…Where I’ll Be

This weekend is Balticon, the annual convention of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. It’s held every Memorial Day weekend at the Marriott in Hunt Valley, Maryland. It’s a really nice, small convention where I get to hang with some of the most creative, amazing people I know.

This year, after begging groveling pleading bribing crying a lot requesting persistently, I am an official guest at Balticon, meaning that I will participate in several events. This is both exciting and terrifying, as I now must sound halfway intelligent when I’m a panelist. If you’re going to be there, I’d love to meet you. Here’s my schedule of appearances as it stands right now:

  • Friday, May 25, 7:00 pm. Dueling Drabbles (Derby Room)
  • Saturday, May 26, 9:00 am. Podcast Editing (Chesapeake Room)
  • Saturday, May 26, 7:00 pm. Gender and Narration in Podcasting (Chesapeake Room)
  • Sunday, May 27, 1:00 pm. Podcasting 101 (Derby Room)
  • Sunday, May 27, 4:00 pm. Autograph session with Justin Macumber (Maryland Foyer)
  • Sunday, May 27, 9:00 pm. Stargazers Audio Drama (Derby Room)
  • Monday, May 28, 12:00 noon. Reading (Pimlico Room)

I hope to see you all there!

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Where I’ve Been…

Newsflash: I’ve been MIA on this blog for a few weeks. Now that I’ve told you the obvious, please take a few moments to review the following list of excuses:

  • I have published Purgatory. It was a fair amount of work, but I have issued Purgatory as a self-published print book and ebook. As I write this, it is available for sale at Amazon.com, and I expect to see it on BarnesandNoble.com shortly. I’m bringing a handful of copies for sale at Balticon next weekend. Starla Huchton created one awesome book cover, and I have to say the print version looks gorgeous!

Self-publishing is not a quick process, at least not if you want a professional-looking product. I proofread the entire novel again over a weekend, saved it into a CreateSpace MS Word template, tweaked the formatting, uploaded it, got error messages, tweaked again, uploaded again, got error messages again, rinse and repeat. On the fourth attempt, I met with success. Then I discovered a minor continuity error in the text and had to repeat the process. And this was just for the print version.

Maybe I don’t know how to use it properly, but I found that the EPUB compile option in Scrivener produced one seriously ugly ebook. Text went from centered to left-justified, line spacing looked crunched, and the cover didn’t display properly. However, I downloaded EPUB-editing software Sigil and was able to correct the problems. The preview on Barnes & Noble’s Web site looked fine.

  • I created promotional bookmarks for Purgatory. This project took almost as much time as did publishing the book. I use Photoshop Elements so seldom that whenever I do use it, I’m flailing. I did multiple versions of the bookmark that met with rejection from the Web sites I sent them to. Eventually, my 20 year-old son, who is a wiz with this software, created a version that worked in about 15 minutes. It’s good to be related to people who know what they’re doing.
  • I had an unexpectedly difficult campaign for re-election to the Liverpool Public Library Board of Trustees. I have served on the board since December 2005 and have stood for election twice before this year, both times running unopposed. That was not the case when my five-year term expired this year. Three people (another incumbent, a challenger, and I) ran for two seats on the board. Someone decided to actually give the voters a choice! This meant the purchase of lawn signs, the printing of flyers, and the widespread distribution of same, not to mention a few public appearances. In the end, the other incumbent won by a comfortable margin and I prevailed by a scant 17 votes.
  • I had to prepare and deliver a presentation for my day job to a business group in Cooperstown last Friday. The one-hour presentation took the better part of a work day to create in addition to the overnight trip to Cooperstown. By the way, my employers can send me to Cooperstown on business anytime they wish. Seriously. I will not complain.
  • I have a couple of freelance assignments outstanding that I’ve begun researching but have not yet written.
  • My son is a pitcher on his high school varsity baseball team, and I have not missed a game. That will change, unfortunately, with Balticon this weekend.
  • Oh yes, and I’ve been earning a living as per normal, too.

All of this, by the way, was in the last four weeks.

