A Book Tour. What a fun idea. Sounds like a way to meet new authors and promote your own book a bit. A tour guide introduces various writers on his or her blog within a given period of time, and each promoted writer, in turn, promotes a particular work of the host’s on their blog.
So let’s see how this goes.
First, I want to give you a little background on the author and host of this particular tour.
Meet D. Wallace Peach
Diana is a friend and writer whom I have known for several years. When we were budding authors, we used to meet once a month in a writing group here in the Northwest to read and critique each others’ work. It usually included tasty food and great camaraderie.
Diana writes fantasy books with lush descriptions and convoluted characters. She has written several series in the genre along with some stand alone novels. In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes several anthologies, short stories, flash fiction and poetry. Check them out on her blog at:
She lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats and the occasional family of coyotes.
Her latest, hot off the press and also available digitally downloaded, is The Necromancer’s Daughter.
It starts off with a gnarled doddering old guy named Barus who is rumored to be able to bring the dead back to life. He hasn’t practiced it much, but he learned it from his now dead mother who adopted him as an orphaned child and taught him things.
One day, the local ruler, King Aldring, summons him to the palace where his beloved queen lies dying in childbirth. The queen weakly whispers to Barus and pleads for him to save her child. Unfortunately, he cannot save her or the babe. Both cease breathing. Barus, however, falls in love with the stillborn child.
Here’s the moment from the book:
“Drawing in his breath, he stole a quiet step towards the tiny child. The infant’s skin appeared ashen, with petal-thin eyelids and a fringe of wispy lashes almost invisible to the eye. Spider-silk hair, as white a a summer cloud, matted the baby’s head, and her lips curved into a pink bow. Sweet hand curled under her chin like a spring flower yet to bloom. She was the most exquisite thing Barus had ever beheld.”
While the women busy themselves with the queen’s dead body, enraptured Barus secretly slips the child under his bundle. Shuffling away amidst the commotion of wailing women, he takes the babe home where he is able to bring her back to life, names her Aster, and raises her in what is thought to be secret.
Now, who wouldn’t want to read that story?A dead child brought back to life. What might she do?
Of course, merely that event is too simple, and King Aldring discovers his daughter is alive. However, dire warnings by the powerful palace Vicar of the Red Order that the undead are evil cause Barus to fear for his rule and her life if her existence were to become known. To protect his only heir, the king keeps her secret, but slips in an occasional disguised visit. But then, the day arrives when the king realizes he is dying and considered heirless by others. He defies the fanatical Red Order’s warning of the evil of the undead and tries to bring his daughter home to put on the throne. A power struggle between the religious order and the monarchy results in the king being attacked and assassinated in the royal carriage as he is bringing Aster to the palace as his heir. Aster escapes the attack.
Learning about the assassination from Aster as she runs home to warn him, Barus realizes his danger and flees, or limps out, just in time to avoid his own demise, and the now grown Aster leads the Red Order’s soldiers away from him into the forest.
Have I mentioned the dragons yet?
Of course, there are powerful dragons in this story. Aster encounters one in the forest who communicates with her. Turns out, her mother’s family rules nearby Blackrock, home of dragons and their bonded masters. And, Aster has a bit of their dragon talent in her blood.
Okay, you got to be interested now.
But … there is one more juicy tidbit to this story.
Following Aster, in attempt to capture and return her to the gallows, is the handsome captain of the Red Order’s soldiers and also son of the power-hungry Vicar. His father wants Aster dead, so he can rule.
The two are thrown together as she runs toward Blackrock and her uncle for sanctuary, while the persistent captain pursues her to return her home to his father’s justice.
It gets even more complicated.
However, he soon becomes morally conflicted about right and wrong, and what he should do. After he finally catches up, they are captured by forest bandits, where he gets to know her, and finds himself falling in love with her.
You saw that coming, I bet.
As they flee toward her mother’s family at Blackrock where her uncle now reigns, neither knows whether they will be greeted with open arms or a noose. Or maybe attacked by even more dangers lurking in the woods.
But having a dragon on your side definitely helps.
Actually, in the past, listing my books on various advertising venues was key to my overall book promotion. However, I would randomly select a site based on current data and post on what I guessed would be best.
So, to evaluate the more effective venue of two I liked, I decided on a little experiment. I selected Freebooksy and Book Barbarian, and varied the price, the book, and the date of each. Due to the varying rules of each site, I choose certain books.
Book Barbarian only takes the first book in a series, so Caught in Time qualified there. I wanted to offer it at a reduced price so I could earn something while giving my readers a special deal. Usually, I offer this book free as a starter to my series, but I wanted to do something new. I set the date for a Wednesday, July 27.
But would a reader pay $1.75 for a science fiction romance? Even if the price was good.
Then, I needed more reviews for A Dangerous Talent for Time and Freebooksy allows any book in a series. The rule here is that it has to be free.
Okay, no problem.
Also there is no requirement on the number of reviews, but Freebooksy has to approve it. I set this program for a Saturday on August 6.
Which would do better? I waited with bated breath.
The experiment turned out to be a disaster.
In the past, I have sold a lot of books using promotional ads sites, but this time neither did well. Book Barbarian did so poorly that I will not be using it in the future. Even though it was cheaper at $45, suffice it to say, I didn’t even earn my cost back.
Worse was the knock on my ego. I had to engage in a few cheerleading sessions afterwards.
Freebooksy did sell a total of 1316 units, unfortunately a lot of those were freebies. The good news is I also sold several Caught in Time, Space Song, Time’s Equation, Cosmic Entanglement and one Time Jumper. Each at their regular price.
