Thursday, March 20, 2014

Writing as an Act of Faith

As I said in my last two posts, I'm on a writing retreat to work on The Reefs of Time. There's an interesting faith component to this retreat. While the act of writing is almost by definition a leap of faith (Will this book I'm spending years writing actually turn into something good?) there's a little more to it this time. As part of my church's annual Leap of Faith experiment during Lent, I have been praying for a creative breakthrough, and also in particular that my writing wouldn't just sell, but would touch readers in meaningful and uplifting ways. I mean, really, if it doesn't do that, is it worth all the work and mental anguish? (Yes, aspiring writers, sometimes it definitely feels like anguish.)

Well, on my first night I settled into a comfortable chair with my laptop, in front of a crackling fire (I have a really nice room at this B&B), to begin writing new material. Not moving stuff around, not taking notes, but doing the hard thing: new stuff. No sooner was I settled in than an email came in. Really, I should have been ignoring emails at that point, but I caught out of the corner of my eye, in the little notification window, something about The Infinity Link. Now, The Infinity Link was one of my early novels, not much noticed nowadays, but in my writing career it was a breakthrough novel in many ways. (Not the least of the ways was that it started small, grew large, and took me bloody forever to write—not unlike the book I'm writing now.)

So I read the email. It was from a reader new to my work. He'd found The Infinity Link in a used bookstore a while back, and read it. He'd just read it again, this time via the Audible audiobook. And he was writing to tell me how profoundly the story and some of its images had touched him—and he just wanted to let me know, and to thank me for writing the book!

Before answering the email, I sat there for a few moments, dumbfounded. I don't know how you would take it, but that sure felt like an answer to prayer to me.

The writing came easier for the rest of that night.

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Two Views of My Novel

I found this rock on the first beach walk of my retreat, a sea-scoured nugget of quartz. It seemed to me a perfect metaphor for my first draft: a gem (or crystal, anyway) in the rough, all of its facets and inner beauty temporarily concealed. I probably won't polish the crystal, but I will polish the novel. (In fact, I've made good progress on a couple of thorny problems while down here.) So, here are two different views of my work in progress:

And while I ponder the book, here's the Landshark scanning the sea for signs of its marine brethren:

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

First Writing Retreat of 2014

I'm on Cape Cod for a few days, to clear my head and try to get some traction in the rewrite of The Reefs of Time. I've got the whole book loaded into Scrivener now, with notes all over the place, and Scrivener has already proved its usefulness in letting me move the chapters of different subplots around like chess pieces. I think I've got them lined up the way I want them, though of course I might feel differently as the rewriting proceeds.

Part of what I love about coming to the Cape is a chance to walk along the beach and the dunes, and refresh my brain with ocean air. Whenever I do that, I seem to see patterns in nature that somehow connect with what I'm writing. The tide coming in over the sand, for example, creates little ephemeral rivers that remind me of the starstream, a cosmic structure of my own imaginary design which figures prominently in the new book. (See From a Changeling Star and Down the Stream of Stars for more about the starstream, which was born of a supernova and a long cosmic hyperstring.)

I'm not sure what these vistas of sand dunes remind me of, but I felt strongly that they symbolize something in the story I'm writing. I guess I'll find out what, later.

In case you think I just stole these pictures off the internet, here's one of me standing where the dunes give way to the beach and the water. (Would you trust this guy with your daughter? Hmm.)

How about this guy? (He claimed to be rollerblading. But it was way too cold to be rollerblading. What was he really doing?)

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

E-Reads to Become a Part of Open Road Media

Nine of my backlist books are currently published by E-Reads, founded in 1999 by my agent, Richard Curtis. E-Reads was a pioneering enterprise in the ebooks business, putting books up for sale when hardly anyone knew what an ebook was.

E-Reads is about to become a part of Open Road Media, and in the coming months my E-reads titles will become Open Road titles. Beyond a long-time acquaintance with Open Road editor Betsy Mitchell, who got her start in publishing at Dell at around the same time I was getting my start at Dell, I don't know too much about the company. I guess I'm about to learn, though!

