Tag Archives: Jandrax

Serial Education

Continued from last week, when I started to talk about what has already appeared in Serial.

Starting January 20, 2016, I presented a long fragment of the unfinished novel Voices in the Walls. I won’t give details, since you can read for yourself, but it was a teaching event. I interlaced the novel fragment with a chance to look over my shoulder as I worked. That turned it into a how-to for new writers.

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Here is a bit of unavoidable nerdishness. I should have transferred Voices to Backfile. I didn’t. Time is short and work is long, and I never found the time to get it done.

You can still read old multiple posts, but it can be a major PITA (pain in  . . . ) because they are presented in archives last-first, and you want to read them first-first. Worse still, archives does not distinguish between AWL posts and Serial posts, so you have to read every alternate one.

It isn’t really hard if you know the secret. Here’s how it is done. At the bottom of each post are right and left arrows to the next/previous post. If you start with the first post of VITW, read it, then click the right arrow, it will take you to the next post. Unfortunately, in my world that will be the same-day post over in AWL. Slide down through that post and click the right arrow to go to the next day’s post of Serial. And so forth.

It goes quickly after a few clicks to get into rhythm. Try it. VITW is worth your time.

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The entire novel Jandrax followed. It was and is available in used bookstores both locally and on Amazon, so it was not a lost work, but I included it with annotations. If you just want to read Jandrax, buy a used copy. Clicking through 92 posts isn’t worth 95 cents. But if you want to read the annotations in which I discuss why I did what I did, and confess to my screw-ups, it’s all there for you to enjoy.

more tomorrow

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451. The Blurb

Every writer hates blurbs. If the term blurb is unfamiliar to you, it refers to the written material on the outside of a paperback novel that ostensibly tells the reader what the story inside is  about. It is supposed to be a way for the reader to judge quickly whether or not to make a purchase.

However publishers have no intention of telling you why you shouldn’t buy one of their books, so looking for an accurate blurb is a bit like Diogenes looking for an honest man. Thomas Anderson of Schlock Value, whose quirky reviews I never miss, wages an ongoing war against dishonest blurbs.

Yesterday I ran across Robert Bloch’s The Opener of the Way in a used bookstore. I’m not a fan of Bloch, nor of horror, but I bought it because I had to have a copy of the back blurb. I’ve reproduced the top half of it in the scan above. The bottom half, in extreme fine print, says:

(Actually, the Opener of the Way is a first-rate collection of ten terrifying tales of horror and the macabre, including some of the finest ever written about Ancient Egyptian curses, vampires, pacts with the Devil and others. We hope you ‘enjoy’ them . . .)

The fine print was more honest than most and the top part was downright clever. It isn’t usually that way. For example, the blurb on the back of my first novel Jandrax says:

As a scout he’d tamed four planets — and more women than most men ever see . . .

Now in truth, there is only one sentence in the novel that mentions, in passing, that first-in scouts are famous for being rowdy when between assignments.

The back blurb on Jandrax is in three parts, each flamboyant in the style you would find on old westerns. Setting aside the gosh-wow tone, the first and third section are accurate enough in content, but that middle section makes Jandrax sound like astro-porn.

There are two problems with this. Anyone who buys the book expecting a sexy, racy delight, will be terribly disappointed. And anyone who wants a serious portrayal of how space exploration might actually look will probably turn away. Based on the phrase more women than most men ever see, I wouldn’t buy the book myself.

True cliché: You only get one chance to make a first impression. The blurb is where authors make their first impression, and if the publisher blows it, authors are the ones who suffer. 

My second novel A Fond Farewell to Dying has a front blurb that says (in all caps):

WHAT PRICE LIFE? SURRENDER YOUR BODY! GIVE UP YOUR SOUL!

Yech! Sorry folks, that also has nothing to do with the story inside. Neither does the angel blowing the last trump over four zombies in boxes, but bad cover art is a subject for another post. FFTD is about an atheist who tries to come up with a mechanical version of immortality, and succeeds without the universe taking revenge on him for hubris. The front cover, both art and blurb, gives a very different impression. In fact, I saw FFTD for sale on a spinner rack of Christian paperbacks in a supermarket. Someone there certainly got a surprise.

The back blurb was lengthy, given in three paragraphs. The first two were reasonably accurate, but the third was wildly misleading. That inaccuracy irritated me no end, but most blurbs are much worse. They often look like they were mixed up and placed on the wrong book.

I challenge you to take a handful of science fiction paperback novels which you have already read, look at the blurbs, and decide if they have anything to do with the novel as you remember it. If you get one match out of five tries you’ve probably won the jackpot.

