Sanctuary #Writephoto

I shook off the transportal’s disorientation and trembled with the cold. Authentic cold. Maybe not what I’d expected, but a clear signal that I’d arrived. I’d grown sick of my shipbound existence, the sensory constancy, the monotony of routine, the same faces, same pastimes, same food. The same, same, same. After six cycles, the head of Assimilation approved my placement. And here I stood.

Time to face my new world, my chosen sanctuary, I squared my shoulders, hauled in a breath, and marched through the gray arch into a landscape felted in white. I halted. Warning bells clanged in my head and reality punched me in the chest. Something had gone wrong.

In a panic, I checked my chrono. I had minutes before the ship barreled out of range. Hands fumbling, I opened my comdeck, desperate for a connection.

“Connection established. Audra receiving. You have one chron before communication terminates.”

“Audra, this is Cloe. There’s been a mistake. You need trans me back to the ship.”

“Cloe? Give me a second.”

“Hurry!” I pleaded. A gray-haired alien in a charcoal coat strolled between the white trees, and I turned my back, hiding my dread.

“Your entry was a success.” Audra’s voice crackled with interference. “…didn’t show one irregularity. What’s the matter?”

“This planet,” I whispered, “it’s not the one I approved.” Tears blurred my vision, and I couldn’t stop shivering. “The locators guaranteed an 89% match to my parameters. I saw the images. They sent me to the wrong place!”

“I’m sorry, honey. You certified your choice. The portal’s closing.”

“Audra, you have to help me. Don’t leave me here!”

“All right, I’ll try. Tell me what’s wrong with it? I’ll issue a…” The comdeck fizzled and died.

I throttled the useless thing and smashed it on the stone steps. Face raised to the milky sky, I shouted, “I wanted colors! You sent me to a black and white world.”

The gray-headed alien in his charcoal coat glanced up from where he threw black seeds on the white ground. Gray-feathered birds pecked around his black shoes.  “That’s what you get for arriving in winter.”

I frowned at him. “Winter?”

He angled his head toward the gray buildings in the distance. “They didn’t tell me either. Let’s get a cup of coffee, and I’ll fill you in on something called spring.”

***

Another gorgeous photo and fun Thursday prompt from Sue Vincent. Join the fun. 🙂

A Human Story: Guest Post with Andrea Flory

After reading Andrea Flory’s book Miira (Innerscape: book 1) , I asked her if she’d be interested in a guest post. I expected a cerebral exposition of the fascinating science of virtual reality. What I got was so much more, a sharing of the true beauty of her work, a human story. My review is below, but before heading there, here’s Andrea:

***

Andrea Flory

Some people know they want to write from a very young age. It’s all they dream about.

That was never me. I did spend a lot of my childhood daydreaming, but those were private adventures, and I never saw them as potential ‘books’. Books were magical portals created by geniuses with towering imaginations.

How could I ever aspire to write stories?

It was true that I liked words and was good with them, but I was too pragmatic, and much too logical to ever emulate gods like Dostoyevsky and Dumas, LeGuin and Herbert. No, daydreams were for that magical time between waking and sleeping. They were most definitely not suitable for the real world.

And besides, I was busy. I rode motorbikes and  went up in gliders, travelled overseas, learned more languages, taught high school French, fell in love with computers, got married, had a child. You know…life.

But neglected passions don’t always wither away, and one day while I was doing tech support, I realised that many of my clients were asking the exact same questions, over and over again.

Ah hah, thought I. I liked writing, and I’d been a teacher, why not combine the two and type up the tech support instead of re-inventing the wheel each time? And that was the start of my technical writing career, but it would still be another ten years before I was brave enough to give fiction a try.

I guess that lack of courage is something I share with Miira, the protagonist in my latest science fiction story. She’s not a coward, exactly, but she’s not brave either, and it’s not until she’s bed-ridden and almost completely helpless that she finally decides to take the plunge and enter the digital world of Innerscape.