Freebooksy was more expensive at $75 for a listing, but it returned a lot more than the other ad site. Also, since I’m in the Kindle reading program, I’ll pick up royalties as the free books are read.
All is not lost. But it won’t pay the mortgage. I was disappointed in the overall outcome.
However, my marketing experimentation will continue through my participation in Diana Peach’s blog book tour. On October 2, I’ll do a review on her exciting new Necromancer’s Daughter. In return, she will highlight one of my books on her very popular website. There will be a slew of bloggers promoting her book at various times and, in return, she will review theirs. It should be wild and fun. In addition, there’s a lottery for a book trailer for the winners book.
Diana used to be part of a critique group that I was in. We met once a month, but it’s now disbanded. A number of writers worked together, each critiquing the other’s work back when we were all struggling novice authors. So, I’m familiar with her work and proud to be a part of this event.
I did promise a cover reveal on my last blog so here it is: TA DAH!
This luscious book just went public August 25 on Amazon and also most book platforms for the incredible price of $.99. On October 2, I’ll review it . I can hardly wait. But you can get yours now. I already have.
Meanwhile, I’m finishing Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I have to hurry as it is due back at the library. It’s over 880 pages long, but I’m almost done. So far, I’m enjoying the story, but I have a few issues with the writing style. I’ll tell you all about it in my next blog.
Once you finish writing a book, that’s pretty much it, except for occasional updates and revisions.
Marketing is FOREVER.
Recently, I decided to update my second book, A Dangerous Talent for Time and add the eleven books I have written since in the series. I increased the front matter to include the additional books, and then in the back matter, I listed the following books by title, a brief synopsis, and included a link to Amazon. This way when your readers are still in the story, after it ends, and they love it, they see the next book right in front of them, and with a simple one click, they go to Amazon and a buy button.
So I did all that, and felt that here was a good time to market again. Not being great at social media, I do a lot of my marketing through ad websites. Freebooksy is my go-to site because I have gotten the best results there. However, the last time I did, the numbers were down, and I felt that meeting new readers on another website might be better. Bookbub is famous, but extremely selective and very expensive. If you pass the hurdles, the return is said to be good. Have you tried it? Results?
Then I thought of Book Barbarian. This website only accepts science fiction and fantasy. That’s the target market I want. But closer scrutiny of the guidelines revealed that they take only the first book in a series. They also require more than ten reviews.
There is a series option for $125 that will feature the first two books in your series together. Maybe, but as a reader I usually don’t choose it because I want to see if I like the first before I buy the second. I also am value oriented, otherwise known as cheap.
So back to Freebooksy for A Dangerous Talent for Time, but, hey, I can do Caught in Time on Book Barbarian. It meets all their guidelines easily.
That’s when I got the brilliant idea to do a marketing experiment. I will compare cost, platform, price, and position of both. On Book Barbarian, I will post Caught in Time, Wednesday, July 27 and price it for $1.75. The cost to me will be $45. Reasonable. And, readers will get a nice discount from the normal retail price of $3.99.
On Freebooksy, I will advertise A Dangerous Talent for Time Saturday, August 6 for free. The cost to me will be $75. The readers will get an even better price than the $3.99 retail, so I should get a lot more downloads. Over time, I have found that offering one free usually results in retails sales of several other books in the series.
Then, I will compare both promotions to evaluate which was the better investment. Yes, I know that there are variables that will influence the data, it’s summertime, but the results should be interesting.
Which do you think will do better? What platform? What price? What day? Which cost? Comment below. Or if you prefer social media, how do you do it?
And …. on October 2, I will participate in a blog tour (for the first time ever) involving Diana Peach’s upcoming release of The Necromancer’s Daughter. When I blog about the results of my marketing experiment, I will reveal her awesome cover.
So, here it is. Here’s what I have been doing over the last few months.
This painting shows Ottercrest, Oregon, where a good friend has a condo and invites us out from time to time. I painted from a photograph we took, and my talented husband jumped in and crafted the frame. It was our thanks for her generosity, which provided wonderful memories.
This happened because after I finished writing the Terran Trilogy, my muse packed her bags and waved a cheery goodbye as I stared at a blank white page that morphed into a canvas. So I picked up a paintbrush instead of my iPad.
But I didn’t give up on reading science fiction. A lot of my books I get from websites such as Bookbub, Book Barbarian, and Freebooksy. You can get daily e-mails that select for your favorite genre. The prices are good and every day there’s something new to choose from.
…Which reminds me that my novel, Someone’s Clone will be showcased on Freebooksy tomorrow, June 4th. It fits into the Alysian Universe Series, but can stand on its own. The story is about a boy who goes on a search for his identity when he discovers that he is not who he thought he was. There’s time travel, invading aliens, augmented humans fighting to protect their planet, artificial intelligence, and secret clones… plus more.
Speaking of science fiction, I have been spending a lot of time watching Youtube lately. We are big Tesla fans and own an X and S. While watching a podcast with Elon Musk, we discovered Lex Fridman, a Russian-American computer scientist and artificial intelligence researcher who is also a professor at MIT. He interviews amazing guests and they frequently discuss deep space, colonization, artificial intelligence, the existence of aliens, or not, and many topics that touch future science ideas. The podcasts sometimes run several hours, but the time goes by fast. At the end, he often asks his guests what advice would they give young people trying to get a start in life and frequently closes by asking what they think is the meaning of life.