Here's the detailed announcement from Open Road, and a summary by Publishers Weekly.

The times they are a'changing.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

My Application to Amtrak Is In

Well, I did it. I applied for Amtrak's writer residency program, #AMTRAKRESIDENCY. I just read that they've already received 8000 applications in the few days the program has been open.

The program is not without controversy, to say the least. The terms of application give Amtrak wide latitude to use material submitted to them, at their own discretion, more or less forever. The best discussion of this is probably on the always excellent Writers Beware, which offers some simple suggestions to Amtrak on how to take the sour taste out of the program.

I am in total sympathy with those who think Amtrak's terms are over the top, probably due to a lawyer who got carried away. They have indicated that they are listening to feedback from writers, and I hope they amend their terms. For my own application, I included a brief excerpt from the beginning of Neptune Crossing—which has already been published, is widely available for free (by my choice), and which I warmly encourage Amtrak to publicize on my behalf. The size of the excerpt pretty much amounts to Fair Use in copyright terms, anyway. If you're a writer and you're considering applying, think carefully about those conditions and what you put up.

So yes, Amtrak, I was willing to work with those terms for my own application. But for others, who might have shorter works to offer, or unpublished works, I understand the consternation. I urge you to reconsider the terms. See Writer Beware for simple, common sense ways to do that. In the meantime, I hope you consider my application favorably. I'd really like a nice, long train ride to help me work on my book!

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Report on the BookBub Promotion

I recently finished a special promotion on Eternity's End, via BookBub. For a little over a week, the book was deep-discounted to $.99. On opening day, when the promotional email went out, it sold over a thousand copies at the Amazon Kindle store! After that, it tapered off pretty quickly, of course. But in all, it sold over 1600 ebooks, some in the Nook store but most in the Kindle store.

Now that the promo is over (the price is now $5.99), things have really fallen off at the Nook store, but at Kindle, although numbers have decreased, it continues to sell better than it did before the promotion. I hope it continues!

My writer friends told me to expect a lot more reviews as a result of the sales. (Reviews are considered by some experts to be one of the most important factors in continuing sales.) Well, at first I didn't get any new ones. But today, two new reviews appeared at Amazon. Let's just say they canceled each other out nicely.

The first one reads:

I had to force myself to read this book . It was a very dull and boring read . Entirely too much fill .
It drones on an on with no real action .
 Well, what can I say, except: We aim to please! You can't go out and buy that kind of customer satisfaction. Out of curiosity, I looked to see what this reviewer's other reviews were like. He has reviewed three other SF books. He thought they all sucked. (Including one by Andre Norton.)

The next one, fortunately, is more charitable:
Eternity's End is a high-space adventure that hearkens back to the days of sailing ships, complete with space pirates and romance too. This is one of those rare books that has stuck with me long after I finished reading. I enjoyed it from cover to cover and hope to find time to read it again someday.
That's more my style!

Ordinarily I don't pay much attention to reviews, because that way lies madness. You fixate on the bad ones, and try to hold to the good ones to salve your pride, but it doesn't really work. Best just not to read them at all.

Having said that, I would like to encourage you, if you've read Eternity's End, to go post a review at your favorite store or book-related social networking site. (Even if you thought it sucked!) It would help me, and it might even help new readers discover the book!

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Saturday, March 08, 2014

The Reefs of Writing — Scrivener?

I've been poring over the first draft of The Reefs of Time and taking copious notes on what I need to change as I rewrite it. To my surprise, I found more places that seem to call for further development than places that need extensive cutting. (There's always a need for cutting and tightening; that goes without saying. But I'm talking about the light-saber approach that's sometimes needed to excise long, rambling detours. I didn't find too many of those.) That's both good news and bad news. The good part is, the first draft is better than I expected. The bad part is—well, remember the picture I showed you of the first draft? The second draft could be longer.

