Friday, 30 August 2013

Physical Books vs. E-books - A Weighty Tome

Physical Books vs. E-books - A Weighty Tome

This morning I picked up my hardcover version of Stephen King’s “Under the Dome”.  Just looking at it always amazes me – It looks solid enough that you could build a house out of these books, if you had enough of them.  Veritable bricks they are.

So I measured it and found it to be about 9 inches by 6 inches by 2.5 inches.  A couple of minutes with a spreadsheet, and using  an estimated paper density of 800 grams per cubic centimeter gives a weight of about 4.5 pounds, for that book alone.

Estimating the length and number of all of the bookshelves in my house, I eventually came to the conclusion that my family’s book collection weighs in at about 1800 kilograms, or 4500 pounds.  Nowadays, those  books would probably all fit onto one kindle or kobo, that weighs about half a kilogram, or about a pound.  That would sure make moving a lot easier.  It would free up a lot of shelf space too.

I figure that’s about 2000 books, which means we bought  about a book a week over, let’s just say, several decades.  That’s seems like a pretty reasonable estimate for three fairly voracious readers.  In monetary terms, I suppose 2000 physical books would translate into about $40,000, at $20 per book.  Most e-books are under $10 now, independents are usually well under $5.  That represents quite a difference in overall expense, probably about $25,000.  You could  buy a new car with that much money.

So, anyway, I wonder if e-books will eventually supplant paper books?

Friday, 23 August 2013

A Conversation with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series - Fringe Theatre and Independent Publishing

Aug 22, 2013 Fringe Theatre Festival, Edmonton Alberta

Part Eight – Similarities between Fringe Theatre and Independent Publishing

Question: So, here we are at the Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival, one of the most successful Fringe Theatre events in North America, in terms of theatre attendance and general festival participation. I think one can draw a lot of parallels between Fringe Theatre events and independent novel publishing. How about you starting off
Answer: Well, the first comparison that springs to mind is that word independent. As I understand it, in Fringe Theatre, some theatre people get together, pick a play (sometimes that means writing one), choose a cast, directors, technical support, and so forth, then apply for a stage at the Fringe event. It’s generally not an ongoing theatre company, but a group of artists collaborating for the length of the run. It’s small scale, like independent or self-publishing. The artists have a lot of control in both cases.

Question: It’s a little like Kati of Terra’s group of performers on Vultaire, in Kati of Terra Book 2.

Answer: Nice plug. Yeah, and similar to that situation, the performers take most of the financial risk and share the financial gains or losses. Which is true of independent publishing too.

Question: Though the Fringe Theatre association gets a cut, in a manner similar to how Amazon or Kobo gets a cut of the independent publisher’s revenue.

Answer: Well, in both cases those people provide a very useful service, so they deserve a reasonable cut of the revenue. They are providing the venue, whether stages or websites. But, the bulk of the revenues flow to the creative people, as I think they should. That tends not to be the case in big theatre or big publishing. For better or worse, a lot of non-creatives get the major cut of the money in those cases.

Question: Another similarity is the greater variety and volume of works that get produced and consumed under these models (Fringe theatre and independent publishing), compared to the more centralized systems (big theatre and big publishing). I note that the Edmonton Fringe has over 50 venues going, with at least 200 or so separate plays being produced. That’s a lot of theatre in 10 days. Similarly, independent e-book publishing has vastly increased the number and variety of books being published and consumed.

Answer: Yes, both of these innovations in cultural production and distribution have unleashed a lot of creativity. Human beings have an amazing level of creativity and they love to share it with each other.

Question: Not everyone thinks that’s a great thing.

Answer: Well, I don’t suppose many people who benefitted from the old system will prefer the new one. But change happens and I think it is an overall positive.

Question: What about the quality argument?

Answer: Both Fringe Theatre and independent publishing probably have a wider range of quality than the older models. But that also means a wider variety of themes and stories make it out to the public. In both cases it is the public who decides on “quality”, not tastemakers or gatekeepers. That seems more democratic to me.

Question: The four plays that we have seen seem like a good sample of what independent artists can do. They have all been good, often very thought provoking, funny and quite literary as it happens.

