Cover for Princess of Shadows

Woke up this morning feeling a little better, and realized there’s one piece of good news I can share– I now have the new cover for Princess of Shadows, created for me by Dark Dawn Creations–

http://www.darkdawncreations.com/

I am quite pleased with the design–

Princess of Shadows e-cover

I’ve created a entry for the novel on my Kindle Bookshelf and imported the cover, but I’m keeping it in draft until I am absolutely ready to publish. In the meantime, I thought I would share this. It cheered me up.

Later.

Episode 5 of Dinosaur Planet

Life has once more been throwing monkey-wrenches into my best-laid plans– in the last two days I have had to work an accumulated total of about 24 hours at my job. While training my replacement. Yes, my replacement– the IT project I have been on for ten years is ending in thirty days. It wasn’t really a project, but an ongoing requirement for certain support services that never went away. Thus, the unusually long duration of the gig– but decisions made several layers above me in the food-chain have changed the conditions of the support operation, so with us vendors it’s adios, and don’t let the door hit you in the fanny.

So I am exhausted, and not in a good frame of mind to edit Princess of Shadows. Instead tonight I played a little Halo and decided to just finish this episode of Dinosaur Planet, since it was mostly in the can already.

The management is not responsible for any negative outcomes that may result from reading the following episode, including bad breath, nearsightedness and sleep apnea, but, nevertheless, the following is copyrighted by me, 2013.

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Dinosaur Planet

Episode Five

A Whole New World

For the first few minutes, Paul ran blindly. He ran between the trees, vaulted over fallen logs, crashed through brush. Some yards further on the riverbank curved across his path; he splashed through shallows and scrambled up the other side, unwilling to deviate from a straight line.

After some distance, though, he had to slow down. A stitch grew in his side and became demanding. The air was hot and heavy with moisture. It was like running through thick soup. A month in a scout ship, Paul realized, was not conducive to making a serious athletic effort on a moment’s notice.

Finally, gasping, he took cover behind some moss-covered boulders and sank down to catch his breath. “Any…anybody following us?” he asked Jasper.

“Nothing in range of my sensors,” Jasper replied. “If those were Weasels, they’re not on our trail. Not yet, anyway.”

“Thank God,” Matt panted. He rested his arms on his knees, with his head down, until his breathing was more-or-less back to normal. He was sweating like a tax-cheater at a convention of government auditors.

“Your heart-rate is coming down,” Jasper said. “It was pushing the upper-limit of what I would have recommended for you in your current condition. You know, the Fleet Medical Service has a number of aerobic and conditioning programs that you can use even on a deep-scout vessel….”

“Shut up,” Paul said. “I don’t….”

A crash and a thud interrupted him. The impact, what it was, shook the ground. Paul opened the survival kit and grabbed the pulse pistol. Very, very carefully, he raised himself up to peer over the boulders.

About fifty meters away, three huge beasts ambled through the trees. They reminded Paul of Earth iguanodons of the Jurassic, except that these creatures appeared to be at least fifty percent bigger. One of the creatures had pushed over a medium-sized tree, and all three closed in on the leafy treasure of the tree’s upper branches and began to eat. One of them let go a hooting bellow that resonated in its throat, either voicing triumph over the tree or summoning others of its kind to the feast.

“Oh, my God,” Paul said, overcome with wonder.

“What? Pick me up and give me a line of sight, you moron,” Jasper said. In his bag over Paul’s shoulder, all Jasper could see was the boulders.

Paul did so, placing Jasper on top of the rock. “Oh, indigenous life,” the AI said. He sounded disappointed.

“But look at them,” Paul said. “Aren’t they magnificent?”

“Yeah, really special,” Jasper said impatiently. “Look, we knew this planet had biological forms compatible with Earth species. Essentially this is nothing you haven’t seen before. We can’t waste any time sightseeing.”

“You have no sense of wonder, Jasper,” Paul said.

“That’s right– Mr. Realism, that’s me. And the reality is that we need to start putting more distance between us and the crash-site. So stop gawking, before the Weasels show up or one of those things gets irritated with your voyeurism.”

“They’re vegetarians, they’re harmless,” Paul said.

“How do you know?” Jasper snapped. “Alien life-form, remember? We don’t know anything about their actual tastes or predilections. Even if they don’t want to eat us, they could still step on us. So let’s go.”

“All right,” Paul said.

