Sunday, October 18, 2020

Is NaNoWriMo for You?

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is:  To NaNoRiMo or not.

For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, where participants attempt to write 50,000 words in one month. I have mixed feelings about NaNoWriMo, mostly because I think it encourages writers to essentially binge-write, often exhausting themselves creatively in order to get that 50K.

Anyone who's followed me any length of time - by reading my blog posts or listening to my podcast - knows that I'm a strong proponent of finding a sustainable pace for writing. I've tracked my own productivity for years - almost a decade now - and I've talked to countless authors about their process. The binge method feels good in the moment, but also results in crashes. Overall, I've found that the creation binges don't compensate for the resulting crashes. This lowers overall productivity.

Conversely, discovering a sustainable production pace - a daily wordcount that a writer can produce over the long term without crashing - increases overall productivity in an amazing way. 

So, is NaNoWriMo for you? I think it can be super useful for building that daily writing habit and discovering what your sustainable wordcount is. But I think going through NaNoWriMo should be focused on that: discovering what you can do in the long term. Writing 50K in November and then crashing for months afterword won't lead to a sustainable writing practice.

Now, if you don't care about developing a sustainable writing practice and just want to see if you can write 50K in 30 days, then go for it.

But if you DO want to be a career author, then consider setting up a schedule for NaNoWriMo where you slowly increase your wordcount over the course of the month, like this:

1 100

2 200

3 300

4 400

5 500

6 750

7 1000

8 1250

9 1500

10 1750

11 2000

12 2000

13 2000

14 2000

15 2000

16 2100

17 2100

18 2100

19 2100

20 2100

21 2100

22 2200

23 2200

24 2200

25 2200

26 2200

27 2200

28 2200

29 2200

30 2200

By the end of November 30, you’d have 50,150 words. By slowly increasing the wordcount and not exhausting yourself at the beginning, you'll build up your ability to write sustainably, much like training in a new exercise. Best of all, by the time you’ve got yourself in the habit of doing 2,200 words a day, it will feel very easy and natural. Because you’d be in shape for it.

And if 2,200 words/day isn't sustainable for you, drop it back. Find out what IS sustainable. Writing is individual and what's key is finding your own process and owning it. NaNoWriMo is just one tool to discover that. 


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Shopping in My SF Stories for One Item to Bring Home

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the item from your books you most want to own and why.

Hmmm, let me think. The first item which came to mind was the blaster – I’ve always wanted a blaster. There’s a lot of fun technology in my Sectors scifi romance series but the more I thought about it, the more I decided…no. These items don’t exist outside of their own ecosystem, as it were. I wouldn’t be able to recharge the blaster (although I do seem to have given it a pretty limitless capacity. I don’t remember anyone reloading during a battle in any of my books.) The high tech medical tech needs support systems as well. And besides, importing an item into our current time doesn’t always work out well. Lots of classic science fiction tells that tale! “The Little Black Bag” by Cyril Kornbluth comes to mind…

I can just see the Twilight Zone-esque unintended consequences of me importing some Sectors tech into present day Southern California.


Now I would enjoy having Midorri the alien pet…but she’d be hard to explain. Jake the Cat would probably object to sharing his house, cat tree and litter box with an alien interloper. Not to mention his cat treats! Moby the Nebula Zephyr’s ship cat likes Midorri and they get along very well but Jake isn’t as collegial. He won’t share my lap for sure.

Moving on to my ancient Egyptian novels, I’d love to have some of the jewelry. I’ve craved a pair of those elaborate, intricate earrings since the first time I saw the King Tut exhibit way back in the 1970’s. BUT, where would I wear them? I’m known for wearing elaborate and fanciful jewelry, especially earrings, anytime, anywhere but actual ancient Egyptian trinkets of the kind I’d like would be over the top at the grocery store, even for me.

And in my Magic of Claddare series, I haven’t really created much in the way of ensorcelled or powerful objects, although there was one pendant but it belongs to a goddess and I’d rather not risk upsetting her and bringing her into our realm on the trail of her necklace.

(Hmm, I do seem to be mostly about the jewelry, the pets and the weapons, don’t I?)

The last thing I considered was MARL, the ancient alien Artificial Intelligence from my Badari Warriors scifi series. He’s pretty self-sufficient, has infinite capabilities and between us we could probably figure out all kinds of nifty stuff to work on. He can be condescending and cantankerous as well and he accepts only one Authority at a time. I don’t think he’d react well to my removing him from Jill Garrison’s vicinity since she rescued him from (MILD SPOILER) ten thousand years of waiting on standby after his actual owner died.

I guess I’ll leave the goodies in the worlds I’ve created and allow my characters (and my readers) to enjoy them!


The scene where Jill discovers MARL, from the first book in the award winning series, Aydarr:

Her light made the mineral deposits in the walls and the stalagmites and stalactites twinkle with variegated colors as she swept it across the huge room in front of her. She stumbled and checked herself again as the beam crossed a figure lying huddled next to a large stalagmite.

“Hello?” Jill was ready to duck for cover but the person didn’t move and, as she played the light over him or her again, she realized she was gazing at a corpse.

Slowly, she walked to the spot where the other had spent their last moments. The figure was humanoid, dressed in some kind of flight suit, wearing a helmet obscuring her view of the face. One leg was bent in an awkward position that made her wince in sympathy. The body could have been there for millennia, preserved by the minerals and atmosphere in the cave. The entire form was encased in a layer of sparkly limestone, or whatever the predominant mineral dripping down the cavern’s walls might be.

With a pang of regret, Jill knew she was never going to see the face of the ancient. “I wonder what happened to him,” she said, rising and glancing around the cave. The sound of her own voice was reassuring. “I didn’t see any wreckage from a crashed ship outside.”

“Are you the rescue mission?”

Startled into a scream, Jill leaped sideways, into the shelter of a stalagmite, and aimed her weapon in the direction of the voice. “Who’s there?”

