Sunday, January 31, 2010

Greed, Stupidity and Replication.

Medieval Printing Press - taken from - and replicated on your computer without permission.

I would like to pick up on the issues raised by Amanda, yesterday. We have raised these before on this blog and we will undoubtedly raise them again.

For most of the human experience one needed a bard to hear music or a story. Everything was created afresh because there was no way of replication. All this changed in the 15th Century with the invention of the printing press. The impact on human society was massive acceleration by orders of magnitude of any intellectual activity.

The Protestant reformation could not have happened without the replication of the bible. Science and art leapt forward. However, there were doormen. Replication required specialist skills, equipment and capital.

Fast forward to the 20th Century and we have new forms of replication for sound and vision. Some are transient, like the radio and television, but others are permanent, notably musical records. However, the same economic rules applied as for publishing. A lucrative industry grew up around the replication business.

Music is an interesting example because a massive industry grew up selling records. Note that they did not sell 'music' but replications of music and the major beneficiaries were suits rather than artists. Indeed, the music business damn near killed live music.

The first cloud on the suit's horizon came in the form of the cassette recorder. Anyone could make a replicate but it was a slow business and, in practice, easily controlled by the industry.

The digital world of the last two decades has changed everything. We thought of computers as symbolic logic processing machines when I started using them in the early 1970s. However, modern systems can just as easily be described as replication machines. They make replicates, quickly and cheaply. Replication is central to their very function. They can create infinite replications and distribute them anywhere.

The impact for the music industry has been devastating. How do you control the price of replicates when they can be produced in infinite numbers, free at the point of use, anywhere in the world? Well, you can't.

Lord Mandy of Rio, who actually runs Britain while Gordy sulks in his cage at No 10, has been persuaded by the industry to switch off the internet connections to those who download 'pirate' software. Well guess what? It turns out that the people who download 'pirate' software are the same people who are the customers who pay for music online. Duh! Well done the music industry!

All together guys, put the shotgun barrels in your mouth and pull the trigger. That'll show them that you are not to be trifled with.

None of this affects musicians all that much. The trend is to give away recorded music and then charge for live performances. Live music is back. It's the music industry that is in trouble.

The publishing industry has mostly adopted a firm policy of pretending nothing is happening, with the exception of some far sighted individuals like Jim Baen. This has worked up to a point because paperback books are cheap and convenient while reading fiction on an electronic machine has been an unpleasing experience. This is all set to change with the development of ebook readers.

The industry has no plan and no clue. Currently it is trying to pretend that an ebook is just a book in a different format. Hence, DRM, overpricing and the current skirmish between the suits at Amazon and Macmillan. That is a turf war between threatened clans over the last waterhole in a drought.

It is not clear how this is going to pan out. Ebook readers are still not as convenient as a paperback but they will only get better. There are still big differences between the publishing and music industry. For example, authors do not perform in the same way as musicians. However, one has to wonder how much of the infrastructure designed to convey a manuscript from an author to a buyer (the publisher, the distributor, the wholesaler, the bookshop) can survive when the consumer can click on a website and make a replicate on their computer that had a zero manufacturing cost?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Who Left the Door Open?

Latest update (Jan 31) -- See Below

Updated @ 4:35 CST -- See Below

Maybe it's the phase of the Moon. Maybe it's an alien virus that's caused it. But, whatever the case, the lunatics have escaped their rooms and are now running loose. Worse, one started the shouting and hysteria followed and I'm tired of it.

What, dear reader, am I talking about? I'm talking about the Amazon - Macmillan situation. In case you haven't heard, last night Macmillan books (from, as far as I can tell, all their imprints) disappeared from This includes e-books as well as hard copy books. Not included are those hard copy books sold by Amazon associates or and other non-US versions of Amazon. Almost at once, twitter was a-flitter with conspiracy theories and accusations being flung at the evil that is Amazon.

Now, I'm not saying Amazon isn't at fault. It may be. But, as far as I can tell, there is nothing to support that supposition except for one line in a NYT article, to-wit: Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter. This unnamed person is supposedly someone "in the industry with knowledge of the dispute".

Okay, call me a skeptic, but I have problems putting a whole lot of weight behind an unnamed source. I have further problems accepting as true an assertion from the media where they don't have a secondary source to back up what their unnamed source claims. There used to be journalistic standards in this country but that's a different issue and gets too close to politics -- something I've promised my fellow MGCers I'd try to avoid.

Let's look at the issue without the histrionics that have filled Twitter and Facebook and other online networks. Did Amazon delete the books? Yes. That's undeniable because they aren't there. But that's not the real question. The real question is why did Amazon delete them? Is this a ploy by Jeff Bezos and Amazon to keep Macmillan in line, perhaps even to punish it for signing with Apple's iPad? Or is it an attempt by Macmillan to force Amazon to increase e-book prices from $9.99 for best sellers to the $15.oo mark it prefers? Or perhaps it's a bit of both. That's more likely the truth.

Don't be fooled by the blogs saying Amazon refused comment or couldn't be reached for comment, etc. Guess what, the news broke well after business hours Friday night. There was no one in the office to comment, in my guess. But that doesn't play nearly as well in print as saying Amazon refused comment or couldn't be reached for comment, etc. And, gee, no one from Macmillan has commented either but you don't see anything being made of that.

So who are the ones being hurt by the removal of these books from Amazon? Readers and authors. Readers because they can't get their e-books in Kindle format and at a reasonable price. Sure they can go to Barnes and Noble or Sony or Fictionwise and buy the book but, guess what, those sites have DRM as well. Which means they won't work on a kindle unless you break DRM. So, those folks out there yelling about Amazon having DRM and that's evil and they need to do what other e-book sellers are doing need to look at the facts again. Beyond the DRM issue, price becomes an issue. I checked several titles last night and even if I could have bought the books in a Kindle-friendly format, I wouldn't have. Why pay more than $20.00 for an e-book when I can go out and buy it for half that price at the local used bookstore? Oh wait, that's what Macmillan wants me to do. They want me to buy the hard cover of the book and not the e-book. But, if I buy the discounted book at the resale shop, the authors don't get anything for it.

I've just demonstrated one way authors are being hurt by this current situation. Another way is that, with their books gone from, they are losing potential sales. That's reality. Another reality is that some of these same authors are pissing off potential buyers by blaming Amazon without any real proof that they are the ones at fault and by removing their Amazon author pages as well as removing their Amazon client buttons from their websites. Come on, guys, take a step back. Take a deep breath and think for a moment. And quit acting like a bunch of lemmings following the crowd over the edge of the cliff just because someone said to jump.