They gave the iguanodons a wide berth, and set out through the woods away from the river, which was more or less eastward. Jasper put himself in early warning sensor mode, and Paul added his own eyes, surveying the ground before him and the branches overhead as he walked. He carried the pulse pistol ready in his hand, but he knew that it wouldn’t last long if something serious attacked them. Have to come with another weapon, he told himself. There was the knife from the survival kit, but he really didn’t favor hand-to-hand combat with the Weasels, and certainly not with any critters native to this world.

After a while, though, in spite of his attempt to focus on any dangers in their path, Paul began to notice the woods. They were quite open, with a good deal of sunlight penetrating to the forest floor. As a consequence there were, in places, extensive patches of brush and brambles. Here and there in those sunlit patches, bright flowers waved on tall stalks. The trees themselves were tall, and many were magnificently so, hundreds of feet high, and massive at their base. Their bark was white or cream, and in the filtered sunlight they shone like the pillars of some vast, unending cathedral.

Occasionally Paul caught glimpses of wildlife, but it was mostly just glimpses of small, furtive animals that scampered hurriedly out of his way. Once he caught sight of a distant group of more iguanodons, but they were well out of his line of march, moving through the woods more-or-less westward. Another time a trio of flying creatures passed overhead, calling out sharply to one another, but they were gone through the trees before Paul could see if they were birds, mammals or some reptile.

Jasper was silent during this time, apparently devoting his energies to scanning their surroundings, but after about an hour he spoke up. “If I may respectfully and humbly make a suggestion,” he said, sounding neither, “we need to get some bearings and make some plans.”

“Yes,” Paul said, ignoring the AI’s sarcasm. He had been thinking much the same thing. “Did you get a ground scan as we came in?”

“Do I look like a single-threaded human?” Jasper snarked. “Of course I got a scan, despite the erratic gyrations you put us through on the way down. Both local and regional, mind you.”

Paul sighed to himself, exercising patience. “Well, is there any high ground nearby?”

“Thought you’d never ask,” Jasper said. “One thousand fifty-four meters to our left, slightly east of north, there is a two hundred meter hill that should poke up above all this greenery. Then we can compare the lay of the land with my most excellent scan and figure out our next step.”

“All right,” Paul said. He angled northward.

The sun was near the local noon when they reached the foot of the hill. The hillside was not too steep; Paul picked his way upward, in places finding a comparatively easy path, in others, practically climbing along the exposed roots of the trees that grew out of the hillside. Three-quarters of the way up the slope moderated to a gentler angle and Paul swiftly reached the top after that.

There he received a surprise– the crown of the hill, by some fluke, was bald. More than that, the northern face of the hill was bare, grass and mossy rocks, stretching away down to a wide prairie, miles across, that rolled away to the horizon. Across that prairie, Paul could see herds of animals moving, grazing or migrating; a multitude of forms and species, thousands of animals within his field of vision. Most seemed large and rather dinosaurian, like the iguanodons, but there were other types he could not easily make out.

The forest, he could now see, was riverine, closely bound to the curving stream. The river itself seemed to have its source in the distant, sharp-peaked mountains over which they had passed on their re-entry. The mountains were bluish silhouettes peeking out from behind clouds.

Altogether, standing there, Paul felt a liberating relief at the openness of the sky and land. It felt good to be out from under the forest canopy, as beautiful as it had been, and to feel a breeze and see the sky. The only thing that marred that sense of liberation was when he looked westward, and saw the smudge of black smoke against the sky that marked the corpse of the scout ship.

“All right, that’s better,” Jasper said. He sounded as if the forest had been criminally interfering with his right to see. “Set me up on that rock over there and let me orient.”

Paul did so, placing Jasper a top a waist-high boulder near the very top-most point of the hill. The AI hummed for a few moments. Then, without a word of warning, one of Jasper’s holo-projector points activated, and the air in front of them shimmered with an isometric representation of this part of the planet, from the crash-site to the mountains, and down to the coast beyond, a strip a meter wide in the projection, but encompassing thousands of square kilometers in reality.

“All right– this is where we are,” Jasper said. A red dot flashed at the near-end of the projection. “That energy source we detected is here.” A blue dot flashed on the other side of the mountains, on the land that sloped down to the sea, somewhat south of due east. “Obvious advantages for the Weasels to plant their bases there, with coastal access and everything.”

Paul was silently dismayed; the blue dot had to be hundreds of kilometers away. “What are they doing here?” he asked.

“You’re asking your innocent, wide-eyed AI?” Jasper said. “Beats the hell out of me. Obviously something important, or else why waste energy, personnel and resources on a planet far from the main theaters of action?” Paul imagined he heard a shrug in the AI’s tone. “In any case, Mackemann was right– that base is the only hope we have of getting the information I’m carrying back to the Alliance.”