Answer: Yes, “Promise and Promiscuity” was a smart take-off on Jane Austen, “Charles Presents: Moby Alpha” was very funny satire of Moby Dick and SF, “Or,” was an amusing take on Restoration drama, and “Freud’s Last Session” was a thought-provoking intellectual discussion between Freud and C.S. Lewis. That’s a good couple days work for the Fringe.

Question: As is Kati 1 and Kati 2 a good couple year’s work for independent publishing.

Answer: Oh, you.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Astrophysics Corner, Part 2 – Shapes of Galaxies

In Kati of Terra Book 2: On Assignment to the Planet of the Exalted, Kati discovers that she hasn’t  just been kidnapped to a location few star systems from Earth, but has, in fact, travelled a lot farther:

Lienel r’pa Gradin had frozen the image at a point where Katie-who-once-was, had been examining a representation of the galaxy.  There it had been, filling most of the large, glossy page, with its countless stars forming a spiral shape with the two arms extending out, and a black arrow pointing to the approximate location of the sun around which Kati’s home world orbited.

 “Perhaps you are not aware—and there is no reason why you would be, unless someone had happened to mention it—that the World Lamania and its sun are not in a spiral galaxy.  We of the Star Federation know of them, of course, and have known, for a long, long time, but we do not, in fact, live in one.  Our galaxy has a more amorphous shape; it lacks the beautiful symmetry of the spiral galaxies.”

Kati’s head had swum; then the granda had come to her aid, and worked on her nervous system to allow her to regain some equilibrium.

“Are you saying,” she had asked, “that I have—somehow—travelled right out of my galaxy and into another one?”

There are many complex classification schemes for galaxies, but the main distinctions are between spiral, elliptical and lenticular galaxies.  Our solar system lies within the Milky Way galaxy, thought to be a barred spiral galaxy.  The Andromeda galaxy, easily seen through a small telescope,  is another prominent spiral galaxy.  Most people would agree with Lienel r’pa Gradin that spiral galaxies are indeed very beautiful.  Elliptical galaxies, similar to the one that Kati now finds herself in, are ellipsoid shaped, more or less what we would call egg or football shaped, and therefore not nearly as visually striking.  A famous example of an elliptical is the satellite galaxy of Andromeda, known as M32.  M87 in the Virgo cluster (also visible in a small telescope in a dark sky) is another well-known example.

At one time it was thought that spiral galaxies eventually evolved into elliptical galaxies, but that is evidently not true, as the stars in elliptical galaxies tend to be older on average than those in spiral galaxies, and they seem to have lower rates of star formation.   Maybe that explains the profusion of intelligent life in Kati’s new galaxy, compared to our own i.e. there has simply had more time for intelligence to involve and spread in that galaxy

Lenticular galaxies are intermediate between spirals and ellipticals, similar to spirals in having disks, but lacking spiral arms.  They also have relatively old stars and relatively low star formation rates.

One interesting theory concerning the shapes of galaxies involves collisions between galaxies and the  resulting mergers.  This seems like a fantastic idea, but modelling shows that for the most part the galaxies involved would pass through each other, with no actual stellar collisions.  However, these events could affect the shape of the resulting merged galaxy, and also trigger episodes of enhanced star formation.  The remarkable Cartwheel galaxy is thought to be a result of such a cosmic collision.

Friday, 9 August 2013

A Conversation with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series – On not Being J.K. Rowling

Aug 3, 2013 Garneau Pub Patio, Edmonton Alberta

Part Seven – On Not Being J.K. Rowling or the Joys of Starting Out

Question:  Ok, just for the sake of full disclosure, you’re not really J.K. Rowling, right?

Answer:  You bet.

Question:  And you’re not a long lost twin, or an AI robot version of JK, or a doppelganger?   I just thought I should ask, since this blog specializes in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Answer:  Nope, I’m just a newish SF/romance writer, like hundreds of others out there.  Definitely not J.K. Rowling, who is in a class all by herself.

