Florida!

January 31, 2010

We’re in Florida for the next ten days or so. When we left Falls Church, Virginia, it was 17 degrees and when we pulled into our driveway in Martin County, Florida, it was 75 degrees. I’d call that a nice change of pace.

People have accused me of being odd at times, but I will stand by my declaration that a beautiful Christmas is when you hang ornaments on the palm trees and go for a swim before dinner.

And just in case you hadn’t guessed it already, I’m going to be taking a LOT of photographs. Some of the better ones I’ll share in the next few weeks.

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New Release Dates

January 31, 2010

I just heard that Red Rose Publishing will be releasing two more of my books in the near future.

Bondage Fantasies is an Erotic Anthology of bdsm tales will show up on May 27th.

Cambio is the next release in the Saga that started with Shifter Born and it is scheduled for July 3rd.

I will share excerpts and cover art as soon as they are available.

NeatNetNews

January 25, 2010

Like everyone who ever spends time surfing the net, I run into things that are really neat and I want to share with my friends. So, I’m going to start adding posts like this one. From now on, when you see the subject line NeatNetNews, the content will be a handful of links that may or may not be related, but which I found interesting. Just remember, your mileage may vary.

A neat idea from NASA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhpPhvWvLgk&feature=player_embedded

A model spaceship with history behind it: http://up-ship.com/blog/?p=5137

Some music and two great short stories by Frederick Pohl and read by Spider Robinson. It is a great way to kick back and enjoy an hour: http://cdn3.libsyn.com/spiderweb/SOTW053.mp3?nvb=20100125185016&nva=20100126190016&t=0ac0dc77806458a67d540

Current Energy Prices per Million BTU: http://alfin2100.blogspot.com/2010/01/cost-of-energy-comparison-per-million.html#links

The Price of Experience

January 23, 2010

My wife is not a computer geek. Neither is she an engineer, mechanic nor captain of industry. She is however, highly skilled at several crafts that leave me in awe.

Her day job is in a fabric and craft store. From experience, she can attest to the fact that the great majority of folks are friendly and considerate. Occasionally, one runs into a self-centered fool who has no concept of how the world really works.

The other day, a fellow showed her an old leather jacket with a damaged zipper. He had taken it to a tailor and was incensed that they wanted thirty-five dollars for labor plus the cost of a whole replacement zipper. Instead, he wanted to pay six dollars for an El Cheapo zipper and was proudly announcing he would toss an extra four bucks to my wife if she would hand-stitch it on for him. When she said that her schedule was too full to take on any new projects and that even if she did, her labor would cost at least thirty dollars, he stomped away in a huff. She learned later, that he had approached several other employees with the same offer and when he got nowhere, had stormed off in disgust.

Now granted, the guy was a fool, but similar incidents are way too common to be ignored.

I suggested that, when presented with such a demand in the future, she ask the person what they do for a living. Are they a doctor, lawyer, computer system administrator, mechanic or engineer? Chances are, they have some skill set that has cost them a great deal of time and money to acquire.

Just to give one, blue-collar example, a qualified auto mechanic needs at least a couple of years of experience and training. If you take your car for work in our area, the average small shop charges seventy to a hundred dollars an hour while a dealership charges no less than one hundred and twenty an hour. If you know how to replace an automotive waterpump, then you can pick one up at most parts houses and save yourself two hours of labor. If you don’t, then you have to pay someone with the training and experience to replace it for you. That is how the world works.

If you know how to replace a hard drive, update the RAM and install a new operating system in your computer, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars at a computer store. If not, then it is generally cheaper just to buy a new computer every three to five years. That is how the world works.

Which brings us back to the fool with the old leather coat. My wife has years of experience as a seamstress. She told me, that due to the type of zipper and backing materials, it would take between forty-five minutes and an hour of work, using a machine. If it was to be hand-sewn, then figure twice that amount of time.

He had mentioned that he could purchase a new jacket for a hundred bucks. It wasn’t worth spending almost half that to fix the old one. So, he was in effect, offering my wife and her friends somewhere around four or five dollars an hour (less than minimum wage) to perform a highly-skilled repair job that he was incapable of doing himself.

If the man had such knowledge and experience, he might get away with a six dollar zipper. If not, then forty bucks or so would be cheap. That is how the world works.

Just because someone doesn’t have a college degree or a string of initials after their name, doesn’t mean they are unintelligent or unskilled. Chances are, they have knowledge and skills you don’t. What is the price of training and experience beyond your own abilities?

The Backstory

January 20, 2010

I read some interesting comments on “The Other Side” blog and a couple of friends asked me related questions in the last few days. This looks like a good time to share some more of my creation process.

The Other Side link takes you to the blog of a Young Adult paranormal author by the name of Janice Hardy. In that particular entry, she discusses the backstory problems that arise when the author has to work on sequels. It can get very confusing, quickly.

A similar and related problem is how to keep track of a lot of characters and multiple plots and sub-plots in larger novels. I’ve run into this on several occasions.

I’ve found a system that seems to work for me and perhaps it will prove useful for others as well.

I usually know ahead of time if the idea that’s bubbling out of my head is worthy of a novel or a shorter treatment. If it’s just a short story or essay, then I get right to work and burn out the full, first draft as quickly as possible. This usually takes just one or two sittings. Where things get interesting, is when I realize it is going to evolve into a longer tale.