“So,” Paul said, “what you’re proposing is that we march hundreds of kilometers across an alien world, through forest and across a very high mountain range, to reach an enemy base on the off-chance that we can somehow snag a transmitting capability of some sort to forward your information to the Alliance?”

“That’s basically the long and the short of it,” Jasper said.

Paul sighed. “It’s probably suicide, one way or the other.”

“More than likely.”

“And the truly frightening thing is, I can’t see any alternative.”

“And thus you finally show a glimmer of intelligence,” Jasper said. “A faint, flickering glimmer, but it’s there, nevertheless.”

Paul just didn’t have the energy to snark back at Jasper. Instead, he picked up the AI. The holo-map disappeared as he put Jasper back into his carrying sling. “We’ll have to forage, somehow.”

“I can help you with determining what’s edible,” Jasper said.

“All right,” Paul said. There really wasn’t any choice. “Map our best course. We’ve got hours left of daylight.”

“Certainly. I….” Jasper stopped.

“What is it?” Paul said, concerned. “Weasels?”

“No. Look down the northern slope.”

Paul did so. It took him a moment, but he finally spotted the trio of tiny dots running across the prairie. They ran on two legs, and they moved fast.

“What are those?” Paul asked.

“Some sort of bipedal predator, at a guess,” Jasper said. “Oh, and by-the-by– they’re coming this way.”

“Ohh,” Paul said.

Next episode: Up A Tree Without A….

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I must to bed. Later.

Quicky update, ’cause it’s past my bedtime…

I am down to fifteen pages left to edit on the hard-copy of Princess of Shadows. Suddenly daylight is flooding the tunnel and I can smell the roses at the far end (okay, not the most original metaphor, but it’s late…). I’ve made more and more progress each day as I’ve gotten closer to the end– last night I even cut a whopping 800 words in one go. 800 words! Okay, maybe not so epic, but still….

Once these red-pen edits are in, I will have fine-tuning to do (I notice, for instance, that Kathy cries, or is tempted to cry, a lot. Maybe that’s because I would cry a lot if I went through the hell she’d going through. Still, I need to think about it). But sometime early next month I should have the book in the hands of my beta readers, now definitely three and perhaps four in number.

I just hope they don’t take three months to read the novel. I don’t want to rush them, not at all, but I do want to get this puppy out before Christmas. I hear people buy stuff around that time of year.

Later.

The power of the red pen, plus a word or two on doodles

I am a little more than halfway through the hard-copy edit of Princess of Shadows. I hope to pick up the pace a little, since I would dearly love to complete this edit this month.

Despite the slower-than-anticipated pace, I am, so far, pretty pleased with how the edit is going. I’m cutting and tightening in good ways. Reading through the story, I’ve already discovered a couple of places that may need to be expanded upon, where it feels as if Kathy and those around her get to the place I want them to be too quickly. This is the sort of thing I typically pick up in the hard-copy edit.

I do have something sort of looming over me, though. For all the good editing I think I’m doing, I am worried that the third draft will still be too long– in the end I may not cut more than ten to twenty thousand words, if that. One criticism I’ve picked up from Goodreads and Amazon reviews of the previous novels is that they may be slow or drawn out in places– in short, that they may have pacing issues. I will probably need to think pretty hard about major cuts to speed things along. Kathy spends a lot of time in different places in the Empire in her struggle to get back to Crown. At the moment every incident feels necessary, but I wonder if that’s simply because I’m too close to the problem. This may be something I will have to ask my beta readers to assess for me.

Aside from that, I find that, when I am not editing Princess of Shadows, I am spending time doodling on a couple of other novels– not, oddly, Princess of Fire, but a standalone novel on another character from the Divine Lotus books, as well as a couple thousand words on the idea I had for a story about what happens to a group of ordinary people who are suddenly endowed with tremendous powers. The portion I’ve written on that one is at the end of the story–for some reason I often have a clear idea of how the story will end, but a very vague concept of how I’m going to get there. That probably says something profound about my approach to writing, and maybe life in general, but I could not tell you what it might be. Perhaps some questions are best left unanswered.

Later.

A word to traditional publishers and the self-published

Slow progress on the hard-copy edit of Princess of Shadows— it really seems as if everyday life is conspiring to drag me away from the book, hitting me with this, that, and the other thing at odd intervals. I am about a third of the way through. However, on the plus-side, I am cutting out some good-sized chunks of text.