Their answers are fascinating.
The other night I watched his interview with science fiction author Neal Stephenson. I didn’t realize that Neal was the first employee at Jeff Bozo’s Blue Origin company. He has deep knowledge of space travel and the hurdles we face in becoming interplanetary.
Stephenson mention his new book, Termination Shock, which is about a Texas billionaire who decides to combat climate change by using his own resources. (sound familiar?) Complications develop.
Welcome to politics
Several years ago I did a review in one of my blogs on his book DODO. I was surprised at how much I liked it.
After the interview, I downloaded a sample of SevenEves and decided to read the rest of the book. For some reason, I thought it had clones in it.
Then I noticed that there are 880 pages in the paperback and remembered how long his books often run. I checked the reviews. They are dicey. However, it involves humans on spaceships, and he is well qualified to write about that. I’ll give it a try and let you know what I think.
PS… When asked what his favorite science fiction book was, Stephenson said, “Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”
What is your favorite science fiction read?
And don’t forget to download Someone’s Clone for free. You’ll find lots of action with fun future science.
If you are an Indie author, as I am, then you’re always looking for what is the best way to market your book. I admit that I’m not a blogger. I write, I paint, I read … Notice how these activities are usually a one-gal show?
And not particularly interactive.
So taking the initiative and blogging is daunting, even though I like to write novels. (14 to date)
I use Freebooksy as my ad platform because it works best for me. I ran an ad in May and garnered about a thousand downloads. This wasn’t too bad in that the book had been marketed previously last year through Freebooksy, and this was a second go-around. The other thing was that the first review was not good. My reviews are usually very good, and I had gotten complacent because I really liked this book, A World Too Far. I had no doubt that it would get good reviews.
Arrogant lazy author. Can be a downfall.
I recently read a comment in the Passive Voice (highly recommended blog) from an article he included from the Wall Street Journal that “First impressions are hard to overcome.”
It’s from a study published by Marketing Science that finds a product’s first online review has “a lasting impact–affecting how many reviews it receives and its star ratings.” It goes on to say that products with a negative first review (3 stars or less) received almost 15 fewer reviews overall at the end of six months than products that received positive reviews and about 36 fewer reviews at the end of 12 months.
The research goes on in more detail and the reviews are more about household products, but the results support my experience. In addition, my dear reviewer got several things wrong, and I wanted to argue that he was coming to incorrect conclusions, but, of course, that’s not done. You don’t comment on reviews, or try to correct mistaken conclusions. No. No. They have a right to tro … have their opinion.
So, of course, Amazon put this review before all other more recent reviews and left me to chew nails.
Even so, because it is a series, a good number of readers followed up with the sequel Somewhat Alien and the third book, The Weight of Gravity. so that I did cover costs and am thankful to them and hope they enjoyed the series.
Because I am on the Written Word email list, which has Freebooksy as one of its platforms, I received this interesting email from them on what readers want. I pass it along to you my blog readers, because it has a lot of good information and suggestions if you are an Indie author and are looking for data on what influences readers. At my last peek, Freebooksy claimed 310,000 readers with over 90,000 science fiction enthusiasts. It’s probably higher now and they post the numbers on their website.
From the Written Word Blog:
We (Written Word)get a lot of questions from authors about how to write a book readers will love. Do they like series or standalone? Why do readers stop reading a book mid-way? Are reviews really that important? What better way to figure out what readers want than to ask them! We asked a few thousand readers what they like and don’t like about books and reading. We’ve rounded up their answers in this article and provided some key takeaways for authors.
Do Readers Prefer Books in a Series or Standalone Books?
Authors like writing in series. Marketers like marketing series. But how do readers feel? The overwhelming majority of readers are indifferent with 60% of respondents saying that they have no preference between series or standalone books. 14% said they prefer series while 26% said they prefer standalone books.
For authors, this is good news. It means that whichever way works for you, will work for a majority of readers. Successful authors tend to love the series model, and at Written Word Media, we do too. Offering the first book in a series for free or low-cost is a great way to hook a reader, and then draw them into your series.
The reader gets to try out a new author, and the author has an opportunity to gain a reader who will spur additional revenue month after month as they make their way through the series. It is easier to make the economics of writing and selling books work when you write in a series. If you have a series where the first book in the series is free, our Freebooksy Series Promotion (browse series promotional options for freebooksy here) is a good place to get your series in front of avid readers.
Some of the more enlightening information came in the open-ended comments section. One frustration that readers voiced with series books is simply the inability to find the other books in the series. That means that readers will gladly read your entire series, but only if it isn’t difficult for them to find the next book. When you are setting up your books in KDP or another retailer, make sure you keep series information consistent, so your readers can find the books they’re looking for.
I clearly mark which sequence my books are in the series, as I also have been frustrated trying to find out which book is next or how they work in the series.
Additionally, we saw lots of comments about cliffhangers. Readers hate them! It’s okay for your book to gently lead into the following book, but wrap up the story so the reader is satisfied by the last page. Cliffhangers lead to unsatisfied readers, and unsatisfied readers lead to bad reviews and a decline in follow-on sales!
Hear! Hear! I agree.
Why do some readers love series? For most, it’s the characters. One reader summed up the fear of falling in love with a character but only having a small amount of story about them: “I want to invest in the characters and know I’ll be seeing them again.”
Another reader said that reading a series reminded them of “visiting beloved friends.” A series is a great way to build a connection between your characters and your readers, and turn readers into fans.
Novels are more than a plotline.
What Makes Readers Put Down a Book?
