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Naming characters: The Upside of Creativity, and a Trap

July 10, 2012 15 comments

A writer-centric post today on one of the most enjoyable parts of being a writer – the creativity it allows me. Specifically, in making up names. I’ve talked before about naming settings (cities, planets) and items (vehicles, weapons, ships), but this post is strictly about naming characters…and a trap one can fall into.

A few months back, I did a beta read for a friend, and one of my critiques was alliterative names. It was a fantasy novella, out of my usual comfort zone of reading, so I didn’t know if that was a theme or style fantasy used. However, after the fourth character was introduced whose name started with a V, I was completely lost. I felt it made it difficult for the reader to follow, especially when a story has several characters that impact the overall story arc using that letter.

Let’s do a little quiz. Here is a photo still from one of my all-time favorite movies (and guilty shoot-em-up pleasures), Aliens. It’s a picture of two of the most visible and popular characters (not to mention two that survived quite long, so they had plenty of screen time). It’s Hicks and Hudson; everyone knows those names. What’s the quiz? BEFORE you scroll down to the answer, answer this – which one is Hicks, and which one is Hudson?

Answer: It’s Hudson on the left, Hicks on the right. Even I to this day sometimes mix them up thinking back to the movie, as they are in so many scenes together, they are integral to the plot arc, and their names start with the same letter.

Maybe you got it correct, maybe not, but the point I’m illustrating is that characters need distinct names from each other, and ones that aren’t overly clichéd (and by clichéd, I mean Cliff Stone for the tough guy, Melvin Poindexter for the nerd, Vlad Bloodworth for a vampire, and so on – they can take away from the story).

I fell into this trap with my first novel, Gabriel’s Redemption, and it wasn’t until the second story in the trilogy was released that someone called me on it. I never caught it. And it was pretty bad, I must say. Two very different characters, one the ultimate bad guy in the book, and one a heroic captain. One was MacFarland, one McTiernan. Holy crap, what a boo-boo.

The reason? I’ve used random name generators online for many character names, and I just keep hitting Refresh until one catches my eye. One that sounds right for the character and is easy to say (a popular character named Varsonofy Panteleimonovich Krestovozdvizhensky is going to stop the reader in his or her tracks). I had MacFarland from a previous idea and put it into the story, but when I got to needing a name for a ship captain later on, I resorted to the random name generator, and it looked good. Never made the connection.

So…did you get Hicks and Hudson correct? Any name issues you’ve run across in books, or traps you’ve fallen into?

I’m now syncing *sideloaded* books across multiple devices. Here’s how…

June 27, 2012 10 comments

Just a little quickie tech-talk post today. Last week I picked up my first iPad* a few days after buying my son an iPad 1 and falling in love with it.

* Why is this significant? Because I’ve been a Mac-head since 1986 (lugged a Mac SE-HD to college in 1988 as my portable computer – ah the memories of trying to find an open AppleTalk port in the computer lab). I’ve been an iDevice-head almost since the iPhone hit stores, and swear by them. But I never pulled the trigger on an iPad – to me, it was a tweener. I have an iPhone 4S and a MacBook Pro – why get something that’s between them? Boy, was I mistaken…love at first swipe.

Over the past few days I’ve been customizing it, installing apps and music, some videos, and generally just hugging it to death. I might even name it. But last night, something magical happened (Steve Jobs’ words, not mine). I found out it syncs books.

What I mean by syncs books is that I can read an ebook on my iPhone, and pick up where I left off on my iPad, and vice versa. I’m not tied to one device, or having to remember what page I was on.

I can hear you now:

Steve, you’re an idiot. Syncing last page has been available for Kindle since day one, and Nook, and Kobo. Where have you been, moron? 

Ho ho, I say! Those devices and apps do a fine job of syncing books purchased through their stores, of course. All of them do. (Well, my Nook app experience has had some issues, swearing I’ve been on page 115 of Randolph LaLonde’s Spinward Fringe now for two weeks.) It’s part of the allure of “read anywhere” and technology in the cloud. I’m not talking about that. What I mean is:

iBooks will sync SIDELOADED books across devices.

