Redictation

I’ve mentioned on Facebook that I’m learning the importance of properly aligning my new microphone so it’s pointed straight at my mouth. This is all part of the process. I don’t mind, I’m learning.
 
But today, for the first time, I lost “production” story: fiction that I hoped to sell, not just an experiment. The microphone was just slightly misaligned, but that was enough to render the text incomprehensible to Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
Microphone angle changed
That’s a picture of the sound before and after I accidentally changed the microphone angle. At about 43 seconds, you can see a very slight bump to the microphone, and you can actually see how the noise level changed.

 

And that’s the sound as recorded by the microphone. Note how at the bump, the road noise becomes louder, and my voice less clear. Enough less clear to confuse Dragon.

 
Obviously, I’m disappointed; but I’m not ready to give up on that story! Unlike Coleridge, I’m not going to let some bloke from Porlock stop me from finishing this story.
 
So I considered my alternatives (besides giving up)…
 
1. Transcribe manually. In my past experience, that takes me three times as long as the original dictation. But I can do it!
 
2. Pay iDictate to transcribe it for me. I can do that, but it’s no longer my preferred alternative.
 
3. Start over. Tell the story over again. Dean Wesley Smith teaches about redrafting: telling a story over again without referring back to the original text, just relying on your memory and your sense of story.
 
But tonight, I thought up a new solution: Redictation. I will go into a quiet room. I will plug in my earphones. I will listen to the original text, a line or so at a time; and then I will dictate roughly the same text (maybe with on-the-fly corrections) back into my recorder. When I’m done, I’ll run this clean version through Dragon.
 
Now Redictation may sound odd, but I think it may work great. It will be faster than manual transcription, and cheaper than a service. It’s almost the same as starting over; but I think of it as kicking Porlock in the keister and picking back up where I left off.
 
I’ll report on this method when I’m done. It may be a few days before I get to it.

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Two Birds with One Stone

This is a test of the dictation accuracy of my new microphone in my recorder while working on my treadmill. I turn the treadmill on and I start walking at the low low-speed of .4 mph let’s bring that up to 1 mph.
I am now walking at 1 mile per hour, my measured pulse rate is 88, and I have been walking for 40 seconds. Pulse rate is climbing to 100, and up.
Let’s pick the speed up a little bit: up to 1 1/2 mph. I wonder how the accuracy is for my transcription here.

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Genre as Immersive Metaphor

Note: This post originally appeared as a guest post on The Fictorians blog.

“Listen, now. Read this carefully, because I am going to tell you something important. More than that: I am about to tell you one of the secrets of the trade. I mean it. This is the magic trick upon which all good fiction depends: it’s the angled mirror in the box behind which the doves are hidden, the hidden compartment beneath the table. It’s this: There is room for things to mean more than they literally mean. That was it.”

Neil Gaiman, “Confessions: On Astro City and Kurt Busiek”

What is genre? It’s part setting, part conventions and tropes, and more. At a meta level, it’s reader expectations – and to a degree, non-reader expectations: many people have said of my story Today I Am Paul, “Oh, that doesn’t sound like science fiction!” Excuse me? An android caring for an Alzheimer’s patient isn’t science fiction? But every person who said that also said first, “Oh, I don’t read science fiction.” These aren’t SF readers, because they “know” what the genre’s about: spaceships and phasers and light sabers and such.

And that’s, unfortunately, another aspect of genre: it’s a wall people use to divide the world into “books I might like” and “those other books”. Without even understanding the range of a given genre, they decide it’s not for them.

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Escape Velocity (or By Jove, I think she’s got it!)

This is a verbatim transcript by Dragon naturally speaking of a recording made in my Jeep using my new improved equipment, on Olympus voice recorder and a center Heimer cardioid noise canceling microphone. I recording as I drive, and I am speaking all my punctuation, just as expected by Dragon. You should not hear the punctuation, of course, if Dragon interprets it properly. Sometimes, however Dragon gets confused in this set up, particularly it seems by!

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Why I Can’t QUITE Use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Recordings from My Jeep (But It’s Getting Close!)

Note: I didn’t record this for Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I recorded it for human transcription by iDictate.com. That means I didn’t speak my punctuation like Dragon expects; and that means this is one heck of a run-on sentence!

