Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, November 26, 2021

Naming Characters


Hannes, a friend and beta reader of mine recently suggested this topic, and at exactly at the right time, since I was at a complete loss as to what to write about this week. The topic is, how do I choose names for my characters?

The short answer is that I stare at my keyboard for a while and pick out a starting letter, and add a few more until it sounds right. There are, however, three more personal rules that determine how a character gets a name in my mind.

My first rule is that a name should be easy for English speaking readers to pronounce. We earthlings speak many languages and in making this rule, I’m not elevating English above any other language. It is just that most, though far from all, of my readers speak English as their first language, so it makes sense for me to give my characters names that use familiar, English, letter patterns that they can easily put sounds to.

My second rule is that I want my names to be short and snappy so as to not bog down the narrative flow. The use of long and strange combinations of letters, can break the narrative voice in the reader’s mind, bringing the story’s flow to a brief halt as a reader tries to put a sound to it. I realize that strange names are often included in speculative stories to indicate a non-human character, but I don’t write aliens – at least the ones that speak. In other genres unfamiliar, non-English names, are given to indicate ethnicity, which brings me to my third rule.

My third rule is that, since most of my stories are set in the distant future and on planets long removed from contact with earth, l don’t want to give my names any strong ethnic connections. Even on the earth of my stories, those ethic distinctions have long since been lost. I will, however, include some traces of ethnic names in some of my names, though they will be short and snappy when I do.

This desire for short and snappy names often gives some of my characters names that look a bit like Chinese names. Sometimes this is deliberate, but most times, it’s just a matter of keeping them short.

Often times, the names I choose also invoke memories of characters I’ve run across in my life.

Take Wil Litang for example. Wil is short for Willie, my favorite farm dog that my grandparents owned in my distant youth. Li is the most common family name in China, and Tang is the Western name of a Chinese dynasty, so that Litang recalls China, without being exactly Chinese, Plus, the “Li” or “Le”, also gives it a French flavor if spoken out loud. The idea is to mix and match ethnic references.

Now take Naylea Cin. Cin  is a play on “sin” since she is a thief and assassin of the mercenary order of Saint Bleyth. I had toyed with the idea of finding a historical saint to name the organization after, but in the end decided against that, as it might be overplaying my hand by having an assassin working for an order named in honor of a known saint.

In the case of Sella and Lessie Kaah I choose the name of Raah as a deliberate nod to the Indian subcontinent. Lessie was my second choice for her name. I wanted to call her Lessa, so it would be Sella and Lessa, but Lessa is a significant character in another fantasy series, so after some debate, she became Lessie instead. Usually I prefer to use the more formal, family name, in my non-dialog text for each character, rather than the character’s given name, but in the case of the twins sharing the last name, it had to be their first name for both dialog and description. In Taef Lang, we have an English sounding last name, with a made-up first name. Lang is a call back to Lang, the narrator of Islandia, by Austin Tappen Wright.

Rafe GilGiles (and his younger self, Rafe d’Mere) are a homage to Jack Williamson’s poor old Giles Habibula in his The Legion of Space. Rafe is a nod to my favorite classical music composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, who preferred to be known as “Rafe.” The “Vaun” in Vaun Di Ai refers to “Vaughan” Williams.

Botts is a one name character designed to sound like “Jeeves,” the role he plays, as does that other sentient machine, “Mactavish.”

Ren Loh owes her name to a character in the Taiwanese TV series “Office Girls” with its lead female character named Xing-ren that I am very fond of.

In my first two books set in the near future, I did use names to imply ethnic backgrounds. For example, Selina Beri -- Selina comes from the story “The Twenty-first of October” by Kenneth Grahame. In it Selina is a young lady who lets her enthusiasm for the English Navy and Admiral Nelson get her into trouble. Beri is a short, English sounding, Indian family name, as her ancestors came from India, as is Hugh Gallagher’s roommate, Omar V Shinge. I used “Alasandr Say,” for my Summer in Amber narrator, as it sounded English but is actually a Russian name, as I envisioned his Russian ancestors settling in England a generation or two before. Nesta Mackenzie is Scottish, as her name implies. I came across the name “Nesta” in the delightful first chapter of Erskine Childers’s “The Riddle of the Sands.” (One of my favorite chapters in all of my reading.)

So while my choice of names does reflect past readings and interest, when it comes time to invent a character’s name, other than a leading character's name, it involves little more than staring at my keyboard and deciding on a letter to start with, and then adding a few more to finish it off. Beyond that, I can offer no science or secret to share when it comes to inventing names.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Summer In Fairacre by Miss Read


The reviewer’s bias: I prefer stories with well developed, pleasant characters. I like writing that is clever and witty – entertaining in itself. I prefer first person narratives, or close third person narratives. I dislike thinly disguised fanfic and stories with gaping plot holes.

