Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Map for Tzarita Moon and Valsummer House


Note: not to an exact scale

Above is a map for the two Nine Star Nebula Mystery Adventure stories to date, The Secret of the Tzarista Moon and The Secrets of Valsummer House. I don’t include maps in my ebook editions as I don’t know how they will display, and are a pain to find when you need them in an ebook. So if you would like a map, you can download and print this map – and any of my other maps out to use alongside your reading.

I don’t really think either story actually needs a map, but a map is always handy. I like maps in books.

I do, however, need to up my map making game. I know that there are may how-to-do map videos on Youtube that I can use to improve my map making skills, so I’ll have to watch some of them, some time. They tell you not only how to do draw maps, but where to find the resources you can use to make map making easier. For example, where to find things like parchment backgrounds, and map features – mountains, hills, cities, forests, etc. that can be downloaded and used.

Prior to making the map above, I would draw my maps on paper. I would then take a photograph of it. I would open the photo up in Gimp on my computer, straighten up any lens distortions, and add the colors and lettering.

I recently purchased a 13” chromebook and a digital pen to use with it, which is what I used to make part of the map above. You can now install Linux programs on a chromebook, so I installed the Linux version of Gimp and used it to draw and color the map above. I then emailed that version to myself and opened it up on my main computer with a larger monitor to touch it up and add the lettering. So this is my first map done entirely digital.

On The Secrets of Valsummer House, it is currently being beta read. My tentative release date looks to be 18 March 2020.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Secrets of Valsummer House Cover


Now that The Secrets of Valsummer House is in the proof/beta reading stage, It is time to tackle the cover art. I have remarked in other post how, after painting several thousand paintings in my life time, I’ve lost the will, the skill, and the enjoyment of painting. Which means that painting a new cover is now a chore, rather than a pleasure Above is my current cover art. (At the time I’m writing this, I haven’t even started it yet, so I don’t know how terrible it is. Yet.) Above is the second version of the cover. At the end of this post I'll post the first more terrible version.

Cover aside, this story is my attempt at writing a straight up old fashioned mystery story. I used to read mysteries.  But I grew weary of them because everyone seemed to involve a murder of one sort or another. Conan Doyle’s wrote delightful Sherlock Holmes mysteries that did not involve solving a murder, but it seems that mystery writers soon grew lazy and decided that the easiest way to make and raise the stakes in the story was to have it involve a murder – and often a series of murders. Maybe this is because mystery readers (and editors) expect, and perhaps even demand, a murders in their mysteries. I don’t know. I do know that very few mystery authors make a mystery out of anything else but some sort of murder. And if they do, they might not even be considered mysteries. Correct me, if I am wrong, for as I said, I stopped reading them decades ago.

One of the reasons why I started writing stories is that I’d occasionally come across books that made me wonder just who in the publishing business owed the writer a big favor. I was certain I could write a better story than some of the traditionally published books I came across. But talk is cheap, and so I set out to see if I could do better. I’d like to think that I have. And in that same vein, I took up the challenge to write a compelling mystery that isn’t about a murder. And to write it like an old fashioned mystery, where finding clues, talking to “suspects”, being misled by red herrings, and the like, take precedence over action scenes. While I consider the first book in this series, The Secret of the Tzarista Moon, a sort of cozy action/mystery story, I wrote this book as a mystery to be solved story. Does it work without a murder? We’ll see…

Look for The Secrets of Valsummer House to be released sometime in the last half of March 2021.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

My Library -- The Sea Books (Part One)


My Sea and Ship Book Shelves

I never ran away to sea. I am not a risk taker. My definition of a real world “adventure” is an unpleasant incident in the past. I’m not one to seek out those unpleasant experiences. Except, of course in books. However, if I was a risk taker, I think running away to the sea would’ve suited my taste for adventure.

As you can see from the picture above, I have several shelves of books related to the sea, ships, and shipping, both fact and fiction. Too many to cover in one post, so I think I’ll focus on just one author and one type of book – Basil Lubbock and clipper ships, especially tea clippers. My first introduction to tea clippers was from the book The China Clipper, pictured below.

To tell the story of how I came to discover the book, we need to turn the clock back to 1969, and my sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin. That was the year they decided to let underclassmen into the stacks of the University Library. Prior to that, if you wanted to take out a book from the library, at least as an underclassman, you had to go to the card file, find the book you wanted by riffling through the cards and then make out and hand in a written request for it. Someone would then fetch it for you. In my sophomore year, the opened the stacks to everyone.