What does all this mean? It means that, as I've said before, publishing is changing and the major houses hate it. They hate the fact they no longer have the control of the buying public like they used to. They hate the fact they don't control sellers as they once did. In short, they hate change. The sad thing is, because most publishers -- and all too many authors -- have no grasp of the economics at play right now, there are going to be many more losers in this battle then there has to be. We've already lost most of the mom and pop bookstores because the publishers liked the way the big box stores could order more books and potentially sell them. So what happened, the big box stores cornered the market and could dictate terms to the publishers, hitting the publishers in the pocketbook, hard. Then, with the advent of the internet and e-commerce, they failed to adapt and develop their own on-line sales presence, leading to Amazon.

Now, the furor is over e-books and their pricing. Publishers refuse to realize they can sell more e-books at $10.00 than they can hard cover books at almost $30.oo. What will their next battle be? Will they pull their books from the shelves of stores like Walmart and Target because they sell the "best sellers" for $10.oo and discount paperbacks? How does any of that help the reading public and the authors?

Okay, I can hear some of the authors out there grinding their teeth and sharpening their pencils to stab me through the heart because I'm advocating lower prices for e-books and taking money out of their pockets. No, I'm not. Okay, most have their royalties based on sales price instead of cover price. However, they have continued to sign contracts that give them the same, and in some cases lower, royalty payments for e-books as they get for dead tree versions of the books. They are listening to the pabulum their publishers feed them instead of looking at the economics of the situation. And it is to their detriment as well as the detriment of their fans.

The times, they are a-changing and instead of yelling about what's wrong and pointing the finger of blame, everyone -- publishers, authors and readers -- need to understand that publishing will never be what it once was. It can become better, but only if it doesn't shoot itself in the head. Right now, I'm afraid too many publishers are caressing the gun, looking down the shiny barrel and wondering what would happen if they pulled the trigger. Whether Macmillan pulled the books from Amazon in an attempt to retake pricing control or Amazon pulled the books to maintain that control, it really doesn't matter. All that does is that no one is the winner here, at least not in the short term. What happens in the long run remains to be seen.

In the meantime, let's check our facts, verify our sources and let sanity return.


The NYT article cited above has been updated. The interesting points, imo, are as follows:

Motoko Rich, my colleague, spoke with a person who had a direct conversation with a person at Macmillan familiar with the conversations with Amazon. Macmillan offered Amazon the opportunity to buy Kindle editions on the same “agency” model as it will sell e-books to Apple for the iPad. Under this model, the publisher sets the consumer book price and takes 70 percent of each sale, leaving 30 percent to the retailer. Macmillan said Amazon could continue to buy e-books under its current wholesale model, paying the publisher 50 percent of the hardcover list price while pricing the e-book at any level Amazon chooses, but that Macmillan would delay those e-book editions by seven months after hardcover release. Amazon’s removal of Macmillan titles on Friday appears to be a direct reaction to that.

If this is true, I don't blame Amazon one bit for taking the stance it has. To start, for Amazon to maintain the pricing as it currently is -- something the majority of those posting on the kindle boards seem to want -- they would have to agree to wait 7 months for the e-book. Now, paperback editions of most hardcovers come out before then. E-book readers will either not buy the book at all, wait and buy the paperback book or buy an e-book from another seller and break the DRM. None of which will help the author, the publisher or Amazon. If Macmillan believes this tact will increase the sales of hardcover books, they are mistaken. Worse, the ill-will they are creating may have long reaching consequences for them and for their authors. Will they -- and the other publishing houses who believe as Macmillan does -- please hire someone who understands the technology, the market trends AND the economics of the situation?


At 2:22 PST, the following post was put up on the Kindle boards by the Kindle Team:

Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the "big six" publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it's reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don't believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

Thank you for being a customer.

I'm not, personally, happy with this resolution and if I were Barnes & Noble and other e-book retailers, I'd be wondering how long before Macmillan and the other major publishers try this same tactic on me. I'm hoping that, as one commenter suggested, this is not so much a capitulation on Amazon's part but a warning to Macmillan that they are looking at possible SEC violations. You have to wonder since they did use the "M" word. -- Amanda

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What is Writing?

This might sound like a rather obvious question, but for someone who tortures themselves trying to squeeze some writing time out of life between all the various other fires that need putting out, it’s a pretty important question.

Is staring into space while musing over the plot of your latest bestseller writing? Is editing writing? Is proof-reading writing?

Australian author Louise Cusack describes editing as ‘creative bookkeeping’, and views it separately to ‘writing’ – at least in so far as the personal resources required to achieve it.

If you give yourself a daily word target of say – 500 or 1000 words – what happens to that target when you have to spend your precious writing time editing your latest piece to send out?

Personally I think its all valid. Everything from daydreaming a weird characteristic of you latest pet character to scribbling notes about a key plot point on the back of the nearest piece of cardboard. There is a famous story about Red Dwarf; how the original writers came up with the idea in a pub. They kept the original beer-coaster that they scribbled their ideas on and there was actually a picture of it in the back of one of the Red Dwarf books I read.

I think its dangerous to rate the creative process. Who knows when that five minutes of daydreaming will actually provide the core of the next best thing since Stephanie Meyer/JK Rowling?

Having said that, I think new writing – where its just you and the blank page and you are dragging words out of nowhere to create something new – uses a unique psychic muscle. Editing, where you are not just proof reading but actually concentrating on the writing craft and structure, also uses something close, but its like a light warm up Vs bench training. If you really want to build that writing muscle, you have to spend time first drafting.

So what you think? What is writing? Do you change your goals and targets when you switch from first drafting to editing?

The box and the line in the sand

You have - again - Sarah to thank for this. She mentioned not long ago that I don't just think outside the box, I'm still looking for the box and may not be in the same universe. I am still in contact with the general reality, just at a rather obtuse and possibly abolished angle.

So far so good. The fun comes when I reach the line in the sand, that not exactly physical demarcation of "thus far and no further". I've hit it, or it's hit me, and it's proven wonderfully freeing. I've shut up and put up with all sorts of things I disagree with for long enough, but not any more.

What got me there? I finally realized that for all the "being good" and "doing the right thing" didn't work (the "right thing" being defined here as what the usual consensus says I should be doing, not what I believe I should be doing. Not only are they usually not the same thing, they're often rather interestingly opposed).

I've effectively given up any hope of mainstream publication for my novels. When Amazon moves to the 70% royalty level, I'll do what I need to to sell them there. The day job is going to take up so much time I'm not likely to be ready for it until then anyway, so no loss there. If by some miracle a mainstream offer does show up, fine, that's gravy. But I've taken enough shit at work and elsewhere that I'm not prepared to put up with it and make nicey-nice anymore.

Common courtesy, sure. Other than that, you get me as I am, warts and all (actually, there aren't any warts right now, but you get the idea), and if you don't like it, stiff. There's nothing anywhere that says you have to like me - and conversely, there's nothing anywhere that says I have to like you. I no longer care what you (in the generic sense) think about me. If you think I'm crazy because that box is nice and comfy, well, good for you. I like it out here, although I'd still like to find that blasted box so I can maybe get some idea why it's so flipping popular.