But since this was my first test of my new noise canceling microphone while recording in my Jeep, I thought I would give Dragon a shot at it. I am pleasantly surprised. It’s still not good enough for my purposes, but it’s a lot closer. This is not gibberish. You can almost make sense of it. (And if you try really hard, you can get spoilers for my work in progress!) So maybe… If I can find a better microphone…

Read more “Why I Can’t QUITE Use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Recordings from My Jeep (But It’s Getting Close!)”

Why I Cannot (Yet) Use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Recordings from My Jeep

And this is another test of my Olympus voice recorder I used while driving my Jeep, the Aldrin express. This time I have activated the low filter on the recorder. I do not know what effect that will have, so I will run a test. My test this morning had an extremely poor’s greatest success in transcription. It was all right when I left the driveway, as I traveled at a low speed. Once I reached the stop sign, then turned and started picking up speed, the error rate climbed through the roof, and the transcription became unintelligible. Tonight we’ll see if the same thing is true with the low filter activated, or the low filter will filter out the white noise of fans and engines and roads. It will, I am not getting my hopes up if that makes any sense. Right now, the trend the audio should be very clean, because I am stopped at a traffic light waiting for a chance to turn. Soon I can get until the highway,… Shall see what the audio is like in a higher’s.

I am past the first traffic light, and waiting to get through the second. I have stuck behind a city bus, so I may not make this light. No, it is not a city bus, it is an RV. And I am through the light and I am on my entrance ramp and I am slowly picking up speed navigating the first turn and the yield for incoming traffic of which there is none and somehow I am picking up speed as I get onto 131. And I merged in traffic, and I get up to cruising speed.

How I am traveling and a typical speed for a typical day of dictation. This recording transcribed, that will be very good news indeed. Cannot, by Friday will have a new noise canceling microphone contest. I will have Dragon natural meeting every chance I can, but I cannot do the impossible. If it will not transcribe, you will not transcribe.

So now I have passed the last Kalamazoo accident, and I way between Kalamazoo and Wayland. My prime dictation I, with my best work is done. This is what I do not have to worry about where my hands were entrance is, only the excess inferences about the right. This stretch when I can devote my market effort to telling a story for tonight and not worrying about a story, and worrying about transcription. I have learned a new pair of tricks like this for transcribing: I can turn the recorder on and off by pressing buttons through the fabric of my shirt, as long as the order is in front of my pocket. I haven’t figured out yet what I will do in a case like just home when there is coming express read reply yes thank you sent so that was the interruption of a tax SH during my transcription. Like my phone, the recorder has no way to know that the messages incoming. He and salt is that my commands to the tax SH system the phone and he replied that I make will be fixated. I can out later, I need to make sure that I check into song. The good news front, Anita is making more sweetcorn K! Is read…

So now I am passing Avenue is roughly the halfway point between Kalamazoo playing well.co. Safe place that I stop gas, warfarin here my tires near enough. Were down: Peter that they have will adjust the pressure either way. Like.

In my path have any see the valley playing while. Plane will not see your and River Valley, with another River Valley account River just south. So I crest the hill and valley playing well Valley is laid out for me. Sabrina wasn’t here. All murder on cell phone coverage. Somewhere around mile 38 or so, I can often find my phone ring out. There, services recently. I do not have any dropouts like before.

I have nothing any stop playing well for us I should continue on. On the one of the nice days, house played well for some nice. They have excellent ice cream parlors down see him playing well. I can, is a single well when city sometimes which one is which.

Is a beautiful day for traveling 69° outside I the air conditioner on a meter, and see if that affects the accuracy of the transcript. Line and now I am passing lane while on scene the accident, 49 and how crossing bridge over the counter River. And I am approached entrance. There is no exit at the northbound and own and 50 from the South. Perhaps because 50 mile overpass so close to the river, or is the third exit door entrance to sell only I am in the stretch between playing well and Martin. Certain joke here.

. Signs of approaching our US 131 part dragway the west side of the road I have not been there in from the year’s. It was never my thing. My dad loved it, my brothers. While.

Approach the part accident, I see signs of dragway on the left. This exit is also an occasional gas stations, but I can avoid it. Something wrong with the accident or the gas station: I’ve made it this far, for@Shelby L Warner Wayland. Shelby does become an option only this year. They are open this spring. In gas and wine store. Read it I’m done. There goes the other text message, this one telling me that Amazon has shipped a package, and she hurled.

