What have I been reading? November 2020 edition

I finished Oathkeeper in the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher Nuttall. It does indeed look like he’s going to wrap up the protagonist’s story soon, but he might write more for other characters in that universe. I had a good time with this, and I only have a few lingering questions that remain unanswered, so I’m looking forward to the wrap-up as well as what might come next.

I also finished my reread of the Dresden Files series up to and including book #15 Skin Game, by Jim Butcher. Pretty soon I’ll launch into Peace Talks and Battle Ground, which I suspect I’ll read back to back.

I’ve just started into Divergence by C.J. Cherryh as that’s the next installment in her Foreigner series about humans living with the Ateva. I was a little disappointed in the previous one as it had been mostly transitioning away from the previous book and setting stuff up for this one. On the other hand, it does mean that this one is starting pretty much right in the middle of the action, so Hooray!

Over on the graphic novel side of things, I also read an Honor Harrington series that looks mostly like a one-off adventure in-between some of the main novels. I’ve also started into the Alita graphic novels. I enjoyed the movie, so I’m looking forward to the source material. Since this one is technically manga, I’m having to learn to swipe right to turn the pages, but I’ll survive.

And the last bit of graphic novel reading was that the second volume of The Old Guard dropped, and I read through that. It gives us some of the backstory that showed up in the movie but was not in the first volume, and it gives us a bit more about the movie’s stinger that I’d love to see lead into a sequel movie. Anyway, I’m just going to wait for the next several issues to land in a volume 3 bundle and read them that way. This one is highly recommended, IMO.

What have I been listening to, October 2020 edition

I missed a couple of Fridays—and this one is going out a little late—but here it is, another Friday edition of my media consumption. Though this one is less about what I’m listening to and more about how I’m listening to it. My general music diet continues to consist mostly of soundtracks, “epic music”, and some atmospheric stuff, but I recently had to significantly revamp the delivery mechanism.

I start off with CDs ages back, but for the last five years or so I’d been listening to music via the Amazon Music player. It’s not the best player. No arguments there. But it was easy to buy the music there, and for a while I had been able to integrate all of my ripped CDs into my library there. I had an old Nexus 7-inch Android tablet pumping music out the headphone jack and into my old stereo rack components. I know the little speakers are getting better, but I still prefer the sound of my old big speakers. Later that became a Kindle Fire, which IMO is a terrible tablet but a decent music player.

Somewhere along the way Amazon said they were going to drop the feature that let me upload my own stuff. My ripped music remained in my library, but I noticed that some of them had been replaced with Amazon’s copy of that track. In a few rare cases, that actually meant that it was the wrong version of the piece, but that wasn’t enough to drive me away.

No, what finally did it was when I finally tracked down a few old soundtracks on CD that were not available for digital download. So, I could buy the CDs, but then I had no way to integrate them into my library and play them. I still had a CD player, but then I’d have to switch inputs, etc., and I wouldn’t be able to put them into playlists/etc. Plus there was the constant badgering about upgrading to their “Unlimited” music—which, by the way, would also not let me upload my own music. It was time to move on.

This time I didn’t want to trust my library to someone else again, so I went with a Plex server. I’d already set one up for my DVDs/BluRays, so it wasn’t that much work to get my music files on there. Pulling them from Amazon turned out to be a disaster. All those years of swapping out my copy with their copy meant that the MP3 tags were a mess, so much so that pretty much every album then showed up on the Plex as 2-4 different albums with a random subset of tracks. Fortunately, I found my original ripped files in an old archive directory locally, so I did not have to return to the original CDs and rip again.

