Multithreaded Writing

October 10, 2011 12:59 pm by MRM in epublishing, serial, Writing

Ever since I published Bearers of Bad News, I’ve been trying to push myself into a multithreaded writing mode. What’s multithreading? It’s how we should think of multitasking. At least, it’s how computers think of them. Each processing core, that is. Multicore machines can do true multitasking, but old-school machines can’t, and it’s debatable whether or not humans can. We certainly can’t write more than one thing at a time, thanks to the two-handed nature of typing and our regrettable lack of a second pair of hands and eyes. For the most part, your computer can’t really do more than one thing at a time (even if it’s multicore – most programmers don’t take advantage of that). If you’re playing a game and something is animating while the game is deciding on something logical (like, did you hit that target?), then you’re seeing multithreading. What’s really happening is that the machine is quickly switching back and forth between drawing that animation and making that hit calculation. If you could read the processor’s mind, it would go something like this:

Paint the screen, paint the screen, paint the screen. Divide bullet speed by time. Add to distance. Paint the screen. Paint the screen. Is distance to target less than hit distance? Paint the screen. Yes. Check probability for hit. Paint the screen. Probability is 35%. Paint the screen. Get pseudorandom number. Paint the screen. Paint the screen. Number is 54. Paint the screen. Bullet missed. Paint the screen…

It’s never painting and calculating at the same time, but it looks like it to you because it switches back and forth so quickly. That’s the only thing computers are actually good at—doing simple things extremely quickly.

The relevance to writing is more the one-thing-at-a-time issue, when I really want to be doing multiple things at once. I want to blog. I want to tweet. I want to edit issue 3 of Those Who Die Young. I want to write Issue 4 of TWDY. I want to finalize my short story for submission to a couple of markets. More than all of these, I want to get moving on edits to City of Magi to ready it for queries.

There is absolutely no chance I can do all of these at the same time. I’ve determined that I can do minor edits even when I’m not in full writing mode, so I can banish that to evenings and lunchtimes and still make some progress on it. The biggest conflict here, though, is between TWDY and City of Magi. I love TWDY. It’s by far the most fun thing I’ve ever done in writing, and I love that people are actually buying the first two issues. I feel a duty to my readers to further the story.

That being said, City of Magi is my dream book. It’s a powerful story that is something I want out there in front of the masses, published in for-realsies paperback form and sitting on the shelves at your local Barnes and Noble. And it’s not going anywhere if I spend all my time on TWDY.

Hence, multithreading. I can’t write both at once, but perhaps they can develop in tandem. So I’m going to try something. Monday and Tuesday are for TWDY. Lear, Erica, Mede, Quinta, and Roland will plow forward in their quest to keep the peace and re-enable Lear’s entry to the Infinitum. On Wednesday and Thursday, I’m in for City of Magi. The Grey Ghost lives. Friday’s a toss-up. Whatever needs development gets attention. It may also have to do with my mood after my Friday workout, or how close to my self-imposed deadline for TWDY releases I am.

We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully it’ll look like I’m successfully writing two things at once. At worst, it’ll be an experiment I do away with and I’ll go to single-mindedly prepping City of Magi for a month or so before switching to TWDY-mode for a similar amount of time. It’s all in good fun.


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Math, Writing, and the Great Big Why

I’ve been putting in a lot of extra hours recently to get things together for the publication of Bearers of Bad News this Saturday, and in doing so I’ve had to think a lot about why I do what I do, and what I hope for it to become. I certainly didn’t start writing for the money. Protip to those thinking about going into writing for the money: you’re doing it wrong. For a more hilarious take on that, see the number one item on the list I link to just about every third post: Cracked’s How to Become An Author in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps.

I did, however, have actual monetary goals when I decided to really put myself out there. Of course I want to be a mega-millionaire, but I also had a few concrete goals when I started publishing serial fiction. The number one goal was that publishing my works shouldn’t cost me money (My wife supports this goal). I’m not talking about time. I love writing; I’d do it for free – and in fact I am doing it for less than that right now. I have sales that I’m proud of, but they aren’t greater than the price of five covers (three for TWDY, two for Joyriders) and the cost of this site, this WordPress theme, and a handful of programs that I like to use as I write. I had also seen this post by Dean Wesley Smith on math and making money writing before. Suffice to say, the man doesn’t believe in selling your work for $0.99. I agreed with him, but only for full length novels. There is no way I’d sell City of Magi for a buck – but that took three years to write. Each issue of TWDY only takes about a month and a half… but… it’s really more than that.