So there you have it: the pissed Kate manifesto. Who else has had a gutful and doesn't care what saying so brings?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You Might Be a Writer IF

*I think I've done this here before, but I am still busilly being nepharious on the blog tour, so forgive me if I repeat myself. Fresh blather next week. Recycled blather this week!*

*This was the work of a post meeting party for my writers' group round about 2000. Because people came and went from the group I don't remember the quorum that afternoon, though I can swear to my husband, Dan Hoyt and to Rebecca and Alan Lickiss, as well as Jennifer Roberts and Barbara Nickless. I'd forgotten all about this till I found it in my hard drive while looking for something else.*

You Might Be A Writer If... have knock-down, drag-out arguments with your significant other over verb tenses. pay big bucks for a babysitter so you can go out on a date ... in order to have some time to plot a story.

...revelatory conversations that start with "That's it; I know exactly what to do with Lord Raven!" don't mean you're having an affair. find nothing wrong with foregoing food, sleep and sanitary facilities for three days running in order to get those last three chapters done. talk to walls on a regular basis, but only because your characters refuse to come out into the middle of the big, unprotected room where their enemies might make an attempt on their lives. talk to yourself. Do not! Do too! Do not! Don't listen to him; he doesn't even know how to hold a sword properly!

... conversations that start, "Have you decided how to kill him yet?" don't indicate that you are about to become a felon.

... hearing that you have no clue isn't necessarily a personal remark.

... if a story isn’t accepted, happiness is a detailed personal rejection.

... and then you brag to all your friends about being rejected.

... your computer is three generations old, but your printer is a top of the line, fifty pages per minute model.

... you have to think to remember which of your friends are real, and which are characters in your stories.

... your characters have definite opinions about your friends, hairdos and sex life.

... while plotting a novel you drive your car across a median, barely avoid a stream of oncoming traffic, climb the berm, cross a parking lot, stop against a small tree, and don’t realize you’ve done anything out of the ordinary.

... You ever pumped a total stranger for details of his last illness, so you could use it in a book.

... Often have trouble remembering what day, week, month, year or century you live in.

... Are afraid to park a large car but routinely discuss the mechanics of space travel.

... you have definite opinions about the merits of historical personages so obscure no one else ever heard of them.

... Read Machiavelli’s The Prince on an interstate flight.

... Your four-year-old thinks "editor" is a bad swear word.

... in highschool you used to wander off from parties to research a plot point in the nearest library.

... your writing has ruined more than two serious relationships.

... Your prayers often involve a critique of the divine plot.

... Cleaning is what you do while suffering from the block. And only then.

... Some of the leftovers in your refrigerator have acquired life and are on the verge of sentience. You can’t wait to write about it.

... you have to be a writer, otherwise someone would realize you’re insane.

... you think coffee, donuts and pizza are a complete diet.

... when you were little, your main contribution to the playgroup was making up the "scripts" for playtime.

... your kids talk in hushed tones about your "coming down with a novel."

... Don’t know what the nearest crossroad to your house is, but can tell with certainty what type of carriage was used in 1456 in Wales.

... When a friend asks "what’s new" you give him a synopsis of your latest book.

... Have one or more times scared a late-night diner waitress with a conversation that started with: "now I need to figure out where to hide the body."

... A social life is another name for getting together with other writers and discussing plots.

... While being administered the last rites you think, "dang, I’m too woozy to remember this, and I need it for my mystery novel."

... You quit writing and became so obsessive about so many other things that your family begged you to start again.

... Love to write, but hate every minute of the writing business.

What are your favorite personal You Might Be A Writer If....?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Algebra and Accounting ...

Okay, I know there are forums out there, where people write about mathematics, sometimes using mathematics to make a point simply because they love it.

I have to state here, that I do not love maths.

Over these holidays:

I've had to set up the chart of accounts and do the entries for 2 Super Funds (Self managed Superannuation Funds).

I've had to do my BAS (Business Activity Statement) entering all income and expenditure and allocating a percentage to GST (Goods and Services Tax) and working out my GST for the quarter.

AND, (if this is not bad enough), I've had to do 14 pages of year 9 algebra with my 15 year old son so he could catch up with what he missed last school year. I did General Maths in high school (not algebra) and that was almost forty years ago.

Hence the soothing picture of the beach and ocean!

But, as I was working on these maths related things, it occurred to me that with numbers it is philosophically simple. (I'm not discussing String Theory here). You do a bank reconciliation, you account for everything. You are either right or you are wrong. You do an algebra equation and there is a right answer.

After writing books where every word carries nuances that vary depending on your cultural background (US, UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia), where you build characters with those words, where you build worlds with those words and then you try to tell a story on the shifting sands of these foundations ... maths was strangely satisfying.

I know I can write a good story. (Sometimes I get too close and get something wrong, but I can see this when critique partners point it out). I have written children's books that went out to 5 publishers before they were sold, not because there was anything wrong with the books, but because they weren't what the first 4 publishers wanted. I have Book One of four different fantasy series sitting on my hard drive, waiting for the right publisher/s to come along.

I have the three books of the King Rolen's Kin series coming out this year. I know I can write an entertaining book, but I don't know if the books I write will automatically sell. This was a big revelation after I sold my first children's book. I assumed that once I achieved publication, my next book would automatically sell. I looked on that first professional sale a bit like the Master Plumber giving his apprentice his papers and making him a professional.

Not knowing if a perfectly good book will sell is really frustrating.

If I was an accountant, I could 'write as many books as I could manage' and people would pay me because a bank reconciliation is either right or wrong. No one sits there and says, I liked it, but it isn't the reconciliation I'm looking for right now.

Creative people like writers, musicians and artists get up everyday, pour their hearts into their work and do it, knowing there is a strong chance it will be rejected even if it is good.

Why do we do it?

That's an easy one. We can't stop ourselves being creative.

But how do we keep doing it? How do you shore up our confidence despite the vagaries and indignities of our chosen profession?

Now that is a much harder question.

How do you keep going?