However, the book is published, the election is won, the presentation has been delivered to an appreciative audience, the bookmarks should arrive tomorrow, and I’m breathing a sigh of relief. I have a very good interview with Starla Huchton waiting to be released on The Geek Side of Life, and my intent is to have it drop Thursday morning. Unfortunately, with all the madness, I missed my usual every-other-Thursday schedule. I hope this will get me back on a regular schedule.

And next weekend is Balticon — one of my favorite weekends of the year! What will I be doing there? That’s the subject of the next blog post…

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Cancer Silences Another Great Voice

I’ve written way too many goodbyes to great musicians on this blog. Now I write another. We lost Levon Helm today. This just sucks.

Thanks for the music, Levon. I hope it’s nice up on Cripple Creek.

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New Song: ‘Empire State’ by John Anealio

Some of you may have listened to my recent interview with John Anealio on The Geek Side of Life podcast. If so, you got a small taste of his music during our conversation, but to really get a feel for his sound, you need to hear his new song. John released Empire State earlier this month, and it’s a significant departure from the other songs available from his Web site. As someone who did (and does) love the progressive rock of the 1970’s (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Jethro Tull, etal.), I really found this song captivating and artistic. I don’t know if it’s one that he can perform live, but I hope to hear him give it a try at Balticon next month.

Here’s the song, for streaming or download. Enjoy!

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What I’ve Been Doing

It’s been almost a month since my last post here, which has shot a major hole in my aim of two to three blog posts a week. Part of the reason for that absence has been laziness, but it has also been a busy time. Here’s part of what’s been going on in my life since I reported on the Shamrock Run in March.

I launched a new podcast! Since I wrapped up the podcast of Purgatory two years ago, my podcasts have been few and far between. I had originally hoped to write and podcast a new short story every week. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I am not Scott Sigler, who can turn out quality work week after week. I didn’t want to podcast stories just for the sake of doing them; I want to put only quality work out there. Consequently, I released only a couple of interviews I did over Skype. Until a few weeks ago.

My new show is called The Geek Side of Life, and I intend it to be an exploration of all sorts of geeky culture, from old stories to modern books, movies, music, and TV shows, and anything else that fits the geek mold. As I write this, I have released five episodes: Two short stories that are in the public domain (by H.G. Wells and Robert E. Howard), a short story of mine, and two interviews. The interviews have been especially fun (I enjoy hearing someone else’s voice rather than my own.) Jenn from the Jennisodes podcast gave me a crash course in game design and production, as she readies her new role playing game Project Ninja Panda Taco for release later this year. I also had a terrific time chatting with singer-songwriter-podcaster John Anealio about his music. If you haven’t heard his new song Empire State yet, you need to download it now. In fact, I think that song will be the subject of my next post.

I’ve already recorded two more interviews, one with writer-podcaster Justin Macumber, whose novel Haywire is available for sale now, and with author-singer-graphic designer Starla Huchton. Both of those conversations will hit the feed shortly. My plan is to release new episodes every two weeks. That seems to be a comfortable span for me; a regular schedule that shouldn’t prove to be too burdensome.

I continue to ready Purgatory for self-publication. Starla is busy designing a book cover for me while I re-read it for the billionth time and continue to catch mistakes or problems. One issue popped up quite suddenly a few weeks ago. If you’ve listened to the podcast, there is a scene where the protagonist, in an attempt to find the gateway to earth, begins to sing a pop song from the 1960’s. In another scene, one of the other characters sings a couple of lines from a Beatles song. This didn’t seem like a big deal when I was giving away a free podcast; it’s a much bigger deal if one intends to make money from the work at issue. I realized I had to weigh into the treacherous waters of getting permission to use these lyrics.

I am a researcher by day, and I commenced an investigation to identify the publishers of these songs. While at a Barnes & Noble store one day, I found a Beatles songbook that contained the song I used. I flipped to the page, found the copyright information at the bottom, and snapped a picture with my phone. A Google search revealed that the publisher is a joint venture of Sony and the estate of Michael Jackson. I got an email address from their Web site, dashed off a request, and got a response within a few days. The response provided a form for me to complete and return.

