Sunday, April 28, 2013

Writing in a series: why I created my own universe

I got a wonderful email the other day, from a reader who was requesting the free story I offer via this blog. It was the kind of email authors dream about because she said she had read The Sixth Discipline (which she got free in iBooks, but it's also free almost everywhere) and loved it enough to buy the sequel No Safe Haven, and loved it enough to buy all my other books in the iBooks store. On top of that, when I checked, she had left a review on iBooks! Talk about your ideal readers!

When I sent her the story, I suggested she read Tribes first, because it's most like the Haven books in overall tone, and I warned her that Shades of Empire is noticeably darker and more explicit than my other books. But when I was writing the email, it occurred to me that in some ways, the fact that she loved the Haven books so much could make it difficult for her to enjoy the other books.

Readers love books in a series. Once they find a character they like, they want to stick with him or her. When a local book club read my fantasy novella Where Magic Rules, one of the questions the readers asked me was did I have any books in a series.

Authors, on the other hand, often find it difficult keep finding new things to say about a character. The Haven “series” is only two books long, and I didn't know it would be two when I started it. As it turned out, I had too much story in my head for it to fit into one book. Fortunately, there was an eight-year gap in the story, which made a logical place to end the first book; I just had to be sure there was enough resolution of all but the one significant plot point that continues in the second book.

But in a sense, most of my books are in a series. All of my far future science fiction stories take place in a universe in which people from earth colonized other worlds in a way that left them cut off from our earth. The societies and cultures they created varied, depending on why they left their own world. I call them "sleeper worlds," partly because the colonists traveled in suspended animation. In the Haven books, there were three distinct groups on the colony world of Haven: one looking for new resources, one wanting isolation to experience harmony with nature, and one hoping for a total lack of government. In Tribes, the world was a prison colony, and its culture and government evolved from prison gangs. The colony world in The Nostalgia Gambit is an exception in that it's not a sleeper world.

I named my universe the ThreeCon universe, for the Third Confederation of Planets, the organization I created to oversee commerce and other interaction between the worlds. Although there are no characters shared between stories (except for the Haven books), the universe has a consistent, shared history. There are events mentioned in one that carry over into other stories, too.

My next book, most likely titled Saronna's Gift will be a romance, but it's also set in the ThreeCon universe, and the sleeper world the story takes place on was founded as religious colony by a charismatic but despotic leader who believed in an Old Testament-style patriarchy. After a few centuries of isolation, the world is a pretty awful place, in a lot of ways. The story starts when a young woman's father takes her to a city to sell her. I'm hoping the book will appeal to both romance readers and science fiction readers.

Really, my kind of series is the kind authors like: low overhead for the writer in creating the overall history, and a new set of characters each time. I don't know how much benefit that is to readers. If you have an opinion, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Still no iBooks for The Nostalgia Gambit

My next-to-latest novel The Nostalgia Gambit was successively loaded into the Smashwords platform, passed their review for their premium catalog and was “shipped” to Apple on March 27.  That books is still not available in iBooks!

I'm really hoping posting this notice will cause the book to pop into iBooks, just like giving up and starting to walk home always makes the bus you were waiting for appear.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Sixth Discipline is on a roll!

The Sixth Discipline, which has been free in the US Kindle store since last summer, has been holding steady at about the 5,000 rank in the "freebie" part of that Kindle store. Today, for some reason I can't understand, it jumped to 1,077, and it's #30 in science fiction freebies.

Wish I knew why! I did a Google search but couldn't find anything. But I'm not complaining. Just hope it lasts for a while.

Update: As of 4/18/13, The Sixth Discipline is up to #13 in free science fiction and #652 in overall free Kindle books.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Doing digital the right way: Open Road

Open Road Integrated Media is a digital-only publisher and because digital is the main event, not merely a sideline, they do it right! A lot of their books are (sometimes quite old) back-list titles, which for other publishers often means they would be scanned from paper and slapped up as ebooks with hardly a second look. Sometimes publishers don't bother getting a cover for the ebook. Again, not Open Road!

I recently bought some Lord Peter books for my Kindle. Dorothy L. Sayers was a British mystery writer who created a wonderful amateur detective named Lord Peter Wimsey. Sayers died in 1957, so none of these books is even close to new, but Open Road not only did a great job in putting them into the proper format, they commissioned a wonderful, imaginative set of new covers! I've included a few here so you can see what I mean.

Lord Peter was a wealthy, well dressed aristocrat, so each cover shows a man's torso in an outfit suited (pardon the pun) to the story. And of course, Lord Peter's signature monocle appears above the title.

When I read on my Kindle, I highlight any formatting problems that I notice. When I finished my first Lord Peter Kindle book from OR, I checked and there was no highlighting—not a single formatting error!

In addition, OR has figured out that one of the strengths of ebooks is you can change the price as often as you like. The Lord Peter books generally sell for $7.00 to $9.99 in the Kindle store, but OR put three of them on sale for $2.99 or less. Now, I have actually read all these books. I used to own them in paperback, but I gave them away to a good home. But at that price, I bought those three books so I can read them again whenever I feel like it without having them take any space in my downsized bookshelves.

There you go! Quality books, quality formatting, quality covers, and flexible pricing. That is the way to do ebooks right!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Free eBook and I'm Guest Blogging at Digital Book Today!

In addition to having King of Trees free in the Kindle store today, I have a guest blog post on Digital Book Today,a site devoted to hooking readers up with authors and ebooks.