And allow that text message coming in, I passed the mark. Next up will be to Shelbyville Texas nor cell. Cell is Shelbyville proper, all nor is Brantley/Shelbyville. In the North exit be the one where I accident today. That’s right will also stop trance

I have learned is that I can turn order, ordering the front of my shirt, pants stop morning fabric shirt. It will be nice free operation, and is hands-free as having Mike Bluetooth reads. I am quite that operation, even if Dragon still fails trance I will filter on what a usable transcription pattern!

I am now passing the Shelbyville next to. Miles up the Brantley accent. Is not your remnants role. That is it has Meyer dropped, in the right lane, so we can ask highway mile or so

here comes the accident! Hello the ramp, I see the exit, the exit ramp, ACA a vehicle part halfway on the ramp. Idiots! I made it safely passed him, up to the top of the ramp. And here I stopped sure traffic is clear, and then I get onto the busy 129 Avenue. I passed the noonday market on the right, I got were broken tires. Has not been a good day for tires appears. And more stopped goals on the side of the road. Enjoyed, one vehicle towing another. What fun! And how I approach Colin sues, I signal for my turn, I pull into the driveway. My Jeep, and I turned off this recording

The Mountain

There’s a mountain. And all your life, you’ve watched people climb the mountain. Some climb only the foothills. Some climb to the clouds and beyond.

But no one climbs to the top. There is no top. Just more mountain, no matter how high they climb.

One day you decide to climb the mountain. Maybe it’s not your first time. Maybe you’ve gotten discouraged in the past, and you gave up. Or maybe this is your first time ever. The important thing is: you have a story to tell, so you’re going to climb up there and tell the world.

Good for you! There’s always room for one more on the mountain.

But you’re not sure how to start. You’ve watched others climb, you think you can do it, but where do you start? You want The Path.

Stop. You’re already starting wrong. There is no Path. Or rather, there are countless paths, but no One True Path. Every climber finds their own path.

If you stick around a while, you may find mentors. They can tell you what their paths were, but that doesn’t mean their paths will work for you. You can learn from their paths, but you still have to make your own.

So you’ll start climbing. And you’ll fall. Everybody does. Those climbers you see way up in the clouds? They’ve fallen more often than anyone. They’re the people who learned something every time they fell. And they kept going.

You keep going.

You keep going, and falling, and getting back up and going again. Learn from every fall. Each time you’ll get a little higher before you fall. Someday you’ll find you’re falling less often, and not as far. You’re getting higher.

You keep going.

And you’ll get discouraged. You’ll look up, and those clouds will seem as far away as ever. You’ll see people, friends even, who started after you and yet are higher up the mountain than you. You’ll wonder what you’re doing wrong.

Stop wondering. Keep going. Everybody has their own path.

But if you really get discouraged, ask your mentors. Ask your friends. Do some research. Find ways to get unstuck and onto a different path. Stuck doesn’t have to be permanent. You keep going.

And occasionally, when you really get discouraged, stop. Get a good grip. Turn around. Don’t look up.

Look down. See how far you’ve climbed.

If you’re not satisfied, look around for other paths. Look at where your path has gone astray, and ask what you could’ve done different. Try other paths. Or you could even (shhh!) give up. There’s no shame in that. Not everyone is a climber. Some just like to watch the climb.

But I suspect for most of you, if you stop and honestly look back, you’ll find you’ve climbed higher than you realized. You’re still not at the top because remember, there is no top! But you’ve climbed. It was a lot of work, but you’ve climbed. Give yourself credit for how far you’ve come.

And then face back upward. And keep going.

Writers of the Future: Playing the Odds

A friend recently asked me about ways to improve your chances in the Writers of the Future contest. I thought it was a good question, and I thought my answers were a nice summary of lessons learned. So I decided to share them here as a simple set of “rules” – in quotes, because they can be broken, and they’re no guarantee, but they’re good guidelines.

But before I get to the rules, I must remind you of the most reliable way to win the contest: write an excellent science fiction or fantasy story, 17,000 words or less, and send it in. Honestly, that’s the best thing you can do. Keep working on that!

