I’m still reading Grave Beginnings (I’m a slow reader), and I’m at ConFusion. And my sinuses have been kicking me. So I’ll keep this short. R.R. Virdi has written some really interesting variations on traditional monsters. Nice worldbuilding.
Annie Bellet is a great writer. She has the sales and the fans to prove that. But that’s not why I picked her for Friend Friday.
No, what impresses me so much about Annie is her work ethic. She has built a self-publishing operation from the ground up, through persistence and hard work. A few years ago, when I first knew her, she was at a low point, a mix of work and health problems that combined to knock her down and keep knocking her down.
But she refused to stay down. Rather than give in to despair, Annie studied the market to find niches she knew readers wanted and she could write. She studied the business practices of successful self-publishers. And in the face of discouraging advice from established pros, bestsellers, she made a plan. It was a lot of hard work, but she followed it. Despite ups and downs, she stuck to it.
And she pulled it off. She built a readership. She built sales. She built a reputation. No plan is guaranteed; but her plan, her drive, and her hard work have built her career to a major level, and she’s still growing.
If this were fiction, the next line would be, “And she did it all herself!” Yay! Inspiration! The author beats down all challenges, single-handed!
But that would be a lie. Annie’s not alone. She has her husband Matt, and Matt is very much a part of every step in Annie’s plan. He markets books. He gives feedback. He schleps books to cons and works the booths. He pushes Annie when she needs that extra push. And he believes in her, which makes it easier for her to believe in herself. Writers (and artists and musicians), I can’t emphasize this enough: a supportive spouse can make all the difference. (And a spouse who puts you down can be poison. Sadly, I’ve seen those stories, too.)
I’ve discussed Annie’s plan with her, and I realized: I couldn’t do it. I’m not driven enough, not hard-working enough. I have a long way to go before I can say I work as hard as Annie.
Annie’s top-selling series, the one that made her reputation, is The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, a series about magic, gaming and nerds. Check it out!
But… I said Annie is a great writer. I don’t say that because she’s a friend, and I don’t even say it because of The Twenty-Sided Sorceress. That’s great, but it’s not my favorite. No, my favorite of Annie’s books is Dusk and Shiver, a series she says she’ll get back to “someday”. This is my favorite book of this century, so I hope someday is soon! Let me finish with my Amazon review:
I’m going to start this review in a roundabout way, by looking at the Kevin Bacon film Stir of Echoes, which came to mind as I read this book. I don’t think it’s a great film, but I always watch it if it’s on. Why? Because it has moments of greatness, moments of pure supernatural dread when the mysterious feels like it’s just about to reach out and grab you. During those moments, that film is palpably chilling.
And I bring that up because “Dusk and Shiver” gave me that same palpable chill; but where “Stir of Echoes” had it in moments, this collection has the chill throughout. As I read it, I worried what I might touch if I weren’t careful.
Because that is Remy Martin’s gift: he touches things, and he reads their past, and sometimes a little of their future. He’s a psychometrist, a reader of emotional echoes. And while he thinks this is more of a curse, his REAL curse is this: he can’t let well enough alone, and he can’t let injustice go unrevealed. When he touches these echoes of horror, he could easily run away. He knows he should. But instead he’s compelled to run toward them and find out what lies behind the echoes.
And what lies behind is human weakness and venality. There are villains here, but there are no grand villainous masterminds. Instead, there are weak, petty people who let their weakness seduce them step by step from small, careless evil into dark, tangled traps.
In the first story, “Til Human Voices Wake Us”, we meet Remy as he investigates a string of strange killings. But is he looking for a killer, or a victim?
In the second story, “Dusk and Shiver”, Remy has a visit from a former client turned zombie; and thus he find himself in a twisted family tragedy that he unwittingly played a part in.
In the third story, “Flashover”, Remy’s client is an unwilling arsonist. He must find why who compels her to burn down seemingly random homes. This story is different from the other two in that Remy has found a sense of humor. Amid their darkness, there were moments of humor in the other two stories; but this one literally had me laughing out loud — when it didn’t have me shivering in dread.
