Avid Reader’s Cafe

PrintJust a quick note to let you know that my novel ‘The Artemis Effect’ is being featured over at Avid Reader’s Cafe at the moment.

The cafe is part of an initiative by the Independent Author’s Network, which I’ve finally joined after all this time. I’m not sure how many people find their books here, but fingers crossed someone will find and enjoy mine!

It’s really rather daunting the huge number of books out there, and many of them are genuinely worth reading. I wonder sometimes, whether the huge explosion in published books will be looked back on as a time of Renaissance – a flourishing of ideas? Will the best ones really rise to the surface, or will only the ones with the best marketing make it? Did Leonardo just have a great agent?

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The Artemis Effect – new review from Small Press Reviews

PrintI’m delighted to able to bring to your attention a new review of ‘The Artemis Effect’ by Small Press Reviews. I’m very flattered that such a great author as Marc Schuster seems to have quite liked it! If you haven’t read his novel ‘The Grievers’, I highly recommend it – it’s not only poignant, but genuinely funny, although I haven’t as yet had a chance to sample his other books.

He says:

The Artemis Effect offers a remarkably hopeful, inventive, and even intimate tale of survival and the indomitable nature of the human spirit. We are, by nature, a species of survivors, James reminds us on every page– just so long as we remember that we need to work together. To put it another way, (it is a) tale of the apocalypse as seen through the eyes of a hopeful romantic, an enjoyable and poignant page-turner.

You can check out the full review here:

The Artemis Effect.

 

The Artemis Effect

Finally, I’m proud to announce that my new novel, ‘The Artemis Effect’ is available from Amazon! Hooray! Time to celebrate. 🙂

It’s currently available as an ebook for Kindle (and Kindle apps on iPhone and iPad), but will also be available in hard copy format soon.

To give you an idea of what it is about, here is the blurb:

Three comfortable lives are shattered when a wave of inexplicable events exposes the fragility of human society. With an unprecedented celestial phenomenon, devastating high tides, a breakdown in global communication networks, and the sudden appearance of violent ring-gangs swarming through cities and towns, Kimberley, Scott and Bryn struggle to understand the vast events unfolding around them. Will they survive the Artemis Effect? Will they discover the truth behind the collapse of society before it’s too late?

The book has something of an unusual structure, being told from three completely different sets of people in different areas of the world. It also, I am interested to note, has something of a feminist nature to it. This was not really an intentional thrust of the book: I just like strong female characters.

It’s been quite a drawn out process, so I can hardly believe that it is finally out there. It went something like this:

  • 2003    Sat down on the sofa and jotted down some notes for a new science fiction novel. I was inspired to write in this genre partly because I’d read some terrible examples, and thought that I could have a go at doing something better!
  • 2003-2007    Wrote, researched and finally finished the first draft. There were, I admit, long breaks in this process, when the book would go away for a month or more, and then I’d be re-inspired to push on. I recall finishing the draft just before a bellydancing class, and announcing the fact to the other women there. They were supportive, but to be honest a little baffled that I’d chosen to write sci-fi.
  • 2008-2009   Again, it went away in the drawer for a while, so that I could get some perspective on the work. When it came out, I went through and brutally edited it. It was only after this process that I allowed anyone (even my partner) to read it.
  • 2010   I did submit the novel to one or two publishers, and while I got quite a positive response from one, I began to see that it would be really extremely difficult to break into traditional publishing as an unknown writer. I confess I lost heart a bit at this point, and wondered if it was all worthwhile. To be honest, when I wrote it, I didn’t really imagine that it would be published, so I didn’t push too hard in this direction.
  • 2011-2012    Towards the end of 2011, I started to hear about the ebook revolution, and thought that it would be nice to put all that hard work to some good. Little did I know what an intensive ten months I was in for! Re-editing, taking on comments from beta-readers, re-editing again, proofreading (not once, but at least three times!), cover design, and then learning the intricacies of correct formatting.
    I’ve no doubt that it is a much more polished and readable book than when I first submitted it to publishers, and I’m proud that it is be best I can make it at this stage.

If anyone would like to read it, then I thank you for your time, and hope you enjoy it. If you do, then please consider posting a review of it – I’d be most grateful. 🙂

I’d also love to hear about the process of getting your books together (if you write). Were you as accomplished a procastinator? Or were you driven and dedicated?

Evolution of a Cover

As many of you are aware, I’m about to release my first novel, The Artemis Effect, on an unsuspecting world. One of the many benefits of being an Indie author is the chance to be involved with the development of your own cover art, and I thought you might like to see how we got to the final version of the art for this novel.

I worked with Richard Morden of Mordenart, who is an illustrator of many years experience. He is the author of several books himself, and also an avid science fiction fan, so he seemed a terrific person to go to. Richard is also very friendly, should anyone else like to discuss their project with him!

