Monthly Archives: October 2013

Gearing Up

This weekend something shiny arrived at the house. I could barely contain my drool. A brand new laptop! No more banishing my wife from the living room so I can write in the evening (truth be told, she tends to self-banish herself to where there are fuzzy blankets). I figured I’d take a few minutes and talk (brag) about which laptop and what accessories I chose and why.

The Laptop: I picked a Lenovo G500. It’s their bare bones model and one of the lowest price points they offer. Turns out that it doesn’t matter in the least. Why? Because I’m the Sweatpants Guy of computers. Imagine you’re at the gym, and you look at the other people working out. There are muscly guys admiring their pipes in the mirror, also some moms that can run for 6 hours straight on the elliptical trainer. Then in walks some guy in gray sweatpants that look like they’ve never been worn. He takes a few laps around the machines, pokes the “Peck Deck” to see how it works, and then ends up on something like an exercise bike because it actually looks like something from the real world. That’s me with a computer. I don’t even do a third of the things that this computer is capable of, never mind one that could conceivably launch the space shuttle. I haven’t been into PC gaming since the original StarCraft came out. I was in high school and I think there might have even been a 19 at the beginning of the date. I want to be able to run word processing software, check email, and maybe stream a video once in a while. These are all a cinch with the G500.

The Bling: My one and only accessory is a thumb drive, and that has a story with it too. I knew the computer was on its way (UPS actually let me track it from Shanghai), so I stopped in at Best Buy to pick out something that could transfer and store documents from PC to PC. My wife, who is the techie of the family, was with me. When we got to the rack of thumb dives and exterior hard drives, I told her that I needed something that could hold a lot of hefty documents, some over 100,000 words long. She explained to me very slowly(actually very nicely), that in modern terms, a War and Peace sized document, was a peanut of data. I picked up one that can hold 16MB, apparently thousands of documents. Grand total: 10 bucks.

Software: My choice of a word processor was the hardest decision. I’ve grown up with MS Word and it’s always done what I needed it to. Somewhere along the way though, I heard that there might be something else out there. While haunting writing blogs and forums, an unfamiliar word kept on popping up. Scrivener. Let me take a moment to mansplain what Scrivener is. It’s sort of a word processor, sort of a planning tool. The functionality of a word processor is the same as Word, but it’s made so that you can break up a document into lots of small pieces and then shift them around. For a fiction writer, that makes it much easier to move around scenes and see where they fit the best. There are also a lot of features for planning and outlining. I didn’t really plan my current project, but when I get to the editing stage, I think this will all come in handy.

I also decided to go with Libreoffice for a word processor when I want to just do the basics. I’m using it right now to write this post. So far it seems to do the job, but it will take a bit of getting used to because I’m so used to the look of Word. It was free, so then there’s that. It may come to pass that in three weeks I’ll be running around the house threatening dishonor on you and dishonor on your cow, and break down and shell out for Word, but for now, I’m 100 bucks richer and doing fine.

The only other thing worth noting, is that this is my first time with Windows 8. As a person who’s had Windows since the 1993 version, I wonder if they couldn’t have made it a bit more intuitive to use. I know they’re trying to integrate a mobile platform for all devices, but the first time I used an Android it took me ten minutes to figure out. For this thing I had to Google how to shut the damn thing off.

If I make any big breakthroughs or add on new technology I’ll make an update. For now though, I’m just a happy kid trying out a new toy.



Indie Covers That Work

So today I’m talking covers, self-published book covers to be precise. There are plenty of places on the internet where you can go to see train wreck indie covers. They’ve certainly provided me many late night, several-beers-later, guffaws. I’d personally like to focus on some of the covers that I think work well.

You’ll notice something about the covers that I’m featuring. There’s a conspicuous lack of bare male torsos. I’m sure that these covers work. They certainly sell books. But as I am a guy, and I’ve never bought a 6-pack toting, smoldering-eyed, stubbly man book, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to judge them fairly.

I also have a few opinions that go against most commonly held beliefs. I don’t necessarily need a cover to hit me over the side of the head with genre. A cover should convey the feel of the story inside, but I don’t need the Seal of the President to tell me that it’s a political thriller.  I also don’t need there to be a badge on a cop book, a space ship for science fiction, or a photo-bombing wolf for one of those wolfy books.

So without further adieu, the covers:

Clear typography, action that conveys meaning without being over the top. This one puts me right into a scene from the book. There is a lot going on, but not so much that it feels busy.

This one is great at conveying what’s inside, YA thriller with a dash of the supernatural. It also grabs you at a thumbnail size.  The rest of the books in the series match it perfectly as well.

This one is a good example of feel. It’s striking in thumbnail size and invites you to click. My only criticism is the shadowed type. I think it would be stronger without this.

The real win here is typography. The title really pops off the page. Also, by having a fairly basic background, the next books in the series can be done up without too much fuss and still look great.

This is the last one I’m going to feature. It’s actually the third book in the series, my favorite of the three. It screams YA dystopian with maybe a soupcon of romance,  and sets the mood of the story. Put together with the other books in the series, they make a compelling package.

So that’s that. Indie book covers that don’t look like fridge art for a fifth grader. I think they show the birth of a new type of author, self-publishers that are neither million copy bestsellers, nor people flinging things up on Kindle with just a prayer. These are professionals putting out a professional product; indie mid-list authors.

Dystopia in Science Fiction

Ash gray skies and toppled down buildings. Earth in 500 years, either under water or polluted beyond belief. Dystopia is a huge trend in science fiction these days.

I’ve heard its popularity attributed to the current economic downturn, as well as to global warming.

I don’t doubt that these have an influence on all fiction, not just the speculative kind.

Specifically, I think science fiction has turned sharply in the direction of dystopian futures for one main reason. Space is way more boring than we thought it would be.

In Ancient Greece, people used myths to explain the unexplained bits of nature. Why does the sun come up every morning? Someone must be doing it. Why not some dude in a chariot?

The trend continued through the ages, myths being largely replaced by the Bible or other religious texts.

Then in the 17th and 18th centuries, science slowly became something that wouldn’t get you thrown in a poop strewn, rat infested dungeon.

Many of the mysteries of nature quickly became mundane. Tectonic plates rubbing weren’t quite as interesting a cause of earthquakes as Poseidon’s trident striking the ground when he was pissed. Writers turned their eyes upward and imagined what could be happening up there with all those twinkly things. Science fiction was born.

Up until the 60s, you could still write a story about the scantily clad amazon women that surely inhabited the moon. Then came Martians and ice creatures, back when Pluto was still a planet, not a confused little space rock.

Now, every time Curiosity sends another crystal clear image back to earth, we know that the best we can hope for are carbon traces of alien paramecium locked in prehistoric ice. Green guys are pretty much out of the question.

Also, we could probably make personal jetpacks right now, but think about the liability issue. The manufacturer would get sued every time some dumbass sailed one into the side of a mountain.

We also had high hopes for checking out other solar systems and getting our Star Trek on. While I hate to dash anyone’s hopes, it turns out that space is freaking huge.

Bu… bu… but wormholes! Well maybe that will work, but that’s what the last five decades of books have been written about. Every time something gets either proven or disproven, it’s one less piece of fodder for the writer’s imagination.

Where does that put science fiction?

It leaves the genre pondering the future of Earth in hundreds or thousands of years. And let me tell you, it’s not looking good.

Let’s face it. It’s more interesting reading about teen eat teen battles than Jetson utopias. Government shutdowns in 3019? I think I’ll pass.