I am a Christian, a Husband, a Father, and a writer of Science Fiction Adventures
Space Exploration and Looking Forward
Posted in Personal on 16/07/2015
Exciting new images of Pluto from the New Horizons platform now so far from Earth have me thinking about the state of space exploration.
While the number of nations capable of boosting men and equipment into orbit and beyond remains small, there is no shortage of nations, corporations, and even individuals invested in the next stage of space exploration.
Hubble, Chandra, Kepler, and other imaging platforms in space and on the ground continue to reveal the marvels of our universe. With the arrival of New Horizons to Pluto we have now sent probes to every historically major body in our solar system. Missions like the Dawn probe to Ceres and the Deep Impact meet up with Tempel 1 have only expanded on what we know and can do.
Then there’s the wonder of having watched Voyager 1 pass beyond the heliosphere of our sun into galactic space.
Even more exciting is the new level of talk around manned missions. To Mars. Back to the moon. Even to near Earth asteroids.
I wrote a previous post over the question of how much all this costs: Billions To NASA When So Many People Are Starving? You can see how I feel about that question by following the link.
One thing I do know is how much of this need to reach out and explore is inherent in being human. For the most part, the easy stuff of mapping the surface of our own world has been done. That leaves us with the oceans about which we still know so little, and space, where we have only just begun to reach out a tentative hand.
Where Do I Go Now
Posted in Personal, Rantings, Synergy of Hopes, Writing on 15/04/2015
Krista Ball wrote a fascinating reflection of her journey from fear to confidence as a writer. I first heard of her when she asked a pregnancy question about one of the characters in Blaze back in the beginning if her career. She has since gone on to write a bookshelf worth of works you should go and read. I am still wavering over releasing the same book I was working on when she asked her question. I do have a second book drafted and copious notes for a third book, but still I remain unpublished..
I can give you any number of reasons why this has happened, but when I boil it all down to its essence, the problem is a lack of confidence. Have I done my best in crafting this story? Will any one want to read it? Will I become a pariah for doing it wrong? Not keeping pure to the Science Fiction genre I write in? I’ve already been warned about including too many elements of my Christian faith in my stories.
It could even be argued that taking the time to compose this post is keeping me from finishing edits on the last few pages of my latest draft. The fact we are in the middle of selling our present home and buying a new one better suited to our future needs is only incidental to the bigger picture.
Maintaining this blog doesn’t really help. Though I freely admit to making little effort to market my presence, the general lack of traffic is not what I’d call confidence inspiring to someone aspiring to a craft where discoverability is probably the single biggest obstacle we all face.
This is the year this will change. I have already pushed myself forward through moments that would have stopped me in the past. A few more steps, each capable of shutting me down as Krista described in her development as a writer, and I’ll have my first work out there and be deep into getting number two ready to follow.
One final thought. The average reader can finish a story faster than most writers can produce them. Writing isn’t a competition so much as a collaboration. Just take a look at how many different authors you have on your own bookshelf. If you find yourself in the same place I’ve been and still feel you have a story you want to tell, it’s not to late. Take a close look at what’s holding you back, set your priorities, and act upon them.
Billions To NASA When So Many People Are Starving?
Warning. This post contains references to math.
Image courtesy of NASA Flickr archives
It’s a question all of us have heard in one form or another. Most of us have heard many variations of it over the years. The other day I heard it once again, sparking a little number checking and this post.
A quick check of official NASA budget numbers reveals they received over 17.7 billion last year. Keep that number in mind.
It is estimated there are over 164 million smart phone in use in the USA today.
Now to some guestimates.
Let us assume that number is overstated by 25%. That leaves 123m SPs.
Let us further assume another 25% are dedicated strictly for business. That leaves 92.25m SPs. Most of which are used primarily for entertainment.
Let us further assume 25% of those only connect to the internet via available WiFi hotspots. That leaves 69.2m SPs.
If the average monthly cost of a data plan is $50 a month or $600 a year, these users are collectively spending $41.5 billion annually.
If only 1/2 of those users acted on the question, Why am I spending so much money on instant gratification when there are people going hungry, it would produce a bigger impact than the total diversion of NASA funds to food programs.
As an aside, let me point out that it is easier for the individual to send money to a trusted charity that for that same individual to sway how a government spends the money they have skimmed off their paycheque.
In addition, of that 17.7b allocated to NASA, only a small fraction is actually shot into space. Most of it stays right here on Earth to cover the salaries of the many fine people employed either directly or within the supply chain NASA sources its material from. Those are real jobs helping to feed real families at a level that makes it possible for them to donate from their excess to the poor and hungry.
All that’s before accounting for the long list of scientific advancements and inventions that have gone on to help society at large.
I would call that something to think about before complaining that some program represents money being wasted.
An Introvert’s Thoughts On The Con Scene
Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I make a point of talking up Vancouver’s premier Science Fiction, Fantasy and Games Convention VCON. It’s an event I’ve made a special point of attending for a number of years now. Not just me, but the entire family as my wife runs her Cat’s Knitting table in the Vender Hall each year with the help of our daughter.
There are many different kinds of Cons out there. Some aimed at Fans, others at Creators, and many that do their best to bridge the two in some dynamic way. To me the one thing that separates a Con from a Show is the level of interaction invited between the showees and the attendees. I’m fine with people who have a different definition.
One of my goals as a writer is to earn enough money from my craft to fund my attendance to Cons outside the local area. Another milestone would be to become big enough to attract invites to sit as a panelist at such Cons.
Only thing is, Cons can have so much going on it’s hard to find time to take a breather. All that interaction can wear a person down. I know people who thrive is such situations, who go home raring to go, their batteries charged. That’s not me. I need a vacation to recover from my ‘vacation’.
True, I’ve met a lot of fine people at past VCONs. Just as true are all the times I failed to say hello to people I wanted to meet because I couldn’t get past the inner voices telling me the time and place weren’t right. That last bit can leave me exhausted to the point of wondering if the whole thing is worth it and asking myself what else can I hope to achieve by attending the next con?
The answer as of this moment is: I don’t know. What I do know is I will be attending VCON 40 on the Dead Dog Membership purchased at the end of VCON 39. Perhaps I’ll see you there and get past those voices in my head long enough to say hello.
Isolation and the Writer
This post by Cyrus Keith has got me thinking. A common meme in the world of writers and other creative types is that of the starving artist spending long periods of time in their favourite coffee shop or bar. Almost by definition, creative acts are solidary endeavours where isolation is a fact of life, and yet here we have a theme that requires these same isolationists to interact with other people on some level.
Having said that, I will be the first to admit crowds make for a great place to be alone. They can also be a painfully lonely place to be if no one notices or cares about you.
But back to the coffee shop meme. As a regular you will develop connections with other patrons. Even hidden in the corner behind the screen of your laptop someone is bound to draw you out with a familiar hello. At other times you must either interact with a waiter or join the lineup to refill your beverage of choice. All little things that force us out of our shells to engage in some level of interpersonnal interaction. None of which would be necessary if we stayed in creative caves to do our work.
Even those who take regular get-away-from-it-all retreats return to places where they must interact with other people on a semi-regular basis.
For that matter, I don’t know of any creative types who don’t eventually want some level of exposure for their creations, and, even if by proxy, themselves. While I’m sure there are exceptions, the very existance of the meme I’m working from suggests that they are just that, the exceptions.
We may or may not be social butterflies, but social is part of all of us on some level.
As The Leaves Turn
We lost power at home for a few hours due to gale force winds yesterday. This happens three to four times a year where we live, with an average dark time of four to six hours. Last night torrential rain pounded off the metal roof above our bedroom, though not to the room shaking degree that sometimes snaps us awake.
Fall has arrived with a vengeance.
Then, at work, though too dark to take a picture, the drain outside the back had stopped up with leaves causing a lake deep enough to touch the lip of the curb.
Also, I should have gotten off my butt when I had the chance to refresh the water repellant on my jacket.
Some people will read this as belly-aching. It isn’t, I love this time of year. In truth I love all four seasons. Wind, rain, snow, thunder, lightning, even the sun of Summer until it gets too hot to think.
Think of it as being one of the perks of being planet born on a top of the class habitable world. (Did you really think I wouldn’t squeeze in a link to my life as a science fiction writer somewhere?)
I encourage everyone who reads this to look out the window and think about the beauty that is all around us, in all seasons.
Royalties in this New World of Publishing
I keep seeing lots of articles comparing the royalties earned from Traditional Published (TP) deals versus Selt Published(SP) works.
One argument that always comes up is the advance earned when signing a Traditional Publisher, but very few such articles take the time to explore this aspect of the equation.
Because I’m feeling physically down and having trouble wrapping my head around the edits I should be doing, I opened my spreadsheet instead.
I used this article from The Passive Voice as my starting place.
Say the writer in question receives a $5000 advance and $1.49 a book for a TP and $6.99 SP.
Under TP this author sees no royalties until the advance has been paid out. Meaning 3356 books must be sold before they see any new money. (Please note I’m rounding all calculation up for simplicities sake.)
Under SP this author must sell 716 books before they’ve made the same money as the advance. Should this author ever sell 3356 books, they will have made $23456.
Remember also that advances do not get paid out all at once. They could be dolled out in 2, 3, or 4 payments between the moment of signing and the book hits the shelf. (1,2, or 3 years?)
Some people do point out that stores like Amazon take a distribution fee from the author’s royalty. The actual amount being dependent on how many megabytes the book takes up. Other online bookstores may have similar charges.
So let’s say the say author looses $.30 a book to distribution for a net of 6.69. Now this author has to sell 748 books to match the TP advance and will only make 22450 when they match the 3356 book mark.
What if the SP author shells out $2500 for editing and a cover? This new $7500 break even point (versus the TP advance) now requires 1073 sales and will reduced the 3356 book match point to $19950.