In the era of Kindle Unlimited, where authors are paid by the page read, every page that a reader reads counts. With this in mind, we wanted to find out some of the biggest story no-nos according to readers, so we could help you avoid them. We asked readers what makes them stop reading a book, and the results were informative. We asked this as an open-ended question so as not to bias the poll. The most common theme among responses was the word BORING.
Readers want a plot and characters that keep them engaged. Also mentioned frequently were uninteresting characters and overdone descriptions. Farther down the list, but still worth mentioning were grammar mistakes and spelling errors.
For authors, this means plot and characters need to be a primary focus. It is critical to have a plot that progresses quickly to hook the reader and keep them reading. If you find there are slow parts to your story, try workshopping these scenes with an author friend until you’re confident readers will get hooked and stay engaged.
Reading through the comments, another big takeaway was that readers like reading a book that is inline with their expectations. If there’s going to be explicit sex scenes, make sure that’s clear up front. Do the same if your book has a lot of violence. If it’s part of a series, make sure to tell the reader that, so they can expect that some plot threads will be left untied at the end. Readers want to be surprised by how a story unfolds, but not confused by a book that is different from what they expect.
Make sure your cover and your book description give the reader an accurate picture of what type of book they will be reading.
This is visually what they see first, so create a cover that says, ” read me.”
Do Readers Want to Interact with Authors?
When we asked readers if they would want to interact with the author of the book they are reading, the responses fell into relatively even groups.
The most common answer from readers was “not sure” at 37%. Close to that was “yes” at 36%, and 27% of readers surveyed said they wanted no interaction with authors.
For authors, this is helpful in setting expectations for engagement. Only a third of readers actively want to interact with authors, many other readers just aren’t sure, and a solid amount also don’t want to interact, even if they love an author’s work.
So, if you are focused on engaging with your readers, know that some just won’t want to, and that’s not a problem.
Some authors may be shy too. I had a reader knit me an adorable bookworm and want to FaceTime. She was great, but I was a little reticent to interact that intimately with a stranger until I got to know her better and warm up. Thankfully, she was very patient with me.
We asked readers what their preferred interaction method is, and the responses were overwhelmingly digital. The top choices were email (75%) and social media (52%). That said, many readers would be interested in more intimate types of interaction like texting (32%) or in person meetups (47%).
Authors should feel comfortable engaging readers over social media, and many of you already do. Email is the preferred method of communication for most readers, so building a mailing list is something every author should invest in.
Which Social Media Platforms do Readers Use?
With so many social media platforms, it can be overwhelming to try to post to all of them. So, if you’re trying to decrease your social media workload, focus on where your readers are.
Granted, your audience is a specific subset of readers, so trying different platforms and techniques to see what gets the most engagement is the best plan. But these survey results can help give you an idea on where to start.
The most popular platform among readers surveyed? Facebook, and it’s not close. We know authors love Twitter, and it’s a great place to meet other Authors and engage with the wider author community, but Facebook is where the readers are. 69% of respondents chose Facebook as their preferred social media platform. If you are pressed for time and need to spend time updating your social media presence, focus on Facebook first.
Readers prefer Facebook over other social media sites.
Do Readers Care About Reviews or Price?
We asked readers to pick a book based on just a few limited factors to try and understand how reviews and price impact the decision making process. The answer to this question was dependent on the type of audience you are after, and your goals for the book. We found that readers that subscribe to our different brands answered this question a little differently. Readers were asked to choose from the four options below:
The readers on Freebooksy love free books. They are happy to choose a free book with no reviews over all others. In fact 50% of them would pick a free book with NO REVIEWS over other options. The next most popular option was the $0.99 book with 2 five star reviews. And the third most popular option for Freebooksy readers was the $2.99 book with four stars on 20 reviews.
Our Bargain Booksy audience enjoys a great deal but understands that good books often come at a price. That audience still liked the free book with no reviews, with 37% saying that would be their top choice, but only slightly less popular was the $0.99 book with two 5 star reviews.
A takeaway here is that in the early days of a book when it does not have a lot of reviews, you may need to lower your price in order to attract readers. If you don’t have any reviews on your book and your goal is to get those first few reviews, try running a Freebooksy feature. It will drive free downloads of your book which will get it in the hands of lots of potential reviewers.
The takeaway for authors is that reviews and price both matter to readers. When your book has more reviews you can begin to attract readers at a higher price. If you aren’t getting traction at $4.99 or $3.99 try lowering your price and running promotions to boost those reviews. After you get more reviews, you can start raising your price.
Your Book Description Matters
When asked to rank the importance of several factors when choosing a book, 57% of readers surveyed said the book description was the most important factor. Next most important was price at 37% and author at 23%.
Another finding was that the readers surveyed view review rating as more important than the total number of reviews. In fact, number of reviews was mostly likely to be ranked as “least important” by readers.
One important thing to note is that your description and reviews are often closely linked. As we observed earlier when identifying what turns readers off from a book, setting the correct expectations for your book is critical. If a reader is caught off-guard by violence, sex or the type of ending, they could leave a bad review. So, it’s important that your description both excites readers and sets the correct expectations.
We hope this has helped you gain some insight into the minds of readers. The major takeaways from our reader survey are:
Readers do not have a strong preference for series vs. standalone books. It is easier to become a profitable author when you write in a series and given that readers do not have a preference we recommend starting with the series model. If you are writing a series, make all books in your series easy to find and avoid cliffhangers at the end of books.
