Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Aerie of a Pirate Prince Release Date: Sept. 29th 2022


The fourth installment of the Nine Star Nebula Mystery/Adventure series featuring the adventures of Rafe d'Mere is set to be released on 29 September 2022. It will be a free ebook on Apple, Smashwords, B & N, Kobo, and Google, and cost $1.99 on Amazon. The paperback book will we available on Amazon for $7.99 and the free audio version will be available on the Google Play Store.

It is always the captain’s fault. So when a shipping container is offloaded to the wrong lighter – hijacked by the local crime syndicate – Captain Sing of the Rendezvous Moon knew she’s be blamed, even though they had followed all the proper procedures. She had no intention of being blamed. She intended to track the hijacked container down. Red Tew, her chief engineer, volunteered to accompany her as “muscle” and invited Rafe d’Mere to tag along as well, since he was an old hand at dealing with the pirate princes of the Alatzian System. Because he was an old hand in dealing with the pirate princes of the Alantzia, Rafe had no desire to have anything to do with pirate princes. But what could he say, but “I suppose so,” when invited along?

Captain Sing, Tew, d’Mere and his companion the crow Kee head down to Teire to locate the cargo container before its contents can be broken up and sent on the lawless drifts. There they are joined by an equally determined Lasha Nin, the office manager of the actual owner of the cargo. Together they trace the cargo through the busy space port of Teire, to the annoyance of the pirate prince behind the theft. Before he knows it, d’Mere is once again looking down the barrel of a pirate prince’s darter. Pirate princes play for keeps.

The Aerie of a Pirate Prince is a 40,600 word long story – either a long novella or a short novel.

C. Litka writes old fashioned stories with modern sensibilities, humor, and romance. He spins tales of adventure, mystery, and travel set in richly imagined worlds, with casts of colorful, fully realized characters. If you seek to escape your everyday life, you will not find better company, nor more wonderful worlds to travel and explore, than in the stories of C. Litka.





Friday, September 23, 2022

Ship of Magic Review

 


Ship of Magic (The Liveship Traders Trilogy Book 1) by Robin Hobb DNF (44%)

I must confess that I am no great fan of fantasy, despite the fact that I seem to have been reviewing a lot of fantasy recently. Blame that on the fact that TOR keeps offering me free ebooks, many of which are fantasy. In the case of this book, however, I picked it up from the library because Robin Hobbs is a very highly regarded writer, and this book in particular, because I like books about the sea.

Please note that in general my favorite books are written in first person, character focused, and are straight ahead narrative adventures. I enjoy clever, witty, writing that is in itself enjoyable. What I don’t like… well, I’ll go into that with the Ship of Magic.

Be careful what you wish for, since wishes sometimes come true. As I said above, I like character focused stories. Ship of Magic is a very, very character focused story. So much so that it seemed more like a character study, a tableau rather than a story. I am certain that there’s a story somewhere in the deep weeds of the world building much of which is accomplished by the international dialog of her cast of characters. However, I lost patience trying to find anything more than a slight, slow wisp of it as it crept along. The fact that I stuck with this story for 44% of it – and it’s a big book – is a testament to my hope of eventually finding the story. However, when I realized how much I was skim-reading this book, I gave up. If I ever find that I care enough, I’ll look it up on its Wikipedia entry. I haven’t so far.

Remember what I said about liking first person narratives – well this an omnipresent third person narrative. I generally don’t mind close third person narratives, but most omnipresent ones turn me off. In this story we weren’t god-like beings following the movement of characters like chess pieces from a remote height, instead we are treated to the internal thoughts of at least six characters. There are the sea serpents – for some reason. And then there’s Captain Hook ,and his pirate in the story. Well, his name isn’t Hook and he’s sans-hook, but having said that, he’s Captain Hook in every other respect, and the best character of the lot, despite being despicable. We are also treated to the  internal soliloquies, endless family worries, and arguments of the shipowner/trader family who are the central characters of the story. As well those of some magical ships. Perhaps, if you have read other books in Hobb’s fantasy world, all the world-building going on in the minds and memories might mean a trip down memory lane for you, but for me, this being the first Hobb book, I found it tedious. In short, if you find family arguments fascinating, then this book is for you. If you like mean people, you’ll like this book as well.

My other great complaint is that I hate when authors slice and dice their stories, and /or jump from one story to another within the book. Here we have a sea-serpent story – I paid no attention to it. We have Captain Hook’s’ story. We have the shipowner family's various stories, with at least five members having their own story arcs as well, all of which are sliced, diced, and intertwined, sometimes within chapters. And more story threads seemed in the offing when I called it a day. Too many "main" characters to follow made it impossible for me to latch on to anyone of them, or to care about any of them. I realize that I’m in the minority here, for this is the current fashion of storytelling, so you, dear reader, might find this a plus.

