Anatomy of an Indie Book

Hello again, everyone.

It’s been a while coming, but I’m finally finished with a sequel to The Fixer from a few years back.  I felt like Garrett deserved a little more page time and there was a story that had to spring out of the way he’d been forced to change his life before the events of the Birthright series in which we first saw him.

I know I’ve spoken of the virtues of Sketchup, Twilight Render, and Photoshop in the past, so I won’t bore you with that.  What I will post are some of the steps involved in making the cover.

Indie authors (at least this one, to be sure) don’t have an art department.  What I do have, though, is a teenager with an artistic flair and a desire to do something creative and new to help out dad.  So, this book cover is largely his doing.  I promised him money and the cover credit in my book for his help, so it seemed like a fair trade since he did most of the heavy lifting.

He sent me a concept, which we both tweaked and played with.  Then he made a number of his own elements and asked me to re-do the street scene the cover character is seen walking in.

That consisted of several steps.

This is the rough design.  It doesn’t take much in Sketchup to create a fairly complex scene.  Draw, extrude, ‘follow me’, and various other commands can produce simple shapes pretty intuitively.  Don’t mind the lady that’s about to embark on the home remodeling project in the foreground; that’s a cutout Sketchup places in every new scene for scale.  I gave her a good home as I continued the project.

 

Now we have color.  Also, though this image doesn’t show it, I’ve assigned lighting and textures to most of the colors and patterns which won’t begin to pop until I start the photo render process.

 

 

 

Here is the rendered image.  Yup, it’s a little dark, which I fixed later.  This happens to be the version I sent to WordPress, though, so I’ll just make excuses and move on.

Still doesn’t quite seem realistic, though, right?

 

 

Now we render ‘fog’, which gives the fading/hazy effect of making more distant objects less distinct.

 

 

 

Now have something.  I sent it back to my cover designer (the aforementioned firstborn offspring) and he layered everything up and sent me the cover below.

 

 

 

You might notice we flipped the street horizontally.  Seemed like the thing to do.  And for all the detail and work I put into the street, hardly any of it got used.  I feel for set designers and the like, who create complex scenes and put a lot of thought into why things belong in a scene, only to have it raced by or end up on the cutting room floor.  Oh well, it all worked out in the end and I don’t have to pay royalties for stock photos, plus my cover designer’s commission is very reasonable!  Not to mention I’m proud of our kid’s talents!

 

The book is due out in a week or two.  I just need to finish the front matter, ‘other books by Ryan’ page, that sort of thing.  It’s the monotonous, not-fun part of writing that still must be done.

Chat soon!

An ass-load of pride

And now, for today’s history lesson. I’m reading the John Adams book by David McCullough that was made into an HBO movie a while back. I’m on the chapter where he’s chosen to be Vice President. Some folks aren’t big fans, and certain members of the Senate were actually passing notes making fun of him. Apparently, that sort of behavior transcends the ages and can be found throughout history. Anyway, one of the Senators wrote a poem to the other at Adams’ expense. It begins: “I’ll tell in a trice, ’tis Old Daddy Vice, Who carries of pride an ass-load, who turns up his nose, wherever he goes, with vanity swelled like a toad”. Disappointing skills at limerick-writing aside, I was astounded and extremely pleased to know that the word ‘assload’ has apparently been in use since at least the late 1780s. It probably meant more to do with a cart pulled by an ass (mule, for you city folk), but I still love it. That is all.

The art of being bored

“I’m bored!”

Parents, how many times have you heard this?  Even if you’re not parents, sooner or later somebody will (perhaps grudgingly) temporarily entrust their tiny offspring to you for a while.  And they’ll probably expect you to entertain them.

There are tons of parenting articles on the pros and cons of constantly being right there with the kids versus letting them play and grow on their own.

This is not one of them.

I’m talking about, as an adult, the ability to be bored.  To embrace it, to cherish those moments when you just don’t know what the hell to do with yourself.  Within reason, of course.  If this is your daily standard routine, then you probably just need to get a hobby.  I’d suggest model rocketry.

I pondered this after reading an article on the internet the other day.  Obviously, it had to be true, so I took it at its’ word.  Even if it wasn’t, it was still a great thought experiment.  The story is of a former Marine who’s sitting in the outer office of a random employer waiting on a job interview.  Everyone there with him waiting to interview has their faces plastered to their phones.  He, however, has been through the gauntlet of mind games the military loves to play on people, so he just sits there and takes it in; he’s learned to just be bored, to sit there and wait.  He makes eye contact with the office staff, smiles at people walking by, etc.  The story goes that he gets the job because he seems more personable, but that’s not the point.

