POWr Countdown Timer

Sunday, April 29, 2012 8 comments

Commence to… Something

Let’s start with the big picture — long-time readers will recognize the “Then” pic from July 2008.


So yesterday morning, we got up at 6:30 a.m. That was a Saturday, which is a bad thing, but this is something that only happens once. I have several pictures to share, so I’ll let them do most of the talking.

Here they come! You can see DD with a big smile
close to the bottom-right.


I was on the side where her back was to me for the diploma,
but I had a clear line of sight to her in the seats.


And here she is, taking the handoff!


And I got a clear shot of her coming off the stage.


Hey Dad, I got it!!!


For me, the highlight came near the end. She was chosen
to lead the entire assembly in the alma mater!

Today, we’re sort of recovering. I’m going to take Mason outside for a while now.

If anyone needs a music teacher who graduated magna cum laude yesterday, she will entertain all offers. ;-)

Thursday, April 26, 2012 19 comments

#FridayFlash: Escape

I woke up this morning with the first line of this story. It wrote itself from there.



Escape

Source: openclipart.org
It was Tolkien that gave me the idea about escaping into a book — and not just in my mind. I was in high school, reading Lord of the Rings, at a time when everything in my life just seemed pointless. The idea of the whole world depending on you? Priceless. Things got better, as they always do when you’re that age, and I soon forgot about it. But an idea, once planted in your head, never really goes away.

Then I found I needed it.

It’s not something you can find on the Internet, but if you want it bad enough? The formula is out there. There are hints about it woven into our culture. Dive into reading, the summer library programs urge us. Get lost in a book. Another phrase, escapist literature, is out of circulation these days. Only the names change.

I won’t be the first to take this way out. I believe the most notorious desperado of my generation, DB Cooper, never jumped out of that airliner. Sure, he chucked out a packet of money, and it was sheer luck it landed in the Columbia River to be carried downstream. But the only dive he took that night was into a book. I don’t know which one, and it doesn’t matter. How do you extradite a criminal from a story?

I’ve picked a sci-fi story for my own escape. Again, which one doesn’t matter. There are problems, of course. You can’t have a book without problems. But it addresses the big issues like climate change and peak oil, and cancer patients have a one-time, outpatient procedure. Permanent cure. And did I mention that health care is truly universal in that world? My skills are a good fit, so I won’t have much trouble blending in.

So this is good-bye, I guess. I wouldn’t live more than a few months if I stayed, no sense in prolonging the agony. Maybe you’ll read the book I’m about to dive into. You probably won’t know I’m there — but if you read about a grateful cancer survivor? Say hello.

Writing Wibbles

So Friday morning found me without a #FridayFlash and wondering what I was going to put up. On the morning commute, I decided to do something with zombies. Of course, as most of you know already, when it comes to well-trodden sub-genres (like zombies or classic fantasy), I like to go with a different angle — and so, I decided to write about the events leading up to the zombie apocalypse.

Despite the late start, UW-401 did pretty well as I rate things on the blog. It broke 100 pageviews early Monday — not the 200-view popularity of Geek vs. Zombies or Three Sprites, One Silent — but it got lots of RTs and mentions on Twitter from people I hadn’t seen before, not to mention an all-time high of 5 “+1” clicks on Google+. The comments included lots of requests for an expanded version, and I think it will become my next #TuesdaySerial.

And speaking of pageview count, what’s the deal with Dragon Rider? It’s suddenly over 1700 pageviews, most in the last two weeks! I’m not getting any more spam than usual, so I kind of wonder what’s going on there. There was more spam in the trap for the follow-up episodes. It’s also received 4 “+1” clicks on Google+.

Onto other matters. White Pickups is with the editor, who has things to say about long sentences (which I’m aware of) and punctuation (which I wasn’t). A release this month isn’t likely, but next month looks really good now. I’ll be firming up a late May launch day soon — I’d like to have it ready for people who want something to read over the long Memorial Day weekend. So it’s time to start the publicity push… if you’re on Goodreads, I’d really appreciate it if you added it to your “to-read” shelf. I also need to start lining up the ol’ blog tour venues, plan the release party, all that stoof. Other projects are lining up… hey, could someone pay off my mortgage so I could just do this full-time?