Make sure your book is not boring. Keep the plot moving quickly and spend time developing your characters.
Be honest about your book. If it’s a series, be up front about it. Sex scenes, bad language, genre fit – make sure all those things come through on your cover and book description, so readers are not surprised by what they find inside your book.
Interact with your readers through digital channels like Facebook and Email newsletters. Readers want to hear from you when you use their preferred communication channels.
If you have to pick, spend your time promoting and engaging on Facebook as opposed to other social sites.
Keep cool in this unusual heat. I’m headed for the Oregon coast as I have outgrown my dear duckpond. I have promised my friend there that I would paint her a picture of the shoreline she sees from her condo. I may share it with you after I have finished. I love to paint the Oregon coast. And I want to escape this heat.
Going with the momentum of my recent blog, I’m diving in.
After more than a year, I’m giving ad marketing another try. You, the reader, will be the beneficiary as Caught in Time, my first book in a series, will be offered for free through Freebooksy and Amazon tomorrow, May 26 through May 28.
Yes, Free. Free. Free.
The Alysia Series has eight books, but each one is a stand-alone with a different theme. Caught in Time is a time travel romance, A Dangerous Talent for Time follows a riddle quest, Cosmic Entanglement tells a starship academy story, Past the Event Horizon contains a spaceship adventure, Space Song deals with alien genetics, Touching Crystal involves an apocalyptic event, Someone’s Clone is the story of a clone in search of his identity, and Time’s Equation is a time-traveling murder mystery.
All are different, but connected along a timeline with interlocking relationships.
This is a limited-time opportunity, so dive in and enjoy the first of the series for free and find a whole world filled with science fiction adventure.
And, speaking of diving in, my science fiction reading suggestion for this blog is the Diving Series by Kristine Katherine Rusch. Kris is extremely prolific and writes in several genres under various pen names. This series is currently at ten books with a kickstarter that recently closed for more to be written.
The first book in her series is Diving the Wreck. I put off reading this series because I thought it was an underwater story … but no.
Her female protagonist, who insists on being called “Boss,” leads teams off-the-grid to salvage old abandoned spaceships. In the process of doing this, she encounters a 5,000 year-old military ship powered by an anacapa drive which folds space to enable a ship to travel immense distances, but when damaged can twist time.
… The perfect weapon to counter the powerful Empire that threatens her corner of space.
But not without life-threatening risks involved.
Interesting concepts and well-defined characters made this whole series an enjoyable read.
So… dive in.
And don’t forget that tomorrow, May 26, Caught in Time is free. This may be your week for great time travel stories.
A year seems like such a long time… And then it’s not.
I finished my trilogy, thrilled with how it turned out, but done, done, done.
I needed a break. So, I took one. Which has lasted longer than I planned. (Thanks coronavirus.)
Stuck at home, restless, I needed exercise. So, I began to walk around a picturesque local duckpond.
Then, I redirected my creative energy to painting it.
(pictures at the bottom.)
Recently I was musing over offering the first book in the Terran Trilogy on Freebooksy again and remembered a photo prompt that I did for Diana Peach on her Myths of the Mirrors Website.
This is the perfect prelude to the adventures on The New Found Hope in my first book of the Trilogy: A World TooFar. So I offer the photo and the short story below.
By Sheron Wood McCartha
Quiet. So quiet. The sound of her rasping breath filled the night as empty buildings loomed above on both sides, and a silent street stretched ahead. The only other noise was the thudding echo of her pounding feet on hard pavement as she ran as hard as she could.
Thud. Thud. Thud. The sole sounds in a deserted city. Her lungs burned. Her legs ached. She blinked watering eyes. But she had to keep running. Darkness surrounded her, making it hard to see ahead. But she had to continue. She dared not stop. Behind her the moon swelled, growing larger and larger in the night sky. She didn’t want to turn around to look. She couldn’t afford to turn around for even a brief glimpse.
For years, the moon had grown larger and larger in the overhead sky, causing ever increasing violent tidal swings. Now, the ground grumbled and shook under its tug every second of every minute, causing low-level cities to be evacuated as tidal surges wiped out people and places. Then higher altitudes were threatened. And higher. In other drier areas, the ground opened up, swallowing entire towns with one gulp.
Humanity peered upward towards the stars for salvation. It would not be found here on this devastated Earth. Sixty ships built, and fifty-nine already launched—the last now ready to leave the planet behind.
Any minute now. So, too, she would be left behind if she didn’t hurry. In the distance, she saw the glow of light silhouetting the last ship and heard the faint roar of frantic voices.
Run. Run. Faster. Faster. Mother had died in her arms, and she’d been glad to be there at her passing, but it may have been a fatal mistake to stay for her last goodbye. Nevertheless, she would never have forgiven herself if she hadn’t. The com in her pocket vibrated. She pulled it out and took precious time to answer. “What!” She couldn’t stop a second or even slow. Not now. She could see the dark bulk of the ship ahead of her. So close. “Where are you?” “Twenty minutes,” she panted. “Twenty minutes.” “There’s a mob at the front hatch. You’ll have to go around the back to the emergency entrance and move the gantry over three feet to the left. I told the Captain, your father, that you were a computer wizard, and he would need your skills. Don’t make me a liar. Hurry. I don’t want your death on my hands.” The voice continued, but she turned it off. She didn’t need the distraction. She couldn’t afford it. Blood pulsed in her ears. Her legs ached. Her mouth felt parched from inhaling the smoky night air and puffing it out in hard short bursts.
