We Made It Around the Sun!

Here’s where I wish everyone a Merry Christmas (oops, too late!), a Happy Hanukah (oops!), and a Fabulous New Year (um…).

Well, you Philistines, technically it’s still Christmas until Three Kings Day, and our tree stays up until then! So I can still say, Merry Christmas, from all of us at the Star Rigger Ranch! And it’s still a pretty new 2017, so Happy New Year, as well! It’s got to be better than 2016, right? Right! (No, don’t talk to me about Trump. I will not let you bring me down. Not today.) Anyway, we celebrated our New Years Day by catching Rogue One. It was really good.

So, all together we traced another nearly perfect circle around the Sun, and we’re still kicking. Yes, we suffered losses, including some real shockers. But I guess that’s part of what happens in this carousel around the Sun. We didn’t wobble out of our orbit and fall in, or get thrown out of the solar system, or get hit by a big asteroid, and that’s worth being grateful for.

Anyway, as I said to my small group this evening, I hope that a year from now we can all check in and say what an amazing year 2017 was. I wish that for all of you, too!

2014 in Review, Personally Speaking, Part 2

I got a little sidetracked, but I want to finish my wrap of our last revolution around the sun, so I can move confidently into the future. Here are some of my thoughts on the arts for last year.

Some great films came out in 2014, and I even saw some of them. Here are some highlights for me:

Interstellar — A visual spectacular, with great acting, great emotional punch, and a storyline that’s interesting if not entirely successful. A thoughtful movie that trips here and there, but is well worth the ride. If you haven’t seen it, try to get to it on a big screen.

Mockingjay, Pt. 1 — Thoroughly engrossing, with great characters and excellent fidelity to the book. I was prepared for a disappointing “transitional” movie, laying the groundwork for the final installment, but it really delivered. Shortly before seeing the movie, I saw Jennifer Lawrence interviewed by Stephen Colbert, and she looked exactly like a young woman of her age—giggly, nervous, a little unsure of herself. Onscreen and in character, she is a dynamo, absolutely remarkable.

Maleficent — I didn’t see this in the theater, but caught it on Netflix. Surprisingly powerful and entertaining.

Big Hero Six — Another surprise. I expected to enjoy it, but in fact was quite taken by its charm, sweetness, and emotion.

Snowpiercer — Strange and powerful, and more than a little surrealistic. Does not stand up to logical scrutiny in the least, but I don’t think it was intended to. I was glad I saw it, but I’m not sure if I’ll want to see it again.

Guardians of the Galaxy — I already wrote about this, extolling its wit and humor. Suffice it to say that I loved Rocket and Groot, and rate this my favorite movie of the year.

What about books? That’s a little harder for me to write about, because so much of my reading (on the page or virtual page) was for critique, or for awards voting, or nonfiction that I dipped into but didn’t necessarily read from beginning to end (such as a history of World War II, an account of atomic disasters since the nuclear age began, and profiles of important players in the space program). I started a lot of pieces of fiction that I didn’t finish, sometimes because it didn’t grab me, and sometimes because something else would come along that I needed to read for one reason or another, and then something else, and so I never got back to the first piece. It’s a lousy way to run a railroad, and I want to do better this year. Like read more of the 1001 books I’ve added to my ebook library!

Audiobooks, now—those I’ve been enjoying, because I can read while I’m out walking Captain Jack. I don’t think any of my favorites are new titles, but they’re new to me, and that’s all that matters, right?

Stephen King’s Gunslinger series — Riveting, well told, and with terrific narration. I’ve listened to the first few volumes, and have the next one queued up in Audible for the near future. 

Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio — An award winner some years back. I’d never gotten to it, until last summer, when I listened to the audio version. Terrific, thoughtful storytelling, with an unnerving and scarily believable premise. Get ready for the next stage in our evolution, and the ensuing social chaos.

Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie mysteries — Private eye stories told from the viewpoint of the PI’s dog Chet. Charming and funny, with great narration.