Monday, January 25, 2010

A treacherous land

Tomorrow is Australia Day, and very new Australian I find myself going to my very first Australia Day barbie on the beach up at Killiekrankie. I'm quite looking forward to it. It's a strange feeling as I have been withdrawing from the concept of patriotism to South Africa for the last few years - which was hard as I come from a long line of people who fought either against oppressors for _their_ country or who volunteered to serve in the wars of their country. You can argue the logic and wax on about territorial imperitives etc. but there is a strong (and often illogical) tendency in many of us to find a group to ID with and to stand with them. This is a powerful arena to write in. Anything that stirs strong, primal emotions is. It's also of course a potentially treacherous land as the beloved of one group is often the bete noir (beyond logic sometimes in both cases) of another large section of the potential audience. So - a strong emotional driver - but a dangerous area where the allegience of the writer - and the reader - can over-run the bounds of common sense. It's a great story - but say the author is so anti/pro American as to alienate a large part of his/her audience (thereby not only losing sales, but the opportunity to show the positive aspects of his 'group'). Yes, the chorus of faithful will enjoy it. And that can be a substantial audience if that's a big group. But it is dangerous country for writers. No, I am not suggesting that you have to avoid it, the opposite - it is powerful stuff and dangerous territory is what makes books exciting and makes enthusiasts out of what might be tepid readers. What I am saying is it is not the country for blind assumptions that everyone (or everyone worth writing for)shares your viewpoint. I wrote extensively about it in MUCH FALL OF BLOOD (because I was very much in flux myself about issues of national identity) and the need of refugees (not economic migrants) to find certain things in order to integrate. I was very much writing about modern migration - with the strong feelings this raises, but I was able to put into an apparently neutral context, and to let the readers into the heads of the protagonists. I think it worked and makes it very strong book. But what do the rest of you think? does patriotism have any place in modern fiction? is it there whether we like it or not? (I've yet to read a single fantasy without some of it). How should it be handled?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Weekly Round-up

As most of you know, I'm a proud owner of a Kindle and have been an advocate for e-books for years. I believe they are a major component in the future of publishing. I also believe that e-books, combined with the new opportunities presented by the internet, are a way more mid-list and new authors will find readers and, hopefully, make more money. And that brings me to a couple of links I ran across this week as well as some observations I've made after spending time reading various on-line fora about e-books.

The links first. For those of you who might be impacted by the Google settlement, if you still have questions about it, there are several phone conferences taking place this week to help explain it and answer any questions you might have. These are open to all authors and agents. You don't have to be a member of Authors Guild to take part. For more information, check out this link.

The second link is one that is much more telling, from my point of view, when it comes to the future of publishing. The New York Times published an article titled "With Kindle, the Best Sellers Don't Need to Sell". The basic import of the story is that authors and publishers have seen an increase in sales after posting a book for free for the Kindle. One example given is Lauren Dane's romance novel Giving Chase. Kindle users downloaded more than 26,000 copies of the book.

This is what's really impressive: But paid purchases of some of Ms. Dane’s other novels jumped exponentially. Her earlier novel “Chased,” which sold 97 copies in September, sold 2,666 digital units in October, and another of her previous books, “Taking Chase,” which sold 119 copies in September, sold 3,279 in the month in which a free download was available.

That's a huge increase in sales and it comes because the publisher was willing to give away, for one month only, downloads of Giving Chase. This form of marketing is one factor that will help pull publishing out of the doldrums it's in now. More importantly, it will help pull new authors and mid-list authors out of the shadows and bring them to the public's attention.
Unfortunately, there are still publishers who are digging their heels in and refusing to recognize that e-books represent a growing portion of the market and that the sales of them will not destroy the sales of hard copy versions of the same book. Executives at some houses said that given such actions, offering free content amounts to industry hypocrisy.

“At a time when we are resisting the $9.99 price of e-books,” said David Young, chief executive of Hachette Book Group, the publisher of James Patterson and Stephenie Meyer, “it is illogical to give books away for free.”

Similarly, a spokesman for Penguin Group USA said: “Penguin has not and does not give away books for free. We feel that the value of the book is too important to do that.”

These publishers, and all those like them, don't seem to grasp the fact that giving away an e-book for a limited amount of time is nothing more than promotion. It's a way to get the author's name out there and recognized by the reading public. It is also a heck of a lot less expensive, for everyone involved, than sending an author on a publicity tour, sending out ARCs, etc., and it wouldn't surprise me at all if it doesn't hit a lot more potential readers. Readers who will buy books in one form or another.

Even if only a small percentage of those who download a free book end up buying another one, “that’s all found money,” said Steve Oates, vice president for marketing at Bethany House Publishers, a unit of Baker Publishing Group . . . .

I wish more publishers took Mr. Oates's view. I do not believe e-books will kill the printed book -- at least not for a very long while. But there is a market for e-books, a market that will continue to grow as more and more e-book readers are developed. Are there still issues to be dealt with regarding e-books? Hell, yeah. DRM for one. A common format for another. But these are also issues that can be dealt with, if the publishing industry will just learn from what the music industry went through and if it starts listening to the purchasing public.

There is something we, as authors, need to keep in mind. The e-book reading public really doesn't understand why some books make it into electronic form and others don't, much less why the e-book version may not be published at the same time as the first release of the dead tree version of the book. They blame the retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They blame the authors -- sometimes rightfully so. But they don't, in many cases, understand that it is the publisher making the decision on when an e-book comes out. There is growing discontent on the boards frequented by those who purchase e-books about the delay in the electronic versions. If you're an author whose e-book has been delayed for months after the first release of the DTB and you're getting angry emails about it, that's why. If you're a reader angry because that e-book you've been waiting for has been delayed, let the publisher know as well as the author. E-books are here to stay, barring some form of catastrophe that kills computers, e-book readers, etc.

As readers, what would entice you to buy an e-book by an author you'd never heard of before? Would being able to download a book by them for free help? How about as an author? Would you be willing to put up a book for free for a limited time in order to boost your sales? What approach should publishers be taking with regard to e-books now, in face of the facts presented in the NYT's article?

(Image found at

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where to get ideas

This is a map of the galaxy by Samuel Arbesman which is repeated here without permission for review purposes.

As you can see, it is drawn in the style of the London tube map. The current tube map style was devised by Beck in 1933 and was a graphic design breakthrough in the Beck used schematics to convey the sense of the system rather than a confusing literal map of London. Arbesman has done the same thing for the Milky Way, or Mutter's Spiral as it appears on Time Lord four dimensional maps.

This is a rather laboured instroduction to the main theme of today's blog - What should and SF&F writer read?

They read SF&F fiction, obviously, to keep a weather eye on the opposition and sneer at clearly inferior works that have somehow been published when their own works of genius have been rejected - again.

They read other fiction, as Tom Lehrer so cogently argued 'Don't just use your eyes, plagiarise' - or as I prefer to put it - artists borrow.

But most of all, they should read non-fiction. In particular, read narrative histories and biographies.

Narrative histories are a superb source of events to set a background for a story and to inspire a cast of characters. I have just finished 'Empire of the Seas', a narrative history of the struggles between Turkey and Spain, or more properly the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs, in the Mediterranean in the 16th Century from the battle for Rhodes in 1521 to Lepanto in 1571. I will not review this excellent work, you can find reviews elsewhere, except to say that it is not a simple military history but puts matters into their political context.

The only fault that I would find with it is a final section portraying Lepanto as the decisive battle to save Christian civilisation. Lepanto was no such thing. Like most 'decisive' battles it had very little little long term effect. It did not represent the high water of Turkish naval arms, that was at Malta in 1565. At the end of the battle, Spain, France, England and some smaller Christian states held the Western Roman Empire and Turkey held the Eastern Roman Empire.