Richard read the novel (not in it’s most final form, but pretty close) before starting any artwork. We then had a long and for me, quite difficult discussion on who we thought would be the target audience. It is actually surprising hard to narrow down from: Anyone who likes a good story, to specific target gender, age, and interests. As it’s quite a people-based story, we didn’t want to alienate readers who are shy of the ‘robots and spaceships’ type of science fiction, but at the same time, we did want to embrace the great history of sci-fi cover art. Considering the size of a Kindle screen, we also needed typography which was clear and yet arresting.

These are the first three sketches: all quite different. The circular features in each sketch are the Moon, which is a central theme in the book.

As the story is curiously structured with three separate and yet interlinked threads, I was quite taken by the first of these, as we could then have one of the main characters from each thread represented. I also loved the idea of a tag-line along the bottom of the page, which I hadn’t previously thought of including.

Richard and I are both members of Colourlovers, which is a site for people who perhaps obviously enough, love colour, and combining colours in new and interesting ways. I sent though a grab bag of swatches which I thought would work well with the audience and themes we had discussed, and these were used to inform the new revision of the design. There were quite a few, but here is a selection:

From here, Richard was able to take away the design to his lair and play with it for a while. When the first draft came back, I was pretty happy with it! I particularly love the texture he added to make it look more like old pulp fiction, which is apparently an image from an old hoarding. The three characters represented are Scott, in the middle, from Australia; Megan on the left, from Wales; and Kimberley, from Cleveland, Ohio. Apparently Kimberley is modeled on Halle Berry! This is actually very much in keeping with her character as a strong independent woman.

There was a bit of a hiatus in the process while the rest of the team messed about with final edits and proofreading, but finally we came back to Richard with some feedback along the lines of increasing the size of the figures, and also tweaking the colours a little. This is the final version – I hope you like it as much as I do! It also reads well in black and white, as although it will display in colour in iPads, of course Kindle is monochrome.

I’ve found the process quite fascinating, and I’ve been very lucky to work with someone so talented. A much, much better result than if I had tried to design it on my own.

The effects of Artemis

As some of you who have been following this blog for a while will know, I’m soon to release a science fiction novel, called ‘The Artemis Effect’. As the title is perhaps a little obscure, I thought I’d post something about my research into Artemis, and how she fits into the book.

Artemis was a greek goddess, the twin of Apollo, and daughter of Zeus, through one of his many extra-marital affaires. The Romans also worshipped her, but rebranded the goddess to become their Diana. Talking of names, Artemis may have come from the greek word: árktos, which means bear. I understand that in one of the cults of Artemis, young girls were to act out being as wild as bears, which is interesting, but has nothing to do with my title. Must have been fun though.

The story goes that when they were being born, Artemis was born first, and being a precocious little tyke, then helped her mother Leto to give birth to her brother. As such, childbirth became part of her professional portfolio. Childbirth is a major theme in my novel (don’t let this put you off – it is relevant to the story), and hence the first connection with Artemis.

As a 3 year old, she apparently climbed into her father’s lap (possibly after having been beaten by his wife, Hera), and asked for several wishes. One of these was to always remain a virgin, which these days we would perhaps put down to the trauma of seeing childbirth up close. 😉 She also asked for a bow and arrow to be allowed to hunt, to have many names, to have various nymphs and followers (all female), and to become a Light-Bringer.

This last one is particularly interesting to me, and relevant to the title of the book. Some sources suggest that as Apollo represented the sun, Artemis represented the Moon – as a bringer of light in herself. She also seems to be identified with Selene, the goddess of the moon, but whether this is one of her many names, or if she is one aspect of the moon and femininity (the ‘virgin’ stage, as opposed to the mother or the crone) is not really clear. As she was worshipped over a long period of time in many different places, they all may have believed slightly different things of her. Artemis was often depicted with a crescent moon, giving strength to the idea that she was connected with this celestial body.

The Moon is really the major player in the book, and so we have tie number two.

Various men and gods fancied their chances with the lovely Artemis, but were sadly disappointed. Orion, her hunting companion, was either killed by Artemis when he tried to rape her, or stung by a scorpion which she conjured up. One story has both Orion and his hunting dog being stung by the scorpion, and rising to the heavens to become the constellations of Orion and Sirius. Bouphagos was struck down, Sipriotes was turned into a girl, and Actaeon into a stag. So Artemis was a strong and resourceful woman of the times (which were pretty rough for deities), and well able to look after herself. Many of my female characters in the book have this kind of strength, although they don’t go around randomly slaughtering chaps who cast them sidelong glances.

