Disrupted Worlds – out a day early!

I promised yesterday that Disrupted Worlds, a novel-length short story collection that features my own effort, The Information Monster, plus five others, would be published tomorrow. Well, it turns out that those digital printing presses at Amazon have been running on overdrive because it’s already available as a Kindle ebook.

You can read a free preview of the first story-and-a-half by clicking on the cover image below. But since The Information Monster is the third story, I’ve decided to post a short excerpt from the beginning:

“The darkness is our friend,” whispered Sigi.

Coleoptera snuggled closer. She didn’t understand. Darkness had always meant death. It was in the books with paper, so it must be true. The books that held stories of children losing themselves in deep, dark forests where wolves prowled, trolls lurked and witches squatted in their hovels waiting to feast on plump cheeks. Darkness had always meant death.

“Why, daddy?”

He kissed her hair softly. Maybe he was a fool. Maybe there was nothing anyone could do to defeat it.

“You know how plants need light to grow?”

“Uh-huh.”

“So does the monster, and that’s why the darkness is our friend.”

“I’m scared.”

“We’re safe here. Sleep now, Beetle.”

“Tell me a story. From when you were little.”

“Okay, just one.”

“Thank you, daddy.”

She rubbed the fabric of his shirt sleeve between her thumb and forefinger. He wondered whether the tactile sensation of its silky NanoNylon was more soothing than her own bamboo thread nightshirt. His mind flashed through molecular configurations.

“Daddy!”

He clenched his teeth. It was so easy to slip. So easy to go down that path.

“Yes. Okay. When I was about your age, most of the books were paper.”

“Really?”

“Uh-huh. And they never changed. A story was a story with words, and sometimes pictures, and it was written by a storyteller.”

“Like my fairy tales.”

“Yes, and they used to be my books. But the fairy tales changed from one book to the next because they had lots of storytellers.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Sorry, Beetle, it’s complicated. And it doesn’t really matter for my story. What matters is that I had a book that was really special to me. It was about a bear who learned to read, and I loved it. Then one day my grandma took me for a walk and I brought the book along with me. But somehow it must have slipped out of my hand along the way because when we got home to my mommy and daddy’s house I didn’t have it anymore and I cried so much that my grandma walked all the way back along the route we’d taken to look for it. But she couldn’t find it.”

“Poor daddy!”

“Yes, I was really sad. But the next day when my mom came home from work she’d bought me another copy.”

He felt her tug a bit harder on his sleeve.

“The only thing was, I didn’t understand. I thought that the book I’d lost was the only one like it in the whole world. It was my favorite, and it was special. Suddenly I realized it wasn’t special because there was another one the same. And others in the store. Then when I grew up, things started to change. The books on screens took over. Soon nothing was special.”

“Why?”

“Because everything was a copy.” He kissed her hair again. “But now it’s time to sleep.”

“Why are we here, daddy?”

“Because we need to get away.”

“From mommy?”

He drew breath sharply. “No. From everything.”

“You’ll keep me safe, right?”

There was the slightest pause in his answer and he hoped she hadn’t noticed.

“Yes. That’s why we’re here.”

She squeezed his arm and let out a big yawn.

Once he was sure that she was sleeping soundly, Sigi carefully moved away from her sleeping bag so as not to disturb her. He rose and closed the door of the Correlator room. This was where they were “camping”. It was an adventure. That’s what he’d told her. She was lucky to be going on an adventure with her daddy – not a lot of five-year-olds got to do that.

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Cover reveal! Title reveal! Authors reveal!

I teased my dystopian sci-fi short story The Information Monster back in June, and now it’s time to cut out the teasing and open the kimono, as business/marketing/PR folk bizarrely sometimes say in otherwise very boring meetings. Actually, that’s not quite true, because opening the kimono would require cutting and pasting the entire contents of the ebook that my story will shortly be published in. So it’s more like I’m showing you the kimono, because here is the cover. And the title, which fortunately is hard to miss because it’s right there on the cover, along with my name and those of my five fellow authors, like an embroidered dragon on a kimono. (I think it’s time to stop with the kimono metaphor.)

