Friday, November 23, 2018

Imaginary World Romances

The Road to Helium



I write romances. Not contemporary romances, but a more old fashioned sort of romance. The romance at the heart of my stories is:

A quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life” – Google Dictionary Definition

A prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious” – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/romance

A work of fiction depicting a setting and events remote from everyday life, especially one of a kind popular in the 16th and 17th centuries” – https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/romance

A novel or other prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deed, pageantry, romantic exploits, etc, usually in a historical or imaginary setting.” – https://www.dictionary.com/browse/romance

In the strictest academic terms, a romance is a narrative genre in literature that involves a mysterious, adventurous, or spiritual story line where the focus is on a quest that involves bravery and strong values, not always a love interest.” – https://literaryterms.net/romance/

As I wrote in my last post, though I have long considered myself a science fiction writer, both my science fiction stories, and my writing style, have long been out of fashion in science fiction. I’ve come to realize that calling them science fiction or fantasy in 2018 is a stretch. The closest they come to science fiction is the now mostly obsolete “planetary romances” of Barsoom, Pellucidar, and the like. And the truth is that I’ve come to see that my tastes have never had much in common with the mainstream science fiction. 

What my stories really are, are romances. In my stories the “remoteness from everyday life” comes not from the history or exotic locales of earth, but from future, and imaginary worlds. While this slots them into the science fiction or fantasy genre, these imaginary worlds serve merely as a stage and a backdrop to the story. Science fiction is, at its heart, focused on ideas, concepts, speculations on the future, and these days, war. War seems to be the central conflict of so many stories these days. None of these are things which I care to write about. Wars dominate fantasy as well, and in addition they often tell epic stories that can span generations. Again, neither of these characteristics are ones that I care to use in my narratives. So, in the end, I just don’t see myself writing under the banners of science fiction or fantasy anymore.

The problem, of course, is that I can’t write under the banner of “romance” either, since that term has a very different meaning these days. Indeed, the one book that I market as a “romance”, Some Day Days, I’ve discovered is not a romance by definition, since it does not have a HEA – “happily ever after” –ending. Who knew? So what’s a fellow to do?

I haven’t figured that out yet. I suppose it doesn’t matter. It is merely a matter of marketing rather than writing, and I suppose marketing my stories as science fiction, one of the more popular genre, means that they will find more readers than in some other genre, whatever that would be. No, the point is that I now consider myself a writer of classical romances set in imaginary worlds. Perhaps banner I’m marching under is "Imaginary World Romances" or less confusingly, “Imaginary World Adventures.” (I just made those banners up, but what the heck?)


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Not Science Fiction



I’ve recently come to accept that I’m not really a card carrying fan of science fiction, nor a true science fiction writer. This realization has evolved as I’ve read more about science fiction and its history and it came to a head recently after reading Astounding: John W Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A Heinlein, L Robert Hubbard, and the Golden age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee.

However, to begin at the beginning, for the last year or so I have been a regular reader of these web sites:


These web sites feature articles and reviews about new science fiction, and discussions about what science fiction is. From their blurbs and reviews I’ve found few, if any, new books to spark my interest. This may be as it should be. Science fiction should constantly evolve with the times. It has, but I haven't. Of course there are readers my age who still enjoy new science fiction; people who have evolved with it. But it seems that  I’ve been drifting away from it for more than 40 years.

They also run series that revisit books from my prime science fiction years in the 1960’s. Often, when I read these reviews, I'm left wondering what it was that I loved about them. And, with a few exceptions, when I try rereading books from that era – I still have all of them – I can’t see past their deficiencies to recapture the magic. I no longer have the necessary youthful imagination. It seems that I’ve grown up.

One key thing I have learned is that I missed the heart of science fiction. I never read sf magazines and passed on short story collections. Short stories are simply not my cup of tea. I like stories about people, not visions, concepts, or gadgets wrapped in a veneer of a story. Plus, even if a short story features characters, the length is too short to do them justice. Still, it is said that the short story is science fiction's true medium with ideas and concepts its defining feature, neither of which I care about.

So, all in all, it seems that a surprising amount of science fiction never has appeal to me. Indeed, while writing this blog post I looked up three “100 best science fiction books” lists. I knew I read only a handful of short stories, but how about novels? On two of the lists I read 16 of the 100 and on one, just 6. Clearly I have not been doing my homework.