The stacks of the University Library was a wonderful, almost never-land sort of place. Six or more dimly lit floors of books, with little study cubicles to read them. I spent many hours just wandering through the stacks. Early on I searched out the nautical and naval history section. In high school my friends and I had been fighting naval battles on our basement floor with 1:1200 metal models of warships. Each of us collected ships of a different navy. I had, and still have, the warships of the Royal Navy. The game was played with rules invented by Fletcher Pratt. Yes, that Fletcher Pratt, the science fiction author. The game involved moving your ships, aiming at the enemy, and then writing down and assigning your ship’s volley an estimated range, which was then measured out with a tape measure. Inverted golf tees were used to indicate where your shells fell. Great fun.

Well, I’m off course again. Suffice to say that naval history drew me to the section of the nautical history section of the stacks. I was studying Chinese and East Asian history, and had begun to drink tea, on occasion, so I have to believe the title of the book, The China Clippers, and the subject – tea clippers is what enticed me to began reading the book when I spied it on the shelf.

Basil Lubbock 

Basil Lubbock was an adventurer, Though educated at Eton, he did not go on to university, but instead, sailed for Canada. He joined the Yukon gold rush, sailed as a sailor in sailing ships, soldiered in the Boer War and WW l and played cricket. His histories of the ships and trades were often gathered from correspondence with the people who sailed on them. At any rate, they were anything but dull academic reading. The China Clippers and his Log of the Cutty Sark brought the romance of the tea clippers to life for me.

In fact, I invented a China Clipper race game that covered the treacherous South China Sea, that seemed to reproduce the recorded times pretty well. I think I still have that as well. I never bothered to go beyond Anjer, and on into the Indian, South Atlantic, and North Atlantic Oceans with the game, to take the race all the way to its finish line, the London dock., But it was sailing the South China Sea that usually made or broke a rapid journey home to London. But I’m off the rails again...

Anyway, Lubbock went on to write a number of books, both fact and fiction, regarding the life and trade of the hay day and decline of the sailing ship that you can see in the photo above. He also wrote entries for the sailing ships that Jack Spurling painted for the magazine Sail, and which were collected in the large book, The Best of Sail. I’ve included some of Jack Spurling’s wonderful sailing ship paintings below.

The Tea Clipper Taeping

Over the years I’ve collected several other books on the China tea clippers, see my shelf above. As well as books on sailing ships in general. Over the years, their stories have served to inspire a number of my stories, published and unpublished. Indeed, I must admit that a sea story disguised with spaceships has always been one of my favorite types of stories. Which is why I wrote one myself.

Tea Clipper Arial

Tea Clipper Cutty Sark

I'll get around to writing about some of my other favorite authors of sea stories -- C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne, W Clark Russell, Guy Gilpatric, and Patrick O'Brian at some future date.

In other news, I finished the second draft of The Secrets of Valsummer House. I expect to have the third and hopefully final draft ready for proofreading my next weekend. We'll see.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Secrets of Valsummer House Blurb


Prototype of Valsummer House, details vary from book description

I realized last night at 9:30 that I had not written the blog post I had planned to write for this week and that I didn't have the time to write it and take the photographs. So it's a quick substitute post this week -- the first version of the blub for my next book, along with a photograph of an early version of what will be Valsummer House which I painted decades ago. 

The house I picture above is very similar to the title house in the book as far as its general style. However its details and setting will be different in the book. Still this gives you the general idea of how I envision it. 

I've began working on the second draft, with a goal of doing a chapter a day. Despite being free to make any changes I care to, I find that I generally follow the first draft, just tweaking my writing. I have a tendency to write run on sentences, so that these days, I make a special effort to break them up and eliminate a lot of "ands."  I also seem to write a lot of sentences backward. I don't know enough about the mechanics of English to say exactly what I'm doing, but I think its a byproduct of working an idea through while I'm writing it down. Once I have it down, I can then go back and tweak it to read better.

Anyway, I'm going to keep this post short. Work is going well on the second draft. I've made a few more extensive changes to reflect the evolution of the story as I went along. And I expect to spend more time reworking things as I go along since I've gone over the first few chapters several times during the those periods when I had to stop and collect my thoughts on how to proceed.  All in all, I expect to be able to release the book towards the end of March 2021.

Below is the first draft of the Blurb. This will change over time as well.