“You’re not the rescue mission.” The tone was oddly singsong, as if tasting the sounds, playing with the sentence structure. “Give me more language samples. I can only infer so much.”

Jill peered around the edge of the stone formation. There was an ovoid metallic unit which she’d ignored initially, sitting a few feet away from the corpse. Now the device displayed blinking blue and violet lights. “Who are you? What do you want?” she asked.

The lights moved faster, adding colors. “This would be easier if I could have direct access to your brain waves.”

“Uh-uh, not happening.”

“Your kind is unknown to me, although similar to many beings encountered on missions in the past. Where does your species originate?”

“I think I should be the one asking the questions,” Jill said. “I have the pulse rifle. What are you?”

“I’ll take input however you choose to provide it, even in the form of questions. I am MARL.”

“Which tells me nothing.”

“I can’t translate the acronym. I don’t believe your language has the capabilities for all the capabilities I encompass. You appear to be a member of a primitive race.”

Stifling a chuckle, Jill gave the blinking lights a sideways glance. “Insulting me isn’t a great way to make friends.”

Green lights added themselves to the blue and violet. After a short pause, MARL said, “No insult was intended, merely a statement of fact.”

“What happened here?” She waved one hand at the calcified corpse. “How long ago did he or she die?”

“Based on my calculations, about 10,000 of this planet’s years have passed since I received my last instructions.” MARL made a humming noise, and the lights blinked furiously, a few red pinpoints among the other hues. “We were trying to get home because my pilot had vital information he hoped might lead to the defeat of the enemy, but they pursued us and damaged the ship.”

“I didn’t see any signs of a ship out there.” Jill gestured toward the mouth of the cave.

“It crashed into the lake when he tried to land.”

“Injured as he was, are you trying to tell me he swam to safety then dragged himself and you up here?” Jill was fascinated by the story but skeptical.

“I am self-mobile and can manifest other, additional forms.” MARL’s hum rose to an ear splitting volume but nothing else happened. After a moment of silence, it said, “Well, if I were at full power, I could. I’ve been in hibernation mode, doing the minimum required, until you arrived. I am in the process of powering up.”

Jill thought the alien AI, if that was indeed what MARL might be, sounded rather grumpy and a bit embarrassed. She decided to think of MARL as a male entity, since the voice was masculine in timber. Maybe MARL sounded like its pilot had in his lifetime. “Are those your manifestations, as you call it, outside the cave? Because one was crushed by a rockslide and the other was half buried in dirt and debris.”

“Yes. The unit you see here is a portable emergency subset of myself, automatically ejected when the ship crashed. Two of my separate selves assisted the pilot in exiting the submerged wreck and brought him here, with me.” MARL levitated off the cave floor briefly before drifting back. “I sent a distress call then I executed the final order from my pilot. Since then, I’ve waited, set to standby status.”

Sounds like a report. Deciding she wasn’t in jeopardy from the ancient AI, Jill walked out from behind the rocks. “What was his final order?”

“To shield this valley from the enemy. Allow no overflights, no scans. I directed all my remaining power to the effort, until or unless contradicted by someone in authority. Are you in authority now?”

Shaking her head, Jill asked, “Why would you accept my orders? I’m obviously not connected to the people who created you.”

“I’m not meant to operate independently, but to support the organic beings in charge of the mission. As no rescue of my pilot was ever attempted, nor any message received, I can only surmise the civilization to which he belonged, and their enemies as well, have passed from the galactic stage. Although primitive, you appear to have the sentience required to make use of my capabilities to at least a limited extent. I was built to serve,” MARL said in a quiet voice. “Ten thousand years is a long time to have no real purpose.”

The blurb: 

Jill Garrison, a maintenance tech at the Sectors Amarcae 7 colony, goes to sleep one night as usual only to wake up in her nightgown stranded in the middle of a forest on an unknown world. There’s no time to think as she’s stalked by carnivorous predators and rescued by genetically engineered warriors calling themselves the Badari. Turns out they and she, along with her whole colony, are now prisoners of the Khagrish, a ruthless race of alien scientists. Working for enemies of the Sectors, the Khagrish have created the Badari to be super soldiers.

Aydarr, the Badari alpha, isn’t sure he can trust Jill but his attraction to her is undeniable. He impulsively claims her as his mate to prevent her death at the hands of the Khagrish.

Can he continue to protect her from the experiments already underway? Will his claiming her put his pack in jeopardy from their alien masters?

As Jill searches for a way to rescue her fellow humans and get them all to safety, she finds herself falling for Aydarr, despite the secrets he’s keeping. She has a few of her own.

The situation becomes dire when Aydarr and his pack are sent offplanet on a mission, leaving Jill unprotected, prey for the senior scientist. Can she escape the experiments he has in mind for her? Will she be able to thwart the Khagrish plans and liberate humans and Badari alike? How will she and Aydarr reunite?

Amazon      B&N  Google   Kobo     iBooks



  

Friday, October 16, 2020

Wishful Thinking

 

What I wish I had from my books - easy. Edie's Iskant - her ship. It's completely tricked out. I might hope for better food stores than she has, but that's about it. Of course, I'd just go zipping around space and get myself lost. It's a one and a half person ship, meaning it's designed for one but can support more in a pinch. I wouldn't be interested in the pinch part. This pandemic-enforced-togetherness thing has me all about the isolation and not-another-person-alive-within-miles vibe of Edie's boat. 

A close second would be the medical that exists in this series. Medicine isn't generally painful in my world. It might not be able to cure everything, but it's pretty darned good. I'm saying this after having my first nerve block for migraines done, and let me just say yeowch. Those injections in the face got my attention in the worst way, so I could do with some painless medicine at this point. 

 What would you want from any of the books you've read?

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Bookish Gotta-Have-It Items!


 Science fiction is full of powerful tech and weapons and fantasy brims with fantastical magic. But I can’t tell you which item from my books I most want to own and why, because you’ve got to wait just a bit longer to be able to read them.

