Between panels here at Norwescon today, so thought I’d show you this unboxing shot of my new Star Saga paperbacks.
If you at at Norwescon today and see me, I have some of these books with me. If you can somehow prove to me that you have read any fiction that I’ve written, I’m liable to hand you one of these books. They are quite nice. ;-)
Having a great time here in Seattle at Norwescon for my second year in a row. Really enjoyed my panel with Tina Connoly and Kevin Scott yesterday and attended some interesting panels too.
Star spotting – Jay Lake, poked his head into the Green Room. William F. Nolan and PZ Myers, Ken Scholes, and Edward Tenner.
I’ve managed to get new versions of Tyrmiaand Tales From Ocherva, Volume One published to Kindle and Nook this week. Still waiting on Kobo, there appears to be some delay with them. But for now, you have new ebooks on two vendors. Yeah!
Tales From Ocherva is my first anthology of short stories that take place before Starforgers. If you enjoyed the androids and Silicants from that novel, you’ll love these stories. They all have a distinctly Space Western feel to them. They are action packed and fun to read. If you’re not careful, you might learn some important background details on Eighty-eight and Thirty-seven, not to mention Stellar Ranger Devon Ardel.
The Second Edition of my novel, Tyrmia has been reedited and cleaned up for your reading enjoyment. This novel is set in the Star Series a few years before Starveyors. Unlike the other Star Series novels, Tyrmiais more for mature readers. There are some adult situations and language in this novel. It’s the first of the Planetary Series of novels that I have planned. Most of the story takes place on one world like the old Planetary Romance novels from SF’s past.
This is the opening salvo of new ebooks due out in December. Stay tuned for new versions of Starforgers, Starstrikersand the debut of Starveyors.
I’m used to hearing “Widescreen” used to describe huge, block buster movies. You know, like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. But recently I’ve heard it used to describe SF books that have a grand scope. More specifically, I would think, it would be used to describe Epic Fantasy or Space Opera.
I write Widescreen Space Operas. Huge, sprawling epics with heroic leads, lots of subplots and all kinds of starship battles. The kinds of books that if they were movies, would have huge budgets and jaw-dropping special effects. So if that’s something that you’d plop down $2.99 for, then please do. But if you’re looking for a reflective, artistic or deeper meaning of life kind of read, keep looking. While my books are definitely not all explosions and no meaning, they are also not going to win a Pulitzer prize.
Where my Space Opera differ’s from the works of other authors is my stories are not boring. They start with a bang and they keep going. Very few slow spots. My style is fast and modern. But my universe tends to be more grungy than squeaky clean. Think Star Wars or Alien over Star Trek.
So if that’s the kind of Sc-Fi that tickles your fancy, please give one of my books a chance. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
For the past few months my Star Trilogy novels have been selling pretty steady. Nothing to get all excited about, but nothing to sneeze at either. At the same time, free downloads of short stories set in the same universe are dwindling. One would expect a bit of trickle down from those getting the novels, once they realize that there is the equivalent of another whole novel in the dozen or so short stories that I have available on Kindle right now. But that’s not happening.
I can only assume one of two things is going on. First, people buying the novels are not reading them, and therefore not coming back for anything else I’ve written. A distinct and likely possibility. Second, they are reading the Trilogy books and not realizing there are more stories set in the same universe. I have no idea which is happening or whether it’s a bit a both.
I think if you spend more than a minute clicking on the pages of this website you will quickly realize that I have a ton of short stories and an anthology all set in the same universe as the Star Trilogy. But readers are somehow not making that connection. They are also not buying Tyrmia, one of the best novels I’ve written and also set in the Star Trilogy. Somehow I am completely failing these readers who may want more of my stories but are possibly just waiting for me to complete the third novel of the Star Trilogy.
I’ve taken great pains to fill out my universe with many different short stories and all my novels are related to each other, not just the Star Trilogy ones. In fact if you have read Starforgers, for instance, you can get all kinds of added character knowledge about the protagonist if you read the stories in Tales From Ocherva, Volume One. But so far, nobody is following up and reading the anthology.