As I mentioned in some recent posts, I read some books set in the everyday life of England of the last century by D E Stevenson and Miss Read a few decades ago. I have reviewed the Miss Buncle Books of D E Stevenson here. Along with the Stevenson books I ordered up some Miss Read books from the library. This is my review of the four books I picked up, but will focus mostly on, Summer at Fairacre.

Miss Read is the pen name of Dora Saint. Her father was a schoolmaster, and she followed in his footsteps, training as a teacher at Hometon College, Cambridge and began her teaching career in 1933 in Middlesex England. She married in 1940, and after the war occasionally worked as a teacher while she began to write about schools and country topics for magazines. Her first book, Village School, was published in 1955 and went on to write 20 books set in Fairacre, and 14 set in Thrush Green, plus a number of children’s books, several other books, and two autobiographies.

I don’t recall all the Miss Read books I read back then, but I bought my teacher wife a copy that contained her first three novels, Village School, Village Diary, and Storm in the Village, so I think I can assume I’ve read them. And I know I read a number of Thrush Green books as well. This time around, I picked up, Miss Clair Remembers, Emily Davis, Fairacre Festival (a novella), and Summer at Fairacre.

Miss Clair Remembers and Emily Davis are books of little stories that look back on the lives and teaching careers of two good friends, born in the late 1880’s. They tell stories concerning their lives from childhood to old age lived in the English countryside. In these stories Miss Read relates both the beauty of the countryside as well as the hardships and poverty of the people – especially farm workers displaced by economic changes in England at that time. These stories are told in third person, and I found it interesting that they are written more or less in real time. In Miss Clair Remembers, (1962) Miss Clair is retired and her life long friend, Emily Davis is coming to share her cottage with her. Her pending arrival brings about memories of their lives together as children and young adults as well as teachers, though in different schools. Emily Davis, written ten years later (1971) opens with the death of Emily at 80, after sharing the cottage for a decade, and brings about more memories of their life long friendship. There are a number of stories that both book share.

Fairacre Festival (1968) is a novella that relates the efforts of the people of Fairacre to raise money to fix the roof of the local church damaged by a windstorm and a fallen tree. It is told, loosely, in first person. The teacher narrator is the fictional “Miss Read.” I say loosely, as she reports on meeting and conversations that she herself did not attend, so it’s kind of an inner-third person narrative – a story related by Miss Read but often in as a remote observer. It’s a petty slight story. It is interesting that she seems to write the stories as contemporary stories, i.e. the story took place in 1968. One gets the impression that while many things have changed in the southeast English countryside, the old patterns still linger.

Summer in Fairacre (1984) is, I think, Miss Read, after 30 years of writing, is at her best. The story is in first person – Miss Read – a happy spinster, is the head teacher of the two room Fairacre school. She has a married best friend who’s on the lookout for a husband for her. The school janitor is a lady who she’s often at odds with, but recognizes that she’s good at her job, and must take the rough with the smooth. You get to meet all the other regular characters in her stories, and the trials and tribulations of the residents of Fairacre and the neighboring small town. She doesn’t turn a blind eye to the hardships of country life – persistent poverty, abusive husbands, mentally handicapped people, and such, even as she celebrates the beauty of the countryside. This story seems also to be contemporary, and she sees the end of the little school in the not too distant future.

As I mentioned, this story is written in first person, and the person, Miss Read, is a pleasant person to hang around with. She’s kind, thoughtful, has her weakness, and her wit. It makes for a pleasant read, though nothing earthshaking ever happens in the story. If you’re a writer and read the how-to-write articles and such, you’ll have been told to continually ratchet up the tension – to the point where you should even end chapters on little cliffhangers to keep people engaged – at least if you’re writing genre books. Well, this book is pretty much the anti-version of that approach. The story sort of strolls along – it has its mysteries; Miss Read’s married friend disappears for a few days – where has she gone and why? Miss Read is roped into giving a talk before an adult audience; and dreads it. Her janitor takes time off, saying she’s going to quite; who can Miss Read find to replace her? These are cliffhangers in Summer at Fairacre. You don’t read Miss Read for thrills. You read her for the quiet charm of her writing – sprinkled with wit and observations on village life in England. I’m a reader who values and enjoys, light, clever writing, more than the story it tells. So I like Miss Read’s books. If that’s your cup of tea, you might, as well.

