Monday, August 14, 2017

An olio portfolio

Notwithstanding -- and more likely related to --  my most recent post (Weird process, this writing), the writing has been progressing smoothly over the past week. Lots of deeper back story worked out and retrofit, where appropriate, into the novel presently under construction. Lots of new text added. (We won't, however, speak of the single paragraph in the original, high-level outline that has transmogrified in my latest plans into five future chapters. Those wounds are too fresh.)

A veritable cornucopia
Amid the progress, my willpower on occasion did slip, leaving me to lapse into some of my customary surfing. And so, herewith, I shall bring to your attention several eclectic -- and relevant -- observations of the sort visitors here seem to find of interest.

SF is about world-building, with "world" loosely defined. Something about an SFnal story setting(s), whether in time or place, dimension or natural law or the state of technology, is different. One peril of the process is describing a world that's too uniform (e.g., "the desert planet" or "the ocean planet"), because we tend to find those unbelievable. The single world any of us know is, after all, rich with plains, forests, deserts, mountains, oceans, glaciers .... And neither are natural resources uniformly distributed, available at the convenience of our characters. A recent real-world reminder of that inhomogeneity involves helium:

... the element is needed to use or make all sorts of things: semiconductors, rocket fuel, computer hard drives, the Large Hadron Collider, magnets in MRI machines, airships, scuba tanks, arc welding, anything that needs to be super cold, and of course, balloons.

See "How the Qatar Crisis Shook Up the World's Supply of Helium."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Weird process, this writing

A couple weeks back, I reported being in fast-and-furious writing mode. More recently, the work has continued fast and furious ... but I've been cranking away for more than a week without adding, or even changing, a word in the novel in progress. (The first draft is at about 70K words, so more than half complete. The book's working title is Déjà Doomed.) 

For anything beyond a short story -- and often for those -- I write from an outline. After dozens of novels, novellas, and novelettes, I've learned a thing or two. One lesson is: don't make the initial outline too detailed, because late story elements developed early on will often require rework. Hence, my original, full-story outlines tend to be no longer than a handful of pages. Section by section, as I come to it, I develop a more detailed partial outline. Often I do an outline for each chapter within a section as I come to it. And almost always there is a need to iterate, as the details of Chapter X or Section Y ripple forward or backward through the overall story.

So there's another lesson: The outline(s) works for me, and for the story, not the other way around.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The dreaded elevator speech (or, can a book be pitched in a very few words?)

In marketing, it's called the elevator speech. The scenario: you happen to find yourself on an elevator with the ideal target for pitching your idea/product/self (a venture capitalist, editor, hiring manager, or whomever). You have, perhaps, fifteen seconds till he or she gets to their floor and exits. What do you say? How do you get him or her to "take a meeting?"

For writers, there's an elevator-speech variant: when a prospective reader (at a con or bookstore signing, say, or just happening to meet you and discovering what you do for a living) asks "What's your book about?" He or she is not expecting a treatise. Answering -- for me, anyway -- can be surprisingly difficult.

Writers want to believe our books have depth, nuance, meaning. Even when a particular book is intended (not that there's anything wrong with this) only as entertainment, as mental popcorn, a brief description is hard. A pure adventure, spy story, or mystery may be in one sense formulaic -- but surely the author has aspired to unique twists and turns, to clever fake-outs and surprising reveals. "It's a murder mystery," for example, is so generic a description as to be lame and useless.

Writers struggle to synopsize for an editor in several pages what will be unique and interesting about a book. Call that a 1000 words, give or take a few. Post-sale, if a publisher is amenable to authorial input, we struggle even more to capture a book's essence in a mere 100 to 200 words. That's all the copy that will fit on a dust-jacket flap or back cover. We want the description or preview to be interesting -- nay, irresistible -- and yet avoid spoilers. But distilling a book into a sentence or two, to share in a chance encounter with a prospective reader? OMG!

And yet, it must be done. After the break, we segue from introspection to commercial material. You have been advised ;-)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Bigger than a breadbox

I've found myself, over the past several days, pounding out text for a new novel at a splendidly prodigious clip. (The new book? It's a near-future technothriller set on the Moon. Thanks for asking.) My authorial philosophy is: when in the zone, stay there.