Still, the opening statement in this post may be an overstatement. Perhaps every long-time writer used to hate blurbs would be more accurate. When Cyan was being prepared for publication, the folks at EDGE asked me to write my own blurb, and I have to admit that compressing a novel into a sentence or two is hard. I appreciated the chance, but now I have no one to blame.

449. Go Google Yourself

Cover by artist E. Rachael Hardcastle

This is mostly for and about writers; but then, most of you are or want to be writers.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who Google themselves and those who don’t.
There are two kinds of people who Google themselves: those who admit it and those who don’t.
Me, I just do it for business reasons. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

All this came up because of a young author I occasionally converse with through post replies. J. M. Williams just published his first book The Adventures of Iric (a flash fiction collection). On the cover, his name appeared as JM Williams and he asked his followers about which worked better — J. M. or JM.

Actually, he has bigger problems than that. J. M. Williams, written either way, is not sufficiently unique in our internet world. When I went to Amazon to buy his book, he was nowhere to be found. Instead, the J. M. Williams who wrote A Legacy of Magi: A Mystic’s Path popped up. Different book, different author.

This is the second time I have had this problem. I met Thomas Watson, author of the War of the Second Iteration series at Westercon, picked up his book Chance Encounters, and found him a pleasant person to talk to. When I wanted to see what a short story sold separately as an e-publication looked like, I went to Amazon and bought one by Thomas Watson. Bad idea; it was a mess, full of blood, guts, and bad writing, because it was by a different Thomas Watson.

If J. M. Williams and Thomas Watson have this problem, what would it be like for John Smith?

If these seem like shameless plugs, so be it. I liked Chance Encounters. I have just begun Adventures of Iric and am enjoying it already.

Personally, I have the childhood misfortune of being Sydney Franklin Logsdon. The first name is from my father, who was named after a great aunt. The middle name is from my grandfather. Logsdon is unspellable and unpronouncable. That triple consonant — gsd — does not roll off the tongue. Even shortened to Syd, my name is a little girlie, which was a big deal growing up in an Oklahoma cow town. In high school I went by Log, except for a few of the smart alecks in math class who called me Logarithm.

An odd name turned out to be a godsend on the internet. The first time I googled my name, it was mostly me, not a thousand strangers using my name. When I bought the URL for my website (sydlogsdon.com), no one else had snatched it up.

J. M. Williams’ announcement of his first novel reminded me that I hadn’t googled myself recently, so I did it again.

I found a few posts by or about Sydney Logsdon, a young girl who is heavily into sports and into posting pictures of herself. The last time I did a self-google, about a year ago, she was all over the internet, but not so much this time. Perhaps she moved on, or maybe she got married and is still out there under her new name.

I found one obituary of my father — different middle name — with misspellings and no mention of children. The internet has a lot of accuracy problems.

I found a Myspace music mix by Sydney Logsdon aka dumbgirl98. She is probably a namesake I don’t want to meet.

I found quite a few references to my newest novel Cyan. I found a ton of advertisements from used bookstores selling Jandrax or A Fond Farewell to Dying. One of them was in French. I even saw one in German, touting Todesgesänge, the translation of FFTD. It had a review I couldn’t read.

I found a review I hadn’t seen before for FFTD. In English, this time. That also gave me a new old-SF review site to follow.

I found somebody with my name telling how to make slime.

I found a number of sites selling illegal copies of my novels as ebooks. You won’t be surprised to see that I am not including a link to any of them.

What I didn’t see, was a hundred other people using my name. I dodged that bullet.

If you are a writer, or want to be, and your name is Avant B. Jones, don’t use A. B. Jones as the name on your novel. If your name is Bill Smith, you might consider a pseudonym. It’s a matter of branding, and it gives you something to think about while you are waiting for your first book to hit the internet.

415. Life-long Day Job

After twenty some years of teaching
science, I finally got a lab.  SL

Continuing from Monday’s post — Jandrax came out and I went back to writing full time. Those were the years of A Fond Farewell to Dying, Todesgesanga (FFTD translated to German) Valley of the Menhir, Scourge of Heaven, Who Once Were Kin, and the first iteration of Cyan. I know you’ve never seen half of those books, but you will. I promise.

There is no better feeing than sitting down every day and writing, when the results are good. And they were. However, there are few more frustrating feelings than writing good books that don’t sell. After most of a decade of full time writing, it was clear that I couldn’t go on that way, and equally clear that I couldn’t quit. I needed a day job that would leave me some time for writing.

My wife suggested that I substitute teach. The pay was good (compared to minimum wage) and I didn’t have to look for jobs. I signed up, and the jobs came to me. It worked as a stopgap.

