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Barreling down to the finish

Posted in Characters, On a Crooked Track, Plot, and The Chained Adept

elephant-race
I’m rolling down the home stretch for On a Crooked Track, just a couple of chapters from the end. Not only is the book almost finished, but it’s the fourth and final book of The Chained Adept series, so it’s been more of a marathon than a sprint. (Or, at least, it’s a bigger dog than the others on the track).

The first book of the series was published in February, 2016, and the fourth and last will be published in early January, 2017. That’s four books in one year, and a new “first” for me. (And if I’d been more focused over the summer and early fall, maybe I could have squeezed one more in.)

All four entries were written without outlines. In other words, instead of taking the “plotter” approach (outlining), like my first series The Hounds of Annwn, I went for the “pantser” approach (seat of my pants). Practically speaking, I knew what the major high-points in each book would entail when I started, more or less, but everything along the way was as much of a discovery for me as it is for my readers. I kept track of my structure to keep things moving along, so that the books would be well-formed, and was surprised how easy that was considering I didn’t know where the plot was going until I got there.

pantserplotterYou see, I find what happens is that your subconscious knows what it wants. This may be only my eighth novel in the Fantasy genre, but I’ve read thousands of them, and my subconscious knows what makes a good one work.

The difference in day-to-day writing is subtle. Let’s say you have a character to kill. If you were outlining, you might decide how to kill him, and then go back and plant the murder weapon in a room that you described in an earlier chapter so that it will be handy in the chapter where he dies. In other words, you come up with a rational plot element and make sure the story supports it.

But when you’re “writing into the dark” (another term for “pantsing”), you end up writing a room description with various objects that make sense in the context of that scene, and then later on, when it’s time to kill the character and you don’t know how you’re going to do it, the little reader in your head says… “but, but, I remember this clue… I bet it was that alien artifact with a curious design that was described a few chapters ago,” and your creative mind says, “hey, that’s not a bad idea. I should make that the weapon instead of what I was vaguely thinking of.” Or you might even say, “wait, not the alien artifact — that’s too obvious. But what about the seemingly innocuous case that was built to hold it? Wouldn’t that be even better? That would let me add all sorts of misdirection.”

Read More Barreling down to the finish

Cover Reveal – On a Crooked Track

Posted in Artwork, On a Crooked Track, and The Chained Adept

20161016-on-a-crooked-track5-frontHere’s the final draft of the cover art for the fourth and final book of The Chained Adept series. There will still be some tinkering with the position of the author name for consistency with the other covers, but my cover artist Jake Bullock is done with the illustration.

I thought you might be interested in how this sort of thing evolved.

The scene I wanted to illustrate was Penrys returning to Tavnastok in Ellech. The famous Collegium lies across the river, but her passage is barred by some of her old colleagues.

See how it looks with the other three books in thumbnail, compared to other fantasy covers (click to enlarge). This is the acid test for legibility.

thumbnails-on-background-draft2

We began with three sketches to sort out the composition.

Read More Cover Reveal – On a Crooked Track

That dreaded event — a new computer

Posted in A Writer's Desk

Two connected laptops. Computer network. Computer generated image.

I’m a techie. I made my career in building and running small to medium software products and services companies. I’ve written code at the operating system level, analyzed performance in mainframes, and helped many large firms transition to the internet.

Back in 1976, contemplating a job offer, I can remember thinking to myself “Ya know, I bet computers are going to be interesting…”

So I’m not a computer illiterate, even if I’m no longer hands-on in current programming languages. I think of myself these days as a leading-edge computer consumer.

And every time I swap to a new computer, I have to remind myself of this.

I’ve had high-end business laptops ever since there were laptops, and I’ve continued that practice in the freelance world. I have a specialized workstation for photography (very big storage, fast processing), and another one just for writing (old, no unnecessary software to distract me), but like many people all my day-to-day ordinary work is spent with a big honking laptop. I buy them new, and run them until they drop, typically 6-7 years.

My long-past-warranty Win 7 Dell laptop has been crashing more and more lately, and I’ve anticipated the final failures by picking up a new Lenovo Win 10 system (Thinkpad P50). I splurged on disk (1 TB) and screen resolution (3840×2160) but otherwise kept it close to off-the-shelf.

I have a lot of software and many specialized tools. The essential tool for moving from one PC to another is a product called LapLink which allows you to copy everything from the old machine to the new, where most of it will end up running properly without further attention (a minor miracle). This process takes hours (or days), depending on whether you spend money for a special LapLink cable (recommended) or try to tough it out across a (much slower) local network. I have occasion to swap to a new machine every few years and, like time-lapse photography, I appreciate how much more convenient the process gets each time.