So: switching gears from committing novel to serious blogging is off the table (well, the keyboard), at least for a few days.

But should my loyal visitors suffer? Of course not! I recently came upon, in Cosmos, a brilliantly written overview (they rate the article a ten-minute read) on cosmology. I hereby commend it to you. See:

Cosmic microwave background
"How big is the universe? There is no bigger empirical question in astrophysics than how big space is. Cathal O'Connell provides a brief history of ideas about the size and shape of the universe."

Now if you'll please excuse me, I'll get back to the novel. Good guys and bad alike are up to their eyeballs in trouble ...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Auto oddities

My miscellany folder seems to have accumulated way too many items related -- in one way or another -- to cars, traffic, and/or their future.

When I was little, I so wanted one of these ...

You know what's a nuisance? Keeping car tires properly inflated. Even more of a pain is patching or replacing them when one gets punctured. Hence, I was delighted to see "Airless tire concept could change tires forever." Imagine: an airless tire made from biodegradable materials using a 3-D printer. Wonderful!

Governmental entities have the authority, and a reasonable case for, licensing various activities. (Yes, this item involves cars/driving. And not driver licenses. Bear with me.) One likes there to be a solid basis for the practice of, well, many professions -- piloting commercial aircraft comes to mind. But when the state of Oregon decided that a degreed, experienced engineer couldn't call himself an engineer because -- of all the nerve -- without a state professional-engineering license he cited an engineering background while committing math and physics to raise issues with the timing of traffic lights? That was going too far. That was abridging freedom of speech. See "Mats Järlström: I Am an Engineer."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

NOT off on a tangent

Let me just say, this was unexpected.

Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, venerable genre review website Tangent Online posted their look at last year's the-end-of-the-world-and-what-comes-next interstellar adventure, Dark Secret. The opening paragraph of that review offered:

Amazon link
Visit on Amazon
Regardless of the theme, subject matter, or treatment, a Lerner novel never fails to intrigue, engage the intellect, or offer pure entertainment for its own sake. He can do it all, and well.

So: I continued reading with positive anticipation. And was not disappointed. And finished with a smile.

Here -- should I have happened to catch your interest -- is the Tangent Online review of Dark Secret

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy Independence Day/Weekend!

I'm quite certain there are better ways to celebrate a national holiday than perusing whatever I might have to write about. So: have a beer(s). Barbecue. Enjoy some fireworks. Reflect on the American journey. Or -- my suggestion -- all the above.

That said, if you're looking for a bit of non-holiday-specific diversion, or you came to this post from (in my perspective) abroad, you might head over to Bookgrabbr for a free copy of the latest/July issue of Galaxy's Edge. It includes, among many things, my latest short story, "Too Deep Thought."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Plus ça change ...

... plus c'est la même merde.

And what merde (pardon my French) do I mean? Software that was perfectly good, but was "improved" anyway -- by deleting longstanding features. Software with an idiotic user interface. Software "standardized" to give the same experience on tiny phone screens and big monitors. Software that ...

I'm not opposed to change. That's kinda frowned upon among SF writers. And I'm fully supportive of updates that add new and useful features, squash bugs, improve security, or improve performance. I'm not complaining (today) about blatant bugs that -- somehow -- made it past QA, but that might -- someday, one hopes -- be fixed.

No, today's post (okay, rant) is about software stupidities by design. As both a user and onetime software developer, I feel entitled. Herewith a sampling (with names omitted not to protect the guilty, but because I don't care to moderate a flood of justification comments from the guilty) of software design stupidities that regularly vex me:
  • On a web portal, the checkbox set by default at logon to stay logged on. So rather than have someone who wants to stay logged on click or tap the box once, I have to uncheck the box daily.
  • On multiple browsers with the feature to change the font size of content, no way to change the tiny type of the browser's own text -- like menu items and bookmark names. (Yes, I know about add-ons. I use one. This one shouldn't be necessary.)
  • On a banking app, the camera feature changed to take check pictures faster than a normal human being could frame the check. (To give credit where it's due, the next update restored a reasonable few seconds for setting up the check image.)