Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cast Into the Deep Sea of Stars, my work-in-progress

© Lisa A. Nicholas, 2014
DIY cover concept I came up
with for my beta readers.
I've taken a long holiday from blogging while I labored over draft 3 of my science fiction novel, Cast into the Deep Sea of Stars, which I'll be publishing under the pen name Kit Pascoe. I've sent the draft out to beta readers, played around with cover concepts (the accompanying illustration is my own, which will NOT be the cover of the published work). And I've been reading other writers' work for inspiration, so I'll have some things to discuss with you as soon as I get a chance. (I'm working on the second half of my review of the Kindle sample for John Scalzi's Old Man's War.)

Today I thought I would show you my first serious attempt to come up with a back cover blurb for the book. For guidance, I used "4 Easy Steps To An Irresistible Book Blurb," which I found over on the Digital Book World site. It's the best, most straightforward advice on blurbing that I have found. This article suggests the four-part format: Situation, Problem, Hopeful Possibility, and Mood.

When you look at my blurb, you'll see that I haven't yet come up with the fourth part, which describes the "mood" of the story.  I'll have to give "mood" some more thought before I decide what (if anything) to say about that. I think the blurb works pretty well without it, but I would love to get your thoughts, so please leave comments.

Here's draft 1, both a single-sentence blurb, and a back cover blurb. Would either of these make you want to take a look at the book? Tell me why or why not.

One sentence teaser

When her first job on a planetary survey vessel goes belly up, Kate Malone finds her life and love threatened as she is swept into a vortex of events beyond her ken or control.

Back cover blurb

Kate Malone is beginning to wonder if she made a mistake in leaving her home on Old Earth to join a three-year planetary survey mission on the other side of the galaxy. Her boss, the senior biologist on the team, seems to delight in tormenting her, and her fellow junior officers love to sneer at “the little princess from the museum planet.” The only good thing that has happened to her since she joined the R J Boscovich was meeting Perry Auslander, a fellow misfit who quickly becomes her constant companion and adoring admirer.

But just when she thinks her budding relationship with Perry might make the whole experience worthwhile, their growing bond is put to a severe test when the mission is cancelled, and personal tragedy throws her life into turmoil. Abandoned on a remote space station, cut off from everything and everyone she has ever known or loved, pursued by mysterious, malevolent strangers, Kate must grapple with a harsh truth: she can never go home again.

Rocked by stunning revelations about her loved ones and her own life, Kate must cast herself into the deep sea of her troubles and trust providence to steer her toward allies who can help her regain control of her life and chart a course for the future. Only in this way can she weather the storms of circumstance and destiny that threaten to overwhelm her. 
What do you think? What tweaks would make you want to pick up this book and start reading? Let me know in the comment box!



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kindle Sample Review of John Scalzi's Old Man's War: Form & Function

cover: Old Man's War by John Scalzi
Today I’m going to review the free Kindle sample of John Scalzi's Old Man's War . Why review just the sample, rather than the whole book? Read my previous post for a full explanation, but the short answer is “so many books, so little time & money.” First I’ll cover the formal aspects of the sample, then the story I’m sampling. I’ll actually do this in two separate posts, because I’m going to carry on at length about formal considerations in this inaugural sample review. Also, because I have a real beef with the form of the sample, while its content is an entirely different matter. (In future, I’ll have less to say about form than content.)

I am no great fan of the Modernist school of architecture which decreed that “form follows function,” but I will agree that this principle should apply to Kimble e-book samples. And let’s be clear: the function of the sample is to convince the reader to read the whole book. Therefore, every thing included in the sample should somehow contribute to that end.
 
The first thing included in a Kindle sample (although, oddly, not the first thing you see when you open the sample) is the book’s cover, followed by the title page and “front matter.” In fact, however, the sample usually opens at some point after the front matter, so frequently readers never look at the cover in their sample – they’ve probably already seen it on Amazon’s web site. An attractive cover often is the first thing that draws a reader to a book. But in a Kindle sample, readers may never see the cover unless they are viewing their library on a Kindle Fire, which (I believe – correct me if I’m wrong) displays color thumbnails of the book cover in the library view. I’ve got an old-fashioned Kindle keyboard, so I never see the cover unless I deliberately select “Go To| Cover” from the device’s menu.