Meanwhile, it seems that another firefight has flared up over self-publishing. A blogger identifying him/herself as “anonnymouse13” launched a tirade (again, with bad words) a couple of days ago against independently published writers–

http://anonnymouse13.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/why-indie-authors-still-suck/

Another blogger responded directly to anonnymouse13, taking the counter-position for indies–

http://mishaburnett.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/an-open-letter-to-a-frightened-man/

I have no interest in chiming in on anonnymouse13’s blog; mishaburnett has already done so quite adequately. I do find the anger and disdain in anonnymouse13’s blog disturbing; are people associated with traditional publishing truly this alarmed? He’s not the first to use this kind of language– it seems many of them are painting indies with very broad brush-strokes as incompetent amateurs who shouldn’t be allowed out in public for fear we’ll make a mess on the floor.

I’ve previously posted at length on self-publishing, but reading this latest exchange, I have kind of come to a summarization my own thinking on the subject. Half of what I now have to say is for trad publishing, half for my fellow self-publishers.

Traditional publishers— take a deep breath, step back, and figure out where you can fit into the new normal. The new normal is that trad publishers no longer have control over what literature is available to the public. Because of the Internet and e-books and online self-publishing platforms you are no longer the sole gatekeepers of literary production in our culture– and over the next few years that erosion of your former power is only going to get worse. In a decade or less, book publishing in our society is going to look very different from what it does now, and radically different from what it looked like a generation ago.

Rage as you will, you cannot reverse this trend, for two simple reasons– 1. the Internet is not going away, short of human civilization blowing itself to kingdom come (an outcome that would adversely affect dead tree books, as well), and 2. people have a free speech right to publish their writings and thoughts, and as long as there are online platforms willing to accept their work, they will. You are powerless to stop them, and stamping your feet and frothing at the mouth about it only wastes your time and raises your blood-pressure.

It would be much better for you to follow the example of the music industry– embrace the independents and figure out how you can work with them. Work at helping to create and mold the new normal. If you try to cling to the vestiges of your former power and status, you will be left behind.

Self-publishers— The greatest and most glorious achievement of the new publishing world is that the decision to publish a work has been taken out of the hands of cultural elites (editors and publishers) and delivered into the hands of the authors themselves. This is occurring just as traditional publishing is petrifying into some sort of living fossil, incapable of changing its ways and frequently unable to recognize good writing, as it ardently pursues publishing the same sort of material that has sold before.

But every revolution has its downside. The downside of online self-publishing is that, with no gatekeepers at all, we are seeing a flood of badly written material being presented to the public. This is evident from any casual examination of the inventory of e-book vendors.

In their eagerness to see their name and the name of their book on an Amazon or Smashwords webpage, many thousands of people have launched their work into the ether without understanding a basic truth– learning to write well is, for most people, a long, long process involving a great deal of hard work and, frequently, a good deal of humiliation and frustration. There are no five easy steps to writing success. Most of us take years to learn this craft. Occasionally we will encounter some native genius who picks up a pen and writes something great right out of the gate. They are far more rare than big-time lottery winners. The new publishing paradigm has not changed the nature of the writing process, nor how this skill is learned and honed.

The irony is that the same free speech right that now allows an author to publish very nearly at will also makes no value judgments about what is published. There is no quality test for free speech– it protects both cogently written works and incoherent drivel. Neither I, nor any traditional publisher, nor Santa Claus, have any right to tell an author they can’t publish if they haven’t spent twenty years learning to write and can’t figure out how to format a manuscript so that it is readable. So there is no way to stop the flow of inadequately written material in the new self-published world.

There is, however, a countervailing force, at least on self-publishing platforms that offer some form of payment– the freedom of the consumer/reader/audience to judge your work and utterly ignore it if they find it wanting. It is the marketplace, red in tooth and claw, and it is unforgiving. This is actually a good and hopeful thing– it means that those who work hard and honestly strive to make their work better still have a chance rise above the sea of the bad and the hasty. With all the material that is out there now, and all that is to come, it will not be easy– but what that is worthwhile in this life is easy?

So, here is my final word to my brothers and sisters in self-publishing– if you do not want to be ignored, or worse, ridiculed (and, believe me, one-star reviews sting like the dickens), learn your craft. Take the time to do it right. You won’t regret it.

That’s all I have to say.

Later.

Sort of a review of The Wolverine, plus some immature whining….

I’ve made some progress on the hard-copy edit of Shadows, even though real life has intervened over the last couple of days to pull me away. Dang you, real life. Meanwhile, I need to get something off my chest.

