Intrepidly Exploring Inland (WIP)

While I’ve been exploring the jungles of Peru, the stranded astronauts of Aniara have been exploring the jungles and islands of Kepler 62f, fifth planet of a star 1200 light-years distant from Earth. I know you’ve been worried about the fates of Anna, Laxmi, and Jaci, so read on to learn what happens as they press…




It has been a few months since I last published a scene from my serial work-in-progress, The Silence of Ancient Light, so if you’re just joining us on this journey, you might want to start at the beginning. You can find an overview of the chapters and scenes so far at The Silence of Ancient Light.

Speaking of publishing scenes, I have a question for you. Do you find it more effective — are you more drawn in to want to read — if the scene is published as a page, the way I’ve been doing so far, accessible via menu links and so forth, and then announced with blog posts like this one? Or would you rather see the text of the scenes appear directly as blog posts?

There are pros and cons to each approach. Blog posts appear automatically in the WordPress Reader, for instance, and thus if you have a account, it’s possible for you to read the entire scene from your Reader feed without ever having to visit my website. Static pages do not, so you have to click the link in this post to take you there. I notice that I get more visits and likes on blog posts announcing scenes than I do on the scenes themselves, which leads me to believe that many people never follow that link. Pages also do not have a mechanism for assigning categories and tags, so there is less control over search terms and keywords. They may or may not show up as easily in Google searches.

On the other hand, blog posts become ‘lost’ in the blog roll over time, without an easy way to link directly to them with website menus. They can be found via category links, of course, but it would be more difficult for someone who wanted to read all the scenes straight through, in order (do any of you do that?). So, I tend to think of the blog as having a more immediate but short-term advantage, and the page as being more persistent and easier to find in the long-term, at least for someone who knows what they’re looking for.

What do you think?

What about a hybrid approach, posting the scene first in the blog, and then copying it later to a static page? Or would the repetition be a turn-off?

header image credit: user:DasWortgewand / under CC0 1.0

Writing Retreats, Poll Results, and the WIP

First off, the next scene from Chapter 3 is ready for your enjoyment (and your feedback — you’re an alpha reader, remember?). Anna, Laxmi, and Jaci are making the most of their enforced encampment upon an alien tropical beach. Jaci, hindered by a broken leg and thus unable to help with much else, becomes camp cook, and quickly nominates himself “greatest chef on the planet,” based upon a competition involving “every human within a thousand light-years.” Of course, there are only three humans within a thousand light-years…

So, if you’re ready to jump right in:




Meanwhile, in other news, the poll for best scene for an audience reading is still open (see the blog post immediately preceding this one), but results are starting to narrow down to a single choice, with one runner-up. I suppose I should not be surprised that, while one scene is more action-oriented than the other, both involve significant and colorful description of the world around our intrepid explorers, and that seems to be what people are gravitating towards. But, if you haven’t yet, go vote! And then check out the results.

Meanwhile, note to self: use more (or continue using) significant and colorful description of the world around our intrepid explorers!

Abeona in Port Madison
photo by Matt Fraser

Speaking of colorful, I spent the weekend on another mini “retreat,” once again anchored in the middle of Port Madison Bay by myself, for the purpose of some focused writing time. While I didn’t achieve as many total words as I might have hoped, I did produce this latest scene (why haven’t you read it yet?), and had a little fun with dialogue. Do let me know what you think of it, what works and what doesn’t.

Port Madison Morning
photo by Matt Fraser

I’ll be doing more of these!

header image credit: user:ChadoNihi / under CC0 1.0

WIP: Lagoon, and Alpha/Beta Readers

Yes, it has been more than 24 hours since I published the latest scene from The Silence of Ancient Light, and yet I’m only now getting around to announcing it! What can I say, I had to run off to watch Solo with my daughter — which I quite enjoyed, thank you very much — but I’m back to do the needful.

And, in the interim, I’ve also done a little cleaning up of the organization of the scenes. After all, that menu was getting long, and unwieldy, especially for those using a smaller laptop (like I do when I’m writing all this). So, astute readers will notice that the scenes are now grouped into chapters, and this latest scene marks the start of Chapter 3. I hope this makes everything a little easier.

Before jumping into it, I want to talk a little about alpha readers and beta readers. The concept of beta readers is pretty familiar to anyone who hangs around writers much, and indeed is drawn directly from the software development world. Beta readers are “average” readers (meaning not usually other writers, nor industry professionals) who agree to read works prior to publication in order to provide feedback to the author for improvement. Typically it’s a nearly-finished work, having gone through a round or two of editing, and the purpose is to gauge emotional impact and determine if scenes and characters are hitting their marks.

Alpha readers, on the other hand, provide the same service, but at a much earlier stage in the process. Works in alpha are usually still first drafts, and thus potentially quite rough, and often alpha reading is done as scenes or chapters are written, so that the ending isn’t necessarily available yet. In “realtime,” in other words.

Does that seem familiar? It should. If you’ve been reading along with my progress here, you’ve been alpha reading.

And I’d really love some feedback. I know it’s rough, and there are plot holes, and technical issues. But there may be more holes and issues than I’m aware of, so I’d love it if you point them out. And I may be hitting the wrong notes with my characterization: is Anna relatable? Is she sympathetic? Is there something she should be more of, or less of, to be a stronger lead character? And what about the others? What about my pacing? Is the tension ok, or too much, or am I putting you to sleep?

