Monday, June 29, 2015

Reading Report: January--June, 2015

With June almost over, it's time for my semiannual reading report. My reading goal for this year is 200 books, and I'm at the halfway point with 100 books. (ETA: You can follow along with my 2015 reading challenge on Goodreads.) These numbers include everything from individual short stories listed on Goodreads to omnibus editions. I did include a couple of books I read over and over with my son, but most of them I generally don't track. (I also didn't track some of the Hugo nominees I've read.) I typically save my genre and format breakdown for the end of the year, but this time I decided to go ahead and do it. First is the genre breakdown:

Fantasy: 35
Science Fiction: 25
Other Fiction: 9
Non-Fiction: 31

Here's the split between eBook and paper formats:

eBook: 72
Paper: 28

Most of the paper books I read are from the library. If the eBook I want to read is priced above what I think is reasonable, I may get the paper version instead. (This is what I did for Prudence and Bujold's series.)

Diversity reads (I try to read at least one book a month by someone of a different sexuality or racial/ethnic background) so far include Sere from the Green, The Summer Prince, The Three-Body Problem, and The New Moon's Arms.

Finally, here are some of my favorite reads so far for the year:

We, the People of the Clouds
Miles, Mystery, and Mayhem
Company Daughter
Winter Queen
Big Dragons Don't Cry
Cordelia's Honor
Centaur of the Crime
The Mermaid's Sister
Her Instruments trilogy

What books have you enjoyed so far this year?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dean Wesley Smith: The Real Price of Traditional Publishing

In the interest of freeing up some blogging time for writing, I'm going to link to a very important post Dean Wesley Smith made about the real price of traditional publishing. With upfront advances and the prestige of working with a publisher, traditional publishing still holds appeal for some authors. But is it worth it, especially with advances for genre works shrinking and right grabs for life plus seventy years? What income might a first-time author expect to see from one traditionally published book over thirty-five years, and how many books would an indie author need to sell to reach that income every year? The answer may surprise you. Of course, best-selling authors may have better deals than the one Smith describes, but if you don't have that clout, make sure you read whatever contract you sign carefully.

And now back to Chaos Season for me. I may not finish the first draft by June 30th, but I should be close. Hopefully I can finish by mid-July at the absolute latest.

Monday, June 22, 2015

WIP Excerpt: Chaos Season--Jenna's Tree

Yesterday was the summer solstice. In my fantasy world of the Season Avatars, solstices and equinoxes are important in the country of Challen. The Season Avatars are all born on the first day of their seasons--in fact, no one else in the country is ever born on a solstice or equinox. The Summer Avatars have plant magic and bond with a tree to help them use this magic. Here's a scene from my current work in progress called Chaos Season. This book is told from the point of view of Jenna Dorshay t'Reve, the current Summer Avatar. Here's part of the scene where she sprouts her oak tree.

The embryo inside her chosen acorn cried out for joy as it sucked in its first drops of water. Having already missed the best sprouting time, it was eager to grow. Jenna needed to force-grow it past the most vulnerable stages.

She put her hands on the mud, reaching for the sprout and encouraging it upward, toward the sun, and downward to create a strong root network. A green tip burst through the soil. Jenna directed nourishment at it. She grinned as it became a twig, then shot out its first true leaves.
“Back off on the rain a bit, Kay,” she said. “My tree needs sun too.”

The leaves worked frantically to make its own nutrients. Although the tree grew much faster than it normally would, Jenna longed to see it reach its full potential. She laid a finger on the still-delicate sapling, watching it lay down rings of growth around its trunk. Soon it was as high as her waist and as thick as her thumb. But that wasn’t enough. The tree grew taller and wider. When it was as tall as her, branches split apart from the top. Now she could press both hands on it, urging it to keep going. It obliged. She stared at its most intimate parts, mesmerized by the dance of life going on at levels no one else could see…

I hope you enjoyed that and had a great solstice!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Selecting KDP Select or Not?

A couple of days ago, Amazon announced a major change to how authors in the Kindle Unlimited program would be compensated. When KU was formed last year, authors were paid if a reader read past 10% of the book length. This led to a lot of authors putting short stories and serials into the program. To encourage authors to add longer books, Amazon will start paying them next month by the number of pages read.