As for the writing itself, well, she is rightly considered a master. She is a very easy and colorful read. However, early on I found that her use of similes and/or metaphor had me rolling my eyes and knocking me out of the story. For example; “Her breasts surged against her dress like seas threatening to swamp the gunwales of a boat.” Or take; “...the Divvytown lagoon harbor had all the beckoning charm of an unemptied chamber pot.” Or try this one on for size: “Coming to Divvytown was, he reflected, rather like being towed to dock in the musk and stench of a slave’s armpit.” They struck me as straight out of a creative writing 101 course assignment. I noticed fewer of them as I went along – but then I was skim-reading more and more as I went along so I may have missed them. Another reviewer said of another of her books that he while enjoyed reading the first half of the book, he realized that nothing much had happened. I think that sums it up. If you like her writing – and except for those similes or metaphors noted above, I have no complaints what so ever, and if you like being someone’s mind as they turn problems and worries over and over in their thoughts – which I don’t – you’ll probably love this book. I wish I could. But no. And if I didn’t know it before, fantasy isn’t for me.


Friday, September 16, 2022

September Update

 

I have nothing exciting to write about this week, but that’s never stopped me before. So here we go. I think I will use this installment to update you on how things stand with The Girl on the Kerb. It was submitted it to the British SF publisher Gollancz in June. I don’t expect to hear back from them until sometime in the first half of 2023. In the meanwhile, I am sending letters to agents to see if they would like to represent this book to publishers.

I sent out 4 email queries on the first of July. To date I have received a rejection email on 27 July and another on 7 Sept. I have not heard from two others, but I think I can write those off as well.

On the 1st of August I sent out four more queries. I have received one form letter email rejection on 13 Sept. with three outstanding.

On the 1st of September I sent out four more. I received one form letter email rejection on 6 Sept, with the other 3 still outstanding.

That’s 4 confirmed rejections, 2 likely, and six still outstanding. I have enough names on my list of agents to keep at this for another 3 months, which will take me to December, after which I will likely call it a day.

However, while I am waiting, I’ve been tinkering with, and hopefully improving the story. Several reviews have mentioned that my ending was too abrupt. This maybe, in part, because I like to keep my endings open for sequels. Life goes on, but now off stage. I, don’t do happily ever after endings.  However, in the case of The Girl on the Kerb, I wanted to keep the story going long enough after the story's McGuffin  – the thing that drives the plot – is resolved in order to make it clear that it is the characters that I care about, not the McGuffin that I use to structure their story. This is true for all my stories. So in tinkering, I added 6,500 words to the last quarter of the book to show that life goes on after the McGuffin that brought the characters together. Though the ending, as always, is still open ended.

Now I’m reading through it yet again on my ebook reader to catch typos and to straighten up all the awkward sentences as I come across them. Hopefully by next week I will be completely comfortable with the story.

In other news: I hope to release The Aerie of a Pirate Prince either next week or the week after. And I have started a new story, Zar Lada, Taef Lang, and the Island of the Slumbering God. That’s my tongue in cheek working title of it. It takes up the story of Taef Lang, Lessie and Sella Rah, and Carz Fel where we left them at the end of The Prisoner of Cimlye. I’ll be happy with a novella. But to be honest, the story is still very vague in my mind, so I can’t guarantee that it will actually see the light of day.

Coming soon!





Friday, September 9, 2022

Shadows of Self Review

 


Shadows of Self A Mistborn Novel by Brandon Sanderson   D

A “D” is not an official grade, since I usually don’t actually finish bad books. As I said in my review of The Alloy of Law, I wasn’t planning on reading this installment, but TOR gave this one away for free as well (promoting the 4th and final book of this series coming out in November) and somewhere I heard that Steris, Wax’s fiancee, and potentially the series' most interesting character, had a larger role to play in this book, so I kept reading on and on, long after I would have DNF’ed the book, only to discover that she didn’t anything more than a bit part again. I expect to get the third book in the series for free as well, but fool me twice... In any event, the review…

Waxillium Ladrain, “Wax” is superhero, with (magic) super powers. He's Batman with six-shooters, a shotgun, and a mistcoat instead of a cape, which is to say a semi-official vigilante, who goes around shooting bad guys bringing law and order to the city. This time the big bad gal is a shape-shifting demi-god gone “insane” who wants to free the citizens of the city from the manipulations of the local god, by stirring them into a frenzy of rioting by killing certain important people. Wax runs around trying to stop her, with the help of Miss-Goody-two-shoes, that is to say Marasi, his adoring fan, now a police officer, and his comic sidekick Wayne.

As I said in my review of The Alloy of Law, this is a superhero comic book without pictures. Sanderson tries to give Wax some depths as a character, having him reflect on what is is, and fails. Wax yam what he yam, and that’s an outback gunslinger lawman in a big city who is really good at shooting bad guys. I ended up skimming long stretches of this book as it drags on, and on. And on, setting up a killings or a superpower brawl every now and again.