Try that with your Kindle or Nook. Sideloading is taking an ePub file and ‘manually’ loading it into your device. I can do that with my Nook Color, an Android tablet and read with Aldiko, my mother can do it with her Kindle, and I can even click on a mail  attachment with an ePub file on my iPhone and have it ‘sideloaded’ to my Stanza app. But sideloading means the store behind the software won’t sync across devices – it won’t even know you have the file.*

* There is a way with Kindle by emailing the .mobi file to your @kindle.com address, but if you’ve acquired an ePub file, conversion is another step, and if you have ‘questionable’ material or perhaps ill-gotten files, giving Amazon access to those files may not be desired.

So what do I do when a fellow author sends me a copy of his/her book to read? Or I pick up a file off Smashwords? Or a public domain book? iBooks to the rescue. It WILL sync last page/collections/bookmarks across devices for any file, store bought or sideloaded.

On all iDevices, go to Settings > iBooks > turn ON Sync Bookmarks and Sync Collections. Now here’s the real key – you need to upload via iTunes in order for the sync to work. Drag the ePub file into iTunes, connect the various iDevices, and sync that book file to all of them. Poof, done. Now ANY ebook you load onto your iPhone will sync with the iPad, other iPhones, iPod Touch, whatever through iCloud.

So now I’ve begun collecting all of my ePub files (I’ve sideloaded plenty into various apps) into iBooks, and I’m ready to read anywhere, anytime.

Did I get anything wrong? Was I behind the times and everyone knew this? How do you guys read sideloaded books?

Gabriel’s Journey, the complete trilogy with bonus Zero Point prequel, on sale 33% off while I’m away! Spread the word?

May 27, 2012 1 comment

While I’m away, the price gremlins will play! Last week I ran some two-day sales on the individual books in the Gabriel series; starting today, the complete collection of Gabriel’s Journey (including the Gabriel: Zero Point prequel) will be on sale for 33% off. Hey, that’s almost one third!

The regular price is $8.99 (which is a steal, IMO, if you consider the combined costs of the three: $3.99 + $4.99 + $4.99 = $13.97). Through June 10th (when I get back from my woeful, terrible, difficult business trip to the Mediterranean), this sucker’s on sale for $5.99, or slightly more than a Taco Bell Five Buck Box (which might be gastronomy’s worst nightmare).

Gabriel’s Journey is now available for $5.99 for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. Sorry, I won’t be running this one through Smashwords for Sony/Kobo users (long story short – they take forever to push a price through to Sony/Kobo, meaning they’ll take forever to change it back).

If you could be so kind as to pass along the word, I’d greatly appreciate it (and I’ll reward!). Nothing would be more exciting than to return from the slog of two weeks of work on a cruise ship to a huge sales report. Well, perhaps there are a few more exciting things, but at the moment they escape me.

I’ve got some ready-made tweets if you want to use them. When I get back, I’ll randomly select TWO peeps that tweeted and give out a $10 Amazon gift card to each. If I do well in the on-board casino, I’ll make it THREE.

GABRIEL’S JOURNEY, complete scifi-adventure trilogy for #Kindle from @SteveUmstead, on sale for $5.99! http://ow.ly/bbchy #RT

GABRIEL’S JOURNEY, complete scifi-adventure trilogy for #Nook from @SteveUmstead, on sale for $5.99! http://ow.ly/bbbRd #RT

GABRIEL’S JOURNEY, complete scifi-adventure trilogy for #iBooks from @SteveUmstead, on sale for $5.99! http://ow.ly/bbbNT #RT

You can tweet ’em or Google+ ’em; as long as they’re tagged with my info I’ll see ’em. And feel free to Facebook ’em, but I won’t see ’em. I threw in the towel on FB long ago…

THANKS!

How about a little book trivia? Prizes, I promise…but no cash.