At first, Miira only sees Innerscape as a pain free way to die. Once inside, however, she discovers that her healthy young body and the virtual world it inhabits really are indistinguishable from the real thing. But if she has been given this second chance at life, what on earth is she to do with it?

I think this is a question we all have to answer at some point in our lives. For me, the moment came after a brush with cancer some years ago. Until then, I’d felt no sense of urgency; I was learning to write the kind of fiction I loved to read. What was the rush? Besides, I still wasn’t sure my writing would ever be good enough…

After the cancer scare I realised that writing wasn’t a competition. I might never be as good as my heroes, but my best was good enough. For me. The only question that still remained was whether I had the courage to share my best with others.

In 2013 I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and jumped. Four years later, so did Miira Tahn.

My Review

What a beautifully written book. Innerscape is a science fiction story about a middle-aged woman Miira whose disease-ravaged body is dying. She decides to enter Innercape where her body will be pared down to her essential components and preserved while she lives out her life in a virtual world as a younger, healthy version of herself.

The first book in the series covers two aspects of her immersion in Innerscape – first, the preparation of her new body and the tests to prepare for her transition, and second, the transition into the VR world and her orientation. As a series, the story continues beyond the initial book, and Flory hooks the reader with the introduction of several challenging characters, corporate compromises, questionable ethics, and love.

The science is detailed and utterly entrancing, as well as completely understandable to the layperson. The premise and technology also seem entirely plausible, if not now, then in the not-so-distant future. Flory’s writing is meticulous and detailed, and the world she’s created held my fascination throughout.

And all that wasn’t even the best part! Set against the scientific backdrop, is an engrossing human story. Miira is reserved, sensitive, inquisitive, and vulnerable, a beautifully rendered human being undergoing a process that requires complete trust and a step into the unknown. The story is told primarily in her point of view and the immersion in her experience is complete. The Innerscape staff that supports her are multidimensional and believably flawed characters.

The pace is steady and yet I flew through the book because I could NOT put it down. Exquisite writing, gorgeous descriptions, high tech science, and human pathos that grab the reader. I’m a fan and gladly recommend this book to readers of science fiction and anyone who enjoys an unusual human story.

***

If we’ve enticed you to enter the fascinating world of Innerscape and meet Miira, here’s the global link to her story: Miira, Innerscape: book 1

Guest Post: Good News for Indies by Sheron McCartha

Sheron McCartha is a science fiction author, reader, and reviewer who blogs over at Scifi Book ReviewShe does a great job keeping track of what’s happening in the indie publishing world and has stopped by to share some good news. Take it away, Sheron…

Numbers. Bah! I work with words. So what can a bunch of numbers tell me that could help with my writing?

Well…

The Written Word (Freebooksy, Bargain booksy and other ad sites for authors) surveyed 38,000 authors. They compared a group of authors who made $100k or more a year (called $100k Authors) to authors making $500 or less a year (called Emerging Authors). Note that their group of authors are skewed toward the romance genre. Also note that a portion of the blockbuster authors didn’t engage in the survey as they were out on their boats drinking champagne, but still some interesting facts emerged that you as an author can take to the bank.

What made the difference?

1. The longer an author has been writing, the more money they tended to make. So if you’re struggling with a book or two, have patience. Persistence is the key. (I needed that. I so needed to hear that.)

2. Publishing Indie is a viable way to success. Self publishers get a much larger percent of royalties. Does it matter how you publish? Most authors in the survey were Indie authors. Only 5% were traditionally published authors, and none of those made the $100K group. Of those in the $100K subset, 72% were Indie and 28% Hybrid.

Interestingly, another survey, May 2016 Author Earnings reports that “the vast majority of traditional publishing’s mid-list or better earners started their career over a decade ago. Their more recently debuted peers are not doing anywhere near as well.”