Meanwhile, Xenocide continues to provide intelligence if not money. I’ve learned that auto-tweeting ads for it twice a day didn’t annoy anyone (to the point of vocalizing annoyance, anyway), but didn’t lead to more sales either. Its next mission: infiltrate the Kindle Select program and see if Prime members will “borrow” it. Seeing as I’ve made one actual sale on Smashwords (through B&N), I don’t think I’m taking much money off the table with this experiment. I would love to see it hit enough sales (or borrows) to get a royalty check, just to say I did. I only need about 25 sales total, so if you have 99 cents kicking around you know what you can do with it. ;-) Or if you’re an Amazon Prime member, hang on until this weekend or thereabout. (If you’re a die-hard Smashwords customer, better hurry!)

This just in: Tor has announced that they are dropping DRM. The consensus so far is that the big pubs are doing it to break Amazon’s hold on the market — which may be true. I don’t care really, why they’re doing the right thing. But if it makes them more money, it’s even better.

Friday, April 20, 2012 19 comments

#FridayFlash: UW-401

Dr. Milano stood waiting outside the glass doors as the limo pulled up. The chauffeur opened the rear door, brought out two bags from the trunk, then drove away. The newcomer watched his transportation disappear into the high grass, growing right up to the edge of the roadway, then shrugged and wheeled his bags to the door.

"Dr. London, I presume," said Milano, offering a hand.

"Yes. And you're Dr. Milano?" They shook. "Where the hell are we?"

"Somewhere in North Dakota, I think. It doesn't matter. This is your home, laboratory, office, and lecture hall from now on."

"At least it isn't a missile silo."

"Actually, it was. Only the offices are upstairs. Your office is next to mine. You can drop off your laptop and any papers you brought there first, then I'll show you the rest of the place."


"Look," said London, on the elevator ride down, "I'm having second thoughts about this. Who are we working for here? The government? The military?"

Milano sighed. "Those are just subsidiaries. We're a third subsidiary."

"What?"

"We're working for… the rulers. The one percenters, some call 'em. To say this is top secret is… well, top secrets are secret from citizens, but governments share them around as needed. This place, not even the governments know about."

"Whoa. I was promised top-notch research facilities, opportunities to publish papers, the works. Not some crazy billionaire's private spook factory."

"Actually, you'll have all that. Your papers won't appear in Nature or the New England Journal of Medicine, but we have our own network of journals and lecture circuits. And the facilities are beyond anything you've ever dreamed of. Trust me." London stopped before a steel door and again took out a packed key ring. "This is where we'll be working. Your keys are in your desk upstairs, by the way."

"What's with the keys? Why not magcards?"

"It's too easy to hack. This place was fitted with mechanical locks back when, and they'll work even if the power goes out. Come on in."

"Nice." London tried to take it all in at once.

"Only the best for the pet researchers. Let me give you an overview on what you'll be doing. It was your immunology research that called attention to you, by the way. Level 3 biosafety training didn't hurt." Milano pulled on a pair of latex gloves from a wall-mounted dispenser then lifted a vial from a rack. "This is UW-401, the virus we're studying now. It's classified Biosafety Level 2, as it's similar to HIV in its transmission vectors. Our job is to devise a vaccine for it."

"What's it do?"

Milano sighed. "The sooner you see this, the better." He led London to another steel door at one end of the laboratory, marked "OBSERVATION." He swiped a finger across a tiny scanner, and it clicked. "I'll add your fingerprints when we're done there," he said. "We got cleared to use biometric locks for interior doors. Keeps things interesting."

They looked down at the figure on the gurney. "What — ungh!" London held his nose. "Is he dead, or did he start rotting before he died —" He gasped and grasped the railing, forgetting to hold his nose and breathe. Below them, the figure moaned and writhed, pulling at the straps securing it to the gurney.