Lucky for you, I read a lot and I’ve got gobs of things I dream about collecting—if only they were here in the real world! So if you need some ideas…

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Made-up Gizmos for Communication and Cats

 Look at these two adorable floofs:


Don't you just want to snuggle them and give them treats all day? Ahhhh, cats. More on them later.

This week on SFF Seven, we're talking about things we invented or made up in our books that we'd really like to have in real life. Can I just say, I make up a lot of stuff? Like, a lot. Most of it is based on seeds of current science extrapolated to possible future usage, and yes, my worlds tend to be a teensy bit dystopian so that doesn't always work out well, but generally speaking, I'd like to be able to play with most of my made-up gizmos. 

For instance, weather control. I grew up in Houston, Texas, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and whoo-boy is that a fun place to ponder weather control, specifically hurricane harnessing mechanisms. In my Wanted and Wired series, large-scale climate control experiments go awry, and the resultant calamity is, um, less than jolly happenstance, but some of the other technology mentioned might be really helpful. Lookin' at you, ocean turbines that can turn hurricanes into clean energy.

I also made up off-the-shelf hats and implants that allow brain-to-brain messaging and even transmission of sensory data, enabling someone else to feel what you feel. Wild speculation, yes, but also not completely without actual scientific basis. Those would be cool to have. 

But my favorite gizmo--also communication-related--is a series of alterations performed on the fictional cat Yoink, who was based on those two felines above, General Leia and OreoKitty. (Blame them for the delight in belly rubs, which I am told is not a universal cat like.) Tech in the books enables Yoink to communicate with her people as well as with a whole world full of animals that have implanted tracking devices, making her sort of a commander of a loose army of wild and generally pissed off critters. 

That tech would presumably enable me to communicate with the animals in my life. And I'd like to ask those guys some questions for sure. Like, hey Leia, what'd you think of the book?



Tuesday, October 13, 2020

New #SFR Release: THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY by Vivien Jackson & Rebecca Royce

Three cheers for our Wednesday blogger, Vivien Jackson, and her newest Sci-Fi Reverse-Harem Romance release with co-writer Rebecca Royce!

THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY

(Stranded Hearts Book 1)


The day her starship crashed, Bianca's life began.

En route to life saving surgery, Bianca’s ship plummeted from the stars to a primitive planet far beyond the reaches of the Union and all she’s ever known. Surviving was just the first miracle. Being found by a race of what her education says are savages--but who her damaged heart and sharp mind embraces as loving, passionate, and kind--challenges everything she’s ever believed about herself.

Nox, Torrin, Mattis, Astor

The one who finds her. The one who claims her. The one who wants her. The one who needs her. Leaders among their people, they couldn’t be more alike or more different. But they are in agreement on one thing: she’s going to be theirs and they will fight to keep her.

On the day she fell from the sky, their world changed forever.

Buy It Now: Amazon  |   B&N  

Sunday, October 11, 2020

How I Gave Myself a Fire Lizard

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the item from your books you most want to own and why.

In mulling this topic, I've come to an interesting realization: I rarely have interesting "items" in my books. With a couple of outliers, I don't really include objects of power or other magical artifacts in my stories. There's the Star of Annfwn in The Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms books, but it's not something I'd necessarily want to have. There are a couple of objects of power in my Forgotten Empires trilogy - most notably the orchid ring - but I wouldn't want that, even if it could be mine.

Mostly, the interesting stuff in my books that I'd like to have comes in the form of personal powers. And I'm noticing now how often the ability to control weather - like being able to make it rain! - crops up in my characters. So, sure, I'd love to have Lia's connection to the land and weather in the Forgotten Empires, or Salena's storm-making magic in THE LONG NIGHT OF THE CRYSTALLINE MOON in the UNDER A WINTER SKY anthology and the other upcoming Heirs of Magic books. I think it would be totally cool to be a shapeshifter as in Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms.

But those aren't items. 

The closest I can come is a familiar, which is a living being, not an item, but can be "owned," more or less. So I'm picking Chuffta from my Sorcerous Moons series. That's him, on Princess Oria's shoulder on the cover of book one, LONEN'S WAR. Chuffta is a telepathic, tiny white dragon. More or less. It's complicated. He's also Oria's best friend and staunch companion - even though he suffers from an unfortunate fascination with fire that occasionally gets him into trouble.
And yes, Chuffta is totally wish-fulfillment because I always wanted one of Anne McCaffrey's fire lizards for my very own!


 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

No Time for Nits

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is  Nitpicking - venting about things or thinking about the value of attention to detail.

Personally me, I’m not much of a nitpicker. I tend to be live and let live and select my battles, you know?


As far as editing for tiny details, the worst situation I ever had was once when a new-to-me-copy editor went through one of my ancient Egyptian paranormal romances and ‘corrected’ almost everything. When I write a story set in 1550 BCE Egypt, I have a style and a voice that fits the epoch and the way the ancient Egyptians thought about the world. It’s one of things readers and reviewers compliment (not to be boasty). As one reviewer said, “These are not 21st century people in kilts.” Right. I do a ton of research and have a huge library of reference materials in order to achieve my desired effect of taking the reader to that ancient world. I like to joke I’m getting my informal degree in Egyptology with all this studying. So I was irate and the copy edit was useless to me.

Have you ever dealt with real nits by the way? Our family went through several rounds of that activity when the children were little, especially one year when the day care was allowing children back in without being diligent enough on checking they were actually nit free. I’ll spare you the gory details but nits are tiny and tenacious and there’s nothing fun at all about searching through an entire head of hair to find and detach them.

Gave me a whole new appreciation for the term, let me tell you!

