Forward into the Past

Of course a science fiction convention is going to be partly about time travel.

Back to the Future got a nod at the 2019 Worldcon last week with a display of the DeLorean, but part of the convention also did some going forward into the past.

The most involved piece in the masquerade ball (which is more of a series of promenades onto a stage than a ball) consisted of costumed rogues and misfits from the future entering a gazebo-like time portal to go back into the Pliocene.

Meanwhile, fans of epic fantasy, and those aspiring to write it, were treated to historians and authors talking about the middle ages on several panels.

There was a discussion of alternatives to monarchies that authors could turn to to add some variety to their stories, and another giving advice on how feudalism worked in reality and how rare it actually was. There was even a panel about a list of misconceptions about medieval times, brought to life with Medieval Myths Bingo.

My personal favorite was a presentation involving weapons often featured in fantasy novels. Because both presenters were swordsmen, they focused on writing about swordplay while demonstrating specifics with each other and willing audience participants.

It was great fun, but I would also have enjoyed learning more about daggers, spears, battle axes and crossbows. Given the enthusiasm of the crowd, these two instructors could probably have conducted a full day seminar on weapons from the past and it would have been well attended. As it was, they invited participants to join them in the hallway after the talk to handle the weapons themselves and many of us took them up on the offer.

Time itself becomes a little fuzzy at an event like this, you know,  as the real world fades away and the surreal world of of nonstop fan activities takes over. One tends to forget if it is day or night, much less what day it is.

Most of us had to laugh when we saw signs like this pop up a couple of days in, but honestly it was helpful.

The past was also present in references to beloved science fiction from long ago. Dublin’s convention center peppered the areas around the escalators with warning messages like the one to the right. It was advice no fan could ignore.

Whenever we ventured out from the convention center, a lovely harp-shaped bridge greeted us. It was a fine reminder of the two prongs of this literature we came to celebrate: the sleek beauty of tomorrow and the magic we so often associate with yesterday.

Read more about my Worldcon adventures at An Irish Worldcon: I’m here! and at Feeling at home.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

We have Groucho Marx to thank for this witty line. It pops into my head every time I think about how time flies.

Most of my life I’ve considered time, not money, to be my most valuable resource. Maybe I should have put it second to love, or joy, but if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t. Maybe I always thought I was going to die young. Lucky for me, I’m getting a little too old to do that ….

If you cherish your minutes like I do, you tend to be busy, focused and impatient. Friends marvel at how much you get done. They also wish you’d learn to relax more.

This last year has been more intense than most, as I seized the day, the week, and the months to re-release new versions of my six novels.  I was often up at dawn (not my normal), driven to get through one more chapter. I had to make these perfect. I had to get them done.

Then, I did. And, I was exhausted.

I had expected to finish a month sooner, and had scheduled some travel to unwind after my big push. Instead, I ended up rushing off on my trip, finally catching my breath on a five-hour cross country flight that was running over three hours late. Sort of like me. I woke up somewhere on the Pacific coast and thought now what?

Now what, indeed. I ate lunch at the beach. Put my feet in the ocean. Went to a party, saw a live show and a movie, and went wine tasting. I even tried my hand at some virtual reality game involving light sabers and music.

There was pizza and french fries for dinner, lots of ice cream, and plenty of wine. Sometimes that wine was drunk in the middle of the day.

I relaxed. I enjoyed myself. I had fun.

Wow.

Should I have wasted all that time?? You bet. You see, time flies like an arrow. Best use some of it to recharge your batteries and enjoy this wonderful gift of getting to exist. As the fruit flies will tell you, there’s no reason part of it shouldn’t be fun.

Can you sell books on Facebook? Can I?

I received a lot of excellent advice about marketing my books a year ago (thank you Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) but much of it boiled down to this. Concentrate on Amazon and Facebook ads and stop trying to do everything everywhere else.

I liked the simplicity of it. I bought the recommended books on how to use ads on each platform, rolled up my sleeves and got started.

Amazon has been a rocky journey so far, but I am selling books and making progress. Part of my problem is Amazon changed the types of ads available to authors about the time I dove in, so Amazon’s tools for picking my target audience were greatly diminished.

In contrast, Facebook offers the promise of being able to select potential ad readers with a LASER like precision. Oh boy.

For my first novel, I sought out mature women who liked science fiction and fantasy, were interested in telepathy and (I’d been told this was very important) liked or owned a kindle. Wahoo. This group was going to LOVE my spec fiction e-novel about Lola, a forty-something telepath. I mean, how many of those are out there?

It took no time at all for me to have 4823 such women view my ad 10,527 times and click on my link 275 times. It took no time at all for me to spend  $48.98 to make this happen and to sell, you guessed it, not a single book.

