Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Moment You've Been Waiting For...

is almost here! This is just a quick reminder that today is the LAST day to enter to win a new Kindle wi-fi! Those of you who follow my blog and/or newsletter are already entered. All you have to do is wait. To make it official, I'll pull down the entry link tonight and then choose a winner! I will post the results after I've contacted the winner, in the next day or two.

In the meanwhile, I have a new contest running on Goodreads. I'm giving away 5 signed copies of Shadow Born. I hadn't planned to do this just now, but then I remembered Goodreads has a policy that giveaways should be planned within six months of publication and, well it's getting to be that time. So while you're waiting, head on over there and sign up!


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Guest post by Z.D. Robinson

There are a lot of great new ideas out there in Kindleland, and there's no better place to find them than on Kindleboards. Over the next few months, I hope to introduce you to a number of these new Indie fantasy authors I've met on the forums.

Z.D. Robinson, proud father (again) and author of The Great Altruist joins us today to talk about his book and the journey that led to it:

I used to write a lot of stories when I was younger. In middle-school, my stories consisted of just a long paragraph devoid of good sentence structure and even a basic comprehension of grammar. And most of them were about lone Ninjas assaulting island fortresses. That's what I get for watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all the time. And that's what also happens when you come close to failing sixth-grade English.

In high-school, my grammar never improved and my stories were no less deep. Now they were about loner high-school kids saving their dream girls from government takeovers of the school. Really shoddy stuff.

Orwellian themes aside, it was at this time that I created my first solid characters. James and Genesis were born in my mind, but I had no idea how much these two people would influence my writing for the next eighteen years. Or how Genesis would even appear on occasion in depression-induced hallucinations. (More on that later.)

James was loosely based on myself, even though he displayed a lot more cool and poise than I did. He wasn't even like me; he was just a version of myself I wish I could be. No more was this evident than after my parents divorced and I came up with a story that would go on to figure prominently in my debut novel over a decade later. It was about a young man, again called James (mainly because I'm bereft of original ideas), and his quest to save his parent's marriage. How he was supposed to travel through time was a complete mystery. But the story - although about time-travel - was less about the method and more about the character interaction and the lessons learned. Think of a more dramatic version of Back to the Future.

I eventually came up with a vehicle for time-travel. I wanted the person to be tiny (think Tinkerbell) so that he or she could travel by James's side to provide guidance along the journey. When I decided the character should be a woman, I used the name Genesis. I didn't know how or why she should be tiny, although I was quick to decide she would NOT be a fairy. And I chose to follow time-travel convention by making her perpetually naked (the idea being that only organic matter could travel through the time-field displacement - think The Terminator). [Note: There's also a philosophical reason for her nakedness - something to do about her confidence superseding petty body-image conventions. That's the "deep" reason for it; the other is Freudian and probably self-explanatory.]

By this point in my life, I was married. I was diagnosed (inaccurately, I would learn years later) with bipolar disorder. The depression was so severe that creatively I was dead. But I had developed this kind, beautiful woman in my head that I would talk to like an imaginary friend while driving around for the cable company. That might sound really strange; and it was. But those "hallucinations" were quite mild and actually quite useful in getting to know her character. I don't recommend this to other writers, as hallucinating your feature character can lead dangerously close to John Nash-style schizophrenia. If you've seen A Beautiful Mind, you'll understand what an unproductive time that can be.

Eventually, a story came together. James was central to my book, but Genesis had a lot going on. I soon came up with an interesting backstory and additional adventures for her. And I compiled those stories into a novel about a selfless woman who uses her unique powers to help people fix mistakes from their past. It's not that original, and I'm sure the constant nudity of the protagonist may come off sophomoric and juvenile to some, but early reviews have shown it to be entertaining at least. And isn't "entertaining" the reason a lot of people read books?

While I write mainly for funsies, I take the story very seriously. Having grown up on Back to the Future and Peggy Sue Got Married, time-travel is a staple of my story-telling. Some people hate it because it's been handled so poorly in the past. I'd never say that my plots are hole-less, but if you like stories about naked people traveling through time (and shoot, who doesn't?) then The Great Altruist won't be a total waste of time.

Having completed a novel (and working on two presently), I can say I've come a long way since those early ninja and high-school peril stories. I also no longer hallucinate tiny, naked women. Writing about my parent's divorce was very cathartic (although I should add that the details in my novel are NOT based on any actual events.) I'm also the proud father of three young boys. 