As soon as I realize that the story is going to have more than four characters and be more than a few thousand words, I create two documents and put them in a new folder. The new folder will have a name like, “MyNewStory”. From then on, all graphics, documents, audio files, trailers, reviews, etc. are saved in this folder. That way, a year later, I can find anything related to “MyNewStory”.

The two documents will get names like “AnthonyStevesn_MyNewStory_draft.doc” and “AnthonyStevens_MyNewStory_notes.doc”. Most of the publishers I deal with want the author’s name in the file as part of the submission process.

I start with the notes file and write a synopsis of the story I want to tell. It will have the major plot as well as sub-plots. Don’t worry. This is a dynamic document and will probably change as the full story is written.

Under the synopsis, I create a list of characters. Each name is followed by a physical description and general personality comments. Minor characters will get something like “Angel – buxom blonde with an attitude.” While major characters may have a dozen lines going into great detail.

Now, we all know that once an author sits down to actually write the story, the characters will take over and re-direct the tale in places we hadn’t planned. That is fine. When you finish writing a new chapter or section that surprises you, enjoy it and then make a one or two line addition to the synopsis in your note file.

The author will also find that as the tale progresses, they’ll need to add a character or two. Once more, go ahead and drop them in the tale, but be sure to add them to the character list in the note file as well.

Another thing to consider is that the character list need not be restricted to people. Objects can have major roles in your story. A sailing ship, an airship, a special building or a particular tree may play a pivotal role in the tale.  If you have pictures of similar items or people that you find inspirational in the tale, then add them to the note file. Keep in mind that the note file will not be for publication. It is only for you and maybe your editor.

When the time comes to send the first draft to my editor, I usually send both files. The understanding is that the notes file may help answer some of their questions and they can point out where I need to fill plot gaps or correct logic errors in the plotline.

If the novel is going to be part of a series, I use the same note file and just add the new characters and another synopsis, below the first one. Over time, this will be the repository that helps me align my waterfowl.

This system may or may not work for others, but it works for me. The well-respected author, Charles Stross uses a totally different system and he goes into great detail on this blog entry on Writing Tools.

As usual, comments, kudos or thrown tomatoes are welcomed. How about sharing something about how you create larger tales?

Finally on Twitter

January 19, 2010

Well, despite my misgivings, I’m finally on Twitter. You can tweet me here:

http://twitter.com/MasterStevens

I like it when an author can surprise me. The other day, I was poking about the genre fiction section of my local Borders store and saw handful of paperbacks by an author I hadn’t read before. After perusing the title pages to make sure I got only the first book in a series, I selected On the Edge.

The big surprise to this lovely tale is her approach. My first reaction was that this is urban fantasy. But then again, it has some elements of high fantasy with very well-developed characters and grand designs in the background. There was also a graphic depiction of desperation and poverty that reminded me of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”.

We’ve all read countless tales of the mundane human world and a nearby, magical fae world. In some of them, magical gates will teleport the characters from one to the other. In other tales, they are one and the same and most humans just can’t detect the magical beings around them.

In this novel, Ilona Andrews shows us a totally different way of looking at this separation. Imagine an alternate corner of the multiverse where the two worlds overlap and yet there is a border area where a few rare beings can cross. The border is an irregular line that divides the United State diagonally. Like most things in the universe, there is no pure black and white. Instead there is a narrow area where the two dimensions mingle. This is called The Edge. Since only minor magics work there and many technical items don’t, it is considered the slums of both worlds and only the very poor or very desperate choose to live there.

I’ve lived in a border town before. And her writing refreshed many images of poverty and making the best of a bad situation. This can be difficult to do while remaining upbeat and hopeful. The author does it well.

Another reviewer coined the term “Rustic Fantasy” for this story, but I think it is much more than that. It is a marvelous story of overcoming incredible odds and finding love in the midst of desperation. I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest of this series.

On the Edge by Ilona Andrews and published by Ace Fantasy rates:

You can read the first chapter for free on Ilona’s website.

http://www.ilona-andrews.com/

Secret Treaty in DC

January 15, 2010

This is an important article from Boing Boing. It goes against every democratic principle to hold secret negotiations on major legal issues and yet that is what is happening right under our noses.

From the article:

ACTA is an unprecedented copyright treaty (unprecedented in that it reaches farther than previous copyright treaties, and that it is being negotiated behind closed doors, without any public input or oversight) that will force copyright policing duties on Internet companies (vastly increasing the cost of hosting “user-generated content”); create new penalties for infringement (including Draconian penalties such as disconnection from the Internet on accusations of infringement); and require countries to search hard-drives, personal media players, and other personal data at their borders.

Please take the time to be aware of this and write your representative.

Disseminate

So far, we’ve gathered a handful of separate files consisting of audio, video and/or still images. Then, we edited each of them using the appropriate programs. Finally, we assembled them into our grand production and exported the collection as a single video clip. Congratulations!

Now what?

The final step is to get your magnum opus out to the world. There are several ways of doing this.

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Assemble and Edit

In the first two parts of this tutorial, I’ve tried to show you some of the basic tools and steps to making the raw material for your video. In big-screen movie parlance, the entire process is broken down into Pre-production, Production, Post-production and Distribution. This is the part where we’re going to put it all together. This  is called Post-production. Let me start with showing you where I am right now.

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