Of course, I did that for this review and, when I did, I got a surprise: the cover shown on the Amazon site does not appear in this sample. Instead, I get what is essentially a title page with a grey border around it – just the title, author’s name, and publisher logo. But it’s not the title page, it’s the “cover” page. If I go to the next page of the sample, I get a page containing only the words “Old Man’s War.” But that’s not the title page either, because if I go to the next page I find the title, author’s name, and another version of the publisher’s logo. So, basically, there are three title pages in a row, rather than a cover & title page. This may be a holdover from print publishing – I’m guess the second page, with just the book’s title, is a kind of electronic “flyleaf.” But in an e-book it’s just bad form – there is no reason for this useless repetition, and we’ve now wasted three pages of the sample on what could have been conveyed on one. So far, I am not impressed.

Book covers

Before I go on, let me just say a few words about book covers. The ideal book cover should suggest two things: the content of the book (in the case of a novel, the kind of story being told) and the flavor of the book. For works of fiction, this is a tricky consideration, and for science fiction novels that take place largely in outer space, even dicier. Far too many scifi novels, in my opinion, rely on artwork (either original artwork or digitally manipulated photographs) that depicts the depths of space (starfield) superimposed with space craft and/or a large stellar or planetary body. BORING. After you’ve seen a few, they all look alike. And, of course, for a Kindle thumbnail, it’s even harder to make the cover eye-catching or memorable.

As I’ve already noted, this Kindle sample doesn’t even bother to reproduce the cover art and, in particular this case, that’s no great loss. As you can see from the color thumbnail I’ve posted here, the cover of this book is pretty generic: deep space punctuated by a planet, with spacecraft diving toward the planet. The only thing that stands out is the typography of the title and author. Completely lost in the thumbnail (and therefore, in my opinion, entirely extraneous) is the micro-type of the a too-long blurb of praise from Publisher’s Weekly. So I’m not exactly boohooing that the Kindle sample doesn’t bother to include this busy image (which would look rather bland in the black & white of my Kindle 3). Still, why not include it (or a simpler version of it), instead of the boring title-page-with border that stands in for the original artwork?

Front matter

Once I have waded through all the title pages, I get to the copyright page, which also includes a notice that even though the book is provided free of DRM (Digital Rights Management) software, nonetheless you must not make copies for your friends or strangers. This information – which essentially means “Even though we’ve made it easier for you to pirate this book, it still would be illicit for you to do so” – is important in a published book, but not in a free sample, which no one is ever going to pirate. (I'm dubious that this language actually dissuades anyone from making illegal copies, anyway.) It could have been moved to the end of the e-book so that it wouldn’t take up yet another precious page of the sample. Actually, this wouldn’t have bothered me if it weren’t for the fact that there were three friggin’ title pages! By the time I’ve gotten to the copyright page, I’m at the four percent mark in the sample.

And then I get to the dedication page – another page that could have been moved to the end of the book. “Regan Avery, first reader extraordinaire,” as well as “Kristine and Athena” probably never would have noticed, or cared, that their mention got shoved to the end of the e-book, as I imagine (and hope) that Scalzi gave them each a personally inscribed print version. Anyway, I could have done without it. We’re now at 6% of the sample. But the book is about to begin! I can hardly wait!

But wait I must, because the next page is the table of contents. Now, as I said in my earlier post, including the table of contents in the sample can be very helpful if it somehow serves to give the reader a feel for the book as a whole (which is, after all, the whole point of the sample). This is truest of non-fiction books, however, because most works of fiction do not provide chapter or section titles. And, alas, that is the case with this novel: we get “Part I, Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc.” Useless. Even more useless when you consider that the hyperlinks in TOCs of Kindle samples link to chapters that aren’t there – when you click on them, they just take you to the end of the sample. A short trip in this case, because we’re already at 14% of the sample and have not yet read a single word of John Scalzi's Old Man's War.