I couldn’t do it again, after being an actual teacher. Substitute teaching is to teaching, as going to the dentist is to being a dentist. The best one word description is probably painful.

However, I didn’t feel that way at the time. Yes, the job was boring, and yes, it was glorified babysitting, but I had made a shocking discovery.

I liked the kids. A lot.

You have to understand, I was an only child, raised on a farm, having little contact with other kids. I never had children of my own — by choice. To me, babies are just pre-humans. Kids under ten bore the hell out of me. But these kids were interesting and fun to be around.

I had discovered that middle school kids are more fun than a bucket of puppies. I realize that I am a minority in that opinion, and I also realize that part of my feeling comes from not having to take them home with me, but there it is.

Most teachers want to teach high school or fourth grade. Not me. My days as a substitute teacher in high school were dismal. My days teaching kindergarten were horrific. But middle school was my Goldilocks age — not too young, not too old.

By that time I had two masters degrees, so it didn’t take long to tack on a teaching credential. I took a job in one of the schools where I had substituted and I was still there twenty-seven years later.

In my mind, it was a day job. I continued writing. I continued working on the novels which weren’t quite right, and I wrote Raven’s Run. Years went by. I wrote a novel about teaching, Symphony in a Minor Key, which is running over in Serial right now.

I could tell you all about my first years, describe my first room, and give you insights into the joys and pains of teaching — except that I already have, in Symphony.

After about ten years, it was obvious that I wan’t going to get back to full time writing any time soon. After another decade, I admitted to myself that I wasn’t just a writer who was teaching. I was a teacher. It took me that long to be able to say it without having it sound like a defeat. I never stopped being a writer. I just became a teacher as well. I had two careers, parallel and simultaneous, and there was nothing wrong with that.

I was a writer, and a good one. I was a teacher, and a good one. Nothing wrong with that. After about twenty five years, I could even call myself a teacher out loud.

Now I am a retired teacher, and a full time writer again, with a new book out and another working its way through the computer. But I wouldn’t trade those years of teaching for anything.

384. How to Sign an Ebook

I was involved in a book signing years ago, and had/will have two at Westercon. [Two weeks from now as I write this, one week ago as you read it.] Which begs the question — how do you sign an eBook? I’ll answer that below, but first . . .

Jandrax came out in 1978, and the Stacey’s book store in the local mall invited me to do a signing.

READERS PLEASE NOTE: THIS POST HAS BEEN HIJACKED BY REALITY.

After writing that last sentence, I did a quick internet search to see what happened to Stacey’s. I knew it disappeared later, but I couldn’t remember what year. I discovered that my Stacey’s was a spin-off of the well known San Francisco store and I had to work my way through obituaries to that great institution. I finally found someone who knew the fate of my local store. It closed in 1994. To quote my source

 . . . in 1994, Borders and Waldenbooks joined forces – and like a tidal wave of orcs, they swept across the land, mercilessly engulfing independent bookstores. Ashes to ashes, Stacey’s.  RIP, The Bookstore in Modesto.

Waldenbooks? I had completely forgotten them. They used to be at the other end of the mall, but they too are gone with the wind. I liked that store. I also liked both of the Borders stores that were within driving distance. Barnes and Nobel wiped them out years ago.

The upside is that Barnes and Nobel is also a fine bookstore with two local outlets. Today it is beleaguered by Amazon. If they go I’ll miss them, too.

I also miss The Bookstore, a true independent in another location across town. It was replaced by a Christian bookstore. The Christian bookstore went out of business later. Apparently, not even God can fight The Big Book Monopoly.

Because I like old books, and because I am usually short of cash, I shop at used bookstores. There are half a dozen in my five county area, but I also know of another ten, all of which have gone bankrupt in the last two decades. Ironically, when I want an old book that isn’t available locally, I buy from used bookstores on the internet — brokered by Amazon.

If you want to buy my latest novel, Cyan, you have to go to Amazon for now, where you can download it or order it in paperback. On July 17 it will become available everywhere. That is, everywhere on the internet.

The internet giveth, and the internet taketh away. That’s not a battle cry, just a recognition of the reality of change.

So back to what I was saying:  Jandrax came out in 1978, and the Stacey’s book store in the local mall invited me to do a signing. It was great fun, although most people stopped, smiled, looked, and left without buying a copy.

When things got slow, the manager explained some of the financial realities of his life. He said that when books came in, and didn’t sell, it would cost too much to send them back. They simply ripped the covers off and sent them back instead, for full credit against their account. Then they threw the coverless books into the dumpster.