Friday, November 12, 2021

The Miss Buncle Books by D E Stevenson


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The reviewer’s bias: I prefer stories with well developed, pleasant characters. I like writing that is clever and witty – entertaining in itself. I prefer first person narratives, or close third person narratives. I dislike thinly disguised fanfic and stories with gaping plot holes.

Not science fiction. As I have mentioned before, I like “little” stories. Stories that concern themselves with issues that, while they may gravely concern the characters, they have no consequences for the world, galaxy, or universe at large. Plus, I am somewhat of an anglophile, and find “old time” life in Britain in the first half of 20th century interesting. In pursuit of that interest I have sought out and enjoy reading light novels about life in Britain in that time period. I recognize that they may not be the most realistic presentation of that life, but since they were written as contemporary fiction at the time, I think that you do get a taste of those now long by-gone times. At one extreme of this type of stories, you have the stories of P G Wodehouse, which no one is likely to take as being anywhere close to realistic. At the other extreme, you have the darker, more literary books by Evelyn Waugh. I prefer reading books on the Wodehouse side of High Street.

Three decades ago or so, I read a number of these light novels of everyday life in Britain, including Miss Read’s Fairacre Novels and Thrush Green stories, as well as a number of books by D E Stevenson. Stevenson wrote over 40 “light romantic novels” beginning in 1923 and up to 1970. The ones I read were rather old books back when I borrowed them from the library and I figured that they would’ve been long purged from library stacks many years ago. But I was wrong. One of the blogs I follow is The Next Fifty It's blogger, Wanda, reviewed Miss Buncle Book. I commented that I was surprised to see that D E Stevenson was still being read, but I guess there is still a readership for those types of stories. Indeed it appears that at least four of them were reprinted only ten years ago or so, the Miss Buncle’s Series of four books. Intrigued, I ordered up all four books from the library, and this is the review of those four books. Having to order them up from various libraries, I read them out of order, but I don’t think it matters much in what order you read them, since the second book’s title is a spoiler for the first book…


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Miss Buncle’s Book (1934) Miss Buncle Married (1936) The Two Mrs Abbotts (1943) and The Four Graces (1946)

I don’t like spoilers, so I’ll only outline the stories briefly.

Miss Buncle’s Book tells the story of a single woman in her early 30’s (I’d guess) who lives in the house she grew up in located in the small village of Silverstream. Written during the Great Depression, Miss Buncle finds that the dividends she’s been living on no longer pays the bills. In desperation to generate an income, she decides to write a book, since everyone knows that writing a book is a certain road to fame and fortune. Trust me on that. It was either that or raising chickens. Because she believes that she has no imagination, she bases her story on the people she knows in the village – and all the things she knows and has observed about them, good and bad. She merely changes their names and the name of the village to Copperfield. In her book she describes their ordinary lives, and then has a magical “Golden Boy” come through the village who magically awakens them to their unhappiness. In the books, things happen as a result of this magical intervention.


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So much for the book. She keeps it a deep secret, and finds a publisher straight away. She publishes it under the pen name of John Smith, which is a good thing since the book becomes something of a best seller and finds its way to Silverstream. There, the inhabitants recognize themselves in the book and are up in arms about their thinly disguised portraits in it. They want to sue John Smith for libel, and failing that, horse-whip him. However, the book has much the same effect of the Golden Boy in the story. It opens their eyes, and some of the events of the book come more or less to pass, as a result. All this time Miss Buncle is living under the threat of being discovered as the author – though she’s so plain and inconsequential that no one ever suspects her. While this is all going on, she writes a sequel describing the uproar in the village as a result of this book. However, by the time this book is published Miss Buncle,  her secret now revealed, has found a love and slipped away with her new husband.

So much for the plot. The story, like all the others in this set, is written in omnipresent 3rd person, which is my least favorite style. Most of us live our lives in first person singular, and that style seems to me to be the most natural way to tell a story. I don’t like being a god and looking down on the characters as they move inevitably to their reward or doom. However, D E Stevenson’s third person is not a god, but a village nosy-parker/gossip. You get to know everyone involved. Each has their little stories woven in throughout the story. But it’s a ground level view of them, almost as if you knew them from gossip, so I didn’t mind her style at all. And well, clearly she was having fun writing this novel about a novice writer. There are lots of intricately moving parts in this story which kept me reading and looking forward to reading more of it.