Currently, I only have one short story, "Letters to Psyche," in Select. I prefer to put my work in wide distribution, both to benefit readers and to make sure each book has the potential to give me multiple income streams. That said, most of my sales do come from Amazon. I get a few by distributing through Draft to Digital, even less via Smashwords, and so far none through Google Play. I have put some of my work in Select for brief periods of time. For example, Seasons' Beginnings was in Select for the first three months before I put it in wide distribution. I got a few borrows, but it wasn't hugely popular. However, I put Scattered Seasons in wide distribution from the start because the first book was available everywhere. Since there is a big shift in the Season Avatars series between books One and Two, I plan to write a short story collection featuring the characters from Scattered Seasons and use that as a way to introduce readers to the series. The question now is whether I should make the collection perrmafree everywhere or put it in KU first and see how it works. I face the same decision with "The Unnumbered World," the next story in the Catalyst Chronicles series. All novels from both series will be in wide distribution, but at some point, I may write another series and keep it exclusive to Amazon.

What do you think of the KU Program? Are you signed up for it as a reader or writer? Please let me know in the comments.

Monday, June 15, 2015

New Women in Science Fiction Project

Remember my SF Women A-Z series back in April? Well, apparently I'm not the only one with a project to promote women SF authors. Writer/editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch is working with Baen Books to create an anthology (in several volumes) of short fiction by classic SF women authors. You can read more about her project here and suggest authors/works on the associated website. For more background about why this project is necessary, check out Rusch's latest Business Musings, in which she describes how publishing's need for bestsellers led to rapid churn of the books carried by bookstores. This in turn means bookstores are less likely to carry backlisted titles. Even libraries end up culling unpopular books from their shelves to make room for new ones. We're fortunate that these days classic stories can be made immortal in digital format so they're not forgotten.

Are there any classic but "forgotten" SF stories that you think should be read by contemporary readers? If so, please list them in the comments.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Reading the Hugo-Nominated Novels

I'm a supporting member of this year's Worldcon. My main reason for registering, of course, is to vote for the Hugos. So far I've read four of the five novels, three of the novellas, and two of the novelettes (I'm currently working on a third.) Here are some of my thoughts on the novels. I'll try to avoid spoilers, but it may be hard to discuss some points without details--or the politics behind the choices.

The Three-Body Problem--This is an English translation of a Chinese novel (so it counted for my Diversity Read last month). It starts during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and goes up to the present day, though the story line skips around a bit. A young woman scientist gets caught up in political affairs and ends up working on a top-secret project to contact aliens. Embittered by her father's death, the woman invites aliens from an imperiled planet to invade Earth. The aliens use a variety of scientific and psychological tricks to prevent Earth from mounting a resistance. This is the first book of a trilogy, so the outcome isn't decided in this book. I found the characters flat at first and found this book initially difficult to get into. Once the Three-Body Problem game was introduced, it picked up. Still, some subplots of the story felt like they got dropped after that point (maybe they'll be picked up in the next books), and to me, while some of the aliens' plans pose interesting questions about the nature of science, they also seem like some over-the-top plan from a James Bond movie to kill the agent (i.e., too complicated when a simple plan would be more effective). The science part overshadows the fiction to me.

The Goblin Emperor--The half-breed fourth son of the elven emperor succeeds to the throne when his father and older brothers are all killed at once. He was never expected to become emperor, was disliked by his father, and sent away to a remote area without proper training for his role. As soon as he learns the news, he proceeds to the capital to take the crown before he can be killed or manipulated. However, he has a lot to learn about how his court works, and his temperament is much different from his father's. This is a slow-paced book with lots of characters that are hard to keep straight. I still enjoyed seeing the title character grow into his role.

Ancillary Sword--The sequel to Ancillary Justice,which I read last year. This story continues to use female pronouns and quick POV shifts within scenes as in the first book. (The main character used to be the brains of a spaceship, able to sense everything through its ancillary crew, but is now confined to a single human body.) The main character is now commander of her own ship and takes on a mission to another planet on behalf of the Lord of the Radch. An interesting story, but I'm not sure how it's advancing the overall plot of the trilogy.

The Darkness Between the Stars--Although this is the first book of a series, it's set after another seven-book series which I haven't read. Apparently it features a lot of characters and families from the previous series. There's a lot of backstory which slows things down, and again there are so many characters it's hard to keep track of them all. Chapters are short and mention the name of the POV character, which helps a lot. Still, in an epic story like this, some storylines and characters get more space than others. (Some of them don't seem necessary to me, but they may have been more important in the first series.) The story is set about twenty years after a major war in space and shows new hostilities rising up again. Some of the aliens, such as the world trees, seem to be a SF counterpart to the traditional fantasy elements of earth, air, fire, and water. (I see at least three elements in the book, but I'm not sure how air is represented.) Characters can be a bit one-note and stereotypical at times.

