Archive for category fiction

2016 Retrospective

With 2017 fast approaching in this neck of the woods, it’s time for my annual year-in-review post.

I usually don’t have too many complaints in these posts, but I have to say 2016 really tested me. And it wasn’t just election-related!

It started with some health issues that began late last year, persisting into early summer. I had a bunch of doctor’s visits and several expensive tests, but there was no real insight into what was going on. Things improved in the second half of the year, thankfully. I still don’t have any idea what was going on, but I’m making an effort to get more rest these days. Work continues to be a major source of stress, unfortunately.

Once again we had several costly car repairs in the first half of the year. Both cars are over 10 years old, with mine almost 14. This ongoing hassle culminated in having to make a decision in May when my car broke down yet again. We had to consider either spending twice the value of the car on repairs, or junking it and getting a new one. We decided on the latter option after realizing we’d have to spend the equivalent of six months of car payments to fix it! As luck would have it, our mechanic was interested in the car (supercharger, anyone?) and ended up buying it. He got a great deal. As for us, we re-entered the world of car payments and bought a new 2016 Dodge Charger. Alas, a V8 Hellcat model was out of reach…

My writing goals for the year were pretty much a bust. I submitted way more stories this year, but didn’t write much new fiction. As with last year, the bulk of my spare time was occupied by working on apps. I released a new PC app, two new Mac apps, a new iOS app, and 33 app updates.

In February I self-published my short story, That Which Dwells Beneath, in eBook and paperback form. This story first appeared in Lovecraft eZine in 2014. That was a fun learning exercise, even though it didn’t sell much. My plan was to use the knowledge gained when launching my first novel. Incidentally, I didn’t work on the novel, other than to re-read parts of my 2011 NaNoWriMo effort.

I entered two flash fiction competitions during the year, this time for Escape Pod and Cast of Wonders. My Escape Pod entry made it past the first round, but not the second. It probably didn’t help that I wrote both at the last minute!

I read more writing books this year and took two classic Dean Wesley Smith writing workshops related to genre and writing in series. I also signed up for Mark Dawson’s Facebook Ads for Authors course when it was offered this past summer, as well as his new Self Publishing 101 course. All of the above were well worth it, though it’ll take awhile longer to get the full benefit from the FB Ads course.

This year I read a good amount, taking part again in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. My reading continued to be almost exclusively in eBook form. Here are my reads for 2016:

Zeroes by Chuck Wendig
Write to Market: Deliver a Book that Sells by Chris Fox
Irregular Creatures by Chuck Wendig
Zen of eBook Marketing by Guido Henkel
How to Write a Novella in 24 Hours by Andrew Mayne
Jumper: Karma Police Book One by Sean Platt & David Wright
Iterate and Optimize: Optimize Your Creative Business for Profit by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant & David Wright
Dead Man: Black Magic Outlaw #1 by Domino Finn
Cursed: The Thrice Cursed Mage #1 by J. A. Cipriano
Launch to Market: Easy Marketing for Authors by Chris Fox
Wrong Side of Hell: The DeathSpeaker Codex #1 by Sonya Bateman
Writing about Magic by Rayne Hall
Justice Calling: The Twenty-Sided Sorceress #1 by Annie Bellet
Blue Collar to No Collar: From Trucker to Bestselling Novelist in Two Years by Wayne Stinnett
Storm Front: The Dresden Files #1 by Jim Butcher
The Shambling Guide to New York: The Shambling Guides #1 by Mur Lafferty
Lustlocked: Sin du Jour #2 by Matt Wallace
Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books by Chris Fox
The Forever Endeavor by Chuck Wendig
Karma Police: Karma Police Book Two by Sean Platt & David Wright
The Collectors: Karma Police Book Three by Sean Platt & David Wright
Ameriguns: A Thriller by Scott King
The 5 Day Novel by Scott King
Book Cover Secrets and Shortcuts: Book Cover Design for Everyone by Ed Lewis
Tales from the Loop by Simon Stålenhag

I continued listening to some great short fiction podcasts on my daily commute, including Escape Pod, Pseudopod, PodCastle, and Cast of Wonders. I highly recommend them, even to people who might not be short fiction readers. The podcasts are free, but please donate or subscribe if you enjoy listening.

Now for some stats:

2016 Stats:

New apps released: 4
App updates released: 33 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2016 Word count: 1,513
Stories written: 2
Stories published: 1
Total submissions: 32
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 32
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 25
Comics read: 12

As previously mentioned, I did a tonne of work on my apps this year. I released 4 new apps and more updates than last year.