He pulled a copy of Silmarillion, just published, off the shelf, tore off the cover, and gave it to me. He said he would return the cover and it wouldn’t cost him a dime.

I took it. I didn’t want to insult my host, but I felt guilty at the time, and I still do. It sits on a shelf in my library, an odd souvenir of my book signing. I still haven’t been able to force myself through it, so it remains unread. Tolkien without hobbits is a hard go.

I thought of that event three years later when A Fond Farewell to Dying came out with a cover that was — not beautiful. It didn’t sell. I had a vision of book store managers everywhere taking one look at the cover, deciding it wouldn’t sell, ripping it off for credit, and tossing FFTD into the dumpster, as unread as my copy of Silmarillion. Maybe that is just me making excuses.

Maybe not.

So here we are, back in the present. I have two book signings coming at Westercon, and Cyan is primarily an eBook. What to do? EDGE, my publisher, allows me to buy print-on-demand copies, so I ordered 50. I’ll keep some for myself and take the others along.

For the other thousand people at Westercon, I am making up a half-page, double-sided sheet with a thumbnail of Cyan’s cover, the Westercon logo, and a sample of text from chapter one. It amounts to a come-on for the eBook and a weird souvenir for those who attend Westercon. At least it gives me something to sign at the “book” signing.

Still, it was more fun signing a physical book.

Alien Autopsy (3)

Imagined alien life forms can range from nearly human to outrageously strange. They can be imagined to meet story needs, or imagined first, with stories arising from their peculiarities.

Actually we can do even more. We can imagine whole ecologies. And again, we can go from minimalist to extreme. Arzor from Norton’s Beast Master is suspiciously like the American southwest, but Dune is a desert with an ecology quite a bit developed beyond any desert on Earth.

My first science fiction novel Jandrax [see note at the bottom of the page] is set on a deeply frozen planet, with only the equatorial region ice free. The only area I developed was a plain roughly a thousand miles across, centering on a massive freshwater lake. I stranded a starship with a load of fundamentalist passengers and a relatively unreligious crew, and watched the fireworks as they found two quite different ways of coping with the local ecology.

The area in question never sees rain, but during the cold season, snow and sleet falls, then melts during the (slightly) warm season. Viewed locally, this results in a dead season of snow, a brief season of wild plant growth during which massive migratory herds move through, and then a long season of dry, warm aftermath until the churned and destroyed vegetation is covered with new snow, where it and its seeds will wait for the next melt.

Viewed from the starship stranded in orbit, there is a moving line of green, eating up a mass of white, and followed by a growing gray, brown temporary desert.

I won’t tell you what happens to the people. That would be a spoiler to a book I’m hoping you will still read. Instead, let’s look at the alien creatures, starting with the herbivores.

Herbies are burrow bodied, tapir headed, fleet and harmless. Humpox don’t get much description, but don’t need it, with that name. Trihorns are as deadly as they sound. All are mammals, as are the carnivorous longnecks and krats. There are also huge carnivorous toothed birds called leers. They ended up on the cover.

These are the deliberately realistic creatures, all mammals and birds, devised in an era when warm blooded dinosaurs had not yet reached public awareness. In another part of the book, there is an interlude on an island which may be a hallucination or perhaps an encounter with the local version of God. Here the rules of realism don’t fully apply, and we find winged people who would never stand up to the laws of aerodynamics, and an insufferably cute, seal-faced, plump flying mammal called a dilwildi.

The example of Jandrax goes straight to the notion of purpose. Weird critters for the sake of weird critters is entirely valid. I love a weird critter novel. But Jandrax was my first full fledged novel, designed to show human interaction in a harsh, ice-age environment. It contains an entire religion, devised for the purpose of providing conflict. The ecology of the world was central to the story, and it was developed, but the individual alien creatures just needed to look right in an ice age environment. Nortonian minimalism is at work here.

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I was in high school when I  first read Richard McKenna ’s novella Hunter, Come Home. It was a deeply moving, human story of manhood, honor, and love. It also had a second dimension, the description of an entire sentient ecosystem in peril and fighting back.

Here is a brief summary. Mordinmen were descendants of a lost Earth colony which had fought a generations long war against the dinosaur-like creatures which inhabited their planet. Manhood had become symbolized by the killing of a dino, but now the dinos were scarce and poor families, like Roy Craig’s, could no longer afford a hunt.

Mordinmen had now claimed another planet and were setting about to destroy its native ecosystem, in order to rebuild it in the image of their home planet. Red dots (successful hunters) were running the show, assisted by blankies like Roy who was working toward the time he could make his kill on the new planet. Hired as specialists, the Belconti biologists were providing the virus-like Thanasis used to destroy the native life.