Shortly after I returned the form (and in the mean time discovered that the same publisher owned the rights to the other song), I received a licensing price quote from them. They requested $300, and I was to limit the print run to a total of 500 print and electronic copies combined. The $300 was a discouragement; the limit on the print run is a deal-breaker. A very quick rewrite will eliminate any traces of the lyrics from my book.

The weeks ahead will include finalizing the cover, hopefully catching all typos in the text, creating a PDF for the print version, formatting it for the various ebook formats, doing all the uploads and getting it to market. I don’t think it will seem real until I see it for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, the iBook Store, and everywhere else that I can think of. I anticipate selling more ebooks than physical books, but I plan to bring several copies of the print version with me to Balticon in May.

Beyond that, my day job has kept me very busy, I’ve gotten a bit more freelance work lately, my work on two library boards of trustees draws a lot of my attention, and something really nice has happened in my personal life. More on that some other time. My exercise routine has slipped a bit, with the result that some of my pants feel like they’ve shrunk. That’s something that must change immediately.

So, that’s the news from Lake Wobetim. I’ll have a new post again soon. Promise.

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New Feature: Subscribe By E-mail

For those who feel they don’t receive enough email, I’ve added a new convenience feature to this blog. If you click the R² Email me this Blog button on the right and provide your email address, you can receive my words of wisdom right in your email In Box. They will make a nice addition to the twice-weekly emails you get from that retailer you ordered a t-shirt from three years ago or the fund-raising emails from that non-profit whose petition you signed on the web once for some cause you can’t remember. I’m all about the convenience of my readers.

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Life’s Little Ironies

Last Saturday, I participated in the Shamrock Run, a four-mile race through Syracuse’s Tipperary Hill neighborhood. More then 3,500 people registered for the race, and more than 3,100 of them actually ran or walked the course. It was an amazing sight. I grew up in a town with a population of 2,000. To see that number and more running through city streets with me on a Saturday in early March was awesome. There were half a dozen bands playing on people’s yards throughout the course, runners dressed all in green. There were even a few guys running in kilts. I wonder how that worked out for them; they’re lucky it wasn’t a windy day.

Normally when I exercise, I listen to podcasts on my iPod. I’m a self-confessed podcast junkie. If you see me with my earbuds on, I’m more likely to be listening to a segment of Talk of the Nation or an episode of Podcastle than I am to be listening to music. As I was waiting for the starting horn to sound before the race, I started listening to a podcast, but it didn’t feel right. There was so much energy in the hundreds of runners all around me that I needed to listen to something that would pump me up even more.

I quickly scrolled through my iPod and landed on Led Zeppelin’s PHYSICAL GRAFFITI album, which I had not listened to in some time. Perfect. As the race started, the opening chords of Custard Pie got my legs moving and I was off to the races, as they say.

Now, they call it Tipperary Hill for a reason, and the course for the run involved running up two steep hills. A mile or so into the run, we went down North Lowell Avenue and made a left turn onto Ulster Avenue, the first significant hill. As I was leaning into the hill and shortening my stride (techniques that I learned as a member of the high school cross country team; thanks, Coach Bachner), the third song on the album started. If you are familiar with the album, you know what I’m talking about.

Yes, as I was running up a steep hill, I was listening to In My Time of Dying. Had I not been panting from exertion, I would have laughed out loud. I could not have planned a more ironic music choice. You have to love these little ironies in life.

I finished the race with a time of 36:59, which I was pretty happy with. First long run of the year and all that. The race was so much fun that I’m already planning on next year. And henceforth, I will always think of that hill on Syracuse’s west side whenever I hear In My Time of Dying.

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Revisions, Revisions

There is a lot of writing on my agenda these days. I’ve been hired to write two freelance articles for a technical newsletter. I’ve been asked to write a profile of a parishioner for my church’s weekly bulletin. The project I’ve spent the most time on lately has been the second draft of the novel I completed last fall.