The Secrets of Valsummer House

A Nine Star Nebula Mystery

The Secrets of Valsummer House is the direct sequel to the Secret of the Tzarista Moon, picking up the story several months after the conclusion of the first book. Sleepy Pine Cove has been transformed into a lively resort town with the arrival of the summer people. Rafe d’Mere is happily fixing toasters, bots, and appliances, when who should arrive, but one Lieutenant JG Vaun Di Ai, to his alarm and delight. She assures him that she is there merely to tick off some boxes on the case forms, and follow up on a few leads that the interrogation of the Seven Syndicate members rounded up at the end of the last story provided. She further assures him that she has strict orders to do nothing but tick boxes or risk her career in the Patrol. Basically, she is, in her own words, “An intelligence analyst 3 on a field trip.” So he has nothing to worry about. But knowing her, of course he does. With good reason.

The Secrets of Valsummer House is written as an old-fashioned “whodunit” style of mystery. First we have the arrival of a mysterious crate containing an “antique” robot whose delivery was mysteriously delayed – for years. And then, Di Ai arrives on her mission, followed by the arrival of a rather mysterious lady a day later. All of them connected in one way or another. Toss in the other Pine Cove characters from the first story, the Seven Syndicate, and its leader, the pirate prince known only as Seven, and you have a tangled web of intrigue and mystery to be discovered and unraveled.

I like to do something a little different with each book I write. This time around, it’s a pretty pure mystery. There’s a lot less plasma darts flying about in this story. It is pretty much a story of uncovering connections and following clues to unravel the mystery of the bot, the mysterious woman, and the pirate prince of the Seven Syndicate.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

First Draft of My Next Story Finished


I am very happy to report that I finished writing my first draft of my next novel yesterday. For me, at least, the writing of the first draft is the heavy lifting part of writing stories. I’m always relieved when I have a complete story in hand, no matter how rough it might be.

I started writing on this story on 2 Nov 2020, so it’s taken me 89 days to write my 61,000 word first draft. It was rather a slow slog. Looking back to my files I can see that the first drafts of these books took:

The Prisoner of Cimlye,  49,000 words, 39 days (2020)

Keiree  30,700 words, 41 days (2020)

The Secret of the Tzarista Moon,  54,000 words, 34 days. (2020)

Sailing to Redoubt, 98,000 words, 64 days (2019)

Beneath the Lanterns, 117,400 words, 71 days (2018)

It seems that I’m slowing down… And writing shorter books. But then, I’m also getting older. In the case of my new novel, I had a story, pieces of the puzzle, and an ending (that I ended up not using) in mind before I started writing, but fitting the pieces of the puzzle together took longer than I would’ve liked. I ended up having to take a break in my writing several times because I had caught up to the point where the pieces were still up in the air. Eventually they fell into place – I hope.

So what is my new novel about? Well, it is an old fashioned who-done-it style mystery story. Why a who-done-it mystery? Because I like to write something a little different with every story I write and I haven't written this type of mystery story. Since it is an old fashioned mystery, I had to make sure that, not only did the pieces fit, but that they created an engaging mystery. I will also need to make the dialog and characters as entertaining as I can, since the story does not have desperate adventures to keep readers engaged.

The working, and most likely final title, is The Secrets of Valsummer House. It is another “Nine Star Nebula Mystery” with most of the cast of characters from The Secret of the Tzarista Moon returning for this direct sequel. We find Rafe d’Mere still in Pine Cove several months after the events of the first book and still a toaster and bot repair tech. Lieutenant JG Vaun Di Ai returns to the Agrilea Co-op, this time as a mere an intelligence analyst 3 “on a field trip” as she puts it. She’s been tasked with filling in some blanks, ticking off some boxes, and following up a few threads related to the events in the previous story. She has been strictly ordered to only tick off boxes and fill in blanks on the forms, or risk her Patrol career. Along with her return comes a rather mysterious robot in a crate for an owner identified only by a code, as well as a mysterious lady. Mix them together with the pirate prince of the Seven Syndicate, and you have the The Secrets of Valsummer House.

With the first draft done, I'll now go back and read through it several times, adding and playing with words to polish it up. I enjoy this process much more than writing the first draft. Given the nature of this story, I’ll need to make certain that my writing is as entertaining as I can make it, since it will be as important, if not more so then the mystery. This process will probably add between two to three thousand words to the final version. I expect the second and third drafts will take the better part of February,  if not longer, to complete. Then the manuscript goes out to my beta readers for proofreading. At some point I will also need to work up a cover for it. So all in all, I expect to release The Secrets of Valsummer House in late March or early April 2021. Stay tuned for more details.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Riding The Rails


Switzerland -- Lorirocks777 video

One of the great things about being old and retired is that you have all the time in the world to do whatever you want. If you can afford it. Many retired people like (or these days, dream) of traveling. Some take to the road in RVs to follow the sun. Others take grand trips abroad. The pandemic has kept most people stuck at home, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t travel.