Larry Bond’s Cold Choices — A submarine thriller, told with realism and tension, as the crew of a U.S. nuclear sub risks everything to save the lives of the crew of a crippled Russian sub. This may be for submarine fans only, because of the amount of detail about life on a sub, but I enjoyed it.

A word about the Jack Reacher novels, by Lee Child, which I’ve been enjoying for a few years now in audio. The last few have been disappointing, including this year’s entry, Personal. If you’re thinking of trying a Reacher novel for the first time, I strongly recommend earlier novels, such as Die Trying, Without Fail, or Bad Luck and Trouble. And I can only recommend the audiobooks versions, because that’s the only way I’ve ever read them. 

Doh! How could I forget? (Sometimes when you read friends’ books in draft form, you forget to note when they’re out in the wild.) I don’t actually remember when these hit pixels, but I think of them as having arrived in the last year or so. Writer/artist Chris Howard issued a graphic novel version of his SF novel Salvage. Former Ultimate SF workshopper Lisa Cohen published a YA novel, Derelict. And for some completely silly, completely fun fantasy, it’s hard to beat Craig Shaw Gardner’s Temporary Magic novels, complete with Bob the horse!

And in case you didn’t catch it from my last post, yes, I’m still working on The Reefs of Time, and making progress!

2014 in Review, Personally Speaking, Part 1

Happy New Year, everyone! Here at the Starrigger Ranch, we celebrated New Year’s Eve by watching Guardians of the Galaxy, this time on Blu-ray—and by completely forgetting to note the actual time of transition into the new year.

Space selfie, from my vacation home on the Moon

I thought I’d give a few highlights of the last year, from my own perspective. By and large, I’m going to ignore the big, public events, which you already know about anyway. (Okay, let’s get it out of the way. Politically it was a depressing year in the U.S., where everything that was already broken got even more broken. Overseas, the words ISIS, Ukraine, and Russia pretty well set the tone. But, the landing of the European probe on a comet was a breath of fresh, minty air, and so was the first test flight of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft.)

It was a pretty good year for the family. Our older daughter made two trips to the Middle East, pursuing her interest in building bridges between the Muslim world and the Christian world. Our younger daughter accompanied us to London for the SF Worldcon, which was an adventure for all of us. (For me it was mostly an adventure in trying to enjoy a trip while gradually being brought down by bronchitis or pneumonia, depending on which doctor you believe. But my wife and daughter had a great time.) Our two furballs, Moonlight the cat and Captain Jack the dog, remain in good health.

Julia with furballs Moonlight and Captain Jack

Writing-wise, I continued to make slow progress on the rewrite of The Reefs of Time. It continues to be a hard book for me to write, and I don’t know exactly why, but I’m getting there, and God willing, I will finish it this year. After all, I still have The Masters of Shipworld to write when that one is done. And none of us is getting any younger, at least not that I’m aware of. People say that writing is a lonely business, and it is. But I get lots of support, for which I’m eternally grateful: from my family and friends, including my long-standing SF/F writing critique group, and also my writing and spiritual support group through my church, and also my fellow writers at Book View Cafe. I write alone, but I don’t feel that lonely in it.

In 2014, a lot of my work time was devoted to issuing new ebook editions of my backlist, and I’ll still be working on that into 2015. It’s way more time-consuming than you might think (a subject I’ll explore another time), even with the ton of help I’m getting with the formatting. But it’s also a lot more rewarding—gratifyingly so. 2014 was a year in which many of my colleagues reported declining sales—battered by rising competition, changing sales algorithms at the retailers, new subscription models (especially at Amazon) that cut into sales, and who knows what all. I was more fortunate, thank you. My own ebook sales took a quantum leap upward, primarily owing to a steady series of successful promotions. This means not just more income, but new readers.