When was the last time you daydreamed?  Just stared out into space and wondered…

-What superpower would I love to have?

-if Q from Star Trek offered me omnipotence, what would I do first?

-Why did all the critics bag on ‘Solo’ so much?  I loved that movie!

 

In any case, you get my meaning.  Maybe the brain needs a little idle time in the day.  Maybe we don’t NEED to be constantly stimulated, to know what shocking thing this guy saw in his class photo that changed his life forever, or to see fake spy photos of the new Nissan Skyline.  Our brains evolved just fine all these years without having an electronic device plugged into them; we can just chill for a few minutes a day.

So try it, really!  Next time you’re on the bus, waiting to be seated at a restaurant, in line at the movies, etc.  Just look around and see what you can see.  Maybe you’ll learn something.  Maybe you’ll see enough evidence to become convinced human civilization has peaked and there’s nowhere to go but down.  Either way, you’ll add something to your day!

Why I write sci-fi (and fiction in general)

Everybody’s offended.  Everybody’s right.  Everyone’s opinion is the most correct, most virtuous one.  If you don’t agree with me, you’re a horrible, evil person.  The world will end soon.  The daily grind will crush our souls and kill us all.  Etc Etc.

I write and read books because I want to escape from the shenanigans of the world around me.  I want to envision a place where people stop making up stupid things to fight about, more reasons to divide ourselves from each other, and get on with life.  I read fiction to escape and nonfiction (currently on a psychology and astrophysics trend) to learn more about the universe we live in.  There are other, much greater problems out there, and my fiction deals with that.  Entertainment media helps us escape from the daily grind, gives us a few moments where we can live in a world that distracts us from the problems -both large and small- that plague us (and will still be around tomorrow anyway).

Using Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry dealt with social issues, using sci-fi stories to trick people into paying attention long enough to deliver the message and a little social commentary.  It’s something I notice Seth MacFarlane is doing with The Orville and love seeing those little nuggets of wisdom tucked cleverly inside an entertaining TV show.

My message is simpler: stop screwing around with things that shouldn’t be an issue, and worry about rampaging alien conquerors, corrupt government, and galaxy-spanning criminal enterprises.

I’ll live my life, you live yours.  Maybe we can talk like civil folk and learn more about each other and why we have our unique opinions on the various issues of the day.  We may not agree on everything, but we can still be pals, can’t we?

Where is the Wonder?

spiral galaxy

We’ve all seen the story by now; scientists and researchers have given us a picture of a black hole.  A real, actual, verified thing, not just an artist’s rendering or a screencap from a sci-fi movie.  The picture for this article is not, in fact, that black hole picture, because it’s been all over the internet and I don’t want to just repost it again, so this is a NASA pic of another galaxy.  Seriously, folks, it’s another galaxy!

Turns out, Einstein was right.  Over 100 years ago, his theory of General Relativity predicted how the large scale forces of the universe worked.  His formulas helped describe gravity, the various behaviors of light, and how we all can feel our own individual versions of each, separate from any other person out there.

His theory also predicted black holes (singularities), their event horizons, and how they’d all behave.

One Hundred years ago, people.  With no computers, just math and equations that seemed to make sense based on the observations made about the universe around us.  And he is apparently right, once again.

This should be seen as a monumental achievement, a crowning effort of humanity.  Multiple telescopes from different countries across the world ran for years.  A huge team put petabytes worth of data together to create an actual picture for us to marvel at.  An MIT grad named Katie Baumann wrote the algorithm that allowed the computer to turn all that data into pictures for people to see and use as wallpaper on their phones and computers.  Here’s a link to a neat article by Popular Mechanics on the process that isn’t filled with ads and subscription requests

People thought it was cool for a day, and now we’ve moved on, apparently.

Where is the wonder?

I often ask that of people.  Our nine year old daughter told me she wants to be an astrophysicist when she grows up.  She loves talking about space, stars, the universe.  She wraps her brain around concepts like how a star forms, how it lives, and how it dies.  She really wants to understand how the universe around us works.  And as long as she’s interested, I will do anything I can to foster that wonder.  Why to atoms stick together?  Why do protons, neutrons, and electrons even join together to form atoms?  Why do we cling to the planet and not go floating off into space?  How does the sun heat the Earth?  How fast does light travel?  Why does light act like both a particle AND a wave?

How many people know the answer to any of these questions?

Now, let me ask you this?  Who won the NCAA championship?  Who’s the fan favorite of American Idol this season?  Which Kardashian is getting married/divorced this week?