When the story begins, the fight to transform this new planet has been going on for decades, and it is failing. Now the Mordinmen, against warnings by the Belacaonti, are about to unleash newer, harsher, more dangerous plague on the planet.

That’s about as far as I can summarize without a spoiler alert. Roy Craig wants more than anything to be a full fledged member of his machismo society, but his blanky status leaves him marginalized and frustrated. At the same time, he is drawn to the relatively gentle society of the Belaconti with whom is is working, symbolized for him by the woman Midori Blake.

Other than the dinosaur like creatures imported by the Mordinmen, there is only one other alien species — the entire planet they are all on. The native life of the planet is totally interconnected, essentially a one-world-tree (shades of Gaia).

There is a three way contrast in Hunter, Come Home. The Mordinmen, from a macho society built on killing are placed in contrast to the Belaconti, scientists who understand and treasure the ecosystem they are trying to destroy, and they in turn are contrasted to the interlocked, semi-sentient native life of the planet. Roy and Midori are each caught in conflicting loyalties as the planned apocalypse moves forward.

This is one of those cases where world building, culture building, and alien species building work together seamlessly. more tomorrow

Click here for next post.

[You can find Jandrax in used book stores. It is also available on this website, in an annotated form. Eventually it will be placed in Backfile, but I’ve been busy. I you want to read it here and now, your best bet for navigation is to begin by clicking the March 2016 archive and find Jandrax 2, then read and slide up, skipping every other post — archives alternates posts from the two blogs on this site. It is a bit of a pain. You can get Jandrax most days through Amazon’s cadre of used book stores. If you want the annotated version, in which I explain the various foibles of a young author, I plan to put it into an easily accessed form in Backfile, as soon after Westercon as I can find the time.]

253. Handgun Accuracy

2-gunsOver in Serial, the chapter Raven’s Run 42 came out yesterday. This post was supposed to stand across from it, but Leonard Cohen’s death caused me to push Handgun Accuracy back a day to make room for an appreciation of what he meant to me.

Everything in the night drive through Martigues and the Barre Lagoon in yesterday’s post is from research. I was never there. But I was in Marseille and everything there is from experience. You have to have some first hand knowledge, mixed with research, if you want to look like you know everything.

The bit with the .45 automatic is also accurate, and from experience. I only fired an M1911A1 once in the Navy, in boot camp, but years later I acquainted myself with it and a large variety of other handguns at a firing range near my home. I spent an hour a week there, every Tuesday for a year, and became proficient with the two dozen styles and calibers they had for rent. That was partly for writing research, and partly because we live in a dangerous world.

You have to be able to describe handgun usage accurately for the kind of fiction I write. And yes, this post title has that double meaning, like the NRA bumper sticker that says Gun Control Means Using Both Hands. I could never resist a bad joke.

Accuracy is important in science fiction weaponry as well. In Jandrax, Jan’s “express pistol” was a technologically advanced weapon that was fairly fully explained, while the other weapons were nineteenth century technology because they were meant to be repairable on a frontier world.

In Cyan, due out soon, the explorers are operating in the near future. I decided to give them handguns only slightly advanced over the present day for their initial exploration, as in:

“Gus carried a comped 12mm magnum semi-automatic in a cross draw holster.“

This led the proofreader at EDGE to highlight comped and write “?”. (See 134. The Long Road to Cyan (2) for details on proofreading in the modern era.)

Comped actually refers to mid-twentieth century technology. I replied:

Comped, pronounced compt, not comp-ed, is a standard term. It comes from compensated, and refers to a series of slits on either side of the front sight of a heavy handgun, which redirects some of the expanding gasses upward, counteracting muzzle flip. Gun nerds will know the term; others will just be puzzled.

The cross draw holster is reasonable, but it is mentioned early because it sets up a plot point I would need about forty pages later.  And 12mm magnum will certainly ruffle the hackles of purists, but again, it is so named for a reason. The largest caliber presently designated in millimeters is 10mm and magnum is applied to a new, more powerful version of an old caliber. This means the 12mm magnum is two generations away – which is what I was looking for, a near-future version of present day technology.

I made these automatics obsolete during the colonization phase by introducing a handgun called a fletcher which was, in essence, a hand held rocket launcher. If you need a powerful, hand held weapon with little recoil, replacing bullets with mini-rockets is the simplest way forward.

You can only use phasers in Star Trek novels and no self respecting science fiction author will ever say “ray gun” again, but fletchers – certainly under a different name – will probably be available within a decade or so. High caliber handguns have just about reached the limits of human hand strength, even though all of them are comped today.

Keep your eye on future issues of Field and Stream for new developments.