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Miss Buncle Married takes up her story two years later. She and her husband move to a new little town and once again we are treated to D E Stevenson’s exploration of different types of people. The title character has matured and become more sophisticated – somewhat unconvincingly, but no matter. There are less moving parts in this book. The romance of her husband’s nephew is a prominent element of the book. It is resolved a little too neatly, in my opinion, but still the book is entertaining, if not quite up to the standard of the first one. (I read this one first, and enjoyed it, so it’s good, just not as good as the first story.)


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The Two Mrs Abbotts is set something like seven years later, in the middle of World War ll. The title characters are Barbara Abbott (nee Buncle) and the wife of her husband’s nephew, who is now away fight in the war in North Africa. In this story we get a little portrait of life during the war in England, and a variety of sub-plots. The romantic sub-plot this time around revolves around a popular romance novelist who has suddenly become disenchanted with her work, and so she takes a holiday, boarding with the younger Mrs Abbott to escape her older sister who is her agent, business manager, and publicity agent who wants her to continue writing and earning them money.


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The Four Graces shares a few characters from the last two books, but is otherwise a different story altogether. It tells the story of a vicar with four daughters in their 20’s, with a romance or two and various trials and tribulations set in the last year or so of World War ll. Once more you get to know the various characters, though fewer this time than the previous stories. This was probably my second favorite book of the set.

As I said way back in the introduction to these little reviews, I like to read this type of story to get an idea of what everyday life was like when these were contemporary stories. These books had a curious takeaway. Class. (Upper?) Middle class. Almost all the named character in these stories either employed at least one servant, and more likely more, or were servants themselves. Even the poor Miss Buncle employed her old nurse/nanny as her housekeeper, who did all the cooking and cleaning for her. Miss Buncle might potter around in her garden, but it was her old servant who did all the house work, cooking, and tea making in the house. And the same for all her associates. I am sure that there were many more people in the village, but we only get to know the class of people wealthy enough to employ servants. And these aren’t people living in country homes. They were pretty much middle class people, with husbands that worked or their widows.

Married Miss Buncle employs not only her old nanny, but a husband and wife team to keep the house and garden. And when she has her children, her old nanny is once again a nanny to her children. She spents her day visiting neighbors, going or hosting teas, and going out to dinner. She would sometimes go up to the nursery and have tea with her children. Not only was I struck by the extensive use of servants in modestly wealthy households, but eighty years later, I was also struck by the idleness of these women’s lives. Of course I don’t know how authentic a portrait of this class these books are, they are fiction, after all, but I’m sure there is some truth in them. I suspect that D E Stevenson drew on her lifestyle for her books.

One other thing struck me – her treatment of lower class Londoners, driven to the countryside by the blitz and their children. They are portrayed rather condescendingly, as dirty, lazy, ignorant, or selfish. The children, if raised properly in the countryside, could be taught to be proper domestic servants. Though, in the end, she usually gives them some good characteristics, acknowledging that they are a product of a hard life.

Clearly these books are not everyone’s cup of tea. Probably not yours. But I enjoyed them. Indeed, I’m reading some Miss Read stories now. I may review them at a later date.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Six & 1/2 Years in Self Publishing


Once again, it’s time to report my first half sales – sales from May 2021 through October 2021.

Long story short: it was a good first half of my seventh year of self-publishing thanks to sales on Google.

I released one new book, a Nine Star Nebula Mystery/Adventure series, Shadows of an Iron Kingdom, on 15 July 2021 and one novella, A Night on Isvalar, on that date as well, which I wrote for Amazon’s Vella serial fiction service. After 30 days in Vella, I was also able to release it on Amazon’s KDP platform for Kindle Unlimited. This novella is my only Amazon exclusive release. My thinking on writing and releasing A Night on Isvalar on Vella and the Kindle Unlimited was to use it as advertising for my other releases which, being mostly free and unadvertised, are likely never seen by most readers.. I don't think it worked. But we'll keep it in both services for now. On to the numbers.

My Sales Numbers

As usual, almost all of the sales are free ebooks sold through Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, and Google. My books are also available on Kobo, but they do not report free sales to Smashwords, and on Barnes & Noble which does report sales, but they don’t show up on my daily sales charts, so I don’t record those sales by the books – they’re just a rounding error anyway. In addition some books are also listed on other sites that offer free books. I don’t know how many, if any are downloaded from those sites.

Below is the chart comparing sales for this first half of my sales year to my sales last year for this period along with each books total sales to date from the companies that report sales. (Numbers are approximate. None of them ever quite match up. Very quantum.)