That’s a picture of my current setup. It’s a Lenova 8” tablet using the PlexAmp Android app, and while it does have a headphone jack, I was becoming dissatisfied with that solution as it would sometimes get crackly or ground out. So I found a Bluetooth-to-RCA-jack converter to serve as the bridge between my new digital tech and the old analog stuff. That’s the little thing with the glowing blue square on the left. The analog stuff is nothing special. It’s a mix of 90s and 00s gear, but it works. The player as pictured happens to be playing a track from Hans Zimmer soundtrack to Man of Steel. Zimmer is OK. I grew up on John Williams soundtracks, but I have to say that my favorites there are from Ennio Morricone and John Horner.

I’m still restoring some of my Amazon playlists over on the Plex, but all-in-all, I’m pretty happy. What’s more, it’s now the family Plex server, so we can all access the same music library, from Dad’s old jazz music of the 50s to my daughter’s Taylor Swift.

What Have I Been Watching? October 2020 edition

Well, I have not been getting out to the theater much lately, but with the pandemic, very few of us are. However, I have been streaming a lot lately. I’ve also converted my entire DVD/Blu-Ray library over to Plex and have been watching a lot more of the things I already owned as a result. You know, now that I no longer have to face that epic struggle of standing up, walking over to the DVD player, and putting in a disc.

As part of her ongoing cultural literacy, we have been watching Star Trek (TOS) with my daughter. We’re in early season 2 at this point. We’ve also been watching Star Trek Lower Decks, and of course, half the references are going right over her head. But she’s enjoying it. Why this? Why now? Because I made a reference to “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario,” a few months back, and my wife and I realized our daughter had no frame of reference for it. So, it’s family TV night—something we weren’t able to do for most of her childhood. For reasons that are a whole’nuther story.

I’ve also been watching Masters of Sex. I’d heard good things about it, and it is good, but I have to pause every so often because I get fed up with Bill Masters. At least Don Draper was a handsome asshole. I’ve also been watching Killing Eve, which is all fucked up in its own unique ways. And I’ve been rewatching the old M*A*S*H series from the 70s. I’m about halfway through season 2 on all three of these.

It’s interesting watching M*A*S*H because this particular transfer seems to have gone back to the original film stock and done an HD 1080p widescreen transfer. That’s nice and all, but I’m noticing a lot of issues that were hidden in the lower resolution and general fuzziness of the original 480i signal. In particular, the lighting looks much more like it’s on a soundstage, while the original version’s lighting looked much more like they were in those real environs.

I suspect it’s that the original crew had a gut feel for how what they saw with their eyes would end up looking on the old TVs and could light and shoot for that, but the HD transfer from the film just aimed to faithfully capture what was there. It reminds me of how the bandana worn by the real cavalry was often brown or dark red, but it became yellow in films because the darker colors didn’t look good on black-and-white filmstock. They shot M*A*S*H for their target medium, and it doesn’t look quite right in this new one.

As for movies, I did see Mulan but not Tenant. I saw Old Guard but not Hamilton. And I’d say I didn’t see Bill & Ted Face the Music except that I really mean to say that I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll get to it. The last film I actually saw in a physical theater was Emma back in March, two days before we went into lockdown. It was OK, but overall “meh”. I’m looking forward to getting back to the theater, if for nothing else than I wouldn’t want that to be the last film I ever got to see on the big screen.

I’ve also been watching some TV series on the treadmill, though for various excuses reasons excuses I haven’t been so good about it in the last month or so. I’ve got those on a 7-day rotation to keep me motivated to not skip a day. Clearly that hasn’t been working so well recently, but here they are:

Sundays: Supernatural, currently in season 13 – NO SPOILERS!
Mondays: Netflix’s Marvel shows, in order. Currently in Jessica Jones Season 2.
Tuesdays: a bit of a wildcard but currently in season 1 of Star Trek Discovery
Wednesdays: The Expanse, currently season 2
Thursdays: Battlestar Galactica, the reboot, currently late season 3
Fridays: Babylon 5, currently late season 3
Saturdays: another wildcard, currently iZombie season 5.

And that’s it for now. Who knows, maybe I’ll manage to get back to iZombie tomorrow.

