Monday, December 28, 2015

End of an Era

No, St. Louis Bread Company, aka BreadCo for the locals or Panera’s for the rest of the country, is not closing.  But this one is.

After going there for coffee two or three times a week for the last two years, I’ll miss it.  It is, after all, where a lot of the storyline and dialog for Half a Mind and Mind in the Clouds was born.

OK Doc, where do we go now?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What Are the Chances, Part 2

What’s more likely to kill you, your hot water faucet or an airplane?  I’ll let you think about that for a moment.

Previously, I have mentioned that I started writing for the experience of it.  It was something that many people talked about, but few did.  Or so it seemed to me.  And then, I wrote my first book, dropped it on online, and saw my Kindle sales rank on Amazon standing near 1.5 million.  What the…

It appeared, I had deceived myself.  I knew, of course, that self-publishing had exploded in recent years.  But just how many people must be writing to have produced more than 4% of the total of all the books in the Library of Congress in just a few years?!

Now it seemed that eBook writers were everywhere.  I was sure there were dozens of authors hidden behind closed doors on my block alone.  I probably said “Hi” to 2 or 3 people writing techno-thrillers at the grocery store this morning.  And I was positive my mailman was hurrying home to work on his novel; who else would know more about going postal?

So, what does my out-of-control imagination have to do with hot water and airplanes?  Actually, more than you might think.

Our estimates of the likelihood of events, ranging from the chance of bumping into an author to dying in a plane crash, are influenced by a number of factors that have nothing to do with how often they occur.  Among these factors are the personal importance of the event, how dramatic it is, and the media coverage it gets – the latter two obviously being related.  The effect these factors have on how we estimate chance is called the availability heuristic.  Events that are more available, or in other words, are more easily recalled due to their importance, their drama, or their newsworthiness, are considered more likely, even if they are not.

So, of course, as more of my days were spent on blogs and promotion sites about writing, authors seemed more prevalent.  And for the rest of you hot water using, flying public, what do you read about in the papers and see on TV – the tragic story of the old man dying from shock from being scalded by hot water, or sensational photos from an airplane crash?  In fact, the odds of the average person in the United States dying from hot water is about 1 in 3.2 million; the odds of dying in a plane crash, on the other hand, are only about 1 in 11 million.

So, before you decide to relax in a hot tub before bed, just remember, you might be better off flying.

Happy Writing,
BmP

Friday, December 11, 2015

Just Waiting for the Next Blockbuster Novel

Have you read, Girl on a Train?  Or maybe you read, The Girl on the Train?

Yes, you guessed it.  There are two books with nearly the same name.  And the result?  You can probably guess that too.  Sales of the two-year old psychological thriller, Girl on a Train, by Alison Waines took off in 2015, climbing to the top of the rankings on Amazon UK and Australia.  It did so, largely on the coattails of the blockbuster novel, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (see http://www.wsj.com/articles/loved-the-novel-about-a-girl-on-a-train-you-may-have-read-the-wrong-book-1447724224).

So, my strategy as a writer has changed.  I was planning to write a book entitled, The Great American Novel.  I mean, how could that miss?…until I found out that Philip Roth had already written it.

Now, I’m banking on the chance that the author of the next blockbuster (whoever that may be) is reading my blog, because I have a couple of suggestions for a title.  How about Half A Mind?  Or, if you prefer, it could be Mind in the Clouds, as long as it comes out after April 2016.  Is that too much to ask?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Review: Crimson Shore by Preston and Child

Good, but Too Formula and Too Conceited to Be One of the Best

First, I am a big fan of the Pendergast series by Preston and Child, which is why I deliberated so long on my review of this novel.  But in the end, what seems a shift in the main character’s personality and the familiarity of some story themes left me feeling less engaged than I had felt previously.
The novel reads like it was written in two parts.  The first, which accounts for about two-thirds of the book, involves solving the theft of the wine collection.  Sometimes I wonder if Preston and Child spend much of their time between novels researching vocabulary, because they always seem to find terminology to fit the feel and lineage of the plot.  In this case, they use a number of somewhat archaic words to underscore a story with roots in the 1690s.  I always appreciate their attention to this type of detail.  The shortcoming of this section, however, is what seems to be a shift in Pendergast’s view of the world.  He is always been aloof and extremely particular in his tastes in everything from his associates to his wardrobe to the food and drink he consumes.  Even so, he usually finds a “diamond in the rough” in the people he deals with, e.g., Carrie Swanson, even when their potential is not apparent to others.  But in this book, he seems to become quite snobbish and condescending of nearly everyone. 

In the second part, the plot becomes more violent and darker.  It is, in a phrase, more typical Pendergast action.  But to some degree, this is also the limitation.  Preston and Child seem to have adopted a few specific physical settings to evoke anxiety in the reader and a few methods to explain otherwise inexplicable occurrences, and this part of the book uses a couple that are becoming somewhat well-worn within the series.  Having said that, however, there is still enigmatic turn of events at the end that assures that I, once again, will be buying the next installment as soon as it appears as a pre-order.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Thanks to the 352!

