Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, July 1, 2022

The Making of The Road to Eura -- Part 2

 


This is the second installment of my series “The Making of The Road to Eura”. The post below contains the first installment, if you haven’t read it and are curious.

In my first installment, I explained that I liked the idea of setting a story in an early to mid 20th century society, with a super-advanced civilization buried beneath their feet. This allowed for the prospect that some of that civilization’s technology might have been dug up and gotten to work – in the hands of an ambitious leader who intends to use it to expand his or her power.

I had several versions of this story partially written in my head, but the only one that made it as far as 4.000 words on a screen; a story I called Rust in the Dust.

But first more on the premise.

The setting for all these stories would be Europe united under one weak king, but divided into provinces, each with small regiment or two that could be called on to defend Europe, if necessary. For the story, I had one those provincial leaders determined to expand his domain at the expense of his neighbors. While he may have some allies, most of the provinces would, in theory, unite their regiments to stop any such move. This prospect, however, did not seem to deter this leader, leading the other leaders to suspect and fear that he/she had found a working device from the ancient tech age that could be used in a war, which would make all the difference.

The story would then involve amateur agents being sent into this province to discover what exactly its leader had found and how they were planning to use it. It would have been a story of travel and intrigue with these agents following clues and local rumors of mysterious going doings to discover the leader’s secret. There is a Sax Rohmer book called The Day The World Ended that is a partial inspiration for this story, at least for mood.

In some versions the war was just looming. In others I had “air pirates” of an unknown origin already attacking provincial air bases, calling to mind the summer of 1940 in Britain. In most stories an archaeologist, familiar with advanced technology form the past, is the narrator. In one, I had him drafted into the army and assigned to investigate crashed aircraft for clues as to their origin. In all he would serve as narrator, with the other agent more politically connected serving as the female/romantic co-star. For a number of these stories I had at least the first couple of chapter in mind, but I only have Rust in the Dust got some words on a screen.

So why did these variations on a theme fall apart?

The first reason is that, though I was attracted to the mood of those times, I don’t really like writing dark, serious, or sad stories. And though looking back on those historic times one can get a sense of romance – of being part of a special time, in reality, it was probably anything but romantic, so that it would be hard to write a story that was both realistic, and romantic.

Secondly, a more practical road block: I could not come up with a technology that would fit the bill for the story. What could be dug up and used to dominate the world? A giant robot? A flying machine? Battle tanks? What would be cool, and clever, and make the leader invincible?

And then, if I managed to come up with some sort of cool, invincible technology, how would I then make it so that it could be defeated by our heroes? Not impossible – many stories do that. But I like to write realistic stories with grounded, everyday heroes, which makes it a lot harder...

Which brings me around to my last issue, which is that I don’t like writing stories where my characters have to save the world. I like smaller, more personal stories. So, when it came right down to it, I simply could not stay excited about the whole concept.

And yet, in the end, many of these elements and settings ended up being tweaking to play a large part in the setting of The Road to Eura. Still, it would take parts from two other failed story attempts to create a story that I could write all the way to the end. I think it turned out pretty good, but you’ll have to take my word on that for a little while.

In any event, I will talk about the next failed project that contributed to The Road to Eura in the next installment of this series, at some future date, to be determined, i.e. when I can think of nothing else to write about.








Friday, June 24, 2022

The Making of The Road to Eura -- Part 1

 

Even though the publication date of The Road to Eura is likely many months off – think 2023 – I thought I might as well start a series entitled “The Making of The Road to Eura” detailing how I managed to write another story. Which believe me, was far from a sure thing a year ago, or for that matter, even as late as the beginning of this year. Every story I write is my last story until it isn’t.

I probably have talked about my writing process in previous posts, though I can’t be bothered to go back and see. In any event, in discussing how this story came about, I will no doubt go into much greater detail as to how stories come to me, how they fail, and how they sometimes succeed. So on with the show.

The Road to Eura is a Frankenstein of a story. It draws its plot and framework from at least three of my abandoned story ideas, one of which dates back to 2016, with a story entitled, Rust in the Dust. I wrote just under 4,000 words on that story before eventually abandoning it.