Not having read the first three book series in the Mistborn books, I can’t say if the gods and demi-gods in this story appear in those books. If so, perhaps that is the appeal of this book to Sanderson’s fans. But they meant nothing and added nothing, beyond their roles in the story for me. There is a silly twist at the end that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but I won’t spoil for you, dear reader, if after reading this review, you are eager to read it.

Long story short, Glen Cook’s “Garrett PI” featuring a private eye for hire, explores a variety of mysteries that sometimes touch on a similar theme as this story. And like in this story, he, with his various friends, must solve, and defeat the villains and without shooting dozens of people. (There are no guns in the story, despite the cover illustration.) Cook’s stories, however, featuring far more entertaining characters, are mostly set in TunFaire, a far more colorful city, and are written in a far more colorful and entertaining style. My advice; give this series a miss, and read Glen Cook’s Garrett PI stories. (In order, if you can.)




Friday, September 2, 2022

The New Paperback Versions

 

The new collection

Nothing too pressing to report this week. The big news was that copies of my new paperback editions arrived. This redo of my paper books involved giving them all new covers with a standard design across the range, though not necessarily new artwork and a new, smaller size. I've posted about the inspirations and design process here: New Book Covers Again and show the full cover results here:  https: New Book Covers. To quickly recap, I am thinking about ways to get my paper books into stores, and I wanted them to be what I think is a more typical size for trade paperbacks, 5.25 x 8" rather than my old size of 6 x 9" and I wanted matte covers like all the cool kids rather than the glossy ones I had previously used. Amazon will not let you change size or cover texture on published books -- it may be part of the bar code describing the product. In order to offer a new size I had to re-do all the books from scratch and unpublished the old versions.


New cover art for the Bright Black Sea, though in fact I used the art from the first version of this book for the new cover. Because of the size of this book, and that of The Lost Star's Sea, with the significant downsizing of the page area, the font size had to be reduced to what you usually find on a mass market paperback. The alternative would have been to break each of the books down into three volumes. For The Bright Black Sea this would be no problem, since it was written as three books. It would be more problematical for The Lost Star's Sea as that was written as a series of novella length episodes. I decided against it for now, as it would most likely just create confusion.



Above are two samples that kept the same artwork, but I found it interesting how I framed the artwork differently between the two editions. I guess there is no right way. 

I am quite happy with these new editions. I like the matte cover, it has a velvety feel to it while still offering vibrant colors, which was my main concern. I like the new size, and I like the uniformity of design. I had abandoned that uniformity over the last couple of years, but I'm happy to go back to it. My old argument was that is was for "branding" purposes i.e. you knew a C. Litka book when you saw it. And I'm now back to that argument. The refrain one hears is that covers sell the book. That may be the case, but I've changed covers often enough over the last seven years, including new artwork, and have never seen any difference in sales. Your cover has to be seen for it to make a difference, and in publishing these days, being seen is the big challenge. Covers don't make a difference if they are not seen. My next challenge is to get my books seen. I'm working on that.




Friday, August 26, 2022

A Tale of Two Covers

I do my own covers. Not being an illustrator, I simply settle mostly for mood. For the last few years I’ve put painting off to one side, as I found that I had run out of new ideas on what and how to paint. However, I want to get back into painting, so I decided to paint the cover for The Girl on the Kerb on the off chance that it won’t be picked up by a major publisher. Below is my pencil sketch for the paperback cover. I should note that this cover scene was decided on while the book title was still The Road to Eura. It is a scene from early in the story. I will probably have to rethink my cover with the new title.


Sorry about the quality of these photos, but it is hard to capture a faint pencil line. Also note that this is for the paper version, so I’ve done a quick mock up of how it would work out.



After sketching it, it took me several weeks to get around to actually painting. And then, I just did the sky with the three remaining towers of London’s Solar Age in the distance. A week or so later I worked in some details in the middle ground to arrive at the painting below.


At this point I realized that I was in trouble. This piece was falling into the uncanny valley of where it looked like I was trying to paint realistically, and failing badly. This is always the great danger of impressionism. You have to make certain that your viewers realize that you’re trying to paint without regard for realism. It’s loose and sloppy on purpose. The problem for me is always the middle distance. I try to paint scenes that include only the foreground and a background, That middle distance, where things get gradually smaller and less detailed is something I am terrible at. And here we had that middle distance in the receding buildings and tram. To eliminate as much of that as possible, I planned to bring the tram into the foreground. You can see the pencil sketch over the smaller version. And I hoped that the bare trees would cover up most the middle buildings.



A week or two later, I had a rainy Saturday on my hands, so I decided to tackle the painting for real. Now, I should say that a lot of what your are seeing is just roughed in, nothing was be final. Even so, I saw that I was in way over my head. And moreover, whatever I could salvage from this, would be so far from my original vision – as vague as it was -- that it wasn't what I wanted.. It just wasn't going to work. I tossed in my brushes and called it day on that painting.  