If you’ve got suggestions, but are uncomfortable making them publicly, that’s ok. Just hit that “Contact” page and send me a message. But otherwise, feel free to comment right on the pages! My ego won’t be bruised… much. Let’s start a discussion!

And with that, allow me to unveil the latest story development: Anna, Jaci, and Laxmi have crash-landed on the alien world Kepler 62f, and, well, they could really use a break. They won’t get much of one, of course, as they are in pretty dire straits, so they immediately set about determining whether this planet is going to kill them, or sustain them. And… why is the sky green?



image credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

The Inherent Risks of Pantsing a Novel

You know what I mean, of course. Writing a novel “by the seat of your pants.” No detailed planning, only a vague plot idea in advance, making each scene up as you write it.

Sounds like no way to write a novel, does it? The Project Manager in me cringes at the very idea. If I approached my day job in this manner, it wouldn’t be long before I’d be out on my ear.

Yet… it’s a lot of fun. The characters definitely have minds of their own, and as the words fly onto the page, they let the author know in no uncertain terms just where they want to go, what they want to do. Of course, all is not peaches and cream for the characters, they don’t always get their way, and indeed sometimes things go very badly for them. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much of a story, would there?

Hint: things are about to get a lot more tense for one or two of my characters, but I won’t say any more just yet.

The arc of the story, however, remains rather foggy for the author. This is the nature of pantsing. We know roughly where we’re going, but it’s a bit like navigating a boat through heavy fog with no chart, only a compass and perhaps a handheld GPS. You know where you are, you know where you want to go, and you know which direction to point the boat. But you have no idea what’s between you and your destination. Large ships may loom up out of the mist, threatening to crush you at any moment. And that bell you hear ringing? What’s that? Oh! There it is! It’s the navigation buoy, the one you were aiming for, dead ahead and… hard to starboard! Quick, or we’ll smash into the thing!

Ah, but we found it, the nav buoy, in the end, didn’t we? Sure, we almost ran it down, but now we know exactly where we are.

Pantsing is a bit like that, and like that ocean-going tug looming out of the fog, there come inflection points in the story, where things can go one way, or they can go another, and the author must make a momentous decision before continuing.

When Takashi opens that station hatch — because of course he’ll figure out a way, right? — what will he and the others find? What alien relics have the Keplerians left behind? What will be revealed about Aniara and her crew’s own situation? Are they in even more trouble than they yet realize?

Make one decision, and I could be sealing the fate for not just this crew, but for any other stories I may wish to write in this same universe in future. If I’m not careful, I could “break” the universe, making it unsuitable for further adventures, and, well, I really don’t want to do that. I have other story ideas, at least one of which has been hinted at in the narrative already.

Make a different decision, and the future of interstellar civilization could be assured. Well, as assured as any civilization can be where the fastest way to get a message from one place to another is to get on a ship and go there — no ansible here.

And yet…

There’s an appeal to having this story go a certain way. It would be… interesting. And risky.

After all, breaking an entire universe is a pretty heavy risk.

Side note: that bit about navigating a boat through fog with only a handheld (non-charting) GPS and a compass, and nearly being run down by a tug, and then nearly running down a buoy…. yeah, that happened. Ask me about it some day.

image credit: l_schwarze /

space asteroids planet

Working Titles

So if you’re a writer, do you ever find yourself stuck trying to find the perfect title for your forthcoming masterpiece before you ever set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it may be for most of us these days)? Most writing advice says “Don’t worry about it at this stage,” to pick a “working title” and work on your prose itself, then come up with the “real” title later.

But so many of the tools we use, whether it’s Scrivener or Word, Dramatica or Contour, or even WordPress, seem to encourage us to have that title before doing anything else. You need to save your work (early and often), and to do that you need a filename. If you later change the title, you could keep the same filename, but probably you’ll want to change that too. Not really a big deal, but there it is.

If you’re like me and publish your drafts online (you have been reading my work-in-progress, haven’t you?), naturally you need a title before you click that Publish button, but it goes beyond that. As soon as you publish anything to the web, it has a URL. Later, if you change the title, you’re faced with a very serious decision: do you change the URL?

Changing URLs has consequences. For one thing, once Google (or Bing or Yahoo) has indexed your site, there will be links to that old URL for search engines to find. If that URL ceases to function, now there’s a broken link, and yes, Google will punish you in search rank for having broken links. They don’t like that. And they don’t like it because readers don’t like it, either. Clicking a link to get the dreaded 404 error message tends to turn people away. And some readers, if you’re very lucky, may have even bookmarked that URL for later reading.

So, you could leave the URL alone, but just change the “friendly” name of the page, and then you end up with what I have here.

Because, friends, I am changing the working title of my work-in-progress. Previously known as Celestes, I knew this would never be the final title of the piece, as it didn’t even grab me all that strongly. Seeing the reactions of friends to the name only solidified me in the decision to change it, and to change it now.

So, I invite you to follow along with The Silence of Ancient Light as the story continues, and not to worry about the “slug” or URL for the four scenes already published as Celestes. And who knows? Maybe this title will survive to the end.

What do you think? Is this better? Not good enough? What are some of your favorite titles (whether or not they’re your favorite books), science fiction or otherwise?