Friday 30 August 2013

Bunkers upon bunkers upon bunkers

I have spent much of the last few weeks making bunkers. I'm planning on popping them up en masse on Ebay once I'm well into the construction process, which is fairly close to where I am currently. This sounds surprising until I tell you I have 135 vegan ice-cream tubs to turn into bunkers. We don't throw things away in this family! So I bought three big sheets of 5mm foamcard, and got to cutting. I already cut vision slits in seven of the eight sides of the bunkers, and have been gluing slices of foamcard to them, and re-making the vision slits again. Anyway, this is going to be eating up a lot of time for a while yet, but if anyone fancies themselves a bunker, keep your eyes on this blog. Here's a pile of semi-constructed bunkers for your delight.

Friday 23 August 2013

Guest post: Things I’ve Learned about Writing Research by M. W. Quinn

Ahoy, folks. This is the second of two guest posts by my friend Matthew W. Quinn.

One of the most important aspects of writing is research. If an error throws the reader out of the story or provokes them to throw the book against the wall, you have failed.

For my unpublished (thus far) novel Battle for the Wastelands, its companion novella Son of Grendel, and the quarter-finished second novel Escape from the Wastelands, I had to do a lot of research on Civil War battles and weapons. Both Wikipedia and YouTube proved quite useful, as I could quickly find out about different guns, then go to YouTube to watch them being fired.

However, a hard science fiction project I’ve been working on will require even more. There are plenty of books about the Civil War that won’t be hard to find, but finding a book from the 1980s about the Strategic Defense Initiative and in particular a proposed nuke-pumped laser is harder. Furthermore, it’s set in a future space-based United States Navy, so there’s an extra layer of research that simply Must Get Done if I want to sell to military and former military people.

My most helpful resource has been the public library system. Although you can get a lot of superficial information from the Internet, books are what’ll help you go deep. When I lived on the South Side of Atlanta, the statewide PINES library system was extremely helpful in getting me the information I needed. When I moved to the North Side, the Atlanta-Fulton library system and the Cobb County library system became my new mainstay. Libraries often have books that bookstores don’t. One of my big research sources for Battle for the Wastelands was the series Daily Life In…, in particular the ones about Victorian England, the United States during the Civil War, and the 19th Century American frontier. Those books were apparently fairly limited in terms of press run, since the Amazon price for each one is around $50. They’re especially valuable because although many history books cover big-picture items like wars and the reasons behind economic shake-ups, they won’t go into detail about how people lived, what they ate, etc.

Writing groups are another source. Different group members often know a lot about particular topics. For example, a member of one of my writing groups knows a lot about firearms. During a critique of Son of Grendel, he pointed out that I should depict insurgents firing modern assault rifles on full auto reloading, since this goes through bullets VERY fast. Although I’d depicted them having to fight the guns dragging upward, I’d forgotten about that even though it’s fairly common sense. Another group member is a retired Army sergeant who’s been quite helpful in areas of military protocol and tactics, including a scene in Son of Grendel where a colonel is directing soldiers during a firefight while on horseback — he might as well be wearing a sign that says “Kill Me” — and a scene in Battle for the Wastelands in which a sergeant oversees shooting drills.

Meanwhile, at least three members of my other writing group are retired military. One provided some good advice on portraying a military policewoman’s reaction to being hit on in a bar (probably not a good one), while another — a retired Navy submarine petty officer — provided a lot of material about Navy culture and protocol. He also informed me of the “one crew one screw” rule in which collective punishments are used to give all members of a unit incentive to keep troublemakers under control. I was sure to use this in Battle when a sergeant makes all members of a squad do “gaspers” (what I describe as “an unholy mix of squatting, push-ups, and jumping to their feet”) when three members get into an argument.

However, you’ve got to make sure you’re using quality material for your research. I remember (hopefully incorrectly) a history of Anglo-Saxon England I read in high school implied the Normans imposed the infamous “first night” on England after their conquest, but the historical evidence for this “right” even existing is rather spotty. If something seems weird, I would recommend looking for corroboration in other sources.

Matthew W. Quinn is a published writer of short stories and an aspiring novelist. Several independently-published short stories of his are available on Amazon. His blog is The World According To Quinn.

Monday 19 August 2013

Guest Post: My Career as a Kindle Direct Author, Thus Far

Today's post is a guest post from an author and mate of mine, Matthew Quinn. He's a grand fella, and so without further ado, I turn you over to him!

Hey everybody. My name is Matthew W. Quinn. Pete graciously allowed me to make his blog a stop on my blog tour promoting my newest Kindle-published stories — the alternate history spy tale “Picking Up Plans In Palma” and the supervillain protagonist tales “Ubermensch” and “Needs Must.”

 I’ve been writing short fiction and trying to sell it to magazines since 2001. 2006, when I was a senior at the University of Georgia, brought my first sale — “I am the Wendigo,” sold to the now-defunct webzine Chimaera Serials. A few more sales followed— the college tales “Nicor” and “Lord Giovanni’s Daughter” to the print magazine Flashing Swords in 2008, my licensed BattleTech tale “Skirmish at the Vale’s Edge” to BattleCorps in 2009, “Coil Gun” to Digital Science Fiction in 2011, and most recently, “Nicor” to Heroic Fantasy Quarterly in 2012.