However, since I had a much more immediate cover to paint, one for The Aerie of a Pirate Prince, I decided to tackle that cover by painting over this one. The scene I had in mind for that cover was much more in my wheelhouse. Below is the painting I came up with. This is the work of a couple of hours.


The scene is set on the rim of a large crater. The sun is setting behind us, illuminating the opposite crater rim. Mostly out of sight beyond the curve of the hill is a space port that is surrounded by warehouses. We have a rocket taking off on the right from the nearest section of the spaceport. The building in the foreground are small shops that repair containers, small ships boats, and such. Our two heroes are following a suspect who knows where the stolen goods have been taken.

Below is the final version for the paper back book after I worked on it in the photoshop style app, Gimp. I adjusted the color and contrast. added slight black outlines around brush strokes and made the rocket taking off brighter.



I will make the final version a little lighter than this one looks to be. I have to add the blurb in the box on the back cover as well. Long story short, I did end up with a useable cover, just not for the book I started to paint for. With the current title of The Girl on the Kerb, I almost have to paint the girl on the kerb for the cover... But I have time to work on that. In any event, look for the release of The Aerie of a Pirate Prince in the last half of September or early October.






Friday, August 19, 2022

The Girl on the Kerb

 

I thought I’d do a quick update on the novel I have out for submission and am looking for an agent to represent it. I emailed out query letters, as they’re called, on the first of July to four agents, and four more on the first of August. To date, I’ve received one rejection email from the July batch. I’ve not heard from the other three, however, not hearing from agents is a common way of signaling rejection. It is a little bit early to expect anything from the four August agents. In short, no surprises here.

What is new, is that I’ve decided to change the title of the novel, from The Road to Eura to The Girl on the Kerb. This may strike you as a big change, and in a way it is. Not that the book changes any, but the way I’m going to market it going forward changes. And perhaps in the way I’m looking at.

Right off the bat, I have to say that I know that “The Girl….” has been a big thing in publishing for years, and adopting the formula, this late it that game, can be seen as either naive, desperate, or cynical. However, I’m doing it because, a) it actually is as descriptive of a story as the old title was, and b) I am poking a little fun at the publishing business, with this copy-cat title. Not that they’ll get it, of course, but I’m telling you that I’m well aware of how unoriginal it is, so it’s our inside joke.

However, we have to keep in mind that I’m trying to sell this story. To sell a book, you have to write a story that agents and editors believe will sell. For many writers this means looking at the books that are being published now, but which were actually purchased a year or two before. Editors may be still buying those types of stories, or they may have moved on. If you have an agent, you can probably get a good idea where the market is going, but if you don’t, it a crap shot. A crap shot I didn’t bother to roll when I wrote this story. As always, I wrote the story I felt like writing, the way I felt like writing it. Which makes it an almost impossible story to sell, because I know that I don’t write stories the way they write, and sell them, today. Heck, that's why I started writing my own stories. My only hope of selling The Girl on the Kerb is to present it as one of those outliers, a unique book that could strike it big. Or not. That, anyway is my approach going forward. And the title, The Girl on the Kerb, represents this new approach to marketing the story.

While the story is set on Earth in the distant future, that is about the extent of its science fiction-ness. I often use science fiction settings merely as an excuse to write an old-time adventure story that allows me to have a free hand to create the world and the way it works, without having to fit it into our known history. Or do the necessary research to fit it into our known world. This novel is no different. The technology in use is little more than what we are using today, and society is very much pre-1950. I have described it as speculative fiction, but I might even drop that classification in the future, and consider it just a lighthearted novel.





Friday, August 12, 2022

Coming This Fall -- The Aerie of a Pirate Prince

A new Nine Star Nebula Mystery/Adventure is coming this fall! I have completed the first draft of The Aerie of a Pirate Prince earlier this week. It has been a long journey.

I started writing this story on 1 November, 2021. By 17 November I was 16,000 words into it. Nearly a 1,00 words a day – a nice steady clip. However by 29 November, I had added only a thousand more words. While I had a beginning written, and an ending in mind, I realized that I was going to need something like 25-30,000 more words to fill in between the beginning and the planed ending, which I had not thought about. At least if I wanted it to be a novel. And I did. So I needed to dream up a long middle series of adventures before continuing on. Faced with this prospect, I paused writing to dream these up. However, the was another reason as well. I really wanted to write a new long, real novel. I had spent all summer trying and failing to come up with one, but I had now the inklings of how I could combine several stories to make one. So I spent the months of December and January dreaming up The Road to Eura, and began to write it on 26 January, finishing the first draft on 27 May.

After finishing the beta version of The Road to Eura, and sent it out to a traditional publisher for consideration,  I returned to The Aerie of a Pirate Prince on 20 June. Realizing that the story I had in mind, was basically a novella, and that padding it to make it a novel was probably not a good idea I'm now content to publish it as a novella. Plus, if I'm to publish a book in 2022, this was likely it. The good thing is that you only need a beginning and ending for novellas.