I hurriedly push the “next page” button and see – a nearly blank page, containing only the unhelpful words “Part I.” (By the way, this is the page to which the sample originally opened, and the page to which the reader will be taken when selecting “Go To | Beginning” from the Kindle menu.) The good news is that on the following page (23% mark), we finally get to read words John Scalzi has written.

Now, I assure you that in future Kindle sample reviews I will not plod this slowly through the formal considerations, but I hope you publishers and self-publishers get my point: e-books need to be organized differently than print books, particularly when a free sample is serving as the electronic equivalent of a reader browsing a book in a bookstore (cover art, blurbs, etc.). At least Old Man's War doesn’t include the added irritation of several pages of gushing reviews and comments that, frankly, most readers don’t want to wade through even in print books.

But, all in all, I give the sample a C- on formal considerations. The best I can say is that nothing was misspelled or misaligned. But I’m still bummed that of a 33 page sample, there are now only 25 pages left for me to taste Scalzi’s story. I’ll get to that next time.

Monday, October 7, 2013

New Feature: Kindle Sample Reviews

cat in the hat juggling, science fiction author
A self-portrait of my juggling act:
writing, revising, marketing,
taking little breaks for R&R.
For a long time now, I’ve been contemplating a new blogging venture – which may be a bad idea, given that I have several blogs I’ve been neglecting lately. The irregularity with which I have posted to this blog in recent months testifies to the difficulty of trying to have my brain do too many disparate things at once. The part of my brain that is quite happy when writing a novel has to be squashed down while I’m composing blog posts, which requires more rational planning than creative writing. And then there’s all the other stuff authors have to be able to do these days – think about book cover design, marketing, finding a way to get paid until the next book comes out so that you can eat, keep gas in the car and the phone bill paid, etc.

So I’ve been trying to let the creative part maintain the upper hand, partly by feeding it with good fiction in written or video form. (I’ve found that watching stories is much easier, but also much less rewarding, than reading them.) The problem is that my book budget these days is $0, while I can find episodes of all my favorite TV series (and many others) free on the internet, so you can guess which I find more time for. And although there are plenty of books available free for Kindle (my book-reading medium of choice), most of them are pretty bad – derivative, poorly crafted, unedited, trite, or implausible (all the things I’m hoping my current work-in-progress will avoid). Fortunately, all Kindle books have a free sample that can be downloaded (or read online), so that you can get a good taste of the book before downloading or paying for the whole magilla.

The problem with that is that Kindle authors (unless they are self-publishers) don’t have much choice about what part of their book gets included in the Kindle sample – it’s going to be the first 10% of the total page count, which includes the cover, title page, all the front matter and table of contents, as well as whatever comes after that – acknowledgements, foreword, introduction, and finally, if there is any room left, the beginning of the actual book itself. So the sample may or may not include enough of the book for prospective purchasers to get a feel for whether they want to spent time and money on the entire book.

So, for some time, I’ve contemplated writing Kindle sample reviews – reviews based solely on the form and contents of the free sample of the e-book. These reviews will critique the sample essentially as a marketing tool:
  • How well does the sample entice the reader to go ahead and purchase the book? 
  • Is it cleanly and competently formatted, providing a distraction-free reading experience
  • If the Table of Contents is included in the sample, does it provide chapter titles that create an outline of the book’s contents, or does it simply list Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc.? 
  • Does the sample contain enough of the book for the reader to get a feel for what they would be getting into, or does it contain mostly extraneous front-matter? 
  • Is the text well-written and engaging, so that the reader is genuinely disappointed when s/he reaches the end? 
  • If it’s a novel, have we met interesting characters in an interesting situation, so that we want to continue on their journey with them by buying and reading the rest of the story? 
  • If the book is non-fiction, does the sample give us reason to believe that the whole book would provide information, insights, and ideas that we can’t easily find elsewhere for free?
Recently, as part of my marketing research for my futuristic work-in-progress, Cast Into the Deep Sea of Stars, I’ve downloaded a lot of Kindle samples of books listed in categories in which I might eventually place my own novel – things like Science Fiction | Colonization or Science Fiction | Adventure.” In other words, books with which I may eventually be competing for readers’ attention. As I read the samples, I’ll review them here, which will help me think about what these competing novels have to offer, and also help my readers (and myself) find books either to avoid or to add to our “must read” lists.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the first of these: Kindle sample review of John Scalzi’s Old Man's War , published by Tor Books.

