Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What is politics? A science fiction answer

I used to make political buttons as a hobby. The first button I made was a commentary on how much people disparage politics and why I thought they were mistaken. The button expressed a mathematical formula: 2 or more people + a decision + a disagreement = politics.

This formula implies something important, that politics is found just about everywhere you find yourself when you're not alone.

It was about a decade ago when I came up with this formula, and I still think it's valid.

Well, as I worked on my in-progress novel Fisher King: Dancing Lance, sequel to Fisher King: Percival's Descent (https://cololitnet.com/node/71), it evolved into a political thriller in a science fiction setting. I decided to let my own ideas about politics and economic theory filter into the book. How could I possibly leave out my formula? I couldn't.

What I decided to do was expand the formula into a fuller statement of what I though politics was and to showcase it as the opening paragraph of a fictitious book on politics that I would use as a device in the novel.

The simple formula evolved into this, a statement of my fundamental beliefs about politics:
What is politics? Politics is the encompassing term for what transpires under the following circumstances: two or more people, a joint decision to be made, and a disagreement. Life is unavoidably filled with politics. Accepting this brings happiness and empowerment, denying this brings misery and the sense that one is at the mercy of others.
The fictitious book is named The Party, inspired by Machiavelli's The Prince.  It is a supposedly ancient tome, written about a millennium into our future but about two millennia before the time of Dancing Lance.

I'm only about seven chapters into Dancing Lance, so I can't say much more on how politics will play out, other than I know there will be plenty of gamesmanship and intrigue with light-handed servings of cynicsm.

So long for now.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Denver Writers Meetup Anthology

I'm excited that Thursday Night Press has been selected as the publisher partner for the Denver Writers Meetup 2014 Anthology. A panel of judges will select the content. The anthology will be edited by the Meetup's Robert Davis. Thursday Night Press will provide copy editing and ebook and print book design.

Any Colorado resident is eligible to submit a piece of fiction or poetry for consideration by the judges. All genres are acceptable except for explicit erotica and fan fiction. Word count must be between 1,500 and 18,000.

Submissions are being accepted by email only to denverwritersmeetup@yahoo.com. The piece should be attached to the email as a document in RTF format. Submissions must be received by October 1, 2013. Further details can be found at http://www.meetup.com/denver-writers/pages/Anthology/.

Information about the Denver Writers Meetup can be found at http://www.meetup.com/denver-writers/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/126175650744082.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Does Your Story Plot or Plod?

Despite all good intentions to the contrary, I am still having trouble getting into the habit of blogging. I think it reflects my writing as a whole. I'm a good writer, but I have an imagination problem, or at least I believe I do. I'm just not a flow-from-the-pen writer, except in rare bursts. Writing is hard. That realization is part of why, in my humble opinion, I am a good editor: I respect writers because writing is hard.

Harder even than writing, though, is good storytelling, and that's what I want to talk about today.

I know an author (who I will try hard not to identify) who has completed two novels and is working on a third that are all imaginatively written, but all have the same deadly flaw. In all three books, the writing has good technical qualities: a line editor has to struggle to find errors in this author's writing. The characters are distinct, memorable and sympathetic. The words paint the scenes vividly while not getting in the way of the story. These are 100,000+ word stories in which much happens in a logical unfolding of the tales being told.

The flaw? All three stories leave me waiting for something to happen. Why?

No drama. I was waiting for something to go wrong, some obstacle to get in the way, something to test my sympathy with the characters. I liked the protagonists and wanted to take their sides, but it felt like there were no sides.

The flaw in these tales was that they lacked plots entirely, I concluded initially. After all, they failed my "one-sentence/one-question test." I am convinced that any story with a plot can be fairly summarized in one sentence. If you have trouble describing a plot in one declarative sentence, you can still usually name a question the plot raises. For example, the plot to my forthcoming novel, Fisher King: Percival's Descent, is best summarized as a question: Can a young nobody with eyes on the stars escape a dismal life that doesn't want to let him go?