Plus ca change, geopolitics overuled religion. Valois France had been a Turkish ally, even letting the Ottoman fleet base in Toulon in 1543, and the merchants of Venice had changed sides more frequently than Italy in the modern world. North Africa was a pirate stronghold who lived mainly by enslaving Europeans on an industrial scale. Millions of Europeans were kidnapped in slave raids that went on into the 19th Century and reached as far north as England. Maybe we should demand apologies and reperations.

But I digress, something my wife is often forced to reprove me for. This superb book is a mine for anyone wanting to write a story set in an SF universe with spacefleets battling it out for an arm of the galaxy (see above).

The other works that are immensely valuable for inspiration are biographies. David Drake has pointed out to me that autobiographies are even more valuable as they show what people were trying to achieve, not just what actually happened.

I am currently reading 'Lord Byron's Jackal' by David Crane. This is the biography of Edward John Trelawny who, as you can tell by the name, is a Cornishman - like me. It contains the immortal line about Trelawny - 'It is given to few men to kill two major poets..'

Trelawny was an uneducated failed naval officer, he reached the dizzy rank of midshipman, who reinvented himself as a dashing corsair and lover, became a friend to both Shelley and Byron, managing to assist both in getting killed, hid in a Greek cave while fighting in the Greek War of Independence alongside a bandit leader called Odysseus, married a thirteen year old bride and was shot in the back twice by English assassins to be eventually rescued by another Englishman by the name of Francis D'Ancy Bacon. Those are only the bare facts that he failed to embellish.

He died in bed at the age of 89 after becoming one of the great prose writers of his day. His last known words were 'lies, lies, lies'.

Try inventing an anti-hero like that!

So to help you write fiction, read non-fiction.

Anyone know any other real larger than life antiheroes?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Split Personalities

It seems that being a writer requires that you split yourself into all these multiple personalities, most of which have opposite characteristics.

You need to be introspective, happy with your own company (and happy being in your own head) most of the time. How else would you do the necessary hours to get the output you need or increase your skills? This is essential for what is elegantly called the ‘bums on seats’ factor.

Yet at the same time you need to be an extrovert that thrives on personal interactions – getting out to conventions, networking effortlessly, confident at public speaking – enabling you to find those leads you need, and convince key people that you really do have something to sell, and to differentiate yourself from all the other writers that are only names on a submission.

When it comes to your own work, you have to be passionate and sensitive. You have to be so secure that you can let yourself free, let your creative energies boil in whatever direction you want.

Yet at the same time, you need to be able to approach feedback and critique on your work with a professional emotional distance that enables you to be ruthless, otherwise you will never be able to ‘kill all your babies’.

Its like those personality wheels – where the average person has ‘dips’ in some areas and ‘peaks’ in others. Well it seems the writer needs to be a superhuman self-developer, taking all those dips and pushing them up into peaks.

So - how do you handle all these split personalities? Do you get them to take it in turns? Did you have to turn yourself inside out to develop all these? Or did you have all these split personalities to begin with?

When life attacks

I know everyone else who posts here is at minimum very busy, with frequent excursions into Chinese curse interesting territory, and I suspect most of our readers are the same. Most of you have probably worked out I'm now into week three of Chinese curse territory, and my writing output has suffered rather a lot.

My usual methods of dealing with an overload of life, the universe and everything involve computer games with much smashing of stuff, mindless puzzle games (yes, I know that's technically contradictory, but for me, they are), reading if there's a good book or I'm catching up on a new webcomic (lately Girl Genius has been getting the treatment) - anything that I don't have to actively think about but takes all my attention. The thing is, the more interesting life gets, the more of this I need to do before I'm able to write - and then I run into the narcolepsy wall and have to go fall over because the damned alarm goes off way too early on work days. What writing is happening is getting slid between the spaces early in the morning at work, before everyone else gets in and things go crazy again.

Right now, my methods of clearing the mental plate so that writing can happen aren't working too well - what works for everyone else? How do you tell life to take a hike (with or without the one-fingered salute) when it starts getting way too busy and entirely too "interesting" for your sanity?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Reading List

This riffs a little on Rowena's post yesterday. Like most writers, I'm a scribbler completely surrounded by books.

My family has so many books -- on bookshelves, on tables, on counters, on top of the microwaves, on piles on dressers, and recently on stacks on the floor -- that if a concussion bomb exploded in the neighborhood, we'd not only be unimpressed -- we'd never notice.

The shock would be absorbed by all those piles of books, and we'd be left untouched -- and probably reading.

My Mother in Law, before I had kids, told me once this happened my reading would stop. I will agree I became more discriminating (if nothing else, because it's near impossible concentrating on a so-so book while toddler shoe is kicking against ankle.) OTOH the reading continued. It's an addiction, you see? I read while walking. I read while cooking. I read while cleaning (cleaners on books, may all divinities of the printed word forgive me!) I read while ironing (yes, this is incredibly entertaining.)

If I could find a way to read while writing and while sleeping, my life would be complete. I hear in heaven you get an extra pair of eyes so you can read while doing everything else. Okay, I made that up. But it's my heaven, so keep your nose out of it.

This post will concentrate mostly on one sort of books -- books on writing. Opinions on these varies. Most writers buy every one on the market, even when they don't read them. It's like they expect, by osmosis, for the magical qualities of the books to rubb off on them. Hasn't happened yet. (Sigh.) Other writers are terribly afraid it will destroy that mystical/magical quality called style or voice. Or whatever the heck it is they're calling it these days.

First let me dispose of the latter. My husband and older son and I all read the same how-to books. Mostly because I drop books on their desks and glare at them till they read them. Yeah, I know. Horrible, horrible woman. Anyway, if you read any book which has all of us (Strip Mauled by Esther Friesner, say) you'll see we're all completely different. Heck, I couldn't do their styles if I tried.

Refusing to read How-to books to preserve your style is roughly the equivalent of refusing to read even one cake recipe so as not to spoil the natural taste of your cooking. Once you figure out the rules (Oh! Cakes take eggs! [or as my older son said, after the first time he tried to make a cake, and we weren't home: No one told me you had to break the egg and put only the inside in!] or Oh, proportion of sugar and flour is this!) then you can improvise, add chocolate chips, figs or syrup of ipecac. But you have to know the basics FIRST. And better men and women than you -- or I -- have distilled those into writing precepts so you don't need to go out with your little pan and find gold in the mud. Use the dang books. Would you program without ever having learned how to? Yeah, writing is art but it is craft too. Learn the craft first.

Of course the market is flooded with how-to write books. And possibly how to write how to write books. And most of them are -- like most of everything -- worthless.

Now, your experiences will vary. Mine have. All I can do is tell you the books that have helped me. They've helped my husband and my son as well. Doesn't mean they'll help you, but they might be worth a try.