"That is a victim of UW-401," said Milano. "One of the superpower militaries developed it, looking for a way to create the ultimate soldier."

"Looks like they created a zombie instead."

"That's pretty much what it is," Milano admitted. "They thought it rather promising at first. I can show you some video from the biowar group that developed it."


"That's impossible," London breathed. "His heart's gone — you can see daylight right through that hole!"

"You can see why they thought they had a winner, huh? The virus rewires the central nervous system and shuts down all autonomous systems but locomotion and digestion. They eat, they kill. You have to decapitate it, or blow it to bits, to stop it."

"You said 'at first.' What changed their minds?"

"A minor detail with soldiers: they have to be able to follow orders. UW-401 victims don't. They just keep going, killing and eating. And transmitting the virus to those they only wound."

"What's the symptoms?"

"Numbness within a few hours of infection. Loss of appetite. Vomiting, if the victim eats anything but fresh, raw meat. The numbness progresses to loss of higher mental functions and a dampening of senses… except sense of smell, which gets keener. After eighteen hours, the cardiopulmonary functions cease and you have a zombie."

"How does it live without a heart or lungs?"

"Badly. Digestion continues to provide enough energy to keep it going, but it's continuously necrotizing. After about six months, it quits. But that's plenty of time to infect other victims."

"Do they think this is gonna get out of the labs?"

"They know it will. As soon as they have a vaccine, they're going to release it."

"What?"

"Yeah. They're freaked out about that Occupy thing. They're afraid it's going to go viral, so they're going to immunize themselves and let something else go viral."

"When?"

"End of November. They'll push down fuel prices so people will be in a spending and traveling mood for the holidays. Computer models suggest it'll be worldwide in a week."

"Why bring me in on this? Immunization isn't rocket science. Dead virus, weakened virus… they've been tried already for sure."

"Of course. The problem is, the immune system doesn't recognize UW-401 as an invader. There's no immune reaction to stimulate."

"So we have like six months to invent an entirely new immunology, so we can destroy the human race?"

"That's the gist of it."

"Fuck that. I'm outta here."

"You think they'll just let you walk out? You have a family, right? Why do you think they talked you into coming out now and letting your wife and baby 'catch up' in a couple weeks?"

London reeled, caught a chair, sprawled into it. "My God."

"Play nice, report some results, and they tell me they'll bring our families out here come fall. I want to show you one more thing, then we'll head back to the offices." Milano gestured toward another door; behind it was a room lined with foam spikes. "An anechoic chamber," he explained, closing the door. "It was part of the original facility." His voice sounded flat.

"Damn. It's so quiet in here it's hurting my ears."

"Yeah. I've checked this room as best I can, and they can't monitor us in here." He sighed again. "I apologize, Dr. London. It was me who recommended you for the position. That was before I realized they don't intend to hold up their end of the deal."

"What do you mean?"

"When they're safely vaccinated? If they're merciful, we'll get a bullet in the head. If not, they'll feed us to the zombies. They've set up another silo for themselves. They'll hole up, release the virus, and come out in a couple years when all the zombies are dead."

London paled. "Shit."

"Yeah. I've got family out there too. I think they're toast, when it comes right down to it. So this is the plan: we continue to research, and come July we announce a breakthrough. We inject the entire one percent with live virus, grab our families, and make a break back for here with as many others as we can round up. If we're lucky, we'll be able to take advantage of the chaos. If not…well, we're no worse off."

"I… that makes sense. I'm in."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 3 comments

Writing Wibbles

Last week’s big news was that the Department of Justice went ahead with an expected suit against Apple and five of the “Big 6” publishers, alleging collusion and price-fixing of eBooks (aka the “Agency Model”). I held off writing about it until this week, mainly because I already had a post queued but also because I wanted to see if any more information came out. Oh well.

As expected, the publishing industry and their media outlets are crying Doom and Disaster. A website called Shelf Awareness, staffed by industry insiders, had this to say:

In a clash of concepts about what best serves the reader — the lowest possible prices or a healthy, diverse book industry — the federal government … came down on the side of the book as a commodity.