N. B. The online presence of Tor Books includes Tor.com, is a great web site for scifi fans. They’ve got free original stories, book excerpts, and and a great blog with fun discussions of your favorite scifi and fantasy stories, movies, and TV shows. Check it out.

P. S. If you'd like to help a starving writer out, at no additional cost to yourself, click any of the embedded links to Amazon on this blog (book titles, etc.) and any purchase you make on the Amazon web site during that visit will earn me a small affiliate fee -- at no cost to you!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Catholics in Space! A view by Cyril Jones-Kellett

Cyril Jones-Kellett's Ad Limina: A novella of Catholics in space
A couple of months ago, I took a pause from writing my own Catholic science fiction novel, Cast Into the Deep Sea of Stars, and spent some time searching online (as I do from time to time) for anything that called itself a “Catholic science fiction novel.” I’ve done this before, but I thought I might find something I had missed and this time, by golly, I did just that. I found Cyril Jones-Kellett’s Ad Limina: a novella of Catholics in space (Servant of Eternity, Volume 1), published just this past March (2013). How could I not snap it up?

Although it is called a novella, that’s not because Ad Limina is particularly short – there was a time not so long ago when 220 pages would have been considered a goodish length for a novel, and this book certainly manages to cover quite a bit of ground. It moves fairly lightly through potentially heavy subjects. In this case, I think that is a good thing, and serves the author’s purpose well, that purpose being to take the reader through a series of views of the likely future (should certain present-day trends continue unchecked) through the next century or two, in order to see their likely consequences. Jones-Kellett manages to do this in a remarkably light-handed way, without making light of his subjects.

The book tells the story of Mark Gastelum, the first native-born bishop of Mars, as he makes his first trip to Earth to make his compulsory ad limina visit to the Pope. The bishop has put off the visit for years – he has a rather parochial view of things. Doesn’t he have plenty to accomplish in his diocese? Why should he have to spend years of his life travelling to Rome, just for a brief interview with the Pope?  Aren’t there better uses of his time? When the word finally comes from the Holy See that he may procrastinate no longer, he accedes and books passage for Earth. One can imagine Bishop Gastelum as the twenty-second (or perhaps twenty-third) century equivalent of a Midwestern American bishop of the mid-nineteenth century: Rome is very distant, travel is slow and difficult, and the goings-on of the Pope and his curia seem to have little to do with the very real and constant challenges of managing a frontier diocese. But what is a bishop to do? When Rome commands, one must obey.

Celtic cross, reappropriated as a symbol of Christian neo-fascism
Our protagonist gets
kidnapped by Christian
neo-fascists.

As is so often the case, the journey justifies the trip. The bishop (and the reader who tags along with him) learns a lot about the wider world that puts his own situation into context. In fact, just travelling across Mars to reach the town from which he will take flight, is a learning experience for the bishop, who has never visited many of the settlements of his home planet, at least not those that lie outside the geographical limits of his diocese. Before he has even left Mars, Gastelum has already taken the longest trip of his life. He is forced to depart from a distant city, because the main space port, which is more conveniently located, serves only officially sanctioned and registered liners, which don’t serve those on the no fly list: “Mormons, Fascists, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, nationalists, neo-moralists, Australians, and so on.”