Basic Writing:

Dwight Swain. Start with Techniques of the Selling Writer. If your characters are shaky, read his book on characters, too. If you can afford recordings of his lectures, buy them. Just do it. If you're not published, do it. Yes, you'll probably know most of what he has to say, but do it, anyway. What you don't know might well be what gets you over the final hump into publication.

To improve your chances of surviving the slush pile, try The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.
Not only do readers only read five pages of most books, you'll be lucky of they read that far. And by this I don't mean ONLY the readers of slush -- if such still exist -- at publishers' or agents' offices. I mean the reader, in the bookstore or at Amazon, or reading your free chapter on line, or the sample at their kindle, will probably only read the first five pages before he makes a decision. If you've lost him by the end of the first page, you lost the sale.

For revising and fixing, try Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King (they improved my STYLE more than anyone else.)

Now for me, with my busy lifestyle (teenagers no longer kick my ankles, but they do ask questions, whine and want to have Meaningful Conversations at the worst possible times) the main determinant of whether I stay with a book is how immediate the fiction is. You want my attention, be louder than the screeching teen problem. Grab me. Pull me into your world. Make sure I can see, smell and taste. Do that and I'll read to the end. At least if anything happens. :) If all your character does is sit there covering her ears against teen rage, then thank you. I already have that at home.

For this issue I have two -- one strange -- suggestions.

The first I read recently. It's called Immediate Fiction. I read half of it. Why half you ask? Well, he was making lots of sense until he kick dropped me by stopping and sneering that if you write genre fiction of course you don't need any of this, since that's just schlock. If you have a stronger stomach than I, though, you might find it useful.

The second one -- because it has EXAMPLES -- I'm not recommending to anyone who is going to run screaming into the night and I'm DEFINITELY not recommending if you're a minor. I found it useful however. ALL of its specific information is outdated, but on the sheer level of teaching you how to write so the reader feels the story through the senses, this is the best. (As for why I read it -- broke. New baby. No insurance. Still couldn't write it. Not a prude. Sex is just not a spectator sport for me.) How to write Erotica, by Valerie Kelly. (And you probably can skim the examples!)

Now, if you're writing genre, you should read hat genre, you know that. But what you read might be the exceptions -- i.e. the quirky stuff -- or you might be like me and not easily glean the rules from what you read. So, if that's the case you should read SOME books that will level-set you as to what editors expect today.

For mystery, read Writing The Modern Mystery by Barbara Norville. Actually read it anyway, it helps with clues, etc for SF/F as well.

In the same vein, and to help with pacing if you have issues with that, read Writing The Thriller, by Trish MacDonald Skillman. It helped my pacing greatly.

If you write science fiction and fantasy, I'm sure this is greatly outdated, but it will keep you from calling a rabbit a schmerp -- How to write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. (A similar book by Damon Knight might be valuable, but it blocked me for years. You have been warned.)

And then, when your editor asks for a big book, she's not asking you for a dictionary-sized tome. To figure out what she's looking for, read Al Zuckerman's Writing A Blockbuster Novel. Read it twice. Three times. Every two months. It helps you keep in mind what the gatekeepers want.

Additional: If writing anything historical, do a search now and then for "Daily life" amid used booksellers. I MUCH prefer the Greenwood press books, but the Writers' Digest ones are also useful to tell you what the general public thinks they know about the time period. You need to either play into it or dispell it, but you need to know what it is first. Your research, needless to say, shouldn't stop there.

For mystery start with idiot's Guide to Criminal Investigation. Then read anything you can on the subject. Go to lectures. Yes, people will look at you funny if you have a folder named "Murder research" on your computer. It's survivable. Writing without having a clue what's going on isn't.

For plotting -- ah, my bette noir -- I use Story Craft software. To be honest, this is most useful for a very vague sort of preliminary outline, after which the story takes over and does whatever. However, it is useful -- TO ME -- as an armature to build upon. Take it with a grain of salt. It doesn't, for instance, have an option for multiple POVs. Also, keep in mind you're talking to someone SO plot impaired that she just recently figured out how to use plot to underline a theme. It might have happened subconsciously before, but it has just recently hit me between the eyes.

So, what books helped or hindered you? Is there a single-best-method, as far as you're concerned? Are there a lot of things I've forgotten? Perhaps a problem I didn't address? Sound off.

The never ending blog tour.

It's been a heck of a week and I've been blogging -- waves hands helplessly -- everywhere. I've also become a semi-regular co-blogger at Yeah, it is a political blog, but that's all right, because like me it has politics that don't fit comfortably anywhere and are garanteed to Upset EveryoneTM. No, I haven't posted anything yet. Let me finish these other five posts and I will. My hand is being left completely free, and I suspect most of my posts will be not politics but under the heading of "if this goes on" -- or perhaps just "Not politics, just beliefs."

Is all this having any effect on my numbers? Who the heck knows? I know at this point people are having serious trouble finding Draw One In The Dark, because I keep getting emails. Note, if you're bugging me or the publisher, you're doing it wrong. I mean, you can TELL the publisher. She's busy and might not have noticed. But the people you should BUG are your local bookstore. Keep reordering the book. THAT will eventually trigger reprint. (Remember it comes from a time when there was no Amazon and authors and publishers were not that accessible.) I really can't sell any more of mine, because I still use them as giveaway publicity.

I just hope that Darkship Thieves is selling and that there have been enough printed to sustain the sales. That's all.

Meanwhile my kid, his best friend and two drawings (for the comic I need to finish) swiped from my folder resulted in this: which I think is cute, though they tell me there will be more and much, much better.

Sorry for the scattered post. I must get some coffee and then will probably post a reading list for those of you starting out, etc, as an update. I've been meaning to do that for some time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Confessions of a Bookaholic.

After 20 years, we are selling our family home, half our 6 children have moved out so we're buying something smaller.
This means we will have to halve our furniture.

I thought I'd start with my books. Thirty years ago, I had a secondhand bookstore, where I sat all day do nothing but reading. (Customers? Who needs them?). I was a bit like Bernard Black from Black Books, if you know the British TV show.

It was heaven. Anything that looked interesting, I read. And, if I liked it, I kept it. This meant that I kept acquiring books. And when I left the bookstore and came to Brisbane, I had the book habit. I kept buying books.

So I have been brutal. I've gone through 3 of my six foot book shelves and halved my books. This half are going to the markets, where my daughter will sell them.

There are still more book shelves to go through and I may yet have to halve the remaining half that I've decided to keep.

Of course, with shelves that are empty, the temptation is to run out and buy more books. I've only bought two in the last week. One on Art Deco and one on Art Nouveau. I mean, how could I not buy them?

Do you have to be a writer to love books? Being able to wander through books, grazing for information and interesting facts ...

Time for confessions. Who else is a bookaholic????

