We rang in the new year an hour earlier than usual, from a JetBlue cabin in the Atlantic time zone somewhere over Puerto Rico, inbound to Ponce. Yes, we’re starting another work session on the house. (See The Ponce Chronicles for the beginning of this multi-year adventure.)
So, good-bye to 2019, and good frickin’ riddance. It was a tough year, no getting around it. In more-or-less-chronological order, it was the year my (former) publisher said, “So long and thanks for all the fish,” and cut me loose. (That event was not without its benefits, but it still was a shocker and with some difficult ramifications.) 2019 was the year my brother died: Charles S. Carver, big brother, author, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, and husband to the delightful Youngmee. It was also the year our beloved cat Moonlight died, at almost 21. Last year, my step-mother Carol passed away, and my mother-in-law Fay had to move into an assisted-living, memory-care facility, with rapidly declining ability to communicate. At the same time, we watched helplessly as a good friend developed serious memory problems, while her friends wondered what to do.
Nationally, the country I love became ever more deeply divided, as environmental and social-justice gains hard won over decades were systematically destroyed by a dangerous demagogue and by legislators afraid to stand up to him. You know who I mean.
Still, good things happened in 2019. I was able, after eleven years of work, to shepherd The Reefs of Time and Crucible of Time into print, to a favorable reception from those who have commented on them. I was seriously boggled at the amount of work it took to prepare the books for publication, especially the print editions. And that’s with much fine assistance from others—including proofreading, cover art, and cover design. (Thanks, Chaz… Chris… Maya.)
But publishing is one thing, and selling is another. I have the imprint and support of Book View Café behind me, but there’s no doubt the loss of my former publisher’s distribution network hurt the discoverability of the books. Published reviews were nearly impossible to come by, even from sources that have previously given me favorable press—though several colleagues lent generous quotes. I made a deliberate decision to invest a lot of time, money, and effort in the promotion of this work; and by and large, I’m still waiting for the return. I’m keeping the faith, but the candle is flickering a bit. I remind myself regularly that it’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.
And so, work continues. Strange Attractors and The Infinite Sea are both out with new audiobook and print editions, and Sunbornis close behind. I am working on the next book, but what with all the life chaos, I haven’t made much headway yet.
But 2020 is a new year! And what better way to start than by tackling problems on the house here in Puerto Rico? (What do you mean, the hot water’s out AGAIN? Another cold shower??) I feel a trip to Home Depot coming on.
This is where I use my special timestream skills to go back and wish you all a Merry Christmas! We had a wonderful day with family, and I hope you did, too. (Even if you don’t celebrate the holiday as such, I hope the day was good to you.)
Here’s what our outdoor tree looks like this year. You can’t really see the laser display on the side of the house, which was initially intended to substitute for the time-consuming installation of lights in the tree. Didn’t quite work, though it looked pretty cool on its own, and I ended up adding to the project, rather than simplifying it. Story of my life. But I still like the magical, almost ethereal quality of the blue lights, with a bit of green.
On the other hand, our tree inside, which started all fresh and pliable and thirsty, has turned into Charlie Brown’s tree. Piles of needles everywhere. I used tree preserver, too. Where’d I go wrong?
Okay, I’m coming in a little late with this (but that makes me smart; see here)…
I will be at Readercon on Friday evening of this week, and Saturday. Doing a signing on Friday at 7 p.m., and leading a panel (“Life, Love, and Robots”) on Saturday at noon! Quincy Marriottt, Quincy Mass.
I have just finished our taxes, and in celebration I am toasting the tardigrade! This hardy little critter can survive the vacuum of space, the cold of near absolute zero, and temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. These little extremophiles are tough! All it asks is some moss to suck on. How can you not admire the tardigrade, who is sort of cute, in the same way certain breeds of dogs are cute.