This is the first intimation that the religious marginalization that is going on in our own day will be taken to a logical conclusion in this futuristic tale. At every step of his journey (which I won’t detail here, lest I spoil the fun of reading it for yourself), our mild-mannered, wide-eyed young bishop gets a liberal education in the real circumstances of the world of his own day. Let it suffice to say that the bishop’s perfunctory ad limina visit winds up taking him on a grand adventure that gallops through almost every part of the settled solar system of his day. The adventure allows the story to touch on a variety of topics, including inter alia neo-fascism, transhumanism, and recreational drugs, while the protagonist’s relatively naive view allows the novelist to show us the logical outcomes of various present-day currents without a lot of sermonizing, a feat he achieves very deftly.

What does it mean
to be human? Ad Limina
explores the question.
The lightness of the treatment, however, belies the seriousness of the purpose. While the story is, on the face of it, a grand adventure, another way to read it is (and details in the story suggest that this is how the author hopes we will read it) as a spiritual trial, from which the soul in question emerges purified and hardened against the wiles of the Enemy. Bishop Mark Gastelum’s spiritual journey takes him into the wilderness where he is tempted in many ways; at the end, having endured these temptations without succumbing, he is spiritually mature and ready  to take on greater challenges. (Read more on the Christian aspects of this novel here on my reading blog.)

Creating a Catholic science fiction novel is a tricky thing. It would be all too easy to produce a literary chimera – a repulsive mash-up that satisfies neither Catholics nor seasoned readers of science fiction. As a Catholic novel, Ad Limina succeeds very well, and there is certainly plenty here to satisfy an avid reader of science fiction. The various forms of space travel and the different ways is which alien environments have been adapted for human habitation are well-described (without going into too much tedious technical detail), and these descriptions are well-integrated into the story. (There are few things I detest more in science fiction than excessive, obtrusive, or extraneous discursions into scientific minutia; there's none of that here.)

More importantly, these details serve the story, which should not surprise us, given that one of the points of the narrative is to show us how current-day phenomena are likely to play out over time, the most obvious being the modern world’s love affair with scientific and technological innovation.

To my mind, science fiction really “does its job” when it casts its view into the future in order to give us a better perspective on the present, and I believe Cyril Jones-Kellett’s Ad Limina: a novella of Catholics in space (servant of eternity) (Volume 1) does just that. I certainly recommend it to any reader who finds the phrase “Catholic science fiction” either delightful or intriguing. And I'm happy to be able to tell you that this is apparently the first of a series, so if you like this one, there is more to look forward to.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What kind of science fiction do you enjoy?


Tunnel in the Sky, by Robert Heinlein
I wrote a few months ago about how my protagonist doesn’t fit most of the stereotypes for science fiction heroines. Now it appears that the entire novel may prove to be a horse of a different color amongst all the other (thousands of) science fiction titles being published these days. Recently when I did some quick & dirty internet research to see what kind of science fiction is selling that I might actually want to read, I found that the answer is “not much.”

So what kind of science fiction do I enjoy? I'm not so sure any more. I do know, however, what kind I have enjoyed in the past.

Sprockets, A Little Robot, by Alexander Key
When I was a little kid, I very much enjoyed the science fiction oeuvre of Louis Slobodkin. Nobody could have been happier than I was when The Space Ship Under the Apple Tree landed in my lap; of course, I myself was even happier when it returned. I don’t recall now if I discovered the spaceship before or after I fell in love with Sprockets, A Little Robot (Alexander Key, author of many great books for kids). I loved, loved, loved Sprockets. I wanted to be Sprockets. Then I could ride in a spaceship to meet Marvin the Martian, nemesis of Bugs Bunny – I felt sure I could win him away from the Dark Side.

So, for me, science fiction meant, first of all, space (“outer space,” as we used to call it). Sometime while still pretty young, I fell in love with two very different science fiction writers (this was before science fiction relied heavily on “science” – it was rocket ships and aliens, all the way). These two were Robert Heinlein and Zenna Henderson. As I said, very different.