I wanted to say thanks to the 352 people who signed up for my book giveaway on Goodreads.  The winners have been selected and I’ll be mailing the proof copies of Half A Mind in a few days.

Happy Writing…and Reading,
BmP

On Facebook Now

For those of you who prefer your social media in a different form, now you can find me on Facebook.

Facebook Page for Mind Sleuth Series

The content of the posts there and here will be the same, although the blog will still be the best source of information on current and future publishing and past book reviews.

I guess technically, I have a twitter account too, but I just cannot quite see twitting, “Wrote 14 more pages today #AwesomeProgress”.  But who knows…

Happy Writing,
BmP

Monday, November 30, 2015

NaNoWriMo – Great Concept! Bad Acronym?

When I first saw the acronym, NaNoWriMo, I decided the people who organized the National Novel Writing Month needed some help.  I mean, after all, the best acronyms are, if nothing else, pronounceable.  Just how do you say NaNoWriMo?

Take the business named after its founder (Ingvar Kamprad) who grew up on a farm called Elmtaryd in his hometown of Agunnaryd.  The business, of course, is IKEA, which is a bit easier than saying, ‘I think I’ll pop over to Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd and check out the new kitchen cabinets’.

And then, you can always take the next step and have the acronym reflect something about the product, business, or service it represents.  Time to risk straining my arm to pat myself on the back, because I was part of the team that developed the Adaptive STUdent Tutoring Environment (ASTUTE).  It only took four of us, including two PhDs, a month to come up with that one.  Obviously, time well spent…even if the product never went far.

So, being the generous guy I am, I thought I would give the good folks at NaNoWriMo a hand.  What could they possibly need more than a catchy new abbreviation (money came in second in my mind).  As it turns out, however, I am not generous enough to spend another month of my life fiddling with combinations of the letters of their name.  Fortunately, there are automated acronym builders online waiting to step in and fill this void.  So, I typed in their name, hit the build acronym button, and voila!

Without dropping one of the four words, most of the possibilities the app constructed featured the word “worm”, as in the natIonal Novel WRiting Month or rINgWoRM.  Maybe if they could come up with Bookworm…  Well, it was worth a try.

As for the event itself, I think it is a great concept.  For my non-writing friends, NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge in which the participants try to write a 50,000-word novel in one month (November).  Personally, I had never heard of it until this month, and now that I have…what do you say we all meet there in November 2016?

Happy writing,
BmP

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What Are the Chances, Part 1

Did you ever hear that on the day the US tested the first atomic bomb (the fission bomb), known as the Trinity test, scientists warned that there was a slight chance it might start a chain reaction in the atmosphere that would destroy the world?

It some ways, it appears the story is true; in others, it appears a myth…or at least, an exaggeration.

First, you have to consider that scientists would never say there is zero probability of an event, especially one as poorly understood as the atomic bomb was at the time.  Their caution was evidently warranted in this case, as their prediction of yield (between 5 and 10 kilotons of TNT) turned out to be quite different from our modern day estimate (21 kilotons of TNT).

But even with that caveat, are we talking about a 1 in 1,000 chance?  1 in a million?  Even less?  This is where the story gets a bit more murky.

It was the analysis of Edward Teller, known as “the father of the H-bomb” (fusion bomb) that puts the probability of total annihilation due to the fission bomb high enough to create concern.  Teller was, as the name implies, and an advocate of the more powerful fusion bomb, even as the fission bomb was being developed and he was calculating his estimates of doom.  I am not saying he ‘cooked the books’ to support his preferred option, but for an individual generally thought to be one of the inspirations for the character Dr. Strangelove in the movie by the same name, maybe it’s possible.  All we know is that when Oppenheimer asked Hans Berthe to verify Teller’s conclusion, he could not.  He considered total destruction so implausible as to be impossible, which may be as close as a scientist ever gets to saying ‘the probability is zero’.  Oppenheimer agreed and the project went forward.

But good scares do not die easily.  Evidently, on the day of the Trinity test, Enrico Fermi started taking bets on whether the bomb would destroy the world, or only New Mexico.  Who knew scientists had a sense of humor.  He was joking, right?

Now, having drafted this post and in re-reading it, I have to ask:  did I really write that “scientists would never say there is a zero probability of an event”?  What I meant to say was, there is a probability approaching zero that scientists would say there is zero probability.  After all, I have to be true to the scientist in me...

Happy Writing,
BmP

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book Giveaway (Ends Dec. 1)

With less than a week left, I thought I do some shameless marketing.  So, here is a friendly reminder to enter my book giveaway on Goodreads.