Either there is a massive miss-communication going on, or people really don’t like the Star Trilogy novels much and just are not interested in reading anything else I’ve written. I’m sure there is plenty of that going on. But I’d really like to know how I can get readers of the Star Trilogy to try the short stories.
Part of the problem with the individual shorts and the anthology too, is that their covers don’t necessarily imply they are related to the Star Trilogy. They still have the Starstrikers Universe logo on them. Maybe that is confusing. I don’t have the time or money to have unique cover art for all the individual shorts, but even if I did, they still need to be tied into the books better. Visually their covers are similar, perhaps a bit too similar.
New versions of the Star Trilogy are being prepped for release soon. I will be including links to the anthology and short stories in the new ebooks, to try and make readers more aware of them. That’s about the only thing I can do right now.
Anyone else have any ideas how I can point interested readers to the short stories?
I was struck by how familiar the words of Lou Anders were in an interview he did for Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing podcast. Bye the way, if you are not already listening to that podcast, you need to be. In that interview last year at Worldcon, Lou said that he recommended new authors put up their book on Kindle but then feed into it with other short stories or novellas and experiment with different price schemes for each of them. Build a franchise that people can associate with you as an author. Huh.
I obviously agree with Mr. Anders as this has been my strategy for several years now. All of my SF novels and short stories are set in the same universe and if you pick up one for free, such as my weekly offerings on Kindle or here on the web site, you can rest assure that each story is related to all the other fiction I’ve produced in the past four years.
I’ve begun to coalesce these stories into the same Star Trilogy brand. So if you read a Star Trilogy short story, you will notice it’s related to a novel in that trilogy. Each novel in the Star Trilogy has at least one short story set in the same time period. I’ve even tried to keep their covers the same by using similar colors, textures and fonts for each book in the trilogy.
Most of my crazy marketing is just me doing what I wish bigger publishers would do – build brand recognition with a unified look and feel. You should know that you are reading a Star Trilogy story by the cover and the font. My author name is always written in the same font. Sometimes, as in the novel Tyrmia, the title is in a different font style, but the name is always in Bombardier font.
Those readers of mine who have actually read through my cannon, will tell you that I’ve been slowly building a very complex universe that can only truly be appreciated by those who have read everything. That is by design. I like writing stories in the Star Trilogy universe. I’ve created a vast and interesting universe that fills three separate time periods. No easy task, but when it’s done right, can be a unique reading experience. People love to read a series because it lets you return to the author’s fictional universe time and again. But imagine if every time you went to that author’s universe, you could be introduced to new characters and situations that you might never have known existed? How cool would that be? Well, I’m trying to find out.
The end game here is to have readers identify with my universe and in the end, identify with me as an author. I don’t have a time frame on this process. By most accounts I should be about ten books into the series and dozens of short stories until I eventually find an audience. Even Lou admits that authors with a big back list tend to earn more over time. But until you get that back list, you eek out a pittance and keep writing. This fall I will have four novels, one anthology and a half dozen unattached short stories set in the Star Trilogy universe. So I’m almost half-way to my ten book long range goal.
This is the Third part of a long, multi-post series on writing believable starfighters in Military SF and Space Opera. Part 1 | Part 2
6. Battle Damage
Every combat fighter sustains battle damage at some point. How does your starfighter defend itself? Does it have energy shields? Thick armor? What would it take to make it blow up in a glowing ball of energy like in Star Wars? Would it even blow up at all, or just break apart into pieces?
In WW2, projectile guns did plenty of damage to fighter planes. They had armor plating around the pilots and fuel tanks, but because of weight considerations, it needed to be sparse. Fuel tanks were lined with rubber to prevent leaks after being shot through. Usually airplanes sustained damage to their engines or pilot and then just augured into the ground from a great altitude. Rarely did they blow up like a TIE fighter.