In other words, high eBook prices are a requirement for “a healthy, diverse book industry.” I understand the desire of a long-established oligopoly to preserve the status quo, but it’s a pity they can’t be more upfront about their motivations.

The problem is, there are laws against collusion and the DoJ provides prima facie evidence of how publisher executives “jointly acknowledged to each other the threat posed by Amazon’s pricing strategy and the need to work collectively to end that strategy.” If you can’t survive under laws that have been on the books for over 120 years, and aren’t enforced too well anyway, you’re not trying hard enough. In the end, it’s ridiculous to demand that eBooks be priced higher than hardcovers (especially when you’re explicitly forbidden to pass that eBook around the way you can a hardcover). I’ve opined before that the Agency Model was an attempt to kill eBooks; now it’s a failed attempt.

The idea that the producer dictates retail prices flies in the face of the capitalist system (that publishing executives undoubtedly support as long as it benefits them). The “S” in “MSRP” means “Suggested,” after all. Everyone in the chain, from the raw materials producers to the booksellers, tries to cover their costs plus some margin — or voluntarily takes a hit on margins (or even a loss) to gain some longer-term advantage. I doubt that even Stephen King would, for example, tell publishers that his books must sell for a certain price — so why should publishers tell Amazon what they can do?

[I should point out that, long-term, I’m not convinced that Amazon’s intentions are all wonderful for authors or readers. On the other hand, given what Barnes&Noble and Borders did to indie booksellers, I don’t weep much for their predicament now either.]

I think there’s still a role for Big Publishing, but they’ll have to update the way they do business. In my opinion, they could start by treating authors as partners rather than chattel. The average advance is the same as it was 30 years ago — i.e., much less when factoring in inflation — while book prices (and executive compensation) have increased accordingly. The games publishers play with sales figures are well-documented, and it’s funny how those “mistakes” never benefit the authors. Those kind of issues need to be addressed, instead of clinging to a business model that’s incompatible with new technology. In the Depression years and afterwards, it was possible for many authors to make a living from writing, even by writing short stories for the pulps. Top-shelf novelists were the rock stars of their day. By shooting for the lowest common denominator, the publishers have brought this new world of Amazon on themselves. IMO.

Under the current circumstances, going indie seems to be the smart move. A friend of mine cleared twice her dayjob pay in March, and circumstances are now pushing her into writing full-time. She’s a talented cover designer, and her books aren’t full of typos, so that helps. Not everyone gets that kind of success, but I think people who put a lot of effort into their work have a better chance of success by bypassing the publishers. When publishers acknowledge that they’re no longer the 800-pound gorilla, and start acting like they know it, the pendulum will begin swinging their way again.

Friday, April 13, 2012 18 comments

#FridayFlash: Words of Wisdom

And thus concludes the first part…



Words of Wisdom

Again, the beast drew near, and again it was time to run. Mary paused a lot more often than she needed, just to let Eric catch up. On several occasions, she had to stop to help him up or free his foot from a snag. The second time, the beast nearly caught up to them; it wasn’t close enough to see but its mindless advance rained debris on them. They got away, and finally managed to put some distance between it and themselves.

Mary cut down a side street, then turned to look. “Eric! Hurry!” she yelled.

“I wasn’t on the cross-country team!” he puffed; she took off again as soon as he caught up.

“Neither was I, but you either run or die!”

“Why did it get so close? Is it after you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Maybe.” She dodged through a gaping hole into what was once a fancy restaurant. “I think we can rest in here.” They caught their breath for a moment.

“That’s comforting,” he said, looking at the overturned tables and other wreckage. “Can I look at your drawings again? They’re good.”

Mary huffed, but handed over the sketchpad.

“The one of the beast. How long did you work on it?”

“Three weeks. The others I just did off the cuff.”

“That’s even more amazing, when you think about it. They’re simple, but there’s still a lot of detail. I can draw some, but not that good. Especially the part where stuff comes to life.”