Not what I expected.

To deal with the complexity of the book—I wrote several different subplots as standalone documents, figuring I would figure out how to braid them together later—I have decided to give Scrivener a try. Scrivener is a writing tool designed especially for people like fiction writers, with all sorts of organizational features, including the ability to easily move sections around, as well as keeping notes and research materials at your fingertips. That seems like just what I need. It offers many things that Word does not. Unfortunately, it also lacks a few of Word's features that I use all the time, such as support for paragraph styles and keyboard macros. An uneasy tradeoff.

I've spent much of the last two days with the trial version of Scrivener, loading all my different documents and notes into it, and slicing the book into chapters for easy manipulation. My current plan is do the heavy rewriting in this environment, and then port it back into Word for the final polish. That's what some of my colleagues do, and it seems to work well for them. (Here's one such report, from Charles Stross.)

This is all subject to change, as I test things out. Stay tuned.

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Friday, March 07, 2014

Writing on a Train? Yes, please!

I love trains, and always have. When I was a kid, growing up in Huron, Ohio, I lived maybe half a mile from the New York Central main line (now Amtrak's) between New York and Chicago. Sometimes we would get ice cream cones and go down to the tracks at about 9 p.m. Nighttime trains were always the best. If they were running on time, we'd get to watch two great eastbound passenger trains—the Pacemaker and the Twentieth Century Limited—fly past about ten minutes apart.

The show opened in stages in the darkness. We'd peer to our left, where the double tracks disappeared around a curve bending toward the Lake Erie shoreline. The first sign was a quiet singing of the rails, and the extended glow of the headlight beam, shining into the distant curve. An instant later, the crossing flashers lit up on three grade crossings in a row. Then the headlight and the train itself came around the bend, with the first long blast on the horn in the soulful sequence of Lonnng Lonnng Short Lonnnnnnnnnnng!

Even in the distance, those streamlined E-unit locomotives radiated nothing but power, as if they were born to fly. The track was a little wavy, and the headlights bobbed up and down as the thing bore down on us, threatening to leap off the track, and finally roared through the crossing with the final cry of the horn dopplering down in pitch as it passed at 70 or 80 miles per hour. Right behind came the long string of lit-up passenger cars, full of people bound for mysterious destinations. I always wondered where they were going, and why; and I longed to go, too. The last car was a rounded observation car, and I imagined sitting in comfort, watching the dark landscape reel away behind me. When that trailing car disappeared to the east, we would turn and wait for the next train, close on its heels.

I never rode the Twentieth Century, to my regret. I did once ride the Pacemaker with my dad, and it was great. Funny, though, that wondering mystery goes away when you're on the inside of the train, to be replaced with other kinds of excitement and intrigue.

It's been years since I've ridden a long-distance train just for the fun of it. But I hope that will change, when Amtrak accepts me (I hope!) into their just announced writers residency program! Yes, spurred by a wish expressed by a writer on Twitter, Amtrak has decided to offer free or low-cost long-distance train rides to selected writers—so they can get away and pursue their muse while riding the rails! All they want in return is for the writers to tweet or blog about their experiences. They'll be opening to applications soon.

You can bet I'm applying. Wish me luck!

Meanwhile, I'll just pretend I'm Cary Grant for a day...

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Monday, March 03, 2014

"Read an E-Book Week" Specials

It's that time of the year again! Smashwords is sponsoring their annual Read an E-Book Week blowout sale. Tons of books discounted or free, through March 8. I've put up two boxed sets at 50% off. Just use the coupon code REW50, which you can also find on the books' product pages, in case you forget it.

My colleague Doranna Durgin has not only put a slew of her own books for sale, but also invited other authors to list theirs. (I imagine a list will begin growing on Doranna's blog over the next day or two.)

And I say, why not? If you're an author with a book or books on sale, list it here in the comments section! The more, the merrier!

By the way, my Bookbub promotion has been very successful, and Eternity's End is still on sale, through March 7.

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