Someone is bound the mention the whole arena of marketing. In theory, the big TP house does have an equally big marketing machine to help boost your numbers. If the word I see on social media is even somewhat accurate, the kind of author who receives a $5000 advance is going to get little or no help from the marketing machine.
I’ll take that a step further. When researching potential TP houses for my own WiP ALL of them have made it clear they expect me to have a pre-existing on-line presence and some idea of what MY marketing plan will be. Everything I’ve read on the subject suggest the author who comes home with a whopping $45000 advance will only see a marginal increase in marketing clout come their way. That kind of support appears to be reserved for the BIG (6-7 digit advance) players.
I’ll be the first to admit this is a rough overview that fails to take into account innumerable nuances that can affect the numbers I’ve used. I also don’t address the question of how long each book is kept available for sale, if ever for those who never win the TP lottery and make it to the acceptance phase.
Okay, I also gloss over the SP quality question except in the mention of paying out significant money for editing and cover.
A Dearth of Common Courtesy
A morning spent overthinking the incident that found my wife Cat in the hospital ward lounge crying because she’d been driven out of her ward by a hoard of visitors to another patient has led me to the following plan.
You’d think everyone understood hospitals are designed as a quiet place where the sick and injured can rest and recover, and not party central.
Remember that lounge I found Cat crying in? How hard would it have been to take the party out there and leave my wife in peace?
Should I ever end up in hospital and a comparable situation happens to me, I will:
- Pack up all my things.
- Throw open all the curtains.
- Tell the patient who is receiving so many guest that she needs this space more than I do.
- Walk out.
And when I’m asked what I’m doing, I will:
- Look the asker in the eye.
- Answer with the question: You don’t honestly believe I can be so selfish as to squat on such a valuable piece of real estate when it is obvious other people need it more than I do.
- Set up camp in the lounge.
- Refuse to go back on the same grounds.
Rather passive agressive of me, I know.
Maybe it’s a good thing I’m a writer and can find other ways to let the steam off.
Looking For The Good
The last 24 hours have given me the opportunity to see too much of the inside of a hospital. From the news to TV dramas to dramatic scenes in our writing we see lots of examples of the dirtier sides of such places, but few examples of when things go right.
Hospitals are by definition places of pain and anxiety. It is easy to see how both visitors and staff can be pushed to the breaking point inside such a pressure cooker. Blowups do make for great tension in our stories, but miss out on so many other impacts for our readers.
Yesterday a young lady came to the ER well past the point of panic over her extreme pain. Enter the care worker whose job it was to get her settled. Not once did she raise her voice or issue direct commands. With a calm reasonableness I would have had trouble achieving, much less maintaining, she talked this lady past sobs of pain and bouts of hyperventilation to the point they could begin the process of accessing her condition and dealing with the underlying problem.
Breakfast for the elderly man in the bed beside my wife’s and the care worker begins the process of making sure he eats. He takes a bite of his eggs but cannot swallow. She does her best to get him through this, then patiently convinces him to spit it out and try a bite of something else. He never does swallow any of the semi-solid items on his tray and she never once crosses the line into coercion and force. I recognise that the need for maintain proper nutrition may force a change in this routine, but it’s hard to imagine this care worker going too far when it comes time to making sure this man eats.
Sure, in isolation these vignettes may have little impact (I have no way of guessing what state of mind you’ll be in when you read this), but placed at the right spot in your work?. There will be times when such a moment may be exactly what our plot calls for. Don’t be afraid to use it where it fits.
Stat Holidays In Our Modern Age
Confession: I don’t work Mondays and I do not get an alternate day off in lieu of not working Mondays when a Stat day comes along. Which means that Monday Stat Holidays have little effect on my schedule.
Growing up, I can remember looking forward to the next Stat Holiday and all the fun I could have on my off.
Today, the 2nd annual British Columbia Family Day, I took my daughter down the hill for a few errands.
In the process, our itinery looked like this:
- Go to a fully staffed craft store.
- Head over to a fully staffed grocery store where I picked up an item from the fully staffed pharmacy.
- Watch my daughter take off to do some writing at a nearby fully staffed coffee shop.
- Head to a fully staffed electronics store.
- Proceed from there to a fully staffed home improvement store.
- Stop on the way home at a fully staffed gas station.
- Oh, and the house builder two blocks down from us started at 8am.
Exactly how many of the staff people we interacted with on this trip were out and about enjoying their special day off?
To put it another way, Why are a siginificant portion the working population out working on a day that’s been set aside for them to have time off with family and friends?
It seems to me that our once looked forward to Stat Holidays have been replaced by a special day in which a privileged portion of the population can expect the remainder to wait on them hand and foot.
Sure, some of these people get another day off in lieu of the stat while others get extra pay for working the stat, but is that even close to receiving the leisure time the term Stat Holiday implies?
I wish I could answer my own questions. I can’t.
Happy BC Family Day.