So how did Rust in the Dust and The Road to Eura come to be? Usually all my stories start with a mood a feeling or a picture in my head. After that, I think about the characters I want to write about, and only then, do I try to develop a story with them and a workable plot. In all the various versions of this story idea, and there were several without names, the mood I began with was the mood of living in the summer of either 1914, 1939 or 1940 in England. Which is to say on the eve of a looming war, with the contrast of a sun soaked summer vs the black clouds of some unimaginable war on the horizon, impossible to entirely ignore. The story then would be set in summer, with some sort of conflict looming. I’ve read a fair number of books on that era, and especially 1940, with one that stands out; a diary written during that time: A Boy in the Blitz by Colin Perry. Plus I have a shelf of books and photo books from England of that time period, all of which have created in my mind a certain sense of place and time for that era – though probably not an authentic one, unless one goes with reincarnation…

So I had a time period and a mood I wanted to use to create a story. But…

Despite my desire to write a story set in a time like that, to write a story I first have to live the story in my head. I have to mentally “write” it without words – thinking about the story and its scenes off and on throughout the day and night, whenever I’m awake – usually for several months – before I even start to put words to it. And to be honest, I really don’t care to entertain such a dark and moody story in my head for that long. since the line between my life and my imagination is pretty thin. I didn’t care to have that imagined threat and gloom seeping into my real life. Still, some sort of light theme on that premise has continued to attract me, and to some extent, it plays a minor role in The Road to Eura.

Next, because I don’t care to do detailed historical research, the idea of placing a story in 1914, 39 or 40 isn’t something I’d care to tackle. The other great downside to historical fiction is that you know how it turns out, unless you’re doing alternative history, in which case, why not just make up your own world and save yourself all that historical research? That, anyway, is my feeling on that subject.

I did, however, want to set this story on our Earth, and in Europe, to be precise. So I had to set it in the far future so that I could remake the world to suit my purposes. In the case of Rust in the Dust, after the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, and an ice age. In short, in the distant future. While I did include the supervolcano eruption in The Road to Eura, I skipped the subsequent ice age, or at least made it a minor one.

I really don’t like writing George Jetson SF futures. I like writing early to mid-20th stories – without having to do the research and fit it into known history. So, for that reason, I have a very advanced SF type civilization collapse, and then set the story a couple of thousand years after that collapse. In this way I can have a modern civilization chugging along in which to set the story, while using the collapsed advanced civilization as a source of mystery and potential conflict with the simple “What if?” some sort of working technology from that advanced civilization is dug up, and it was possibly being put to some use by someone in a way that would change the balance of power in Europe or the world.

That was the premise of Rust in the Dust, and I use a variation of this premise in The Road to Eura. However, I never finished Rust in the Dust, and have finished The Road to Eura, which suggest that I found ways to overcome the roadblocks that prevented me from finishing Dust. I did so by rummaging through my junk yard of other failed stories written after Dust, and grafted ideas from two other unfinished stories into the basic premise of a long peace threatened by an ambitious ruler with, perhaps, access to ancient technology. But before we get to that, I think I will explain why I abandoned Rust in the Dust in its first chapter.

But we’ll save that for next week.





Friday, June 17, 2022

The Road to Eura

 



I am always happy to report that I have finished writing a new book, and today I'm happy to report that I've finished the final draft of my 2023/24 novel, The Road to Eura.*

*Edit: I changed it's working title from The Road to EuraEast to The Road to Eura. Snappier and I can make it even more appropriate with a little find and replace...

The Road to Eura is a stand alone novel that mixes the flavors of the future with those of the past.

The future is a distant one – a resource depleted Earth after the catastrophic collapse of its solar system spanning civilization. The past is the mid-20th century level society that survived this collapse. This society is governed by the Code, an all encompassing set of regulations designed to ensure that the leftovers of the Solar Age will last for the eons to come.