If you want to know who I really write for nowadays, I'd have to mention my wife. She reads all first drafts long before anyone else is allowed near it. If she doesn't like something, it goes. If she loves it - or cries while reading it - I leave well-enough alone and don't touch it again. She has a good BS detector and is very good at catching plot holes, so while not everyone may like my work, at least I know the most important person in my life does. And most importantly, she has a way of telling me something stinks without saying those words exactly. There is an exciting moment I look forward to when I ask her what she thinks of something she just read, and she pauses to frame her words. Those seconds hang in the air for what feel like forever. Little does she know it, but the next words out of her mouth will probably change the course of my career. When I consider that without her I might still be writing about ninjas, I can't think of better hands to be in.

Links:
Z.D. Robinson.com
The Great Altruist at Amazon.com

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Aqua-what?

 I'm posting about this subject because I find it fascinating and important... and because I'm going to try to build an aquaponics system myself. First of all, what is aquaponics?  

From Wikipedia: Aquaponics (pronounced: /ˈækwəˈpɒnɨks/) is a sustainable food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In the aquaculture, effluents accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity for the fish. This water is led to a hydroponic system where the by-products from the aquaculture are filtered out by the plants as vital nutrients, after which the cleansed water is recirculated back to the animals. The term aquaponics is a portmanteau of the terms aquaculture and hydroponic.

Ok, sounds good as long as you know what aquaculture and hydroponics are, but let's make it simple. I borrowed this picture from the website of a middle school that did an aquaponics experiment. The photo clearly illustrates how aquaponics works, and indeed, how effectively.



Simply put, the water from the fish tanks is used to feed the plants. The wastes created by the fish are consumed by the plants as fertilizer. Then, the clean water flows back to the fish and makes them happy. This retailer has a very basic video detailing one of the systems they sell, and will help give you an  idea of what to expect.

So why is this so important? Well, first of all, it's a highly sustainable process. You can grow huge quantities of food this way in a very small space, using very little energy. You can do this with a small aquarium near a sunny window in your living room. Some people have built small systems for the balcony in their apartments. In fact, one group in Wisconsin is growing one million pounds of food on three acres. They're growing veggies and leafy greens and edible fish, almost a complete diet!And quite a bit healthier than a lot of the stuff we tend to grab at the grocery store.

So what does a system like this require? You can see from the photos that all you really need is a small fish tank, a small grow-bed, a pump, and some creativity. It's possible to use decorative fish like goldfish or  koi, but it's also possible to use tiliapia, trout, and any number of other popular food-fish.Because the water is recycled, you use only a fraction of the water it takes to farm traditionally. You do have to feed the fish of course, and you will need to pump and aerate the water. You may also need to heat the water. In a small system, this can be done very inexpensively. In fact, even a larger backyard system might only cost you a few dollars a month if it's planned correctly. But don't take my word for it. Do some research. A small investment in a system like this just might be able to save you a lot of money down the road, and this food is healthy!

Backyardaquaponics.com has some great articles and basic info, and they sell pre-fab systems of all sizes, similar to this:




DIYaquaponics.com is also a great resource, with a fantastic forum dedicated to this subject. The forum link is at the top of the page. Here's another great example of what you can do with a little creativity:


Obviously, some of these giant prefab systems cost a LOT of money. If you've got it, more power to you. I'm sure it's worth the investment just to know what you and your family are eating is real, healthy, un-messed-with food. But the beauty of this system is that you don't need a lot of money to get started. You can pick up the basic materials second-hand and even build your own growbeds. Do you see a use for a system like this in your life? Do you know someone else, a friend or family member perhaps who might benefit from aquaponics? If so then please let them know and forward these links.

For a brief update on my auquaponics adventure, check out this post





Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Guest post by S. Arthur Martin

I talked to some of the Indie fantasy authors over at Kindleboards. I asked them to tell me a bit about themselves; about their process and what makes them different. My first guest is S. Arthur Martin, and this is his story: 


 
Writing is exactly as hard as making the time to do it. Life doesn't slow down so that we can accomplish all of our little pet projects, and you can't just figure out a way to slow everything down and find the time for yourself. Something will always come up. Your car will need an oil change and the crack in your windshield will keep getting longer. You'll need to pick up more hours next week. That new show will be starting tonight and you just won't let yourself miss it.

I'm the last person you'd expect to find the time for commitment to any sort of creative project. My drawers are full of half-finished ideas, my hard drive spattered with 102kb files of partially-written story outlines. When I decided that I wanted to write a novel and finish it, the resolve in my voice wavered with the memory of every unrequited promise I'd ever made to myself. Still, I told everyone I knew. I called my grandma to tell her. I let people I hadn't seen or spoken to for months know what I planned to do. I built up as much accountability around myself as I could possibly find.

