Audiobook Giveaways … Plural!

… and you can enter as many times as you like!

As announced previously, the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook is complete and available for your listening pleasure direct from Audible or, if you prefer, from Amazon — and between now and Tax Day, we’re going to hold multiple drawings to give away free Audible downloads for it!

Why Tax Day? Because somebody ought to get some good news on that day!

Why multiple giveaways? Because anything worth doing is worth doing more than once! (And because the good folks at Wordfire Press gave me several download codes to do with as I pleased, so I’m giving a bunch away.)

How do you enter? Just sign up for my newsletter using this special link, and then every time you share the link and tag me, I’ll enter you in the drawing again!


(Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

If you’re not quite sure whether Walking on the Sea of Clouds is your kind story, here’s what some folks had to say about it:

  • This book will be treasured by anyone who has ever dreamt of visiting the Moon, walking on another world, or bathing beneath the light of a distant star.
    –David Farland
  • If you’ve ever wanted to be a colonist on the moon, this is as close as you will ever get without going there yourself.
    Abyss & Apex
  • … as entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction, …. closer to the type of fiction Jerry Pournelle wrote in the 1960s and 1970s…. captures a pioneering era that once was and could be again.
    Ad Astra
  • Much like The Martian, Walking on the Sea of Clouds puts you on a lifeless rock and makes you think about why we explore new frontiers even as it explains how it can be done.
    Booklist
  • Everything about Walking on the Sea of Clouds feels amazingly authentic.
    –Edmund R. Schubert
  • Annoyed you haven’t been to the Moon yet? Then pick up Walking on the Sea of Clouds; you’ll feel like you’re there.
    –Charles E. Gannon
  • This is meat and potatoes for the hard science fiction fan.
    –Martin L. Shoemaker

It’s a near-future story of survival and sacrifice during the very early days of a lunar colony, and explores the reasons why people sign up for such daring enterprises and the price they’re willing to pay to help them succeed. In addition to Audible, you can also find it in other formats on Amazon and other online sources including Baen e-books.

I hope you’ll give it a listen (or a read), and let me know what you think!

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Research Triangle Writers! Come to the Writers Coffeehouse

Are you a writer, in or near the Research Triangle? Then you’re welcome to come to The Writers Coffeehouse this Sunday, 10 March, at 2 p.m.!

The Writers Coffeehouse is a nationwide set of free monthly networking events, originally started in 2002 in Pennsylvania by NYT-bestselling author Jonathan Maberry. As Jonathan says, we’re just “a bunch of writers sitting around talking about writing … with coffee.”

The Writers Coffeehouse

The Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse meets on the second Sunday of the month at Quail Ridge Books (4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh). All writers — young or old, published or unpublished, struggling or accomplished — are welcome at every meeting. You will have to bring your own coffee (or the beverage of your choice) with you, but there are a couple of places nearby that would love to serve you.

So, one more time: It doesn’t matter what you write, where you write, or how much you write, if you’re a writer in or near the Research Triangle, you’re welcome at The Writers Coffeehouse!

Hope to see you Sunday!

___

Shameless P.S.: As I pointed out in the Facebook group yesterday, if I’m smiling a little more than usual at this month’s meeting it’s because my novel Walking on the Sea of Clouds was just released as an Audible audiobook.

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What’s That I Hear? An Audiobook? Yes, Indeed

Ladies and gentlemen, the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook is complete and available for your listening pleasure! You can score a copy direct from Audible or, if you prefer, from Amazon.

As pleased as I am to announce that the novel is in audio format, I’m even happier to announce that the voice actress who narrates it is … my daughter, Stephanie! (Surprise!)

Stephanie auditioned under her married name (Minervino), so the folks at WordFire Press didn’t realize who she was when they forwarded her audition to me. They agreed she was the best choice and worked with her through the production process long before we ever let on that we were related. (Sneaky, I know.)

If you click through to the Audible website, you can listen to a sample. And while I admit that I may be a little biased, I think she did a fine job. It wasn’t easy, with so many different accents among the characters, but she managed to give each character a unique voice!