To give you a handle on what I’m talking about, let me throw out a few rough numbers. Here are some approximate totals of ebooks I sold in the last few years through my own imprint (there were additional, modest sales through various publishers):

2011 — 4000 ebooks
2012 — 8100 (including a big jump in the UK, for unknown reasons)
2013 — 7800 (the UK jumps even higher, while the US declines) 
2014 — 22,000 (the UK craters, while the US vaults)

Let’s put that into perspective. For guys like George Martin and Hugh Howey, that last annual total would probably be a disappointing month. For many equally talented writers, it’s an impossible dream. Me, I feel blessed and thankful to have gotten here. I have no idea what caused the UK surge in 2012 and 2013, or what made it stop in 2014. But I do know what caused the big total upswing in 2014: my almost monthly promotions in concert with ads through places like Bookbub. Also, bringing more of my books under my own imprint, where I can design my own covers, set my own prices, do my own promo. Publishing direct at Kobobooks also helped, in concert with promotions Kobo sponsors. Many of those new sales were at steeply discounted prices. But the specials brought along waves of readers to other books selling at the regular prices. Bottom line: I reached more paying readers with more different books this year than in any year I can remember. And that’s good for the family budget. It’s also good for connecting with whole new populations of readers. And that may be the biggest reward of all.

What about the arts in 2014? That’ll be Part 2.
 

Audiobooks I Liked Last Year

In keeping with my tradition of never getting this stuff up at the same time everyone else is doing it, here’s my belated list of books I enjoyed listening to last year—mostly while walking the dog. Jeez, I must spend a lot of my life walking the dog!

  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    I refused to see the movies when it first came out, because I didn’t want to watch kids killing kids. By the time the second movie arrived, I’d heard so much about how great the story was that I watched the first on Netflix—and to my surprise, really liked it. So I listened to audiobook and really liked that, too. 
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller, Jr.
    This is an SF classic that I read decades ago, one of the great post-nuclear-war novels, set mostly in a monastery somewhere in the American Southwest. I gave it a listen on audio, and found it held up very well—perhaps a little long in places, but with more humor than I remembered.  
  • The Gunslinger, by Stephen King
    Years ago, I bought a print of the Michael Whelan painting that was the original book cover (I think) for this book. But I’d never read the book until I decided to give it a try via audiobook. Excellent narration, and a story that did not initially grab me, but had me hooked by the end. 
  • The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, by Herman Wouk
    I don’t know what made me decide to try these very long novels about a Navy family in the lead-up to World War II in the first book, and through the war in the second. Maybe it just seemed like a good deal—a whole lot of hours of listening, for the same price as any other book. Anyway, I was thoroughly engrossed. There were places where it got slow, but overall, I was quite satisfied and moved by the story. 
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
    This is another book I decided to try after enjoying the movie. In this case, the book is quite different from the film, and much more complex in its plot. I liked both, but in different ways. I want to try more by this author, but haven’t decided which to listen to next. 
  • The Mote in God’s Eye, by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven
    Another SF classic, which I’d read years ago on paper. It was a good listen. What surprised me most was how much of it I misremembered. There were scenes I recalled with great clarity from my first reading. The thing is, they either weren’t in the book at all, or were very different. Memory is a tricksy critter. 
  • The Dog Who Knew Too Much, by Spencer Quinn
    This is a private eye novel narrated by the P.I.’s dog Chet. The story is good. The dog viewpoint on it all is great. The author really knows how to get into the dog’s way of seeing things. Very funny. There are more Bernie and Chet mysteries, and I’ve got them in my wishlist for the future. 
  • Failure is Not an Option, by Gene Kranz
    This is for space aficionados only, but if you’re a fan of the space program, you’ll enjoy the inside look at what the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo days were like for the mission control teams at NASA. It presumes you already know the excitement and doesn’t even try to recapture the thrills. But it does make you feel like you were there, trying to work your way through the life-and-death decisions.  

This one I read as an ebook, but I’m listing it because I really liked it:

  • The Red: First Light, by Linda Nagata
    The story of an augmented soldier, this takes us into the world of the near future, where small wars are basically the bread and butter of defense contractors (more so than they are already, I mean). Artificial intelligence has become a necessary adjunct to the working soldier. But exactly where are the AI’s leading? Well thought out, and well told, by a Nebula-winning author. The first of a series. 