As it turns out, my first draft weighs in at 38,800 words, which is just 1,200 words shy of a “novel” length story, for SF anyway. And given that I usually add words rather than trim them in my second and third drafts, it is possible that The Aerie of a Pirate Prince will end up a very short novel rather than a very long novella. Not that it really matters.

So what is The Aerie of a Pirate Prince about?

Rafe d’Mere and his feathered friend, Kee, return once again. The story is set three and a half years after the events recounted in Shadows Over an Iron Kingdom. d’Mere has been living the life he had originally set out to do – touring the planets of the Alantzia system at his leisure. When he tires of a planet, he signs onboard a ship as a limited time systems’ mate. The story opens with d’Mere aboard Captain Felle Sing’s Rendezvous Moon with his old pal, Chief Engineer Red Tew aboard. In Teire orbit they discover that one of the containers they off-loaded was off-loaded to the wrong lighter, though the lighter had supplied all the correct ID codes to collect the box. In short it had been hijacked. But due to an unexpected event, the original consignee learned of it arrival far sooner than what the hijackers had arranged. So, with only a four hour lead, Captain Sing, and the consignee’s office manager, Lasha Nin, are determined to track the stolen merchandise before it can be reloaded into another contain and sent off to the drifts. Red Tew volunteers to assist Captain Sing, and then volunteers d’Mere as well, pointing out that d’Mere’s an old hand at dealing with pirate princes. So once again, d’Mere is dragged into dealing with yet another ruthless pirate prince.




Friday, August 5, 2022

The Alloy of Law Review

 


The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson – C

This is the 4th book in the Mistborn fantasy series, and the first to go under the title of the Wax and Wayne books. There are currently two other books in this series, with the last one on the way. The stories in this series are set 300 years after the original Mistborn trilogy. They feature a cowboy-like gunslinger/lawman Waxillium Ladrain, and his sidekick Wayne. The setting up has a wild west lawman inherit a title and an estate. He returns to an early 20th century type city, with some things like the beginning of electric lights and motor cars. There, he gets drawn into investigating a series of mysterious robberies.

I received this copy, like the other Sanderson title, from TOR for free. This time, no doubt to promote the release of the 4th and last book in the Wax and Wayne series in November 2022.*

I did not get very far into Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, but this book was different enough for me to to finish it. It tells a less epic and more lighthearted story, which I much prefer, and features some likable characters – if you ignore the fact that Sanderson has them killing “bad guys” rather freely. Indeed, the story started out as a C+ story with potential, but lost points as it went along, for that and one related reason. That reason is that this read like a superhero comic book without the pictures. Some 30 years ago I started following some Marvel superhero comics. But that phase didn’t last all that long, as I soon grew tired of the formula: set up a conflict, stage an elaborate barroom fistfight with superpowers, leave it hanging in the balance. Resolve that cliffhanger in the next issue, set up the next reason for the next barroom fistfight with superpowers, rinse and repeat. Alloy of Law is something like those comics. It definitely is a superhero story.

Wax, Wayne, and the villain are superhero type characters in that each has different superhuman powers. Oh, Sanderson has devised an elaborate system of magic to explain these powers, but stripped of that terminology they're just like your typical collection of superheroes. The story, as I mentioned is something of a mystery, but like the comics, it usually served to set up the next superpower brawl, some of  which are so elaborate that they are spread over several chapters. Remember the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, since there are no pictures in this book, every panel of a theoretical The Alloy of Law comic book gets its thousand words. Or more. So if detailed descriptions of fights with flying people, time bubbles, and regeneration is your jam, you will likely enjoy this book. And given the popularity of Marvel movies it seems like that people do enjoy these elaborate superpower fistfights, so, if you are one of them, and can picture this type of action in your head, I dare say you will like The Alloy of Law. Even I got through the book, and while I could’ve stopped reading once I got tired of all the extended brawls, I kept on – if only because I’d have nothing to write about this week if it wasn’t The Alloy of Law.

Will I go on and read more in this series? I rather doubt it. It had an interesting world to explore, but Sanderson spent way too much time choreographing fight scenes for my taste. And heroes who shot a couple dozen people dead -- even "bad guys"  without remorse, are not really my idea of heroes.

*23 August 2022 Update; Well, TOR offered me a free ebook copy of the next one in the series -- Shadows of Self -- so I guess I'll give it a read. I wonder if they'll be giving away the third book as well? Stay turned.

Friday, July 29, 2022

River of Stars & A Psalm for the Wild-Built Reviews

Well, that was last week, this is this week in book reading. Last week it was books written in 1922 and 1959. This week we have books written in 2013 and 2021. And what a difference it makes. The 2013 book was Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars, a fantasy set in a make-believe China, and Becky Chambers’ 2021 novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, which TOR sent to me for free to promote its sequel. The differences between the two week’s readings are quite striking.