Hopefully I haven’t grossed you out…

I did have to watch the details on my new release of the past week, STAR  CRUISE: RETURN VOYAGE, which is in the Pets in Space® 5 scifi romance anthology. The events take place on a ship called the Nebula Zephyr but a lot of the plot is anchored in a tragedy set decades earlier, in The Wreck of the Nebula Dream. I had to be so careful and triple check myself every time I referred to either ship to be sure I was getting it right. Dream was destroyed, Zephyr sails on.

Speaking of details, we did hit #1 in several categories on Amazon and got that little orange flag appended to the listing for a while and we were a Nook Best Seller…but then to balance that, Kobo had a technical glitch on their end and were delivering four pages of gibberish to people versus the humungous anthology they expected. Details, details. Kobo admitted it was a problem on their end and took quick action so all is good.


PETS IN SPACE® 5 ANTHOLOGY BLURB:

It’s time for an escape! Pets in Space® 5 is back for the fifth amazing year! Escape to new worlds with twelve of today’s top Science Fiction Romance authors. They have written 12 original, never-before-released stories filled with action, adventure, suspense, humor, and romance that will take you out of this world. The giving doesn’t stop there. For the fifth year, Pets in Space® will be donating a portion of the first month proceeds to Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that supports our veterans and First Responders. If you are ready to forget the world around you and make a difference while you are having fun, grab your copy before it’s gone!

STAR CRUISE RETURN VOYAGE: Gianna Nadenoft is a reclusive survivor of one of the worst interstellar cruise ship disasters in the history of the Sectors. Now a renowned artist, she hasn’t left her home planet in decades, not since returning there after the wreck as a traumatized three-year-old. With her service animal at her side, she’s going to attempt to travel across the star systems to attend her brother’s wedding and reunite with her fellow survivors.

Trevor Hanson is a security officer aboard the cruise liner Nebula Zephyr with his own traumatic past as a former Special Forces soldier and prisoner of war. He’s assigned to provide personal protection to Gianna during her time aboard the ship but soon finds his interest turning from professional to romantic.

Onboard the Nebula Zephyr, powerful enemies are watching Gianna and making plans to seize this rare opportunity to gain access to her and the secrets they believe she’s still keeping about the wreck. Can Trevor overcome his personal demons and rise to the occasion to save Gianna from the danger waiting on his ship, or will she slip through his fingers and suffer a terrible fate deferred from her last disastrous voyage?

Amazon      Apple Books      Nook      Kobo      Google Play

Note: Image from DepositPhoto

Friday, October 9, 2020

Nitpicky Editing


 Edits. You never know what you're going to get when you entrust you WIP to someone else's critical eye. The only way you get to pick your editor is if you're self-publishing. The rest of the time, you get the luck of the draw. 

I don't have a horror story per se - just an annoyed the crap out of me story. I had a copy editor, a copy editor I hadn't picked. This copy editor defined nitpicker. He didn't understand my genre. He had a totally literal brain and a need to prove he was smarter than anyone else. So rather than simply marking that I'd overused a word, there just had to be a condescending comment about it.

I gritted my teeth, muttered, "Fuck you" under my breath a lot. But even if I didn't appreciate the nonsense, I had to check my ego and make corrections regardless of the BS comments. I also did check in with my editor, who was amazing. I asked if it was possible to request that a copy editor NOT be assigned to my work any longer. She chuckled and said, "Yes, it is. I wondered how you'd feel about that copy edit. I disagreed with some of the edits. I feel like he was changing your voice." 

A vast wave of relief washed over me. I wasn't just being a jerk when I declined a bunch of suggested edits. I was preserving my story and my voice.

I learned several things from this experience:

  • Never submit your master  copy to your editor - keep a back up that is your clean copy. 
  • If you have concerns, always talk to your editor in a calm, professional manner.
  • If you're self-publishing, remember you hired 'em, you can fire 'em. Don't spend time furthering a mistake just because you spent a long time (or a lot of money spent) making it.
  • Ask other authors for recommendations before you hire any kind of editor. 
  • No one caution or solution will prevent poor experiences, but if you make sure you always keep a clean copy in your files, you have a fall back.

Finally, it doesn't matter how many annoying edits I get, I'll always ask for edits from someone who gets paid for doing the job. I'm not equipped to call myself on my own bad writing habits and I like my readers too much to leave those habits unchallenged. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Unlimited

Brewing tea in my grey tea cup as I hold the tea-bag tag that says: You Are Unlimited

  Nitpicking…nitpicking. I’m sure I’ve got something to nitpick about, I mean—I can vent with the best of them. 

There’s—


Uhh…yesterday—


Well…maybe I can’t. I’m not much of a complainer because I’d rather focus on the what’s going good. So, what positives have I got going on right now? 


I’m in the editing cave which means:


  • Coffee’s on tap
  • I get to close the door (meaning the kiddos know they can only interrupt for really really important stuff…if they come in it’d better be for more than my brother took the last granola bar)
  • I’m focused—zeroed in, end in sight, can’t distract—


Ullr pup just walked in! Aww, he misses me and needs some belly scratching. Never mind me, I’ll be over here getting some puppy kisses. 


Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck ~Dalai Lama


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

How To Tell if Your Manuscript Nitpicker Is Qualified

This week on SFF Seven we’re talking about nitpicking, which puts me in mind of the wonderful folks we hire to do these things: proofreaders and copyeditors. Back in the olden days of publishing (and still the case for some folks), our publishers took care of interviewing and hiring manuscript-polishing professionals, but now we don’t always have access to those experienced individuals. So how do we find qualified nit pickers for our work? How do we trust that they’re finding all the errors in our manuscripts and making the right changes? It’s tough out there both for freelance book prep folks and for the writers, but I’ve been on both sides of the writer/editor divide and can, hopefully, offer a few insights. 

What Qualifications Should a Proofreader/Copyeditor Have?

Proofreaders and copyeditors are not licensed professionals — we mostly find these services through online searches or word of mouth — so it can be really hard for writers outside the book-publishing industry to find a qualified contractor. Literally anyone can claim to be qualified to edit your words. Very few people actually are.