I had the worst nightmare last night. I dreamed that my country elected a narcissistic, racist, willfully ignorant, misogynistic liar to the presidency. And that at least one commentator said that millions of Americans considered this a “spiritual victory,” because it was a rebuke to a corrupt government. In the dream, it was a spiritual victory—but for the side of darkness, not the side of light. I woke up shaking with fear and disbelief—and then realized that it was all okay, because it was only a dream.
And then I discovered that it wasn’t.
Not quite half our population is in mourning today. The other half is celebrating. But this isn’t baseball or football; this is our future. After we mourn and dust ourselves off, it will be time to figure out how to move forward, protecting our democracy.
My first draft of this ended on a note of discouragement. But I just heard Hillary’s remarkable concession speech, and I liked the verse she quoted from the Bible: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Those seem like pretty good words to live by, especially today.
(This continues the story of my journey to an audiobook of Neptune Crossing, begun in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t already read that, start there.)
After several failed attempts at putting The Chaos Chronicles into audio via podcast, I was metaphorically trapped and rudderless in the great clouds of Jupiter. I gave it a rest for a while.
My focus returned to writing. Audiobooks took second place to ebooks. I joined Book View Café, a marvelous cooperative publishing venture of several dozen veteran authors, including some highly respected SF writers. It was a smart move. I was doing my ebooks in community now, not just on my own.
And suddenly a path broke open in Jupiter’s clouds! In a remarkable breakthrough, a resourceful BVC member got us a distribution deal with Audible: We had a first-rate list of books, and they would make audiobooks of pretty much everything we offered them! They took my two short story collections, which was all I could offer at the time. I didn’t have the rights to my remaining books. I wondered if I could get just the unused audiobook rights back. I asked. And asked again. For two years.
I was never told no, just that so and so was away, or on leave, or… silence. Finally, one day, word came through: They weren’t just reverting the audiobook rights of certain books; they were reverting all rights. The books were mine again, to do with as I pleased. Good-bye, Jupiter! BVC and Audible, here we come!
This is going to be great!
And perhaps it would have been—if it hadn’t come two weeks too late. Audible had changed their policy. They would not be adding these books to their list. Nooooo! We were free of Jupiter, but on a slingshot trajectory into the endless void.
My only option seemed to be to pay a narrator and do the book myself. But I didn’t have the time or money. I grew ever more discouraged, as all the planets we knew dwindled in our viewer.
And then… something unexpected twinkled on the scanner: Skyboat Media, Stefan Rudnicki’s recording company. I already knew and loved Stefan’s work narrating other books. His voice is deep and resonant, with the gravitas and character of James Earl Jones. His name would have been at the top of my request list. But there was no way I could afford to hire him and make an audiobook on my own dime.
Eventually, I set aside my discouragement and sent Stefan an email: Would you be interested in looking at a couple of my books and telling me what you think? To my delight, he got back to me right away. He was interested. I sent him some ebooks. And a week later, I had his answer: He loved Neptune Crossing and wanted to narrate it. I could hear the enthusiasm in his voice. Further, he was offering a publication deal, with a modest advance and distribution through Blackstone Audio, a giant in the field. It would be in Audible and iTunes, as well—and all with one of my favorite narrators lending his voice to the story!
Did I mention that Stefan is a Grammy and Hugo winner for his narrations?
I did not have to think for longer than it took to pinch myself. The deal was struck, and soon Stefan was at work recording. And now the audiobook of Neptune Crossing is finished, and is live in all the major places where audiobooks are sold!
And you know what? This time, it is great!
If you like audiobooks, I hope you’ll give it a try. If you’ve never tried an audiobook before, I can’t think of a better place to start. If this goes well, the rest of the series will likely follow!
Today marks launch day for the audiobook of Neptune Crossing! Narrated by the Grammy-winning Stefan Rudnicki! I feel as if I’ve just discovered a planet. Or maybe traveled to one. It’s been a long journey—and I often thought there would be no audiobook at all.