May 25, 2012 5 comments

Just for funsies (yes, that is a word – squiggly red underlined notwithstanding), I thought I’d do a little first line matching challenge. I currently have seven published works out there (not including Gabriel’s Journey, which is the compilation of four books), and each obviously has an opening line. Some may be obvious, some obscure, so give it a shot if you’re up for it.

Prize winners will receive e-copies of ALL SEVEN, via email.

How does one win? Below are my seven* first lines, each with a number. After that are the seven stories’ names, each with a letter. COMMENT with your matches (like 1-B, 3-E, etc.). Saturday night at 9PM ET I’ll end the commenting. I will award THREE sets of prizes, so there will be three winners. If more than three are completely 100% correct, the first three that commented get the prizes. If fewer than three are correct, I’ll give three prizes to the highest number correct. And if there are more than three with the same highest number correct, we go back to expediency. Make sense?

* Those of you with good math skills may notice there are actually eight first lines. One is NOT associated with a currently published work as a red herring, but IS the first line (as it stands) of my current scifi WIP, so you get a little sneak preview.

Ready? Set? GUESS:

1 – They say it’s the first thing that goes when you get old… or was it the second thing?

2 – “Which one is he?”

3 – The warship glided through the inky blackness of the Canaan system. 

4 – Maybe a second glass of wine will help my nerves.

5 – Louis Mullins knew he’d die one day; he just didn’t know until a few hours ago that today was that day.

6 – Evan dove into the clear blue water, leaving the safety of the catamaran behind, and swam deep, adjusting his goggles as he kicked.

7 – The first thing Tomas Katoa saw when he opened one blurry eye was a front tooth.

8 – My life changed on the way to the train station after work.

A – Gabriel’s Redemption

B – Gabriel’s Return

C – Gabriel’s Revenge

D – Gabriel: Zero Point

E – The Awakening

F – Special Delivery

G – Opt-Out

GO!

Today launches Gabriel:Zero Point with special weekend pricing

April 13, 2012 2 comments

The official day is officially here – the official launch day of Gabriel: Zero Point, the prequel novella to the Gabriel science fiction-adventure trilogy! Those of you who have read the series can find out more about how Gabriel came to be the man waking up in the seedy Jamaican hotel room at the beginning of Gabriel’s Redemption, and those of you who haven’t yet dipped your toes into the trilogy can start with a bite-sized story (22,000 words) to lead into the overall arc.

It wouldn’t be a launch without a proper promotional price (and a hint of a very cool contest to come). But first – the story:



GABRIEL: ZERO POINT

Prequel Novella to the Evan Gabriel Trilogy
Evan Gabriel wasn’t always a feared and respected North American Federation Navy Commander. Before dangerous missions to the ice-bound planet of Poliahu, the deadly jungle world of Eden, and politically corrupt Mars, he was a simple recruit, fighting to make his mark in the elite Naval Special Forces…and was part of a top-secret military experiment that would change his life forever.Zero Point tells the tale before the science fiction/adventure trilogy, a tale of a young man faced with difficult choices and dangerous trials. Fans of the series will see part of the mysterious past Evan Gabriel carries with him, while readers new to the series get a preview of what is to come in a military man’s haunted life.

Zero Point is the true beginning of Evan Gabriel, and his story is just getting started.


.
I did mention special promotional pricing, right? For THIS WEEKEND ONLY (ending Sunday night the 15th), Zero Point will be less than a cup of coffee from a gas station. A whopping $.99 (£.77 for my friends across the pond). It’s currently available for Kindle US, Kindle UK, Nook, and Smashwords for other platforms (Smashwords is notoriously slow for distributing to Sony, iBooks, Kobo, etc. so I knew it wouldn’t be ready for today – Smashwords.com it is, sorry.)

         

Then watch this space Sunday night for an announcement of the Zero Point “spread the word” contest. I need all of my friends’ help to get the word out about the new release, so I’ll be giving away Amazon Gift Cards daily, plus a KINDLE FIRE or NOOK TABLET to one lucky winner at the end.