If you watch gun camera footage from WW2, you will see pieces of metal and other debris flying from stricken planes before they fell apart. This debris would often pose a hazard to the attacking plane if it flew through the bits of broken metal and damaged its own engine or propeller.
Modern wars are fought with stand-off missiles and the two attacking fighters might never see each other, despite what you see in the movies. In the Vietnam war, guns were not included on fighter jets and as a result, the Americas suffered more casualties in air-to-air combat than in any previous war. As a result, guns were strapped to the bottom of jets like the Phantom F-4. The local Air Force base here in Idaho, Mountain Home AFB, are known as the Gunfighters for having flown F-4’s equipped with gun pods underneath their fuselages in Vietnam.
After the war, guns were designed back into fighter jets and pilots went to special schools to learn how to fight with them. Top Gun and Red Flag are the Navy and Air Force schools designed to teach air-to-air combat with guns and missiles.
In space your starfighter would probably use some kind of missile or maybe laser guns. Projectile weapons would perhaps be smarter, like little guided missiles. What kind of damage would a laser gun do? Would they even be practical?
Research how fighter pilots talk, gesture with their hands, the buzz words they use. Read about actual WW1 and WW2 air battles. The best are the non-fiction ones from autobiographies. They give you an intimate look at what it was like in day to day fighting. Some of my favorite books are the air war histories written by Martin Caiden.
If you can talk with actual pilots, that is another invaluable asset. Hang out at your local airport. Not the one where millions of people travel from, but the local civil aviation ones. Where private pilots park their Cessnas and Piper Cubs. Heck, the best thing you could do is take a few flying lessons. When I learned to fly I went up in a small plane with an instructor on the first day. He had me hands on with the controls the whole ride.
Talking to veteran pilots is also a great way to learn about the past through the eyes of someone who was there. Take notes, ask them questions. They are usually pretty open when they know you are truly interested in what they did defending the country. But if you ask a veteran and they say no, respect that privacy and thank them for their service.
I grew up on civil aviation. My dad was a pilot and my uncle was a pilot. My dad owned a Cessna 150 and I flew it while still in High School. So you could say that aviation is in my bones. I’ve spent many hours at air shows, air museums and sitting in hangars listening to pilots talk. It’s actually called hangar flying.
If you can’t get to a museum many of the best ones have virtual tours like the Warhawk Museum near Boise. This way you can practically sit in the cockpits of all kinds of airplanes, jets and helicopters. This is a great way to get a pilot’s eye view of the inside of a rare warbird.
I hope this series of posts has been helpful. Writing about starfighters in a way that makes them seem real and compelling to a reader is no easy task. But if you do the research and take the time to think things through, you can wind up with some great world building and a really fun story.
This is the Second part of a long, multi-post series on writing believable starfighters in Military SF and Space Opera. You can read Part 1 here, Part 3 here.
Starfighters fly and fight in space. Sometimes they enter a planet’s atmosphere, but for the most part, their theater of operations is space. Space doesn’t have an up or down, at least when it comes to maneuvering. You need to think about your starfighter “flying” in a three dimensional area where there is no proper up or down.
If your pilots are humans they have trouble looking up. Humans prefer to look left and right and almost never look up, as simple as that sounds. This is why hiding in trees for an ambush, nearly always works. In space, you have to look in ALL directions. You can’t get sucked into a single plane of action. Keep this in mind when you are diagramming your dog fights. You are diagramming them right? Just kidding. That’s a bit anal. But if you’re that into it, your writing will reflect it.
Airplanes turn and while they turn they bank. In space this is referred to as slewing or twisting sideways. You need gravity to do a proper bank. Let’s define banking as – The lateral inward tilting, as of an aircraft, in turning or negotiating a curve. Ever seen a motorcycle take a tight turn, it banks.
If you are not already familiar with the controls of an airplane, you need to be. You can’t write about aircraft or spacecraft without knowing how they maneuver. There are lots of books and web sites that explain this, so I won’t go into it here. Just remember that flying a plane is not the same as flying a space plane. Airplanes have moving control surfaces that redirect the flow of air over their wings.