Heads up: a degree in English is not, on its own, enough to qualify someone as an editor or proofreader. Most college English degree plans don’t even require a grammar class. It’s almost better for a person to have linguistics or extensive foreign language knowledge because those courses of study actually look at how language has evolved and is structured. An English degree means you’ve read a lot of classics and have written a bunch of analytical papers. 

Similarly, years spent teaching English is not a qualification that can stand on its own. If you think English degree holders have slim credentials in the grammar, punctuation, and usage realm, check out education degree requirements. (Disclosure: My degree is in English, from a biggish university, but I also went through teacher training and have a minor in secondary education. I learned nothing appropriate to an editing or proofreading career in college.)

One Way to Tell Whether a Proofer/Editor Is a Fit for Your Manuscript

So that potential proofreader who claims they know what’s what because of a English or Journalism degree and/or teaching career? Nice start, but you need more.

What you want is a work sample.

(Note: Editors/proofers, looking at a writer’s sample pages beforehand can also help you.)

Here’s what I suggest: send a prospective roofer/editor/copyeditor ten pages before agreeing to a contract. You won’t need more than that to assess their work style, and honestly, they are likely to be thrilled at a chance to see how dense an edit they have in store. If they read those ten pages and your prose is so messy they’ll need a ton of extra time to do the project, that’s something they will want to know in advance and charge accordingly. If your manuscript is super clean, that should affect their pricing and scheduling as well.

You don’t order a wedding cake without tasting a baker’s samples, right? The cost of a good cake and the cost of a good edit is comparable, so you should invest at least as much due diligence in selecting a book baker.

How To Know When Your Edit/Proofread Has Gone Off the Rails

Jeffe Kennedy’s anecdote from earlier this week (Sunday) provides a crap-case scenario for how to tell when your manuscript has been savaged by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. A few quick tips for judging the work if you’ve already had the edit/proofread done:

1. Look for comments. The best late-stage editors will only change text where they see an obvious error or typo. They will never, ever make in-line changes that affect an author’s voice. If they notice you have a bad habit (e.g., a lot of dangling participles, too many proper nouns), they will highlight a few instances and comment. The best editors will explain, either in the comments or in an edit note, what the persistent error is, how to find instances of it in your manuscript, and a couple of ways you might go about fixing it. Extremely diligent editors will comment every instance of this error and in the comments suggest a possible sentence recast. Those editors deserve public praise and maybe chocolates.

2. Look for a ton of identical changes. If, for instance, you have written an entire manuscript without using the Oxford or serial comma but your editor has a passion for the thing and has decided every manuscript needs to use their personal punctuation headcanon, you’ll see a half dozen nasty red inserts per page. That is a problem. If you’re self-publishing, you have the right to adhere to whatever style you want so long as it’s consistent. Caveat: If you’re writing for a publisher, that publisher will have a house style, so it’s possible all those added (or removed) commas are an attempt to adhere to that. However, a publisher is more likely to just send you the house style at an earlier stage, probably before developmental edits, and ask you to implement those changes yourself. A late-stage copyeditor or proofreader should never bleed that much red ink over your book. 

3. Look for voice changes. An editor at any stage should not significantly rewrite your manuscript. Any changes to your author voice (e.g., “fixing” sentence fragments, adding or removing details in order to speed or slow pacing, rearranging scenes) are not in within the purview of an editor. A good early-stage, or developmental, editor will send you a (sometimes really long, bless them) edit letter outlining spots where pacing sags or continuity is a problem or a scene needs you to delve deeper or hit a moment harder. Sometimes those edit letters will have suggestions or examples of how you can fix things. Beware of any editor who tries to apply a big fix in-line. A good rule of thumb is you should never accept-change for an entire scene. I would submit, you should never accept-change for an entire paragraph. Writing is your job. 

Signs of a Nitpicking Job Well Done

All that said, a good nitpick read is a beautiful thing. You can tell your money has been well spent if your finished product reads smoothly both for you and your advance/review readers. Don’t be alarmed if you get your manuscript back and changes are minimal: that’s just a sign that your manuscript was clean to begin with and did not require a lot of correcting. A competent proofreader will not manufacture errors just to have some mythical minimum amount of red ink. 

Of course, the ultimate sign that you’ve been edited well is ... crickets. If no reviewer comments on weird punctuation choices or “typos,” and your audiobook reader doesn’t point out a bunch of problems, and you  yourself are content in the knowledge that you’ve produced a quality piece of fictional entertainment, that’s the best feeling.

And the final step is to then recommend that manuscript polisher to everybody else, because they’re a unicorn and we all want to do business with that person.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Release Day: PETS IN SPACE 5 (A Charity SFR Anthology)

 

Need a break from all the chaos and negativity roiling through the real world? Want to do some good without risking your health? We have a (very biased) suggestion!


For the fifth year, our own Veronica Scott and eleven other talented Sci-Fi Romance authors are releasing an anthology of stories starring romantic leads and their scene-stealing pets! A portion of the proceeds from the first 30 days of sales goes to Hero-Dogs.org (Service Dogs for America's Heroes).

So, grab the ebook and settle in for action, adventure, and romances sure to make your pulse race.

BUY IT NOW: Amazon  |  Apple Books  |  Nook  |  Kobo  |  Google Play

Monday, October 5, 2020

Down the Rabbit-Hole





 This week we're all about the editing, or rather about editing horror stories. I'm going to keep this short and sweet. 1) Hire an editor or two. 2) Know what you are getting into and PUT YOUR EGO IN CHECK.

Sounds easy, right? It's not. It's a damned sight harder than most people think. Do you know why? Because it's your baby. Y0u have spent God alone knows how much time writing this book. (My fastest was three weeks. My longest was over a year.) You have poured heart and soul and passion into this work if you're doing it the right way, and when you're done, you have to (gasp) Show it to other people!

