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.)

Disrupted_12_fix

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

A dystopian tease

As I mentioned in this post a couple of weeks ago, I’m writing a short story for an indie collection that will appear later in the summer. Well, I’ve finished it, and it’s the longest short story I’ve ever written. I promised that I would reveal its title as a teaser, so… [internet drum roll]… here you go:

The Information Monster

And now, as an extra teasy teaser, here’s the opening line:

“The darkness is our friend,” whispered Sigi.

A_view_across_the_plains_of_Chajnantor_with_the_ALMA_construction_site_at_the_centre

This is the Atacama Desert – the driest place on Earth. They tested the Mars Rover here. It’s rather inhospitable. And a great setting for a story.

You can’t say you haven’t been teased! The Information Monster takes place in the Atacama Desert in Chile in 2053, and the main genre it fits into is science-fiction. It also belongs to a sub-genre called dystopian fiction: what happens when society goes wrong. One of the most famous dystopian fictions is Orwell’s 1984. (Although in North Korea that book is filed in the non-fiction section.)

The final ebook will be a novel-length collection of new voices in indie publishing and I’ll keep you posted on its publication details as soon as I get them. I haven’t read any of the other stories yet, since my fellow authors are delivering theirs this month too, but I’m very excited about the project.

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

“Liking” that means really liking, not just Liking

Silent Symmetry received a very short, but positive review today.

The reviewer wrote that she (I think it’s a she) likes “getting free books to see how I like the author.” At first I glossed over this, but then realized that she had managed to succinctly encapsulate the entire raison d’etre behind running free Kindle promotions like mine for Silent Symmetry that ends today.  It’s to give readers an opportunity to get to know you as a writer, as simple as that. If you’re an unknown author, then by definition they don’t know you. And the reality is that people buy a novel because of the author’s name as much as because of the story or the reviews. (I, for example, am still waiting with baited breath for Cervantes to come out with a new book because I thoroughly enjoyed his last one. Come on, Miguel, get a move on…)

Cervates_jauregui

Cervantes was, quite literally, an egghead.

Actually (thinking aloud here, as per my typical blogging methodology), it’s not so much the author’s name, but what that name represents that matters. Maybe an author makes a reader laugh out loud, or feel warm and fuzzy, or excited, or sexy, but whatever that feeling is, it’s exactly what a reader hopes will be repeated with the author’s next book. And THAT is what my new reviewer was talking about. If she likes the feeling, she’ll come back for more.

Maybe I should get a T-shirt made with a big Facebook Like logo on it…

New short story

Right now* I’m working on a new short story that will appear in a collection of works by indie authors sometime around the end of the summer. It’s a good way to get back into the swing of writing fiction every day before I head out into the uncharted territory known as Starley’s Rust, aka the sequel to Silent Symmetry that some people seem to be clamouring for.

The story is science fiction. I’ll post its title in the next couple of weeks as a teaser, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s a photo. It’s significant in the story.

ALMA_Prototype-Antennas_at_the_ALMA_Test_Facility

Ever been teased by a radio telescope? You have now.

(Can we still say “stay tuned” now that everything’s digital? “Keep your eyes glued to the screen” seems a bit much. “Heads up – there might be a tweet flying by!” could work…)

Oh, and the story features one of these.

Teasing over. Back to work.

*DISCLAIMER: Obviously right now I’m writing a blog post. That’s because I took a short break from the story. But I’m publishing this post and getting right back into it. Promise.

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

New baby (aged 4-8)

In the midst of putting out my YA novel Silent Symmetry and editing the manuscript of my contemporary novel The New Sense, I’ve also been planning a third ebook release: The Christmas Bat, an illustrated children’s book for 4-8 year-olds (and their mothers who typically buy these books). The title character is a bat called Barry who isn’t into Halloween like his brothers and sisters because he doesn’t like scaring people. So he decides to get involved with Santa and make kids happy at Christmastime. But then things start to go wrong…

Image

They can be cute. Honest!

I wrote The Christmas Bat about 5 years ago for my little boy Sacha, and even though he’s now a much bigger boy, he still loves the story. So much so that he thinks other kids would like it too. Now that I’ve figured out how to self-publish ebooks, publishing this one shouldn’t be a huge effort. Except that it needs pictures. And my drawing ability isn’t much better than the 4-8 year-olds that the book is intended for.