My iOS, Mac and PC apps continue to decline in sales, despite the release of new apps. Revenue is slightly lower than last year. My new apps tanked badly, but I’m hoping they’ll do better by next Spring, since gardening app sales are typically seasonal.

In mid-April I released a Mac version of my orchid collection tracking app, Orchid Album. Like the iOS and PC versions, this app is localized into 6 languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.

October saw the release of both Mac and PC versions of my iOS cactus collection tracking app, Cactus Album. This year I’d localized the iOS app into an additional 6 languages (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai), and likewise for the Mac and PC versions.

In December I beat the App Store shutdown deadline and released my first new iOS app in two years, Plant Album. This is a more general-purpose garden and plant tracking app for gardeners, localized into 6 languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Despite adding a few more Android test devices to my collection this year, I didn’t do much work on Bonsai Album for Android. I’m getting stuck into learning the platform from scratch (again!) and hope to complete the app in 2017.

I’ve abandoned the untitled shoot-em-up game I was working on late last year. It would’ve been too much effort and expense to bother with considering the totally flooded game market these days. It’s a pity, since I had a prototype working on iOS, Mac, and Apple TV with the same codebase, including game controller support on all three platforms.

My interest in bonsai this year was confined to keeping my trees alive. I didn’t attend any bonsai shows or botanic gardens this year. I also lost a handful more trees, due to the harsh winter and a squirrel (or was it a rabbit or raccoon?) chomping apart one of my tropical trees at the roots.

Travel-wise, this year we made a bunch of trips to Michigan as usual. We also visited Amish country in Indiana, and the Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio. No exotic Florida vacation this year!

I wasn’t terribly happy with my personal fitness in 2016. Between the aforementioned health issues and slacking off in the final few months of the year, I didn’t exercise anywhere near as much as I should have.

This year I voted as a U.S. citizen for the first time, voting in the Illinois primaries and the general election. I wasn’t happy with the result of either one, but at least I voted, unlike most of the population!

So that’s my 2016 in a nutshell. My 2016 goals were a total shambles, but that’s not going to stop me making plans for 2017! Here are my goals for 2017:

– Write more fiction and complete my first novel.

– Complete my first Android app (most likely Bonsai Album). I still need to finish off the iOS, Mac and PC updates for Bonsai Album I’ve been working on since Summer, but after that the decks should be clear to get cracking on Android.

– Get back into my usual exercise routine, at least 3 times per week.

– Spend more time in our garden. I worked on the veggie garden this year, but just about everything else was neglected. It has been depressing looking at some amazing photos of our garden from the past decade and realizing it hasn’t looked that great in many years.

I hope everyone had a decent year, and I wish you well as we head into 2017. Happy New Year!

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That Which Dwells Beneath – Now Available

“That

My third author-published short story, That Which Dwells Beneath, is now available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Nook and via direct sale.

Here’s the description:

Detective Elliot Winter believes an innocent man may hang, framed for murders he didn’t commit. He’s convinced the condemned knows too much, and even if the man escapes the hangman’s noose, powerful people want him dead.

On the grounds of the abbey at the edge of town, the catacombs conceal terrible secrets. There are whispers of murder, ritual sacrifice, and worse. Winter cannot abide a world where such crimes are allowed to go unpunished.

In a race against time, Detective Winter risks his life and sanity to unravel a conspiracy concealing something far more sinister than even he can imagine.

That Which Dwells Beneath was first published in Lovecraft eZine, December 2014 (Issue #33).

I hope you enjoy the story, and look for more soon!

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2015 Retrospective

With the start of a new year, it’s a good time for one last look back at the previous year.

I don’t have too many complaints about 2015. The day job was a madhouse for much of the year, involving stacks of overtime and some overseas travel. Both of our old cars continue to test the pocketbook, and finances will prevent their replacement anytime soon. On the bright side, I finally paid off my large medical bill, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

Revisiting my 2015 goals, I wasn’t able to focus on writing so much. I didn’t go back to my novel at all, though I wrote a bunch of short stories instead. I mostly expended a huge amount of effort on my apps. In addition to 20+ iOS app updates, I released 3 new PC apps and an Apple TV app.

During 2015 I wrote a new Lovecraftian story and a whole bunch of flash fiction. From the latter I selected the two best stories to enter the Pseudopod flash fiction competition. One of the two stories made it past the first round, but was knocked out in the second. It was loads of fun to create some glimpses of new worlds and characters, so it’s something I’d like to do more of in the future.