Some Improvements

I thought I should post an update since my last entry was pretty bleak. I’m working with my doctors to make some changes to my current array of medications for treating my PTSD and chronic pain, and I’m already seeing some improvements. I’ll detail those some other time, but the short version is that it’s been a turn for the better.

I’m making progress on the books. Short version: I’m updating the old books a bit and getting closer to the new ones.

  • Beneath the Sky: This one is getting a new cover, a couple of minor corrections, and updated back matter to point to the current website, etc. The proof copy of the print is on its way from Createspace right now, and the e-book update is mostly ready. I’m still tweaking the link stuff in the back for that one. I hope to have all that done by the end of this week. Once it is, I’ll be putting it into Kindle Select, which means it will be available in the Kindle Unlimited lending library. It’s already Amazon-exclusive, but I haven’t properly enrolled it yet.
  • Ships of My Fathers: This one is just getting updates to the back matter and tweaking once sentence to clarify something a reviewer pointed out. I expect it will be sorted out by early next week.
  • Debts of My Fathers: The print version is mostly formatted, and the e-book version will follow shortly. Mostly I’m sorting out the details on Beneath the Sky to relearn Sigil on an existing book rather than starting with the blank slate of a new book. I may be setting up some review copies on that, but the final will have to wait a few more details. (I’ll say more about that once they’re resolved.) I’m working on this somewhat in parallel to updating the others, so it’s not entirely idle. I’m hesitant to put out another estimated date, but I am shooting for early October.
  • Hell Bent: This is that new Urban Fantasy series that none of you have any reason to care about yet. It’s effectively on hold until I get Debts of My Fathers out the door, but I may do some of the formatting work on it soon while all the formatting issues and skills are still in my head. I hope to get this one out before the end of the year, but there are elements to this one that are out of my hands.

So that’s the update. Things are moving, just never as fast as I want them to.

2013: The Year in Review

Each year I set out goals rather than resolutions, and as part of that, I monitor my progress and make some assessments at the end of the year. So, how did I do this year?

My writing goals this last year were to
1) Publish two new novels, and I managed only one: Ships of My Fathers
2) Write two new novels, and I only managed one and a half: Shattered and part of Stone Killers
3) Keep up the blog, and I feel down on that more than I wanted.

In more detail, I probably could have pushed Hell Bent (the first of my urban fantasy series) out the door this year, but I decided I should be focusing my efforts where I already have an audience in space opera, so I spent the latter part of the year focusing on getting Debts of My Fathers out the door. It is not out yet, but I did make progress.

As for the writing, I did crank out a draft of Shattered, my first attempt at a mystery, but it will need a lot of work before it can even make it to the beta readers. I started on Stone Killer, the sequel to Hell Bent, but when I decided to delay the release of Hell Bent, I put Stone Killer on hold. It’s still sitting in the draft mode about halfway through.

On the blog, it fell apart over the summer for one reason and then again in the fall for another reason. A full schedule of posts would have been 156 posts, and this little gem will bring it up to 107, or about 68%, compared with last year’s 135/85%.

I also had a few other goals where I had varying levels of success. I wanted to do better multitasking, so that when I was blocked (or waiting on someone) with one project, I would be working on another. I did some better this year, but there was plenty of room for improvement. I also set the goal of doing a little bit of marketing/promotion this year, and I dipped my toes in with some success. I think my biggest boost, however, came from Nathan Lowell pointing me out to his many fans – in whose number I am proud to count myself. Mostly, though, it was having some business cards and a book-promo card that gave me a more professional feeling.

I also had a vague goal of making friends with more writers, particularly those who are cohort, i.e. those in about the same place in our careers. This, I must say, was one of my greatest successes of the year. Between Google+ and a local Meetup group, I befriended several authors who are about as early in their careers as I am, give or take a couple of years. Some are coming up fast, and some are racing ahead of me. Others can use a hand up, and I’ve done what I can to pass along the help that other writers have been so generous to grant me.

