Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, February 25, 2022

Riding the (Virtual) Rails: Bulgaria

 A little over two years ago I posted a blog about my armchair travels in the cabs of trains. Over the years many train drivers and train enthusiasts have posted on Youtube videos of real time complete train trips as seen from the cab of trains. You can find my original post here, with some links to those videos here:

Since then, I have continued to travel throughout Europe in the cabs of trains, and my plan is to post links to the the channels where you can find the trips I’ve taken since then. 

Today I'll introduce Bulgaria to you. I spent several months traveling through the country, and as you can see from the map below, I've ridden on most of its rails, save for a few branch lines. (Yellow routes are the ones I've ridden on.) I have one more stretch to watch, that blank route in the northeast. Right now I'm traveling in Romania.

Just a brief word about these videos. I find that there is something about moving pictures that draw you into a scene far more completely than a still photo. And I think that crisscrossing a country on their train system gives you a far better “feel” for a country than a picture book of tourist attractions. Moreover, you can always “get off” the train and explore most of these countries on foot virtually by using Google Street View. I spend 45- 60 minutes every day exploring countries from a train cab window while I ride my bike on a rack inside the house during our long winters. But they can be fascinating to just watch – movement is conductive to thought, and watching the countryside glide by can be a gateway to thinking.

Bulgaria is a very beautiful country, with lots of hills and mountains that make for very scenic travel. The southern east-west route across the country is across flat land, for the most part, and sort of boring, but the northern two routes have lots of scenic stretches, as do the branch lines that run north and south. Through the Ishkar River Valley north of Sofia

Bulgaria is one of those countries where the station masters, in their red peaked caps, come out of their offices to watch and wave to every train that goes by their station, even if it doesn’t stop. It’s also one of those countries that have huts at both ends of the station where all the track converge back into the main line or two. These are, or were, used to house the men who had to manually switch the track to route the train to its designated platform at the station. Now days this switching is all done remotely in most Western European countries, but in the east, on the smaller branch lines, the switch must be thrown manually, and you will see guys manning these huts to switch the tracks for the next train through


In concrete Bulgarians trust. In my travels I’ve passed under a thousand overpasses, so when I say that I struck me that I have never seen fewer and thinner supports for the overhead roads than in Bulgaria, it has to be in the national character not to over-engineer their bridges.

Bulgaria also has a certain dystopian air to it in places. The houses in some cities are mostly foursquare, in stained grey stucco. Some of the apartment buildings have individual units painted differently, so that they look to like a patchwork quilt. You see horse drawn carts on town streets. I found all this interesting enough to hop about in Street View. The small towns are very interesting. On one block you see a yard full of junk that could’ve come straight out of Appalachia, and two blocks later, an architecturally designed house or duplex that puts America’s mass produced vinyl sided faux mansions to shame. It is a country well worth at least a virtual visit by train and on foot via Street View. I like Bulgaria.

Video Train Ride Channels for Bulgaria. Many of these channels also have train spotting videos, just of trains passing, so you have to do some scrolling to find the cab ride videos.

Joro 14

Nikolay KoZarski

DKG Traction

Back On Track Studios

Ivo Radoev

Friday, February 18, 2022

Best of Times, Worst of TImes


It seems to be the best of times and the worst of times for me in self publishing. And I use “worst” only for its reference to the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities, though I am doing both fine, and not fine at the same time. Let’s take a quick look at the current state of my publishing “business” that’s not really a business at all, since unless Amazon makes me, I give away my ebooks rather than trying to earn any money off of them. My “sales” (i.e. books I’m giving away) for the last 30 days on Smashwords stands at 39 books, while on Apple (via Smashwords) I’ve sold 129 – more than 3 times the number I’ve sold on Smashwords. For the last 360 days, I sold 866 books on Apple vs 998 on Smashwords. Basically Apple is holding its own or slightly growing, while Smashwords is fading. And fading fast. Amazon just reports by the month, so that so far in February, I’ve given away 40 books and sold one. Roughly, we’re looking a selling something like 250 in the month from my three usual sources. My goal is to move 300 books a month, and I’ve usually exceeded that in the past. So this is the worst of time.

However, it is the best of times as well. For the calendar year 2021, I sold 8,699 books – my best year ever. By comparison, in 2020 I sold 6,490 books, and in 2019, 8,598. So by those numbers, I’m doing just fine. And yet, on the flip side, I released 4 novels and two novellas in the 2020 -2021 period, which did not jump my sales much at all, clearly indicating a diminishing return on investment, since in the past I was only releasing a book a year, after my initial release of 3 books in 2015.