River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay -- DNF (13%)

Note: I believe I read this book 6 or 7 years ago, since some of the scenes I read seemed familiar and I know that I read his first book in this setting, Under Heaven. Obviously, I don’t remember if I finished it, or not, back then. However, I forget books quickly, so that not clearly remembering if I read it only means that it wasn’t one of my rare memorable books.

Well, I didn’t finish it this time. I found it to be a mess, in some of the same way as the other Kay book I attempted to read back in April, Children of Earth and Sky was. Only in more ways. 

Kay writes fantasies set in knock-off historical settings, in this book in 13th century China. In both books, he introduces a lot of disposable point of view characters, tosses in a lot of rather disjointed history, and skips ahead in time briskly -- at least the beginnings. In this book, the first 13% of the book covers maybe three, four, or more years between the scattered incidents he relates. Who knows? As I said in my review of Children of Earth and Sky, I have no doubt that he will tie at least some of the point of view characters together at some point. But due to their brief, disjointed appearances, I didn’t have the time to come to care about them, and so I had no interest in learning about their future lives. 

One of the YouTube booktubers maintains that Kay is the best living fantasy writer. Other readers have praised his writing as well. I’ve read so little fantasy that I can’t comment on that. What I can say is that, I didn’t see what I consider great writing in this piece. I found his sentence structure rather ill-elegant at times. His info-dumping, which he does a lot of, was disjointed and hard to follow. Sometimes he was writing in present tense, sometimes not, and he even included a passage from long after the events of the book. In short, the writing was all over the place. The YouTube fellow suggested that he was experimenting with style at this period, which may well be the case. It didn’t work for me, nor, I gather, for him as well.

My bottom line; I didn’t really get much sense of ancient China from the portion of the book I read. I have read a fair amount on China, and watched a lot of their historical fiction/fantasy TV series, so I have my own feel for China, a feeling that was missing in the portion I read. I greatly dislike the use of assorted viewpoint characters who are not on stage long enough to care about. I can’t help but think that when authors break their stories into little pieces like this, they lack the confidence in the strength of their story, and so they make it into an intellectual puzzle instead. No doubt I am wrong. Still, I like stories that unfold like real life stories do in our real lives, not viewed from the eyes of a god, or as an artifact of creative writing. That’s just me.



A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers – C

This is a novella length story is set on a moon whose industrial expansion almost destroyed its ecology. However, at some point the machines that were running the factories gained sentience, and were given their freedom, leaving human society behind. This event wrought a great changes in the society, resulting in the closing of the factories and society became much more pastoral, thus saving the moon’s environment. The story concerns a religious person named Sibling Dex who, dissatisfied with life in a monastery, decides to become a tea monk. This mission involved living a roving life, making the rounds of villages with a wagon pulled by an electric bike. In the villages Dex offers tea and comfort to people who in need a bit of both. After some years, Dex grows dissatisfied with this life as well. Wanting something more, but not knowing what, Dex sets out, on a whim, for a long abandoned monastic retreat. On the road Dex meets one of the free living robots, Splendid Speckled Mosscap, who has been tasked with seeing how the humans are faring since the sentient machines went their own way. What follows is a story of how Dex and Mosscap eventually form a friendship, despite Dex’s initial misgivings.

And what follows from that meeting and their growing discovery of each other is a philosophical exploration of… Now there you have me. I have discovered that I am not a deep thinker. I am content with the sparkling sea, with little interest or appreciation of  the depths which lie beneath the waves. And so while the two discussed many various things, my interest and attention waned. You may well find their discussions quite enlightening.

Becky Chambers writes the type of stories I should like. Which is to say that she writes stories with pleasant characters in smaller settings where the universe is in no danger. I finished this story – which is more than I can say for the first book of hers I tried, A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but I can’t say I was enthralled by it. It was too simple and moved too slowly even for me. And while I did finish the story I don’t think I’ll be reading is sequel.

UPDATE Won the 2022 Hugo Award for best Novella. Go figure.






Friday, July 22, 2022

Love on a Branch Line & Fair Harbor Reviews

 

Love on a Branch Line by John Hadfield – B+

The story behind this book begins with a video on YouTube I recently started watching called “Eccentric British Comedy – parts 1 &2”( that you can find here.), and really enjoyed it – it seemed right up my alley. I stopped, oh, some 40 minutes into the show to figure out what it was I was actually watching, as the title went by without me taking much notice of it. It was Love on a Branch Line, and googling it, I discovered that it was a 1994 BBC mini-series based on a book by the same name. I googled the book, looked at its Goodreads ratings, and since P G Wodehous “enjoyed it enormously,” I decided to hold off watching the remaining hours of the TV show so I could read the book it was based on. Passing up some US paperbacks, I found the hardcover copy, the cover of which is above, at a British bookshop via ABE Books and ordered it – $20 with shipping. Well, you can’t take it with you or send it on ahead.