“Yeah.” Eric was kind of a pain — he slowed her down and talked too much — but he didn’t patronize her or try to hit on her. And he seemed to mean what he said about her work. That was nice. She tried to imagine this place the way it was, maybe sitting with Eric at one of the tables. Maybe on prom night.

“—it?”

“Huh?”

“If you made it, couldn’t you get rid of it?”

“What?”

“Yeah.” He held up the drawing of the beast. “I mean, you got the idea for this thing before you knew you could bring it to life, right?” He frowned. “Maybe it gave you that power, and it’s after you because it knows you could undo it somehow.”

“No way.” But his words — his idea — found a way through her armor, reaching the core where all that anger lay waiting, another beast looking for a way into the light. The anger and the idea roiled together inside her.

“Yeah. It let you use the power to get rid of people — the creepy dude and Megan Garner — and they both deserved it, probably. Once it knew you could do it, it just had to wait for you to get mad enough to bring it to life too. So maybe you can draw something to kill it. Superman, maybe.”

“That’s so whack.”

“No more whack than that thing out there. Or any of the other stuff. It’s worth a try, isn’t it? I don’t guess we can outrun that thing forever. If you can kill it, you really ought to. Even if you don’t care about yourself, my Mom always said if you can do the right thing, you should do it.”

She shook her head, but could not deny the logic. “Where is she now?”

Eric looked out the hole in the wall. “We tried to drive out, the first day. She was going too fast and wrecked, about a mile from the apartment. I was okay, but she didn’t make it.”

“Sorry.”

“Yeah. Sometimes I wish I’d died too.”

She sighed. “Listen, I need to think about this. How to do it.” She started pacing, and Eric retreated into the kitchen to forage. The restaurant shook to the rhythmic pounding of the beast’s feet, but it felt far enough away to be safe a while longer. She righted a table and chair where the light was good. “But maybe the world deserved this,” she muttered, tapping the sketchpad with her pencil. A world full of psycho parents, creepers, and evil students — and the occasional nice guy like Eric, sure. She nodded her head to the vibration.

“I think it’s getting closer,” said Eric, looking over her shoulder. “How — you’re almost done?”

“Huh?” Mary looked down. She didn’t remember starting, but there it was: a shaft of light thrust the clouds aside and shone upon the prone beast. It writhed, not under Superman, but the sword of an avenging angel. The rubble of the city lay all around them. Should I do this? She reached down into that core, found the anger there and strong as ever, but now it spoke different words: It used us! Kill it!

“Almost. Give me a little space. I think we have time.” She bent to her drawing, as Eric retreated. It was almost done, but something was missing. Something for her.

With great power comes great responsibility. At this moment, Eric’s words seemed more true than anything. But she deserved something… something nice. Somebody who cared about her for a change. Making that happen wouldn’t hurt anything, right? And maybe she wouldn’t want to destroy the world again. She sketched in a low hill, with her and Eric standing on it… holding hands. She’d saved his life at least twice, after all.

“We’ve gotta go! Now!” Eric looked wild-eyed at the hole in the wall.

“Okay. Just a few more seconds.” She spoke the words as she wrote: “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.”

“Speaking words of wisdom, yeah. Hurry!”

She stuffed her sketchpad into her backpack, and they ran.

They reached a low hilltop as a shaft of light split the churning overcast sky.

continued…

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

Let’s start by welcoming a new follower to the free-range insane asylum: Caine Dorr, author of the Masked Marauder Matinee serial and the Paladin Brigade webcomic! Your badge is on the table. (Did you bring comics? The inmates like comics…)


Cranking in beta feedback on White Pickups is going about as expected: slower than desired, faster than I should have expected. There’s several scene rewrites, mostly in the early going, that are taking the most time. I was hoping to drop the whole shebang on my editor come Sunday, but that’s not going to happen.