And not only that: Stephanie did a great job portraying the emotional depth of the story, and actually added to the emotional depth of some scenes. She made me very proud! I just wish her name was a little bigger on the cover:

I hope you’ll check out this audio version of Walking on the Sea of Clouds, and if you know someone who prefers audio to print I hope you’ll let them know about it. In case you’re still unsure whether the story might be worth your while, here’s what some folks had to say:

  • “[As] entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction…. closer to the type of fiction Jerry Pournelle wrote…. captures a pioneering era that once was and could be again.”
    Ad Astra
  • “Much like The Martian, Walking on the Sea of Clouds puts you on a lifeless rock and makes you think about why we explore new frontiers even as it explains how it can be done.”
    Booklist
  • “If you’ve ever wanted to be a colonist on the moon, this is as close as you will ever get without going there yourself.”
    Abyss & Apex
  • “Annoyed you haven’t been to the Moon yet? Then pick up Walking on the Sea of Clouds; you’ll feel like you’re there.”
    –Charles E. Gannon
  • “Everything about Walking on the Sea of Clouds feels amazingly authentic.”
    –Edmund R. Schubert
  • “This is meat and potatoes for the hard science fiction fan.”
    –Martin L. Shoemaker
  • “This book will be treasured by anyone who has ever dreamt of visiting the Moon, walking on another world, or bathing beneath the light of a distant star.”
    –David Farland

Spread the word! And if you give it a listen, I’d love to know what you think!

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December 2018 Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse

UPDATE, 8:30 local time, 9 December 2018: Today’s meeting is canceled due to snowy weather and poor road conditions. See everyone next month!

___

All writers, young or old, published or unpublished, struggling or accomplished, are welcome at the next RT Writers Coffeehouse meeting at Quail Ridge Books on Sunday, the 9th of December at 2 pm. We’re just a bunch of writers, sitting around talking about writing!

Come and tell us how you did with NaNoWriMo (if you did NaNoWriMo). Come with your gift suggestions, whether you want to suggest your own book or someone else’s. Come and spend some time browsing, and pick up some gifts for your family and friends. Just come!

The Writers Coffeehouse

Because the bottom line is, if you’re a writer and live in or near the Research Triangle, you’re welcome at The Writers Coffeehouse!

___
P.S. Don’t be shy: join the Facebook group, and share this post with any other area writers you know!

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Answering a Writing-Related Question, and Admitting that I’m Badly Stuck

A few weeks ago I invited my newsletter readers* to submit questions they wanted me to answer — questions about anything: writing (stories or songs), editing, pastimes, whatever. I haven’t been very good at answering them in the newsletter, but I thought I might include some here on the blog anyway (probably as sporadically).

This one in particular ends up with a confession, which I hope will be good for my soul….

ASK
(Image: “ASK,” by Anne Thorniley, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

One reader asked: Is it harder to write a short story for an anthology, or a full novel?

I thought that was a great question, and I wrote back right away with a partial answer. As I thought about it a little more, I realized that even though I’ve found short stories to be generally easier — just because they’re less complex than novels and we get to “the end” faster — they’re still challenging for a couple of reasons.

First, for me personally, short stories are hard to write because I tend to write long (which makes editing blog posts and newsletters into quite a chore). Within science fiction and fantasy, a short story has a limit of 7500 words—beyond that and you’re into “novelette” territory. But anthology editors often ask for even shorter stories! In fact, one editor only wanted 6500 words and I thoroughly busted the limit; thankfully, he liked the story enough that he didn’t ask me to cut very much.

Second, I find short stories for anthologies to be particularly challenging depending on how tightly focused the theme of the anthology is. Some anthologies have broad themes, like the Star Destroyers anthology that came out earlier this year. The working title and the theme of that anthology changed a couple of times, but in general the stories were supposed to address operations — and particularly battle operations — aboard starfaring ships. Even with that rather broad idea, it took me a good while to figure out what story I wanted to write!

I have a much harder time coming up with stories when the anthology theme is very specific. One of the hardest stories for me to write was for Chuck Gannon’s Lost Signals anthology, because it had to take place within the specific bounds of his “Caine Riordan” universe. I think it was difficult for me because I had a terrible fear of messing something up in his universe. That fear may have been a little overblown — as most fears of that type are — because he wouldn’t let that happen, but it was compounded by the simple fact that I didn’t want to let him down if the story didn’t fit into his universe. I rather liked the story I wrote, but I had such a hard time writing it that when Larry Correia asked me if I wanted to write a story for one of his anthologies I thanked him and told him I didn’t think I could do it.

Which leads me to my unfortunate confession: I haven’t written more than a few words of fiction since finishing that story. I’ve tried. I’ve got ideas, and notes upon notes, but the idea of trying to compose, of trying to bring these ideas out of my head onto the page, has become anathema to me. Even my songwriting has suffered. In fact, that’s part of why I started back up on blog posts: to see if I might find a way out of these doldrums.