Skin Game--Part of the Dresden Files series. I've read some of the series, but I'm not up-to-date on it. This makes me reluctant to read this work (the voting packet does not feature the complete book) for fear of spoiling the books I haven't read yet. Still, I'm trying to give all the nominees a fair read (I admit I'm not objective--that's why I registered to vote in the first place), so I may have to borrow it from the library if available.

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think of them?

Monday, June 08, 2015

Facts for Fiction: The Next Species

It's hard enough contemplating one's own mortality, let alone that of the species to which we belong. However, in The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man, Michael Tennesen does just that. After all, we are the only species that keeps a Doomsday Clock, and the hands are only three minutes shy of midnight.

Tennesen starts by looking at previous mass extinctions to examine what caused them. The most famous mass extinction was that of the dinosaurs, which was caused when an asteroid collided with the Earth and raised a giant dust cloud that blocked the sun. However, climate change, such as global warming or cooling, also contributes to extinction, and there are several warning signs already present. Tennesen speculates on our end--and that of other species. However, every end is also a beginning. Quick-growing, "weedy" species often move in to take advantage of cleared niches, but they are gradually replaced by bigger, more specialized species. In time, big animals may return.

Is there no hope for humans? Well, there is the possibility of establishing a colony on Mars as a backup for Earth. Human evolution isn't dead; even if a catastrophe wipes out the vast majority of us, the rest could repopulate and perhaps establish a successor species to Homo sapiens. (There is evidence our species did pass through a genetic bottleneck at one point.) Of course, details about what such a species might look like are best left to the science fiction writers.

Do you think our species is as close to destruction as the Doomsday Clock says, or is there still hope for us and our children? Feel free to discuss in the comments.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

IWSG: Realistic Goals

It's time once again for another edition of the Insecure Writers' Support Group, which is held the first Wednesday of every month. You can learn more about IWSG here.

This month, I've set a goal for myself of finishing the first draft of Chaos Season. I'm at about 50,000 words, and the last two books have been between 75,000-80,000 words, so it's not an unreasonable goal if I can manage at least 1,000 words a day. The question is, how manageable is that, given all of the other things I have to do? Of course I work full-time, and afterwards I have to take care of family chores in the evening. While I don't have to worry about SF Women A-Z, WisCon, or my son's birthday anymore, I still have other side projects too. I'd like to finish redecorating and setting up Alex's playroom this month, along with decluttering some other areas of the house. (Just getting all of the Legos into the playroom would be a major cleanup!) As Readings/Events Coordinator for Broad Universe, I have a couple of spreadsheets and forms to prepare so I can stay on top of my duties. Plus there are a few things left over from May, but they're not big tasks. So my writing time will be squeezed, but with a half hour of writing on my lunch hour, and some time writing at night, I should be able to make 1,000 words a day as long as I know what to write. I have a general sense of what happens next in the story and the climax, though there may be some side plots I have to resolve before I get to the climax. I don't have an outline for this story; the first draft is basically my outline. I'll need to do at least one thorough edit before this story is ready for betas.

Given everything I've just said, while I would be happy to finish Chaos Season by June 30th, I'm not going to beat myself up if I'm off by a few days. I haven't set a release date for this book yet, so I can be flexible if necessary. Writing quickly is a valuable asset for an indie, but it's also important to make sure the final book is as good as I can make it at this time.

Do you set goals and deadlines for your own work? Are they external or self-imposed? How much do they stress you out? Feel free to share in the comments.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Two Giveaways for Scattered Seasons

Since I still have several paper copies of Scattered Seasons and could use more reviews, I've started a giveaway on Goodreads. It's technically supposed to start today, but as of last night, approval was still pending. I hope it goes live soon, as this giveaway will end next Monday, June 8th. Five winners in the U.S. will each receive a signed copy. If you'd like to enter, please visit this link.

If you're not in the U.S., or if you prefer e-books, you can request an e-book copy for review through LibraryThing. I don't have an exact link for this giveaway, so you have to scroll down this list.  I'm willing to give away up to 100 e-books in PDF, EPUB, or MOBI formats, and this giveaway will run through June 15th.

Good luck to all!

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