(Flashing Swords paid me for both stories but went on hiatus before they could be printed.)
However, I still had many I wasn’t able to sell. I used feedback from the markets that rejected them and commentary from online groups like Critters and my two real-life groups to improve each version of the story, but as the markets for short fiction declined, I soon ran out of acceptable places to submit.

So I decided to self-publish. The first was my horror tale “Melon Heads,” which I started writing in 2004 after coming across an urban legends website in college. “Wendigo” came next, a glorious resurrection requiring e-mailing an Internet forum someone posted the text on to get them to remove it. My last two were also college stories, the Ottoman-era Lovecraftian tale “The Beast of the Bosporus” and the science fiction “Illegal Alien.” I decided to self- publish three more after figuring I wasn’t likely to find a paying home for my supervillain stories (subject matter) and “Palma” (length).

Here are some lessons I’ve learned, some the hard way:

*Social media advertising for short stories is not worth it. Buying Facebook ads and paying to promote the posts announcing new publications may have gotten me a lot of Facebook followers and a few sales, but they were a net loss. And my attempt to use Google ads to promote “Melon Heads” failed miserably. I made no “Melon Heads” sales at all while the Google ad was active.

*Internet message-boards, though time-consuming, are a better option. I had a review for “Palma” from a fellow member of my alternate-history forum within a day, while a former member and I have swapped reviews for each other’s work. And I made a couple sales of “Palma” within days of posting a publication announcement on the forum. The message-board also got me in contact with Alex Claw, who has provided excellent covers for most of my stories, as well as loyal reviewers Sean C.W. Korsgaard and Matthew Stienberg.

*Twitter can be useful. Author Saladin Ahmed is a proponent of increasing diversity in speculative fiction and when I tweeted him the announcements for “Ubermensch” and “Needs Must”—stories whose protagonist is an irreligious half-Indian biomedical engineer—he re-tweeted it to his many thousands of followers. I don’t know how many sales resulted, but I’m fairly certain I acquired a few Twitter followers.

*Don’t expect rivers of cash from short fiction alone. I’ve made more money Kindle-publishing the first four stories than I would have made from non-paying or many token markets, but my Kindle revenues combined are less than the penny a word Flashing Swords paid me for “Nicor” or “Lord Giovanni’s Daughter” individually. I’m thinking the money will come long term, once I have published books drawing people to my Amazon author page. William Meikle has Kindle-published many short stories he’s sold to dead magazines and anthologies and considering how he has many novels in print, I imagine he’s doing well. Of course, that presupposes I’ll sell one or more novels and we all know about not counting chickens.

*Elaborate cover art doesn’t guarantee sales. “Illegal Alien” has a beautiful cover, but at this rate it will be years before it sells enough copies to pay for it. “Melon Heads” and “I am Wendigo” have simple covers I got for free and they’ve sold far better. If you’re going to invest in a fancy cover, do it for a book, not a short story.
Matthew W. Quinn is a freelance writer and editor from Marietta, GA. Those interested in finding out more about him can visit his blog, The World According To Quinn.

Friday 16 August 2013

Hellenic adventuring

After the wedding (see last post), I hung about in Wales for a few days, and then headed off to Greece with some of the other guests, all friends from my uni days. We had an early flight, so I napped a bit in the car as Kev drove us to London. We'd booked a car to drive around Greece, which turned out to be a bit smaller than we'd been led to believe. We still managed to squeeze all the luggage into it, and straggled out onto the Athens ring road. This is the finest road in Greece, and perhaps the only safe road, too. A few years ago it was revealed that owing to some boneheaded error the country's legislators could only legally set speed limits on this road. They may have fixed that by now. The speeding wasn't too bad by British standards, and there were so few cars on the road that it wasn't a serious problem. Although I was on the right of the car, I kept trying to place the car so I had the same view as when in the UK, so was rather too far to the right! We eventually got onto the smaller roads, and I happily got caught behind a caravan, where I stayed as long as possible, maintaining a safe stopping distance. That's a safe stopping distance according to the Highway Code over here, not whatever is used in Greece!

We were staying in my parents' flat, which last saw visitors two years ago, so on arrival we had to wash this, hoover that and dust the other, while wondering at the new bits of building which had fallen off since the last visit. I make it sound like a war-zone, but it wasn't too bad. The whole building is concrete, and a lump the size of a couple of clenched fists had come off the roof of the kitchen balcony as a result of some earthquake. We avoided that balcony. We had a positively sun-drenched time, made a bit awkward as it transpired that my suntan lotion was not, as I had blithely assumed, waterproof. D'oh. We tried all the local beaches: the one five minutes' walk away, the one seven minutes' walk away, and the one four minutes' drive away! That last is more exposed than the other two, but one can dip one's head beneath the waves to see the ruins of part of the ancient city of Epidaurus, which was slightly submerged. As I say, the place is tectonically active.