I did battle two problems throughout the year that severely impacted my ability to make progress on these writing goals. First, as bad as my health was in 2012, it was worse in 2013 and included a hospitalization and then later on, some long-delayed sinus surgery. As if to make a point, as I write this, I am running a low fever from a GI bug that’s been working its way through the family since Christmas. I do have some plans to make this better in 2014, but only time will tell.

The second problem was from my kids. I don’t talk about this much, but I have special-needs children. This year, the eldest (who is autistic) took something of a turn for the worse in August, and it has made the rest of the year much more difficult. I don’t want to gripe with the details, but it as the kids say these days, my difficulties here are “totes legit!” I do not have much of a solution going forward except to stay the course and keep trying.

Still, I did start seeing some commercial success this year. At one point, an agent challenged me by saying it was not quite “quitting the day job” money, but I was able to reply that it was enough to pretty much pay all the monthly bills short of the mortgage, i.e. electric, water, phone, cable, etc., with a little left over. Some of my favorite people sold well and even won some awards. I also put out a novel that I’m very happy with, and I’m very grateful to live in a time that I can choose to do that rather than merely hope to do that. So, while I’m a little unhappy with the things I did not get done, I’m full of warm fuzzies for things I did get done.

Check back tomorrow where I plan to lay down some epic goals for 2014.

Got Busy

Sorry for the missed posts the last couple of weeks. I do most of my blogging on the weekends, and I was travelling (actually camping) the last two weekends, and then I got caught flat-footed when the week arrived. I’m getting back to the content queue now.

In other news, my self-publishing efforts are moving forward. I setup my publishing company, Quantum Forge Press. It has a domain, a blank website, a bank account, and ten ISBN numbers. I’m starting on the book cover now. While I missed my self-imposed deadline of April 1st, I’m still hopeful about getting it out this month.

See you later!

One Righteous Smackdown

While I have written a couple of novels, I have not yet published them. In truth, I have not yet submitted them, but they’re both still in the editing phase – more on that another time. Publishing through the large New York houses has become harder and harder in recent years, both for economic reasons and simple changes in the Industry. Of course, various forms of self-publishing are available (from Lulu.com to Lightning Source and Kindle/Nook e-book options), but being selected by an established publishing house has great emotional appeal. Fortunately – no, not really – there are countless scammers ready to feed on those frustrated writers, promising fame and riches while only delivering shame and expenses.

Fortunately – really – there is a team that sorts out the good from the bad. The website Writer Beware has been shining the disinfecting light of truth onto this problem for years. They keep lists of legitimate agents and publishers as well as calling scammers on their scams. Even on some that fall somewhere in between, they point out the areas of concern and tell you what to watch out for. They get some support from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), but mostly it’s a labor of love.

Most scammers either keep on scamming or scurry away into the corner only to return under a different name, but a few have been doing what they can to muddy the water. A largely anonymous group called The Write Agenda has been making claims against Writer Beware for a while. It’s not really enough to completely undo their scam-busting work, but I guess these scammers hope to reduce their stature to being merely one of two mudslinging opponents. Writer Beware has mostly ignored this in the past. After all, why point folks towards your worst character assassin? However, now the Write Agenda is apparently going after a number of other folks who support Writer Beware or even SFWA.

I guess if you can’t bully someone into submission, you start going after their innocent friends.

Well, that’s probably not the best idea when you’re trying to bully the righteous, because they will haul out their wrath and deliver one righteous smackdown. Earlier this week, Writer Beware did just that. In addition to documenting many of The Write Agenda’s illegitimate activities, they are making some attempt at breaking through the group’s anonymity to reveal the true scammer’s sour grapes. It would appear that he has done battle with Writer Beware before and lost.

So as we move away from newspapers, perhaps it’s time to update the adage: Never argue with someone who buys his electrons by the barrel, especially if his friends do too.