And finally, we come back around to Astounding, et al. This book tells the story of the pulp magazine Astounding under the editorship of John W Campbell, and his three most important writers, by telling each of their life stories. It shows them to have been very strange and flawed men. Writers may often be strange, but what is so sad about these men, for me, was their delusions of greatness. They were just pulp writers churning out stories mostly for teenage boys. But they saw themselves as something far grander; visionary giants who were leading the world into a bright future with their grand visions and the strange theories. It makes for an interesting, but rather sad, story. I'd be embarrassed to call the Campbell's Astounding era the “Golden Age” of science fiction.

So, all in all, I think that in my old age, I will retire my lifelong goal of writing science fiction. I will continue to write the type of stories I like. I suppose, like it or not, they will still be considered science fiction, if only because all of them will continue to be set in imaginary worlds. I won’t kick about it, but in my heart, I’m not writing science fiction anymore. I’m writing old fashioned adventure romances that are set in imaginary locales only because that allows me to do whatever I like with them, without having to fit them into real history and real locales. They will be set in imaginary places that I know all about and are all mine.



Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A New EBook Cover for Beneath the Lanterns


As I've mentioned in several previous blog posts, I had had a great deal of trouble coming up with a cover for Beneath the Lanterns. I'm not an illustrator, and really can't picture things or people in my mind.So even knowing the story inside out -- it was very hard to come up with a scene from the story that I could envision and could paint in my impressionistic style. In the end, I settled for a scene from the book, I was never all that happy with it. And so...

I've been painting regularly for 35 years now. In the beginning I painted with watercolors with a fair amount of detail. I mostly painted imaginary scenes. By the time I switched to a thicker paint; oils and then acrylics, I lacked the patience to learn how to use them to paint with any details. Instead I opted to paint in the impressionist style, a style, however, that I really like. Fast forward 16 years, and these days I have an even shorter attention span, and have run out of new imaginary places to paint, so it has been hard to paint. 

This week I tried something different. Imagining a scene and painting it with nothing specific in it, just implying the scene. My first effort was a rainy evening street scene of sorts "Rain" 



I liked how it came out, and well, the bulk of it took about the length of three or four Angus and Julia Stone songs to paint -- within my attention span. I then got the idea that I might try the same technique using a lot more colors and to kill two birds with one stone, try a scene from Beneath the Lanterns, in this case the Reed Bank -- a street in the story lined by townhouses on one side and eating houses, tea houses and drinking houses lining the shore of a lake on the other.  So today I did "The Reed Bank", a detail of which I used for the new cover. I pictured the Reed Bank on the last day of the Bright Days, with the Yellow Lantern setting behind us and the street filled with carriages and rickshaws -- but of course, the idea is not to actually paint them, just imply them. (Or anything else you might imagine.)



So the cover new cover of the ebook version of Beneath the Lanterns is actually of nothing at all. It is, however in a long tradition of science fiction book covers. If you are old enough to remember buying paperback SF books in the 60's & 70's, you'll remember all those books with some sort of abstract, "science-fiction-ie" style of art -- with lots of weird shapes that were supposed to be, well, who knows what? Usually it meant a book I wouldn't like. But anyway, my new cover is in that tradition, except that it is more colorful than most of those.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

3 1/2 Years in Self-Publishing: A Report




Since 23 Oct 2018 marked my 3 1/2 year anniversary as a self-published writer of adventure/travel/romance novels set in imaginary places, it’s time to publish my semi-annual report on my past six months in the self-publishing business.

Let’s start with the numbers. Please note; the vast majority of “sales” are free downloads. These numbers are from Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, B & N, and Kobo. There are other sites, like Obooko, where my books are available but do not report downloads to me. For the first six months of the year I had listed my books on Kobo directly, since that would allow me to see how many were downloaded in that store, unlike when I was selling them on Kobo via Smashwords. I found that sales were nothing to shake a stick at, so I moved them back to Smashwords distribution. In September I was able to list my books in the Google Play Store, so going forward I will be including numbers from Google.