High-resolution screens and font-size management

So, what am I complaining about? Fonts. The inability, more than a year after Windows 10 was released, for many products to accommodate the font sizes needed for their internal menus in a high-resolution situation. As I do research into my problems, I discover this is not just a Win 10 issue, but has been around ever since the hi-res monitors have. And it still isn’t fixed. The products blame Windows but I don’t know who’s right (yet).

It’s not just an issue of hi-res. Windows 10 also allows you to amplify the native text setting to accommodate higher resolution. And that’s where the problem seems to lie. The ordinary navigation menus in programs respect that text resizing. But products that have complex internal menus, often with icons rather than text, do not seem to respect the text resizing, so they shrink in a high-resolution situation, and don’t resize.

I use four expensive and critical programs that are so complicated that they have internal menus: Photoshop and Lightroom, and Quicken and QuickBooks. And here’s what they look like in Win 10.

Read More That dreaded event — a new computer

After action report — Foxburg Fall Festival

Posted in Events

foxburg-event-img_20161009_153919423-croppedIt was a splendid autumn day, and Foxburg is a lovely little river town along the Allegheny River not far from Pittsburgh. The single riverfront street was lined with vendors in tents selling food and trinkets of all kinds, and alpacas for the petting roamed the library lawn.

The library was a nice, old building, with one large front room, some stacks in a back room, and a tiny alcove for children’s books. The library ran a used book sale, and there were eight of us indie authors inside, selling our wares.

Or, at least, that was the theory.

All the signage mentioned “used book sales”. None of it mentioned visiting authors and new book sales. If you weren’t in the main room, like me, you were essentially invisible. That would have disturbed me more, except that it became clear after we compared notes that few of us had sold even a single copy of a book.

Our hosts were just as nice and helpful as they could be, but the absence of proper signage meant that few people dropped by, and none were prepared to find anything except used books and had a hard time understanding that there were actual authors there prepared to sell them something else.

Sigh… So after a few jokes about starting up a couple of bridge games, we spent the time sharing stories and tips about writing and publishing. I got some recommendations for other book shows (somewhat sardonically) from one of my neighbors. And we shared lists of books-to-read in various genres.

At least I got to try out all my new gear for setup and display (on a card table). The only hitch was the tablecloth — I bought a rectangle suitable for a 4’x8′ table and expected to have some difficulty folding it neatly for a square 3′ x 3′ table, but little did I know… The cloth, marked “rectangular” in the packaging was actually round. That, my friends, is why you bring large ACCO clamps and tape to show events.

At least I had the opportunity to network a bit with other authors. Here I am with Cindy Marsch, one of my colleagues from the Alliance for Independent Authors.

foxburg-event-w-cindy-rinaman-marsch-img_20161009_172027351_burst000_cover-cropped

Four years in the business

Posted in A Writer's Desk

woman-climbing-tall-mountainD’ya know what today is?

Four years ago I published my first novel, To Carry the Horn. Since then, there have been more than a million words, seven novels (the eighth should be out in November), and a handful of short stories and a collection. That’s two fantasy series, and a third in the wings coming up.

It’s sixteen titles. When you count up all the different formats and combinations (print, epub, mobi, audio) and bundles, I make it fifty-five published editions, and there are more titles going the rounds of story submissions not yet published.

It’s been a wild ride, but I’m just getting started. I’ve got a science-fiction series in mind after this next fantasy series (The Affinities of Magic). That’s eight novels in four years so far, but this year alone I will have published four novels, so I’m ramping up my game.

In terms of the business side, I’ve just scraped the surface of serious international distribution, and you’re all going to be hearing a lot more from me in terms of marketing in the upcoming year, an area too long neglected.

pulling-boulderI enjoy the writing enormously, but novels are marathons, not sprints, and the daily discipline of sitting down and doing the work is always a challenge.

Sometimes it feels like this.

But it’s always worth it when I get to the top and release the next book. Love the view from up there!

Setting up for an author event

Posted in Artwork, Book Signings, and Events

banner-1_7x3-foot-rgbOn October 9, I’ll be one of several authors at the Foxburg Free Library in western PA, with a table for presenting my books.

For the first time, I’ve had to make the effort to get the full panoply of gear necessary for such a thing. This includes, but is not limited to: display stands for books, tablecloth, business cards, bookmarks, newsletter signup sheets, promo pens, a cash box, receipt books, and (of course) books to sell. Not to mention a gear bag to carry things in. Tape, clamps,… you name it. Everything except lamps, table, chairs, and tent.

Naturally I had some of this already, but now I’m treating it seriously.

Here’s the banner. Click on it for the full effect (it’s 3 feet long).