Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Rumors Of My Disappearance Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Well, maybe not, actually. My twitter stream has been reduced to a trickle, my facebook page sees more traffic from visitors than it does from yours truly, and my blog has been pretty slow as well, I know. There's a good reason for that.

I'm writing a middle novel. That's a book that takes place between two others in a set trilogy, and I've never knowingly done that before. I knew that the middle act in a play is perhaps the most important. It's where characters are more well developed, struggles gain more importance, plots begin to thicken and we start to get the feeling that not everyone is going to make it to the end of the play, or the act alive. More than anything, the middle book is supposed to get everyone primed for the end.

As it is my outtakes folder measures 37,043 words, and to most of that discarded work I can say; "good riddance." No one will see that material for several reasons. It slowed the story down too much, there wasn't enough character development, and it read much like a few scenes that you can already find in the First Light Chronicles: Starfree Port (book three in the Omnibus), and I hate repeating myself. Writing all that wasn't a waste of time, however. It pointed the main storyline of the book in the right direction and led to the right starting place for Broadcast 6: Fragments. The unfortunate thing is that the right beginning happened at the end of those 37,043 words.

So, I did what many online and offline friends have seen me do before. I cut deep, got over it (which took a couple weeks and the writing of most of a fantasy novel), and changed my thinking. I've also withdrawn from anything that involves the discussion of writing. I find that when I talk about writing I actually write much less, so I've been missing from my writing group, the Kindleboards, Mobileread and Twitter. When I sat back down at the keys it felt like I was writing a Spinward Fringe novel again, with a clearer head and the ambition to finish.

In February I had a decision to make. I could either rush the book to completion and get it out by the end of the quarter, increasing what I'd be living on during the second quarter, or keep working carefully so I could write a better book and release later. The second option meant I would have to have some faith that I could sell enough books so I could afford to keep writing full time from the natural growth of my readership alone. Everyone knows which option I took. I didn't rush Broadcast 6: Fragments, the release deadline passed and sadly, the book was no where to be seen.

It's almost the end of March, and thanks to a growing reader base I can just barely afford to keep writing full time for the next three months. I couldn't be happier. I make a living on my writing, but I don't do it to get rich. I do it so I can entertain people, and the better my work is, the more people I get to entertain, the longer I get to keep doing it full time. It's a cycle.

I am sorry the book isn't out already, and that the last one in the Rogue Element Trilogy isn't finished, but Spinward Fringe Broadcast 6: Fragments is easily four times the quality it would have been if I didn't cut the dead weight and write something completely different for a while to clear my head. So far it's looking like it won't be an extremely long book, rather a more interesting middle part including the ending of more than one shorter plot line and much more character development. It's a better book and I'm going to be much happier to present it to everyone when it's finished.

So, don't panic of things seem quiet on my end. The less you see me cavorting online the more I'm working on Spinward Fringe Broadcast 6: Fragments.


Thank you for sticking around, your patience will be rewarded.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spinward Fringe: Mind Boggling Clothing

The closest thing we have to the vacsuit in the Spinward Fringe series is the wetsuit, which has managed to reduce itself down to a staggeringly thin 0.5mm, thanks to more recent advancements. The picture to the left is from, and depicts a Mares Varadero 0.5mm Trilastic tropical suit for men and women.

According to the Spinward Fringe books, humanity has gone well past the bulky space suits of today, and space protective wear has evolved into something that looks like any kind of clothing you would see today. In the beginning of The First Light Chronicles: Freeground (2.0 edition), I mention people who have re-shaped their suits to look like dresses, looser clothing, and other garments. Primarily you'll find them on characters as uniforms, or under clothing, however.

This post is meant to serve as an answer to all the questions I've received in email about the vacsuit and everything it can do.

Only one reader has asked; "Why does everyone wear them?"

This answer comes straight out of the Spinward Fringe Encyclopedia, a document I keep up to date as I write that includes all the technology, people, places and major events that take place inside and outside of the books.