Now for the rules…

  1. You should know that for pretty much every fiction market out there – and remember, Writers of the Future isn’t just a contest, it’s a pro-paying market – any rule that you hear, even from the editor directly, can usually be circumvented by a really brilliant story. That’s what every editor wants: a really brilliant story that’s close enough to their genre to give them an excuse to buy it. If you can pass Rule 1, you can ignore the rest of these rules. You’re covered. But you still might want to read them, just in case they give you ideas.
  2. David Farland is the coordinating judge for the contest. Out of the thousands of entries they receive every quarter, Dave selects 8 as Finalists. Then a panel of quarterly judges, all pro writers themselves, select 3 winners for the quarter. But Dave is more than the coordinating judge, more than a bestselling author: he is also a writing mentor through his site My Story Doctor. He also writes a series of writing tips on his blog. Every so often, he blogs specifically about what he’s looking for in the contest, or why some stories don’t make the cut. So Rule 2 is: Read Dave’s Tips.
  3. Rule 3 is: Don’t argue with Dave’s Tips! I can’t believe it, but some people do! They say he’s wrong. Now it might be argued that…

    “There are nine-and-sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!” – Rudyard Kipling

    And Dave would not disagree! There are many ways to write a story. If you can tell a great story that ignores Dave’s Tips, more power to you! But that doesn’t make Dave wrong about what he looks for in the contest! He might be wrong about what readers want. He’s not wrong about what he looks for.

  4. Except… In at least one case, Dave was wrong. He’s on record as saying he hates werewolf stories. He never even finishes them. But… Last year Julie Frost won with a werewolf story. How did she do it? Simple: she wrote a story so good that Dave could not ignore it. Rule 4 is: See Rule 1.
  5. They get thousands of entries every quarter. Many are by people who just enter contests without looking into the details. A good number aren’t even science fiction or fantasy. So if Dave doesn’t see an SF/F element by the end of page 2 — or at least a hint — he’ll probably stop reading. If it looks promising otherwise, he might skip to the end to see if it’s there.
  6. Dave does a lot of skipping to the end. He has seen a lot of plots. If he figures out your plot on page 2, he skips to the end to see if he’s right. If he is, you’re probably out. But if he’s surprised, he may go back to see how you got there.
  7. They get a lot of stories inspired by the latest big movie. They all blur together, and most likely none of them get through. As excited as you may be by the latest blockbuster, put that idea aside. Let it simmer. Come back to it later, and give it a fresh twist.
  8. Dave likes to see three things as early as possible: A character, in a setting, with a problem. It might not be THE problem, but A problem. Struggling with that reveals character and setting.
  9. Dave really likes good description. That held me back for a long time. I’m weak on description.
  10. As for story structure, unless you’ve got a brilliant alternative (Scott Parkin did in Volume 31 – see Rule 1), Dave prefers a traditional Freytag triangle with three Try/Fail Cycles. Two is too easy, four is dragging it out. Three is best. You might have some of the structure happen before the story, or off screen, but try to have it all there somewhere.
  11. Dave likes a story to mean something on an emotional level. Cool plots are great. Cool plots that mean something are memorable.
  12. If your story is set in a modern or historical setting, Dave is a stickler for research and for voice. And he has been a lot of places, he knows a lot of things, and he has met a lot of people. If you’re faking your research, he’ll probably know.
  13. If, on the other hand, you make up your own universe to avoid that whole research trap, Dave likes it logical and consistent.
  14. The contest never gets enough good humor, but they get way too much bad.
  15. Talk to winners. Ask what worked for them. Ask what they learned. My “rules” are just from my one experience. Get multiple perspectives.

That’s a good start. Nothing guarantees a win, of course, but these “rules” will move the odds in your favor.

Scramble

I have many “milestone” stories. “Today I Am Paul” (originally in Clarkesworld) brought me to the attention of many new readers. “Murder on the Aldrin Express” was my first story in Year’s Best Science Fiction. “Not Close Enough” was my first story in Analog. “Il Gran Cavallo” was my first Galaxy’s Edge story. “Unrefined” was my Writers of the Future winner. “The Mother Anthony” was my first Writers of the Future entry, and my first Finalist. “The Night We Flushed the Old Town” (Digital Science Fiction) was my first pro sale anywhere.