I’m stuck fast; struggling against it has worn me out; and I hate it. And here’s the deeper, more frightful confession: I’ve begun to wonder if something in the process of writing that story damaged some part of my creative self.

But that’s probably a topic for some other day.

___
*You can also subscribe to my newsletter. I’d be pleased if you would (and I’m always willing to take new questions!).

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What Would C.S. Lewis Think of WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS? (Part 2)

(I originally wrote this as an item in the Lorehaven Book Club Facebook group. Part one is found here.)

As I noted in part one, I recently re-read C.S. Lewis’s essay, “On Science Fiction,” in which he divided the field into a number of what he called “sub-species” and examined them in some depth. Last time I pointed out that my near-future science fiction novel Walking on the Sea of Clouds seems to fit into a couple of his categories. Unfortunately, Lewis asserts (referring specifically to H.G. Wells’s First Men in the Moon) that

The more plausible [the scientific basis of the story], the worse. That would merely invite interest in actual possibilities of reaching the Moon, an interest foreign to [Wells’s] story. Never mind how they got there; we are imagining what it would be like.

Since I tried hard to keep the science plausible in my story — taking a few liberties here and there, I admit — Lewis would apparently think that I had labored in vain. And it seems he would think the same with regard to my effort to build in believable characterization (emphasis added):

It is absurd to condemn [these stories] because they do not often display any deep or sensitive characterization. They oughtn’t to. It is a fault if they do…. Every good writer knows that the more unusual the scenes and events of his stories are, the slighter, the more ordinary, the more typical his persons should be. Hence Gulliver is a commonplace little man and Alice a commonplace little girl. If they had been more remarkable they would have wrecked their books.

In my defense, I’d say that the characters in my book are rather ordinary compared to today’s astronauts, many of whom have multiple advanced degrees and generally stellar credentials. But even if my characters themselves aren’t exactly commonplace, I tried to focus on the commonplace nature of their tasks: building things, repairing things, keeping things going.

Lewis says,

To tell how odd things struck odd people is to have an oddity too much: he who is to see strange sights must not himself be strange. He ought to be as nearly as possible Everyman or Anyman. Of course, we must not confuse slight or typical characterization with impossible or unconvincing characterization. Falsification of character will always spoil a story.

And there, I think I may have redeemed myself in Lewis’s eye. (At least, it would be nice if that were the case!)

I was, additionally, interested in another note that Lewis includes. Referring to the “novel of manners” (which Britannica.com defines as one that “re-creates a social world” and conveys “finely detailed observation of the customs, values, and mores of a highly developed and complex society”), Lewis writes — again with emphasis added:

We must not allow the novel of manners to give laws to all literature: let it rule its own domain. We must not listen to Pope’s maxim about the proper study of mankind. The proper study of man is everything. The proper study of man as artist is everything which gives a foothold to the imagination and the passions.

And, so far as I can tell, spaceflight — and the possibility of extending our reach to the Moon and beyond — definitely stirs the imagination and passion of at least some people! (Now, if more of them would find their way to my story, that would be great….)

Crescent Moon
(Image: “Crescent Moon,” by kloniwotski, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Finally (for my purpose here), before delving into other sub-species of science fiction that would not include my novel, Lewis warns,

… while I think this sort of science fiction legitimate, and capable of great virtues, it is not a kind which can endure copious production. It is only the first visit to the Moon or to Mars that is, for this purpose, any good. After each has been discovered in one or two stories (and turned out to be different in each) it becomes difficult to suspend our disbelief in favor of subsequent stories. However good they were they would kill each other by becoming numerous.

I wonder if the people who have asked me for a sequel would take that as an excuse for me not to do so.

Anyway, what do you think of all that? Is Lewis on to something?

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What Would C.S. Lewis Think of WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS? (Part 1)

(I originally wrote this as an item in the Lorehaven Book Club Facebook group.)

Have you read C.S. Lewis’s essay, “On Science Fiction”?

He divided the field into a number of “sub-species,” as he put it, and I think Walking on the Sea of Clouds would fit into a couple of them — though he admits that he wouldn’t have been in the audience for it.

My novel doesn’t fit into the first sub-species that Lewis identified, wherein

the author leaps forward into an imagined future when planetary, sidereal, or even galactic travel has become common. Against this huge backdrop he then proceeds to develop an ordinary love-story, spy-story, wreck-story, or crime-story.

