey So Far

Book covers, Centrifugal Force & Fidelio's Automata

My first two novels: Centrifugal Force & Fidelio’s Automata

In 2007 I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming an author. At the time I was a self-employed software consultant. I realized I wouldn’t have sufficient time for writing as long as I was self-employed. I also knew I couldn’t expect to support myself as a writer any time soon. Therefore I accepted an offer of full-time employment and settled into a normal, 40-hour work week. Shortly afterward I began work on my first novel, a near-future science fiction adventure called Centrifugal Force. Because of the book’s political leanings, I doubted I’d find a mainstream publisher, but this didn’t matter. My goal was to express myself, not to become rich and famous.

This was not my first serious attempt at writing fiction. Two decades earlier, I took creative writing courses, attended workshops, and wrote a number of short stories. I submitted a number of these stories to science fiction magazines, but none were accepted for publication. I realize now that I hadn’t put enough work into learning the craft. Now, years later, I was ready to make the necessary sacrifices.

My first act was to join a writers’ group. Through the website meetup.com I found a local sci-fi oriented group called the Grendelmen, after the monster from Beowulf. Through my participation in that and succeeding groups, I made a lot of new friends and learned a tremendous amount about writing.

During this time there were a number of side detours, all of which were valuable learning experiences. From my fellow writers, I learned the benefit of a thoughtful critique and honest feedback. They also motivated me to try writing in unfamiliar genres such as urban fantasy and theater.

In 2012 I finally completed Centrifugal Force. As I expected, the agents I showed it to expressed no interest. That was OK; I knew it wasn’t the kind of work that publishers were currently seeking. I chose the self-publication route on Amazon.com, and although I haven’t seen a lot of sales so far, it was really satisfying to hold my creation in my hands.

Since then, I have worked primarily in the genre of historical science fiction, also known as steampunk. My second novel, Fidelio’s Automata, is about the struggle of an idealistic young inventor to recover his stolen invention, and features eccentric genius Nikola Tesla. Currently, I’m collaborating with my partner Arlys Holloway on the “Professor Ione D” series of steampunk mysteries.

It’s been great fun, but it would be even more enjoyable if I could share my work with a larger audience. Toward that end, Arlys and I will soon be having a giveaway of free copies of Fidelio’s Automata and additional steampunk goodies. See next Sunday’s blog post for more information.

Check out Force and Fidelio on Amazon.com.

My Favorite Collaborator

Arlys_statue

For Valentine’s Day I thought I should write about hearts and flowers, but the closest topic I could come up with was collaboration. Seriously, it’s a lot like a romantic relationship. When we consider the famous creative duos, such as Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Cheech and Chong, we can see that a creative partnership is a lot like a marriage, with interpersonal drama, conflict and compromise. Some teams are tempestuous and brief, and others last a lifetime.

As for me, collaboration has rarely worked. Most of the time the chemistry just isn’t there. Some people aren’t committed and don’t pull their weight; I had a high school debate partner who was like that. Others are overly invested in everything, and argue or take offense at constructive criticism.

The best partnerships are those that happen naturally. In grade school, my best friend was Joel, who shared my bizarre sense of humor. We were doing “Mad Libs” before it was popular, as we started our story-writing by crossing out and replacing words in old textbooks. Nothing we wrote was anything someone older than 12 would find appreciate, but still, we had a hilarious time doing it.

Besides co-writing those dumb stories, the closest I’d come to collaboration was my participation in writer critique groups. Not all personality types are suited for this. People who are overly sensitive or argumentative usually quit after one or two meetings. A fragile ego is fatal to creativity, because being open to honest feedback is essential to learning and growth. At the same time, one can’t be too indecisive, because critics will sometimes have opposing opinions. To be truly creative, you need a vision of what you’re trying to accomplish.

The best partnerships are those in which the participants have differing strengths. That’s why Elton John writes the music and Bernie Taupin does the lyrics. I’ve had the exceptional good luck to find a creative partner who does just that, complementing my own skills. It’s even more unusual to find that sort of thing within a romantic relationship.