Half A Mind Proof Copy Giveaway

Friday, November 20, 2015

I May Never Buy a $2.99-or-Less Book Again

A few readers who have known me longer than the 3 or 4 months of the life of this blog have asked, when did you developed such varied tastes in literature?  You see, I have been largely a Lee Child, Preston & Child, Michael Crichton, early Tom Clancy, John Sanford type of reader.  Now, they are seeing Vampire romances and kinky Christmas tales on my book reviews.

Actually, I haven’t changed.  What I have done, however, is realize that indie authors, like me, try to help each other out, and writing reviews is one way to do so.

Sounds bad, right?  Big conflict of interest? 

Well, maybe some, but not as much as it might appear.  First, reciprocal reviews are frowned upon.  Too much of a chance to get into a ‘scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ situation.  Then, there are credibility issues.  Who listens to anyone who hands out all 5-star ratings.  I don’t.  And finally, I am not sure that all 5’s would be that meaningful anyway.  Sure, all authors have egos, and would like the strokes, but rating activity may be as important, or maybe more important than rating magnitude.  What would an all 5-star book be, anyway?  A fad?  On the other hand, lots of people, giving ratings toward the positive end, with the occasional 1 or 2 (you cannot please everyone) is what I look for.

So, in the Indie world, where rating frequency (mostly positive) is king, we read each other.  In the process, I have found myself way, way outside my normal reading sphere.  But guess what – it is interesting.  I am reading books, and enjoying large parts of them, in realms I never expected. 

Additionally, and importantly, authors offering their usually $2.99 ebooks for free, in exchange for an honest review, is quite common, for other authors and readers alike.  (And there are some more expensive books in there too.)  Just check out Goodreads, if you don’t believe me.  So, some day, when I stop writing (you know, when I am too old to form coherent sentences), I’ll still be looking for my inexpensive book fix from the authors who are more than happy to give me one, if I’ll just share my opinion with the world.  No problem there; I’ve never been short of opinions.

Happy Writing,
BmP

Thursday, November 12, 2015

BOOK GIVEAWAY



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Half A Mind by Bruce M. Perrin

Half A Mind

by Bruce M. Perrin

Giveaway ends December 01, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Book Reviews

In order to take advantage of the automatic feeds from my blog to places such as my Google+, Goodreads Author, and Amazon Author pages, from now on I’ll be posting my book reviews in the main section.  Later, I’ll delete those posts from the main page, and leave a copy in the Book Review tab only, to provide more of a historical record.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

What Came First, the Paperback or the eBook?

No, I do not mean in terms of the technologies.  I mean, in terms of efficiencies, if you are going to write and publish.

When I wrote my first book, I never gave it much thought.  I was hooked on eBooks.  Having travel a lot for work, I could not imagine going with paper.  I could carry a dozen books with me, all on a pound or less eReader or tablet.  About the only argument for paper at the time was that for the 15 minutes during take-off and the corresponding time in landing, “anything with an off-on switch must be in the off position” (yes, I still hear that phrase in my dreams/nightmares).  But even this limitation has changed, or is changing, or is waffling back and forth.  Some airlines seem OK with a tablet being on during take-off, others, not so much.  They will all decide some day and let us poor, paying customers know.

In any case, I could not make an argument for paper.  My two, local indie author/publisher role models (two neighbors) had both done eBooks as well.  And frankly, I did not know there was such a thing as free, on-demand, self-published paperbacks.

Enter CreateSpace.  What a great idea, and now that I have used it, what a great service.  Maybe two weeks after I thought of trying it, I have a published paperback (check my “Books” tab).  All it took was some tinkering with the page layout (page size and margins).  Then, I called in my artist daughter, who adjusted the cover to become a front cover, spine, and back cover…and I was done.  I cannot really speak for the difficulty of the cover adjustments, but since she did it in a couple of evenings, it must not have been too hard.

As I finished up, I noticed one remaining step:  turn your paperback into an eBook.  CreateSpace claimed they could take your paperback documents and adjust them for a Kindle eBook.  How cool is that?  What I do not know, however, is just how far they go in these adjustments.  Is the expanded cover art cut down to just an eBook cover?  Is the page layout returned to eBook settings?  I wonder.
 
So, for book 2, I am considering putting the paperback before the eBook.  If I do, I will let you know how it goes.  On the other hand, if any reader has tried this sequence, and found it to be a pain, let me know.  I like tinkering, but I do not have to learn everything from the school of hard knocks.

Happy Writing,
BmP

Monday, November 2, 2015

They Are Connected

If you are like me, every time you buy a new piece of hardware (new phone, new TV), you stop and ponder for a moment when it asks, ‘will you share information on this device with the manufacturer to improve the product?’

I usually say yes, but I always wondered what they did with all those data. 

Sometimes, the answer seems straightforward.  Our TVs are connected primarily so we can stream content, but occasionally, I also get firmware updates via the same connection.  Presumably, performance data from various sources, including data from connected devices, led to these modifications.