Huff. Huff. Huff. She arrived at the edge of the screaming mob, whose fists pounded vainly against impervious metal. Her feet did not slow a step. But, her heart hurt from hearing the desperation in their voices. Quickly, she circled to the back, stumbling in the effort. She wanted to lie down. To collapse on the ground and never rise again. But she couldn’t let Jazz down. Her best friend had saved her a seat. Tugging the gantry to the left, she eyed the endless rungs above her. Then she began to climb. Her hands grew raw from the rough metal, and her arms ached as they reached for yet the next rung. Suddenly, she felt the engines stir beneath her hands and the ship began to shake. A hiss of steam vented far below her. The monster within awakened. Heat licked her heels as engines ignited, and she hammered at the blurred words stenciled in front of her. Emergency Exit. She screamed, hoping to be heard above the increasing volume of noise. Suddenly, the hatch opened and a hand reached out to yank her in, then slammed shut. Lying on the hard metal floor, she stared up into the frantic face of her friend as the ship rumbled and began to slowly lift. Tears from above splashed onto her cheeks and her lips. “You cut it awfully close.” She nodded slightly. It was all she could manage. Lifted awkwardly into a chair, buckles snapped around her. The ship gathered velocity and leaped into the night sky with a roar.
She closed her eyes as the heavy hand of gravity slammed down on her. The moon expanded in the night sky outside, dooming all those left behind, but the stars twinkled a promise as they beckoned the ship forward.
A World Too Far starts the voyage of The New Found Hope to find a habitable world.
Space can also be just as dangerous.
But here on Earth we have lovely duck ponds. I promised you a few. This is winter duck pond and autumn duck pond.
I’ve noticed a new type of science fiction raising its head lately. This is science fiction where the story is told from the point of view of an artificial intelligence housed in a human appearing robotic body trying to pass as human. Several recent books that use this concept are : A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chalmers, The Imperial Radch Series by Anne Leckie, and Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries Series. (I’ll report on Martha Well’s book Artificial Condition next time, and I already have talked about Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.)
The idea of a human telling a story narrated by an artificial intelligence trying to understand humans is mind bending in the least. Often, it reveals something about what it means to be human.
One of the main characters in A Closed and Common Orbit we met in the previous book, A Long Way to A Small and Angry Planet. There she was Lovelace, the artificial intelligence that ran the ship the Wayfarer.
In this sequel, she wakes up in a new body made to micmic a human with synthetic soft skin, blood-colored liquid in her veins, and operating organs so she can pass as a human. Of course, what she is, is illegal. She was shut down and re-booted so she has no memory of what came before. When created, she was programmed to tell only the truth and to answer any direct question. These constraints in her programming make deception a bit tricky.
But she has the help of Pepper, a fugitive clone, also illegally independent. Pepper originally was created to sort salvage in a factory filled with female clone workers, but when an incident occurs, she escapes. She hides out in a crashed ship whose artificial intelligence teaches her how to survive in a huge landfill on a secluded part of the planet until they can rebuild the ship and escape.
The book flips back and forth between the two lives. Lovelace takes the name Sidra and struggles to adapt to the body she calls a “kit.” Integration is difficult. When outside, the lack of boundaries is unsettling, but the lack of being able to see from all angles and corners is also disturbing. Sidra finally makes a friend with an alien, also a tattoo artist, who tries to explain humans to her and help her, although she also had a few hang-ups.
Meanwhile, alternately, Pepper’s grim life as Jane23 is revealed. She is a naive and innocent ten years old when she escapes to the junkyard where she finds the downed ship. Luckily, Owl, the ship’s artificial intelligence teaches her all it can. The young child is forced to hunt wild dog and scrounge for mushrooms, which make up her main diet. She also learns engineering and tech from Owl, and culture and language from on board programs and holograms.
I enjoyed the story quite a bit. The concept of an artificial intelligence trying to grapple with the quirks of humans was interesting. The courage and inventiveness of Jane 23 recalled a theme in The Hunger Games.
Becky Chambers has emerged as an outstanding writer in the science fiction field. She was nominated for a Hugo Award for A Closed and Common Orbit in 2017, and while not winning, she received a lot of all well-deserved notice.
Speaking of the Hugo Awards, they are out now for 2018 and in an unprecedented move, N.K. Jeminsin has won for the third year in a row. Check out Utube for her acceptance speech, and more details on the Hugo Awards.
Meanwhile, here are the results through to the novelettes:
The winners of the 2018 Hugo Awards, Award for Best Young Adult Book (hereafter the Lodestar Award), and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer were announced at Worldcon 76 in San José, California on August 19, 2018. A full breakdown of the voting is available here. Best Novel The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit) The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor) New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit) Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit) Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris) Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
Best Novella All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing) “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017) Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing) The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing) Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.Com Publishing) River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)
Best Novelette “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017) “Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017) “Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, February 15, 2017) “A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017) “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017) “Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017)
Some interesting new trends in science fiction. Grab a few to finish out your summer reading.
p.s. And speaking of new, I’m working on the exciting cover for the third book in the Terran Trilogy called, The Weight of Gravity. I have clones and lots of excitement. Stay tuned to hear more.
There’s nothing like an eclipse to remind you of your place in the universe.
A week before the event my husband decided we had to go see it. There was no plan in place.
Immediately, I panicked. I get phobic when he drives, and I sit right seat in heavy traffic on the freeway. I think it’s the lack of being in control and relying on others to make sensible driving choices. Terrifies me.
Whatever. And, it makes my husband crazy when I helpfully point out traffic conditions he might miss.