Artemis’ portfolio also extended to forest and hills, wild places and wild animals.  These places emerge as being of greater importance as refuges and resources throughout the novel, and hence the third tie. In typical style for mythology, she has conflicting aspects of being a madly keen hunter, and also a protector of animals such as stags.

So – I hope that’s helped to make things a little clearer, and to give you some feeling for the story. I should say that it is science fiction, not mythology, but the goddess Artemis is certainly mentioned, and her aspects fit so well with the story that I couldn’t resist naming it in her honour.

Ravings from Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick wrote in 1978: How to Build a Universe which doesn’t fall apart Two days later

Philip K. Dick by R.Crumb

“Well, I will tell you what interests me, what I consider important. I can’t claim to be an authority on anything, but I can honestly say that certain matters absolutely fascinate me, and that I write about them all the time. The two basic topics which fascinate me are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” Over the twenty-seven years in which I have published novels and stories I have investigated these two interrelated topics over and over again. I consider them important topics. What are we? What is it which surrounds us, that we call the not-me, or the empirical or phenomenal world?

….

It was always my hope, in writing novels and stories which asked the question “What is reality?”, to someday get an answer. This was the hope of most of my readers, too. Years passed. I wrote over thirty novels and over a hundred stories, and still I could not figure out what was real. One day a girl college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” That’s all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven’t been able to define reality any more lucidly.

….

So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later. Or at least that is what my editors hope. However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. “

Part of the magic of a really good book is becoming immersed in the universe which the writer has created. Sometimes those worlds seem so real that they can seem more solid, and certainly more interesting, than real life. There is considerable skill in this kind of believable world creation, and others are much better qualified than I to suggest how this should be done, and I’ve seen some great posts on WordPress about this topic.

But Philip.K.Dick’s point above about the creation of complete and yet unstable worlds is an interesting one.
Creating a world which is breaking down in some way, whether it be physically, politically, socially or psychologically provides us with the opportunity of seeing our characters deal with difficulties: and in this way, it is possible to reveal their true humanity. Thinking about this quote from Dick has lead me to understand that, perhaps unconsciously, this is exactly the situation that I investigate in my novel ‘The Artemis Effect’. I don’t wish to bore you with plot details, but groups of people from very different backgrounds are faced with living with the impacts of a huge natural event, and observing how they react to those circumstances I hope allows the reader to understand the type of people they are to a much deeper level than if they were observed in their normal, stable lives.

After the bushfires here a few years ago, it was suggested that the real humanity of people came out, both for the better and the worse. Many people donated their time and money to help victims, but there were also those people who looted burnt houses, sometimes to the extent of stealing trailers obviously loaded with the last few possessions people had dug out of the ash of their homes. In the clean up, bureaucracy and petty feuds have hampered rebuilding efforts, while others have been quite staggeringly resilient and constructive. This is the kind of effect I’m referred to when I talk about characters real humanity being revealed. Under normal circumstances, all of those strengths and weaknesses would have remained largely concealed from outside observers.

*****
Arguably, the joy of science fiction, and maybe any fiction, is pose the question ‘What if?’ What if this technology existed? What if we met aliens? What if the politics had gone a different way? This need not be a huge scale poking at reality, such as happens in ‘The Artemis Effect’, and may only be investigate the effects of a small alteration in the normal rhythm of life for one person, but is a powerful tool. I feel that describing even a bubble of chaos in the stream of reality well enough to make it believable to the reader can be sufficient fuel for an interesting story.

Writing fiction which holds a mirror up to life, and perfectly reflects real events can still be interesting – in fact in can sometimes be a little bit like reading gossip! But much as I dislike genre labels, I’m not sure that it could ever be called science fiction. I think that Philip.K. Dick has hit on something fundamental to the genre: that in the worlds created, a degree of instability is necessary to create stories. I’m not suggesting that this is the only genre where instability is a crucial part, just that it is hard to characterize any fiction which does not have a degree of instability in the world as sci-fi.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Do we have to create unstable worlds or situations to have a story at all? Is instability a fundamental feature of sci-fi? And do we need it to reveal the humanity in our characters?

Pangaean dinosaurs & Cover art

I’m proud to announce that renowned artist and illustrator Richard Morden has agreed to design the cover for my upcoming science fiction novel, ‘The Artemis Effect’! I’m really looking forward to what he comes up with – we have been chucking around some ideas of colour palettes, moon imagery and ties to the storyline.

Richard is the author of three children’s books: Ziggy & Zrk and the Meteor of Doom; Peril Space Tours; and Puzzles Down Under.  Some of you may also know him as the illustrator of the Captain Cal series.

I’m sure that he would be happy to consider designing other book covers.

Following on from his recent work preparing a map of Pangaea, Richards latest project is the design of clothing based on his interpretations of Pangaean megafauna, which are available on RedBubble. There is a lovely description given on each dinosaur on the website.

