Beta Readers!

girl-hugging-teddy

That’s how I feel about beta readers right now. They are a wonderful breed of people.

Today I received some surprise feedback on Vengeance Will Come from a beta reader. I’d assumed I wasn’t going to be getting a response, but the email had been left and forgotten in their “draft” folder. Needless to say; every beta reader’s comments are precious, so I feel like I’ve just found a $100 note on the pavement.

It also doesn’t hurt my mood that their comments were largely positive. I can’t begin to express how that spurs me on to continue writing – both to finish this project and others.

You mean I haven’t wasted hundreds of hours writing? You mean you’d willingly pay money for it and be happy you did at the end? Music to my ears.

Of course not every beta reader is so complimentary, and I do genuinely also appreciate the constructive criticism. I know some of my beta readers have picked up on weaknesses – because I had those same doubts. What’s even better is when they detect a problem which I hadn’t seen without their perspective.

 

I’m still looking for a few more readers for up to five chapters of my novel. More details on the previous post.

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Please Power-up my e-Reader

Dear Google, Kindle, Kobo…

I’m a relatively new fan of eReaders, but now I’m sold on them.

No doubt I will still have times when I want to “unplug”, but I don’t miss carrying around cumbersome books. There are some books on my shelf I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t because I’d need a Sherpa to get it around (Brother Fish or Dune 3-in-1 edition). Convenience is King which is why I’ve even bought a few e-books whose physical manifestations gather dust on the shelf.

I’ve read some traditional publishers recently saying that e-books are declining in sales. With no proof whatsoever I declare Fiddlesticks! I don’t believe it, and the only way I can believe it is if you are stacking the deck and describing dodgy numbers. Why? Because convenience is King, and people are getting more tech savvy, not less.

The truth is though, eBooks should be doing much better. There are of course questions of quality and price, but I want to look at functionality. I have Kindle and Google Books on my phone. Both applications provide roughly the same functionality:

  • Table of contents
  • Search
  • Mark (highlight)
  • (Limited) copy
  • Bookmarks
  • (Kindle also shows me which bits other people like… thanks, I think).

Which I have to say, is a bit ho-hum. I mean, Google… come on, YOU can do so much better. (If I have to resort to mockery to get better software, I will). There is so much potential to do amazing things; to deliver a knock-out blow to physical books. There is huge scope for innovation.

For example:

  1. Why isn’t there more artwork in e-books?
  2. Why isn’t there internal “dictionaries” and other reference materials e.g. Family trees more often? I’m not suggesting for a minute these should be in-text but rather accessible through a simple menu system.
  3. What about interactive maps that show you the location of all your characters at any time?
  4. What about the ability to seamlessly alert the author to typos, or deliver your verdict on a passage with a thumbs-up-or-down.
    As an author I crave interaction with my readers. I want to hear their thoughts (but will settle for reading them until we evolve telepathy). A good platform that helps me connect is golden.
  5. What about blog-follow and twitter-links for the authors?
  6. Remember those choose-your-own adventure books? How long until we get ROLE-PLAYING-NOVELS. Yes, that deserves capitals (and no I don’t play role playing games, but the idea is so awesome it could break your eyes just reading it). Where is the software that incrementally reveals text based on my decisions or “in-story belongings or attributes”? WORLD-BREAKING; and you read it first here, folks.

There is so much more that e-readers could be delivering to both the authors and the readers. Get a move on with it, I say.

When the Editor takes the Day Off

I have been reading Red Mars. That is to say, at just over half-way through I’m putting the novel into an airlock and releasing it into space.

Red Mars is a HARD science fiction novel so I knew going in that it was going to be a challenge as to whether or not I could enjoy it. Reading it was an experiment for me.

It did win a Nebula award, and has 45% 5-star amazon reviews. However, as pointed out by more than one reviewer, to say it is a tad wordy is to say a light year is a small distance. There were elements of the story that I did enjoy, but to find the small minerals of goodness there was just too much soil to chew through. I’d rather save myself days of reading and find some plot spoilers online.

It is a great example of what happens when the editor seemingly takes the day off. Take this paragraph:

“Now she could wander in the dim ruby light of sunset, her old jazz collection piped from the habitat stereo into her helmet headphones, as she rooted in supply boxes and picked out any tool she wanted. She would carry them back to a small room she had commandeered in one of the storage warehouses, whistling along with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, adding to a collection that included, among other items, an Allen wrench set, some pliers, a power drill, several clamps, some hacksaws, an impact-wrench set, a brace of cold-tolerant bungie cords, assorted files and rasps and planes, a crescent-wrench set, a crimper, five hammers, some hemostats, three hydraulic jacks, a bellows, several sets of screwdrivers, drills and bits, a portable compressed gas cylinder, a box of plastic explosives and shape charges, a tape measure, a giant Swiss Army knife, tin snips, tongs, tweezers, three vises, a wire stripper, X-acto knives, a pick, a bunch of mallets, a nut driver set, hose clamps, a set of end mills, a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers, a magnifying glass, all kinds of tape, a plumber’s bob and ream, a sewing kit, scissors, sieves, a lathe, levels of all sizes, long-nosed pliers, vise-grip pliers, a tap-and-die set, three shovels, a compressor, a generator, a welding-and-cut set, a wheelbarrow–and so on.”