I’m waffling on some of the scene additions: should I add a brief scene where Cody’s parents drive off? What about the initial clash between Charles’s group and the bashers in Midtown? The latter especially gets retold by Charles and Cleve later on, at separate moments, so I’m not sure it would add anything to the story. When it doubt, leave it out is probably the best policy.


What makes a story a story?

On Monday, Sonia Lal tweeted a link to a Guardian article that asks Why are English and American Novels Today so Gutless? The author laments the lack of political novels.

The question I have is: is a political story that’s ONLY about politics worth reading? Even 1984 was more about two people rebelling against the oppressive regime than the politics itself. Many people who don’t read science fiction like to say it’s all about… well, “rockets in space” was the catchphrase a generation ago. But very few people, even those who enjoy sci-fi, would enjoy a story only about rockets in space. The rest of us would (if the story is written well) care more about the people on board that rocket. The only exception I can think of is a short story by Vernor Vinge, called Long Shot; I read it back in high school, and that was about the AI onboard rather than the ship itself.

A month before I was born, in 1958, Isaac Asimov had published an essay called The Thunder-Thieves. Sputnik and Vanguard were in orbit; digital computers and other technical advances were either on the way or already on the scene. So many things were happening, that were once thought the realm of fiction, people had begun openly questioning what was left to sci-fi. Asimov’s reply was, “The answer: Everything!” Because sci-fi (and by extension, all genre fiction) is about people. The genre simply defines the background, against which the characters interact.

So while White Pickups (and moreso FAR Future) have their moments of politics — and they both come down solidly on one side of the fence — I wouldn’t characterize either one as a political novel. Nor would I call them “gutless.” But I suppose that’s in the eye of the reader.

Friday, April 06, 2012 23 comments

#FridayFlash: Times of Trouble

Several readers thought last week’s story, Let It Be, needed a little room to grow. It agreed, naturally.



Times of Trouble

Running, hiding, resting… then far too soon, doing it all over again under the angry sky. So Mary ran, dodging through the debris of what was a generic suburb only a few days before. Before she’d made her beast real, and set it loose to rampage across the world. Now Mom was dead from alcohol poisoning, and who knew where Dad ran off too?

Holding a rag to her mouth, she ran through smoke and dust —

“Hey! Is someone there? Help!”

Mary skidded to a stop, looking around.

“Over here!” A boy’s voice. He coughed, and Mary saw him wave. She reached behind her back, making sure the butcher knife was still in its sheath. She’d only had to draw it once in the last few days, and that was enough to make the asshole back off. Maybe she was just an emo art chick on Monday, but now it was Thursday. Or maybe Friday. Now she was someone who could bring utter destruction with a few strokes of a pencil.

“Can you get this off me?” He looked soft, like a gamer or geek, seated with his back to the building wall. A utility pole lay over his legs; it wasn’t crushing him but it had him trapped. “Do you have any water? I’m thirsty.”

“How long have you been here?” She slid her pack off her shoulders, keeping her knife hand free, and fished past her sketchpad for a water bottle.

“Since this morning. One of those earthquakes hit, I ran outside, fell down, and this happened before I could think. Thanks.” He drained the bottle. “Hey — don’t you go to Four Oaks?”

Mary squinted, trying to put a name to the face. “Yeah. Or I did.” She looked at the end of the pole. “I dunno if I can move this or not.”

“I’m Eric Perch.”

“Yeah, that’s right. You were in my U.S. History class. I’m Mary Smith.”

He sang, not too badly: “When I find myself in times of trouble, something Mary comes to me —”

“Haha.” She straddled the pole and heaved at it, then put her back to the wall and tried pushing with her feet. “Crap. Sorry.”

“Maybe you can lever it off?”

“With what?” She looked around, but didn’t see anything.

“Well, you can’t just leave me here!”

“Wait. Wait a minute. Let me think.” Mary stepped back and stared, composing the scene. I can’t, she thought. But if she did those other things, why not this? Why not something useful? She sat down, some distance away, and took out her sketchpad.

“What are you doing?”