A Summer in Amber (23 April 2015)
Download/sales: as of:
May 1 2018: 4,915
Nov 1 2018: 6,000
Six month sales: 1,085

Some Day Days (9 July 2015)
Download/sales as of:
May 1 2018: 2,050
Nov 1 2018: 2,758
Six month sales: 708

The Bright Black Sea (17 September 2015)
Download/sales as of:
May 1 2018: 7,836
Nov 1 2018: 9,012
Six month sales: 1,176

Castaways of the Lost Star (4 Aug 2016 – withdrawn: 13 July 2017)
Download/sales total: 2,176

The Lost Star’s Sea (13 July 2017)
Download/sales as of:
May 1 2018: 2,078
Nov 1 2018: 3,265
Six month sales: 1,187

Beneath the Lanterns (13 Sept 2018)
Download/sales as of:
Nov 1 2018: 565
1 ½ month sales: 565

Total download/sales as of 1 May 2018: 19,055
Total download/sales as of 1 Nov 2018: 23,776
Total download/sales six month sales*:   4,721

Average number of C. Litka titles download per day: 25.8*
A more realistic average (excluding the 1950 day) is 15 copies a day

*The May-Nov download/sales numbers include a one day sale on Amazon of 1950 copies, spread almost equally between my then four books. I can not explain this strange jump in one day sales, and treat it with some skepticism. I did, however, call it to the attention of Amazon, and they assured me that it represented true sales, so I have included it in my numbers.

Beneath the Lanterns

I released my 2018 novel, Beneath the Lanterns on 13 September 2018. It is the first non-sequel book I have released since I released my first three books in 2015. My goal for this year’s book was to expand my readership by writing something of a fantasy novel. However, beyond the story being set in an imaginary land, it had little other fantasy trapping. There is no magic, there are no dragons, elves, and vampires in it. So, like most of my books, it lands in the cracks between different genres, spanning fantasy, science fiction, and plain adventure.

As you can see from the figures above, Beneath the Lanterns has been downloaded 565 times in the last month an a half. This compares to 582 for Some Day Days, 1331 for The Black Bright Sea, 867 for Castaways of the Lost Star, and 1071 for The Lost Star’s Sea. I wasn’t keeping records at first, so I don’t have the corresponding figures for A Summer in Amber. No doubt there are a number of reasons for this slightly softer launch, including not being a sequel to my most popular book. However there may be industry-wide reasons as well. One is likely the growth of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program of free, unlimited books to read for a single monthly subscription fee – which can be as low as free. Since this program caters to the most active readers, the types of books that these avid readers read now dominate Amazon’s best seller charts, since borrowed books count as sales. The second reason is that advertising is now driving readership, giving the biggest indie publishers, with a large, guaranteed readership the ability to outspend, out-advertise, and outsell the newer, slower, or less business savvy writer. Just as the textile mills put the weavers in their front rooms out of business, the well financed, entrepreneurial focused indie publishing business is displacing the writer-focused self-published author. And that is the way of the world. As an amateur author, money doesn't matter, so I can sleep well at night.

With the publication of Beneath the Lanterns, I now have a little over one million words in print, the equivalent of twenty 50K word pulp-sized novels. While I have published these million words in the last 3 ½ years, they were produced over the course of a decade since I had most of my first three novels finished by the time I published A Summer in Amber. My current, one book a year pace, is not from a result of lack of speed – Beneath the Lanterns, at 126K words, was written in five months – it is a lack of story ideas that I feel are worth writing. I have to live with a story in my head for a year, so I want to be able to enjoy imagining and re-imagining the story and characters over and over again in my imagination as I build the story and find the words to tell it.

I am hard at work on my 2019 novel, and since I have both a beginning and an end in hand, I am confident that it will see the light of day. Stay tuned.