Arlys and I began our creative partnership by an interesting accident of fate. My friend John from the sci fi writer’s group invited me to accompany him to a meeting of a theatrical group. They were an interesting bunch. Many of them were adapting excerpts from their own novels or short stories for the stage. Under other circumstances, I would probably have not continued, because my own work didn’t seem well-suited for that purpose.

But then I thought of the stories Arlys had told me, of all the odd and quirky characters she’d met through on-line dating. One of those guys was a “furry,” who liked to dress up as an animal. To most furries, it’s a fun costume to wear to sci-fi conventions and other get-togethers for some innocent role-playing. For others, and this fellow was one of them, it’s a sexual fetish. Arlys found the idea ridiculous, and did not see that guy again, but to me it was hilarious. I thought, why not do a musical number where the actors danced around and sang about the joys of sex in a fur-suit? That was how “One Good Man,” our musical comedy about on-line dating, was born.

So far, Arlys and I have co-written half a dozen scenes of our show, three of which were staged as part of the “Out Loud” showcase here in Phoenix. A fourth is scheduled to be performed next month for “Out Loud” number two.

Since then, she been the first person to read and critique all my writings. As a collaborator, Arlys has many strengths that I lack. She’s a wizard with dialogue, and far better than I am with jokes. She brings the woman’s perspective that we men find difficult to write. Her sense of style caused her to fall in love with the steampunk movement, which was the genre of my second novel, Fidelio’s Automata. Some of her artistic creations have helped inspire new stories. She has given unconditional support to all my ventures, and that means the world to me. And so does she.

Review — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Yesterday Arlys and I finally saw the most anticipated movie of 2015, the seventh and latest installment of Star Wars. I’m sure many of you have already seen it, but as a sci-fi writer and a long time Star Wars fan, I’m obliged to review it. Spoiler warning: It’s not going to be pretty.

I’ve heard a number of people rave about this film so I was prepared to be amazed. Instead I was quite disappointed. Maybe my problem was too much hype and anticipation. No, it’s not as bad as Episodes I and II (that is, the fourth and fifth releases.) But honestly, I think “Revenge of the Sith” was better. The visual effects and the acting were fine. But the writers (JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan) have apparently gone to the Dark Side – is it too much to ask for a single new plot element?

OK, I admit that strictly speaking, there are no new stories, ever. The first Star Wars movie (Episode IV) is a prime example of the “Hero’s Journey,” as defined by the great Joseph Campbell. Even if we accept originality as a relative quantity, “The Force Awakens” would score in the negative numbers. Practically everything in it is recycled: a plucky young hero(ine), a droid with an urgent message, a tiny but wise and ancient alien, a family split between the Light and Dark Sides, the death of a beloved character, and a very familiar looking doomsday weapon. And get this: the new threat to the Galaxy is a gang of Imperial throwbacks led by a guy who raves like Adolf Hitler. It’s all too familiar. The old Imperial officers did look a lot like Nazis, didn’t they?

There’s only one aspect of Episode VII that’s new to the Star Wars franchise: the character of Finn (John Boyega), a deserter from the aforementioned fascistic First Order. Sadly, the writers botched that opportunity. For someone raised from birth to be a storm trooper, Finn has a depressingly normal personality. Perhaps we can accept that such a person might develop a conscience when ordered to massacre of innocent villagers. But where did he learn to speak in wisecracks and and be protective of females? He’s never known anything but soldiering, so we’d expect him to be super-confident, fearless, humorless, and naive about human relationships. Above all, he shouldn’t have tried to run from the conflict; a man like him would need to fight for a cause, even if it meant switching sides. Instead, Finn is a reluctant hero, and yet when the fighting starts, he’s incredibly cavalier about killing his former comrades. Where’s the internal conflict? And why aren’t his new friends more suspicious of him? Double agents posing as defectors are a time-tested strategy of war.

Rey’s character (Daisy Ridley) is another unfortunate waste of potential. We’re long past the time when attractive female warriors were novel and edgey. Now they need depth, nuance and back-story, none of which Rey has. Not that she’d have had time tor character growth at the frenetic pace of this movie. Her personal “force awakening” reminded me of a childhood dream where I suddenly, without warning or context, realized I had super-powers. Yes, science fiction requires the willing suspension of disbelief, but that’s a two way street. The writers have to give us something worth believing in.