See where I’m going here?

There are people out there trying to figure out how the universe works.  Maybe to most, it’s not that important since we can’t really do anything about it.  It’s basically explained by the Anthropic Principle.  I don’t have the book in front of me, but I’m pretty sure it was Steven Hawking who stated it as, “We’re here because we’re here.”  Short version is, we are able to observe the universe and so the observations we make are based on us existing to make those observations.  For example, if the strong and weak nuclear forces didn’t hold atoms together the way they do, we wouldn’t exist, at least in the way we know it.  Therefore, the universe ‘works’.  Click this link to see a better explanation put together by smart people with degrees in sciency stuff.

These people are trying to explain how it all goes together, and I really think they deserve more credit.  People like Ms. Baumann and the astrophysicists should be on the morning and late night talk shows, telling us why it’s important to humanity that we make these discoveries.  I think back to a series of Youtube videos I saw by physicist Brian Cox.  If you haven’t heard of him, think of him as the British Neil deGrasse Tyson, both of whom are successors to the likes of people such as Carl Sagan and Steven Hawking; people that made science accessible to everyone and inspired us to learn.

Anyway, in the videos, Brian Cox walks on stage to enthusiastic applause.  People are treating him like a rock star as he explains light wave theory and talks about concepts like relative time and other advanced ideas.  He even has a lecture tour going right now in the USA and I am hoping to arrange my schedule to attend.

This, to me, seems like what our perceptions should be about folks like Brian Cox.  People are cheering and waving him onstage so he can tell them how things work.  We should be celebrating people like that.  Instead, we glorify celebrity gossip, annoying and offended people who talk really loud, stars who set all kinds of horrible examples, and more.  Really, you could keep going, couldn’t you?  Just fill in the blanks for a few more examples of people we shouldn’t be looking up to but actually do.

Anyway, what I hope comes of this is a shift in our priorities and attention.  More focus on people who are doing good for humanity, less attention on annoying people who seem to be famous for being famous.

Where has Ryan disappeared to?


Hey there, Internet.

I have utterly failed to post anything on this blog in quite some time.  I have some really good sounding excuses, with crazy adventures, sub-plots, villagers, even an alien abduction.  Sadly, it doesn’t really solve the no-blogs-forever problem.

I’ve been busy, as we all are, with life in general.  I published another novel, Out of Nowhere- Target:Earth, the third and last book in the Out of Nowhere trilogy involving our intrepid Earth high schoolers who happen to get caught up in saving humanity from rampaging aliens.

I also spent some time designing book covers and assisting a friend in helping lay out a design for his master bathroom remodel.  These two projects dovetail nicely into each other, actually, because I use Sketchup (and the Twilight Render plugin) for both.

Sketchup is a crazy-powerful 3D graphic design program that’s free.  Not like torrent-it-from-Russia free, but actually free.  The Twilight plugin, which allows you to make it look photo-real, is still only $100, a deal considering what you can do and that it integrates right into Sketchup.

Anyway, I thought I’d show you a couple quick screen grabs of the process.  It’s overly simplified, but hey, you don’t want to see me hunched over a computer for days on end while I do this.  Ultimately, it leads to something like the main thumbnail image above; a Pulsar class destroyer from my Birthright novels.

First thing’s first:  This is the basic interface.  It’s just an open 3D space, where you draw, extrude, colorize, and trace to your heart’s content.   Rotate the view, click and drag, and you are making tinker toys.

 

 

 

Next up:

A couple afternoon’s worth of messing around.  We measured the space and made a life-sized model of the bathroom.  We added color and dimensions.  I took photos of tile samples or downloaded jpg images from the websites of the company who made the stuff we bought.  Import that into the program as a surface texture, and voila.

 

Then:  run Twilight and use those textures and their assigned attributes, add light sources, determine reflection, refraction, and a whole lot more.  You end up with a pretty remarkable bit of media that anyone with some time and patience can do.  Lots of tutorials are out there, on Youtube and modeling/enthusiast sites.  Those people are eager to share their love of this craft and I’ve always found what I needed to know by bombing around the right forums.

 

 

Play with this stuff long enough, and you get this:  The bridge of Avenger, vehicular star of the Birthright series.  It looks like a lot (and damn, it was!), but it’s really just variations of the original idea multiplied over long stretches of time when I probably should have been doing something more relevant to my daily life.  Oh well…

 

Now go out there and start modeling!