Book Title / Release Date

1H 2020 Sales

1 H 2021


Total Sale To date

A Summer in Amber

23 April 2015




Some Day Days

9 July 2015




The Bright Black Sea

17 Sept 2015




Castaways of the Lost Star

4 Aug 2016




The Lost Star’s Sea

13 July 2017




Beneath the Lanterns

13 Sept 2018




Sailing to Redoubt

15 March 2019




Prisoner of Cimlye

2 April 2020




Lines in the Lawn

8 June 2020





18 Sept 2020




The Secret of the Tzaritsa Moon

11 Nov 2020




The Secrets of Valsummer House

18 March 2021




Shadows of an Iron Kingdom*

15 July 2021




A Night on Isvalar*

15 July 2021

(Amazon only – all $ sales only)




Total Six Month Sales

* New releases.




Sales at this point 2020:


12 month Sales:


Comparing last year with this year, my my sales split between Amazon, Google, and Smashwords (including sales on Apple and B & N) works out like this for last year (2020):

Amazon 35%

Smashwords (Apple & B & N) 39%

Google 26%

This year in this time period the split looks like this:

Amazon 32%

Smashwords (Apple, & B & N) 18%

Google 50%

First the numbers. It was a good first half of the year. I more than doubled my sales compared to last year, helped in part by four additional books for sale. This total exceeds my record 2019 sales for this period which came in at 4,590 copies. Thanks to a surge in sales on Google, I moved 968 books in September and 1,236 books in October. Can't complain, but for both the monthly totals and the half year totals, it is important to keep in mind that this period has six more books for sale than I hand in the 2019 period. And I have to also point out that in the months after the release of my 4th book, Castaways of the Lost star in 2016, I sold 838 the first month and 1,324 books the next, and with the release of The Lost Star's Sea, in 2017 I sold 1,205 that month and 831 the next. These days I have 11 books for sale and my monthly sales are similar to what they were when I was selling three or four books. As I've been saying for some time, it gets harder every year to sell books that are not precisely targeted and effectively advertised. Looking at the numbers it is also clear that my newer books, the Nine Star Nebula Mystery/Adventure stories in particular are carrying us along, especially on Google. Their numbers are being held back somewhat because they are not free on Amazon US.

Significant trends

The headline news of my first fiscal half of the year is the performance of Google’s Play Store Books, especially in September and October this year. Below is a chart of my Google sales for the last three years. As you can see, sales grew slowly for the first two years, started to takeoff at the start of 2021 and exploded in September and October.

I have no explanation for this phenomena. Looking at the Play Store, I can see no reason for this jump in sales. None of the books are in the top 100 free, and when you go to the genre listing for science fiction, many of the categories are simply jokes, filled with a strange collection of books that have nothing to do with the supposed sub-genre. How readers find my books, or any book, is a mystery to me, save that if they do find one and like it, they can search for the others. I don’t expect this level of sales to continue, but I think it is clear that Google will continue to be a major contributor to my sales going forward.

Smashwords, on the other hand, continues to fade as a source of sales. New releases goose sales for a month or so, but even these peaks are ½ to 1/3 what they were in the 2015-2017 period. Once the peak is a month or so behind us, sales drop to less than 150 books a month. Below is an incomplete chart from 2018 to date. Smashwords changed their storefront in January 2020 and my sales jumped and continued to sell well, until one day in October.. On the 6 October, something at Smashwords abruptly changed. I had no sales for that day, and when they resumed they were less than half of what they had been, and have continued that trend to the point where I sell as many books on Apple some months as I do on Smashwords. In the chart below you can see the spikes when I release a new book, which, as I mentioned are much reduced since the happy days of 2015 & 16.

Amazon is always a wild card. It is feast or famine. Amazon monthly sales in this period ranged from a high of 328 to a low of 130. As you can see for the 90 day chart below, you can go for a month with sales ranging from 0 to 10 copies a day and then get 50 sales in one day for no apparent reason.

Looking Ahead

I’m hoping to publish a new Nine Star Mystery/Adventure story in February or March of 2022. I would like to write a longer, more ambitious novel after that, but then, I just spent a fruitless summer trying and failing to come up with just that, so we’ll have to see how that goes. New books drive sales, and without new books, sales languish, so it is hard to predict what lies ahead.

In addition, there are several wild cards in play. The first is that I entered A Summer in Amber in the Self Published Science Fiction Contest. Depending on how far it goes and how well or poorly it is reviewed, the contest might generate interest and increased sales for it and my other titles as well. Plus, next spring I expect to enter Beneath the Lanterns in a similar Self Published Fantasy Blog Off contest, though any results from that contest are likely 18 months down the road. Finally, I am also toying with the idea of spending some money promoting my books next year as well, but more on that after the first of the year.

Summing It All Up

I’m very happy with the way sales are going, though the future, as always, is up in the air.