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hokay, so life begins to assume the vague semblance of normality -- we have arrived on our remote islandd after many misadventures, epics and general chaos. Of course our container is still sitting in Melbourne, and the Ferry has run aground (it was supposed to meet us, but the promises of movers are of a par with those of used car salesmen (and right now those don't rank too high)) but we can haz house and internet. So with the eee and a hairdresser's chair I am back in business(the ex-occupier was a hairdresser - ergo I am voluntarily in a hairdresser's chair. Just don't touch my hair.)

I must admit I hadn't realized just how important place and stability was to my writing. I do now. My admiration for travel journos who write cheerfully through having their tents blow away with the poles exploding is now very deep. But anyway, to fill in on Amanda's normal role - here is a Wall Street Journal article which I found myself in profound irritation if not entire disagreement with. It is true that most Publishers have abandoned the slush pile - which I came out of (thank you Baen Books). I still am not sure if this strategy will save them money at all, but it is a reality that we have to deal with. The other idea contained in the article I found myself laughing at -- that an author needed to deliver an audience to publisher if he wanted to be published. Hello? Why would they want a publisher if they HAVE a large audience? Or am I missing something. The obvious corollary is that... the larger audience you have the less you need publishers and the less profit you will be willing to let them make (rather like if publishers hand slush over to agents, it may save hassle... but not money, as agented work costs publishers and authors more, ergo authors want more from their agents (who in turn take more out of publishers), and if authors or agents become big enough, will cost publishers more.

Ah well... maybe I am missing something. But I do wonder if one of us is not seeing the wood for the trees. Or electronic publishing coming.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I Vant to Steal Your Character

I'm thrilled to introduce a guest blogger today. Many of you already know Pam Uphoff, aka matapam. She's the one we have to impress to get out of the slush pile at Baen. She is also a writer in her own right. So, without further ado, I'll let her get to it....

I Vant To Steal Your Character

Or at least a piece of him or her.

What? You don't drool over Erik Hakkonsen? You haven't mentally worked out Ranger's and Diesel's back story? You don't wonder what Evon Vorhalas might have done if he could have walked away and started over somewhere else?

And Professor Yates. Oh yes, I wants him. I know I'm not his type, but he such an excellent absentminded professor, I couldn't possibly write a better one myself.

Really, I am so glad I'd already written a bunch of my own characters before I met some of these people. My characters are very much my own. But sometimes I trip across a character who succeeds in being the character I was trying to write. Modesty Blaise. Harry Dresden. Bahzel Banackson.

Some times it's just a name that catches my attention. The dreaded Pierre "Le Sanguinaire" Vorrutyer. What would he be like, to have such a reputation?

An awful lot of the characters I most remember are classic archetypes. Dark Heroes, Absentminded Professors, Cool Chicks in black bodysuits, Barbarians with big swords.

Should we avoid the archetypes when we build our characters? Or take advantage of the universal recognition? Or does our personal piece of the Collective Subconscious ensure that we can't not use the old tried and true types?

And what do you do when you find someone who has already written the sort of character you're writing? Deliberately change your character? Change just enough that you don't think half your readers will think you're writing fan fic? Just curse the other writer and blast on ahead?

One of my fantasy world's magic rules are that the more magic a person is, the more in touch with the collective subconscious they are. The most powerful magicians are controlled by same. So I started listing all the archetypes and stereotypes so as to inflict them on Characters. Great fun, but the list is surprisingly extensive. Especially if you have fun with it. My favorite is the God of Just Deserts. He's got a mile wide field of Instant Karma, except when he's depressed. Then it's ten miles wide. Cities bribe him to go away.

Now, we all know that Dave not only uses, he abuses, the archetypes and stereotypes.

How about the rest of you? Which of your own creations is your favorite? Is he or she any sort of archetype?

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Various trivia has set me thinking about critics. I upset one recently by critiquing their critique, if you see what I mean. Apparently the biter does not like to be bit.

I can across an interesting story on the London site – another nickel in the machine:

It concerns a rather arrogant young man called Colin Wilson. He was a 24 year old working class boy from the Midlands who turned up in London in 1956 and who wrote a book. He had no education, having left school at 16 and was living rough on Hampstead Heath while writing each day in the British Museum. In short, he was the perfect working class hero to be taken up by the upper class London glitterati who liked to think that this was the new age of the common man. This was the era of ‘The Angry Young Man’.

The book was 'The Outsider', a collection of essays that explored the concept of alienation in literature (with a capital L). I always associate this with Camus. The book was a sensation, selling out on the first day of publication. It did not just receive critical acclaim; it was elevated to the highest levels, as possibly the most important book of the decade.

Wilson was lionised with lots of moody B&W pics taken of him on Hampstead Heath and living with his girlfriend Joy in Notting Hill – so wonderfully Bohemian – and Wilson revelled in it. Quote: 'I had taken it for granted that I was a man of genius since I was about 13'.

But those who live by the sword tend to die by it, and that goes double for the press. It was not long before the tabloid reptiles discovered that Wilson lived rough on Hampstead Heath to avoid paying maintenance to his wife and child. Then Joy’s parents turned up to rescue their daughter from a life of sin........

What is interesting is to track the written opinion of a literary critic, Philip Toynbee, son of the famous historian and father to Princess Polly, the Queen of political correctness.

He originally described “The Outsider” as “luminously intelligent” but within months was writing “I doubt whether this interesting and extremely promising book quite deserved the furore which it seems to have caused.' Toynbee reviewed Wilson’s second book in ’57, ‘Religion and the Rebel’ as ‘a vulgarising rubbish bin’ and noted that ‘The Outsider’ had been 'clumsily written and still more clumsily composed.' Ho hum.

Wilson made around £1m (in modern money) from 'The Outsider'and went off to live in the Westcountry where he wrote New Age conspiracy and horror books and married Joy.

But what are we to make of critics with such flexible memories? Well, they must be appeased if you write literary novels where fashion seems to be almost everything. But if you write commercial novels then just snap your fingers and ignore them. Your work either sells or not.

So here’s a challenge. What was the most ludicrous/pompous/vicious review that you ever read?


1) I am now on Twitter under the name 'johnlambshead'.

2) An eArc of my novelette, Storming Venus, can be viewed for free at Baen's Universe:

This story is a sequel to Storming Hell.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Unknown Science and Other Wonders

As a science fiction writer, I love it when I come across something that science does not have a handle on yet. It's like a red rag to a bull (even though the Mythbusters showed that the colour doesn’t matter, but anyway you get the point).

I was reading recently about magnetics and how the various magnetic effects can be used. Everyone will be familiar with the maglevs, and the use of magnetic levitation in superfast trains like the Japanese bullet trains.

The sort of magnetic fields that we could generate routinely if we could crack the holy grail of the high-temperature superconductor would really transform the modern world.