Yeah, it’s been a while…

Hello there,

As I sit here, watching Third Winter descend on Wisconsin like some sort of evil, foul-smelling blanket, I realize I’ll have plenty of time to continue editing my latest book this weekend, the last of the Out of Nowhere young adult trilogy.  Would have rather been detailing the truck, but hey, I chose to live here, so there’s only so much blame to place on other factors.

I’ve been trying to buy tickets to Infinity War, and the place is just plain old sold out for a week and a half.  It reminds me to consider what makes a character that people care about.  What do they want, what will they invest their time in when it comes to offering a character for people’s consideration?

Folks these days love the conflicted hero.  Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, Loki, etc.  These people all have faults, and deal with them as the story goes on.  It helps if we can see a bit of ourselves in the characters, I suppose, so we identify with what they’re going through.

I had a different though, though.  I figure if I’m looking for a ‘hero’ or protagonist, I want someone who is just plain awesome.  They should be braver than me, smarter, better looking (I know that might be a stretch, so I’m willing to make allowances).  The hero should be someone I aspire to be like because of the high standard they set.  Would I wrestle a velociraptor (and live) to help others escape a burning, sinking ship filled with zombies in Sharktopus-infested waters?  Probably wouldn’t make it, is all I’m saying.

Heroes try new things, as well, when they have to make things happen.  I realized I was in a bit of a rut when I started pondering that.  Sometimes we all just need a change-up in order to kick start the old day-to-day routine.  I finally started examining some of my ‘default’ choices and made some changes.  I went from Motorola to Samsung cell phones after years of Moto devices.  I realized I should have done this sooner.

That brings me to a great revelation I made regarding my standard choice of floor cleaners.  I’ve been using Murphy’s wood floor soap forever, and one day on a whim bought something different while at the local home store.

I took it home and was amazed.  What a difference!  The floors were shiny again, and life was good.  Birds were singing, the kids cleaned up after themselves, my 401k went up by 25%, I grew a full beard in an hour flat; everything was awesome that day.  So I bragged to my oldest son about my new floor cleaner discovery.  I told him how I put this new stuff in the Swiffer and our floors looked magnificent.

He replied: “Only old people get excited about stuff like that.”

Burn.

I’m apparently too lame for any hope of recovery now, but maybe it’s not too late for you.  So, try something different, eat at a new restaurant, get your sushi from a different gas station, buy your underwear at a different store.  Just don’t tell your kids, or they may chastise you…

 

 

 

 

New novel on sale, other random thoughts to fill up a blog post

Ok folks, so the big news is that I’ve just put another novel up for sale.  You can see the pic on the left and the elevator pitch is below:

Kayce Dodge was a small-town cop who grew up in the shadow of her famous FBI agent father. She’d loved him dearly, but after his death had moved clear across the country to blaze her own trail.
She had no idea her carefully planned out life was about to be completely upended by the terrorist organization involving her father’s last case, a charismatic criminal intent on reshaping the world, and the planet’s last nuclear weapon.

Damn narcissistic evil visionaries.  Anyway, it’s another foray into ‘present day’ fiction.  I love me some sci-fi, but wanted to do something in a modern setting.  In addition, I really felt it was past due to write a female lead character.  Women make up half the population, so they deserve to have a protagonist who blows up the bad guys as well!

This is the link to my novel’s page.

When I was doing the cover for the novel (since my production staff is nonexistent) I thought back to the things I’ve had to learn in order to go about publishing a book and what I’ve learned along the way.

I have to admit, I came to embrace the phrase: “It’s only hard the first time.”  There are a lot of things I’ve had to learn to do in order to send my writing out there to be consumed (and judged).  I’ve had to learn to navigate the workings of Amazon and Barnes & Noble to publish, Sketchup and Twilight Render to make all my cover art and 3D graphic renders, Photoshop to put it all together, and more.

Most of the things I needed help with I found by using Youtube.  You can learn how to replace the strut assembly of a Honda Civic (which I did), or watch annoying Youtubers play video games and feed each other gross food combinations (which my kids do).  Then there are of course the cat videos. Cats playing ping pong; you’re welcome.

And I realized something; most of these things can seem daunting, insurmountable at first, but all you need to do it just go ahead and start doing it.  If you can follow directions and stick with a task, you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish.  How many things have you, Mr/Mrs Reader, done after much trepidation and hand-wringing and then though, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad”? Or at least, “Hey, the insurance will cover that.”

A hundred years ago, before our society became so automated and advanced, the average homeowner knew how to do everything around the house.  We live in a day and age now where we all tend to specialize, but I’ve tried (with only average success, I’ll admit) over the years to increase my skillset.  I’d really like to be able to say I have a broad range of knowledge, instead of the modern day trend of just figuring you can look it up on the internet when you realize you need to know something.