Lewis didn’t think very highly of that kind of science fiction, and presumably would bemoan its popularity. (And it is quite popular! If I could think of a good story like that, I’d surely write it.) Anyway, he then wrote (emphasis added),

Having condemned that sub-species, I am glad to turn to another which I believe to be legitimate, though I have not the slightest taste for it myself, [which] might be called the fiction of Engineers. It is written by people who are primarily interested in space-travel, or in other undiscovered techniques, as real possibilities in the actual universe. They give us in imaginative form their guesses as to how the thing might be done….

That seems to describe my near-future technological drama, does it not?

C. S. Lewis
(Image: “C. S. Lewis,” by Levan Ramishvili, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Lewis continues,

I am too uneducated scientifically to criticize such stories on the mechanical side; and I am so completely out of sympathy with the projects they anticipate that I am incapable of criticizing them as stories…. But heaven forbid that I should regard the limitations of my sympathy as anything save a red light which warns me not to criticize at all. For all I know, these may be very good stories in their own kind.

That’s why I think Lewis just wouldn’t be in the audience for my story. And that’s okay! Every story isn’t for everyone. But he goes on (emphasis added):

I think it useful to distinguish from these Engineers’ Stories a third sub-species where the interest is, in a sense, scientific, but speculative. When we learn from the sciences the probable nature of places or conditions which no human being has experienced, there is, in normal men, an impulse to attempt to imagine them. Is any man such a dull clod that he can look at the Moon through a good telescope without asking himself what it would be like to walk among those mountains under that black, crowded sky?

Ahem — Walking on the Sea of Clouds, anyone? It sure seems to fit that description.

But what do you think?

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Writing that Crosses the Spiritual Divide

(Cross-posted, with some light edits, from my 12 June 2018 guest post on the Speculative Faith blog.)

The conventional wisdom is that authors shouldn’t read reviews of our own work.

If the reviews are good, they can inflate already outsized egos, and if the reviews are bad, well — egos don’t always just deflate. A hot-air-balloon-sized ego, pierced by a bad review, might slowly settle into a mass of hard-to-wrangle canvas, but a smaller, more fragile ego might burst into shreds that are impossible to reassemble.

Nevertheless, some of us are drawn to reviews like moths to flame. If we’re lucky, the flame is a gentle candle and we just get singed if we get too close. If we’re unlucky, it’s a napalm-spewing flamethrower and we get terribly burned.

Sometimes we just get confused, as I was at two contrasting reviews of my novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds. First, an Amazon reviewer gave the novel three stars and noted that it was a “good story” with strong character development but was “a bit bible-preachy [sic] for [their] tastes in hard science fiction.” Then the first issue of the Lorehaven online magazine included a brief, positive review that warned those seeking discernment that the story “only briefly referenced Christianity.”

Same story. Bible-preachy. Only briefly referenced Christianity.

I think this illustrates the fact that every reader brings their own experiences, attitudes, and expectations to the stories they read. Orson Scott Card told us in his writing workshop that whatever we’ve written is not the story, because the real story is in the reader’s head — and what’s in your head when you read a story is different from what’s in another person’s head when they read the same story. You might agree on some points, but you’ll disagree on others, and that’s okay.

In the case of my novel, someone who was not used to reading about believers and faith in the context of hard science fiction was put off by it. I have no way to know whether that person is a believer who was just surprised or a nonbeliever who was repulsed, and that really doesn’t matter. Their reading of the text is just as valid as anyone else’s — including the Lorehaven reviewer who might have been looking for more overt Christian themes. Was that person disappointed not to find them, or just surprised? I have no way of knowing, and again it hardly matters because however they read the story was the right way, for them.

Same story. Different readers. Different results.

It reminds me of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, about the message of the cross seeming foolish to the lost, but representing the very power of God to those of us who believe (1 Corinthians 1:18). Same message. Different audience. Vastly different results.

Even within the body of believers, though, we can differ in our interpretations of Scripture. How much more should we expect to differ in reading science fiction and fantasy stories?


My friend Keith Phillips (Colonel, USAF, Retired), with whom I served in the 4th Space Operations Squadron, showing off his copy of Walking on the Sea of Clouds.

What does it take to cross the spiritual divide effectively in a literary or artistic work? Is it foolish even to try? I hope not, because in this age of growing doubt and disbelief I believe that Christian ideals, values, and themes still have a place in literature and art, whether science fiction, fantasy, or more mundane creations. And not just Christian principles, but Christian characters belong in fantastical stories — even in technology-heavy hard science fiction — just as surely as Christian people belong in every profession.

Unfortunately, sometimes the Christian characters in these stories end up being caricatures more than characters, reflecting the authors’ preconceptions rather than being portrayed as individuals, as people. I’ve found this to be true in stories by believers and nonbelievers alike, and it was something I tried to avoid.