Within the hybrid subset, 100K authors are present at a higher percentage than Emerging Authors (28% vs 17%). This may be a result of traditional authors taking their books back from a house and self-publishing them, or a self-publisher getting a large platform that attracts a traditional publishing house. Many successful authors are taking advantage of both worlds. Confused by numbers and want a picture? Here’s a visual:

3. “Going wide” or limiting to KDP Select didn’t make a difference in how much money the authors made.

4. The $100K group spent more than $100 for a professional cover. None spent over $1000. Looking professional is important, but you don’t have to break the bank.

5. Also important is spending your money on a professional editor. In the $100K group, 96% spent money on an editor while half of those spent from $250-$500, at least 20% shelled out $500-$1000. In the Emerging Authors camp, 56% spent up to $50, but everyone admitted it was important to have another pair of eyeballs read over the work.

6. In both $100K and Emerging Authors categories, the author handles the marketing. Those authors making more money often hire assistants to help them with this fun chore. Also, everyone in the survey used ad sites as a means of marketing, so other forms weren’t really studied.

7. Don’t quit your day job. For Emerging Authors, 66% still have a day job and 28% of the $100K authors have one.

8. Finally—the more hours writing=more books=more payout. Emerging Authors wrote 19.8 hours per week while $100K spent 28.5 hours per week writing.

9. For you data hounds, here’s the link: Written Word Media Survey

All right, so surveys and numbers aren’t all that bad and may tell us something. Here’s another while I’m at it. Are you game?

Mark Coker does an extensive survey once a year. He is the founder of Smashwords that competes with Amazon and distributes books over a wide range of platforms. You go through his meatgrinder and he spits out your book to iBook, Kobo, the Nook, his own site and many others. This is what is called, “going wide.” Smashwords’ catalog is strictly eBooks and 127,000 authors make up his catalog of 437,200 books.

The fiction category makes up 87.5% of his sales with 45% of that going to the romance genre. Unfortunately for me, in the top 200 best sellers, 73% are romance while 3% are science fiction. Having said that, Mark talks about some new marketing innovations.

1. Pre-orders are appearing as a tool to launch a new book. However, only 12.23% of books at the time of the survey were born in a pre-launch. Yet, in the top 1000 sellers, 61% used the pre-launch to get things going.

2. Box sets are becoming popular with 90% as single author box sets. Multi author boxed sets aren’t as popular as yet and may have royalty tangles.

3. As to pricing, Mark urges Indie authors to up the cost to $4.99 from a lower price. $3.99 and $4.99 got more downloads than $.99 pricing. If you price it too cheaply do readers think the book is not as good and hesitate?

4. Average word count for the romance genre is 113,803. This may vary from genre to genre as fantasy is expected to be longer and maybe other genres are shorter.

5. Keep the titles fairly short. In the top 100 sellers, character titles were kept to an average of 24 characters while in the top 1000 range, the characters averaged 37.11.

6. Series sell. Top best sellers show that they are likely to come from a series. In the top 100, a free starter book increased sales of the series by 80%

7. Where did Smashwords sell the most? The United States garnered 69% of sales, far outdistancing Great Britain (8%), Canada (11%), Australia (5%).

Here’s the link: Smashwords Survey

Okay, so you have had enough of numbers, and your head is spinning, but some interesting facts have been revealed that any author can use in earning more and becoming famous. At least to your mother-in-law or distant cousin.

How about some words to even things out? I just released my 2nd book in the Terran Trilogy called Somewhat Alien. As an incentive, I’m offering the first book, A World Too Far for free for a limited time only…starting today for Diana’s amazing blog followers. (I read your comments and you are awesome). And remember Mark’s advice about offering the first book free in a series. We’ll see how effective that is.

 

To sweeten the pot, I will price the new release of Somewhat Alien for three days at a discount price of $.99 in the hopes that I will get some honest reviews from you all. As of now, I have none…none…and I would love to hear from you and how you liked this new series.