I've changed my opinion, though. The stories, after some searching, did have plots. The deeper problem was a lack of tension stemming from a lack of conflict. In each case the plot question -- one was Can X beat the odds and prevent Y from Z? not a bad dramatic question -- had an apparent answer that was never in doubt for more than a few paragraphs at a time. Obstacles? Easily overcome. Turnabouts? None. Complications? Rarely and they never compounded.

In the story with the above-mentioned, X, the author showed in fiction how a slightly different X could have done better against Y than it had historically. The author built a good case that the difference mattered, but guess what? It came too easily. The difference was too much of a difference to keep the conflict interesting. The historical X struggled like hell against Y, which was interesting. Much less so the fictional retelling. 

What can you learn from these three stories: conflict, more; struggle, more; certainty, less. What else can you learn? Know your plot. Have it firmly in mind, because it is the guide you need to know what kinds of conflict and sub-plots fit the story. When in doubt, return to writing about the plot, and by that I mean to move closer to or farther from resolving of the plot question.

Well, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that, for now.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Busy Last Two Months

It's been a busy last two months. I now have lots to write about, and with a promise to myself to blog regularly, there should be reason to follow this blog. Here's the highlights:

* Thursday Night Press has signed two new authors.

* I am in production right now on a book that I hope to finish by the end of this month.

* There's been great progress on the Colorado Literary Network website

* I attended a great program on book marketing at this month's meeting of the Colorado Independent Publisher's Association (CIPA).

Two new authors signed

Thursday Night has agreed to reissue the novel Immortal Betrayal (cover shown), originally self-published by European royal family expert and historian Daniel A. Willis. Immortal Betrayal is a historical fantasy that follows Dano Varos, a member of a hidden branch of humanity fated with near immortality. Varos flees the 1400s Normandy of his youth only to centuries later confront a menace from his past that threatens the future of the Russian Crown.

Also just put under contract is the contemporary fantasy Weird Canyon by A.M. Jordan. This debut novel follows a pair of high school buddies as they try to rebuild their lives after accidentally setting their home town in the Colorado mountains ablaze. I love Jordan's sense of the absurd, which includes Howard, an Oxford-educated Sasquatch.

Back to production

After an idle year following the 2011 release of Torpedo Junction, Thursday Night is on track to put out six books in 2013. I am now in production of Immortal Betrayal, which will be ready comfortably before the promised May 15 latest release date.

We've made some tool changes since Torpedo Junction. The ebooks are produced using Open Office and the Writer2Xhtml plugin. Enhacements are made using the Sigil EPUB editor. One EPUB version will be released using Smashwords Direct. The other is used to produce the Amazon Kindle version.

I was using the open source Scribus page layout software for book covers, but I hope to soon replace that with Serif's PagePlus page layout software.

Colorado Literary Network

To help promote Thursday Night's works in 2013, we are sponsoring a website, the Colorado Literary Network, to promote Colorado authors. When ready, authors will be able to list their books, blog, and post calendar events. Our hope is to turn the site into a destination for bookies who like going to author events and who want to meet local authors.


Thursday Night's big challenge is marketing. Just today I sat in on several forums covering marketing using Facebook, on Amazon, and with blogs. There is a lot to digest.

Well, that's it for now.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Bit About PressBooks: A New Software System For Publishers

I've been beta testing a new software system for publishers. PressBooks promises to simplify the production workflow for publishers. I have to say it's not fully ready yet, but at the rate the developers have been making improvements, I should be able to get a book out the door with it maybe three months from now or sooner.

PressBooks is a web-based application for formatting both EPUB ebook and print versions of a book. The software is based on WordPress, that favorite of blogging platforms. A PressBooks user creates a project and then goes to work entering their book chapter-by-chapter. I found it easy to copy a chapter from a Word document and paste into a PressBooks text editing window. The window can be switched between a visual view and an HTML view. All the text formatting is done in the text window. There are other screens for editing the book metadata, such as title, subtitle, authors, EPUB ISBN, print ISBN (but not Library of Congress Control Number), bookcover thumbnail image, and more. Then comes the magic part. It's as simple as pressing a button (once each) to generate an EPUB ebook file and a PDF file for the print book interior.