That is, I tried to cross the spiritual divide by including Christian characters where they’re not always found — and by representing them as individual people with their own virtues and flaws, and even with different attitudes toward and expressions of faith. Some talk about it, some hide it, some deny it. Some ignore it, some sneer at it, some question it. That seemed realistic to me, and above all I tried to make the story seem realistic.

And maybe those two contrasting reviews — too much Bible to some people, not that much to others — show that I struck the right balance after all.

If you’ve read the story, I’d love to know what you think! And if you haven’t read the story, then now you know a little more of what you might find in it.

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Only 10 More Days to Volunteer for LIVE SLUSH

Want to have your novel submission evaluated LIVE and nearly in-person?

A couple of years ago I did a series of workshops at science fiction and fantasy conventions in which I did just that: gave direct personal feedback to participants who brought in material for review. Now Baen Books publisher Toni Weisskopf has agreed to join me while we put on a similar workshop, live over the Internet — if we can get enough volunteers!

Here’s the official announcement that went out a couple of weeks ago (emphasis added):

See and hear a recreation of Baen’s Slushmaster General’s Face-to-Face convention workshops, wherein actual slush manuscripts are considered and sorted out loud by real live Baen editors. The mysterious process is made clear. All we need are some volunteers! If you have a manuscript under consideration, just send us the submission number at e-editors@baen.com. If you have a new, completed manuscript you’d like to be considered, submit it now and e-mail us the submission number you receive. We will keep the names of the submitters anonymous in all cases. We need 10 volunteers by April 1 — no fooling! — and will livestream the session in May. If no one is brave enough to volunteer, we won’t do it. Stay tuned for details about how and when to watch!

So folks only have 10 more days to volunteer! If you want your manuscript included, send us a note to let us know — and if you know some writers you think would like to volunteer, please share this blog post and encourage them to sign up!

Thanks, and have an awesome day!

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The Pride of Doing

Pride sometimes gets a bad rap. Often its bad rap is deserved. But sometimes pride is important.

For those of us raised in the Christian or Jewish traditions, or even marginally aware of some of the Old Testament’s aphorisms, pride’s place as a “deadly sin” is solidified in the book of Proverbs:

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

That usage, as I interpret it, is related to hubris, i.e., excessive pride, the kind of pride that exudes from puffed-up ego rather than solid character. In contrast is a lesser degree of pride, the type that is useful and necessary to everyday life and especially important to success in everyday life: the pride of doing something well.

This is not the pride of being — being good, being smart, being beautiful, being talented — but the pride of accomplishing, the pride of making, creating, discovering. The pride of doing is the pride that derives from building up the world. The former pride, the pride of being, only builds up ourselves.

The pride of doing, and doing well, is vital. If we had no pride in our work, for instance, we wouldn’t show it to others for their evaluation, their approval, or especially their purchase. When we have worked diligently and produced something of which we are proud, our degree of pride is likely to be proportional to our work’s value — if we have judged it properly. Not that we don’t see the flaws in it, but that we are rightly proud of having produced something of quality. That is, we are more likely to receive recognition or compensation in the open market for work we are proud of than for work we disdain. It only makes sense that if we are not proud of what we have produced, chances are others may not find much value in it.


(Image: “Vulcan Forging the Thunderbolts of Jupiter,” by Rubens, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Working hard and producing something of which we can be proud, then, is an important component to being successful. It doesn’t guarantee success — nothing does — but we increase our chances of success if we judge our own work fairly and honestly and our level of pride reflects its value.

In truth, being able to distinguish between things that are shoddy — things of which we should not be proud — and things which are excellent — things of which we should be proud — is an important skill. Unfortunately, not everyone possesses that skill because the only way to develop it is to have enough pride in our work to show it to someone who will give us honest feedback about its strengths and weaknesses, and then to be willing to listen to the feedback and make adjustments.

In my professional life I regularly see the work of writers who seem unable to distinguish good work from bad as it pertains to their own results. Whether they make the distinction when it comes to others’ work, I have no idea; but like those who suffer from the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” these writers display inordinate amounts of self-confidence and pride, having produced relatively mediocre work. In contrast, many of my writer friends — even some of the most successful — are actually quite humble about their own work (even work of which they are justly proud).

So, pride of doing is important in that we want to produce things that make us proud; however, that pride should be informed, accurate, and truthful. Otherwise, our pride will go before our destruction, at least so far as our work is concerned.

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