Question:  By way of explanation, I should note to blog readers that J.K. Rowling was recently ‘outed’ as writing a book under a pen-name.  Her decently selling, but not ‘flying off the shelves’ selling, crime novel written under that pen name did indeed start flying off the shelves as soon as people knew who the actual writer was.  This became a bit of a cause celebre, since it pointed out the inestimable value of having a well-known, or more accurately very famous name and brand.  Ms. Rowling’s stated purpose behind the experiment was to see how her work would be received independent of her reputation.  What do you think of that?

Answer:  Well, naturally part of me would love to have Joanne’s problems.  I think it’s safe to say that most writers would agree with that statement.  But on the other hand, part of me can imagine her predicament.  A new writer is constantly being discovered, and there’s a real joy in that.  People are looking at your baby, even if it’s not a huge number of people, the way it became for J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter series.  In some ways, smaller numbers might be emotionally more satisfying than large numbers - you can still relate to each new reader who discovers you as an individual person, not a statistic, at least in your imagination.  You wonder what that person in Australia or Germany who bought your book is like.  Getting repeat readers is also a new thrill.  For example, Kati 1 has been out a little over a year, and Kati 2 has been out for a few months.  So, I am starting to see patterns in sales that indicate people who bought book 1 are buying book 2.  That’s very gratifying.   I imagine J.K. Rowling had experienced those things early on in her career and wanted to recapture that feeling.  Who could blame her?

Question:  That computes.  New experiences are almost always more exciting than repeated experiences, even the best repeated experiences.

Answer:  Another joy of starting out is that feeling that you are giving people pleasure, and taking them to new and exciting worlds, where characters like Kati and Mikal can overcome difficult obstacles and triumph against long odds.  Real life isn’t always like that, so you like the idea that you are giving people a lift.  Life can be a slog, so it’s nice to think that your fictional characters are bringing a smile to someone’s face. 

Question:  I suppose J.K. Rowling must have felt that way during the Harry Potter series.

Answer:  Yes, but maybe that feeling diminished with the kind of success that she had.  Maybe that’s another reason for her pen-name experiment.

Question:  Any other thoughts?

Answer:  I thought her books got a little darker as the series went on - maybe being so successful made her feel that she should write more ‘serious’ fiction, and to many people, more serious means darker.  Or maybe getting darker is inevitable when you stay with one set of characters for a long stretch.

Question:  Or perhaps her editors and publisher pushed her that way.

Answer:  Could be.  I guess that’s one of the other joys of starting out - you haven’t reached that point yet.  You don’t have to prove to yourself or to anyone else that you can write dark, serious stuff.  One of the nice things about the new opportunities of independent publishing is that I feel like I have control - I don’t have to go there unless I want to.  Perhaps J.K. Rowling should try that process the next time she wants to test the non-famous waters, rather than publish under a pen-name with a publisher that spills the beans, whether accidentally or not.

Question: Maybe she’s doing so right this moment.

Answer:  Maybe, but I can still safely say that I am not J.K. Rowling.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

More on beta readers - A Review of Kati of Terra, Book 2 by Beta Reader Ken

Our previous blog post was about the value and importance of beta readers. Here’s a post that picks up on that theme a bit, with an example of a beta reader’s input, in the form of a review of Kati 2 (written by Ken, one of our key beta readers, who kindly supplied it to us for this blog post). Note that we had various forms of input from all of our beta reviewers throughout the process of writing and editing the novel, including Ken - this is his summing up of the book:

Kati of Terra Book Two: On Assignment To The Planet Of The Exalted

Novel written by Helena Puumala

This is a science fiction that deals with the unacceptable practices of slavery and abuse occurring on the planet Vultaire(the planet of the exalted). Vultaire is a world dominated by a small group of powerful clans known as the exalted. These clans have maintained complete control over their populations for centuries and corruption is rampant in the ruling classes.

Kati uncovers child abuse involving a Vultarian couple that have traveled to the Lamanian world that she is living on. She uses her considerable influence to request an investigation into suspected slavery and other abuses on the planet Vultaire.

A commission is set up to investigate conditions on the planet of the exalted and Kati and her team are sent in to gather information and work with the locals to bring about the changes needed to end the rule of tyranny.

The exalted are an especially nasty lot so Kati and her team face danger often. The story is full of intrigue and that is what makes this book well worth reading.