Spunky youngsters
in spacesuits. Perfect!
Heinlein, for me, combined two of my pet fantasies: outer space/space ships and spunky young people (SYP). I was not a spunky young person, but I desperately longed to be one. Heinlein’s SYP always seemed to be having great adventures, getting into tight scrapes on the far side of the galaxy and figuring their way out – sometimes they even saved entire crews of space ships, or even entire worlds. (That has been another of my perennial fantasies: saving the world.) I loved books like Space Cadet and Have Space Suit, Will Travel, but I soon moved on to things like Starship Troopers, Farnham’s Freehold, and Tunnel in the Sky (I read that one at least half a dozen times). Heinlein started to lose me when he hit about age 50, which seems to be the age when men who are going to get weird and creepy go ahead and do so. That was about the time he began to indulge himself in what were, apparently, his own private fantasies – nudism, incest, polyamory, that sort of thing. You know, the Stranger in a Strange–Land Lazarus Long period. After that, he lost me entirely.

The People, No Different Flesh, by Zenna Henderson
Zenna Henderson was the other side of the coin – her stories of "the People" had me entirely transfixed. You wouldn’t even have known they were science fiction if you didn’t pick up on the clues that “the People” were a race of aliens, survivors of a crash on Earth, where they were trying to blend in – not always so easy to do, since they had abilities that mid-twentieth century Earthlings would have called either magical or psychic. But the People just wanted to get along and fit in – something that I longed for, too. I didn’t have their interesting background, though. I was very, very sad when I realized that I had read all of the stories Zenna Henderson had published and, since she was deceased, there would be no more.

Alas, Babylon by Pat FrankAnother branch of science fiction that interested me when I was a kid (from the age of about 12 or so) was apocalyptic novels. Not “apocalyptic” in the Biblical sense but in the Cold War sense. My entire youth was spent under the radioactive cloud of the Cold War and the imminent possibility of total global destruction. I was fascinated with stories that imagined what it would be like “after The Bomb,” particularly those that explored how the remnants of humanity would regroup and reinvent civilization. Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon was probably my all-time favorite in this genre, although I later discovered Nevil Shute’s melancholy On the Beach , and loved it in a different way. (I never read Walter Miller’s Canticle for Liebowitz until about the time the Cold War was officially over.)
[I’m deliberately leaving out of this list, by the way, one of my all-time favorite writers, Ray Bradbury. This is because Bradbury cannot be shoved into a science fiction pigeonhole, or any other kind. But I love his work in whatever genre people try to stick it – his books are like prose poems, too fine to be compared with most of the other works I’m listing here. Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, all wonderful, defying classification.]
This Perfect Day by Ira Levin
Closely associated (in my mind, anyway) were dystopian novels, such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which I first read when I was thirteen. Another one in this genre which I remember well (although it was not nearly as literarily respectable) was Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day: A NovelRobert Silverberg’s The World Inside depressed me so badly that I didn’t read another thing he wrote for a long time. Ironically, I think, in some ways, that book influenced the “future history” that provides the backstory for the novel I’m currently working on, Cast Into the Deep Sea of Stars.

I’ll add just two more kinds of science fiction to this list of kinds I’ve enjoyed: time travel and parables. My all-time favorite time travel stories are Poul Anderson’s tales of the Time Patrol, although Jack Finney’s Time and Again made a huge impression on me when it first came out. By parables, I mean stories that, on the face of it, are science fiction but, in reality, they are thinly-disguised parables that examine some quirk of human nature. Cifford D. Simak wrote a lot of this sort of stuff. C. S. Lewis’s wonderful space trilogy also falls under this rubric.


Now, if you look back over this list of science fiction that I loved in my childhood and youth (which is far from covering all the kinds of vaguely “science fiction” stuff I’ve read and loved), you may notice what is glaringly absent. Anything with a lot of hard-core science (sorry, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov). Anything with lots of non-humanoid aliens. Anything heavily militaristic (wars in space). In other words, most of the stuff that makes up the general genre of science fiction these days.

All Flesh is Grass, by Clifford D. Simak
Yes, there is plenty of dystopian scifi these days, but little of it interests me, mostly because the great bulk of it is merely dark, and often heavily ideological, lacking in real or constructive imagination. Yes, there are quite a few post-apocalyptic novels, but they are hardly to be distinguished from the dystopian ones – except the ones that are merely zombie stories in disguise. The “sciencey” science fiction is so sciencey that you need at least a master’s degree in quantum physics to wade through it. Bleh.