I could rant on further about the movie’s Death-Star-sized plot holes, but I’ve gone on long enough. Despite all these problems, I did enjoy it. It’s visually stunning, with a background that’s full of delightful little details of both the biological and mechanical variety. The Star Wars characters we know and love are back, even if their interaction is a bit stilted at times. Finally, it leaves us with this mystery: how did Han and Leia’s son end up looking like Severus Snape?

Out of a possible five stars, I’d give it a 2.5. George, please come back!

 

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

TuxTattoo

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.

 

Emperor Penguin of the Arts

PenguinArts

I think it’s safe to say that the days when few people had heard of Linux (and its Penguin mascot Tux, as shown above) are over. It still has a “for nerds only” reputation, which I would like to dispel. Over the years this free, open-source operating system has been adapted to run on almost every kind of hardware for just about every purpose. It’s now full of excellent tools for writers and artists, and musicians to the point where it can challenge Mac for the crown of the creative persons’ preferred OS.

I’ve been using Linux since the early 1990’s, not long after uber-hacker Linus Torvalds first created it, deriving it from AT&T’s powerful and versatile Unix operating system. At that time, it was a place where only true techies dared venture. Over the years Linux has evolved from an engineer’s toy to a tool friendly enough to be used by the masses. Though you won’t see it advertised on product packaging, Linux integrates easily with a wide range of hardware: everything I need to interface with my PC, from Android phones to MIDI keyboards.

Unlike commercial systems like Microsoft Windows, developers don’t need anyone’s permission to create their own distributions (or “distros”) of Linux. There are many, and I’ve tried most of them, but settled on Ubuntu, currently one of the easiest distros to install, maintain and use. (The name is a Bantu word meaning “human kindness.”) Ubuntu is available for free download from ubuntu.com, though the site requests a modest donation to fund further development. Like all open-source projects, they also depend on the help of volunteer developers and testers to create these amazing projects.

Recently, though, another distro has become my favorite – Ubuntu Studio, available from ubuntostudio.org. Studio is a modified version of Ubuntu that comes pre-loaded with many tools (also free) that are useful for writers, artists and musicians. Though not all of my favorite programs are pre-loaded, most are easy to get, with an amazing tool called “apt.” Apt helps you find these applications on the Internet, and automates their download and installation. Another reason I prefer the Studio version is that it uses the older desktop-icon based user interface. The mainstream Ubuntu distro looks and feels somewhat like Windows 8, which I find rather annoying. As with most Linux distros, Ubuntu works on all Windows-compatible PC’s. The installer includes a tool that allow the user to shrink the Windows partition on their disk drive, so that a Linux partition can be installed alongside. When the computer starts up, it displays a start-up menu from which one can choose either Linux or Windows.

In the following posts I’ll detail some of the programs I use on Ubuntu in my creative endeavors. In compiling the list, I realized it was far too long for one post. For now, for the sake of those who fear they’d miss their Microsoft Office if they switched over, I’ll briefly mention the application that I’m using to created and edit this article.

Open Office and Libre Office are two versions of a free, open-source office suite similar to Microsoft Office, but not as gratuitously complicated. They provide excellent replacements for Word, Excel, and Power Point, which I use on a daily basis. These programs can inter-operate with MS Office by exporting Microsoft formats such as “doc” and “xls.” (The version I’m using can’t output the newer formats, such as docx and xlsx, but it can read and convert them.) Open Office (available from openoffice.org) is the original, which I prefer because I’m familiar with it. Libre Office, which now comes standard on most Linux distros, was split off from Open Office by members of the original development team, but has a similar feature set and interface. By the way, these programs are, like many other open source applications, have available versions for Windows and MacOS.

As I anticipated, this post has gotten plenty long. Next week we’ll discuss free graphic application that are just as powerful as Adobe’s pricey products Photoshop and Illustrator.