Enjoy.

More about Sheron: 

I grew up with my father saying that he was going to write a great science fiction book one day. He talked a lot about it.

He loved science fiction, and often on a Sunday morning when we were all lined up and finally ready for church (three of us were girls which took a while), father would be missing. Mother would find him hiding in the bathroom reading like it was a forbidden pleasure.

After he retired and embarked on his great writing endeavor, he came to me and confessed that he had tried to write and couldn’t. He wanted to, but the words weren’t there. He threw the torch in my direction and became my inspiration.

My father has since passed away, but the day I proudly held that first book in my hands, I just knew, that while others were headed out to sing praises somewhere; he was ensconced on a cushy cloud, hiding out reading my book.

You can follow Sheron at @Sheronwriting

and her website: Scifi Book Review

 

 

Monster – A Children’s Story

My writing break is busy with little projects, and new book ideas are happily simmering. The rain lingered through most of May, so I spent a couple weeks playing at other kinds of creativity. I thought I’d try to illustrate one of my children’s stories. Here are the first six pages. A  couple still need some work, but it’s a start. The verse is hard to see at this mini size, so I added it below.

Monster

In a dim and distant galaxy
Due east of dusty Mars
Spins a tiny greenish planet
Nestled in a spray of stars.

Its rivers teem with fishes
Its fields grow golden wheat
And fireflies light its lanterns
Along every nighttime street.

The sun smiles at its dawning
Rain only drips at night.
Even prickly woodland beasties
Hardly ever raise a fright.

“Life is grand in Alderdoof,”
The elders often say.
“Could a soul in all the village
Want it any other way?”

Yet, inside a shingled cottage
At the end of Grabble Lane
Lives a gloomy, grouchy creature
Ana Goblyn is her name.

She’s sour, dour, and cranky
Her lips droop in a frown.
She’s bored with every place and person
In her friendly town.

She snuffs and snorts her crabbiness
At doting mom and dad
Who shake their heads in weariness.
“It’s really not so bad.”

“Your chums skip in the daffydils.
Why not go out and play?”
Ana grunts and glowers grumpily
And yearns to run away!

“My life is oh so commonplace
My chores are never fair.
My mates think I’m quite ordinary
And I hate my curly hair.”

“Why can’t I live where everyone
Adores a prize like me?
Amongst a band of monsters
Where I’ll do just as I please?”

“A fine idea,” her father shouts.
“Let’s build a shiny ship!
We’ll add two booster rockets
To give you lots of zip.”

They toil in the garden
For an endless, grueling week.
Her ship peeks over rooftops
Its metal smooth and sleek.

(23 more stanzas in case you’re eager to read the rest!)

At last, the craft is finished.
Eager Ana packs her sack.
She scrambles up the ladder
Not a single wee glance back.

To Alderdoof she bids farewell
And to her mom and dad.
Yet, oh, one watery tear does fall
Her parting a morsel sad.

The spaceship flies past pearly moons
And girds a sparkling star.
Now all alone, she wonders why
She’s traveled quite this far.

Then on a sodden planet
She spies a foggy shantytown
Pulls on the spaceship’s landing gear
And gently sets her down.

From a bank of fog with eerie grace
Emerge her curious hosts.
They look like leggy lizards
With bodies as wispy as ghosts.

Their scaly skin is slimy
Much greener than a fish.
And long hooked tails like fire-pokers
Flick and flop and swish.

The only hair upon their heads
Sticks out from twitching ears.
And yellow eyes, flecked with red,
Blink as the monsters near.

They click their claws in unison
And sway from side to side
While Ana wonders if it’s wiser
To spend her days inside.

Around her shiny metal hull
The monsters plod and prowl.
Then bare their pointy yellow teeth
From snouts bent in a scowl.

Those ghastly, ghostly monster-frowns
Make Ana shout with glee.
“These grumpy, lumpy lizard things
Are grouchy just like me!”