Full disclaimer: I hate to travel. The stress of preparing and traveling outweighs its pleasures, since I have terrible memory so that I can’t relive my adventures. Plus, travel and adventure, I think, if for the youth, or books.

Switzerland -- Lorirocks77 video

Given my attitude, I’ve found the perfect way for me to travel – in the cabs of trains alongside their drivers. Virtually, of course. All around the world, train drivers, and in some cases, passengers record their journeys in real time and post these video trips on Youtube. Over the last year and a half I’ve ridden in the cabs of trains for too many hours and thousands of miles throughout Great Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Japan. In addition, I’ve taken a few train rides in Poland, Norway, Belgium, Italy, and Greece. And I have trips through Romania and Bulgaria on my list for the coming weeks.

But it’s not the same thing as visiting these countries, you’re thinking. And you’re right. But it is a far more immersive experience than looking at static tourist pictures, or even Google’s street view – though that too is a good way to travel in your easy chair. There is something about the countryside streaming past for hours at a time that makes the experience almost real – not so much different than driving a car with the windows closed, as long as you don’t gawk around too much while driving. You see both sides of the rails and what lies ahead, until it streams past. Now, some of the older videos are pretty murky, but the drivers these days record in 4K, and while you lose some fine, fast moving details (at least with my internet connection) the experience is very realistic.

England -- Don Coffey video

Over the last year and a half I’ve gotten to know what Europe looks like without ever having to leave the house. I’ve kept records of all the rail lines I’ve traveled along, and have learned a bit of geography by looking up the cities involved in each video. Given my limitations in memory, I can’t provide you with much of a travel guide, but my advice is search out train rides that take you though hills and mountains – southeast France, southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria, but there are scenic train trips through most of the countries. I would avoid flat countrysides like you find in northern Germany and Poland, the Atlantic coast of France, and the eastern and southern parts of England. Not only does flat farm fields get boring, but the rail right of ways are often lined with trees so that you’re traveling down a corridor of green with only rare glimpses of the farm fields that you are traveling through.

An added bonus of riding the rails is that you get to see how railroads work – how the signals control traffic, and how traffic is managed. Don Coffey explains how the signals work in his videos, and you can translate that knowledge to all railroads – though the signals vary from country to country. But you can google those, if you care to.

Paris -- Railtrotter video

There are many ways to kill utilize your time when retired, and while most some people may find watching the scenery go by as exciting as watching paint dry, I find exploring these railroads interesting. These winter days, I have my bike inside and set up on a rack in the house. I’ve rigged a shelf on the handlebars to hold my tablet and spend my hour pedaling each day listening to music while I riding though the countryside of my choice on the rails.

Below are links to some of the train drivers who post videos of their trips:







Czech Republic

Train trips from around the world

And there are plenty more.

Bon Voyage!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Life in the Fast Lane of Indie Publishing

Chris Fox

This will be my last posts featuring indie authors who share their success or lack thereof. I looked at Gideon Marcus who argued that professional editing was necessary, and the career of a part time writer, Ron Vitale. In both cases I suggested that financial success comes is most likely when the books are targeted at what avid readers are reading. In this post, I’m going to briefly talk about a  “six-figure” science/fantasy and non-fiction author, 44 year old Chris Fox. He wrote a book on writing to market. From his Youtube videos, we will see what indie-publishing, looks like in the fast lane of Amazon/indie publishing. 

You can view his Youtube videos where he talks about his business, how to do various aspects of writing and the business, plus inspirational pieces on his Youtube channel here:

Chris Fox gave up a six figure programming job in 2014 to write full time. Since 2014 he has written 26 fiction books, plus various boxed sets, and 8 non-fiction books, related to different aspects of indie publishing. He writes in series:
The Magitech Chronicles  7 books (science fantasy)
Magitech Legacy 5 books (science fantasy)
Void Wraith  6 books  (space fleet/military sf)
Deathless  5 books (urban fantasy)
Solaris  2 books  (YA superhero fantasy)
Dark Lord Bert  1 book (Role Playing Game fiction)

His Non-fiction include:
5000 Words Per Hour
Write to Market
Lifelong Writing Habit
Plot Gardening
Six Figure Author

He released 3 fiction and 2 non-fiction books in 2015, 5 fiction, 1 non-fiction book in 2016, 6 fiction and 1 non-fiction book in 2017, 3 fiction and 1 non-fiction book in 2018, 4 fiction and 1 non-fiction book in 2019, and 9 fiction books in 2020. In an effort to expand his income base, he has spent the last two year developing a role playing game based on his Magitech universe, and ran a kick-starter to get it off the ground. From watching his videos, I have to say that he appears to be something of a workaholic, putting in many hours a day writing, plotting, plus all the various aspects of running his business;  creating and managing his ads, etc. In short, he’s the type of writer/entrepreneur that has the tools to succeed in indie publishing.