Maybe it was a fluke. My second novel is about a young gay male who can alter his appearance. I sought out gay men who liked fantasy novels and had kindles. Before I knew it, 3,472 of them clicked my ad 201 times and bought zero books. I spent $36.64. I was starting to see a pattern.

My working theory was that when people saw my ads on their kindle, or while they were shopping for books on Amazon, they at least were thinking about books. Or buying things. In either case it wasn’t such a large leap to consider buying my book. On the other hand, people scurrying around on Facebook aren’t shopping or thinking about reading. It’s much more of mental detour to make a purchase.

I thought my third novel, though, was different. Twists of Time deals specifically with the damage white nationalism can do, not only to the minorities it targets, but also to the community as a whole. Furthermore, the book has a lot to say about the Dream Act. It addresses why such legislation is needed (though the life of a fictional character), and it provides a lot of historical context most readers are likely to be unaware of.

Perfect for Facebook, right?

I designed my first ad to include a reference to white nationalism. Then I sought out science fiction and fantasy fans who liked time travel stories, had a kindle, and — here was the good part — had expressed an interest in the Dream Act. This was going to be so easy.

Within minutes I had a horrified teacher somewhere forwarding my ad onto her friends claiming I was promoting white nationalism is schools. What?

I changed my ad to make it non-political, and tried again with the same audience.

Within minutes I had some troller claiming he could make time pass more slowly anytime he talked to a democrat.

Alright. Enough of this shit.

To be honest, I did make a few more tweaks and try a few more things, on this book as well as  the first two and the fourth one. My options seems to be (1) pay for a lot of clicks with no results or (2) getting the sort of attention I truly don’t want. Here’s the final tallies.

No, I’m not proud of spending $186.14 for advertising that didn’t produce a single sale, but I guess it does show I don’t give up easily.

If anyone out there is selling books on Facebook, I’d love to hear about it.

Maybe once I get better at designing ads for Amazon, I’ll come back to Facebook and give it another try. Then again, maybe not.

 

Warm-up Exercise: Your Life in One Page

I don’t write poetry often, and there’s a good reason. It’s not my gift. But I’m tackling my 165,000 word sixth novel with the goal of slimming it down to a less prosy 125,000. I really want to do this. I decided a warm up exercise was in order.

I’ll never know quite how I got the idea of writing a one page poem that managed to encapsulate my life story, but it’s where I landed. Two hours later, I had this. Turns out it takes a LONG time to say things in a few words.

I’m not considering switching careers and becoming a poet, but I am pleased with the result, for me. Plus, my big project is down to 147,000 already and its getting easier all the time.

Happy When

I’ll be so happy when I get out of my parents house and can do whatever I want. I’ll stay out late. Not have to tell anyone where I am.

I’ll be happy once I’m out of college. These papers and tests are killing me. A few more months. I’ll have a job and money to do whatever I want. Then I’ll be happy.

I’ll be happy once I meet someone. You know. The one. He’ll hold me and love me. We’ll have fun together. How can you be happy alone?

I’ll be happy once this project at work is done. Once I get a raise. Once my boss leaves town. I’ll be happy if I just get a window office. How can you be happy without sunshine?

I’ll be happy once the baby comes. I want my body back. I’ll be happy once he talks. Is out of diapers. How can anyone be happy changing twelve diapers a day.

I’ll be happy if this second pregnancy goes well. If this third one does. Once my husband gets that vasectomy. Once he buys me flowers again.

I’ll be happy when these kids are done with sports. Every Saturday. I just want to sleep in. Read a book. I love them but, do other mom’s find time to enjoy themselves? How?

I’ll be happy once the house is built. Our dream home. Everything has cost so much.  I’ll be happy once we get back on track financially. Once it’s spring. Once it’s summer. Once we go on vacation. Once we get home.

I’ll be happy if dad recovers. If mom lives through this. If my son gets into that college. If my daughter gets that job. If the package I ordered comes in time. If it doesn’t rain. If it does.

I sit on my porch and remember my career. Think of my children; busy lives far away. My husband, inside watching TV. Too much of it these days, but he’s here. Still loves me.

What now, I ask? What will make me happy? If one of the kids calls? If the garden grows? If he gets up off the couch and kisses me? If the sun shines?

A little voice inside speaks. Silly girl. You are happy. You have been all along.

 

So that’s what he really looks like?

My vision of main character Alex was always more emotional then physical.  He was solid, dependable, someone to rely on and hang on to. Okay, he was also tall and blondish, but that was about all I knew.

My first cover for Twists of Time (originally published as z2) showed an outline of the man, and I sort of liked the vagueness of this portrayal.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the characters, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what Alex really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

I decided to tolerate the model they selected for Alex, even though I wasn’t crazy about him. He really didn’t look like Alex to me, but I felt like I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted and if I gave it some time then maybe this one would grow on me.