Some authors love the phase of the writing process where they pour out the story in the first draft but hate the revision process. I’m the opposite. This book in particular seemed to take me forever to finish (paying freelance projects, day job duties and good old-fashioned procrastination had a lot to do with that.) It took me longer to write this one than either Acts of Desperation or Purgatory did. Once that first draft was done, I set it aside for a few weeks and worked on some other things. I wrote a piece that may end up in an anthology a friend is planning to publish, and I wrote a short story on a whim inspired by a conversation I had on Twitter. The story was goofy and fun, but I have no idea what I’ll do with it. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll submit it to a few markets and see if I get any nibbles.

Having returned to the novel, I find that I really enjoy the revision process. I can spot the places where my character descriptions need beefing up. Words that I use repeatedly start to jump out at me (my characters tend to snort a lot.) Little inconsistencies become obvious. I find that making these repairs is a whole lot easier than creating the world and the story in the first place.

While the entire novel has not gone out to beta readers yet, one of my friends read a few of the chapters as I was writing the first draft. She gave me a lot of valuable feedback, and my first pass at revision focused on many of the issues she raised. Now, I’m going through the book scene by scene and making changes. Once this round is done, I’ll be ready to turn it loose on beta readers. That’s always a scary prospect, but it’s an exciting one, too.

More to come as this work moves from my laptop to readers’ eyes.

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My Interview on Abbie Hilton’s Podcast

As you may or may not know, last year I played a griffin in the podcast of Ashes, book three of Abigail Hilton’s fantasy series The Guild of the Cowry Catchers. Felbane, my character, is a Clint Eastwood type of griffin: He doesn’t say much, but boy do people respect him, mostly because, at any moment, he could say “Screw it,” and eat them. He doesn’t get invited to many parties, but he doesn’t seem to care.

Last year, I interviewed Abbie for my podcast. A few weeks ago, she turned the tables and interviewed me. We had a great discussion about Cowry Catchers, Purgatory, and publishing. Thanks again to Abbie for having me on her show. I hope you enjoy.

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Writing Technical Post: The Danger of Passive Sentences

If you’ve read any books or articles on writing, at some point you’ve read or heard an instructor say that you should avoid using passive sentences. For those who don’t obsess about these things and who may have forgotten what a passive sentence is, here are two examples, one of an active sentence and one that is passive:

“Ringo played the drums.” (Active sentence)

“The drums were played by Ringo.” (Passive sentence)

In sentence number two, the phrase “were played” is a passive verb. It makes the drums the subject of the sentence, when really, the reader wants to know about Ringo. After all, he’s the one who makes the drums come to life. Too many passive sentences can make a piece sound wooden, stiff, and unexciting.

And sometimes, they can cause significant problems.

Imagine that someone has written a will, and in that will he has left a large sum of money to a non-profit group that supports a local museum or school or orchestra or some other cultural entity. Suppose the will states that the funds “should be used to supplement the services already available.” This sentence is a problem. Why? Because it does not say who will use the funds to supplement services. Is it the non-profit group that has received the funds, or is it the cultural entity that benefits from the group’s support? As you might expect, one’s interpretation will vary depending on whether one is a member of the support group or a member of the entity. The group is apt to disagree with the entity.

When the amount of money involved is small, this is an annoyance. When the amount is large, it can create hard feelings as both sides try to assert control over the money.

Whether you are a novelist trying to scare people with a ghost story, a newspaper columnist describing the latest presidential candidate debate, the author of a textbook, or a lawyer writing a will, improperly used passive sentences can: 1) make your novel or column boring; 2) make your textbook even more boring; 3) start a conflict. When the sum of money is in the hundreds of thousands or millions, that conflict could end up in a courtroom. All because the writing was unclear.

Like any other part of language, passive sentences have their place and legitimate uses. However, writers should take care not to overuse them, and they should give careful consideration to meaning when they decide to use them. We write to communicate — a message, a story, a joke, driving directions, or instructions. If we’re going to take the trouble to write something, shouldn’t we do it in a way that leaves no doubt as to what we mean?

It’s not communication if the receiver doesn’t understand what you said.

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