When I started thinking about it, lots of my devices are connected – TVs, phones, thermostats, lights, etc.  And I am not alone.  It is big business, with the supporting technology generally going under the name of the Internet of Things (IoT).  The IoT is the network of physical devices or “things”, capable of receiving and/or transmitting data to the following:

   a) Users in order to inform or receive instructions;
   b) Manufacturers in order to provide performance data or receive updates; and
   c) Other connected devices in order to control or receive inputs from them.

How big of a business is it?  Estimates put the population of the world at about 7.2 billion.  But even if every person in the world was on the Internet at one time, we would still be outnumbered almost 3.5 to 1 by the devices who are also online.

So, the next time your new TV asks to be attached to the Internet, just remember, they are collecting data, and they are connected…

Happy Writing,
BmP

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Do you listen or talk to your characters?

I recently completed a Book Goodies author self interview.  It won't be published on their website until early November, but it had a question I really liked - the one in the title of this post.  Here is my take on it.

I rarely read a book where I do not form a mental picture of the characters.  (As evidence, I still wonder how Hollywood thought to cast Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.  I see someone closer to Dwayne Johnson in my mind’s eye, but they did not ask me.)  I also believe that this mental picture is even more vivid for characters you create.  I have spent months with mine.  I know what they think, how they feel, what they would say.  Additionally, I know what it is like to write something inconsistent with their personalities.  It happens.  When it does, I feel the tension and soon, the words are gone.  In a sense, I listen to the persona I created.  I also imagine conversations among my characters – when Sam stumbles over compliments or Nicole gives him a hard time.  These imaginary conversations are often complete, with specific phrases and precise reactions, which later become text.  However, to date, I have not personally joined the discourse.  I think they would listen, but like your children, you have to let them live their own lives.

Watch for the rest of the interview sometime in early November.

Happy writing,
BmP

Mind in the Clouds - Update

I just received the cover art and drafted a synopsis for Mind in the Clouds, the next book in the Mind Sleuth Series.  Find them both on the Books tab.

Happy writing,
BmP

Friday, October 23, 2015

Say What...

About 2 weeks ago, I mentioned that I was starting to look at options for marketing book 2, thinking I might try something less absurd than just dropping a manuscript on the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo websites unannounced.  So, over these 2 weeks, I have been exploring the possibilities, sticking to the lower end of the free to take-out-a-second-mortgage price scale.  There really are quite a few choices, even for us penny-pinchers.

To know which of these possibilities I might want to repeat, I watched the results.  Sales on the days of a promotion would be great, of course, but even a change in blog traffic suggests that a listing generated some interest.  Over a few promos of Half A Mind, I have seen a little of both, but not a lot of either…until yesterday.

Yesterday marked the first of a two-day promo that involved an announcement in an email newsletter, a posting on a website, and various other social media listings.  And similar to most of the other books advertised, Half A Mind generated a few likes on Facebook, a few tweets, and a few +1s on Google+.  The response was fine, but nothing too exciting. 

Then, I checked the blog traffic.  I had 3 times as many page visits as I have ever had on a day without a new posting.  Usually, if I am not putting up something new, I only get the occasional friend who is catching up or a random passerby.  But yesterday was different.  Not only was there much more traffic than usual, its source was also different.  I had never had a visit from Russia.  Yesterday, over 80% of the views came from there. 

While all this was strange enough, I was more surprised when I checked the entry URL.  All the visits from Russia came via an app in the Google play store named Vesna – Весна.  It is evidently a social media application designed to ‘find interesting people nearby’, according to the translation.  (OK, I understand that ‘interesting’ applies, but ‘nearby’?)  I also wonder if something more was lost in the translation, as the maturity rating was 17+.

So, anyone looking to tap the adult Russian dating market with their eBook, I’ve got just the promotion for you.

Happy writing,
BmP

Monday, October 19, 2015

Coordinating Kindle, Nook, and Kobo eBook Publishing – Take 2

To date, the post with the most views on my blog has been one from August 29 entitled Coordinating Nook and Kindle eBook Publishing.  Just to reiterate the objective of that post, it was to find a single MS Word format for the source manuscript that would require the fewest, most straightforward conversion steps to produce Nook and Kindle eBooks that maintained the original formatting, table of contents, etc.  Later, I found the same process largely worked for Kobo and posted that result.

In addition to views, I have received a few questions on this post about specific types of content (e.g., does the process work for URLs?  It does.)  And a few comments offering alternatives.  Thank you.  Anything to reduce the pain and speed up the process is goodness in my view.

Since August, I have continued to experiment with the process and have adopted one modification that I thought I would pass along.  Specifically, I am avoiding putting the ePub version of the manuscript into either the Nook or the Kobo editors.  Doing so seemed to be producing some types of problems with inserted spaces or forced line breaks. 

The implication of this change is that the MS Word version needs to have all the upfront materials (Title Page, Copyright, etc.) defined, thus making any work in the Kindle editor unnecessary as well.  Just a nice by-product of the change.