TWDY has averaged about 35K words an issue, which is about a third of an average adult (non-YA) novel. I write something on the order of 1000 words an hour, usually one hour a day in the mornings. So that’s something like thirty hours of my time writing. It takes almost as long to edit it as it does to write, not to mention the crit input of several of my wise readers, the editor I’m trying out to save me time on the copy editing… and I think DWS might be on to something. Something that’s relevant even for me.

Re-reading DWS’s post made me really ask myself: do I believe in what I’m writing? Is it worth someone’s money, even a little bit? I absolutely believe that. But there’s another question – is the serial format worth more than a dollar? These aren’t short stories and they aren’t chapters of a book. They are individual issues, each with their own story belonging to a greater arc. I had to wonder if I would buy episodes of a television show I liked and couldn’t get for free on TV. I think I would – but I’d pay more for the hour-longs than I would for the half-hours. It just feels right. Well, TWDY is about 100 pages an “episode.” I’d pay probably two or three dollars for that.

Well, it just so happens that $2.99 is the magic price point at which all online retailers decide the author can have a big-boy cut of his sales. The magic range on almost all retailers is between $2.99 and $9.99. If you hit that, you can get something like 70% of sales. Outside that range, you get in the neighborhood of 35%. That makes the choice between two and three easy enough. Then comes the $64000 question. Would I buy it at three bucks?

My Xoom (and yes, I have a Xoom… I was an early adopter that got burned) isn’t overflowing with serial fiction, so I don’t have a guide to go by or any evidence as to what the answer to that question is. I believe the answer is yes. At a publication rate of one every month and a half to two months, three bucks a pop, quick (but not too quick) fiction, well-formatted and easy to read… I think so. The proof will be in the pudding, though, as I’m going to go out and do it.

As of September 24, Shelter From the Storm will be priced at $2.99, along with Bearers of Bad News (which hits the e-Stands that day). I will, however, be offering discount coupons for a limited time to get them to commenters on this page – provided everything works with Smashwords coupons. I love hearing from people reading the words I toss out there into the electronic ether on a regular basis, so if you’d like a coupon (and it’s before October 15), leave a comment and I’ll email you a coupon to pick up a copy of Shelter for the original price of $0.99.

I’m both excited and terrified about the change. This is the sound of me really believing in my work. I have evidence that it’s worth believing in, and I think you’ll feel the same way. Enjoy a brand new issue of Those Who Die Young this weekend. It might just blow your mind.





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Argumentum – Previously, on Boston Legal…

Besides giving a shout out to one of my all-time favorite TV shows, I actually have a point, talking about this now. In particular, I need to talk about it before September 24th. That’s because it is (in theory) the first thing someone might read of TWDY.

I went on and on months ago about the nuances of writing a work of serial fiction rather than a book. The truth is, I’m making this up as I go along. That will continue to be the case until serial fiction writing is a class taught in the 10th grade. That being said, I constantly remind myself as I’m getting each issue ready that I’m comparing TWDY to a TV show. In every episode of Boston Legal, they didn’t take ten minutes at the beginning to re-introduce Alan Shore and Denny Crane. You just knew them – or you didn’t. A new viewer would have to get to know them fresh. They also didn’t re-hash the entire plot of the show going back to the first episode. They would have a quick scene at the beginning with a voiceover, “Previously, on Boston Legal…” and they would show you the crucial details relevant to the episode you were watching. In short, they were giving you the Argumentum.

Quoting the free dictionary: "Argument – a summary or short statement of the plot or subject of a literary work.” I’ve been told by the nice people over at the Latin forums that Argumentum is the right way to describe this same concept in Latin, and as the language of the people of Ratio is basically Latin (note: I’m hardly the first person to make up a pseudo-magical language by “just using Latin”), I thought it was appropriate to title my “previously, on Those Who Die Young…” section Argumentum. It also goes well with “Dramatis Personnae,” which is more familiar as many plays and novels have adopted that Latin title as the section containing just a list of the characters (literally translated, it means “the people of the drama”).

I honestly have no idea whether or not this will work, because I’ve never really read something like this before. I am determined, however, to do everything in my power to make Bearers of Bad News theoretically independent of Shelter From the Storm. You could enjoy Bearers even if you haven’t read Shelter, but reading Shelter absolutely makes Bearers better. I’m aiming for that same balance found in TV shows. You don’t have to see the episode where Alan and Denny, both older, single, successful lawyers, start having sleepovers like children because they’re fun just to enjoy their back-and-forth, but it makes every joke that much funnier if you have. It also makes the episode where Denny saves Alan’s life that much more powerful if you have also seen the one where they are sleeping in a cabin in the woods in British Columbia, and Denny mumbles “Denny Crane” right before he farts loudly. Some things you just have to be there for.