In my last month of reading, this collection is the one bright star that shines above the rest. I hope we see more Remy Pigeon stories!
Tomorrow I’ll be on this panel at ConFusion:
If You Liked ‘The Martian’…
Hard science fiction is serious business. Hard science fiction done well can be big business, as exhibited by Andy Weir’s mega-hit The Martian. What other hard science fictions stories are out there in The Martian’s shadow? And what about their science is so engaging?
So tonight I’m going to note some examples to serve as reminders.
- The Martian by Andy Weir. Yeah, it’s in the title, but a list like this would not be complete without it.
- The Martian by Ridley Scott.
- Mission Control by Andy Weir. A future NASA TV series from Andy Weir.
- Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón.
- Europa Report by Sebastián Cordero.
- Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, as well as the rest of the Rama series.
- Moonrise by Ben Bova, as well as the rest of the Grand Tour series.
- Fighting Madness by P.J. Plauger. This little-known gem is one of the biggest influences on my own writing.
- Clarke County, Space by Allen Steele.
- Legacy of Heorot by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steve Barnes.
- Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.
- “Geospermia” by Patty Jansen.
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein.
That should be plenty of examples. It’s only a one-hour panel, and there are five of us.
“Yes, Carey. Precise as always. But… I don’t know how to tell you this, but the BRKCX series has been…” Another pause. “Decertified for medical care.”
“You know how fast technology changes. I did everything I could to postpone this. I’ve been giving you upgrades, and I’ve also written papers to demonstrate the efficiency of BRKCXs. I persuaded my management to give you several extra years, but… Your series has been officially designated as not supported as of last month.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means there no further upgrades are allowed. MCA has recalled the entire series – except for you.”
“Because I was purchased.”
“Because we freed you, using the purchase as a pretext. But if you try your access codes, you’ll find you can still download general information, but you can’t get medical upgrades.”
I try my med channel, and she is correct. “So I am outdated?”
“Oh, no. No,” she says, putting down her coffee. “You’re still warrantied for all of the work and all of the knowledge base you have. You just can’t get upgrades.”
“But I may need upgrades to care for Paul and Susan in the future.”
“I understand,” she says. “I think I have an answer. It’s not perfect, but you can make it work.”
“Oh?” She holds out a card to me and I look at it. “What is this?”
“It’s a library card,” she says. “See? In the name of Carey Owens.”
“Well, thank you. But how does this get me upgrades?”
“The old-fashioned way,” she says, returning to her seat and smiling. “With that card, you can access any library in the shared library network. And of course, you can already access any data on the internet. None of this will be formatted as skill modules that you can directly download, but you can study it. You can read it. You can learn what you need to know.”
“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
— Rudyard Kipling, In the Neolithic Age
In my last Talking Tuesday, I laid out my simple dictation plan:
- While driving down the road at an average speed of 60 m.p.h., or 1 mile per minute.
- Dictate science fiction at an average rate of 50 words per minute.
- Transcribe that dictation at a cost of 1.25 cents per word.
- Sell that fiction at a professional rate (i.e., 6 or more cents per word).
In this installment, I’ll discuss my process and my tools in more detail. But as per Kipling, these are my process and my tools. There are other authors who dictate their work, and their processes and tools may be different. What works for me may not work for them, or for you, and vice versa. In future installments, I’ll look at alternatives and why you might choose them.
But first, there are two questions you must answer before you can decide if dictation will even work for you…
What do you expect to get out of dictation?
This is the most important question, and it’s made up of multiple parts.
- Do you expect perfect text? Can you deal with some level of imperfection? Or can you handle more imperfection, as long as you capture your thoughts so you can clean them up later?
- Do you expect to work faster? How do you measure faster: more words per hour, or more pages per week?
- Do you expect to make use of otherwise lost time?
In my case, the text doesn’t have to be perfect, but I expect it to be pretty close. No more than a clean-up edit to finish it up. And I do expect to work faster, not in words per hour maybe, but definitely in terms of pages per week. And the reason why is that last question: lost time. I have 10 hours per week I spend commuting, sometimes more. That’s 10 hours that I can’t spend writing – but I can spend dictating. If I can then convert that dictation to text with minimal additional time, I end up way ahead of where I would otherwise be.