In Freeground the most common form of dress is the vacsuit. It serves as a uniform as well as civilian clothing. Most of the residents in the outer station are still paranoid about being flushed out into space thanks to terrorist bombings that were wide spread during the All-Con Conflict [before Freeground]. For some people the vacsuits also serve as protective gear (engineering / technical fields), or armor (security, space station or star ship officers). Freeground is much like most space bound places in the universe where some kind of vacuum protective clothing is worn most of the time by residents who spend a lot of time in the outer areas of the station. Most crews wear a crude or more advanced type of protective clothing or underclothing while serving on ships. The suits can be reshaped as non-form fitting clothing that can automatically cover the wearer completely to protect them from the conditions of space or other lethal conditions.

In the Spinward Fringe series I make the assumption that mankind has developed some technologies more than others because they are more critical to survival. There's nothing convenient about a human being in space, you have to bring absolutely everything with you and space faring clothing is exceedingly difficult to devise and construct. History proves that humanity strives to make objects they have to use most often easier to utilize, more adaptable and convenient instead of changing the solution. I've extended this philosophy to the extreme development of the vacsuit.

Vacsuits in the Spinward Fringe series, and all the other futuristic details:

In Spinward Fringe, the vacsuits are worn as uniforms, armor, or as a style choice. Ashley is a good example of this, especially since she's the only character in the series who modifies her suit by adding images - a golden dragon on her back - and by making sections of her suit transparent or a different shape while off duty. The vacsuit that the Captain wears is primarily practical and serves as thin, reactive armor that can absorb or deflect physical and energy damage, for the most part. [He and military units in the books add a bulkier emitter layer on top of their suits, which is a completely different collection of technologies.]

Stephanie wears a vacsuit given to her by the Captain for protection as well, and has a more practical point of view than her friend, Ashley. The rest of the crew see these suits as a reward, since they offer the best protection and were given to the lead pilot and most seasoned boarding officer. The suits worn in Spinward Fringe: Resurrection and Awakening are made partially by the Captain's materializer and partially using nano construction technology. Versions that are purchasable from port side stores are very expensive, so the rest of the crew generally make due with more basic protective clothing that isn't form fitting or as comfortable as a vacsuit.

The technology behind the vacsuit is simple in principal. It's a many layered garment that can be re-shape and conform to the wearer's desires and needs. A basic vacsuit will protect from extreme cold and the more commonly found radiation of space. A Freeground vacsuit is made by energy to matter materialization technology. The actual construction process is very similar to today's high technology, where the circuits, protective materials, pigments, functional interactive computers and other objects are printed on to a thin, flexible base material that can change its shape. The result is a garment that feels like cloth and is between half a millimeter and a centimeter thick depending on which applications the suit is made for and the tastes of the wearer.

Layers that are built into a vacsuit include electronics with redundant circuitry, energy conversion layers (like solar panels but able to convert the user's motion, body heat, and even gravity into usable energy), a battery layer, radiation protection, displays (the dragon on Ashley's back and other patterns are made using this layer, and yes, they can be video), heating, cooling, extreme absorbency layers on the inside, carbon monoxide to oxygen conversion layers, kinetic reactive levels, and many other devices for various practical and impractical purposes.

The answer to anvils, wrecking balls and other crushing objects:

The most controversial part of the vacsuit with readers is its ability to save crew members from being crushed and react to impacts. I think it's about time for me to answer their questions and address their skepticism with this Encyclopedia entry:

The kinetic reactive layer is a dense level of the suit that lays under the armored layers. In the space of several microseconds it can react to a sudden change in pressure, causing the normally flexible armored layer on top of it to harden. The reactive layer is only a few microns thick, while the armor layer can be one or more millimeters in thickness and weigh up to 50 kilograms in military vacsuits or only grams in basic protection. Once the armor hardens, a small circuit determines whether or not it is safe for it to soften again based on information it receives from sensors or other sources that are in direct contact with the suit. If no information is available, it will remain hard by default (in vacsuits based on the Freeground design).