Meanwhile, the media (Good bless them) were warning of huge crowds. They were reporting on hospitals beefing up emergency rooms, stores adding extra stock, the police department preparing for problems, and making us aware in solemn tones of all that could go wrong. A good friend confided that they were getting up at 3:00 a.m. Saturday morning, packing food, and taking the back roads to avoid the congestion. I was on the edge of deciding to stay home and let husband go on his own.
Expectations influence behavior.
Hearing about all the emergency preparations and the dire predictions of chaos amped up my already bubbling worries. But I wasn’t ready to get up at 3:00 a.m three days ahead of the event.
Over a garbage can, my neighbor invited us to join them at their place on the coast in Pacific City.
Wahoo! A plan. My husband agreed. He never lost his confidence in the belief that everything would work out fine.
We needed eclipse glasses. So Thursday evening we went on a hunt. Let me tell you, the whole area was out. After an hour and a half of driving all around, we gave up. “We really don’t need them,” he said.
I called up my neighbor to plan the food and told her about our expedition. She informed me they had four pair at the house. Not to worry. Silly me.
We agreed to leave around seven o’clock Saturday morning to beat the traffic. I packed everything the night before except last minute stuff, even showered then.
That’s when husband mentioned that he wanted to stop and play golf near Lincoln City. We’d go to the Outlet Mall there, plug into their EV supercharger, and shop around while the car juiced up. Then he discovered a five star restaurant across from the golf course that served breakfast and added that into the itinerary.
Adaptable. Sometimes a wife and writer needs to stay adaptable. However, I noticed that my anxiety was turning into anticipation. As I saw an exciting plan falling into place, my expectations soared upward. Anxiety got put on the back burner.
As we all know now, there was no traffic. We finally left after 8:00 a.m. I was munching calmly on a muffin and gulping down coffee. The traffic was light, the trip beautiful. The GPS shows green all the way…even through Dundee. A miracle was in place.
Near Lincoln City, we stopped at a gem of a place called the Wildflower Grill, which I fervently recommend. Then on to the mall with over a hundred miles still available. Eight open EV charging stalls, we picked one (I had worried they would all be filled) and we went shopping. I found an awesome deal on a needed item, so did husband, and a half hour later we were on our way to the golf links, tank filled to two hundred miles. No range anxiety whatsoever.
Chinook Winds Golf Course was beautiful, and my husband flashed a coupon booklet that let him play golf with a cart for fifteen dollars. He had reserved a tee time, and I could drive along. Needless to say, it worked out great. He could have used a few more birdies, but whatever.
At three o’clock, I called to let out hosts know we were ahead of schedule and on our way. The drive up the coast was spectacular. Their house was jaw-droppingly beautiful and perched high on a ridge overlooking the town. Five star accommodations.
My head was spinning. I took pictures. We got along wonderfully. The men were both tech geeks that found common ground and similar interests. The next day we toured the town, walked the beach, supported a local winery, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the deck. They were perfect hosts.
Needless to say, it was a memorable trip. There were several telescopes with filters, and yes, eclipse glasses so we could observe the whole process. Our worries over a looming marine layer eased as the sun broke through before ten o’clock.
What did I learn?
Expectations….doubts and worries… can block you from a worthwhile experience. Writers and authors need to know this. They need to put aside their fears of failure, and like my husband, plunge into the experience, developing a strategy as they go. Adaptability is key. As events unfolded, he researched ways to increase the value of the event, adding on to the developing plan.
Authors can do the same. Write a story. Research the business. Create a novel. Add in a paperback or ebook, maybe audio. Look into marketing. Trust that if you move forward, opportunities will present themselves. Take advantage of them. A signing, a speaking engagement, a book club.
There will be naysayers….maybe among your own family. Evaluate their comments thoughtfully. Then keep moving ahead, adjusting as you go. It’s a journey. Yes, there’s traffic, and, yes, bumps in the road. But it may be a life changing experience.
As I stared at the eclipse, I realized how powerful the universe was, and I was a mere speck in it. But all around me were other specks, in the town, on the ridge, who roared when the sun vanished.
And cheered when it reappeared.
It was a life event I’ll always remember.
Expectations. Let them lift you up and help you reach those shining moments.
I live in Oregon and the whole region around me is a-twitter about the coming total eclipse. I live an hour away from the coast area that lies in its path. However, my husband is not a fan of big crowds, so I expected we would view what we could from home. Then a week ago, he ups and says, “It’s a once in a lifetime experience. We have to go see it.”
A million people converging on the area, and he plans to drive somewhere to view it somehow. Details were sketchy.
Heaven help me… And it did.
I was moaning about this turn off events while bringing in the garbage cans, when my neighbor (doing the same) offered an invitation to join her and her husband at their place in Pacific City. We can leave a day or two early and hopefully miss some of the traffic. They are fun to be with, and what at first sounded like a disaster, is turning into what could be a very memorable weekend.
It is exciting to be in a place where such a unique astronomical event occurs.
Something to tell my grandchildren about. If that ever happens. Something to mutter in my old age, “I remember when…”
This week I finished Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper. It was nominated for the Campbell Award. I must mention that it is tied to previous books The Creative Fire and The Diamond Deep. I was unaware of this until I encountered a rant by a reviewer on Goodreads. Frankly, it didn’t disrupt the story for me at all. In my own series, several of the books are separated by spans of time and are also stand alone stories about future generations of the originals.