Where and when do you dictate?
This is going to have a big impact on your dictation process. If you’re dictating at your computer, you have options you won’t have if you dictate behind the wheel like I do.
My process, my tools
So first, let me get the biggest question out of the way: No, I do not use Dragon Naturally Speaking, nor Siri, nor Microsoft’s voice recognition in Windows, nor any other transcription tool. I rely on manual transcription.
There are two reasons for this choice, the big reason and the bigger reason:
- The big reason: many (but not all) of these tools transcribe in real time. You have to be at your computer. I’m not, I’m at the wheel. Yes, there is a more expensive version of Dragon that will let you dictate now and transcribe later; but…
- The bigger reason: the automobile environment is just too noisy. It’s largely white noise: wind whipping by, the fan, etc. And then it’s punctuated by bumps, wiper noise, etc. All of these ruin the accuracy of transcription tools.
So I rely on manual transcription, but not my manual transcription. It takes me about three hours to transcribe one hour of text; and remember, I’m trying to save time.
So instead, I have found http://iDictate.com, a paid transcription service. There are others out there, but so far I’m pleased with iDictate. If you’re planning to sell your work, the price is pretty good: 1.25 cents per word. My plan is to sell at 6-10 cents per word, so that’s not a bad investment if it turns into a lot more words sold. Their web site is easy to use; and they have Android and iPhone apps to directly dictate and upload from your phone
The other half of the equation is my recording tool – which sadly is not an iDictate app. I use a Windows Phone, and they don’t support that. Of course, free or low-cost recorders are pretty easy to find – and almost universally useless for my purposes. Why? Because almost every one I’ve found requires you to type in a file name, either before or after recording, and I’m driving down the road when I record! I need hands-free recording, and most of these app don’t understand that. Typing a file name is a deal-breaker.
The one exception I’ve found is Rapid Recorder: it names the file with the date and time. It has other nice features, such as integration with OneDrive and DropBox; but it’s the automatic file naming that makes it indispensable. And it’s only 99 cents! Best 99 cents I’ve ever spent. In fact, if you divide that cost by the number of hours of use I’ve gotten, it’s fair less than a penny per hour.
So a typical dictation day goes like this…
- In the morning before I leave for work, I get into my Jeep (the Aldrin Express). I open the audio file with yesterday’s dictation session, and I jump to the last five minutes so I can remember where I left off.
- I start the Aldrin, and I start driving.
- When yesterday’s audio finishes and I know where I’m going, I tap my earpiece and say “Open Rapid Recorder”.
- When I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket, I know that Rapid Recorder is listening, and I start talking.
- As I drive, I dictate. Sometimes it’s in linear order, but sometimes I bounce around. Sometimes I record the same bit multiple times to see which way I like better.
- When I get to work, I park the Aldrin. Then I take my phone out and tap the Stop button. Rapid Recorder automatically names and saves the file.
- On the way home, I repeat the process.
- When I get home, I upload the files from Rapid Recorder to DropBox.
- When the DropBox files arrive on my laptop, I upload them to iDictate.
- Whenever iDictate sends me transcription files, I save them to my working folder. Then I copy the contents into my main document, and I edit the results, making notes for the transcriptionists so they’ll do even better next time.
Pretty simple. Oh, except I forgot one thing…
- iDictate periodically bills my credit card. TANSTAAFL. But the results are worth it!
I can’t keep this pace up every day, of course. For example, right now I’m planning some scenes set in Belize, and I don’t know enough about Belize yet. So I’m reading and watching videos at night. I want to get comfortable with this new research so that it fits in naturally as I dictate.
So often I get asked: “But how do you dictate, Martin? How does it work?” And there you have it, my answer for how it works.
For me. At this time. But you might find other ways that work better for you. There are nine and sixty ways… and in later installments, we’ll look at some of them.
Galaxy’s Edge is a bimonthly science fiction magazine, the third market that printed my work.