Here what the steps look like currently:

For Kindle

1.      Follow the Kindle instructions for formatting a Word manuscript.  Most of those guidelines can be boiled down to a) keep it simple; and b) use the built in Word controls for things like line spacing, indenting, etc. rather than carriage returns, spaces, or tabs.  Check those guidelines for specifics.

2.      Define each chapter and the major upfront sections (title page, copyright, dedication) as Header 1 text, so that they appear in the table of contents that Word generates.  Tag these sections as Header 1, and then change their actual format to whatever you want (e.g., the title page does not have to use the Header 1 format; just change it after it is tagged and do not redefine the Header 1 style.)  When the TOC is generated, spaces between sections (e.g., after the upfront material or between major sections) can be added to improve readability.  The generated TOC should look exactly like what you want in the final product.

3.      Save the Word document as a filtered webpage and upload it to the Kindle publishing site. 

4.      Preview.  Correct all errors in the MS Word document, and then repeat Steps 3 and 4, if needed.  The intent is to produce a manuscript that needs no editing here, so it will likewise, need no editing on the Nook or Kobo sites.

5.      Publish.

For Nook and Kobo

1.      Upload the MS document created for Kindle to the software application Calibre, using the Add Books menu option (along the top).  Calibre is a free software application and can be found by searching the Internet.

2.      Use the Edit Metadata menu option to check for any modifications needed.  If the properties on the MS Word document are set correctly, you may not need to do anything.

3.      Use the Convert Books menu command to create an ePub version of the manuscript.

4.      Save the ePub version from Calibre to your hard drive.  The command is 'Save to disk'.

5.      Verify the ePub book at http://validator.idpf.org/.  (Probably unnecessary, but I am a better-safe-than-sorry type of guy and this step only takes a couple of minutes.)

6.      Upload the ePub version to Nook and Kobo publishing and preview them without any editing.  All of the page breaks and chapter titles should be there, as well as the upfront materials (TOC, dedication page, etc.).  If there are any errors, make the changes in the Word manuscript, rather than using the Nook or Kobo editors. 

7.      As a final precaution, when I publish the Nook version,  I click “Publish” on the Manuscript page and select “The original .epub file I uploaded”. 

Happy writing,
BmP

Friday, October 16, 2015

Funny the Little Things You Learn

Have you ever noticed a book review that says something like, “This book was received in exchange for an honest review”.

OK, neither had I…until recently.  Now, it seems like I see them everywhere.

As I mentioned in my last post, I thought I learn a bit more about marketing a book – you know, part of the overall experience.  So, as I am pursuing some of the marketing sites mentioned on AnaSpoke.com (http://anaspoke.com/2015/10/08/the-most-super-duper-exhaustive-comprehensive-and-current-listing-of-free-and-paid-book-advertising-websites-and-ideas/) I found one that asked, “Need a Reviewer?” 

I am thinking, ah, someone to read, check spelling, give plot suggestions, and the like.  I actually checked into a service like that, before I twisted the arms of a couple of friends for proofing.  Something about the $1500+ price tag scared me off.

So, anyway, I clicked the Need-a-Reviewer link.  And it’s not for someone to read your book for typos – I should have known better.  It was a listing of people (pages and pages of them by genre) who would read your book and write a review for you.  And it’s not their living, because at least for the few I checked, there is no charge.  Rather, it seems to feed their habit.  They like reading, so to keep an endless supply of books without going broke, they trade a book for a review.  Amazing.  Where do people come up with these ideas?

Happy Writing,
BmP

Saturday, October 10, 2015

To Market We Will Go...

In one of my early posts, I mentioned that one of the reasons that I gave eBook publishing a try was that I had a couple of neighbors who had published.  You know, the if-they-can-do-it-so-can-I logic.  I even went online and bought one of these books.  At the time, its Amazon ranking was “#1,546,950 Paid in Kindle Store”. 

I’m not sure about you, but I rarely search 1,546,949 eBooks, reading each synopsis and at least a few of the helpful reviews before a fork over, in this case, $2.99.  Hey, my time is not worth much, but it is worth more than that.
 
So, I cannot claim ignorance.  I knew that if you just write a book and put it at various retail sites, it’ll sit there unfound forever.  Well, OK, it will be found by the handful of friends and relatives you can strong-arm into buying a copy.  And then it will sit there unfound for the rest of forever.
 
So yes, I knew if you want anyone to find your book, you have to market it.  And since I wanted the whole struggling author experience (sans any real struggles), I have been learning about marketing eBooks.  What have I learned so far?
 
First, you are supposed to have a marketing plan before the book, not the other way around.  Who knew?  I thought I’d make it up as I go along – and now, that’s exactly what I am doing.
 
And second, these aspiring authors are DRIVEN.  I read one blog where the author talked about taking her laptop to a public library and walking up to complete strangers with a sales pitch.  I admire the guts that would take, but I don’t need my experience to be that realistic. 
 