What makes this book worth reading is its approach on the issue of transhumanism. Each chapter is titled with a character’s name and represents his or her viewpoint. (three main characters)
Charlie stands for the environmentalist. He is a ranger on a planet called Lym that at one time had been mined and polluted. Under the rangers’ care, the wildlife and environment are being restored. The wildlife, however, can be very dangerous and the planet represents raw nature.
Nona comes from the Diamond Deep, an immense space station out in the depths of space. Her mother is dying, her father dead. Both were too late to receive the cocktail of life, now given to their daughter. Upon her father’s deathbed, she promises him to see a sky and watch a sunset. As her mother is dying, she reminds Nona of this promise and asks her to talk to a powerful relative, Saryana. Reluctantly, Nona does and learns that she owns her own spaceship and an inheritance. She’s rich. Saryana directs her to Lym and hires Charlie to be a tour guide for the young woman so she can experience what a planet feels and looks like.
Charlie expects her to be a spoiled rich spacer, but of course, I smiled as I watched a bit of impossible romance bloom between them.
Nona’s best friend is Chrystal who lives in the High Sweet Home, an outer ring space station. She lives with three others: two men, Yi and Jason, and her friend Katherine. They are scientists living in a commune and breeding genetically modified stock.
Outside beyond the dark are the banished cyborg and artificial intelligent robots that call themselves the Next. Far more intelligent than humans, and physically able to modify themselves, they do not need to eat, sleep or breathe. They are powerful beings who want to return and claim portions of planets, such as Lym, for the metal resources there. They capture the High Sweet Home and take Chrystal and her group, destroy their human bodies, and download them into robot bodies that resemble their original form to use as liaisons with the humans.
Chrystal’s chapters are chilling. They are first person narratives where the reader experiences the emotions of a human mind forced into a powerful mechanical body against her will. Not all survive the transformation, and in fact, Katherine doesn’t make it.
The Next make the three, Crystal, Yi and Jason their ambassadors and lure Nona out to the Diamond Deep to save her friend. Charlie is persuaded to go as Lym’s ambassador. Since he’s never been off planet, adjusting to space is a challenge for him.
Brenda Cooper neatly presents all sides of the artificial intelligence debate. Charlie is the human who wants to keep his planet pristine and natural. Nona is the child of ship and station who only knows life in space. Chrystal experiences the vicious prejudices of the terrified humans who call her a thing and refuse her humanity. Even her own mother repudiates her. And Jhailing is the robot who teaches Chystal to survive her difficult transformation. She learns to speak to the other robots using a kind of mental telepathy. No longer does she need to eat, sleep, or breathe. Her powerful body can pick up a human and kill him with a throw. As many humans who are repulsed by the robots, an equal amount are intrigued with the thought of becoming a robot in order to gain immortality, great intelligence, and the strength of such a form.
The reader gets a glimpse of the frightening things that the shadowy, more advanced robots can do, including shape shifting and duplication and wonder at their true purpose in returning. The humans are given a choice of Uphold, Allow or Help as the council votes on their human response to the approaching fleet of Next.
The Spear of Light continues the story. Also, Cooper just released in June, The Wilders.
Monday the world will go dark in the middle of the day. A reminder of the frailty of the human species in a powerful universe.
But it will only be for two minutes, and the sun will return.
President Trump will tweet something, and somewhere a terrorist or protester will commit a violent act, and we’ll return to the insanity of our vulnerable world.
With only science fiction to warn us that we should behave better or face the consequences.
Earth’s ships, lost in space, search for a place to make a home. Will they wander forever in the dangerous universe or find safety at last?
Terran Trilogy: Somewhat Alien
A space station offers a midway refuge for Elise’s fleet, but the inhabitants of Alysia are reluctant to allow aliens to land on their planet.
Conflict over Alysia’s immigration policy creates violence.
Terran Trilogy: Weight of Gravity
The Terran landing on Alysia is long overdue, but the Alysians are anything but welcoming.
Richard Steele helps Elise recover several Terrans, kidnaped by slavers and sold into Khalib Allfyre’s harem.
But his problems are not over when time traveler, and daughter, Tempest Steele appears in the Timelab to warn him of possible attacking aliens. TheFallen are searching for a habitable planet and Alysia looks just perfect for them.
Terran and Alysian must put aside their animosities, build spaceships, and battle a hostile enemy to save the planet.
But it won’t be easy. And lives are on the line.
The Alysian Universe: An Exciting Series by Sheron Wood McCartha
Available online through Kindle and in paperback at Amazon.com
Caught In Time: Book 1
A Time Travel Romance
A Dangerous Talent for Time: Book 2
A quest to answer a riddle with a time traveling twist.
A cosmic entanglement in the form of an alien probe drags Alysia into the space age, but certain factions resist. Some won’t stop at murder to destroy the program.
Past the Event Horizon
Braden Steele and crew launch into space following a mysterious signal, searching for the aliens that created it.
Be careful what you go looking for…because you might find it…Past the Event Horizon.
A space adventure.
A threatened alien invasion and secret alien gene lab.
Alien crystals and cosmic disaster.
Not knowing who or what he is, Ailain Stone sets out to save the planet from war.
Five Elements Anthology
Seven short stories with five elements required in the story. My writers group, after winning several short story awards, put this together in a moment of insane…enthusiasm. All funds go towards Books for Children sponsored by the Willamette Writers.
A murder mystery with a science fiction twist.
A novella that offers a taste of each book in the Alysian Universe.
Young Ailain Steele accidentally activates a time gate and tumbles through time trying to find his way home.