Hope you guys and gals pick up a copy, and hope even more that you enjoy it (and if you do, a review goes a long way for us struggling authors).

 

P.S. Hey look, it’s my 100th WordPress post…

New Update: Steadily increasing Nook sales due to not doing KDP Select?

February 29, 2012 19 comments

UPDATE AS OF 2/29 – SEE BOTTOM OF POST

I took a peek at my months sales figures for Barnes & Noble Nook ebooks this morning, and something caught my eye. I looked back at January’s numbers, and figured out what it was. As of February 17th, my Barnes & Noble sales exceeded January’s entire monthly total. January was my best month to date for Nook, so I peeked back at December…and saw a trend. Where this trend comes from I have no way of telling*, but I’m liking the trend.

* As a marketer at heart and by trade (my degree is in marketing, and I’ve been doing marketing essentially my entire adult life – from putting flyers under windshield wipers for an ice cream parlor to putting together a complete social media program for my company), not knowing where a sale came from, not being able to track what methods work and don’t work based on measurable end results, absolutely kills me.

November of 2011 was a decent month for Nook sales. December was 40% better than November (nice, I can pay the wine bill!). January was even better, a 50% increase over December (hey, more wine!). And now February has exceeded January by the 17th of the month. Why? I can’t be sure, but I have a guess.

I think there’s a strong possibility that my steadily increasing BN sales may be due to me NOT choosing to go KDP Select.

A lot of my blog visitors are readers, not authors, so very briefly on KDP Select: Amazon launched an exclusive program called Select in early December that authors sign up with for a 90 day period during which time they are NOT allowed to sell/distribute/list excerpts/give away their ebooks through any other method. Not sample chapters or excerpts on a blog, not Nook, not Kobo, not Sony, not iPad. In exchange Amazon allows authors to give away their book for free up to five days during that 90 day period (among other ‘benefits’, none of which I see as an advantage by any stretch). I’ve come out against KDP Select for many reasons which I won’t get into here (maybe later), but in a nutshell I feel going exclusive through one channel is business suicide (not to mention pissing off owners of Nooks, Kobos, Sony Readers, etc. that would no longer be able to buy my books). However, a boatload of authors have jumped onto the Select bandwagon, which leads me to this hypothesis:

There is now less competition in my genre, meaning my books rank higher and are more visible to potential readers in Barnes & Noble’s systems. All of those authors that latched onto the Amazon bandwagon gave me a better opportunity to provide science fiction/adventure to Nook users looking for books.

Nook sales are still a very small percentage of my overall sales; Kobo, Sony, and iBooks even less, but it’s still a percentage. And it’s a growing number, so far. I have no intention of cutting off that percentage. Barnes & Noble had a 70% increase in Nook e-reader sales this past holiday season over the previous season. The iPad is still by far the most popular tablet (over 60% market share), and the iPad 3 is set to be announced March 7th. Kobo is a massive player in Canada, having 36% of the market compared to Kindle’s 25%. Why would I want to ignore those markets, small percentage or otherwise?

And readers – would I have pissed you off by going Amazon only with the Gabriel books?

UPDATE: As of Feb 29 (so some stragglers may still show up after month’s end), my Nook sales have increased by over 70% over January’s totals. To recap – since the kickoff of KDP Select, Nook sales are up 40% from November to December, up 50% from December to January, and now up 70% from January to February (and keep in mind this month is 2 days shorter than January). I’m starting to think there’s something to this theory…

Excerpt from Gabriel’s Redemption, Book 1: Back Office Troubles

February 26, 2012 Leave a comment

When Santander arrived, Gurnett and two other security men had two plant workers seated in chairs in a back office. One of the security men was training an odd-looking handgun at them. As Santander approached, one of the plant workers stood up and pointed. “That’s him, that’s the guy who set me up for this!” he yelled.

The handgun butt smashed into the worker’s stomach, and he sat back down hard, gasping for breath.

Gurnett shook his head and looked back at Santander. “Never learn, do they?”

“No, I suppose not,” he replied, avoiding Gurnett’s face. “So what’s the situation?” he asked the non-gasping individual.

The second worker gulped nervously, looking alternately at the other worker, who was just now catching his breath, and his questioner. “You’re the security chief? You runs things here, right?” he asked.

“Correct,” said Santander, crossing his arms.

“Dural has been pocketing vials, skimming from the top of our production. I walked in on him today. I gave him a chance to explain, but he just threw your name back at me, saying you know all about it, and then accused me of stealing production equipment!”

“So you’re Rechichi?” he asked. “How long have you been here? What’s your position?”

“Four months, sir. I handle post-processing for most of the final compounds, prior to packaging. Same as Dural.” Apparently unsure of where this conversation was going, beads of sweat began to appear on his upper lip.

“And Dural?” Santander asked Gurnett.

“Two years. One of our best men,” he answered.

Rechichi was now sweating profusely, wiping his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. “I’m not lying!”

“No, I don’t think you are,” Santander replied evenly. “Wrong place at the wrong time, I suppose.”

He held his hand out to the security officer, who passed over the handgun. “Codes,” he said. The security officer flashed arming codes for the weapon to Santander’s neuretics, and the handgun powered up.

“Wait!” screamed Rechichi, holding his hands up, palms out, in protest. “You can’t do this!”

Santander raised the weapon, the tingle in the grip indicating it was armed and fully charged. “Of course I can. I run things here, remember?” And he fired.

The handgun wasn’t silenced, so a loud piercing clangggg filled the small office. The depleted uranium pellet shot from the barrel, accelerated by magnetic fields to over six thousand miles per hour, and smashed through the plant worker’s skull. The entry wound was tiny, matching the pellet’s 3 millimeter diameter, but the resulting exit wound wasn’t nearly as neat. The back of Rechichi’s head exploded onto the wall behind him, and his body flew backwards out of the chair, onto a large plastic sheet. A small hole was visible in the back wall, now dripping with brain matter and blood.

Damn, Thao, what the hell is this thing?” Santander asked the security man, looking in wonderment at the weapon.

The security man who had given Santander the gun smiled. “Miniature railgun, sir. Made by Strittmaier out of New Berlin. Newest tech on the market. Undetectable to electronic or neuretic scans too. Cost me a month’s pay to afford it.”

Santander nodded. “I like it. No recoil, that’s fantastic.” He turned it over in his hands a few times. “A little loud though. Gurnett, look into getting some of these. And reimburse Thao for having to buy his own.”

Thao beamed. “Thank you sir.”

Santander looked over at Dural, whose wheezing had completely stopped. Even his breathing had stopped as he stared behind him at the carnage that was his coworker.

“Dural,” Santander said.

Dural’s head snapped back. “Yes, uh, sorry. Thanks Mr. Santander. He just walked in on me, he shouldn’t even have been on shift. Won’t happen again, I know you need those vials, and I’ll keep them coming.”

“I do need those vials. What I don’t need are morons working for me.” He raised the pistol again, and fired twice into Dural’s chest. The body toppled over to rest near Rechichi, two holes blown clean through his chest, the chair back, and the wall. The dual clangs reverberated off the ceiling and walls.

“Hot damn, I love this thing!” he exclaimed, handing it back to Thao. “Gurnett, you gotta get me one. First on the list, hear me?”

Gurnett nodded. “Absolutely. Sorry again to bother you.”

“Not a problem, I needed a little release,” Santander answered. “Nice touch with the plastic sheeting, makes cleanup a lot easier.”

He strode from the room, whistling.

***

GABRIEL’S REDEMPTION is Book 1 of the top-rated science fiction/adventure Gabriel trilogy. Enjoy the scene, like the genre? All three are available for all major ebook platforms, and now paperback: http://steveumstead.com/my-books/