If I really do it right, someone who picks up Bearers of Bad News will feel compelled to go back and get Shelter From the Storm so he can see how it all went down.

Denny Crane.

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Progress Bars and Time Shares

The last few weeks have been hectic in a good way, and now that I’m settling in to getting Bearers of Bad News ready to roll, it’s time to take a breath and reflect. The good news – I intentionally picked a day over a month away from the first issue’s publication, despite having most of the second issue complete. I did this because I wanted the third issue complete first before doing final edits on Bearers of Bad News. It’s given me a chance to make sure I don’t break continuity and that things are still flowing. It also means I’m going to hit my deadline, or possibly get it up there even earlier. September 24 is the big day.

The other reason I’m glad I gave myself so much room for padding is that publicity and outreach has cranked up to 11, and I’m glad of it. The #writecampaign has been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. My Klout has jumped since I joined, and as I wrote about earlier, that’s one of the things I now have to care about. I like Klout because it gives you a simple score-based analysis of your social media reach, and I suppose that appeals to the gamer in me. You can even “level up” and earn new titles. It omits Google Plus, which I find tolerable since G+ is so new, but it also omits WordPress (i.e. the reach of this blog). Seriously, Klout? WordPress has been around since the beginning of modern blogging. How do you omit that major a platform? It’s not that difficult to analyze, or at least not any more difficult than Blogger, which you do use.

Enough of an aside to the good people at Klout… I just couldn’t ignore it. In any case, I have one short story, one book, and three serial issues (2 & 3 of TWDY, and 1 of Joyriders) waiting to be unleashed upon the world, and that means a lot of work getting them presentable. I both love and hate that work, but I’m excited that a lot of my new work is going to be out there in the near future. I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted when I pick a release date for TWDY Issue 3 (I should have cover art soon).

In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of flash fiction to read from the #writecampaign challenge (see my entry here), and a few hundred thousand more social media errands to run. Part time writing… such a blast. In all seriousness, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it, and sales have been picking up, so I’m excited about that. Thanks to everyone who has purchased the first issue of TWDY. Issue 2 is on its way and even more exciting than the first (which is no reason not to read the first issue). I’ll be doing a post about the Argumentum section soon.

Incidentally, among my other social media errands was lightening the text on this blog. The color went from #666 to #AAA – if you noticed it, let me know whether or not you like it.

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Work and Homework

August 30, 2011 10:31 am by MRM in serial, Writing

Ugh. Homework. Even students who are excited about class hate homework every now and then, and I’m groaning because it’s time for me to get to it. I’ve written before about the “joy” of editing in the Iterative Process. Right now it’s time to get the Bearers of Bad News ready to roll out on September 24th – it’s been complete for a while, but I need to tighten it up. I need to make sure the Argumentum et Dramatis Personnae section is ready, and I need to update pictures, previews, and God knows what else. Sadly, it feels like homework.

Issue 3 (as of yet untitled) is near completion, and it’s just so much more fun to plow ahead than it is to fix up the places you’ve already been. It’s the contrast of work versus homework, and every writer needs to do it. OSC told me that the only living draft is the first draft, and I do understand what he’s getting at. I’m not going to rewrite the whole thing. I do need to fix up inconsistencies, though, make sure the plot leads where I want it to go, and make sure that my characters are developing as I want them to be. One of the advantages of only being one issue ahead of where I’m publishing is that I have a much lower chance of introducing a “logical bug” by making a substantive change. If there are seventy chapters and I change something in chapter 2, there is absolutely no chance I can remember every time in those seventy chapters where that particular fact becomes important. If I make a change in Issue 2 while writing Issue 3, it’s easy enough to fix.

I’ll chalk that up as one of the few easy parts about writing serial fiction. It’s still a learning process for me, and I’m hoping that it doesn’t feel too chopped up. I want this to play out like a good television series, with each issue having its own story arc that has closure at the end, while leading naturally into what comes next. My hope is that someone could pick up Bearers of Bad News and enjoy it without having read Shelter From the Storm. That’s the point of the Argumentum section – it’s similar to a “Previously, on Boston Legal…” segment just before the episode begins.