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The name of the book neatly unites six disparate tales, some outrageously comic, some (like mine) sinisterly portentous.  And yes, I know that “sinisterly” isn’t a word, but it works just fine here, so please don’t give it a complex by looking it up in a dictionary. What bonds the authors is that double-edged label “indie”. It sounds cool if you’re a band.  But if you write books and deign to deliver them to readers via the newfangled medium of digital code uploaded without the help of an international megacorporation, “indie” is still sniffed at and frowned upon by old-school publishing types and snobs  Maybe we should call ourselves a “collective”? Or does that only work for visual artists? A “collective” is literally a collective noun. And a “literary collective” is literally a literary collective noun. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that fifth coffee this morning. Whatever we call ourselves, one thing’s for sure: these stories are as independent of any marketing masterplan or award angling as any fiction could be.

ALMA

The ALMA radio-telescope. Maybe it would be better if the truth wasn’t out there…

I’m sure my fellow Disrupted Words authors will be doing a super job of publicizing their own contributions to the collection, so I’ll stick to telling you a little more about my effort. The Information Monster takes place in Chile, 2053, partly at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA. This recently commissioned real-life radio-telescope isn’t only the largest on Earth, its Operations Support facility is housed in the world’s second-highest-altitude building, and its correlator is the most powerful supercomputer in the world. Who knows what it may find… or how its staff will behave in the thin air of the Atacama Desert?

Edited and published by Paul Little, Disrupted Worlds will be available at a special 99-cent  introductory price the day after tomorrow (Thursday, September 26) exclusively through Amazon as an ebook for Kindle. At that point you’ll be able to rip the kimono open for yourself. Okay, time for another coffee.

Photo credits: Source: ESO, Author: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

A Symmetrical Strategy

Writing is a novel is super-duper easy. Oh wait, I got my words wrong. Writing a blog post is a breeze. No, that’s not even true. Okay, forget writing for a moment. The other night I was reading a bedtime story to my 5-year-old daughter when I was suddenly struck by the amount of cross-hatching in the illustrations. At first glance, the drawings of a little boy and his bear were fairly simple. I’d read the book several times to her and never paid much attention to the artwork, but for some reason that night I focused in on the cross-hatching, which is the technique for creating shaded areas in a drawing through the use of repeating lines. The length and spacing of the lines determine the amount of shade perceived by the eye at a distance. This drawing of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a straightforward example.

Shakespeare probably just winged it: no planning, no plotting, and no rewrites. Riiiight…

The little bear in the story got lost one night when he was picked up in a swooping owl’s claws. The drawings of the moon, the owl and the bear in the nighttime sky were filled with cross-hatching far finer and subtler than in the Globe illustration here. I stopped reading for a few seconds and marvelled at the amount of time it must have taken the artist to produce such an effect. I thought to myself, I could never, ever have the patience to sit there and draw line after line with no margin for error. Then my daughter elbowed me with an impatient “Daddy!” and I boomeranged back from my reverie, acutely aware that parents aren’t supposed to space out in the middle of a bedtime story.

What does all this have to do with writing a novel? It’s all about the work involved. I sometimes forget that stringing together a bunch of words, then painstakingly going back over them and replacing some of them or changing their order is just as daunting for non-writers as creating a complex illustration would be for me. It’s hard. It’s often kind of annoying. And sometimes you get stuck. (Quick joke: part of my next novel is set in Paris and I’m worried that I might suffer from writer’s bloc.)

What does all this have to do with me writing a novel? Well, I promised I would publish the sequel to Silent Symmetry in “late 2013”. Now I realize that my writing strategy was wrong and I’m going to have to break that promise. Fortunately for my reputation, authors are notorious for breaking promises; we literally make things up that aren’t true for a living.

I don’t mind allowing readers a peak behind the creative curtain, so here’s my new writing and publication strategy for books two and three of the Embodied trilogy. Instead of planning, writing and rewriting book two, Starley’s Rust, then spending the time and effort it takes to publish and market it properly before embarking on the creation of book three, I’m going to plan and write books two and three back-to-back, then rewrite, publish and market book two. Once that is on the Kindles and iPads of a bunch of readers, I’ll rewrite, publish and market book three. This will allow me to more effectively control both the overall flow of the story and each book’s release date. This doesn’t just help me, it will also, crucially, give my readers a more fulfilling experience because, a) the books should be better; and b) readers of book two won’t have to wait nearly as long to read the conclusion of the trilogy.