My post is on "Putting Non-Amazon Books on your Kindle," one of my Kindle Tips posts. Other features on the DBT site include author interviews, book reviews, and digital-publishing related posts.

Check it out! And don't forget to get King of Trees free today or tomorrow!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Update on my books — the Apple hasn't dropped yet!

It looks like Apple is the slowest of the major ebook vendors when it comes to adding books. The Nostalgia Gambit is now on Sony and Nook as well as Smashwords, but it is not yet in iBooks.  It shipped to them well over  a week ago and still no sign of it.  Maybe tomorrow. 

Speaking of tomorrow, I will have an announcement of a guest blog slot (me blogging on someone else's slot) and also a book promotion. Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review: The Cloud Roads

The Cloud Roads
The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not the usual sort of review that summarizes (aka, gives away) the plot. Rather, I want to talk about why this book made such a good impression on me, and the one thing that bothered me. The Cloud Roads is that curious beast, a book that defies genre labels. Mind you, I'm not saying it transcends its genre. I hate that phrase, because it implies that genre is a bad thing, and I have no problem with genre.

The Cloud Roads is impressive because it mixes genres in an interesting way. The book is set on a world called the Three Kingdoms that doesn't appear to be our own earth. The many and varied humanoid and non-humanoid species on it are clearly alien— not elves or fairies or dwarves or any other mythical creatures from assorted folklores. No, they are true aliens, and not Star Trek putty-on-their-noses aliens, but beings in a world where a single “ species” can have many forms.

The protagonist is named Moon. When the story begins, he doesn't even know what kind of creature he is, because he has never met any others like himself since he was quite young. The Three Kingdoms are inhabited by groundlings (creatures who walk), skylings (fly), and sea creatures (swim/live in the water). Moon has two forms, groundling and skyling, and can shift between them. There is no science in this shifting, as there is in Joe Haldeman's Camouflage. The change is clearly accomplished with magic, like the augery and a few other features of this world. For one thing, in one form Moon wears clothes and in the other not, and Wells accounts for this by mentioning that he had to learn to do that magic as well as the magic of changing his body.

Eventually, Moon meets several Raksura, other creature with two forms who can shape-shift at will. But the Raksura's alien-ness is not limited to shape shifting and the oddness (wings, scales, tails) of their bodies. No, their species has two main classes of beings, one of which is winged when shifted and the other not. In addition, not all Raksura are fertile. They live in communal “courts” where they are dominated by a reigning queen, a specific variant of Raksura, who is fertile. Queens mate with consorts, and while both are large, fierce fighters with a full compliment of wings, scales, and claws, queens are pretty damn scary fighters.

Queens fight over consorts, and mark their mates with a scent, so that other queens will leave them alone. But not all females are queens. It's not that they don't have gender roles, it's that they have multiple roles for each gender. The Raksura may be humanoid, but they are not human. Thus, Raksura relationships do not always occur in tidy pairs, and the concept of family is pretty much indistinguishable from community.

The bad guys are called the Fell, and they also shape shift and fall into multiple categories of beings, with the smarter ”rulers” controlling the dumber varieties. They are impressively evil in that they exist only to prey on other species, which they do quite literally by eating their victims.

If I have any complaints with the book, they are mostly about how creatures are named. Raksura is a perfectly fine term, but the two categories of Raksura are Arbora, who are teachers and mentors and whose alternate form is wingless, and Aeriat, who do have wings in their shifted (or non-groundling) form. Why, after building such a wonderfully rich and totally alien setting Wells chose two names that sound and look like English words for tree-related and air-related I will never know. They grated on me, pulling me back from her magical otherworld into the everyday, and I resented that because she did such a good job on everything else. Even calling the bad guys “the Fell” struck me as misguided. No other species had a particularly apt English adjective as a name.

I wanted more consistency and logic than I got in naming; even the three main categories of Fell annoyed me: rulers (smart ones), major kethel (the big but dumb ones), and minor dakti (small but still dumb). Rulers were always called just rulers, but sometimes the others were called simply dakti and kethel and sometimes they were major kethel and minor dakti. I kept waiting for a major dakti and a minor kethel to appear but they never did. If they only came in one variety each, then why did they need the major/minor distinction? It made no sense!

Of course, I am legendary in my critique group for complaining about characters' names, so it's not surprising this was the one thing that bothered me. I was even bothered by a language being called Altanic because I read it as Atlantic for the first six times I came to it.

But, nit picks aside, the story itself is wonderfully told. Moon is a great protagonist; damaged, prickly, but still soft-hearted, Moon hopes for good from the world but so often encounters bad. Wells does a good job of sketching secondary and tertiary characters in just a few sentences, so that the other “people” all feel real. The story has a good mix of action, dialog, and Moon's thought processes. The story is told from Moon's point of view, in third person so close and consistent you could change all the pronouns to make it first person with almost no re-writing. The flying scenes are particularly well done.

In short, I loved it!

Caveat for Kindle owners: The Kindle version I have had some bad formatting; I sent an email to the publisher about the errors in the book (mostly missing word spaces and some funky paragraph indenting). They suggested I should buy the trade paperback because it is formatted much better and has attractive graphics. I don't have good feelings about their ability to keep making money in the future.  This was some time ago, so possibly this has changed. Please comment if you had a different experience.

Addendum: Sadly, it seems I was correct about the publisher. They are attempting to sell their assets to avoid bankruptcy.

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