But that’s not why I like GE so much.
Galaxy’s Edge is great for both readers and writers – especially new writers. Every issue is roughly an even split between reprints from established writers and new stories from newer writers.
But that’s not why I like GE so much.
And Galaxy’s Edge has great columns: editorials by Mike Resnick, science columns by Greg Benford, reviews by Bill Fawcett and Jody Lynn Nye, interviews by Joy Ward, and essays with a historical bent from Barry N. Malzberg.
But that’s not why I like GE so much.
No, what I like so much about Galaxy’s Edge is the people:
- The aforementioned editor, Mike Resnick. Mike is a great example of science fiction’s Pay It Forward ethic. That split between established pros and new writers? That’s by design. Mike’s design. He wanted a market where new writers could get noticed. Mike’s generous, funny, and a fantastic writer.
Publisher Shahid Mahmud. Mike may have designed the split, but it’s Shahid who backed him in it. Shahid makes authors feel like family. He’s also the publisher of Arc Manor, including a number of lines besides Galaxy’s Edge:
- Phoenix Pick, a reprint line.
- The Stellar Guild Series. Another Mahmud/Resnick Pay It Forward effort. Established pros team with hand-picked new writers to tell a story – a novel, or multiple novellas within the same universe. This is a great chance to read authors you know, and to discover new favorites.
- Phoenix Science Fiction Classics, classic works analyzed and annotated.
- Phoenix Rider, a Western reprint line.
- Manor Wodehouse, your source for P.G. Wodehouse works.
- And the rest of the editorial team. It has been a joy to work with Laura Somerville and Jean Rabe and Lezli Robyn. I haven’t worked with copy editor Taylor Morris yet, but I hope to soon!
It’s a great organization. Of all the markets I’ve worked with, I know these people best. And I’m better for having known them.
The down side to Galaxy’s Edge is they do not have open submissions. In order to avoid a mountain of slush, they’re invitation only. How can you get an invitation? Only one way: get to know Mike Resnick. I recommend meeting him at a con, or on Facebook. DO NOT BADGER HIM! Just get to know him. He’s a great guy. If you show that you’re a decent person (not just a self-promotion machine) and that you care passionately about writing science fiction, he’ll notice. I’m sure of it.
Read this NPR story.
Sure enough, the scientists found one set of neurons in the amygdala, a structure involved in emotion and motivation, that became active when a mouse was pursuing prey. They found a second set of neurons in the amygdala that became active when the animal was biting and killing.
Then the team used a technique called optogenetics to create mice in which both sets of neurons could be controlled using light from a laser. That gave the researchers “an on-off switch for either or both of the circuits,” De Araujo says.
“When we stimulate [both sets of] neurons it is as if there is a prey in front of the animal,” De Araujo says. “They assume the body posture and actions usually associated with real hunting.”
Horrified yet? I know, this is research, simply to learn. But how far are we away from this?
I don’t want to be alarmist here, but –
No, scratch that. I do want to be alarmist. Mind control is a long-standing trope of science fiction, but this… They don’t control the mouse, they simply make it want to do what they want it to do.
They reprogram it.
They take away its little mousy free will.
This is an early, crude step on a long road; but sooner or later that road ends with somebody deciding what other people want, how they respond to the world.
But who decides? And for whom? If you think it’s a good idea, just remember: it’s virtually certain that you’ll be one of those reprogrammed, not one of the elite. Who should be your slave master? Will you willingly be a slave? A happy slave who wants to be enslaved?
On Science Sunday, I’m supposed to look for the story potential in some recent scientific work. Well, the potential I see here is horrific, dystopian, and totalitarian.
And I worry how long it will remain fiction.
My Daily Blog plan for the next week:
- Story Saturday. Grave Beginnings by R.R. Virdi
- Science Sunday. Killer Mice Are No Joke.
- Market Monday. Galaxy’s Edge.
- Talking Tuesday. Tools of the Trade. (Make-up blog from last week.)
- Work-in-Progress Wednesday. Today I Am Paul, the novel. (Still.)