The inciting incident is the crash of what appears to be a Solar Age aircraft. Its wreckage is removed within hours and the story suppressed. The administrators of the EuraCentre and EuraNorthwest regions see the hand of the Duchess of Fauconcourt, the Administrator General of EuraEast, in the incident. She has long campaigned to alter the Code – one way or another – to allow greater use of resources for an eventual return to a new Solar Age. Her changes to the Code denied, does this aircraft point to her other way? Two amateur agents are dispatched to EuraEast to find out.

Henri Hardy is an analytical engineer knowledgeable about Solar Age technology, currently employed as a low level clerk in EuraNorthwest’s Ministry of Innovation. By night he writes adventure stories set in the Solar Age, i.e. historical fiction.

Jean Murat, the Countess Montbleu, is an economist in the EuraCentre’s Ministry of Commerce. She has, for years, been collecting economic data on EuraEast in an effort to decipher the Duchess’ ultimate plans. By night she runs with a wealthy and rather scandalous social circle.

The novel relates the story of their mission to the east, which quickly goes south.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am going to shop this novel around to agents and publishers, hence the earliest publication date being sometime next year, whether self-published or traditionally published. While I have no illusions about the likelihood of this story being picked up by an agent or publisher, I think the process  is worth the effort, if only to see what, if any, feedback I receive on my work.

 As it turns out, the British science fiction publishers, Gollannz just happens to have a rare one month long window this June when they are accepting non-agented manuscripts, so I will be tossing The Road to Eura over their transom very shortly. Just like old times. There will be 1,000-1,500 manuscripts tossed as well, so I do not expect to hear anything for 6 to 12 months. But it is a start.

In the meanwhile, my wife will do her proofreading on the manuscript, and then it will be sent out to my volunteer beta readers who also will proofread it and offer their comments and suggestions. If you care to volunteer to be a beta reader, just email me.

I will talk more about this story in future blog posts. 





Thursday, June 9, 2022

The New Covers



I am quite happy with the look of the new covers, as a whole. I like the uniformity of design. I might tweak one or two, but as a whole, they work for me. My cover philosophy is informed by the limits of my talents, which is to say, I'm not an illustrator, I'm a landscape painter, more or less in the impressionist school of painting. The closer I get to realism, the more amateur my paintings look. So I simply look to suggest the mood of the story, and little more.



The artwork for A Summer in Amber and Some Day Days remain unchanged. Like all my paperback book designs, they feature art that wraps around cover, though in these cases I simply reposition the cover art.


The cover art is a return to the art I used for my first cover back in 2015, though I've tweaked the colors.


This is a new cover for the Lost Star's Sea. It uses detail from a painting in a series I had painted using the floating islands motif before I had written The Lost Star's Sea.


Again, this is the same artwork as the previous version, though I have cut back on the "cartoon" effect that adds black outlines to brush strokes. The back cover is the same painting flipped.


This is a brand new cover for Sailing to Redoubt. This is a scene that I painted on the imaginary island of Lil Lon, which is a locale in the story, so that unlike the last version, there is a direct connection between the cover and the story -- though I chose to go with this piece because I wanted lots of color. I flipped the picture so as to use the it to wrap around the cover as a single painting.


Nothing changed for this cover, except that I have the art wrapping around, using the same piece, flipped again.


No paper version of this novella. This might be the cover I tweak, since I don't like how the title box covers the old grain silos. I would have to make the art smaller so that the silos were not covered up., That, however, would mean extending it in several directions digitally, as the original art work is not wide or tall enough to shrink on its own. A project for an idle hour.


I'm reusing paintings I did years ago for this and its sequel covers. I did a series of painting more or less inspired by old Cape Cod and the stories of Joseph Lincoln. The prime locale in this story, and its first sequel are also inspired by old Cape Cod -- a seaside resort community. And being rather cozy mysteries, a pastoral landscape painting sort of works. It is better than the old one, which was on the low end of good enough to any port in a storm quality.


Another landscape with a seacoast. Again, just for mood. I considered flipping the art so that the front cover had a little more to offer, but I sort of like the lonely look of it.