Love on a Branch Line is a light, humorous novel set in the English countryside of 1957. Our bureaucrat narrator. Jasper Pye, overhears his girl friend telling someone at a party that “Jasper is a bore.” Stung by this remark, he decides to quite his position to go to Paris and paint. However, he finds that his boss is sending him to investigate a remote branch of their Ministry of Information called “Output Statistics” which had been established during World War ll  in a country house on the border of Suffolk and Norfolk. Since then it had more or less been overlooked. However, with budget cuts looming, his boss wants to close that branch and Pye’s report will facilitate that. Plus, it will get Pye out of the office – it being a fresh situation, since, according to his boss, they all run the very real risk “of becoming a bit of a bore.” This comment is enough to send Pye on his way to Arcady Hall.

At Arcady Hall we meet a fine cast of eccentric English characters, from the lord of the manner who bought the four mile branch line bordering his estate when it was abandoned and now lives on the train that travels back and forth each day, with one of his daughter driving it while he dines and listens to old jazz recordings on his gramophone. We meet his three daughters, each either sweet or strange, or both, the pompous Professor who runs the Office and looks after Arcady Hall as if it was his own, along with an assistant deeply into cricket, and a secretary, plus various other local “characters.” Pye finds that he’s rather fallen down a strange rabbit hole – to a place where people don’t find him a bore. And so, over the course of a long weekend, he kisses and makes love to some of the daughters, plays some cricket, and undertakes various duties at the village fete for “fallen women.”

While the writing might not quite be up to Wodehouse’s, the story is sweet and strange, and nostalgic, probably even when it was written in 1959 – a story set in the long lost never-never-land of the English countryside. For a fan of Wodehouse, Miss Read, and D E Stevenson, it is a story, as I said, right up my alley. So now, I have the BBC mini-series to finish. What I saw of it was very faithful to the book, so I have high hopes.

As it turned out, I read two books this week, since Love on a Branch Line arrived from England far earlier than I had expected. Here is the first book I read.

Fair Harbor by Joseph C Lincoln – B+

I don’t like to travel, but I do like to visit places virtually. I’ve traveled (virtually) all over Europe in the cabs of trains with videos posted on YouTube. Books will take me to places as well. And I think each summer, I get the urge to visit Cape Code. And the author that takes me there, across a thousand miles and a century or more is Joe Lincoln. I’ve already posted a blog post about my collection of Joe Lincoln books here. So I won’t say more than this summer I visited Cape Code in the form of his 1922 novel Fair Harbor – for perhaps the third time.

 It is one of his better ones, with all sorts of “characters” – which are a hallmark of his writing. The story concerns a disabled sea captain who is talked into overseeing a home for the widows and the unmarried sisters of mariners, in order to preserve the home from the recently widowed husband of the home’s founder. The judge who oversees the operation of the home is now close to death and fears that after spending his late wife's fortune and now likely destitute the widowed husband will seek to spend the endowment that pays for this home .He wants someone like Captain Kendrick in charge to prevent this from happening. The home is managed by a widow, though her daughter, the love interest, is the person who does all the real work looking after the place and residents. We meet the lady inhabitants of Fair Harbor, Judah, one of his old sea-cooks who’s always singing sea chanteys, the smooth-talking widower, and a host of other citizens of Cape Code in the 1870’s over the course of the story that winds its way to a happy ending, as all Joe Lincoln books do.

I like small stories of everyday life in another time and place laced with romance and humor. I read for escape, and when summer rolls around, its to a quint, long gone Cape Code that I like to spend some hours visiting – and revisiting.   

Long story short, it was a good week for reading, having read two books that suit my taste very well this week.


Friday, July 15, 2022

What's Next & When

It has been a year since I published anything, though not for a lack of trying. Last fall, after spending all summer trying and failing to come up with a new stand alone novel, I turned to writing a sequel novella to Kieree and then a new Nine Star Nebula Mystery/Adventure. I got a few thousand words into the Kieree sequel, Sian, and something like 17,000 words into the new Rafe D’Mere and Kee’s story The Aerie of a Pirate Prince. But finished neither.

In the Guy & Molly story, Sian I had Guy and Molly going back to the non-conforming society that Guy had escaped from in his youth, though, of course, 700+ Marian years had now passed since he left it. He felt the need to rediscover his roots and to see if the decedents of the family he left behind still existed. I had something of a story in my head, but couldn’t get it to the point where I was excited to write it. 

I ran into a similar problem with the Rafe D’Mere’s story. I had the beginning – all 17,000 words of it – written, and I had a definite ending in mind… But I then realized that I needed to come up with some 20,000 words to fill the middle of the story before the ending I had in mind -- if I wanted it to be a novel. And I did. I didn’t have 20,000 words worth of ideas readily on hand to do that, so I had to stop and try to dream up enough action to write about to fill the needed 20,000words  to get me to the ending I had in mind, which was a too daunting task. 