How this got past the editor(s) I will never understand. (Perhaps they too, just skipped the paragraph like every other reader?)

Terminology Difficulties

As a new science fiction / fantasy author one of the problems I am wrestling with is the degree to which I make up new words or terminology. If a species or culture is alien (not-Earth based) then how much do I differentiate the language and terminology that I use?

For example the period it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun is called a year. A day is how long it takes for the Earth to rotate once. But would another species use the same words, or would they have other words to reflect the same meaning? The obvious answer would be that they would use different words… (unless they had a shared history with Earth).

However I want my readers to be able to understand what I am writing without having to interpret a new language. I want to immerse my reader in fictitious places, but I don’t want them to be incomprehensible. A delicate balance.

The Rebel Queen

It started when I was writing my first novel Vengeance Will Come (Galactic Darkness series, book 1) and realised that I was introducing a BIG sub plot and a whole clown-car full of new characters half way through the story.Which is less than clever for a cohesive story.

So I cut out the juicy plot, planning to make it a novelette of around 17,500 words. I began working on this novelette in October 2015. The Rebel Queen is not book 2 of the series, but a bonus-story that runs slightly parallel to book 1 and 2, as shown in this graphic.

Timelines

I started with about 10,000 words of material and thought I could knock the project off in a couple of months. Ha! Evidently I am still learning to gauge time-and-writing- reality properly.

Two busy-writing months after my internal deadline, I am pleased to announce that I have sent The Rebel Queen out to my earliest alpha readers. Far from being a novelette, at nearly 64,000 words it is what I would call a short novel. It is an other-planet based story of empire-building, struggle and strife.

Back in October I used this as the blurb-descriptor:

There are rumours of a rebel faction hiding somewhere within the Deckarian colony. Such a presence threatens the unity of the colony and the Queen’s own ruling interest. The rebels must be swiftly crushed to remove all thoughts of a new Queen…

The rebel is young, inexperienced and has radical and controversial plans for the colony. She wants minimal bloodshed in the transition, but will her idealism prove fatal?

An unexpected human provocation will be the catalyst that puts the opposing forces onto a collision course. They will both learn that victory isn’t always what you expect.

I also like the below version, though it doesn’t describe the factions as well. Which do you like?

The hermaphrodite Deckarian Sue-Le sat in the bowels of the colony complex. The small antennae on her head that revealed her to be a genetic Queen were tied down and covered with a grey scarf. The small group sat in a corner of laundry facility 57, mending the pile of clothes beside them.Surrounded by vast boiling pots of filthy linen and kilometres of drying lines they plotted the overthrow of the colony.

I’m looking for beta readers if you’re interested, please let me know.

How to make an Opening

Now that Netflix has come to town I am finally able to watch more of Falling Skies. The more involved I get in writing, the more I find myself able to see how the storyteller constructs their work. (Also, the harder it is for me to turn off this internal review system, to actually enjoy the show!)

Season 1, Episode 1 of Falling Skies is a great example of this. The premise of the show is that aliens have come to earth and destroyed civilisation as we know it; leaving the few bedraggled humans to mount a resistance.

This is the opening dialog of the show, spoken in the voices of several children, and with numerous shots of accompanying art work.

I was in school when the ships came… they were really big, and they said that we weren’t going to attack them with the nuclear bombs because they mighta wanna’d to be friends, but they didn’t want to be friends…  not at all. Then there was a bright light that makes like all electronics stop working… computers, radio’s… cars, satellites, TVs… everything. They blew up army bases, ships, submarines, the navy and all the soldiers are gone… now mum’s and dad’s have to fight… after that they blew up all the capitals New York, Washington DC, Paris… all the major cities… they then came. There were millions of them… trillions… everywhere… we call them skitters and mechs… they kill grown-ups and catch kids… they put on harness things… they put it on kids and control them… they say it hurts a lot… my parents went out to get some help… but I know they’re gone, they’re dead…

Falling Skies S01E01Now if you think about what is actually said, it is a horrific idea. Millions, perhaps billions are dead, We are no longer the dominant species on the planet, and we’re fighting just for survival. Everything is destroyed and humanity is really in trouble.

In the first 55 seconds of the show they manage to deliver a great overview of the background and set the plot up in an ingenious way. By using children as the point of view they are able to gloss over the details that we would expect from an adult, and bring in a heightened sense of pain, loss and fear.

Within the first episode they set up multiple lot hooks:

  • “Tom Mason” is the main protagonist: a tough-but-also-very-scholarly Professor of History. His knowledge of warfare is going to be invaluable. He’s made second-in-command of his group (2nd Mass.), and we know he understands the duty of the role… but he is also torn by the competing desire to care for his three sons: one of whom has been taken captive by the skitters (pre-show). Tom’s clearly “the mentor” role, with a group of young fighters around him.
  • “Weaver” the commander of the 2nd Mass. who prefers his soldiers over civilians (with an inferred comment that he could be a threat to the civilians)… and doesn’t particularly like Tom Mason… or agree with the orders handed down to him… trouble’s a brewing.
  • The enemy fortress and speculation of how to destroy it.
  • There’s a budding romance and a young love triangle forming.