Last year I read several writing books and watched some James Patterson Master Class writing lectures, as well as another lecture by Dean Wesley Smith and the folks at WMG Publishing. While there were no mind-blowing revelations, there were plenty of cool things to add to my writing toolbox.

My experiments in self-publishing fell flat, leaving me to conclude that short stories are a very tough sell at the present time. Then again, I can’t discount the possibility that my stories really sucked!

I had one story enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (KU) for 3 months, but had zero borrows over that time. If you’re a reader signed up for a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you would’ve been able to read it for free (i.e. borrow). The economics of the program changed during the year, which means it’s no longer possible to earn substantially more per short story download from a KU borrow vs a direct purchase at 99 cents. What was odd was making a handful of sales after pulling that particular story from KU.

While sales at Amazon were bad, everywhere else was completely dismal (zero!). As a result, I have since made both stories permanently free on all eBook platforms. I’m now getting a steady trickle of downloads, but still only on Amazon.

I did okay with keeping my stories out for submission at traditional markets, but like always, could’ve done better.

In 2015 I read twice as many books as the previous year. It probably helped there weren’t too many phonebook-sized tomes in the list. I took part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge which was a great motivator. Like last year, I read almost exclusively in eBook form. Here are my 2015 reads:

Threshold by Sean Platt and David Wright
The Martian by Andy Weir
Supercharge Your Kindle Sales: Simple Strategies to Boost Organic Traffic on Amazon, Sell More Books, and Blow Up Your Author Mailing List by Nick Stephenson
The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig
Invasion by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Writing High-Performance .NET Code by Ben Watson
Alamo Rising by Josh Rountree and Lon Prater
Contact by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Reader Magnets: Build Your Author Platform and Sell More Books on Kindle by Nick Stephenson
Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction by Douglas Smith
Indie Author Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn
5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox
Colonization by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day by Chris Fox
Build IOS Games with Sprite Kit: Unleash Your Imagination in Two Dimensions by Jonathan Penn and Josh Smith
Stories From July by Dean Wesley Smith
Fiction Unboxed by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt
Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace

I continued to listen to short fiction podcasts on my daily commute via Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. I highly recommend them, even to people who might not be short fiction readers. The podcasts are free, but please send a few bucks their way if you enjoy listening.

Now for some stats:

2015 Stats:

New apps released: 4
App updates released: 21 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2015 Word count: 13,958
Stories written: 14
Stories published: 0
Total submissions: 12
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 12
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 20
Comics read: 12

As mentioned above, I did a huge amount of work on my apps in 2015. I released 4 new apps and even more updates than last year.

My iOS and Mac apps continued their steady sales decline, with most almost reaching saturation point for their respective niches. Revenue for my iOS and Mac apps is roughly flat compared with the previous year. My PC apps didn’t do as well as expected, but they still helped minimize the impact of the lower sales of the rest.

Near the end of March I released Bonsai Album for PC. This is the PC version of my Mac bonsai tracking app, and it contains pretty much the same features. Like the Mac version, this app is localized into 7 languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese. There were some particular challenges on the PC platform with respect to obtaining a code-signing certificate and getting the licensing code working, but I was able to reuse this work in my other PC apps.

In mid-May I released the PC version of my submission tracking app for writers, Story Tracker.

In July I announced Bonsai Album for Android, taking my first tentative steps into Android app development.

September saw the release of the PC version of my iOS orchid collection tracking app, Orchid Album. Like the iOS version, this app is localized into 6 languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.

In October I released an Apple TV version of my flying jackalope game, Flapalope. This was a fun exercise, since Apple TV apps are quite similar to iOS apps. I’m using the Cocos2D game development framework again. I also had fun creating a game trailer on YouTube. A single 99c purchase unlocks both the iOS and Apple TV versions. Unfortunately the Apple TV App Store launch was botched in the first few weeks, leading to most apps being difficult to find. The situation has only marginally improved since.

Despite having made a grand total of 63 cents from this new game, I was excited to work on another one. This time around it’s an untitled shoot-em-up, also done with Cocos2D. The prototype is already working on iOS, Mac, and Apple TV with the same codebase, and also has game controller support on all three platforms. I’m still trying to decide which direction I’ll take the game, but I’m hoping to release it sometime this year.

Another big milestone this year was finally obtaining my U.S. citizenship! I’ve been eligible to apply for years, but with the looming 10-year expiry and renewal of my greencard, it was time to do some serious thinking. I applied in January, studied furiously for the test, and the interview and subsequent ceremony was in May.

My interest in bonsai waned further in 2015. I lost a few more trees during the horrendous winter, which added to the tally from the previous winter. There were no new trees this year, either.