Several predefined ebook CSS stylesheets are available, and user-defined CSS stylesheets have been promised for the very near future. The EPUBs I've generated so far for my test project all pass the EPUB validation suite, according to the Sigil EPUB editing program. The generated EPUBS do have some quirks, though. I haven't mentioned the following on the PressBooks forum, yet. Some metadata, such as publisher,  make it onto a metadata page in the ebook, but not into the content.opf metadata. Also, the generated table of contents page in the ebook does not contain some items that appear in NCX table of contents. And nowhere does the ebook display an ordinary copyright notice, such as "Copyright 2011 by Joe Author."

The generated PDFs for print books have more issues and make me say PressBooks isn't ready for prime time for this format. First are the margins; the inner margin is too narrow for paperback books, and there's no way to fix it. Next is the copyright page. The all-necessary phrase "All Rights Reserved" is put on the same line as the subtitle. There's also no provision for commonplace items such as a disclaimer, credits for cover art or quoted materials, or publication history. There's also no choice for typeface. I think PressBooks uses Palatino, but Thursday Night uses Bookman for its fiction. There's a lot that's right about the PDF. PressBooks uses some variant of the TeX typesetting engine, and because of they, the typesetting is excellent. If you laid a PressBooks version and a Word version of the same book side by side, they wouldn't look the same and you would likely say that even though you're not sure why, the PressBooks version is easier to read.

Despite these issues, PressBooks is being enhanced so quickly that by the time you find this article, the issues I've mentioned may all be in the past. For my PressBooks test project, I picked a novel that I wrote, an Arthurian space opera called Percival's Descent, as the guinea pig. Since I don't have to worry about putting up with an impatient author, I can afford to give PressBooks the time to resolve whatever issues prevent the software from producing acceptable results.

PressBooks has already proven to me to be the right idea as far as production workflow, and I encourage other publishers to take a look at this service.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Introducing Torpedo Junction

I've been so busy getting our debut book to print, that I've forgotten entirely to write about it. Torpedo Junction is the first novel by Wheat Ridge, Colorado, author Sourdough Jackson, a regular in the metro Denver SF community.

It's November, 1941. After only three months as skipper, Commander Anson McDonald is torn away from command of his own destroyer -- a post he earned through years of hard work and better-than-average performance -- to serve in a staff position for a Rear Admiral. McDonald speaks Dutch fluently, and his new boss, a short and feisty Texan, needs that and other skills he knows McDonald has.

Enter the boss: Erwin "Tex" Rommel, the Ocean Fox. Rommel got into "aeroplanes" early and is considered America's expert on naval aviation. He has just been given rope to begin carrier operations in the Pacific because "knowledgeable sources" have it from Churchill himself that the Japanese intend to attack Pearl Harbor. Rommel intends to take his rope and lasso the new threat if it turns out to be real. Even if it isn't, he has plenty to do to help break in an assortment of new Dutch ships, including an aircraft carrier, headed for the East Indies.

The admiral takes his assignment seriously and begins training Task Force 23 in earnest, getting no end of grief for disrupting the comfortable routines of a peacetime naval base. With the task force assembled, they head to Oahu and destiny; the Battle of Oahu is joined as the ink fades from history books and is replaced with a new story.

First as signals officer, and then as chief of staff, McDonald struggles to live up to the demands of command during war, a struggle that allows him to convince himself that he may be "good enough." Within a few months now-Captain McDonald is credited, almost as much as his boss, with living up to their overall mission in the Pacific: "Make the bastards go away."

Then the issue is in doubt. Assigned temporarily as chief of staff to Rear Admiral Ray Spruance, McDonald convinces his new boss to take a strategic risk. The result is a terrible beating of the British navy by enemy forces. None other than Admiral Albert Windsor -- Lord York, brother of the King of England -- accuses McDonald of dereliction of duty, and McDonald must argue that he made the right decisions. But he wonders, did he really?