And those people will tell you what they think of it. And the odds are decent you'll pay them to do so. 

Listen, I get it. It sucks. People who know what they're doing (if you've done your research and found a good editor or five) will actually show you the changes they recommend. Some of them will merely do grammar corrections. others will make suggestions on story structure. Inside, you're probably going to bleed a bit. That's okay, it just means they're doing their jobs. 

Now for those other rules you should follow: don't assume they're right. Some proofreaders are flawless in their approach and will do nothing but enhance your stories. That's a lovely thing. Don't assume that's the person you've hired, even if they have a long track record of success. Once they're finished looking everything over, YOU look over their work and approve or reject the suggested changes. I don't care if you hired them yourself or if they work for one of the Big Five. At the end of the day, this is still your baby. Take the time to do it right. Failure to do this can and doubtlessly will lead to awkward tense shifts and the occasional typo sneaking through. 

It's a project for everyone but you. For you, it's a labor of love and sweat and passion and pain. for them, it's a gig where they're trying to make you better at what you already know how to do. The simple fact of life is that new eyes can see mistakes that you gloss over without consciously doing so. Wait six months after you write something and MAYBE you can see all the flaws but before that? Good luck!

Editing is a job. The people who do it well are worth the money. Those that don't? Well, they don't get hired as often, now do they? That's not me being mean, it's just a matter of fact. 

Your mileage may vary. 


Keep smiling, 


Jim


PS: Working on Book Five: THE GODLESS. It's different being back in the world of seven war gods and two cashing civilizations. But I rather like it!




Sunday, October 4, 2020

Nitpicking: When Editing Goes Horribly Wrong

I'm sending a shoutout to my bestie Grace Draven this week, celebrating the long-anticipated release of THE IPPOS KING on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. I read an early copy and this book is amazing and wonderful and totally worth the wait. (I know her website still says September, but it really comes out Tuesday!) (Also, Grace might be a dear friend, but she became my friend because I read and loved her books. So, I'm biased, but in the best possible way. This is really is a wonderful book!)

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is  Nitpicking - venting about things or thinking about the value of attention to detail.

I want to tell you all a story.

Recently, a good friend self-published a book. This is not Grace, btw. (I also discussed the initial part of the story on my podcast on September 24.)

But this friend is an accomplished author - more than two-dozen traditionally published books, multiple appearances on the top bestseller lists, winner of top industry awards - and she knows what she's doing in writing a book. 

As a responsible self-publisher, she lined up an editor to proofread the book, scheduling them for two days to read an ~60K book. She'd also factored in a couple of other reads: one from her continuity editor and a couple of betas, including me. I read - and loved! - the book in about a day. I marked the very few typos I happened to spot and identified a few word-choice questions and one continuity error that could be fixed in five minutes. 

In other words, it was a really clean manuscript.

Or, it was, until the "proofreader" got a hold of it.

H.G. Wells is credited with saying "No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." There's a lot of truth to this. It seems particularly true when the editor is also an author.

Unfortunately, the proofreader succumbed to this passion and began making vast changes to the book. When I say "vast," I'm not exaggerating. It was on the level of a deep-dive developmental edit. Scenes were rearranged. Sentences deleted and new sentences added. Her personal opinions added to change aspects she didn't approve of. 

Reader: this was not a proofread.

The resultant manuscript was in such terrible shape - with almost no time to sort it out - that my friend was reduced to stress tears multiple times. I was hugely upset on her behalf. So, I went to another proofreader, one I thought could be trusted to help sort it out, for help.

That person, however - also an author as well as an editor - scrambled the manuscript further. They didn't listen to the writer of the book either and made huge changes again. It took my friend days to sort it out. Time she did not have. Worse, they didn't even catch the typos as was the job they'd been hired to do.

Finally I - chagrined that I'd thrown my dear friend from the frying pan into the fire - found one more proofreader for her. By this time, so many people had made changes to this manuscript that it desperately needed another set of eyes. I'm going to tell you that I asked Crystal Watanabe at Pikko's House. I'm giving you all her name and link, because she did an amazing job. And you know what? She did exactly what she'd been hired to do: proofread. She submitted a quote, performed the turnaround in the agreed upon timeframe - and she didn't attempt to do any more than that. No bragging on social media about "saving" the book. No rewriting or trying to make herself look special by her affiliation with the author. She did her job and she did it well. 

I've hired her to proofread my next novella.

All of this is by way of a cautionary tale. It's not always easy for Indie authors to find professional services that aren't predatory - and that aren't primarily a path for the service provider to advance their own interests - but it's critical that we do. And that we share those resources with each other. 

My friend and I both learned a good lesson here. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Pets In Space 5 and Titanic On My Mind


Our topic this week is whatever is on our mind. Aside from current politics and the COVID pandemic, neither of which I'm discussing here, I'm excited about the impending release of the 5th annual Pets In Space anthology! Especially since I'm the co-creator of this anthology concept and we're in our fifth year...

I recently wrote a post for my own blog on why I decided to write STAR CRUISE: RETURN VOYAGE for this year's anthology, plus an excerpt and here's that discussion:

Every year it’s a fun challenge for me to figure out my alien pet for the annual Pets In Space® anthology. Some years the choice of a pet is driven by a plot I already have in mind and other years the plot arises from the development of the pet and its attributes.

This year I went into the whole process fascinated by the Afghan hound. I’d seen snippets of the big national kennel show on the news and watched an Afghan hound prance by the camera. No offense to the aficionados of this dog breed but I find them to appear a bit alien just the way they are, so the animal made a good jumping off point for a PISA pet. I decided Verlaine the Tajikka Hound would have some vaguely equine characteristics as well, like black hooves and a somewhat horselike face. Our artist did his usual fabulous job in creating Verlaine for me. (The animal just seemed to require an aristocratic name, doesn’t he?!).