“Shut up. I need to think.” Mary sketched the side of the building, then Eric standing, looking down at the pole. After a minute, she lost herself in the drawing. It might work, she thought, looking it over. Under the pole, and snaking around his feet, she added LET IT BE, several times. “Pull your feet in, if you can,” she said.

“Why?”

“Just do it!”

“Fine!” A minute later, she heard then felt the ground shake. She put her hands out, looking around her to make sure nothing was about to crush her. The pole lurched forward and rolled away.

“Yes!” She looked, and Eric pushed himself upright, staring at the pole. “I’m free! Hey… how did you know the earthquake was about to happen? What were you drawing?”

Mary sighed and showed him the sketch. “I made it happen.”

“No way.” But Eric’s voice held no conviction.

“Yeah, way. Why do you think the tornado hit the school last Tuesday?” She flipped to the drawing of Amber’s dead hand. “Or that… thing out there?” She showed him the beast.

“Wow. How did you get close enough to draw it?” he breathed.

“I drew it before. What’s the same in all of those?” She handed him the sketchpad and glared, arms crossed.

Eric flipped back and forth. “They’re all pencil or colored pencil, but that’s not what you’re asking, is it? Who’s this guy?”

“Some creep who tried to get too close two weeks ago.”

“Oh. Hey, is it the ‘let it be’ thing?”

“Yeah. If I write it on something I draw, it happens.”

Eric gave her a strange look — not total disbelief, but not belief either. “They say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof,” he said.

“Well, you’re standing up.”

“It could’ve been a coincidence.”

She glowered. “You want me to put you back under it?”

“No! No… wait.” His stomach growled, or maybe it was hers. “Food. Can you make food?”

“I never tried. And there’s gotta be food around here anyway.”

“Uh-uh. There were six of us until yesterday, we were staying in my apartment. We picked this area clean. They ditched me when we ran out.”

“Where’s your parents?”

He looked away and shrugged. “So can you do it?”

“I guess I’ll try. I’m hungry too.” She thought a minute, then sat down on the utility pole and started drawing: herself and Eric, sitting on the pole and sharing lunch. A plastic grocery bag sat at their feet. Not her best work, but… whatever. She added the magic words.

“I don’t see anything.”

“Stuff doesn’t happen right away. It usually takes a minute. Just —” Again, the ground shook. The trunk of a car across the way rose on its own, and Mary got up to check it out.

“Forget it,” said Eric. “We checked that car out three days ago.”

“Good.” Mary turned, holding a plastic grocery bag. “You can’t say it was there, then. Bread, peanut butter, jelly, and some plastic knives. All that, and a bag of chips!” She grinned. “Let’s eat. I hope you’re not allergic.”

Eric gaped. “Wow. That’s some trick. I’m glad you’re using your power for good now.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah. With great power comes great responsibility.”

Mary shook her head. “I never asked for this. All I wanted was to be left alone.”

continued…

Wednesday, April 04, 2012 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

Hey look, a new follower slipped in at the last minute: Sonya Clark. A couple weeks ago, I got a peek at the first part of her novel in progress, Freak Town. It’s going to be a winner.

Early this week, Tony Noland blogged about his fond memories of OS/2, a highly advanced operating system for its time to be sure. It got me thinking about my own fond memories, of Amiga and the old Tandy laptops, and some of the writing I did on those older systems… much of it now forever lost.

My first instinct was to lament the obsolence of file formats, but that’s not really the problem — most of the files from those days were plain text with a minimum of formatting. Even with a binary file format, it’s not that difficult to recover the text out of a file if it’s not compressed. On OSX, you could drop into the Terminal and use the strings command to clean out the crud; then fix the rest in your favorite editor.

No, the real problem is media. CP/M had a format, Commodore, Tandy, Atari, and some I’ve forgotten each had their own format, incompatible with the others (but in all cases, susceptible to bit-rot). Even in the case of the Tandy 600 laptop, whose 3-1/2" floppies can be read in MS-DOS, who has a floppy drive these days? CD-ROM isn’t exactly permanent either, even assuming the physical format hangs around. With the proliferation of tablets, and pocket computers that happen to make phone calls (I’m typing this on my iPhone), that’s not a given. In a lot of ways, it’s more likely that stories typewritten 30 years ago are more likely to survive than something typed into a personal computer 20 years ago.