To cross this hurdle I had a meeting yesterday with a young illustrator called Tatiana who is not only extremely talented, but also has a style that is influenced by the Soviet cartoons she watched in her native Ukraine as a child. This is great because the illustrations for a children’s book ideally should be as memorable, engaging and fun as possible. They need to reflect the feel of the story, but also capture and bring its characters to life. Tatiana’s essentially foreign esthetic will help make The Christmas Bat stand out from the crowd.

Judging by the preliminary sketches I saw yesterday, Tatiana will be more than capable of giving Barry and the other characters in The Christmas Bat their own personalities. I’m really excited to see what she does next. It’s one thing to picture what the characters you have created on the page look and act like, but quite another to see them take shape from someone else’s imagination.  Our goal is to make The Christmas Bat available for Kindle Fire, iPad and other colour devices in time for the 2013 Holiday Season. And the best thing about the project is that it’s great fun!

Oh, and have you ever wondered how Santa delivers presents to houses that don’t have chimneys for him to climb down? Read The Christmas Bat when it’s published and you’ll find out the surprising answer!

Photo credit: onkel_wart (thomas lieser) / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The power of storytelling

Beowulf is the name given to the oldest surviving English-language poem. One of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature,  it is a true epic, with a legendary hero: Beowulf of the Geats, a Scandinavian tribe.

The story begins when Beowulf receives a message from the Danish king asking him to come to Denmark and fight a monster called Grendel which has been terrorizing Heorot, the king’s mead hall (basically a huge private pub).  The Danes are in a right pickle. I mean, nobody likes the idea of being eaten by a monster while knocking back a few pints of mead, swapping battle stories and comparing lustrous facial hair with one’s fellow Danish noblemen. Yet they just can’t bear the thought of drinking at a different pub, so Grendel continues feasting on them.  In sunny Sweden, Beowulf sighs, goes, “Fine. I’ll put on a clean pair of underwear and set sail, even though the weather forecast is a bit nasty.

When he gets to Heorot he not only kills Grendel with his bare hands, but also slays Grendel’s mother (bizarrely played by Angelina Jolie in the 2007 movie version), thereby saving the Danes and receiving a free pint of mead for his troubles.

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript

Geatland, 50 years later: Just like Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon, Beowulf (now king of the Geats) is all set for a nice, long retirement, possibly contemplating a Baltic cruise with his wife or a leisurely trek through Tuscany in a motor home. Then a terrifying dragon attacks the country, burning everything in its path. Beowulf once again realizes that he’s the only man who is man enough to do a man’s job and sends his soldiers away so that he can take on the dragon single-handed. All except for one trusty fighting companion, Wiglaf (in the Mel Gibson role), who teams up with Beowulf in archetypal buddy film fashion and ultimately slays the fiery beast.

Sadly, our hero is mortally wounded during the battle. As he lies dying, Beowulf commands Wiglaf to build a huge burial mound called a barrow atop a cliff so that sailors returning home will remember his heroic deeds:

A barrow bid ye the battle-fanned raise
for my ashes. ‘Twill shine by the shore of the flood,
to folk of mine memorial fair
on Hrones Headland high uplifted,
that ocean-wanderers oft may hail
Beowulf’s Barrow, as back from far
they drive their keels o’er the darkling wave.

(Modern English excerpt from Beowulf chapter, 38)

No, Wiglaf didn’t say, “Huh?” on hearing those words; he actually went and built the burial mound. Here’s a photo of it, bedecked with cows.

Beowulf's supposed burial mound.

Beowulf’s supposed barrow, or burial mound.

Beowulf was clearly aware of his own heroism and greatness. His instructions to Wiglaf were intended to make sure that he went down in history. It makes sense, right? Build a big monument, just like countless other leaders have done in the centuries since. Yet here’s what’s interesting: the only reason that Beowulf’s heroic deeds are remembered today is because of the two unknown scribes who wrote the poem. One single copy of the work survived for over a millennium. Old English words beautifully transcribed in a crumbling manuscript have preserved the legacy of King Beowulf better than any physical monument could have.

This is the power of storytelling. It rouses emotions. It inspires. And it persists.