I went to see “The Wolverine” a few days ago–

All-in-all, one of the best Marvel pictures lately, and the best solo Wolverine effort out there. Hugh Jackman has always stood out as Wolverine/Logan; he seems to get the character in a way the other actors portraying X-Men in previous films have not.

At the start of the picture, it appears to be kinda in the aftermath of X-Men: The Last Stand— Wolverine is hiding out in the northern woods, grieving for Jean Grey, and not doing particularly well in general (hallucinations, poor grooming, and apparently a lot of alcohol are involved). A quirky Japanese assassin named Yukio contacts Logan and takes him to Japan, where he is confronted by faces from his past and new dangers.

The whole story is mostly character driven, with the introduction of a love interest for Logan. As such, it is very well done, and the action is tight and compelling. As with the X-Men movies in general, the storyline is not quite canon, in my opinion, as it changes some details of the comic-book storyline, not always for the best. My chief question mark about the movie, though, is a surprise twist at the end that I did not anticipate and which I am not sure I wholly liked. It may grow on me in time. On the whole I give the movie a solid thumbs-up.

As to things to come, I am very pleased and hopeful that the next X-Men production revolves around the “Days of Future Past” storyline, one of the best X-Men storylines ever. Bryan Singer picked a good one to adapt. Plus, the announced cast promises to be great, with Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and Ellen Page returning as Kitty Pryde (down, boy…remember, they’re young enough to be your daughters…down, I say…). I’m looking forward to this one.

But I have to say, for my money, on the whole, all things considered, the X-Men movies have been a let-down.

I’m not a canon purist; I understand things like books and comics have to be adapted to the screen. But it seems to me that there’s been some serious disrespect of at least the spirit of the canon by the film-makers of this series; “X-Men: First Class” is a particular example (Moira MacTaggert as a CIA agent? Really?). It’s gotten to the point that I don’t recognize the storylines anymore; that’s why “Days of Future Past” is welcome.

But my biggest disappointment, frankly, is that no one ever figured out how to adapt “Where No X-Man Has Gone Before”.

For me, my X-Men ur-moment was October, 1977. I was in Germany, in the Army, and one night while on guard duty, but off-watch in the guard-shack, I picked up a comic someone had left behind on a cot, because I had nothing better to do. It was X-Men #107. I read it, and my mind underwent a profound re-orientation– aka, I was completely blown away. Here was a superhero team that argued and squabbled, who attacked first and didn’t apologize, one of whose members (guess who?) looked borderline homicidal, and who were actually getting their asses kicked and had to be rescued– all while the universe itself hung in the balance. It was worlds away (no pun intended) from the DC comics I’d read since I was a kid. The subsequent issues, the collaboration of John Byrne and Chris Claremont, confirmed to me that this was something special. I was hooked.

So, somewhere deep down, I want this storyline on-screen. I want the Shi’ar. I want Lilandra. I want the mad Emperor D’Ken and the M’krann Crystal. I want the Soul-Drinker (not to keep, mind you. Worse than a pit-bull). I want to see the X-Men come through the star gate, not knowing where they’re being sent, and come face-to-face with the Imperial Guard. Dammit, I want to see the Starjammers come down in the nick of time, in a blaze of blasters and aplomb, and pull the X-Men’s butts out of the fire. And I want to see Jean Grey save the freaking universe.

Want, want, want…. I’ve come to understand a few things since I was that rather silly kid who picked up that comic thirty-six years ago. One thing is that, most usually, I don’t get what I want. The movies are what they are– the storylines have diverged from canon, the Jean Grey character appears to be out of the picture for good, and no amount of whining is going to change those facts. I don’t own the characters or the universe. The situations and characters are in the hands of other people– many of them very talented and creative folk, mind you, with a right to their own vision. So I just have to put my disappointment in a box and go on….

…to the best therapy for literary disappointment I know– writing. It’s the same reaction I had in the wake of Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (an abortion) and the premature cancellation of Firefly (a crime for which anyone has yet to be prosecuted)– I go and start writing something I feel rescues the spirit of the failed work (while– ahem– staying well on this side of plagiarism). I find that feeling let down by other writers/creators is definitely inspirational. It’s partly because of earlier disappointments that I actually have a backlog of projects beside the Divine Lotus series. It’s definitely better than drowning my sorrows in bourbon. Way better than crack. If you’re going to medicate by means of an addictive substance, writing is truly superior.

Okay, so that’s off my chest. Back to work. Later.