Spaceships like the Space Shuttle, can’t use those control surfaces when in space. They use retro rockets or some variation of maneuvering thrusters to twist the ship along different axis. The Space Shuttle has many of these all around its nose and tail section. It also has traditional control surfaces, like flaps and rudders to control it while its landing.
Most of the starfighters I write about have both sets of controls, because sometimes they enter planet atmospheres. This lets me retain traditional control sticks so the reader feels like the pilot is flying the starfighter, instead of just pushing buttons that activate thruster rockets.
I have not even mentioned orbital velocities or vectors that can be affected by gravity. If you are being that detailed, you are probably not writing Space Opera, but Hard SF instead. In that case, you are in for all kinds of math and science to get these things “right”.
You should take some time to study aerobatics and see what airplanes are capable of before extrapolating those maneuvers into space. Be familiar with what barrel rolls are and various other piloting terms.
If your starfighters are in some kind of military, you need to be familiar with military organizational units. Are you going with Air Force or Navy units or some sort of new hybrid? These things are important and will help with world building.
In my novels, I use Air Force and Navy units: Wing, Fleet, Group, Squadron, Flight. So my starfighter Groups belong to individual starships. The Group is comprised of two or more Squadrons and the Squadrons are broken down into two or four ship Flights. Wings are composed of many Fleets. I know, it’s all confusing. But if the writer has not mapped all this stuff out and doesn’t have it straight in his own head, how is he going to keep the reader from getting lost?
Again, hit the history books and see how fighter units were organized and then compare that to how things are done now days in the military. I’ve not even touched on the Maintenance side of things or Support side. Starfighters break and need repairs, who does that? They need fuel and ammunition, who provides that? Even what the pilot wears needs support; his space suit, parachute and life support systems. Military units are complex organizations and knowing a bit about them helps you bring them to life in fiction.
This is one area where having actually served in the Air Force or Navy on a carrier, would be very valuable. Again, that’s not necessary to write great Space Opera. Use your imagination and do your research and the reader will assume you know what you are talking about. But just winging it and not being consistent in all these details will cause your readers to put down your book and walk away.
Individual flight formations were often based on how birds flew. Hey, it works for them, why not our airplanes? Fighter formations are often designed to attack and to protect the attacker. Thus you have the lead flyer and his wingman. The wingman’s job is to keep the attacking or lead fighter safe from attack while he engages the enemy. The two-ship attack formation was perfected by Claire Chennault of Flying Tigers fame in WW2.
There are many variations of combat formations. Take some time to discover them and get to know what pilots have done in the past and what they do now. It’s very interesting reading about fighter tactics. Try and incorporate what you learn into what you are writing about.
It looks like I have more to say and this post is already getting long. So tune in for Part 3 in this series where I’ll talk about Battle Damage, the Language of pilots and common mistakes made in popular films.
This is the first part of a long, multi-post series on writing believable starfighters in Military SF and Space Opera. Too often writers don’t have an extensive knowledge of military vehicles and when they write Military SF that involves hardware, their stories lack credibility with readers. Many times stories about starfighters come off as a rehashing of Top Gun, Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica. Readers see through such thinly disguised attempts and are turned off by your story before it even has a chance.
I’m not saying that you have to have served in the military to write about starfighters, but I am saying you should do some homework on real jet fighters and rocket ships before attempting a story using them. Just as any good Fantasy writer has a more than passing interest in ancient history, a good SF author should take the time to understand modern military hardware.
This means spending time reading books about pilots and studying real planes up-close. You should read first hand accounts of arial combat by pilots from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. Biographies are especially important as most pilots love to describe in detail their experiences in combat. Take notes and then try to imagine what those same experiences would be like in space.
If you can get to an air show, that is the best way to experience combat aircraft up-close. Sometimes they will let you sit in an actual cockpit or walk up and touch the metal and fabric coverings of these aircraft. Smell the aviation gas and oil coming off the engines. Talk to actual pilots about what they liked or didn’t like about flying a particular airplane. Absorb this information and it will come out again in your starfighter story.
The masters of SF intuitively understood this research. When Heinlein writes about a spaceman coming down to a planet and wearing unstylish clothes and acting like he own’s the place, those details are extracted from observing real pilots. *Double Star opening paragraph. It resonates with readers even if it’s about imaginary things.
Pilots and ground crews have their own lingo and not all of it is technical. They abbreviate things and call other things by strange nick names. You don’t have to use what’s common now, but it should get you thinking about what your pilots would say about their starfighters.
Military aircraft all have official designators and those letters and numbers usually mean something. For instance, “F” usually means “fighter” but before that “P” was used which stood for “Pursuit”. The numbers are usually sequential to when the aircraft entered service. The F-15 entered active duty before the F-16.
Don’t just make up some random series of letters and numbers and expect your reader to be able to pronounce it in their heads. XRS55QB is probably not a good designator for a starfighter. Readers can’t relate to random strings of digits, it’s much better to pick a name and use that name instead. Fighter planes all have one official name and usually pilots who fly them give them appropriate nick names. For instance the P-47 from WWII was officially known as the Thunderbolt, but pilots called it the Jug because is was big and heavy, like a jug of whisky. Try not to confuse your reader by using more than one nick name or official designator.
In my novels I always try and use the starfighter’s official name. For instance in Starforgers, the Stellar Rangers flew Scramblers. I never mentioned that they were actually called Terra-Tyne SF-44 Gull Scramblers. That’s too much information and too hard to keep straight. But by shortening it to Scrambler, I was able to put the image of scrambling pilots into the reader’s head. The Rangers who flew them were like interstellar cops, so the name also brings to mind a police car.
Also in Starforgers, the enemy starfighters were called KIV-3 by the enemy pilots and a more descriptive name by the good guy pilots, Eight-fighters. The starfighters had wings that look like a figure eight. This harkens back to Star Wars with all the wing shaped fighter names, X-Wing, Y-Wing. I had originally called the KIV-3 an Eight-Wing but beta readers thought it was too much like Star Wars. How about them Beta Readers? Good on them.
2. Describing the Starfighter
The reader has to have a clear image of what your starfighter looks like while reading your story. If you leave too much to the reader’s imagination he’s going to think it looks like an X-Wing or a Viper. You should spend a sentence or two on describing its distinguishing features.
“… two silver winged Scramblers sat waiting for them. Steam from the liquid nitrogen fuel cells evaporated from the metal birds. The deck was bright with the reflected light from the suns glaring off the polished metal of the Scramblers… The shinny silver wings of the nimble Scramblers flashed with reflections from Ocherva’s twin suns as they broke free of the moon’s atmosphere and flitted into the blackness of space…”
Those are some random sentences where I described the Scramblers in Starforgers. I add minor details as I go, careful not to info-dump on the reader a whole paragraph of description.
Here’s another passage or two in which the hero is seeing the Eight-fighter for the first time.
“The cylindrical fuselage ended in a conical shape that was black and impenetrable. There were markings on the side that reminded her again of the war planes from antiquity. This ship was obviously a military fighter… there were two rectangular cut outs in the squared off main wing. It reminded her of the number eight…”
Another thing you could indicate is how the starfighter handles, but only if it applies to how it’s used in the story. In my short story Red Allen, I describe key internal systems as they relate to how the fighter handles or does not handle as in this case. The story was about a test pilot who had to isolate why a certain model of starfighter was always crashing. So this story was a technical mystery of sorts.
As in all Sci-Fi the level of technology in your story must be consistent. You really have to give this more than just a passing thought or you’ll end up regretting it later. Does your starfighter have shields? What kinds of things can get through the shields? How much power does it take to run the shields? Does the starfighter shoot projectile weapons or use laser weapons. Does it make unusual sounds inside the cockpit? If it does make sounds don’t tell us by using words that describe. “The crash avoidance computer whined in protest,” is always better than using beep or bop words.