What changed between the First Light Chronicles and Spinward Fringe?

Before I wrote Freeground I did extensive research and wrote most of the above Encyclopedia entry. The video and image display capabilities were added in Spinward Fringe Broadcast 1: Resurrection, when I asked myself: "if a civilian were to live in this thing, what would we see them doing?" I started to answer that question by adding the dragon design to Ashley's suit, as seen in this fan-art. [Here's the rest of his site.] The answers to that simple question were staggering, and I realized that I could get bogged down by describing how everyone changed their uniforms whenever they were off duty or on a planet with an atmosphere where they didn't have to worry about sudden decompression. Thankfully, Wheeler and most of his crew wore the suits as underclothing, Minh, Jonas, Ayan and others wore over-garments that were made of the same protective material so that provided a simpler answer: Most vacsuits automatically expand for full coverage in an emergency and are the size of a one piece swim suit in volume. That made the whole idea of what a vacsuit looks like simple and broad, a vacsuit could look like anything.

That brings about another fact. Characters in the Spinward Fringe books who wear vacsuits as uniforms do so because they have to wear a uniform. It's that simple. If the uniform was a bear costume or a bikini and a tutu (just imagine Oz in both for a laugh), it could be. Thankfully, their uniforms are a little more practical. Even in the future created for Spinward Fringe a vacsuit can't move to cover bare skin in time to protect from the emissions of an energy weapon, so the uniforms have to have more coverage.

The Reality Behind the Vacsuit

There's good news for everyone who wants to wear one of these things (and I was surprised to hear that many people do). Research is under way in textiles and microscopic technology that will make the vacsuit and all the technology built into it a reality. The results of my queries when I was getting ready to write Freeground in 2007 were astounding. I quickly realized that my original idea of the 'one size fits all space suit' were severely limited and redeveloped my notion into the one Spinward Fringe readers know now.

Some of the existing, working technology include:
Printed batteries
Printed electronics
UV Protective clothing
Ultra thin solar technology
Kinetic battery chargers
Light emitting shirts
Shape changing clothing [High Fashion Not safe for work!]

Some creative Google searching will reveal even more real worlds examples of what you'd find in a vacsuit. The ongoing research is amazing.


Here's a question for everyone: How important do you find research is when someone is writing about futuristic science fiction? Please take a minute to answer in the comments.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Quick Q&A About The Spinward Fringe Series

Recently a thread about the First Light Chronicles and Spinward Fringe books has sprung to life on the Mobileread forums. You can find that here. The posters there seem to have become quite aware that I read their posts and am ready to answer within a day or two of them posting practically any question. I'm enjoying the public back and forth, and invite anyone who frequents my blog to pay it a visit.

So far the thread has been spoiler free, so if you want to start a topic where the plot lines of the books are discussed, then I ask that you start a new one. I'll be happy to discuss the plot, characters or technology in a different discussion thread for people who have already read the books. I won't reveal future plans or what's coming up in the story, however. (If you do start a new topic concerning my work, please send me a message telling me where to find it. Mobile read is a big bulletin board).

Here are a couple questions that have come up in the existing thread:

I didn't know you updated the MOBI versions of First Light and such. When did the updates go through and what changed?

The updates went live a few weeks ago. Here's the most recent post regarding that.

There were a few grammar corrections (a few of which were submitted by readers who were in the book industry, thank you if you're reading this!), I also wrote in some extra character development and re-wrote some sections so they were more believable and easier to read.

That sounds like a lot, but when you consider the plot didn't change, and I was told time and time again not to completely rewrite Freeground, so I didn't, the changes aren't ground shattering.

The next book to get this treatment is Resurrection, which, thankfully, doesn't need nearly as much work.