But I did find a lot of helpful information online.  Perhaps one of the best is: http://anaspoke.com/2015/10/08/the-mo... , with the understated title of “The Most Super-Duper, Exhaustive, Comprehensive, and Current Listing of Free and Paid Book Advertising Websites and Ideas”.

She does throw in the occasional suggestion that you buy her book, but who could blame her; the post is about marketing.  But the number and variety of options she cites for publicizing your work is incredible.  If you have a book, give it a read.  Or even better.  Don’t follow my example and read it before you publish.
 
Happy writing,
BmP
 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Where Did I Get the Idea for Half A Mind?

A friend, when he saw I had published my first book, emailed me, “Half A Mind…….Autobiography?    J

Although those who know me might expect that, no, my life was not the inspiration for the book.  It was actually another friend who recommended a novel, saying, ‘You’ll like it.  It is about brain plasticity gone wrong.’ 

If you are thinking, brain plasticity sounds vaguely familiar, but completely uninteresting, I can address the first issue. 

Unless you are employed in an academic or professional field that studies the human nervous system, you have most likely heard of brain plasticity in a news story.  Plasticity is the cure when a 2-year old falls from his bike, sustains a head injury that causes, for example, the loss of speech, but then develops speech again using a different part of the brain.  It is the nervous system re-wiring itself in order to replace a lost function.  And it has been credited with some remarkable recoveries.

I was intrigued.  How could the brain’s natural curative capabilities go wrong?  What events or technology would be needed to produce re-wiring?  What form would the maladaptation take?  I thought I had some promising hypotheses about the novel.

Then, I got a copy of the book and read it.  None of my guesses about it was correct…because the book was not about plasticity.  It did mention it, but the suspense was not from it.

As the book did not satisfy my curiosity, and perhaps increased it, I dug further into the research on neural re-wiring, only to find many of my hypotheses were much more than that.  They were techniques and technologies, in the labs and in the headlines.  To my surprise and my apprehension, our capabilities brought us closer to this neural demise than I had ever thought.  And the kernel for Half A Mind had taken form.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Goodbye Yogi


St. Louis native and baseball great Yogi Berra died on Tuesday, September 22, at the age of 90. 


His plaque in the St. Louis Walk of Fame.  Thanks for the memories,

BmP

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Walking for Words

I thought I would keep this blog going while I worked on books 2, 3… wherever I end up.  But that means I’ll be talking about things other than writing, per se.  After all, it will get a bit boring if each week, I report X words written, making up about Y% of the total.

Besides, I have the countdown clock for that purpose.

So, today, I thought I would mention a contributing pastime – hiking.  I say ‘hiking’, but to be more accurate, what I do ranges from my early morning strolls (where I go for my caffeine quota for the day) to some more rigorous outings (the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the bottom and back…in a snowstorm). 

I am also a bit of a math geek and an electronic toy enthusiast.  So, to relieve me of the task of recording my steps from these caffeine runs and 4770 foot climbs, I got a Fitbit.  In fact, I celebrated my 2-year anniversary with my Fitbit, a Zip, on September 8.  And what have I done in those 2 years (and 2 weeks)?  How about 9,483,596 steps, earning my “Great Wall” badge for walking more than 5,500 miles (the length of the Great Wall of China).


 
So, what does any of this have to do with writing (and I am sure you all are thinking, ‘it has nothing to do with it’).  But it does.  At least, it does for me.  Because, I would guess that half or more of everything that went into Half A Mind was not created at the computer keyboard.  No, it came from strolls for morning coffee, or hikes around Forest Park or Hawn State Park, or on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. 

I have no idea how anyone else writes, but many of the conversations that I pen come when there is little else on my mind other than the sound of my footsteps. 

Happy writing,
BmP

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Countdown for Book 2 Now Running


With my first book, Half A Mind, now published, it is time to start working toward book 2.  Based on no information and no experience, I guessed that it would take me a year to finish book 1; it took 8 months.  Based on that experience, I set my countdown clock at 6 months for book 2.  We’ll see how it goes.
BmP

Friday, September 11, 2015

BOOK RELEASE – Half A Mind


With the note below from Amazon, on September 10 at 11:12 PM, I joined the ranks of published authors!

Congratulations, your book "Half A Mind" is live in the Kindle Store and is available* for readers to purchase here.

Most likely because I had a pre-existing relationship with Amazon, the book appeared here first, but Nook and Kobo variants should be out in a day or two.

Half A Mind is a techno-thriller, with a focus on psychology and human behavior.  Importantly to me, it is not about a futuristic capability or, as I call it, Voila Science.  It is, with very few exceptions, about technology that is here and now, in the labs and in the news.  Enjoy.
BmP

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Works for Kobo eBooks Too


Previously, I asked the question if I could find a single Microsoft Word format for the source manuscript so that it would require the fewest, most straightforward conversion steps to get it into the Nook and Kindle editors, while maintaining the original formatting, table of contents, etc.  Basically, I was wasting too much time tweaking different MS documents (following different Amazon and B&N guidelines) and still producing inconsistent results when they went to the different editing applications.