Lucky for me, my sister disagreed. She didn’t know what Alex looked like either, but she was so positive it wasn’t this that she went to Shutterstock and emailed me photos of several other models.

Okay, it looked like we’d have to find another Alex. Option one she sent was clearly too young, but the other six could work. I went searching for any of them.

Man number four was easy to find, and I asked the fine folks at DDD if we could use him. Back came the new Alex and I knew he was right.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Alex to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model had dozens of photos to choose from, but unfortunately most of them had one of two expressions. Alex was either grinning, or looking puzzled. (Or both.) And on this cover, we needed Alex to be a bit menacing.

The first attempt worked for me, but I got a lot of push back from others who thought Alex looked sneaky because he was looking away. Well that wasn’t the intent, so I asked DDD to see what they could do. I was pretty pleased with the eye surgery they performed, and when I saw the final product, I knew this was what Alex really looked like.

 

Coming down the slide in 10 days

I remember the feeling of walking to the top of a high, convoluted slide in a water park and thinking I spent 45 minutes in line to get here. Why? Do I really want to go down this thing?

I always did go down, of course, because I’d spent 45 minutes trying to get there.

There was the first rush of panic, followed by a whoosh of tummy tickling pleasure, then a sadness to have it end, probably 30 seconds or so after it started. It was usually followed by an irrational desire to get in line and do it again.

It’s been a while since I’ve done that, but the past three months have had a similar feel. With each new novel I’ve released, the level of complexity of the tasks has increased, making each slide seem higher and feel more twisty.

I’m nearing the end of my slow 45 minute trek up the steps on book 3. The complexity comes from the fact that I’m  juggling more each time. The audio version of book 1 is in progress and requires my input. Newly released book 2 is in sore need of publicity. Book 4 is blissfully dormant but book 5 is getting edited, while the designers are starting on the cover for book 6 and have quite a few questions.

I feel apprehensive and drawn five different directions and I’m wondering why I thought walking up here and going down this was such a good idea. On March 16 I’ll be at the top, submitting manuscripts and covers and pushing the publish button once again, hoping for 24-hour turn around on the approval so I can claim a St. Patrick’s Day publication date just for fun.

Then it’s whoosh, and whee, and that was fun, followed by can I do it again? Yes, I can and probably will.

 

All Done and I’m Still Not Sure

Arrrghhh. Working with a professional designer on a cover is great fun, but it also can bring out the worst in me. I’m a perfectionist, at least about the things that matter to me, and my books matter to me a lot. I’m also a people pleaser. I hate to be a pest. The result is I tend to say I’m okay with something, when I’m really not.

You can see how these two impulses could combine to cause a problem.

My first two covers went pretty well. With the first one I accepted some things I didn’t like (Lola’s red lipstick, Somadina was supposed to be tall) because overall I liked the direction we were going and I wasn’t sure how many changes I could request. Plus, how much does lipstick and height of a character on a cover really matter?

On my second one I pushed harder to get Zane exactly right, and I’m glad I did. I’m lucky that Afi was perfect on the first try and the background was beautiful by attempt number two. The nice people I was working with seemed okay with my persisting on a single issue (Zane), and I couldn’t be happier than I am with the cover we ended up with.

I feel like I’ve strained the relationship, however, with cover three.  Two variables were perfect right from the start. I loved Xuha, and loved the Maya ruins the designer had found for the background.

But I wasn’t happy with Alex’s head or his body (two different elements with this designer.)  I was really unhappy with the first circle of yellow light that looked too much like the first book. My problem was that I tried to complain about only one thing at a time. (It seemed more polite.) So as the designer fixed one thing and thought she was done, back I came with something else I wanted different. I can understand her frustration.

She varied the light. I didn’t really like it. She changed Alex’s head. That was good. Then I didn’t like his body. She did new forms of light. She suggested five different bodies. She made the light swath different colors. More transparent. She added more white light behind the men. The more she dinked, the more I didn’t know what I wanted. Finally I decided it was time to stop whining and call it good.

But is it good? I do like the background, Xuha and Alex (now) but I’m still not happy with the use of light. The swath in front still looks too much like a feather boa, and the light from behind doesn’t have the power I wanted to see. But I’m at a loss for how to fix it.

So I finally said “This will do.”

Now I’m having buyers remorse. I opened up an editing program and tried to cartoon in what I wanted to see. Then, when I stepped back and looked at what I’d done I realized I didn’t really like it any better. Arrrghhh. Here is the final cover, followed by my two attempts to improve it. What do you think? Do I go back and offer to pay to have revisions made? Or do I tell myself to take a few deep breaths, maybe go have a glass of wine, and decide this cover is just what it’s meant to be?

Final cover

I add more light

I play with the light