As you finish this post, think to yourself: What did you learn that you didn’t think you’d be able to?  What would you learn if you had the time?  What would you like to learn to do?

I have a list.

 

Birthright book 6 released!

The war between the Confederation and Primans is at a tipping point. Loren Stone and the crew of Avenger know their leadership is really working for the Primans. The Priman leadership under Commander Tash has become corrupt and lost their way as well, according to the captured former Commander, Velk, still under house arrest in the company of the Fixer Garret Drayven.
The key players decide to risk it all in one last mission to end the war and bring peace back to the galaxy. Loren will venture into Priman space with Velk to bargain for a cease-fire with the Priman Council, hoping they will override Tash. Halley and Web hatch a daring plan to rescue the duly elected leadership of the Confederation and bring them back to Delos to relieve Senator Dennix and his cronies.
Neither Senator Dennix or the Priman Commander Tash plan to go without a fight.

This is the last of the serialized novels in my 6-book Birthright arc.  I plan to write more, and in fact have a plot outline already in the works involving the whole gang as they settle into their lives after the Priman War.

First up, though, is the last book in the Out of Nowhere trilogy…

 

Looking back in time (literally) and forward (fictionally)

 I had a brainstorm the other day and frantically started jotting notes down so that I might scout the internet later.  Sadly, I was not the first to consider this possibility, and spent an hour surfing the many high-level nerd forums where people discussed this at length.
My idea revolved around the speed of light.  Light may seem instant, but it has a speed limit just like the speed of sound.  Where sound travels at roughly 700 miles per hour at sea level, light travels at around 186,000 miles per second.  Yes, that’s pretty fast.

We’ve all heard a jet, fast car or train pass by, noise arriving in force only after it’s gone past.  That’s the sound it makes catching up to it.

Light is the same way; it takes time to travel.  Take our sun; it’s about 8 light minutes from Earth.  Put another way, we’re seeing what the sun does 8 minutes in the past.  Go outside and look at the sun right now.  For all you know, it just blew up or was stolen by alien pirates.  You’ll find out for sure in 8 minutes when the light that was emitted at that moment finally reaches us.

Scientists talk about learning more about the creation of the universe by looking through telescopes such as the Hubble, which is seeing galaxies that are thousands or millions of light years away.  They could have fostered sentient life and collapsed into black holes last week, but we won’t know for untold ages yet.

So, how can I use this to my advantage?  🙂

What if I was to create a wormhole and travel to a point 250 light years from Earth?  I’d turn around and look at the planet and would then be seeing the light that was emitted 250 years ago.  I could view the Industrial Age, revolutions, countries being born, etc etc.  All I’d need was a powerful enough telescope.  Imagine if a computer could catch and record all the light that passed by and build for us an interactive world of the past?

This is a close parallel to an old Isaac Asimov short story I read years ago called The Dead Past.  It’s about a government funded research project that allowed them to see a limited distance into the past.  There was a catch, though, and an impatient professor finally found a way to build his own telescope.  Caution: there’s a really fun twist ending, and I’m not going to spoil it for you.  Imagine that; a twist ending in the 1950s!

I also turned my thoughts to the future, once again inspired by books and movies.  The love of apocalypse and dystopia is still alive and well in modern fiction, but rarely do you ever see the long term run-out of events.  Sure, the Walking Dead, Revolution, Falling Skies, The Last Ship,  Maze Runner, and tons more deal with the plucky survivors of whatever cataclysm torches life as we know it, but it’s always pretty much present-day.

I always wonder, though, about what comes after.  Imagine the zombies are all dead (again/for good), the planet is clean, people are ready to behave, all of that.  Now what?

Few shows or books ever centered on rebuilding.  But it begs the question: how hard would it be to reorganize a government, a ruling cadre?  We put up with it, accept it as it were, because that’s what we all know.  And I’m sure everyone complains about having our money taken via taxes, fees, surcharges, etc, and spread around in ways we probably don’t all agree with.

So what if you just spent years scraping by, toughing it out and managing to live through the apocalypse?  And then one day a guy with some police, troops, etc, comes by and says “Good job not dying out there. Now, we’re going to need thirty percent of your stuff so that we can tell you how to go about your business once again”.

Would you tell the man to shove it?  Doesn’t that sound a lot like Negan from the Walking Dead?  Give me your stuff or I’ll beat you, says the villain.  Give us thirty percent of your money or we’ll put you in jail and take it anyway, says the government.

Damn, makes me think longingly of invading aliens.  Ahh, those were simpler times…