Several things about Torpedo Junction endeared itself to me and led me to choose it as our first offering.

I'm not much of a fan of military fiction, but this book caught my attention in several ways. It gives a point of view not shared by most military fiction; it shows what goes on at the level of admirals. We come to understand, at least a little, how war is waged by not just a ship, but an entire fleet. I think Jackson chose wisely when making an early change while writing the story. Rommel is the protagonist, but not the point of view character. We see Rommel through the eyes of McDonald. Military aviation is old hat to Rommel, but not McDonald. In this way he is like most of us and we grow along with him. But, McDonald is a seaman as much as Rommel is not. In this way he is different from most of us and we want to understand that difference.

We do get to know Rommel in one way other than through McDonald's POV. The real Rommel was known to write to his wife regularly when away, and this Rommel is no different. Interspersed throughout the story are some of those character-revealing letters.

Jackson excels in another way. This is a work of alternative history, but it is also a work of diligent historical authenticity. Although it's unusual, this book comes with an annotated bibliography in which the author explains the importance of various books, some scholarly, to the story.

Surprise historical figures show up, all in fitting ways. Ensign John Fitgerald Kennedy shows up as an intelligence officer. The real JFK indeed spent his early naval career in intelligence. Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, shows up as a war correspondent assigned to Rommel. The real Burroughs was an army war correspondent in WWII, but we learn that Rommel is a fan of Burroughs (and SF generally), and I can easily imagine that Rommel had something to do with the assignment.

In this story's logic, just about every departure from our history can be traced back to Rommel. And Rommel the Texan instead of Rommel the German Field Marshal who literally wrote the book on armored warfare can be traced to a fateful decision by Rommel's father regarding a purchase of stock in a Dutch oil company, a decision that wasn't wrong so much as premature, but caused a financial scandal that made the Rommels leave Germany.

The story logic is so strong that nearly everything that happens, including how the war in the Pacific unfolds, seems after the fact to have been inevitable. Jackson accomplishes this inevitability without letting the story be predictable. There are plenty of coincidences and lots of historical figures just a little out of place, but not once did I want to say "no, I don't buy it; that's too convenient." I was even willing to buy that McDonald had been an Annapolis classmate of Robert A. Heinlein, who in our timeline was indeed an Annapolis grad and navy man. Oh, lest I forget to mention it, those who know their history will find plenty of little inside jokes.

Thoughtful alternative history is more than merely revisionist history. It explores a what-if question. Jackson gives us a more sophisticated what-if question than the surface one: what if Erwin Rommel grew up to be an American rather than a German. I contend the real story question is this: How would World War II have been different if the United States had not been afraid to expose its aircraft carriers to the Japanese Combined Fleet.

I think this will be a great read for fans of alternative history, but also for serious WWII buffs.

So, Thursday Night Press is proud to announce the immediate availability of its debut novel, Torpedo Junction by Sourdough Jackson. Look for it at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or your favorite online seller. Independent bookstores can buy from us directly. It is available in trade paper, for the Kindle, and, any day now, the Nook.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Nitty Gritty

This week I have been stumbling through what makes Thursday Night Press a small, traditional publisher instead of a self-publishing effort: contracts.

Our third biggest startup expense, after forming the corporation and buying a block of ISBNs is going to be review of our Author, Work for Hire and Royalty/Profit-Sharing Agreements by general counsel.

We will have the luxury of publishing friendly authors (us) and using friendly contractors during our first year. This, I hope, will give us the time learn what's good and bad about our agreements and give us the opportunity to amend the agreements so that they are ready for prime time.

In a later posting, I'll get into our compensation model, which is a little different from traditional. In this model, which we are refining, authors get a share of gross profits, rather than a percentage of list price. We hope to see higher royalties for authors that way on successful works. But, as I said, I'll get into details at a different time.

Ta ta for now.