This instalment of the series is set on a different planet. One that I was going for a Gothic feel to it. This painting is not really all that spooky, but it does have shadows, and goes more or less with the set.


Just added the new title box to this cover.

And as a bonus, here is the current front cover of the story I am working on. It will no doubt change.


All in all, the project kept me busy for a week, and I'm glad to say, I'm happy with the results.

Friday, June 3, 2022

New Covers... Again?

 

The new paperback spines

Yes, again. Why? Well, why not? I had a week with no writing scheduled, and nothing better to do.

Actually, there is a reason why I had to made new covers. And that is that I wanted to make my trade paperback books a little smaller than what they are now, at 6x 9” which Amazon said was the most popular. Maybe, but I suspect not for fiction. At any rate, I don’t have many trade paperbacks, but they are all smaller. And I’m told that the cool kids don’t have glossy covers, as well… So I thought I’d update my paperback books, because, well, why not?

The inciting incident for this project is the merger of Smashwords with Draft2Digital. Draft2Digital has their own print on demand service, and I thought that I would re-release my paperback versions with them, with an idea of seeing if I could get them into SF bookshops. Amazon is not popular with bookshops, so that getting books from other source might help get my books into the shops. It’s a summer/long term project.

Of course, changing the book size from 6x9” to 8.25x8” means that every book has to be entirely re-worked. However the process is the same for all, so it made sense to automate the process as much as possible. I found that I could simply change the page size and margins in the existing file, rather than start fresh. However, for some reason the six to eight title pages did not change size with the text pages and had to be changed in a separate operation, which was a hassle for some of the books. For some of the books I had to change the font size for the text to either fit or look appropriate. And I had to go through every book to format chapters and make sure everything worked. Once that was all done, and I had page counts, I could go to Amazon and determine the size of cover I would need – the front and back covers are the same, but the width of the spine changes with the page count, so that the cover template is different for each book. Once I recorded this data for all ten books, I created a blank template for each book, a blank spine for each book, and then a standard title box and back cover info box that I had decided I would use across the board.

With these new covers, I am returning to the style of covers I had until to a couple of years ago. Which is to say, a cover with the title and author’s name in a box over the cover art. However, whereas in those old covers, the box size and shaped changed from title to title, this time around, the title box will be standardized across all my books.

My inspiration for this style of cover comes from a series of English mysteries “British Library Crime Classics” published by Poisoned Pen Press. Below are several samples of the covers. (Actually a lot of samples, because I love these covers.) While I really like the travel/train poster style of art that a lot of them sport, I also like the understated simplicity of the cover design as well. So that is the style I adopted.







I also took the opportunity to change some of the cover art. Sailing to Redoubt gets a more colorful cover, a painting of mine of the little Tropic Sea island of Lil Lon. The Secrets of Valsummer House looses the rather static picture of Valsummer House, and gets a very minimalist treatment seaside painting. The Lost Star’s Sea has a simpler floating boat design. The Bright Black Sea sees the return of its first artwork with the color reworked. And the existing artwork that remains on the other books get re-worked as well. There is at least one book whose cover I would like to change, so we’ll see if I can either find an old work of mine or paint a new one for it.

Since this is, as I said, a summer project, I won’t be changing the covers right away. I’ll give myself time to come back to them and make sure I like them before changing the ebook covers to match the paper ones. And I am waiting on the Smashwords, Draft2Digital merger to access their print on demand service, for the paper books. Though I might switch over the Amazon books as well, Why not?

So to tease the new cover design, below is a sample of the new The Secrets of Valsummer House paperback cover.








Friday, May 27, 2022

Two Audrey Driscoll Reviews

 

She Who Comes Forth, by Audrey Dricoll B


Audrey Driscoll’s She Who Comes Forth if a finely crafted supernatural mystery adventure set in the Egypt of 1962. The story’s narrator is France Leighton, a young woman of 21, with a brand new BA in history. She accepts a position with an archaeological project more or less on a whim. Or was it her ordained destiny? Accompanied by her cello, Eudora, an inanimate friend, or perhaps a familiar, which she plays to focus her thoughts, she sets out for Egypt.