Below is the chart Chris Fox provides in his video about his 2020 earnings. On the top is his income, and on the bottom is his expenses. Boxes in green are improvements from the previous year. Boxes in yellow are declines in revenue from the previous year or increases in expenses. The chart is pretty straightforward. He offered paid consulting services to authors, and put together paid on-line classes, as many may successful authors do to supplement, or supplant their writing income. This year he decided to get out of that business, because it became too much of a hassle. He hopes to replace it with income from his role playing game. His business in incorporated, so that he pays himself and his wife, as his editor, a salary “Payroll & Retirement” so his net pre-tax income is what the limited liability company reported.


As you can see, 2020 was not a very good year, though one most indie authors would envy. He earned almost $100K, which would be damn good in Iowa City, but he lives in California, so we probably have to take the “damn” out of good, given the cost of living on the coast.

Ebook income was down something like 30% from 2019. While he spent $46,500 for editing and covers, most of which went into producing his role playing game. In 2019 he was spending an average of almost $10,000 a month advertising. He reduced that somewhat this year, cutting back towards the end of the year after finding more cost effective venues. Still, $104,000 a year for advertising is rather eye opening. Especially since Chris Fox is probably not one of the 100 top earning Amazon science fiction authors. At least I never saw his name on the list, before Amazon dropped that feature. (Though I may have missed his appearances.) He took a cut in pay this year, anticipating a big tax bill, since it was based on this $350+K income in 2019 and had a big increase in health insurance for his family.

However, looking at the chart below, I would have to say that there might be trouble in Bubble Land. This chart shows his monthly income from Amazon for 2019 and 2020 (I had to graft the two charts together from screen shots. Sorry for the quality.  The blue is his his revenue from Kindle Unlimited page reads. The pink is his royalties from ebook sales, and the grey at the bottom is paper book royalties. The scale along the side are in increments of $5,000. I have added the books Chris Fox released in this time frame under the graph.

Source; &

In previous videos Chris Fox pointed out that sales go up when you release a book, and then slide back down over the next three months, suggesting that frequent releases will pay dividends. Beginning in April of 2019 you can see that he released a series of two new novels and a non-fiction book along with a big boxed set of his best selling books at a good price and saw his sales soar to almost $30K in one month and $25k in the next, only to taper down when he stopped releasing new books. However, in 2020 he wrote a million words, and, as you can see from the chart, released books at a rapid rate, indeed, at more than one a month in the last four months of the year, which produced only a minor bump, and given the number of new books, he was basically treading water. You can blame it on 2020, or the election, or whatever, but if I were him, I’d be concerned. 

I have long wondered what is the half-life of an indie publisher. How long can they sustain their popularity before readers, with virtually unlimited options, move on, either because they are tired of a writer’s style and/or formula, or simply lose track of them with so many alternatives. Some of these readers read multiple books a week (or a book a day in some genre) and so that even if an author releases a book every 3 months, the readers will have read several dozen books in between. It is easy to imagine that even with the best intentions, readers never get around to reading an author’s latest book, and then lose track of them altogether. It seemed like around 2016 or so, a lot of the early successful writers had faded away or burned out. Some may have taken on new pen names and carried on, but I have a feeling that a six or seven year career in indie publishing’s fast lane may be the norm. And Chris Fox is starting his seventh year…  He’s still making over $10K a month, so it’s not time to panic, but when releasing five books in four month barely moves the needle, well, one has to wonder. And he might, indeed, be wondering, since he’s planning on releasing an epic fantasy series in 2021. 

Changing genre might be one way to revive revenue, but it is not without its risks. Hardcore fans want the same thing, over and over again, and may not want to move on to epic fantasy. While on the other hand, epic fantasy is a very competitive genre, so it may be hard to break into, even for an established writer. We’ll see. 

In any event, I think it clear that the fast lane in indie-publishing is not Easy Street. It takes a lot of work, and continued success is not guaranteed.