So what we’re really dealing with here is some delayed gratification. Fortunately, I’m not illustrating my books too, or the delay would be far, far longer than the gratification!

Photo credit: Futurilla / Foter / CC BY-NC

The Cuckoo’s Egg

I wrote this article last month for Tracy Riva’s blog and am reposting it here by permission.

As anyone remotely connected to the world of books now knows, J. K. Rowling is the real author of hit crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling. At least, it became a hit once her secret leaked out, when the book jumped from number 4,709 to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list.

This goes to show that a blockbuster author’s name sells books. No news there. Any indie author who is disgruntled that Dan Brown could publish a book containing lists of pizza ingredients and still make a fortune should walk away from their computer right now, order a pizza, and spend the half-hour delivery wait time pondering their existence. If they reach enlightenment by realizing that publishing is a business ruled by profit like any other by the time the doorbell rings, they can enjoy their pizza with pleasure. If they are still frustrated at the injustice of Life As An Undiscovered Writer, they should ask the delivery guy if his boss is hiring.

J.K. Rowling dressed as a man dressed as a woman. Are you following?

J.K. Rowling dressed as a man dressed as a woman. Are you following?

There doesn’t seem much doubt as to the sincerity of Rowling’s initial motives or that The Cuckoo’s Calling is a very good read. However, the success of the first novel by “Robert Galbraith” is in no way proof that an unknown author can easily get their first book into print as long as the writing is good enough. Here’s why: The Cuckoo’s Calling was submitted to J.K. Rowling’s publisher by her agent. And that is the critical step that typically proves to be an insurmountable stumbling block for the vast majority of unpublished authors. In fact, it’s two steps: finding an agent, then the agent finding a publisher.

When I wrote my (still unpublished) first novel in the 1990s, I submitted it to over 80 agents in the US and a handful in the UK. The World Wide Web was still a dream in some internet spider’s mind, so I had to do it the old-fashioned way with paper and very expensive postage and lots of waiting and 80-something boilerplate rejection slips and one “We like it, but maybe your next novel” response.

Now, I’m not whining about the rejection itself (my novel wasn’t quite good enough; I can see that now), but the fact remains that finding a publisher without a literary agent or fame in some other walk of life was, and still is, impossible. And finding an agent is next-to-impossible because each agent can only handle a finite number of clients, therefore spots on the roster don’t come up very often.

This is simply the way it is with traditional publishing, and it explains the phenomenal popularity of going the indie route. It’s not that the gatekeepers have it in for starving artists – although if your book isn’t commercially viable, you’re barking up the wrong tree anyway – the numbers just don’t add up. Like most arts and entertainment industries, traditional publishing is akin to an hourglass continually being overfilled with sand at the top and only a trickle falling through to the nirvana of publication at the bottom.

So the real lesson to be learned from the whole Cuckoo’s Calling saga is not that the book became a bestseller as a result of Ms. Rowling’s authorship being revealed, but that, prior to this unmasking, the book had made it into print then onto the desks of mainstream reviewers through the efforts of its agent and publisher who promoted it because it was written by their client J. K. Rowling. Clearly the novel had to be good enough to receive its initial positive reviews and sell 8,500 copies, but the pseudonymous Robert Galbraith skipped the most difficult part of the publishing process. The question is, would an unknown middle-aged female writer in, say, Canada have been able to find a publisher for the exact same manuscript written under a male pseudonym? It’s doubtful. J. K. Rowling is an accomplished, professional author who has honed her writing craft for many years. But there are probably thousands of indie authors out there who have done the same and been unable to reach the sunny side of the hourglass.

In the days since her alter-ego was demolished, Rowling has explained her motives behind the creation of Galbraith at some length. I actually admire her for writing a novel and then declining to use her Potter-fueled brand to sell it. Ironically though, given her new book’s title, she has simply laid a cuckoo’s egg in the traditional publishing industry’s nest. Fortunately, agent-less authors like myself now have alternative ways to find readers for their work. We’re a big flock. And we’ll teach our own chicks to fly.

Photo credit: Daniel Ogren / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND