Friday, 30 November 2012

Eden Paradox - Deleted Scene (1) - The Interview

The following is a 'deleted scene' from the book The Eden Paradox. The scene is best read after the book, or at least after the chapter called Kurana Bay in Part One of the book, which is where this scene would have occurred. I had to delete certain scenes due to the length of the book, but this is one I always felt should have stayed. This is therefore like the 'director's cut' :-) Hope you enjoy it.

Earth – Four Months Earlier – The Final Interview

The door slid closed behind Blake. He stood a moment behind where the interviewer would sit, noting how he would be seen. He walked around the small square table, pulled back his chair and sat down, face to the door and the empty chair, a long rectangular mirror on his left, his back straight. The shrink would be late. Everything Blake did would be monitored. He slowed his breathing, counting each breath.
At inbreath 203 the door opened, revealing a man in his late twenties, wearing a white lab coat. He had dark, lank hair, already thinning at the top, cresting a furrowed brow. It gave Blake the overall impression of a young man continually worried or in conflict with his job. The man didn’t salute, though Blake suspected he was a commissioned officer. He must be good, Blake guessed, to interview him, given their age difference. Never under-estimate, he reminded himself. If I get through this, I have the mission.
The shrink walked to his chair, raked its metal legs against the floor, and sat down, poker-faced. He dropped a yellow file noisily on the desk, unfastened it and opened a sheaf of papers covered with small type-font, and even smaller handwriting. He then planted a Sensex on the desk – a small, black rectangular box with several glass-covered holes.
On seeing it Blake battened down his emotions. The Sensex – Sense Executioner as it was known, analysed all manner of psychological outputs, integrating pheromonal emissions, sweat response, pupil diameter, breathing rate, and speech tone variability; it was the most reliable lie detector ever. Blake tried not to react, knowing that it would already be processing his responses, making judgements, and relaying them live.
The shrink leaned back, holding up one of the pieces of paper, a pen held against his lips, reading intently. Blake didn’t move. The interviewer put the sheet down and smiled again at him with holographic warmth. Blake was being dared to try and read it upside-down, but he didn’t oblige.
‘Good morning, Captain Alexander, Sir,’ he said, voice smooth and studied. ‘Just a few points I need to go over with you.’ The man glanced downwards, and began reading aloud.
            ‘Let’s see. Age forty-six. Optimal age profile thirty-five; recommended limit forty-two.’ He glanced at Blake, and continued. ‘Decorated four times. Forty-eight missions in the War, including two battles on the Moon. Successfully defended Zeus I. Married. One son, killed in the War eight years ago. Stayed rank Captain, despite attempts to promote to higher position. Quoted reason – I do what I’m best at – pushing people not paper.’ He frowned. ‘Forty-six. Hmm.’
            Blake spoke up. ‘If there’s a point, son, I’m afraid you’ll have to get to it. I won’t help you since I don’t know what your point is. Concerning my age, we both know the limit is only a recommendation, and I’m medically fit. The role is executive, decision-making, and our current President is sixty-two. So, I don’t think we’re here to discuss my age.’
He watched for a reaction when he’d said ‘son’ – he knew this ingrained automatism, a remnant from his upbringing, pissed a lot of people off – but he saw none, nor did the interviewer glance toward the mirror. He’s better than he lets on.
            The man gave a curt official smile. ‘No. Quite so, Sir; absolutely right.’
            Blake pressed home. ‘So I’m guessing you’re the shrink. I’ve passed all the other evaluations, and the press conference on the decision is called for tomorrow morning, so the choice for Captain of the mission has to be made tonight. I’m also guessing you’re at odds with the rest of the evaluation team, but I might be wrong. So, why don’t you save us both time, and cut to the chase.’
            The interviewer closed the file, put down the pen, and sat back.
            ‘Actually I’m not a shrink, I’m a psychologist.’
            Blake raised an eyebrow. ‘Difference?’
            ‘We call psychoanalysts and psychiatrists ‘shrinks’ – as in old head-shrinker tribes, who used to cut off the heads of enemies and shrink them. Psychologists don’t generally try to change people’s heads through use of chemicals, manipulation, or implants – we try to understand people, and help people understand themselves better. We use less invasive procedures.’ He paused, then added. ‘No shrinkage.’
            ‘I see,’ Blake said. ‘Well, I’ve learned something today.’ He omitted the ‘son’.
The interviewer glanced down at the yellow file, then straight at Blake. ‘Kurana Bay, sir. That’s the problem.’
Blake shifted position in his chair, causing a shrill scraping noise. He’d been anticipating this for the past six months. It always came back to this.
            ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific. What aspect of Kurana Bay?’
The interviewer folded his arms, continuing to meet Blake’s gaze. ‘You and your platoon went in and rescued those boys, against all odds, brought them safely home, and took out a ghoster processing unit.’
            They continued to stare at each other, neither one blinking.
            ‘The point is, Sir, although clearly heroic, you lost eighteen of your own men to rescue twelve boys. Was that the right tactical decision?’
            Blake briefly considered giving a pat, technical answer, but decided against it. He’d been told one thing about the Forces’ psychs – they detect lies and attempts to hide the truth as naturally as a shark smells blood. Glenda had advised him the night before that if it got tricky, give him what all psychs want to see – inner emotion. Blake decided to take her advice, and he had plenty of pent-up emotion on this particular issue. In any case, he wasn’t going to pretend to be someone else to get this command. He leaned forwards.
            ‘Why don’t you ask the twelve boys? Or their mothers?’
            The interviewer leaned forward, too, with an immediate riposte.
            ‘Or the mothers of the eighteen men who died following you?’
            Their faces were centimetres apart. Blake’s breathing was measured; the interviewer’s was a little heavy, not quite under control. Blake sat back and stared toward the opposite wall, speaking as if from far away.
            ‘I made, as you say, a tactical decision. We found out about them, those boys, barely men, no older than my son had been. Knew they were being interrogated – tortured – and knew what the enemy had in store for them.’ He paused.

It surfaced again. The screaming, the shouting, the flashes of rapid pulse fire in the depth of night, lighting up the blood-soaked carcasses of his men on the floor.
‘For Christ’s sake, shoot Blake! Shoot!’ Zack was yelling at him.
He aimed. He fired. He watched it explode.

Blake pushed the memory back, deeper. Locked it away again. His right hand twitched. He moved it under the table, though he reckoned the Sensex must have just gone off-scale. He spoke in a quieter voice.
‘There was no time for back-up. They were going to be moved later that day. I talked it over with my men. We knew the odds were lousy. They wanted to go in. War ain’t all maths. Mainly it’s guts. But when you’re out there, in the Burmese jungle, thousands of miles from home, deep behind enemy lines, all you have is each other. It’ll sound clichéd, I know, but the headlines, the rules, the strategies, sometimes they don’t mean squat. You fight to stay alive. You fight to keep those alive that help you stay alive. And then…’ he paused. He got up, walked over to the mirror and put his back to it, facing the interviewer.
            ‘There are ugly things that happen in any war. Always have been, always will be. You know what they would have done to those boys. The enemy were certain we wouldn’t risk a rescue mission so deep behind enemy lines. We had to show them we wouldn’t desert our own.’
            Blake’s face momentarily allowed some of the pain he held in to be seen by the psych, but not the cameras behind the mirror. Let the Sensex chew on that.
The psych nodded back toward Blake’s chair. ‘Please.’
            Blake dutifully returned to his seat.
‘In any case, we rescued those boys, destroyed the facility, and took out more than a hundred of the enemy. After Kurana Bay, they stopped carrying out raids to capture our men for ghoster ops. So, you tell me. Was it the right decision?’
The interviewer raised an eyebrow, then wrote something in the file.
            ‘Something that you won’t find in the records,’ Blake continued. ‘I visited each of the families of those eighteen men personally. Not all of them were exactly pleased to see me, as you can imagine.’ He cleared his throat.
            The interviewer glanced over to the mirror. Five seconds later the door opened and a glass of water was brought in. Blake appreciated the efficiency of the operation, and stole a few cooling sips. ‘Thanks,’ he said.
            The interviewer waited a few more seconds, then resumed. ‘This won’t be a military mission, Sir. You – if selected, that is – would be Captain, but on a primarily scientific mission. You have a lot of scientific knowledge yourself, of course, but if the context is scientific, you’ll have to follow the Science Officer’s lead. I’ll be direct. Could you take orders from a scientist if it comes to it?’
            Blake gave a short laugh. ‘Hell, I’ve taken orders from so many dumb assholes I think I should be able to take them from a smart one.’ Inside, he wondered if he could.
            The interviewer nodded. He picked up his pen, and opened the file again. ‘No regrets about Kurana Bay, sir? Would you do it again?’
            Blake shifted himself back into his straight back pose. ‘I still have the nightmares mentioned in that file. But it comes down to this: who do you need as Captain on this mission? If the going gets tough – like Kurana Bay – you’ll need someone who can get out of there, who can salvage the mission, and make tough command decisions, with absolutely no back-up.’
            The interviewer took a deep breath. ‘Actually, Sir, the question is: what really happened in Kurana Bay?’
            Blake’s own breathing halted. He pursed his lips. ‘I’m not sure I …’
            ‘You lied. Your deposition after Kurana Bay. I watched the interviews over and over. We didn’t have Sensex then, but you were hiding something. You’re definitely hiding it now.’ He glared at Blake.
            Blake’s throat went dry. He suppressed a strong urge to cough, or look at anything but the psychologist. His mind raced, but he knew he couldn’t answer, not with the truth, at any rate. He was cornered. But he’d rather let this command slip through his fingers. There was only one way out.
            He stood up. ‘This interview is terminated,’ he said.
            The interviewer shot to his feet, leaning forward. ‘I’m asking you, for the last time, what really happened?’
            ‘Why don’t you ask Zack?’
            The interviewer snorted, said ‘Sure,’ and sat down, staring at the file. He pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘You realise,’ he said, ‘that if I say you’re not mentally fit, you don’t fly this mission. Not even General Kilaney can countermand a medical judgement.’
            Blake leaned on the table, close to him. ‘Like I said, the real question is this: who’s the best man for the job? Period. We all make decisions, good and bad ones, and we live with them. This one’s yours.’
            The psych didn’t look up. ‘My answer will be on the CO’s desk in an hour. Thank you for your time – Sir.’
            Blake straightened, and walked to the door.
            ‘One more thing, Captain. A warning. Whatever happened in Kurana Bay – whatever really happened – you still carry it with you. It’s like a flaw in a diamond. Too much pressure …’ He didn’t finish the sentence.
Blake glanced sideways at his own reflection in the mirror. ‘I’ll bear it in mind.’

Friday, 23 November 2012

On marketing ebooks... Being ready for the spike

Spikes in book sales can’t be guaranteed. Traditional book publishers try to build up anticipation before a book is released via advertising and reviews. There can be a big event or ‘launch party’ followed by a book tour. The aim is to make as big a splash as possible, because when a book looks like a best-seller people will get curious and try it just to see what it is all about. The build-up phase starts nine months before launch, and typically ends six weeks after the launch. If the books aren’t selling much after six weeks, it’s a flop and the publisher will turn to the next one in line (if they haven’t done so already). Bookstores might start sending copies back to the publishers, and the author will find it hard if not impossible to get another advance, because the first one will never be paid off. In traditional publishing, if your first book doesn’t sell well, it can kill your writing career. If the book does take off then great, but then such authors probably aren't reading this blog, LOL, they're too busy writing their next book.

With ebooks it is much harder to make such an initial splash, since there is no physical book (usually) and virtual book tours are hard work and do not have the same impact as seeing and meeting people with a physical book ready to sign. Advertising is expensive and often does not generate enough sales to cover its cost. Trying to get ebooks reviewed is very hard indeed, there are simply too many new e-titles and e-authors out there, and many places only respect traditional publishing houses. Some half a million titles are released each year, so how on Earth is yours or mine going to get noticed?

So, what is an ebook author to do?

I tried many things since my first ebook came out in February 2011. The sequel came out the following December, along with a paperback version of book 1, followed by a paperback of book 2 nine months later. The release of the paperback versions (I did a book launch for book 1) did help sales of the ebook, but not big numbers. 

Reviews on Amazon (4 or 5 star) are important, though some books sell well with only a handful of good reviews. There have to be some reviews, and some good ones, not just those written by the author’s family and friends, either. If an author has published short stories either in a magazine or an ezine, then reviews by those publications are an obvious choice. 

As one of my publishers noted, if you blog a lot, or just well, your google ranking will go up, so that when someone 'googles' your name or your book title, it's you/the book that appears, not someone else with the same name, or (worse still) another book with the same name.

We tried a three-day ‘free’ sale of the second book, and there was a big uptake (>1000), and it caused a spike in book 1 sales (ebook, not paperback). But within a day or so it was back to normal.

And then it went quiet, both books ‘ticking over’ while I hunkered down to finalise book 3. And then … suddenly … out of the blue…

Ebook 1 (The Eden Paradox) sold 300 copies in 24 hours in the US market. Ebook 2 (Eden’s Trial) quickly caught up, both books entering the top 100 SF category, ebook 1 always in the lead, reaching #11, and both ebooks occupying #1 and #3 in the ‘Space opera’ top 100, and ebook 1 also getting into the ‘Thriller’ category for the first time ever. I suddenly found myself in the Top 100 SF writers, at one point ahead of my favourite Iain M Banks and briefly rubbing literary shoulders with Isaac Asimov! The Eden Paradox got to around #450 in Fiction overall.

Two weeks and about 1500 sales later the two ebooks are still ‘hanging in there’ at around #67 in Space Opera for book 1, book 2 has just left the charts. My publishers and I still have little idea what triggered the spike. What is fairly well-known though is that once a book reaches a 'Top 100' category, then Amazon starts ‘pushing’ it to other readers, suggesting it to them. Book 1 is better categorised than book 2, mainly because it is a crossover book in terms of genre, a science fiction thriller, whereas book 2 is definitely SF and space opera. Book 1 was in the top 100 of five categories, whereas book 2 only made it into 3, so there is a lesson there for sure.

When the splash comes with an ebook, the main thing is to be ready. A good-looking and professional website, one that looks ‘established’; a blog; a Facebook page for the book(s) and twitter feeds if you are into that. Amazon’s Author Central is also important, a brief description about the author, which is as close as most readers are going to get to actually meeting the author.  Reviews on Amazon are obviously important, though some books sell well with only a handful of good reviews.

One advantage of ebooks over paperbacks is that Amazon isn’t exactly going to run out of stock. The ‘one-click delivery’ system is better than having to wait for a book to be printed and shipped or delivered to a bookstore (though I love bookstores and never want them to disappear).

I think the two books definitely helped each other, and I only wish the third ebook (Eden’s Revenge) had been ready (due out in January). Both books have dropped out of the charts then re-entered them, from which I (happily) deduce that people are reading and liking them and telling others about them (word-of-mouth).

The total sales have still not reached the ‘mid-list author’ league of ten thousand sales or more (for true ‘best-sellers’ add another zero), but it has been invigorating to watch and to see what Amazon can do for small Indie e-publishers or self-published authors.

But if anyone knows what started the spike, please write and tell me, as my publishers and I would dearly like to know J

And here's an advertising site ebook authors might try, called 'Ask David'. It's free, really.

The Eden Paradox and Eden's Trial are available from Amazon in ebook and paperback formats. Eden's Revenge is being released in January 2013.

Thousands of people have read and liked them, and every week I get asked "Where on Earth is Book 3?" This is scifi with a difference...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The difficult middle...

All books have a middle. The beginning sets up the characters, the situation, and above all, the conflict. The ending, and the chapters leading up to it, is where the conflict gets resolved. The ending is what the reader is waiting for, it is the climax, where heroes (usually) triumph and baddies (often, but not always) get their comeuppance. But a bad middle can lead the reader to give up on a book, despite a great start and possibly a terrific ending. Why is that?

The middle is where the author deepens and enriches the story, introduces new characters, ramps up inner conflict, has heroes second-guess themselves, has baddies or events turn up the heat, and releases revelations that change the readers’ perceptions of a character or broaden the plot. The mid-section of a book often contains flashbacks, some stories-within-stories that show characters’ ‘mettle’, some confessions, some secrets and some lies. These story devices are all intended to strengthen a reader’s attachment to a book and its characters, and to heighten the drama and its conclusion.

However, middle sections often fail the reader, sometimes after a fantastic start, and a probable good ending the reader may never get to read. The book seems to lose focus, tension, or even change its tone. The middle ‘sags’, and the reader starts wondering if they should bother to continue. 

So what is the middle section not for?

It is not where the author should relax and produce ‘filler’ chapters
It is not for introducing twists-and-turns that ultimately leave the reader back where she or he was before, i.e. story ‘loops’ rather than true story progression (arcs)
It is not where the author should dwell on his or her hobby horse
It is not where the dialogue should lose its edge and turn into banter
It is not where characters should get real cosy with each other
It is not for gratuitous sex-scenes that don’t increase tension or conflict


Characters can relax, and can ask each other or themselves questions the reader might have long-harboured. But this must not be just idle chatter. There should still be conflict. It is a good place to show some of the cracks in the protagonist’s façade, weaknesses in the hero, to make things less black-and-white. It is important to have some self-doubt, otherwise the characters are just actors role-playing for the author. If the protagonist must do something really difficult, particularly involving self-sacrifice, the author should step back, and consider – would they really do this? Think of Frodo. Gandalf even, self-questioning themselves in Lord of the Rings. The hero can proverbially ‘wander around in the desert’ for a while – but not for too long! Two books I loved but they both did a LOT of meandering which almost made me put them down and not reach the fantastic endings, were Dan Simmons 'Fall of Hyperion' and Greg Bear's 'Anvil of Stars'.

Here’s one of my characters from Eden’s Revenge, Gabriel, hesitating, deliberating, before embarking on something he has been planning to do all his life. Why does he hesitate? Because he meets someone (Jen) who knew his father, whom Gabriel never met. Jen was the sister of Gabriel’s father, and this is the first time they get a brief chance to talk.

It had been tough in his childhood: not even a photo of his father. Difficult when your only reference to your father is your own reflection. Other kids had lost their parents during the Q’Roth sacking of Earth, but they had memories and usually holos too, anchors to cling to. Gabriel had nothing. He listened intently.
            “Gabriel – there’s so much I want to say…”
He could sense the pain in Jen’s voice. “What was he like?”
There was a pause. “Brave and beautiful. People were wary of him, though; they sensed the inherent danger, even in his teens. One of his teachers described him as an unexploded mine.” She laughed.
Gabriel smiled, but it stirred lifelong suppressed emotions deep inside him. “Go on,” he said, almost a whisper.
“Serious, always looking for a cause, interested in politics when boys his age were discovering girls, though he had quite a few girlfriends. No-one close. He would come out with these profound but enigmatic sayings. My favourite was ‘where there is thought, there is power.’ Kalaran thought that was pretty deep for a human. Sorry, I’m rambling.” She cleared her throat. “Your father found his cause. The only one that mattered in the end.”
Gabriel felt the need to sit, but couldn’t move. He tried to picture his father as a boy, as a young man back in Ireland before the nuclear devastation had blackened that once emerald Isle. He’d watched the history holos over and over, secretly searching the running, confused, screaming crowds for a face like his own. He’d distanced himself from everyone, but if his father had lived… Gabriel couldn’t see where that path would have led him, but he would have liked to have had the choice.
Jennifer continued. “Ramires probably knew more about him as a man than I did, even though he didn’t know him personally – I thought he’d been killed in the first round of detonations. Apparently … he was the perfect assassin, no ego, played the double agent for the Alicians for years before he was unmasked when trying to kill Sister Esma. He died protecting humanity.”
Gabriel had heard it said before, but this time, hearing it from family, from someone that actually knew his father, made it resonate. It firmed his purpose. But he guessed there was little time, and that this wasn’t purely a social call.
 “You need me to do something, don’t you?”

During such scenes where we deepen the character, and the action inevitably slows down, it is useful for other parts of the story to be moving faster. This is easiest in a multi-protagonist book, where chapters or sections can take turns to speed up or slow down, alternatively zooming into the action or zooming inside the character, making them more realistic and ‘dimensional’.

New characters can be introduced in the middle section, but they must advance the plot. Background characters can also come to the foreground, and preferably stay there, otherwise why bother?

Here’s another scene, this time from Eden’s Trial, where two new characters are introduced, Angel and Starkel. The scene occurs in the middle of the book, and does at first sight appear to be an interlude, though Angel tells Micah about the galaxy he and his small crew are just discovering, along with its rules (Angel has been ‘out there’ for some time). They all eat a meal together, and Angel and Starkel are about to leave when things start to heat up. Starkel is a blood enemy of the Q’Roth, and one of Micah’s crew looks human but isn’t all she seems to be…

Angel stood up. “Well, it’s been great, and not just the chicken. Now we really have to go, and so do you by the way – there’s another Q’Roth hunter-destroyer inbound, one hour out. They’ve been tracking us down for two months, and they’re hunting you too, now. So we need you to do us a favour.” She glanced at Micah and the silver ball she’d just given him.
He shrugged, more than a little incredulously. “Sure,” he said, “why ever not?”
“Thanks. Starkel has cleared you from quarantine so you can leave as soon as you’re ready, just place that little ball on your nav console and it’ll do the rest. We’re asking you to wait until the other Q’Roth vessel arrives. As soon as it is in transit range your ball will jump you out of here.”
“And you’ll be..?” Zack asked.
“Far, far away, Zack. But don’t worry. We’ve planted a jump mine on your hull. When you leave it will release and then attach to the other vessel as soon as it tries to follow you.”
“Then what happens?” Micah asked, not sure he wanted to know.
Starkel answered. “You’ll exit the jump, they won’t. If you leave before they arrive, you won’t exit the jump.”
Angel shrugged. “Sorry – again. Funny – it’s been so long since I’ve had to use that word. This galaxy isn’t that big on sympathy, I’m afraid. Anyway, we’re going to leave you some kit. And we both hate the Q’Roth don’t we?”
Micah shook his head; like he had any choice. “Alright. We’ll do it.”
Angel stood up. She looked as if she was going to offer her hand to Micah, but instead nodded to all of them, and without another word headed for the exit, to the sounds of chairs raking across the floor as the others got up.
Starkel held up his arm, blocking her exit. “Just one more thing,” he said, producing a pistol from somewhere inside his tunic.
Micah focused on it, letting the translation globe do its job. Starkel’s pistol was a molecular disruptor. It had only one setting. Everyone else stood perfectly still. Good, he thought, nobody move.
Angel frowned at Starkel, placing her hands on her hips. “What in Orion’s Belt, Starkel?”
“The one over there called Hannah has Q’Roth DNA.” Starkel said, pistol aimed at Hannah’s head. “You’ll be dead before you reach them,” he added to Zack and Ramires, who were both edging towards their weapons.
Micah and Sandy exchanged glances. He looked pleadingly to Angel, but she silenced him with a raised hand, her face set in stone. Her stare towards Hannah tightened with a space-cold hatred.
“Sorry, Micah, but Starkel can smell these things – Mannekhi and Q’Roth are blood enemies. And if she has Q’Roth DNA in her, then it’s just a matter of time before she develops their nasty, aggressive tendencies. Frankly, if Starkel is correct, then I’m right behind him in the queue to vaporise her sorry ass.”

As well as using the middle to render the characters more realistic, less glossy and more ‘grainy’, the same can be done for the plot and the context. Small, petty politics can interfere, because the stakes are not yet realised, and because people are people and this is what they are often like. Alliances can be made, and the foreground set up for later rescues or (better – more interesting) betrayals.

Travel to the place where the end awaits is a useful vehicle (literally) to both deepen the setting and the characters – people usually end up talking to each other on trips, as otherwise they (and the reader) get bored.

But why have a middle at all?

I recently watched Skyfall, the latest James Bond film, and it didn’t do it for me. Nor did Taken2 or the recent Jason Bourne movie. Why? Well, these are action movies without a discernible middle. They can be fun to watch, but honestly, do you end up caring for these characters? To me they are made of cardboard. Bond promises he will protect a woman, then sleeps with her, and she is promptly killed, and there is no time to even feel guilt because the action drags him elsewhere. Contrast these films with the more recent Batman movie, where there is a clear middle where we get to know Batman and his doubts, as well as other characters with their own reversals of fortune by the end. Batman may be a flawed movie for other reasons, but I cared a lot more for the characters, and will go to watch the next one.

A good middle in a book marks the difference between a one-night stand and a relationship.

The middle is therefore a key part of the book, where the story and characters deepen, where you build a relationship with the reader. The beginnings and endings of books are all-important, but – big surprise – the middle is just as important. No one said writing was easy…

The Eden Paradox series is set forty years from now and concerns humanity’s first encounter with alien life, where we find out that the galaxy is a pretty hostile place…

The Eden Paradox is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ampichellis and Waterstones.

Eden’s Trial is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

Eden’s Revenge is being released shortly.

Other short stories (scifi and fiction) are available for free on the main website.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The joy of Amazon spikes

On November 7th my two science fiction ebooks were ranked around 150,000 on They were selling between one a several kindle copies a day. 24 hours later the ratings had gone up to 474 and 650 respectively, for Fiction, and book one alone sold 319 in a single day. Suddenly both books were up in the science fiction charts, occupying first and third places for Space Opera, and 11th and 16th for Science Fiction. They also came into the top 100 in three other genre listings, including thrillers. 48 hours and around 750 sales later they are starting to come down the overall Fiction charts, currently 844 and 1638 respectively (and around 6 and 19 in Space Opera). Nevertheless, both my publishers are very happy, and I drank some champagne.

How does this happen?

We've had spikes before, two in particular when the second book had a 'free' period for a few days, which also catapulted book 1 up into the charts. This time, however, we all have no idea what happened. Most likely, it was 'word of mouth' on a web-forum somewhere which initially got the numbers up. Once one of the books gets into a top 100 category, little Amazon robots kick in and start suggesting the titles to other readers. This takes a small spike and makes it grow sharply, aiming to send a book 'viral'. I wouldn't say my book went viral, since I'd have needed another couple of zeroes on the sales to make such a claim, but the Amazon machine evidently amplified sales.

As one of my publishers said, imagine when we have all four books in the series out there! Book 3 will be out in January. I'd better get started soon on book 4...

The Eden Paradox series are Scifi thrillers charting our progress when we find out we are not alone...

Books 1 & 2 available on Amazon in kindle and paperback, book 3 coming in January.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Must there be conflict on every page?

I’ve just been through an intensive editing period for an entire manuscript for my third science fiction thriller (Eden’s Revenge), and something nagged at me when reviewing a couple of the chapters. Although the writing seemed fine, I sat back and realized they needed deeper ‘surgery’. In both cases they lacked sufficient conflict. But you don’t need conflict on every page, do you? I used to think not, but now I’ve changed my mind.

A writer colleague of mine sometimes writes an acronym in the margin next to a paragraph: MEGO. It stands for ‘My Eyes Glaze Over’. It means he, as a reader, disconnects from the piece; he gets bored. Sometimes I find this acronym next to a passage where I’ve inserted some tech detail about how some scifi thing works, and he’s not interested (he’s interested in what it does, now how it works). Other times there is a conversation he finds predictable, not moving the plot or character forward. Other times it just feels like nothing much is happening.

Another writing colleague said she’d read somewhere (I think US literary agent Donald Maass may have said this) that you should be able to take a manuscript and throw it in the air, and then be able to pick up any page at random and there would be conflict there, on every single page. I’d argued against this on the grounds that (a) it’s not reasonable to do so, (b) the reader needs to relax sometimes, and (c) wouldn’t that in itself become tedious or repetitive?

But then, the other day, my own eyes glazed over while reading two of my own passages. Well, if the author feels that way, how is the reader going to feel? So I changed them, ramped up the internal conflict in both of them. But how could this happen?

Authors are human. My books are generally full of conflict, because they are thrillers first and foremost. But every now and again I want there to be some humour, for the characters to be able to relax. The trouble is, it reads like the author (aka the narrator) has gone native, and is ‘hanging out’ with the characters, indulging them. The problem is that as a reader, it feels like being at a party with a bunch of people you don’t really know, and they start talking in banter, uttering private jokes you don’t really get or share, being gushy and giving each other hugs, slapping each others’ shoulders, etc. They’re having a great time, you’re not. It doesn’t feel real, and you don’t engage with them. You make your excuses and leave early or head for the kitchen, wondering why you came in the first place.

So, I killed those passages, stripped them all out, replaced them. I’ve left in little one-liners, the occasional smattering of humour, glimpses of heartfelt moments of true camaraderie under fire, but they’re all short-lived, and the reader knows that just around the corner is something that is going to test these characters to the limit, and the reader wants to turn the page to find out what it is, and see how these people are going to react.

If, as a writer reading this, you’re still not convinced, think of it this way. We bond with people fastest when under pressure. Ask any war vets about it. I’m grateful I’ve never had to go to war, but I was a diving instructor for years, and when you scuba dive with your buddy, especially when doing difficult, dangerous dives, an enduring bond is created. Does the same kind of bond emerge if you meet someone down the pub and have a few pints with them?

So, as a writer, you want the reader to bond with your characters, right? Then keep them under fire, and when the fire ceases, let their emotional conflicts surface. Meanwhile, keep the pub and parties for your mates in real life J  

In answer to my own three former arguments about not needing conflict on every page, this is how I now think about it:

(a) it’s not reasonable to do so: in fact it is, because there can be inner conflict as well as external conflict. Also, it doesn’t have to be big conflict all the time, e.g. a slightly harsh word in dialogue signalling that someone is a bit angry with someone else, is conflict.

(b) the reader needs to relax sometimes: yes, but if the reader relaxes too much they can get bored and put the book down. I’m talking about thrillers, here. The hero and heroine can be drinking champagne on the beach, having a great time, but it won’t get interesting until either they have sex or the waiter pulls out a gun J

(c) wouldn’t that in itself become tedious or repetitive? There is no end to the ways conflict can manifest. Our lives are full of conflict. As a writer, different forms of conflict have to be explored.

And that last point is the key. Conflict engages us, because we know conflict well enough from our own lives or people we know. Even boredom is conflict! But in a book it can be resolved, whereas often in life it can’t, at least not in a clean and satisfying way. Maybe that’s why we read in the first place.

© Barry Kirwan |
website by digitalplot