I like to make my PISA story into my annual entry in my STAR CRUISE series as well, located on the interstellar luxury liner Nebula Zephyr. I enjoy revisiting some of my characters from previous STAR CRUISE stories and I feel the concept of a huge cruise ship gives me plenty of latitude for telling a variety of stories. My next challenge for 2020 was what would bring such a sizable animal onto the ship as a pet? This past year there had been so many true stories about people bringing odd animals onto airplanes as service animals and I read about someone who had a miniature horse they wanted to travel with! Since I visualize Verlaine as being about the size of a very small horse that seemed perfect to me. So he became a genuine service animal of the far future.

But who would need such an animal to support them on a trip on a big luxury liner?

Enter Gianna Nadenoft, who survived the wreck of the interstellar cruise liner Nebula Dream in my very first published scifi romance novel. She was a (precocious) child of three at the time of the events in Wreck of the Nebula Dream so I felt it was a safe assumption she’d have had post-traumatic stress symptoms of various kinds and might have needed a service animal to help her cope with life after the wreck. Now she’s determined to travel the stars to her brother’s wedding and reunite with old friends but hasn’t left her own planet in the twenty or so years since the wreck. So of course she travels with Verlaine on my new cruise ship, Nebula Zephyr.

It was a fun opportunity for me to revisit the original story and to ‘see’ the events through the eyes of a child, and then to figure out what her private agenda might be in forcing herself to travel on the Nebula Zephyr as an adult. And oh WOW, did I have to check myself to make sure I typed the correct ship name every time! I’d previously established that the two vessels were sister ships in overall design, hence the similar names.  Dream was destroyed, Zephyr sails on…

Wreck of the Nebula Dream was loosely based on the 1912 sinking of the Titanic and Titanic inspired some of the futuristic conspiracy theories about the Dream and the Zephyr which are a minor plot point in the current novel. There actually is a theory that instead of the Titanic sinking on that icy cold night, her sister ship the Olympic sank and that everyone from the builders to the owners was covering up the fact. Why anyone would do that, I’m not entirely sure but I came up with a justification for my novel. After all, the essence of a conspiracy theory is whispers about a sort of plausible explanation, right? No matter how thin!

Over the years I’ve received some snarky comments about my original book’s title, basically to the effect it isn’t a true “wreck” because it happened in space yadda yadda yadda. I greatly enjoyed having Gianna speak to that very point early in this book! (And I picked the title for the first book because it was based on an actual wreck. Plus it’s a dramatic, evocative title…)

I also enjoyed dropping in a few references to other things in my Sectors universe throughout this story, not enough to annoy anyone who hasn’t read my other books, I hope, but…for example there’s a nod to the Khagrish, who are the evil alien scientists in my Badari Warrior series.

The PISA authors try to make the pets an integral part of the story we’re writing for the anthology, not just “and she had a dog” walk-ons, so I had to really think through the events that would occur to make sure I gave Verlaine enough to do to be a substantive supporting character. Hopefully I succeeded!

He did make an immediate connection point between Gianna and Lt. Trevor Hanson, the hero, who has PTSD issues of his own, stemming from his prior military service. Now Trevor’s a security officer aboard the Nebula Zephyr, charged by his captain to make sure Gianna reaches her destination with a minimum of stress.

Here’s an excerpt, with Captain Fleming giving Trevor his unusual assignment.

A yeoman was waiting for him. “Captain Fleming wants to see you in the wardroom. This way.”

Trevor followed the other through the short corridor and was left outside the conference room to key the arrival button and receive permission to enter. Stepping across the threshold, he saluted. “Lt. Trevor Hanson reporting as ordered, sir.”

The captain was seated at the head of the table, drinking real Terran coffee from the battered mug which bore the crest of his last battleship command. “At ease, Hanson. Get yourself some coffee and come sit down. I have a special assignment for you on this leg of the cruise.”

He wasn’t thirsty but no one refused the captain’s invitation and especially not when the beverage on offer was the rare and costly real coffee. Trevor picked up a Nebula Zephyr mug, filled it, spurned the sugar and cinna spice, preferring to drink it black, and joined the captain. His curiosity coiled in his gut. Highly unusual for Fleming himself to skip protocol and give orders directly to any crew member. He was a firm believer in the chain of command and military protocol, even now, commanding a cruise ship.

The captain was staring at the big vid screens which showed the planetary system the ship was fast approaching, a series of reddish tinted jewels scattered across the black velvet of the galaxy, circling the yellow sun in the eternal rhythm decreed by astrophysics and the laws of the universe.

Trevor sipped the strong coffee and waited.

“What do you know about the wreck of the Nebula Dream?” Fleming asked, still watching the planets.

Pop quiz time I guess. “Worst passenger ship disaster in the history of the Sectors, thousands of lives lost, heroics by a Special Forces officer who happened to be aboard and saved hundreds. We had a module on it when I was in training, sir, mostly regarding the decisions made by the soldier. One of those ‘what would you do in his place’ type classes.”

“Nick Jameson,” Fleming said, supplying the name of the officer under discussion. “His decisions in what regard?”

“At each point, I guess. To stay on the ship, to use what is politely called classified means to contact rescue ships, and to fight the enemy when they boarded.” Remembering more details as he talked, Trevor added, “Guy was gutsy, smart and lucky. Oh and the cruise liner was way off course, in enemy territory. May I ask why the interest, sir?”

“We’re a sister ship, did you know that? Not the exact design but close, and of course we have different engines. No one uses the Yeatter unstable technology nowadays, not if the shipbuilders are sane.” Fleming sat upright. “What do you know about the survivors? The ones specifically who were with Jameson?”

Suspecting the discussion was getting closer to whatever point Fleming was driving at, Trevor shook his head. “Two women, a D’nvannae Brother, couple of kids…oh and a Mellurean Mind but I believe she died on board.”

“The main reason we’re in this system is to pick up a woman named Gianna Nadenoft,” Fleming said. “She was a very little girl when Nick Jameson saved her life on the Nebula Dream and she hasn’t flown in space since her father brought her home after the rescue.”