At the moment the record for high-temperature superconductors is held by a terribly exotic sounding compound called Mercury Thallium Barium Calcium Copper Oxide (try saying that without taking a breath!). This is a superconductor at the chilly temperature of -135 degrees Celsius (or -211 degrees Fahrenheit), not quite room temperature yet (although given the snowy photos of England, John, maybe it is :)).

What amazes me is that given all the advances in quantum and particle physics and chemistry, and the incredible software modelling now available to test chemistry at the molecular level – scientists can actual build things out of atoms in the laboratory now – there is NO theory that explains how high temperature superconductors work!

To me, this is an incredible opportunity. As Michio Kaku said ‘There is a Noble Prize waiting for the person who figures this out.’

If we can routinely create these high strength magnetic fields, then all sorts of things become possible. Ultra high efficient electricity transport and super-fast computers are just the start.

There is the Meissner effect, where magnets levitate above a superconductor. This could revolutionise transport, and lead to all sorts applications – like using a fraction of the energy it takes now just to move around any sort of object in any sort of application.

Then there are the weird effects of paramagnets and diamagnets – materials that only acquire their magnetic properties in the presence of an external magnetic field. Paramagnetic materials are attracted (includes elements such as: Aluminium, Barium, Calcium, Magnesium, Oxygen, Platnum, Sodium, Strontium, Technetium, Titanium, Uranium).

Diamagnets are repelled! Hey presto. Levitation. These materials include Bismuth, Carbon, Copper, Lead, Mercury, Silver and Water (Bismuth is the strongest diamagnet).

And what sort of things have Carbon and Water? Us! Scientists have already levitated frogs in laboratory experiments with no ill effects (see photo). Living things can levitate in a magnetic field of 15 Teslas (30,000 times Earths).

My SF brain immediately had high strength magnetic fields used on spacecraft to buffer the pilots and crew against the massive acceleration required. I’ve used this in my current work in progress – The Embrace – where an altered human is about to return to Earth after a lifetime on a colonial world (where he has lost most of his essential humanity as ambassador to the telepathic Kellaf).

And talking about areas that lack theories. How about a Theory of Consciousness? I very much doubt any sort of AI will get anywhere without it. Perhaps this missing theory might prove AI is impossible – like proving that integers greater than two can be written as the sum of two prime numbers (this is impossible to prove using arithmetic).

So anyone out there know what we don’t know? What other unknown theories of science are out there?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Push those buttons, baby

No, not those buttons. The other buttons. The hot ones.

Okay, not those hot buttons, either.

What I'm talking about are the little things that you find utterly maddening, and which anger you beyond any kind of rational level compared to whatever sets them off. For instance, if I've gone to extra effort over something for someone, and that person inconveniences me, I go from calm to nuclear between one heartbeat and the next. Another one that gives me issues is when I'm expected to follow the lead of someone who - in my highly expert and infallible opinion, of course - couldn't organize a piss-up in a brewery. I'm sure you have a few of your own little glitches like that, probably including some you don't want to admit to.

Characters need hot buttons like that, too. And stories need to push them - because that's when your lead, or your villain, or whatever, is most likely to do something irrational which triggers off the cascade that makes things worse. It helps, of course, to establish the hot buttons early, so that when they get used later readers don't wonder where the heck that came from.

I'm going to use - carrying on the theme from Sarah's post - Darkship Thieves as an example. One of Thena's hot buttons is being physically restrained, so much so that she's prepared to commit murder and mayhem, not necessarily in that order, on the person who dares tie her up. We see this in the first few chapters of the book, so it doesn't seem at all out of place when Thena goes nuclear later in the book. Of course, she's got a few other hot buttons as well, and Kit isn't exactly the most level-headed person ever, either.

Who and what else uses character hot buttons well?

p.s. Apologies for being kind of scarce and not entirely with it. It's now a week since the layoffs, and work is totally batshit insane busy. I'm not sure when things will settle down, since the backlog was impressive before this happened. Now it's more like a cliff about to land. Such is life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Have fun storming the castle!

I almost weaseled out of writing a blog post this week, because I’ve been so insanely busy.
The strange thing is what I’ve been busy with. Since my book came out on the fifth, I’ve been hitting blogs and tweetting and attempting to promote it. So far I’ve been on and on

I am also in touch with various review sites, and a few other blogs that I’ll be making appearances in over the next three weeks (I’ll try to announce here, each week.) I am, in fact doing a blog tour. (Book your appearance now, no blog too large, few blogs too small. Bar mitzvahs and first communions. A Sarah A. Hoyt appearance is fun for the whole family.)

I have done a reading which is on mp3:

There is one short story in the universe of DST already up on Evolutions and there will be a few more this month:

In addition I’m tweeting with Baen – Baen Books – this week as well as, of course, on my own twitter account (Sarahahoyt.)

So, will all of this mean anything? I don’t know. I know I could no longer stand by and let things take their course, which inevitably means no one hears about me and the books fail not because they’re bad but because no one knows they exist.

I’m horribly frustrated because I’d rather be writing, but because I’m frustrated, I’m also putting as much push as I can behind this – I’d rather only have to do this two or three times and not forever.

We might be about to find out what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object. More likely we’ll find out that when it comes to storming the castle of publishing I have "not a chance."

So, what do you think, have I finally gone insane? Throw me what you have: suggestions, comments, usable underwear and shoes not too well aimed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Robots and Us

People have been finding the idea of robots fascinating since Mary Shelly wrote about a man who attempted to make a human being in his own image.

Is it because they appear to be like us, but they aren't? I remember reading Asimov's Robot mysteries 30 years ago and finding them fascinating. Even people who don't read SF can quote Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

Hollywood finds the idea of robots fascinating. They range from the Terminator type robot to the way the concept was handled in AI.

I thought we were long way from real robots until I came across this. A firm has created man's perfect female companion.

'LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AFP) - Roxxxy the sex robot had a coming out party Saturday in Sin City.

In what is billed as a world first, a life-size robotic girlfriend complete with artificial intelligence and flesh-like synthetic skin was introduced to adoring fans at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas.

"She can't vacuum, she can't cook but she can do almost anything else if you know what I mean," TrueCompanion's Douglas Hines said while introducing AFP to Roxxxy.

"She's a companion. She has a personality. She hears you. She listens to you. She speaks. She feels your touch. She goes to sleep. We are trying to replicate a personality of a person."'

What I find interesting is that they can program her to like everything the guy likes, cars, motorbikes etc. Is that what men want, a mirror that happens to have female genitals?

Reading about this Roxxxy reminded me of the movie 'Lars and the Real Girl'. The movie explored isolation and how desperate someone can be for real contact. So the movie's theme and what Lars is looking for, is the opposite of what 'Roxxxy' offers men.

There is the concept of uploading yourself to a computer. If your body dies, you can revert to your latest save and download into a fresh body. If you need to be in two places at once, you can send a spare body with your latest download in your place. But which version is you?

Have you read any books recently that deal with robots and artificial intelligence in an interesting way?