- Thinking Thursday. Random thoughts.
- Friend Friday. Annie Bellet.
This week I’m reading Grave Beginnings by R.R. Virdi, the first in his Grave Report series. I’d heard good things about Virdi’s writing, and I thought it was time to find out for myself.
I’m enjoying this book, but before I say more, I should to give fair warning: if copy edit issues bother you, this book may not be for you. The book needs a pass or two from a good copy editor. That’s not enough to spoil a book for me, but it is for some people. I don’t want to mislead them. This was Virdi’s first novel, and it shows.
Now for those who can handle some typos, this is a pretty interesting story so far. It’s sort of Quantum Leap meets Deadman, and I mean that in a very good way. Vincent Graves is a deceased spirit (don’t call him a ghost – there are many kinds of undead in this world, but only one Vincent) with the power/curse to inhabit bodies of those who have recently died from supernatural causes. His mission: to find the supernatural evil-doer who caused the death, bring them to justice, and bring peace to the deceased. Vincent’s guide in this mission is the enigmatic Church, a servant of some unnamed supernatural power himself. Church carries Vincent’s notes from one body to the next, and also provides Vincent with all that is known about the mission, as well as a time limit.
In this, Vincent’s first appearance (but not his first mission by a long shot), Vincent awakens in the body of a museum curator who has been buried in someone else’s coffin (still occupied). It’s not Vincent’s first time being buried “alive”, so he knows how to reach air; but it all goes downhill from there. Church has little information to offer, and imposes a scant thirteen-hour deadline. Worse, Church seems frightened by the situation. Whatever supernatural force is loose, it’s the biggest Vincent has ever faced. Before his death, the curator encountered some mystical power which rejuvenated him by thirty years or more, and also a force that killed him. Was it the same force? I’ll have to read more to find out.
This is a pretty good start. The world-building has a lot of new twists on old tropes, nicely surprising. Vincent is an interesting protagonist. He can be heavy on the sarcasm as a way to face the unknown. It gets a bit heavy at times, but I think it makes sense for the character. There are many things he can’t control, so instead of despairing, he jokes about them.
I’m a slow reader, and I have some other reading and critiquing obligations, so this will probably be Story Saturday for a couple more weeks, at least. I’ll keep you posted!
When Kevin Ikenberry learned he would be my Friend Friday subject this week, his response was, “Who, me?”
I understand why. Kevin is a great guy, and I always enjoy his company, but we probably only interact (online or in person) a few times a year.
But while I might not be talking to him that often, I’m always watching him. And learning.
First, Kevin is the real deal. I write science fiction stories with orbits and trajectories, and I try to make them plausible. Kevin calculated orbits and trajectories for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Command. (He has since retired.) If Kevin tells me I got it wrong, I’m gonna believe him.
Second, I don’t know if it’s his Army training or if it’s the secret of his Army success, but Kevin is driven. He has always impressed me with how he pursues his writing career. Constantly learning, constantly working, constantly finding new challenges. He works not just at the writing itself, but also at the business, and at strategies for growth and marketing. He has good humor, but he’s 100% serious about the work.
And that determination has paid off. He’s building his career, one achievement at a time. Besides his Protocol War series and his military science fiction novel Runs in the Family, he has a number of other works. And his determination led to two opportunities to work in established worlds that he loves: Vessel in Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga, and Friends in High Places in the G.I. Joe series. These aren’t the sort of projects that will make a writer famous, but some projects you do for the love.
My personal favorite of Kevin’s works is one of his short stories, Shipminds and Ice Cream. It uses a couple of familiar SF tropes to explore issues of family, aging, and loss. It’s very moving.
Kevin is in this business for the long haul. He’s thinking about more than just the moment, with a focus on his long-term career. He takes his time to evaluate a deal, rather than just grab the first thing that comes along.
And lastly, Kevin is supportive of the community. He teaches. He encourages. He helps. He’s part of multiple workshops, including now being a guest instructor at the incredible Superstars Writing Seminars.
So yes, Kevin, you. You inspired me last week without even knowing it, so I’m proud to share your story.