There she finds a mix of gritty reality – her position turns out to be much less important than she was led to believe – and the strange allure of Egypt’s apparently dead past. A past that, at least in her experience, isn’t as dead as one might believe. In the old tombs she experiences strange visions of the lost glory and pageantry of Egypt. Driven by naivety, curiosity, determination, and the allure of a mysterious man, France slowly becomes dangerously entwined in a hidden supernatural conflict between the old gods of Egypt, who may themselves be the plaything of even older gods.

She Who Comes Forth is suspenseful novel in the Lovecraft tradition. While it is a standalone novel, France Leighton, has ties to characters in Audrey Driscoll’s novels and stories of Herbert West that are set decades earlier and can be further explored in those books. Lovecraftian stories of mystery and horror by many authors are enjoying a renaissance these days and while I would not call this a horror story, it is a fine example of the weird and mysterious world of Lovecraft’s imagination.



She Who Returns – Audrey Driscoll B


She Who Returns is a Lovecraftian tinged adventure story, a direct sequel to Driscoll’s She Who Comes Forth. It also serves as a capstone for her Herbert West Series, that was set a generation or two prior to this story, Reading the first book, She Who Comes Forth first is strongly advised. Having read the Herbert West series would add to the depth of the story, I don’t think those books are necessary for the enjoyment of this two book series.


I have not read any Lovecraft stories, and though I have read several that draw on his lore, I can not speak to the authenticity of its Lovecraftian atmosphere. However, I don’t think you need be a Lovecraft fan to enjoy this story. The Lovecraftian elements may, however, add depths to the story. For example, the first part of the book is set in the Lovecraft New England town of Arkham and its university, Miskatonic University. Herberrt West was a Lovecraft character in a minor story or two of his, and the main character in this story is his granddaughter, if I got my genealogy right. It’s a complicated family.


This story continues the adventures of France Leighton, student of Egyptology. It is set two years after the events of the previous novel that relates her adventures during an an archaeological dig in Luxor. France is now back in the US studying at the university. Weird and supernatural things happen to France, even in Arkham, thanks to her grandfather, and an emerald ring she inherited from him. Though, to be fair, weird thing are always happening to Arkham. At any rate, there she meets her hitherto undreamed of half-brothers, and with them, gets into all sorts of trouble. Trouble that eventually leads them back to Egypt and a lot more trouble with people and the supernatural world of ancient Egypt.


She Who Returns is a face paced, very well crafted supernatural adventure story. Miss Leighton is a fearless young woman who is in and more or less out of trouble at every turn. Audrey Driscoll has steeped her story in ancient Egypt and infused it with a gritty sense of place. While I think this two book series – it is a complete series now – will appeal to all the Lovecraft and supernatural fans out there, it will also appeal to readers who enjoy books of travel, mystery and adventure.


Friday, May 20, 2022

C. Litka Audiobooks!

 

I never expected to ever be making this announcement. But here it goes. I am delighted to announce that all of my books, except A Night on Isvalar, are now available as FREE audiobooks. You are probably thinking that there must be some sort of catch to it. Audiobooks generally run $20-$30, so how can I offer mine for free? Well, there is a catch. And the catch is that they are narrated by our AI overlords, rather a human voice actor. Now I am not a “reader” of audiobooks, so I am not very qualified to judge how well “Archie,” my AI English narrator, stacks up to a human reader, but, truth be told, I am quite happy with how he reads my stories. Now, I am certain that a good human reader, who uses different voices for different characters and who can put a lot of emotion into the words when it 's called, for would be a superior narrator. However, I think that my writing style is rather laid back, and it doesn’t involve a lot of over the top emotion, so this shortcoming isn’t all that serious in my stories. You may have to pay a bit more attention to follow who is saying what, but the dialog tags in the text are still there, so it should not be a major problem. The way I look at Archie's narrative style is that it's like your dad (since I use a male voice) reading a bedtime story to you. Indeed, I’ve never been good a reading out loud. so that Archie would have done a better job at reading bedtime stories to my kids than I ever did.