Please note that all of these images are copyright protected.

Hope you like them! Did you choose to do your own cover art, or did you have a professional artist take it on?

The Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See

I had thought that my novel, ‘The Artemis Effect’ was just about to hit the shelves – that it was on the brink there, and just a matter of weeks before it toppled into the great world of Indie publishing. However, my little team of helpers, who I cannot thank enough, have suggested that it needs some major structural changes, and I can’t help but feel a little…deflated.

Photo by Jason Pfiefer

As Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit fame) said, ‘The bounce has gone out of his bungy.’

I absolutely subscribe to the principal that it should be as good as it possibly can be before it is launched on the unsuspecting public, and I’m willing to put in those final hard yards, don’t get me wrong. But fundamentally, I’m not really terribly good at patience!

In order to help out anyone else going through that final edit, please check out this link:

The Ten Mistakes « Holt Uncensored – Pat Holt on Books, Book Publishing Industry, Reviews.

He has some great suggestions in there that are well worth looking out for such as:

  • Repeat‘ words (which are those one we use a lot in our own speech, I suspect),
  • Absolutely, totally ‘Empty adverbs
  • Phony dialogue – particularly ‘trendy’ dialogue. I read a great suggestion recently that you should read out all of your dialogue, and change it until it sounds real.
  • Show, don’t tell. A really powerful one this, and well worth deep consideration.

So, I hope some of these help with your writing journey. My journey seems to have come to a mountain, but maybe when I start climbing it will turn out to be a molehill after all.

Sci fi rules OK!

I visited the Star Voyager exhibition at ACMI (the Australian Centre for the Moving Image) last weekend, which was a great collection of space related footage, including the oldest sci-fi films, real footage from the Moon landings, video clips, documentaries, and the best collection of space suits I’ve seen in one room.

One real gem was the original video clip from David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity‘, set next to Flight of the Conchords version. Both very dorky and very funny.

However, it did make me ponder the question of rules in science fiction. Some of the oldest sci-fi stuff from the 20’s and 30’s was put together before we knew as much as we do now about the planets and space flight, and this lead to some terrifically eccentric short films, such as:

  • Flight to Mars. This is like a film of a bad trip: the hero finds an ‘anti-gravity’ powder, and goes zooming off into space, where he finds Mars is populated by giant tree people. He is turned into a giant snowball by another creature and thrown back to Earth.
  • Aelita (or Queen of Mars), 1924, by soviet film maker Yakov Protazanov. A wonderful Art-deco styled Mars, and a queen who becomes love-struck with a cosmonaut from Earth.

I have always been more attracted to Science Fiction than Fantasy, as the need to obey at least some of the laws of science I felt made the step into unknown worlds more comprehensible. I’ve no problem with bending one of two here and there, in fact I did that quite comprehensively in my own novel, ‘The Artemis Effect’. But I do find it quite baffling at times when there is nothing familiar at all about the way a world operates. It can almost seem a lazy way for the story to develop.

As a designer, I know that some of the best designs are built on a substructure of rules. They guide and form the design, and the elegance of the solution is in how effortlessly it achieves all the requirements. When I was at University, if a design was impractical in some way (for instance the design of a human powered vehicle, where there was no way that a humans legs could reach the pedals), then you failed, no matter how beautiful the design. In writing science fiction, it can be the same: the physical constrains of science can be an important part of how the story develops, and the challenges characters face.

However, these old movies did make me question that viewpoint somewhat. They were completely unscientific, and yet extremely entertaining. Would we now consider them fantasy? Would they be shot down as stories because they don’t fit the rules?

I’d be interested to hear your take on this.

The future of books, today

An interesting article which popped up in the British newspaper The Guardian today, about the e-book revolution.

The future of books, today | Books | guardian.co.uk.

From the comments from readers, it appears that the public are generally feeling positive about the trend, and that the explosion of self-published content is not an issue. I can fully understand why conventional publishers are feeling nervous though: I imagine that for them to maintain any kind of brand loyalty, they are going to need to produce bestsellers with almost every release.

But also a couple of messages for us authors:

1) Make sure your work is really well proofread before it hits the cyber shelves, or you risk just irritating your readers, and ;

2) If you want anyone to find your work, it sounds like we’re going to have to put in the hard yards when it comes to differentiating our books, and making them easy for people to find.

Does anyone have any suggestions of great strategies to do this?

My forthcoming novel ‘The Artemis Effect’ is perhaps a classic example of this: it’s science fiction of a sort, but not the hard line robots and space travel type. Think more John Wyndham and you’re getting closer. But how to differentiate this? Or indeed any novels which are best categorised under ‘General Fiction’?