So I shelved that idea as well, and instead, returned to my summer project with some new ideas that eventually turned into The Road to Eura, my 2023-24 novel.

So here we are. What's next? I recently watched an interview with the SF and fantasy author Adrian Tchakovsky. During that interview he said that he could write a novella in a month, because a novella requires only a beginning and an ending, thus avoiding the long, hard slog through the middle to make a novel. It seems that if I’m to self-publish anything in 2022, I'm going to have to take that approach to heart. So, any port in a storm – or a story – it’s going to have to be a novella this year.

And with both the beginning written, and the ending planned, that novella it is going to have to be the Rafe D’Mere story.  At present, I have almost 24,000 words written, and have reached the beginning of the ending of The Aerie of a Pirate Prince. Now I only have to try to recall how I had that ending working out… The details are long gone. But I still have the twist, so it is mostly just a matter of choreographing action – which I hate doing. Still, I think I am not going out too far on a limb to say that I should be able to come up with another 10,000 to 12,000 words for a nice fat novella. And that I should be able to completed it within the next two months. All I really need to do is get excited about it, think about it, and then finish it. Stay tuned.



Friday, July 8, 2022

Audiobooks & Other Stuff

A sample of the square cover of my audiobooks

Nothing much to say this week, so I’ll just take this opportunity to update you, dear reader, on how my various projects are going.

At the beginning of May (2022) I started offering all my ebooks on the Google Play Store as audiobooks as well. As part of a beta program, Google offered to convert the ebooks I was selling through Google into audiobooks, for free. I took them up on their offer. It has proved to be a pretty darn good move on my part.

Though I only have 12 ratings so far on my audiobooks, the average is 4.4, which tells me that the audio component of the audiobooks has not been a hindrance to their enjoyment. Which is great. The fact that the stories are auto-narrated by Google’s AI technology, not a person, does not seem to be an issue. Seeing that all my books are first person narrations, having one fairly expressive voice read the book would seem to be the natural way to do it anyway. I’m not a audiobook “reader”, but I have sampled some, and have heard narrators reading different characters using different voices, and found it to be distracting, and in one case, rather goofy. So, all in all, I think that, at least for my books, the auto-narration works. Plus, Google has said that it will only improve over time. So, as I said, I’m quite happy.

The other bright spot in adding audiobooks to the mix has increased my sales significantly. To date I’ve sold (for free) 1,880 audiobooks in a little over two months. And last month (June), my combined ebook and audiobook sales from all my sales venues came in at 2,071 books. To put that number in context, that is around 25% of my best annual sales – in just one month. Now, I expect these numbers will trail off. They always do. But I believe that this experiment demonstrates that it pays to innovate when you see an opportunity.

I should note that my business model is designed to get my books into the hands of readers, not to make money -- while not spending money to do so. To that end, I produce and sell all my books for free, when possible. While compared to popular indie authors, my numbers may not be all that impressive, I've sold something like 53,000 books without any marketing effort or losing any money doing so.

My next experiment is submitting my newest novel, The Road to Eura, to the SF publisher Gollancz during a rare open submissions window. I am also querying agents to see if they would like to represent it and sell it to other traditional publishers. It’s a long term project – I’m querying only four agents a month – and I am keeping my expectations well in hand.

The last bit of news is that I’m hoping to be able to offer a new Nine Star Nebula Mystery/Adventure story, The Aerie of a Pirate Prince, sometime early this fall. I’m nearly 20,000 words into the story and I suspect that it will clock in as a novella rather than a full novel, so I’m likely more than halfway done with it. It features Rafe D’Mere, along with his crow companion Kee, in another reluctant run-in with a pirate prince. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 1, 2022

The Making of The Girl on the Kerb -- Part 2

 




This is the second installment of my series “The Making of The Girl on the Kerb”. 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 Girl on the Kerb. 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 Girl on the Kerb 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 Girl on the Kerb -- Part 1

 



Even though the publication date of The Girl on the Kerb is likely many months off – think 2023 – I thought I might as well start a series entitled “The Making of The Girl on the Kerb” 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 Girl on the Kerb 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 Girl on the Kerb 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 Girl on the Kerb.

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 Girl on the Kerb, 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 Girl on the Kerb. However, I never finished Rust in the Dust, and have finished The Girl on the Kerb, 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 Girl on the Kerb

 





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 Girl on the Kerb.*

*Edit: I changed it's working title from The Road to EuraEast to The Road to Eura -- and now  to The Girl on the Kerb. I predict that in a future post I will tell you why.

The Girl on the Kerb 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 Girl on the Kerb 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. 


UPDATE: I did submit it, though I used The Road to Eura title for that submission, as The Girl on the Kerb was a later change.