Trevor absorbed the information and asked the obvious question. “May I ask why she’s traveling now then, sir?”

“Her brother is getting married on Xcelon Four and she’s agreed to attend and be a bridesmaid.”

Obviously the lady would be a celebrity passenger. The Sectors’ fascination with the tragedy of the Nebula Dream never went away. But what was his role in this? Maybe the Cruise Director should be here, not him. Trevor abhorred being unclear on mission parameters and right now he didn’t see his role in this discussion or the woman’s travel plans.

The captain stared at him over the lip of his mug. “Ms. Nadenoft apparently has PTSD resulting from the events on board the Nebula Dream and this trip is going to be a huge challenge for her. She does have a service animal.”

Now Trevor had a sinking feeling and the captain’s next words confirmed his suspicion. 

PETS IN SPACE® 5 ANTHOLOGY BLURB:

It’s time for an escape! Pets in Space® 5 is back for the fifth amazing year! Escape to new worlds with twelve of today’s top Science Fiction Romance authors. They have written 12 original, never-before-released stories filled with action, adventure, suspense, humor, and romance that will take you out of this world. The giving doesn’t stop there. For the fifth year, Pets in Space® will be donating a portion of the first month proceeds to Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that supports our veterans and First Responders. If you are ready to forget the world around you and make a difference while you are having fun, grab your copy before it’s gone!

STAR CRUISE RETURN VOYAGE blurb: Gianna Nadenoft is a reclusive survivor of one of the worst interstellar cruise ship disasters in the history of the Sectors. Now a renowned artist, she hasn’t left her home planet in decades, not since returning there after the wreck as a traumatized three-year-old. With her service animal at her side, she’s going to attempt to travel across the star systems to attend her brother’s wedding and reunite with her fellow survivors.

Trevor Hanson is a security officer aboard the cruise liner Nebula Zephyr with his own traumatic past as a former Special Forces soldier and prisoner of war. He’s assigned to provide personal protection to Gianna during her time aboard the ship but soon finds his interest turning from professional to romantic.

Onboard the Nebula Zephyr, powerful enemies are watching Gianna and making plans to seize this rare opportunity to gain access to her and the secrets they believe she’s still keeping about the wreck. Can Trevor overcome his personal demons and rise to the occasion to save Gianna from the danger waiting on his ship, or will she slip through his fingers and suffer a terrible fate deferred from her last disastrous voyage? 

Amazon      Apple Books      Nook      Kobo      Google Play

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The award winning first book Wreck of the Nebula Dream ("Titanic in space...") and Star Survivor, the sequel featuring Khevan and Twilka are available at all major ebook sellers...




Friday, October 2, 2020

Day's End

 

Sunset out the back tonight. We don't normally get vibrant sunrises or sunsets in Florida. It's a land, sea, and sky of pastels. Colors washed out and faded by the sun, mostly. And then, this.

Most of us enjoy sunsets. We'll pause to marvel at the exuberant color and texture brought on by the day's death. Some of us make a ritual of stopping for the sunset, taking a seat to watch the show with a beverage at hand.

Why then do so many of us falter when faced with our loved ones' final days? 

An uncle on my mother's side of the family lays in an ICU not all that far from here. Pneumonia. (Not Covid, not that it matters at this point.) The prognosis is grim. No one is allowed in to see him or sit with him or hold his hand. Not even his wife, my aunt. This is the part that Covid has stolen from us - the comfort and distraction of loved ones at a dying man's side. And you'd think that at this moment, that would be my aunt's sole occupation - worrying over her dying husband. 

It isn't. It isn't, because it can't be. Not here. Not now. Not in this world where our lives have been forever altered by pandemic. No, at this moment, my aunt's worries are the business of dying. Who will pay the hospital bills. Where are the living will documents the doctors need should someone have to make the decision to pull life support. It's all lists and hurry and busy work.

There's no time (or safety) to sit at my uncle's bedside and pause of the final exuberant flush of life. Even without Covid, while we could sit at bedsides, most of us did so as a means of talking over death. We made timid small talk and watched shitty hospital TV to avoid the specter of death, no matter how close it hovered.

I don't say any of this to propose any kind of solution. Other than to maybe pause for a moment at endings of all kinds because sometimes there's breathtaking beauty to be found there.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Life doesn't need a filter...only Peace

A calm lake at twilight, the far shore's oak trees are in shadow and the sun is about to slip behind them.

 Happy October 1st! Here in Minnesota it smells like fall and I love it! 

I also love our topic of the week: what’s on your mind. Frankly, there’s a lot on my mind, as I'm sure it is with you since our world's on fire...literally and figuratively. And it's October which means I’ll be hiding out in my editing cave—busy busy—but with so much uncertainty it’s difficult to concentrate. Maybe the post should be what isn’t on my mind…hmm.


C’est la vie, and so the most important thing on my mind right now is finding peace. 


I did a brain retraining class in the spring and one of the key points that stuck was the need to settle/calm the mind each day. Step one was breathing. Breathing! Easy…right?


Take one hand and place it on your chest and place the other hand on your belly. And breathe.


Which hand moves? My chest hand was the one going up and down…and it should be the hand on your belly. Chest breathing happens when your body’d limbic system is stuck and keeps you in stress-mode = not good.


Ever watch a baby sleep? Their bellies move, not their rib cage. Babies don’t stress, they sleep…like a baby. 


Seriously, who breathes wrong?! Me, that’s who. I had to consciously breathe from my belly, and it wasn’t easy to consciously breath differently, but after a week or so I’d only catch myself chest breathing here and there. And it definitely made me more calm which made that whole calming the mind easier and also helps with yoga. 


One step at a time. Now that I’ve done my yoga for the day it’s time to EDIT!


For those a step ahead of us chest breathers, coffee cheers to you! And tell me—how do you relax?