Thursday, September 27, 2018

September Wrap-up

An illustration from Beneath the Lanterns (not used) From Chapter 15, Lanterna

September has been a busy month for me. The first half was spent getting both the ebook and the paperback editions of Beneath the Lanterns ready for release. That included building the print version, which involved designing both a front and back cover, writing a back cover blurb, designing the art and blurb for inside the cover, title page and map page. Inside, the page size and margins had to be set up and the text converted to be justified right and left. I also changed it to a new type-face for print (Goudy Old Style), and putting in things like page numbers and page breaks between chapters that are not used in the ebook versions. And then one has to go through and make sure that things like my scene numbers within a chapter do not end up in the last line of a page – which would look silly. Finally, I had to decide what I wanted to do with the fact that the story ended within a line of the bottom of the page. I would have preferred it to end in the middle of a page so that the white space of the rest of the page would make it clear that the end had been reached. However, I could not find a satisfactory way of extending the chapter into the next page, so I left it as it fell. (And CreateSpace didn’t include one extra blank page, so the story runs right to the back cover. But then, I like to keep my endings open, as life continues on for my characters, even if we no long travel with them, so perhaps that is best. And, well, seeing that I might sell one or two copies at most, I’m not losing any sleep over it.

In the middle of the month, after seeing the print proof copy, I decided to re-do the cover for both the paperback and ebook version. I paint my own covers, and then, sometimes, add thin black outlines in the painting on the computer to give it sort of a wood cut look. In the first version, I overdid the black lines a little, and had to tone it back down. I’m still not crazy about the cover, but it is as good as that one is going to get.

I also uploaded new versions of Some Day Days, The Bright Black Sea, and The Lost Star’s Sea to fix some of the remaining typos. I think there still is a silly one in Some Day Days  that I saw when doing the Google version. It has “ever” instead of “every” in the little blurb about reporting typo. I should fix that… tomorrow…

Some time ago I had applied to have my books in the Google Play bookstore, and two weeks ago I received an email invite from them to add my books to their store. I could upload either PDFs versions, and/or epub versions. I have, in the past, relied on Smashwords and Amazon to convert my word document into their ebook versions, and had not been impressed with how my own epub versions turned out using an old version of Calibre, so I was rather leery of uploading my own epubs. I had PDF versions from the paperback book, so I started with them. It took a few days for them to approve my account and a few days to master their system, but eventually I had the PDFs up. I then decided to tackle the epub versions. I first tried uploading the LibreOffice documents to Google Drive, opening them up in Google Docs, and then download them as epubs. I figured working within Google should produce acceptable epub versions.  With those in hand, I then uploaded them to Google Play Books. The only problem was that it seems that The Bright Black Sea and The Lost Star's Sea were too large to open in Google Docs, so I could not convert them using Google Docs and ended up installing the latest version of Calibre and after doing a little research, I produced acceptable epub versions -- at least they passed Google's inspection. They are all live now, and we'll see what, if anything, business results from being on Google.

This past week I contacted the folks at Speculative Fiction Showcase ( http://indiespecfic.blogspot.com/ ) about featuring my new book. They were kind enough to oblige and featured Beneath the Lanterns on 27 Sept 2018 on their website. I would like to thank them for including my book on their website. The site features new releases on most days, and on every Friday, an extensive list of links to the speculative fiction stories of the week. A great place to find new books and interesting reads.

I hope to start writing my 2019 novel in earnest in October. I have re-written the first page half a dozen times, as the story and time line shifts in this early phase, keep changing. However, with all the above distractions out of the way, I hope to start nailing the story down. I had challenged myself to write a mystery next, and this will be something of a mystery, though not of the a who-done-it type. I’m thinking something more along the lines of a Raymond Chandler type of story with pirates instead of gangsters. And after a couple of years, I think it is time to return to space – this time with starships! ...Assuming all goes well...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

C. Litka Books - Now on Google Play and Google Books


All five of my novels are now available for free on Google Play and Google Books. I have uploaded both epub and pdf versions, but I only see the epub versions. I'm not sure how books on Google Play work. If you can find the pdf versions, they are the pdfs from the print editions, with the maps and such included.

You can find them here:
https://play.google.com/store/search?q=C.%20Litka&c=books&hl=en

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Free Worldwide on Amazon


I am happy to report that Beneath the Lanterns is now FREE in all the Amazon stores, at this time, which is great news. A Summer in Amber and The Lost Star's Sea are also FREE in the UK Amazon store, but I don't think anywhere else.

I recently up loaded a new version of Some Day Days that corrected three dozen or so typos in the first half of the book, thanks to Nicole B. She says the second half will show up sooner or later. Hopefully sooner rather than later, but beggars can't be choosers.