Without a thought, she pops a pout
And opens up the hatch.
She clambers down the ladder
To a soggy, grassy patch.

The creatures wince in horror.
They cringe at the fearsome sight.
The thing climbing from its tinny can
Is twice their size in height!

It has no tail or claws or fangs
Its teeth shine white as bones.
Two legs, not four, lumber
Across the weathered seaside stones.

Centered in its oval face
Is a point with two round holes.
Its blue orbs look like drowning pools
That plan to steal their souls.

Atop the creatures head twists
A tangle of coiling curls.
The monster can only be the dreaded
Spoiled human girl!

The ghostly, scaly lizards squawk
Turn hooked tails and flee.
They scuttle and scramble and dive headfirst
Into their foggy sea.

That rude reception draws a sniff
Her welcome disappointing.
Ana boards her lonely ship
Head hung low and moping.

“I suppose I might fly onward
To another flaming sun.
But this journey hasn’t turned out
As I hoped when it begun.”

Ana dawdles in her silent ship
While wondering what to do.
Perhaps she’s learned a precious lesson
And grown up a day or two.

Maybe chores aren’t quite so vexing
Her parents more than fair.
Perhaps her chums are a tad bit fun
And there’s worse than curly hair.

The cozy town of Alderdoof
Seems such a kindly place
Far away from where she waffles
In the starry void of space.

A sudden thought bubbles up.
Could it be that she’d been wrong?
Could her cranky, crabby crossness
Be the problem all along?

With nary a grousing rumble
Not a gripe or grumbling groan
But with a happy smile, Ana turns her dials
And sets her sights on home.

Farlanders’ Law

Excerpt from Farlanders’ Law, The Rose Shield: Book III

The baby reminded her of Gussy on the day Zadie delivered her into the world of the stead. Such memories raised tears for a lost lifetime, a wistful dream that evaporated upon her waking to a harsher, crueler morn. Those days had marked the most sacred of her life, a few years of recaptured innocence when they called her Rose for lack of another name. Zadie had chosen the name because of her eye, and Wenna had given her the choice of calling it her own. The tender mothers of her youth had seen the ugly mark bruising her face and named it something lovely, called her a thing of beauty when she was a scrawny cast off lacking a voice of her own.

This little one possessed no flaws, no strange blemish or discoloration or unexplained power, nothing to hurl her life into heartbreak and ruin. So, Catling chose the name again, and in that instant, all her misgivings, all her dreaded anger and doubts and regrets about the baby resting on her body vanished. Every indignity inflicted upon her, every threat and injury and act of destruction faded into the murky distance. For years, those with unfettered authority had wielded her as a tool. Now, the power of the infant’s face, the gray eyes and soft hair, the little bowed lips, the helplessness of this new life eclipsed them all. Suddenly, only this life mattered, her child’s life, and she drifted instantly and deeply into love.

***

One more book to go and then I promise I’ll stop! Lol.

Now available on Amazon

Creating Magic Systems

pixabay

Writers of speculative fiction—whether fantasy, paranormal, superhero, or science fiction—are dealing with supernatural or hyper-scientific systems that stretch our reality and knowledge of the known.

As writers, our job is to create realities where these systems are understood by the reader and feel natural and integrated into the speculative world. A reader’s immersion requires that our systems are cohesive, logical, and well explained.

Brandon Sanderson (Elantris, Mistborn) refers to these systems, regardless of whether they are fantasy or science fiction, as “magic systems.” Both adhere to the same storytelling principles in order to bring the magic/technology to life.

He distinguishes between “soft magic” and “hard magic” and suggests that they lie on a continuum.

The far end of the soft magic continuum is full of “wonder” and has few rules. The magic users have mysterious abilities and can do whatever they wish with little limitation. Wizards and gods are good examples of characters that tend toward softer magic though they will often be subject to some rules. Rarely is someone with soft magic a main character or they’d simply wave their wands through every obstacle.