I came up with a process that worked well with my content for both the Kindle and Nook editors (see Coordinating Nook and Kindle eBook Publishing).   I suspected that the same ePub I created for the Nook editor would also work for Kobo, and today, I verified that it does.  However, it only worked if I created all the content, including the upfront material, in MS Word and the ePub, and avoided any editing in the Kobo editor.

Happy ePublishing,
BmP

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Coordinating Nook and Kindle eBook Publishing

The old hands at producing Kindle and Nook versions of their works may read this post and say, “Duh, of course.”  Or perhaps there is a much better approach than what I found, in which case, please let me know – I’m open to anything that saves effort on the mundane tasks of uploading and editing a manuscript in the Nook and Kindle editors. 

But since I spent a couple of hours exploring some of the options, and found an approach that is a 90% solution without involving much of the Nook or Kindle editing tools, I thought I would pass it along.
First, MS Word is a given for me.  I have it; I know it; and I am comfortable with it.  If you have other word processing options, then the rest of this post may be irrelevant for you.
My objective was to find a single MS Word format for the source manuscript that would require the fewest, most straightforward conversion steps to get this manuscript into the Nook and Kindle editors while maintaining the original formatting, table of contents, etc.  Here is what I settled on.
First, follow the Kindle instructions for generating a Word manuscript.  Most of those guidelines can be boiled down to a) keep it simple; and b) use the built in Word controls for things like line spacing, indenting, etc. rather than carriage returns, spaces, or tabs.  There is more than that, and you should read and follow those instructions, but a lot of their guidance boils down to those 2 points.
For the Kindle manuscript, save the Word document as a filtered webpage.  Again, this is straight out of the Kindle instructions.  And not surprisingly, when you upload that webpage to the Kindle editor, it will be pretty close to what you want – probably because all you have done so far is follow the Kindle instructions. 
The work came in finding how to make this Word source document usable for the Nook manuscript, because the Nook guidelines for a Word input document are a bit different.  For example, you are supposed to use the section new page command under Page Layout, rather than the Page Break command under Insert between chapters.  But even after I made all the manual page breaks into section pages, things like the chapter titles did not come through in the automatically generated table of contents.  As I have many, short chapters, creating them in the editor would be 63 manual edits (in the case of book 1) and I would have to do that each time I tweaked the text.  No way.
So, after playing with alternative conversions from the original MS Word document (the same one used for Kindle), I came up with the following steps to get a Nook manuscript:
1.       Download and install the free eBook management tool called Calibre.  An Internet search will provide download sites.

2.       Upload the MS document to Calibre, using the Add Books menu option (along the top).

3.       Use the Edit Metadata menu option to check for any modifications needed here.  If the properties on the MS Word document are set correctly, you may not need to do anything.

4.       Use the Convert Books menu command to create an ePub version of the manuscript.

5.  Save the ePub version from Calibre to your hard drive.  The command is 'Save to disk'.
 
6.        Upload the ePub version to Nook and Kobo publishing.  When I did, all of the page breaks and chapter titles were carried forward, as were the upfront materials (TOC, dedication page, etc.). 
If there are any errors, make the changes in the Word manuscript.  Do NOT use the Nook or Kobo editors.  Then, repeat all steps.  As a final precaution, when you publish the Nook version, click “Publish” on the Manuscript page and select “The original .epub file I uploaded”.  It may be superstitious behavior, but both the Kobo and Nook versions had errors that were not in the ePub manuscript after they were loaded to these respective editors.
 
As the whole process, Word to Kindle and Word to Calibre to Nook takes 5 minutes, I don’t sweat making a change like turning a comma into a semicolon in the Word original.

If this process helps, please use it.  If you have a better way, please let me know.  I am all about making the book management steps as easy as possible, leaving more time to write.
BmP

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Recharging the Creative Batteries

I just got back from 10 days in Glacier National Park, Montana.  It’s a great place for hiking or just kicking back for a few days to enjoy the scenery.  And if you want to see the glaciers, you need to hurry, because they are melting at a rate that will make them just a memory by 2020.


Of course, if you have not heard, it’s been extremely dry across most of the West Coast, including Glacier.  And accordingly, wild fires have been a problem.  And when there is a temperature inversion, all that smoke can get trapped in the valleys, as it did one day for us.  Here is a shot from around 3:30 PM from the Many Glacier Lodge.


Seeing wildlife is another of the reasons to go to Glacier, and we saw quite a bit – deer, moose, antelope, mountain sheep, etc.  But somehow, we missed the bears.  We knew they were around, as you have the park’s standard reminder.


And then, the rangers occasionally post a more urgent notice.