So how did this all come about? Well, this is a Google beta program  that is available to ebooks published in the Google Play Store. As a beta program, the conversion from ebook to audiobook was free, though this may change in the future. Since the price was right, I decided to give it a try, even though Google suggests that it would work best for nonfiction books, without dialog and lots of emotions. I gave one book a try, and it sounded good enough to convince me not to miss this opportunity, so I converted all of my books on Google into an audio version as well. Mind you, I should have converted one book at a time and then gone over each of them to make sure everything worked out, but of course I didn’t. When I did go back over them, I discovered a number of minor glitches in the conversion that needed to be corrected. Luckily it is easy to listen to, view your audio text, and edit your audio book.


Let's look a a couple of examples. First, Google's AI automatically eliminated some of the front matter in the ebook – copyright info, dedications, and such, which is fine. But for some reason, the AI also eliminated the last chapter in two of my books! Fixing this was a simple matter of sliding a little switch on the screen, turning those sections on, so it was no big deal – just something  unexpected.

A more persistent issue is that since I am a writer of adventure stories in a science fiction universe, I use a lot of invented words for character names, place names, and other things. For the most part the AI did a very good job of reading these invented words. Being and English English reader, "Archie," my chosen AI narrator voice, may pronounce the words differently than an American would, but I'm quite cool with that. I had my choice of a dozen different narrative voices, English, American, Irish, and Indian.

That said, there were some that, for some reason, gave Archie trouble. Archie would just spell out “K-A-F” for the word “kaf”, a word I used for coffee in Sailing to Redoubt, and all I would get was static for “Batto” a name of a palm like tree in that book. However, as I said, it is edit your audio book. To fix a word's pronunciation,  you just click on a word and then select “Edit.” Now here's a "pro tip." When you do this, make certain that your browser window is opened wide enough, because the editing menu is to the right of the text box. Mine wasn't, so as a result, when I clicked on "edit" nothing seemed to happen. Once I discovered my problem, several days later, it was easy to fix these glitches. You have two choices, you can either speak the word how you want it pronounced, or you can change the spelling of the word to generate the sound you want. In the case of kaf,” all I had to do was change the spelling to "caf,” an apply that pronunciation to all instances of the word in the text.  (Which, it turned out, was  how I spelled the word in the sequel, The Prisoner of Cimlye.  Pay attention to details, Charlie!)  Batto I fixed by changing its spelling to “Bato.” 

Still, you never know. In my Nine Star Nebula stories, I have a character named “Cin,” which Archie had no problem pronouncing it as I intended; “sin.” In those books I also use the word “spaceer” for my sailors – the extra “e” is just a visual flourish and to make the term mean something special. The Archie however, pronounce it “space-e-er” Getting the correct pronunciation simply involved spelling it as “spacer” and applying it to all occurrences. One of the other changes I made, was that the narrator of The Bright Black Sea and The Lost Star’s Sea is named Wil Litang. In my head, I always pronounced “Litang” as “Lee-tang” rather than “Lih-tang” as it is spelled. I used the "li" like the modern romanization of the Chinese “Lee,” just to go along with the “Tang,” an English spelling of a Chinese dynasty. While readers can pronounce the name as they care too, I decided that my pronunciation was important enough to me to change its spelling to get my preferred pronunciation.



But enough of the minutia of producing a Google audio book. Suffice to say that I am happy with the results. And the thing is this technology will only get better and better. It is a far cry better, than the old robotic voices. And as it evolves, Google will automatically update the audiobooks to the current best technology, so that jumping on the bandwagon now seemed a no-brainer for me.

So, if you are curious to hear Archie narrate my stories, please give my audiobooks a try. I would love to hear what you think of them, and of course, I would be grateful to learn of any glitches that I have missed. You can download your copies here:

https://play.google.com/store/search?q=c%20litka&c=books&hl=en

And email me at; cmlitka@gmail.com with your thoughts or error reports. Or simply comment on this page. Thanks!