I also made a record $180 in royalties from Amazon, the best of times.

The key to my success in 2021 was that Google Play Store came into its own. In 2019 I sold 558 books on Google. That jumped to 1,030 in 2020, and then to 4,765 in 2021. This means that more than half of my sales for 2021 are due to books sold on Google’s Play Store. Looking at the glass half empty, I was selling only half the number of books I used to via Smashwords and Amazon, despite publishing those 6 new works. So once again, we’ve arrived back at the worst of times. Though just for reference, my 30 day running total with Google today is at 456 books, so I may well move 600 books this month. I can’t complain. Still good times.

Looking ahead, I’m sure Google sales will fade. They peaked at 836 books in October 2021, so they are fading already. And since any new book from me is still many months away, it is doubtful that 2022 will a banner year. The worst of times.

Still, I’ve done just fine in self publishing, and I’ve done it my way. It’s when I think of people starting out now, hoping to find readers for their stories, that I feel sad. Unless you are publishing a carefully researched and designed commercial product aimed at very specific ebook genres, new writers won’t even be able to give their books away to would-be readers like I do, much less sell any. Most authors will probably find more readers, and more engaged readers, on fan fiction sites or Wattpad, then in self publishing. And more satisfaction as well. Of course there’s still traditional publishing, and it’s gatekeepers. Given the odds of finding readers in self publishing, those gatekeeper no longer seem so formidable. Though they are, of course. It’s just that self publishing is just as formidable these days. So, since publishing prospects seem to be about equal, I may give those gatekeepers a go.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Next Writing Project Update


I recently watched a Youtube video on Mike’s Book Review where he talks about reassessing his video output in a response to his disappointing viewership. He has 64.5K subscribers, but most of his videos are watched by 6K or less viewers, which kinda bums him out. And this is not the first video of this type I’ve seen. It seems that there comes a point where years of effort playing the game of Youtube algorithms pays off in subscriber numbers, but not in satisfaction. At this point, these Youtubers step back and reassess what they’re doing and why.

I’m at a similar point, though not from dissatisfaction with my results, so much as recognizing the reality of what I can do, and not do. I wrote and self published four novels and two novellas in the last two years or so. They were short novels, by my standards, and so they where much easier to write than a 100K+ novel, but even so, it is not a pace that I can keep up. Nor do I want to. Though I had fun writing those shorter novels and novellas, in my mind they were just long stories rather than real novels, and I want to get back to writing something a bit more ambitious. As I mentioned in some previous posts, I spent the summer trying to come up with just such a novel, and failing. I spent the fall starting and abandoning several short novels, as my interest in them faded. However, in the last couple of months, I’ve taken the world from that failed effort, and a plot from some older failed efforts, and combined them into a story that, I think, I can make a novel out of.

I have written the first chapter – some 8,000 words – in this novel and I have the first half of it pretty well in hand. After that it gets a bit sketchy. But I’m confident that I can make it all work. However, as I said, I want to write a novel, and I want to write the best novel I can, so that I am going to hold myself to a high standard, and not rush through this story. I’m not setting any deadlines for myself, either to finish it, or word count per day. It will be done when it is done. Perhaps by late fall 2022, but it could easily slip into 2023.

I’m approaching this book as literary fiction. Not heavy literary fiction, but something more than pure genre fiction. It is set in the far future, so could be considered science fiction. However, as in many of my previous books, I like hybrid past/futures – futures that look a lot like the past, with advanced technology mixed in, and this book will be no different. The basic plot is an espionage story this time around. But since I’m not a thriller type of writer, it will be more like a 39 Steps type of story – travel, mysteries, captures, and escapes. Yah, nothing too new here.

So, bottom line – do not expect to see a new C Litka book before fall of 2022 at the earliest. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Three Mini-Reviews


A couple of short reviews to bring my reading adventures up to date. I have one book in the pipeline, but I'm a bit discouraged. And I'm writing again, slowly, so I'm not as interested in reading books.

My grading system:

A – Great (Very rare)

B – Good (Recommendable)

C – Okay (Average to so-so, but good enough to read to the end.)

DNF – Did not finish. I don’t bother reading books that I would grade either D or F

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.