But even that wouldn't have been enough, so I joined NaNoWriMo (www.nanowrimo.com). I dragged people along with me and friended them so that they would see my progress bar and know when I was failing and when I was succeeding with my goals. For one month I didn't let myself have a single excuse not to write. Instead, I allowed my writing to be an excuse not to get to other things. Sure, I continued attending my college courses (it actually helped that I happened to be in a Grammar and Usage class at the time). I found time here and there to see friends and loved ones. But I made sure that I was planted in my seat every night for at least an hour, often two, occasionally three, four, or five.

I drew from every experience I've ever had. Names appeared that I'd written into the little name-your-character boxes in every video game I ever played. Places and cultures I'd interacted with influenced every aspect of my world. I didn't know who my characters were, where they were going, what they would face, who they would love and hate, but I just kept writing. If I got stuck, I did something to them to unstick them. At one point, just like I did years ago while I was skiing, they fell off a mountain. When I felt like their journey together was getting too predictable, I forcibly split them up. I created writing opportunities through obstacles for both myself and my characters, and as we traveled together I found that they began speaking to me in their own voices. They told me what they'd do, how they'd react, what words they'd say.

And there it was. My story was complete and NaNoWriMo achieved! I had beaten the odds. Shown my most insipid naysayer, myself, who was boss. I had a story. Complete, beautiful, somewhat fragmented and dreadfully in need of proper editing. But the cliff had been scaled and the summit reached. It was glorious.

So now I have a novel. It might never crack one hundred sales. It might be read by the right person at the right time and see the inside of a bookstore some day. The important thing is that I brought life to something that had been tucked away inside of me for far too long. I believe there is a story in all of us and that we want to share it. If we give ourselves the opportunity to do so, either through our own adventures or relationships with others, or with our music, dancing, or writing... In the end what matters is that the story will be experienced by someone else, and the world will be all the better for it.


To check out Hollenguard at Amazon, click here. It's available in paper and on Kindle. 
Also, be sure to check out his website here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

And the loser is...

This week, I got my first one-star review. It raised a few questions for me, and solidified a few things I've been thinking about all at once. I know that sometimes people assume one-star reviews come from a writer's competitors or people who have a grudge against that writer, but I can honestly say I don't think that happened here. I don't believe I've ever met this person, so I don't know how I could have offended her. I have to accept that the reviewer sincerely did not like my book. This is how much she didn't like it:

"It's very amateurish, both in style and in content. Don't waste your time."

The lack of constructive criticism aside, I still think a review like this can provide certain value. First of all, it proves that my work is real. Readers often assume that good reviews aren't genuine; that they're just friends and family of the author being kind. I can assure you, that's not me. I have exactly ONE friend/family member who has ever rated any of my books, much less reviewed them. Some writers may have this resource and I say good for them, but I come from one of the other families. You know, they're the ones who take delight in your failures, say unkind things behind your back, and encourage you to give up and fail. That's the environment I was raised in and I frequently visit on holidays and vacations. So a one-star review doesn't hurt me in any deep emotional way, it simply piques my curiosity. It also offers the added value that casual readers now know my reviews are real, not shill reviews posted by my family. Many authors say that a one-star review has helped their sales. It's early in my career, but so far I find this to be true .

Here's one of the things I've observed: Of all the reviews I've gotten, the absolute worst were from giveaways. Does that make sense? I can understand that a person who paid good money for my book and then hated it might want to warn others away, but why someone who won a free copy in a giveaway? What does that person have to gain? I can only guess as to the reasons, and my best guess is to ask why would someone enter a contest for something they don't even want? Of course, that's just a question. It's perfectly possible that the book's blurb, description, and other reviews were completely lacking in such a way that the contestant truly had no idea what they were in for when they entered the contest.

Here's another observation: Almost every popular movie, book, or TV show that I've looked at lately seems to have a rating of somewhere around 3 stars. Two and Four star averages are fewer but seem equally represented, and 1 or 5 star averages are extremely rare. This doesn't prove much except that fans and critics seem to be equally divided, regardless of the genre or even type of work. Any subjective art seems to suffer from this. Which ultimately seems to confirm something I've heard others say, which is that the stars don't count, the review does. Meaning a drive-by one-star rating is as meaningless as an unsubstantiated five-star rating. In order for the review to be of any benefit to other readers, it MUST provide some insight into what worked or didn't work for the story. Otherwise, it's just another anonymous star added to the average of thousands and thousands that came before.



Monday, August 8, 2011

Congrats to the contest winners!

Just a quick note to say thanks to everyone who participated in my blog tour and congrats to the winners of the e-book giveaways. I believe the last of the winners have now been notified. Stayed tuned for more giveaways coming this fall!

Speaking of...

The Kindle wi-fi giveaway is still going on, so if you haven't signed up for my blog and newsletter what are you waiting for?