Hard magic lies on the other end of the spectrum, and here is where the rules come into play. In this case, the magic becomes an integral plot device in the story. According to Sanderson, an author’s “ability to solve problems with magic in a satisfying way for the reader depends directly on how well the reader understands the magic.”

So what does the “hard” end of the magic system need for reader understanding?

  1. Origin – What is the source of the magic? Where did it come from? If people have different powers, why?
  1. Simplicity – Some of the best magical systems have very little complexity but a great deal of depth. Magic users have to work to make the system fit their needs.
  1. Limitations – What exactly can the magic do and what can’t it do? Be specific.
  1. Flaws/weaknesses – These are the holes in the magic. What is its foil? When doesn’t it work? Is there a cost to the user?
  1. Tools/Activators – What does the magic need to function? Does it need a special item, something ingested, an initiation, a mutation?
  1. Early introduction – Establish the magic parameters early and foreshadow any change in abilities. Beware of adding magic just when it’s convenient (deux ex machina), especially near the end.

Remember that when crafting a magic system, the limitations and flaws are usually more interesting than the strengths (no different than crafting interesting characters). What the system can’t do is more intriguing than what it can, and it’s the system’s deficiencies that create the challenges and obstacles for the characters.

The number of rules an author employs is what slides the magic system along the continuum. But that’s not the only way soft and hard magic can be blended. Some stories will use hard magic to drive the story, but add little elements of soft magic to increase the sense of wonder.

Magic is no small matter! It will have an impact on the world, nations, cultures, governments, and religions. It will impact power hierarchies, livelihood, family, self-esteem, danger and destiny. Take some time to think about how the presence of magic impacts the overall world. The more your magic system is woven into your world-building, the more real it will feel to the reader.

Happy Writing!

Oathbreakers’ Guild

“The time has arrived for your final trial.” Dalcoran sat across from her, every detail of his grooming, attire, and manner precise, his features ageless despite his infirmity. “It’s an act which binds you to the guild, solidifies your power, and acknowledges the great burden you will bear as an influencer. Your oath to the heiress is absolute; you are sworn to do her bidding even when it rails against your personal wishes. It is the responsibility of the guild to see you prepared.”

“I understand.” Catling set her teacup on the low table between them. Nothing he said thus far shocked her, and yet, a chill coiled up her spine.

“What we ask of you, we ask of all initiates. We only ask it once in training, though your oaths may dictate future sacrifices in practice.”

“You may tell me, Dalcoran-Elan.” Catling threaded her fingers in her lap.

“You are to kill an innocent.” He met her eyes. “Not someone dying, sick, or aged. You must steal the future of someone at the height of life. The heiress may require it of you, and your binding oath will demand your obedience.”

She stared at him, an all-consuming emotion burning in her chest. Not horror but fury. “The heiress would never order the random execution of an innocent without purpose—as an exercise. Dalcoran-Elan, I refuse.”

“You cannot refuse, Catling.”

“I can refuse because that is exactly what I am doing.”

He sat in rigid silence and sipped his tea while hers grew cold on the table.

“I’m an aspirant,” she said, “and it’s within your rights to coerce me into compliance. Yet, I suspect the whole point of this trial is to test my willingness to stalk and kill with complete self-control.”

“I shall report your decision to the heiress,” he said, ignoring her statement.

“You may do so.” She rose to her feet and brushed the creases from her jacket. “You may also tell her that I will act as her assassin if the need arises, but I will refuse to murder without purpose.”

The knowing smile on Dalcoran’s face made her feel as though she were a child refusing to grow up. “You will learn in time, Catling, if your fiery principles are forged of steel or glass.”

**

A snippet from Oathbreakers’ Guild – Book II of The Rose Shield
Live Today.

Book I   

PS. Tornado Boy is touching down for the weekend. I may be delayed in responding to comments, but I will catch up. ❤