A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – DNF 14%

This one surprised me. A space opera without war (at least as far as I got) with lots of pleasant characters and a focus on them. I figured this would be a book that I would enjoy. But it just seemed to drag, even though it jumped between different POV characters. I didn’t need a menu for every meal… I got to the point were there looked to be several pages of info dumping on what the ship did – punching holes through sub-space, and I just lost heart. I was only 14% into the book and I couldn’t wait for it to finish, so I did.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (The Gentleman Bastards #1) by Scott Lynch – B-

What’s this, I’ve read and enjoyed a fantasy book? Will wonders ever cease? It has great world building, a likable Robin Hood main character with sidekicks, and interesting story with not a lot of magic. I did not care for all the blood and gore – I get it, these are bad guys – but I can just skip over those parts, and I did. I’m not crazy about the dual timeline thing, I always suspect things like that a gimmick, but in this case it was basically telling two stories that would probably not have fit together all that well if told in chronological order. All that said, I won’t be reading the other three volumes. Though the star ratings don’t fall, the reviews I read suggest that the follow ups aren’t anywhere as good. Once is enough.

Polaris by Jack McDevitt – DNF  20%

This is the second book in the Alex Benedict series. It is set some years after the incidents described in A Talent for War. This is another book I should’ve liked, but didn’t. McDevitt writes in an easy to read, first person narrative style, i.e. right up my alley. But… He is very verbose, and the Marie Celeste mystery story he created – a space ship with its crew gone without a trace – did not really interest me for some reason. Couple that with the fact that the story had gotten nowhere in the first 20% of the book, so my interest waned. Plus, this is another of those SF stories where travel between planets is a mere taxi cab ride – anywhere in the galaxy in hours. If you are going to write about space, I believe that you should make it as vast as it really is. Make it grand. If you need to move from locale to locale within hours, set the story on a planet. You don’t need whole planets for a stage setting. Real planets, not Star Wars planets, have a great variety of climates, and people as well. Well, off my soap box. I got to the 20% point in the story, and started to skim read. And at that point, why go on? I didn’t.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe A Review


The best thing about this book is it uses the typeface from Ace's ERB books.

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.

Dying earth is where science fiction authors go to write fantasy stories. Gene Wolfe’s The Torturer’s Shadow is no exception. It has all the fantasy tropes that you can throw a stone at: a grimdark mood, castles and dungeons, medieval cities, ancient weapons, strange beasts, archaic words and speech patterns, and magic. All of this can be explained as science fiction since the story is set hundreds of millions of years on a decaying, future earth. Things happen. The only thing that hasn’t changed in all those millions of years are the humans. They’re quite familiar.

I did not expect to like this book. Indeed, I had sampled a few pages some time before and didn’t like what I read. But I decided to give it a try since this book is the read along book for February 2022 for the Youtube science fiction channel, Media Death Cult. I found the audio version of the book on Youtube, so I “read” the book that way – at least 2 ½ hours of its total of 9 ½ hours – before I decided that it was too unpleasant and called it a day. The narrator did a great job of reading the story to have kept me engaged that long. I would never have gotten 10 chapters into the book if I had to, you know, actually read the thing.

I had never heard of Gene Wolfe until I read of his death several years ago, and everyone praising him for his unique writing. I guess he was famous before that, but I wasn’t deep enough into SF to have heard of him.

There are several ways to write a story. One can picture a story line that may wave around a bit, but it has a beginning point and an end point. Another style is to have several story lines that slowly converge near the ending into one. A third method is to have a series of broken story lines that when fitted together form one line from beginning to end. Wolfe’s tale struck me more like an elaborate doodle – it meandered, circled on itself, went off into seemingly dead ends, and in general sought to make itself as ornate and it’s meaning as obscure as possible. There are actually several guide books that attempt to explain this story. So, if you like books that puzzle you and don’t mind not knowing what the hell is going on, then Gene Wolfe might be right up your alley. It’s not up mine.

The story, as far as I got, was mostly world building, such as it was – nothing was made very clear about the world. It established a grimdark fantasy mood, with a nondescript first person narrator, an orphan adopted into the guild of torturers. He will, I gather, eventually be too nice to one of the prisoners he is being trained to torture later in the book and he'll be exiled from the guild for that offense, to wander the world for another book or two.

For some reason, The Torturer’s Shadow brought to mind a book by Walter Mores called The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Blue Bear. In many ways the books couldn’t be more different, but I seem to think that they shared one common element – the stories featured strange, absurd scenes and situations. Wolfe’s book, however, is very much darker in tone and seriousness than Mores’. Mores’ Captain Blue Bear was also a much nicer companion. I finished that book.