All of this is to say, I guess, that I’m working on a story that is the sort of thing I would like to read myself – not super sciencey, not super dark, no space battles, not even any space aliens. I’m calling it “character-driven futuristic adventure.” Maybe contemporary readers will think it’s a throw-back to the ‘50s or ‘60s or maybe (if they’re young enough) they think it’s something fresh and different. We’ll see.

I’m about halfway through the first round of revision (filling in plot holes, beefing up subplots, deepening characterization) and hope to send it out to some beta readers in a few weeks. If you’re reading this, why not leave a comment saying what kind of science fiction you enjoy, and why?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sancta Futura, the Novel Series

I thought I would post something about the novel I have in hand, and those planned to follow. Theoretically, at least, the Sancta Futura series will comprise a minimum of nine installments, broken into sets of three (no, I don’t want to call them “trilogies,” however popular that designation may be). Each set will cover a separate portion of my protagonists’ contributions to the development of an experimental community on a remote planet (whose existence will be carefully concealed from the rest of the settled galaxy).

Michael York and Jennie Agutter in Logan's Run
Love is always challenging --
even more so in the future!
The first three books will be about beginnings, corresponding to the settlement of the planet and founding of the new community, and will follow my protagonist(s) through their decision to join the settlement group (first book, Cast Into the Deep Sea of Stars), the group’s first steps toward becoming a real community while still in transit to the new world (second book, At Sea Among the Stars), and the first days of the settlement (third book, Island in the Sea of Stars). These stories will be follow each other closely, without any lengthy narrative gaps. Thematically, the novels will follow a twin track, showing the growth in the relationship between my two protagonists (who get married in the first book) and the relationship amongst the settlers, who gradually become a united community.

The second three novels in the series will pick up a few years after the end of the third novel. The settlement is still pretty young, but no longer new – already their numbers have increased by a number of children who have been born. Their understanding of their purpose will be expanded, as they send ambassadors back to Earth and gain a clearer understanding of what is really going on in the rest of the galaxy. We can call this the adolescence of the community, when childish security begins to give way to the equivalent to the hormonal upsets of puberty and first steps toward taking on adult responsibility. Lead characters’ marriages may also start feeling some strain amidst the other changes.

Red Dwarf lead characters
It takes more than being stuck on the same ship
to make a team out of a bunch of strangers.
The third three will show the mature community finally beginning to fulfill its purpose, which is both to be a refuge for the outcast, and a model from which other worlds can learn. By this point, the settlement is now seeing its children taking on adult responsibilities, even as new settlers come, as refugees from other worlds. In these, we will see a number of apparently disparate threads that have run through the earlier books now tied together. What had been mysterious will now be illuminated. We will see the central characters in their full maturity, wise where they had been dubious and hesitant, and perhaps also tired when they had been full of enthusiasm and energy – but still prepared for new challenges that arise.

I’m writing all this out at least partly to give the series some form in my own thoughts, to give myself
something to shoot for. I’ve got a head full of stories about these characters, and I’m sure new stories will occur to me as I go along, but since time is finite, I may not get them all written. The first three books, however, are pretty clear in my head.

I’m two-thirds through the
first round of revision on the first book, Cast Into the Deep Sea of Stars. Since I decided very late in the game to end the first book at the point where my leads join the settlement group, that has required a re-evaluation of the narrative arc. So a few things got shifted a bit. Also in this revision, I’m working a lot on defining the characters more clearly and giving due emphasis to important subplots. All of this has requires about 40 new scenes to be written, and about half of the previously written scenes to be recast.

A lot of work, but well worth it. When this revision is finished, I’ll give it out to some beta readers to see if there are any plot or character problems I’ve overlooked. Then I’ll turn my attention to
the finer points of craft and work my way down toward niggling details. I’m really having fun with the revision, because I can see how much better the story is getting to be.

I’ll talk more about my revision process and how it is transforming the novel in my next post.