We had a few day-trips. The renowned Theatre of Epidaurus and associated Sanctuary of Asclepius are just down the road, while Nafplion and its associated fortress are only about forty minutes away by car. We also popped over to Mycenae, and I was surprised how much the site had changed since I was a boy. It seemed almost wholly wheelchair-accessible now. We ambled down to the depths of the well (which is down a winding and unlit flight of stairs, so not frightfully wheelchair-friendly), and the bottom had even been drained of its heretofore usual stagnant puddle. But most of the time we spent swimming or on the beach.

Of an evening we pottered along to the local restaurants, of which the others' favourite was probably Para thin halos (By the seashore from a line in The Iliad), as after a week of Greek food pizza came as a welcome relief. Greek restaurants typically have boards outside with photographs of what's on offer, and the previous night we had stopped at the Verdelis, and gone in on the strength of one such picture of a pizza. On attempting to order one, however, the waiter gave a confused look, and said there was no such thing on the menu, and implied with his expression that the very question was grounds to doubt our collective sanity. Then they messed up Hanne's order, which arrived about the time the rest of us had finished eating. To be fair, there was a chap grilling seafood at the front, and he kept bringing bits of octopus (or squid - don't ask me, I didn't spy too closely with my vegan eyes) to keep everyone happy.

Kev was delighted by another restaurant, the Akroyali, where the difference between British and Greek approaches to eating out was highlighted. On Kev asking for something on the menu the waiter flatly replied, "No." So Kev asked for something else, and the same thing happened. Nary an apology, just a flat statement of fact! On the last couple of trips to the village I've gone along to a local cocktail bar with my guests, and this occasion was no different. A difference became immediately apparent, though. On my previous recent visits I have been in the village in September or October. The cocktail place has been quite quiet, and we had all assumed it would be busier in the summer. It was, but not in the way we expected. All the local schoolchildren were on holiday, so the restaurant was - to our bemusement - full of teenagers (Greece lacks Britain's restrictive drinking age).

On the last day I madly suggested we visit the Acropolis in Athens. This ranks right up there as one of my all-time stupidest ideas. Provided other drivers behave in a fairly sensible fashion I stay clam. When they start behaving like jerks I get angry, and when they are just suicidally stupid I become apoplectic as well as alarmed. The lanes in Athens are narrow. Narrow even by the standards of the countryside. When there are three the rightmost is pretty much useless, as there's a parked taxi or bus every thirty yards or so. So the option is the fast lane or the middle lane. They are equally deleterious to maintaining one's calm unless one is stoically unflappable. Of course, this is just the city. If you drive on Greek mountain roads you will see little shrines on spindly metal legs - or more expensive ones on dressed stone plinths - which commemorate where someone has plunged off the side of a mountain.

In the UK you generally don't use your wing mirrors all that much. Lane changes are their main use. But using them at all in Athens evaporated my nerves in minutes. Glance in the right one and espy a guy on a moped slinking between densely packed cars with about four inches to spare. Move a bit out of his way, and check the other wing mirror. See half a dozen moped drivers have tried to squeeze through on the left, and now have two inches to spare. Try to move back, and more of them have appeared on the right. Repeat this for an hour. My mates are under orders to punch me until I'm in a coma if I so much as think about driving through Athens again. It makes London driving seem a happy memory of courteous and friendly people.

We didn't die. Or kill anyone. Somehow. Apart from that, and the 35 Celsius heat (which the aircon in the living room brought to a night-time low of 27) it was a lovely time. Enjoy a few photos.

Kev and Hanne:

 No Stanley Kubrick films were harmed in the taking of this photograph. Peter:
Their expression has nothing to do with my mentioning the rats which used to live where they're standing. Absolutely nothing!

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Busy, busy, busy!

As the absence of updates has probably indicated, I have been up to my ears in this and that lately. First came my mate's stag, which took place in distant, darkest Wales. Well, really, really sunny Wales, truth be told. You think you know a country, and then it tries to help the sun set fire to your skin! We had a grand time, blasting away at clay pigeons, stumbling up a river in wetsuits, a curry (with suitably impossibly hot addition for the stag himself, naturally!), and a spot of dancing. It was a splendid do, and a certain amount of alcohol may perhaps have been consumed. Behold the stag in his manliest pose.

A few weeks later came the wedding, which was absolutely delightful. The place-settings were marked in unusual fashion, so I now have a rock with my name on it right next to me. I think this means I can't be killed. Unless rocks aren't bullets. I might need a philosopher to weigh in on this point. The bride and groom very kindly took into account my eccentric dietary preferences, and provided a vegan chocolate cake, which I shared with a lady with an egg allergy. It was a whole cake, so in combination with Scotch and a three course meal (including champagne sorbet!) I didn't manage to finish it off. It was a beautiful day, with sunlight again abounding. There's something very strange happening to the weather in Wales, I believe. Here are the happy couple cutting the cake.

Many congratulations again, Martyn and Vickie!
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