Neptune Crossing is one of my best known works, and the beginning of my most ambitious series, The Chaos Chronicles. But a thousand years or so ago, when I first sold the Chaos series to Tor Books, audiobooks were the furthest thing from my mind. They had not reached anything like the popularity they enjoy today, and Audible, iTunes, and library downloads were just a futurist’s dream. Only top-selling books got the audio treatment, and while I had my appreciative and loyal audience, I simply did not fit that profile.
Time passed, and publishing changed. Indie-publishing happened. I started creating ebooks of my older titles, breathing new life into books long out of print. And I discovered audiobooks myself. What’s this? You can download audiobooks from the library? I loaded up my trusty Zune and started listening to books while I walked the dog. What a discovery! But why weren’t my books available?
I cast about for ideas. Some of my colleagues—Jim Kelly, for example—were building their audiences through podcast readings of their own work. I could do that, couldn’t I? I thought I was a pretty good reader. Okay, I had no studio, limited experience, and only a cheap computer mic. But I gave it a shot. I recorded the prologue to the forthcoming Sunborn.
This is going to be great!
And that’s when I discovered just how frigging hard and time consuming it was to get an audio recording right. I’d thought to release the whole of Sunborn chapter by chapter, podcast style. But halfway through the first chapter, I realized it wasn’t going to work—not if I wanted to do anything else in life, such as finish the next book. So, with deep regret, I pulled the plug on that idea. (However, my reading of the Sunborn prologue eventually got turned into a video for an arts festival, and you can view it on my videos page. I think it’s pretty cool.)
Once again, I was left in the wilderness, with no clear road to audio for the Chaos books. Or, to pursue the planetary metaphor, I was adrift in the asteroid belt, thrusters sputtering. My agent eventually sold some of my other titles to Audible. But I didn’t have the rights to The Chaos Chronicles.
None of this went unnoticed by my wife Allysen, who had worked in TV production. In 2011, she decided it was time to step up. We found inspiration in Bruce Coville’s Full Cast Audio, whose productions we had been enjoying as family entertainment. We would start at the beginning and create a full-cast amateur podcast of Neptune Crossing, to put online for free, using local talent! In our suburb of Boston, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a writer, artist, or actor. We put out the call. And people came forth—people with talent and enthusiasm, and willingness to help. One of them, Bob Kuhn, even had book narration experience.
This is going to be great!
We bought a decent recorder, borrowed a bunch of sound curtains, and turned our living room into a Saturday afternoon recording studio. Allysen directed, and I took the part of Bandicut. Sam played the quarx, Peter and John each took several characters, as did Judy, Lisa, and Allysen. Bob laid down the narration track. Others came in for shorter parts. We got most of the book in the can, as raw recording. We began logging takes.
And then… Allysen got a new job, a demanding one. Someone else’s work schedule changed, making Saturdays a problem. We were running ourselves ragged. It was taking a toll on my writing. I undertook the sound editing… and rediscovered just how time consuming that job was. Finally we called a hiatus. I had a book to write! Allysen needed to focus on her new job. The hiatus stretched. It was maybe a year before we realized that this project, too, was something we could not finish, not now, not without killing ourselves. We’d gotten out of the asteroid belt, only to be trapped, adrift and blind, in the clouds of Jupiter.
MRI scans of dogs brains show them responding not just to a speaker’s tone of voice (right brain function), but to the meanings of spoken words (left brain function). Now, this is cool—if perhaps unsurprising to dog owners. Nice to see it confirmed by a brain scanner, though! And those are some adorable-looking dogs. Read more about it in Science News. (Update: This Washington Post article has more information, including some video of how they did the research.)
My friend Richard Bowker has a new novel out in the Kindle store (coming soon in other stores). If you’ve read any of his books, you know he’s a terrific writer. This one’s called Terra, and is a direct sequel to his earlier book, The Portal, which tells the story of two boys who stumble into, and through, a dimensional portal into an alternate Earth. I’ve read it in manuscript, and it’s excellent. (The new one, I mean. But they’re both excellent.) Richard is hard at work on a third volume.