And finally, when the mixture of bears and hikers reaches a critical mass, you get trail closures.  Interestingly, we had been at the location described on this sign, or very close to it, about the same time it was posted.  But luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective), we saw no bears on the trail.


As for me taking this trip to recharge my creative batteries – well no, that was not really the case.  It was just a bit of vacation.  And actually, I tended to take the idle moments on this trip – on the train, on our balcony in the evenings, even in a city park in Cut Bank, Montana – to write on book 2.  But when you are writing a blog about writing, and you took 10 days off for some R&R, you have the give a blog post title that fits the theme.  Right?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Drafts, discoveries, and re-writes…August 13, 2015


I have already posted one thought about writing (see Voila Science), but it occurred to me – I had not yet mentioned just where I was in the writing process.  Let me correct that oversight.

A complete draft of my first book, Half A Mind, is done.  In fact, it has been done since early March.   But what surprised me was that I did not start writing until mid-February; I finished that first draft in about 3 weeks.  I had few expectations going in, but a first draft in 3 weeks was not anything I had imagined.  Nor was how much I enjoyed the whole process.

If you are thinking, it must have been pretty sketchy given that amount of effort, I agree.  Basically, I knew where the story was supposed to go; it just did not say it yet.  And, as the text now stood at about 60,000 words, I had space to work with.  (Somewhere, I read that the average eBook on Amazon was about 75 to 80,000 words.)

And then, as life tends to go, I got busy.  It was not until May that I found another break for writing, and over another 3-week period, I did my first revision.  The text became more complete, as its length grew to around 75,000 words, and I was thinking I was close. 

And then…I made a discovery.  Part of the technology that I had written as fiction actually existed!  Since I am endeavoring to keep the gap between fact and fiction as small as possible, this was a problem.  Revision 2 ensued.  The book grew to a bit over 83,000 words.  But now, I felt I had fully described state-of-the-art technology, meaning that the device that wreaked havoc in the novel was close at hand.  Maybe it even exists as a proprietary product in some laboratory.  I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Currently, I have received and incorporated comments from two reviews and I expect the 3rd and final review soon.  I am having art created for the cover and hope to post that soon.  And I have been reviewing eBook publishing processes.  They seem pretty straightforward, and I even have my own private Kindle version of the book that I can read on my tablet. 

Everything is close, and barring some unforeseen roadblock, I expect to meet a December 1st release, or perhaps sooner. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Voila Science...NOT


Somewhere, back in my early school days, I remember a teacher mentioning the concept of “the willing suspension of disbelief”.  This concept plays a major role in one of the literary genres I particularly like – suspense/thriller.  You have to be willing to ignore the fact that the bad guys are invincible until they face the main protagonist; that a single shot to a speeding car will always cause it to explode; and that the hero can absorb enough physical punishment in the final confrontation to put any normal human into the hospital for a month, yet he is out carousing that same evening.  Yes, that all makes perfect sense to me in the context of a good yarn.

But somewhere, somehow, I lost that capability when it comes to science.  Was that a thousand mouse clicks I heard, as you realized, oh no, this guy is a science and technology nerd, and left the page?  Yes, I am guilty as charged.

When I read, “…he placed the device on his head, and immediately, the thoughts of the man sitting next to him appeared in his mind”, I think, wow, maybe.  Thoughts are basically patterns of neural firing, which is chemical/electrical in nature.  We can pick up brain waves via EEG.  Maybe, with enough sensitivity in the electronics, this might be possible.

Then I read, “But I needed the combination for his safe, because in it, he stored the plans to destroy the world.  So, I searched his memory,” and I think, wait a minute.  He was not thinking about the combination, but you are going to activate the network of neurons necessary to find this number?  And he is not going to notice that you are activating portions of his brain without his control?  Really?

And finally, I read, “Suddenly, moving at the speed of sound, the man passed through solid walls of brick, and wood, and concrete, only stopping when he was 3 miles away.  But I could still read his mind.”  Sorry, but this eBook now goes back on my eShelf, probably to never be opened again.  That is just too much Voila Science for me to swallow.

I like to compare this approach to that of another genre I like considerably, historical fiction.  The best of these stories, in my opinion, blend personalities you know with people who represent prevailing views of the time.  And these fictional and nonfictional characters become involved in conversations and events that may have happened, or maybe not, but could easily have.  And I never know which is which.
So I ask, when we stand on the cusp of so many humanity-altering breakthroughs in technology, why do we need Voila Science to entertain us?  Isn’t a slight tweak of reality, a nudge in the state-of-the-art enough to enthrall us?  And when that minor advance is a misstep, and the technology is unpredictable or uncontrollable, isn’t that so much more frightening than when the downfall of mankind requires travel faster than the speed of light while simultaneously reducing your mass to the point of nonexistence?  What about suspense/thrillers that parallel historical fiction, so you never know, what part is fact and what part is fiction?  Not that I would be the first, or only, to write so, but I do seek to join those ranks.