What kind of life support is there? Do the pilots wear masks? Enclosed suit with helmets? What if battle damage causes the air to leak out? Does the ship have an AI that runs itself or is it strictly human or alien controlled? What kind of scanners does it have and how powerful are they?
In my novel Tyrmia, I have a starfighter that uses a retractable scanner sled that unfortunately for the crew, gets damaged and starts to spin while its scanning. This causes the fighter to be hit with an EM burst which of course shuts down all the electronics in the fighter, causing it to crash. The same fighter had an AI that helped the pilot without getting in her way in times of crisis. If I hadn’t taken the time to think out these things, the events of the plot would not have happened.
I’m going to wrap this post up and save the rest of my topics for Part 2, Part 3.
This past week I put two books on the Kindle Select program from Amazon. On Saturday, the first book in the Star Trilogy – Starforgers was made free for four days. Then on Wednesday, I put last year’s release – Tyrmia in the same program.
First we’ll talk numbers for Starforgers. Before I put the book on the Amazon only program, it was not selling at all on the only other market it was in Barnes & Noble’s Nook. So there was little to no reason not to give it to Amazon exclusively for the next 90 days.
The first day it was offered it was downloaded about 55 times. The second day, a Sunday, it was downloaded 300 times. When the offer ended at the end of Wednesday, it had been downloaded 700 times. Not too shabby. It had made it onto a best seller list for Sci-Fi free downloads.
Did I make any money on all of those downloads? No. Not directly. But after the free promotion was over, the book continued to be purchased to the tune of 21 sales in three days. That’s 7 books a day!
When you offer a book for free, it’s a pay off. You trade lots of people getting the book for nothing, for the possibility that those people will read and like your book and then send their friends back to get it. You are also banking that some of them will come back and buy one or more of you other books.
This is known in the business as the halo effect. What you hope for is a few day’s time on a best seller list, which leads to lots of downloads when the book is free. Then you hope that some percentage of those folks talk up your book and come back for more. In Starforger’s case, it looks like this is happening.
When I put the second book – Tyrmia up for free on Wednesday, it did even better in terms of books downloaded for free in the opening day. Tyrmia had one thousand downloads on Wednesday and climbed as high as #2 on the Sci-Fi Adventure Best Seller List. It also made it to #10 on the Sci-Fi Best Seller List a day later. That was outstanding.
Tyrmia continued to stay in the top 10 of the Sci-Fi Adventure list, riding #2 for two full days. As I write this on the final day of it’s promotion, it has been downloaded over 2,035 times. Again, pretty incredible for a book that was just sitting out at the 400,000 ranking with no sales.
This is the difference between getting seen by Kindle users and not being seen. The Kindle Select program is just one way to get in front of Kindle users. I could have also just lowered the price to a buck and left it there for a week. But free tends to get more attention in the short term.
We’ll have to see how this book does after the free promotional period ends. I’m perhaps a bit pessimistic, but I see it doing about as well as Starstrikers, perhaps a little worse. But we’ll see in another week.
The free giveaways for these books has resulted in 7 sales of books not participating in the program. So that’s pretty minimal. I’m hoping for a bump in those books as people come back from reading Tyrmia.
It’s hard to know exactly why one book did so much better than the other during the free give away period. Perhaps more folks were attracted to the human-ish eye on the cover of Tyrmia, perhaps there was something more intriguing in the description. Tyrmia does have elements of Steampunk and its aliens are similar to the ones in Avatar. But then again, it is a more adult story and set on only one planet.
Starforgers is the first book of a trilogy and it’s pretty much straight-up Space Opera. I would have thought that Starforgers would have done better between the two. There might have been a bit of a feeding frenzy when readers of Starforgers realized that Tyrmia was for sale at the same time. Next time I do this, I might want to spread out the sales a few weeks or months apart.
Will I be doing this for any other books? No. But I can’t rule out another sale for each of these two books in the next couple of months. Part of the joy of doing things yourself is trying new stuff and seeing what works and what doesn’t.