Some of these I bought, and some I downloaded from the public library. The options for us as readers just keep growing!

Edit: I forgot to mention the Jack Reacher books, by Lee Child, narrated by Dick Hill. I can’t remember exactly which ones I listened to last year, but most of them are good. Exceptions: A Wanted Man, which was way below par, and One Shot, the basis for the Jack Reacher movie, which I also found below par. Pick another, any other.

Happy Start to the New Revolution!

By which I mean, of course, around the sun. We made it the whole way ’round again! Happy New Year, everyone!

I never did get around to posting Christmas greetings, but I hope the end of December was a good one for you. I was busy with family, including my brother and his wife visiting from Florida. A fine time had by all.

As I think back on 2013, I’m amazed we had time to experience everything that happened. We moved Allysen’s mom Fay to our area from Puerto Rico, which was the longest and hardest logistical (and emotional) undertaking I’ve ever been involved in. (Including the saga of the seven puppies, three of which came north with us and found great homes.) Fay ‘s pretty well settled in now at her new place. But not without her dog Diego getting  heartworm, and she herself breaking an arm. Fortunately, as I’ve probably said before, we eat problems for breakfast here. Then, of course, there was Lexi getting hit by a car on her bike, which laid her up for months. But then she got a new job, and that’s been exciting. Allysen tried to outdo her by getting rear-ended in our Ford Fusion, because she emergency-stopped to keep an 18-wheeler from killing her. That led to the car being totaled, so we went car shopping last week. And, of course, I finished the first draft of The Reefs of Time, right before Christmas!

That’s the Reduced Shakespeare Company rendition of our 2013. How was yours?

Here is the car we’ve bought and hope to pick up, after the big winter Nor’easter that’s bearing down on us as we speak. It’s a 2014 Ford Fusion, in a beautiful ruby red finish. We’re thinking of calling it Katniss, after the girl of fire, from The Hunger Games.

Maybe later I’ll post my thoughts about books and movies from the last year.

Happy Circuit Around the Sun, 2013!

Yes, we’ve made another turn around Sol, and congratulations to all of us! I hope you have all had a terrific holiday season, and are in good form for the start of another circle. Here in the Carver household, we had a great Christmas with my brother and his wife visiting from Florida, and several other good friends on hand. My sister-in-law Youngmee didn’t exactly get her wish for snow while visiting, though. Oh, we had a little dusting, but the real snow waited until a day after they’d left. Next year!

As I look back on 2012, I see a time of transitions for the family. Allysen, ever looking for adventure, started rowing with a local community boat club last May, and turned overnight into a crew enthusiast (despite having to get up at 4 a.m.). My sister Nancy got married, out in Ohio, and we all traveled out for that happy event. My daughter Lexi went from a Masters program in mechanical engineering to a PhD program, and back to Masters (due partly to will o’ the wisp promises of funding from the university). Her sister Julia finished her homeschooling with a GED, spent some time in the summer as an editorial intern, and pondered her future direction. And I…well, I made good progress on the new book. 2012 was a good year for ebooks, and saw exciting growth in my audience to the UK. When sales in the U.S. slumped a bit, my friends in Britain came through and turned it around for me! 2012 also saw four of my books become audiobooks, with more on the way.

I look ahead to the new year with excitement and more than a little apprehension. Last year was just a warmup. In the coming months, we’re helping Allysen’s mother move from her longtime home in Puerto Rico to a really good continuing care community in a town near us. That’s a huge undertaking that will involve all of us. We also have to gear up for work on our house. It needs a new roof, and we’d like to add a modest dormer for more room while we’re at it. Once that’s all done, we’re having a solar-electric array installed on the roof (more on that later). Among other things, this means moving everything out of our attic, and probably out of my office. All while I’m trying to finish The Reefs of Time! Pray for me.

All that said, life is good. And I hope it is for you, too. Happy New Year!