Besides just TWDY, I’m editing my Magi Rebellion short story before I start shopping that around, and September is the month that I’m going to go back to City of Magi to prep it for submission. It should be an exciting time. I’m also participating in the Platform Building Campaign, so I don’t plan on sleeping a lot. Later this week I hope to post a primer on the social networking bonanza of marketing my work, the steps I like, the steps I don’t, and all the craziness that goes into an online presence, but we’ll see how that goes. Right now, I’ve got (paying) work to do, and after that… ugh… homework.

As I leave – some words I’ve had imprinted on my brain for the past few months (and quoted before):

Learning to edit is, quite simply, learning to hate yourself word by word.

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Adventures in Serial Fiction

June 10, 2011 9:53 pm by MRM in epublishing, serial

Starting a serial fiction work has been a devilish adventure in absolutely none of the ways that I thought it would be. The part I was most worried about – making the actual writing work in the episodic format – was the most natural part of the process. I fretted to no end as I was writing the first two issues of Those Who Die Young that the pacing would feel off, or that it would just feel like a cut up book with no beginning and end to each issue. Much to my surprise, it just seemed to flow. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that I’ve had this idea kicking around in the back of my head for a long time, so it exploded out of the gate as soon as I put the first words on the electronic page, but the rest just came from the story feeling fit for the category. Formatting for epublishing ended up being (mostly) a non-issue as well, thanks to my decision to go whole hog and just buy full-featured writing software, Scrivener from the good people at Literature and Latte. A few clicks and a little experimentation are all it takes to get decent-looking epub and mobi files (and if you’re paying someone else for that privilege, you’re getting hosed).

Deciding on a length was easy as well – it mostly just happened as I wrote. Twenty-five thousand words (approximately one hundred pages) ended up being the sweet spot to get a full story in that could entertain on its own, yet still feel like it was connected to the issues before and after in the sequence.

No, the difficulties were in two areas I really didn’t see as roadblocks going forward: Latin and Nomenclature. Latin seems obvious in hindsight, but as I excitedly rushed forward with my drafts, I never thought it would be a big deal. A large part of the story in TWDY has to do with the traditions, lives, and mysteries of people living in a city called Ratio. It’s a fantasy story, and the wizards of the world live there, speaking an isolated language that I modeled off of Latin. The protagonist, however, is not from Ratio, so when she hears spoken “Rational,” it sounds like gibberish. The language of her people (Feccish) is loosely derived from the much older language of Ratio, much as English is from Latin, and so I thought I may as well use Latin than try and go full Tolkein and invent my own language. Now, I’m not so foolhardy as to have long stretches of text in a foreign language in my English-language fiction, nor would I dare use it in big heaps given that I never studied the language myself. In the first two hundred pages of TWDY, there are exactly three sentences, each of which is (quite coincidentally) three words in length. Surely Google translate would be sufficient to get fine translations for such a small amount of short text, I thought.

Long story short (too late)… just… no. Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that. It took about two hours with the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Latin to realize how horrible my first two three-word sentences were. Alas, the googleplex failed me, but I wasn’t about to panic. I spent nine damn years in colleges of one kind or another, and friends of mine study all sorts of useless things. If you ever want to hear an astounding assortment of utterly useless but highly esoteric crap, play a few hours of poker with a bunch of math grad students. On top of that, I’m a member of a couple of online writing communities that I post to regularly. Surely someone, somewhere would have both the means and the time to assist me. Surprisingly, this was not so. I’ll have to earn my Latin, and I’ll have to sweat every letter of it.

Like I said, I never planned to use it extensively – it would annoy readers to death. Just the same, a real language is one of those things you don’t want to mess up. You will piss someone off if you get the details too far wrong, just as it’s always dangerous to write anything that involves horses, guns, sailing, or computers without knowing anything about them. Idiot’s Guide and abbreviated history of Rome in hand, then, I marched on.

The second unexpected gotcha of publishing serial fiction has been nomenclature. What do I call the issues? Are they issues? Episodes? Novellas? Issues sound like things for my psychiatrist, stories sound like I should be reading them to my niece around a campfire, episodes are of Seinfeld, and novellas should be self-contained. My serials are none of these. I settled on calling them issues on the covers of the individual (purchasable) things, and books or series otherwise, the reason being that the most appropriate parallel I could draw between what I was writing and something that actually exists was comics. You know, except for the part where there are comics in them. I’m honestly still not sold on that particular issue, but we’ll see how my opinion changes as P-Day (publish) gets closer and closer.

Issues and all, it has been tremendously rewarding to put TWDY to electronic paper and prepare to put it out there in the world. I love doing something that just isn’t out there. Having a unique format may destine my stories for the digital dustbin, but it has been fun to do nonetheless. I hope they are as much of a joy to read as they were to write.

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