So, as writers, what can we do to make our deathless prose really deathless?

The technical answer: nothing, really. The farther back you go in time, the fewer works survive. The vast majority of books in a bookstore are no more than a few years old, with some very popular exceptions. Project Gutenberg has done a wonderful job of locating and digitizing works that have passed into the public domain, but the vast majority of their titles are from the 19th and 20th centuries. Go farther back, and you’re in the realm of the “classics” — exemplary works that survive on merit — but the oldest complete works are around 2500 years old. At around 3800 years of age, the Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest known written works of all, and is only fragmentary.

Perhaps the best we can do is plan for decades, maybe a century or two, and hope that our descendants find our work worth distributing forward from there. We have the Internet for decades, and paper (preferably acid-free) for centuries. As long as eBook stores carry our work, we’re good for the short-term. I don’t worry too much about a new eBook format superseding the current ones — both MOBI and ePub are ZIP archives containing HTML files (with some control files that determine the order, among other things). HTML has been around since 1991, and any browser can display an HTML file written even 20 years ago. Even if HTML is superseded later on, the files are plain text with well-defined markup elements.

While copyright laws allow for longer and longer periods before a work finally passes into the public domain, there’s nothing stopping a copyright owner from abandoning copyright earlier — or releasing the work under a Creative Commons license — and then placing the work on Gutenberg or archive.org, which are intended for the long-haul. If longevity is the goal, copyright may be the enemy.

That’s decades…what about centuries? Our civilization could crash, or our grandkids could just decide the Internet uses too much electricity to maintain and pull the plug. Say what you might about buggy whips, paper and similar media has survived civilization reboots. Keep it away from fire, use acid-free paper so it won’t eat itself, and maybe that story will catch on with future generations. Maybe not likely, but certainly possible.

Which brings me to my own deathless prose. :-P I’m still editing White Pickups, and I’m about halfway through. Not as far as I liked, but at least as good as I hoped. I’m afraid this bad boy is going to break 100,000 words by the time I crack open the Crown Royal (which is waiting for Launch Day) though.

Monday, April 02, 2012 3 comments

Changing It Around

I didn't set out to do this, but various failures over the weekend kicked off several minor technology changes today. It's like my gadgetry forgot to stop pranking me once April Fools' Day ended…

The old iPhone earbuds I've had since the 3G days are officially worn out: the left earbud has very little audio coming through. I don't know why I put up with that as long as I have, especially since I have a working pair of iPod earbuds (no clicker) and some higher-end things. I'd love to use my Bluetooth stereo headset, but it's good for about six hours and I need at least eight to get me through the workday. Right now, I'm using a pair of Future Sonics in-ear 'phones that I won some years back. I miss the clicker to start/stop my music (or answer the phone), but better that than no left channel.

The iOS Twitter client has become increasingly annoying, especially since IT has made Twitter's webapp unuseable. I need the ability to manage my lists from my phone if I can't use the webapp (or the official OSX Twitter client, for that matter). The last straw was yesterday, when the app decided to not update my Mentions anymore. I downloaded the free (ad-supported) version of Echofon this morning and like it better already. I can manage my lists, and the ads only appear in the primary timeline. The only two drawbacks so far: you have to switch out of Lists to tweet (unless replying/RTing) and I don't think new followers appear in the Mentions column like they do on the webapp.

Finally, I've started using Evernote instead of PlainText to write draft blog posts and story scenes while mobile. The Evernote app doesn't have ads and pulling a draft out of Evernote into Scrivener is about the same amount of effort as pulling it out of Dropbox (where PlainText saves stuff).

Technology can be such a PITA. I'm editing White Pickups on paper, and the only thing I have to worry about there is Mason snatching the pen out of the stack and thereby losing my place.

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