Judging from the feedback I've been getting on the re-release of the First Light Chronicles Ombibus, I'll be re-releasing Spinward Fringe Broadcast 1: Resurrection on Amazon for $0.99 for the first month or two, so people who do want the updated version on their Kindle won't have to pay the full price again. This is in reaction to Kindle not being willing to offer their users the most up to date versions of a book. Their customer service people have spoken.

All these updates will also happen on Mobipocket and Smashwords, where people who already own them will be able to get the updated versions for free.

When is Spinward Fringe Broadcast 6: Fragments coming out?

Right now I have two thirds of a manuscript that's been written two and a half times. Thankfully, I'm not doing another draft unless my editor tells me I've bungled the book, so I'm working on the ending right now. It's looking like this book will be out in the next couple of months if it gets my editor's approval.

Things do tend to move more slowly these days, however, as I take a lot more time with editing and have gotten a couple more people involved. With an audience that has grown to about 500 for the Spinward Fringe series, I've become pretty quality conscious. The development time for each book after it's written is still only weeks, however, as compared to big publishing houses, who normally take months, so we have that going for us!

In a post later this week I'll be answering questions I've received over the years about vacsuits. It seems that people have no problem believing in worm holes and mass modifying particles, but thin protective clothing is a little boggling. It makes sense when you think about it, science fiction is filled with examples of objects that move faster than the speed of light, but you don't hear about clothing that does more than cover you from neck to toe.


Do you have any questions about the Spinward Fringe series?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Read an E-Book Week, March 7-13, 2010

Mark Coker of Smashwords made all his authors aware that we have reason to celebrate. E-Books are being celebrated from between March 7-13, 2010 and I'm sure we'll have another week next year.

This celebration has led to a huge event on Smashwords, where thousands of books have been heavily discounted, either by 25%, 50% or more.

How is the Spinward Fringe series participating? Until March 13, all Spinward Fringe titles are 50% off.

When someone asks me; "What do you do for a living?" I answer; "I write E-Books." From the outset of the Spinward Fringe series I wanted my work to be easier to read in short bursts while keeping people coming back to whatever screen they were enjoying my work on. It's been a difficult goal to meet at times, but when I plan chapters and later edit them I'm not thinking of paper pages turning. I'm thinking of fingers sweeping across screens and tapping forward buttons as they turn digital pages. I think about giving my readers in the London Underground, the New York Subway, the Sunbus in Rockhampton, Austrailia or anywhere else in the world enough story in 10 minutes for them to feel that they've been somewhere else, that they've been entertained.

As many readers have told me, they love flipping their phones open, reading for ten minutes in the queue, during their coffee break, or listening to a text to voice of a book in the car before getting on with the next segment of their every day. I remember the time I spent working in call centers very clearly. The long stretch between calls some days, and the frenzied wall to wall customer queries and complaints others. There was nothing like being able to get away for fifteen minutes, and reading a good book was a great way to do just that.

I'm not going to compare myself to the books I read then, I don't think I'm in their sand box just yet, but I'm happy the rising popularity of E-Books makes me a convenient choice for hundreds of people across the world.

That's why I'm celebrating E-Books this year. They have given me the wonderful opportunity to entertain you, and soon, very soon, I'll be back with another book. Then another, and another. As of this moment my work is on over 19,000 devices. When you really think about it, few people who actually want to entertain their fellow human beings reach that many people outside of YouTube. The majority of those devices only contain the free version of the First Light Chronicles Omnibus, but many of those people who will be, have been, or are being entertained by something I created and made available as an E-Book.

As the Spinward Fringe series continues, as I reach and surpass 20,000 devices, and when a brand new fantasy novel emerges later this year I hope to entertain a greater multitude more vividly, and with greater skill. I can't wait.

For everyone who hasn't read all the books, now is a good time to follow your interest. Here's a full list of my books on Smashwords. The 50% off code is listed on the individual page of each title and will be valid until the end of E-Book Week, March 13.


- Now, back to work on Spinward Fringe Broadcast 6: Fragments