But “Scramble”… “Scramble” was my first. My first story since I resumed writing after giving up for far too many years. My first where I DIDN’T give up after a rejection. (And oh, did it get rejections!) My first Blue Collar Space story.

And my SECOND place story in the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. Ah, well…

But wait! The FIRST place winner, Richard Johnson, couldn’t make the trip from Australia to the International Space Development Conference to accept his prize. So he asked if I could attend in his place and read his speech.

I’ve lost track, but at this point I figure I owe Rich at least a keg of beer for that. And the tab keeps going up.

Because at that year’s ISDC, waiting to give Rich’s speech, I had lunch with Buzz Aldrin. BUZZ FREAKIN’ ALDRIN!!!! I didn’t get much chance to speak to him (other than when he corrected Rich’s math in the speech), but… BUZZ FREAKIN’ ALDRIN!!!!!

And oh, yeah, William Ledbetter, the contest administrator and coordinating judge. I’d known Bill casually from Writers of the Future circles, but this was my first chance to get to know a man whom I know consider a friend and a brother, a kindred writing spirit. And I also got to meet Baen editor and judge Tony Daniel, another new friend, along with his wife and children. AND we dined with and had drinks with one of my childhood inspirations, Ben Bova, along with his then fiancée/now wife. That was a wonderful, whirlwind weekend.

But there’s more! The ISDC is more than a lunch, of course, it’s a conference. I sat in on many sessions, taking lots of notes. And knowing that Buzz (FREAKIN’ ALDRIN!!!!!) was there, I had to sit in on one of his talks. He was talking about his plan for exploring Mars. Much of the plan revolves around Cycler ships that travel back and forth between Earth and Mars using primarily orbital mechanics, with very little fuel required. The idea fascinated me, and I wrote exactly one story note during that talk: “Something aboard a Mars cycler.”

That’s all. Five little words. Hardly a story.

But a couple months later, in the shower, I started planning that story – which became “Murder on the Aldrin Express”. Which sold to Analog on the first try. And then Gardner Dozois selected it for Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty First Annual Edition.

And then my Brainmate Tina Smith convinced me that these characters were good, and they needed more stories. And so I wrote more. And Analog bought more. And Analog readers liked them. They selected “Racing to Mars” as the best Analog novelette for 2015.

All tracing back, through one path or another, to “Scramble”… the story that STILL hadn’t sold.

Until late 2015. Michael Wills contacted me to inform me that he was relaunching Digital Science Fiction, and he wondered if I had something original with which he could reintroduce the line. Since Digital had already printed “The Night We Flushed the Old Town” and “Father-Daughter Outing”, I thought “Scramble” was a natural choice. Michael agreed, and I was very proud when this story was published at last.

And now… Bill had been hinting for a couple of years now that Baen Books was considering a ten-year anniversary book for the Jim Baen Memorial Contest. The plans bounced back and forth. Of course they wanted the first place winners (where possible), but they might have room for some second and third place stories as well. They wouldn’t know for a while. There were a lot of decisions to make.

Well, they’ve decided. This is the cover. (by Bob Eggleton, no less!) The book will come out this fall. Looking at that cover, I’m so thrilled at how many friends are in there (plus those not on the cover but whom I know are in there), all with stories about the inspiring, visionary future of humanity in space. And I’m proud beyond words that “Scramble” will be one of those stories.

Welcome home, “Scramble”.

 

The Daily Blog: The Bad News

Three weeks ago, I decided that a daily blog would help me with my writing. It would keep me in practice, and it would give me a chance to write about things outside of my fiction. And it would also promote my writing.

I know, I know, it’s not exactly a new idea. I just decided it was time I give it a shot.

For three weeks – except for one bad day – I’ve blogged every day. It was challenging. It was exciting. It was fun.

And for three weeks, I’ve dictated some new chapters on my novel, and I’ve had them transcribed, but I’ve done nothing with them. Not a thing. I haven’t pulled the transcriptions into my main document. I haven’t cleaned them up. I haven’t followed up on my notes to myself.

Nothing.

The Daily Blog is fun, but my fiction is my passion. And my career. (Well, my second career.) So if I only have enough spare time for one, it has to be my novel.

The Daily Blog is now on indefinite hiatus. I’ll blog when I have something to say, but I can’t keep to a schedule.

For all two or three of you reading, I trust you’ll understand. Thanks!