I attended one bonsai show at Morton Arboretum, but missed the big show at the Chicago Botanic Garden due to travel.

I didn’t take much time off in the first half of the year, but enjoyed having my parents visit during Summer. We spent some time with them in Milwaukee and upper Michigan before they headed to the next stop on their trip. Later, we went camping with the inlaws, and in December we headed to Florida for Christmas, visiting Daytona Beach, Saint Augustine, Epcot, Key West, and Legoland (including the new Legoland hotel).
I also had two week-long business trips in 2015, spending some time in Paris and Guadalajara. Alas, not as fun as they might sound.

I was fairly happy with my personal fitness in 2015. I made time for regular treadmill workouts, consistently exercising 3 times a week, except for travel weeks and when the treadmill died in February. Funnily enough, the treadmill died a week before its 10-year warranty expired, so we only had to pay for the labor cost of repairs.

That about sums it up for 2015. I like setting New Year’s goals, despite not always being able to meet them. Here’s what I’m planning for 2016:

– Number one goal this year is to complete my first novel. I’ve always wanted to have at least one under my belt before hitting 40, and time is fast running out!

– Further to the previous goal, I plan to focus on my writing this year, rather than sacrificing it for apps. This includes both writing more stories and substantially ramping up submissions.

– I plan to continue my usual exercise routine. It gets tougher with age, but the benefits are too great to pass up.

– I’d like to release my new shoot-em-up game on iOS, Mac, and Apple TV. I’ve spent a bunch of time on the prototype, and I’d hate for all that effort to go to waste.

So, that’s it for another year. I hope 2015 treated you well, and best wishes for the New Year!

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Night Lights wide release

Night Lights - A Short Story

Now that the Amazon.com exclusivity period has expired, my second author-published short story is also available on iBooks, Kobo, Nook, and via direct sale. You can also find it still on Amazon.com.

Here’s the description:

Amelia and Robert Burke are traveling along a lonely stretch of highway in the Australian Outback, in search of the mysterious Min Min lights.

Their progress is halted by a blinding dust storm. Then Robert goes missing.

Trapped in their car and with little hope of survival, Amelia begins documenting their investigation and the horrors that lurk beyond the windscreen.

Night Lights joins my other recently author-published story, Back Again, which I talk more about in my earlier post.

You might be wondering how the Amazon exclusivity worked out? Not so great, actually. It was enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (KU), where readers who signed up for a KU subscription could read it for free. The theory was that for short stories, the current economics of the program mean it’s possible to earn substantially more per download from a KU borrow ($1 or more) vs direct purchase at 99 cents (35 cents or so), provided the reader gets through more than 10% of the eBook.

Well, there were zero borrows throughout the 3 month exclusivity period! The five free days had okay results, but those aren’t much of a drawcard since you can set the price to free on other eBook sites.

I’m not precisely sure why readers were happy to download it for free on the free days, yet not borrow when it was in KU. I suspect it’s a combination of it being a short story (gotta get your money’s worth with novel borrows!), visibility issues, and perhaps KU readers being a small percentage of the total pool of readers.

I’m curious if anyone else has had better results with short horror enrolled in KU? I certainly won’t be trying the experiment again.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy the story, and look for more soon!

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2014 Retrospective

Since we’re practically on the doorstep of 2015, it’s time for my traditional year-end post.

On the whole, 2014 was a pretty decent year for me. There was the usual work overtime madness and general stress, more car expenses, and paying completely out of pocket for last year’s medical issues, but other than all that, I personally didn’t have too much to complain about.

This year was a hard one for fans of genre fiction, with the tragic loss of two superb writers who passed long before their time, due to cancer. I’m referring to Jay Lake and Eugie Foster, though there were others not on my radar.

I’d followed Jay’s career since the early days, circa 2003. I consider him a mentor in my writing, as well as a fine upstanding human being. I only met him once (at Wiscon in 2006), but loved trying to keep up with his prolific output of short stories, and eagerly followed his writing process blog posts and news of his new novels. He was always willing to help and educate others, specifically other writers. He also grimly documented every detail in his battle with cancer, and successfully raised enough funds from a crowdfunding campaign to sequence his genome. The world is poorer for his loss, but I suspect in the years ahead his contributions will become more widely noticed.

While I’d never met Eugie, I’ve been following her work for 5 years or so, primarily podcasts of her short fiction. It was quite a shock to learn of her passing, since she was so young. If you haven’t yet checked out any of her work, please visit her website and start exploring her bibliography.

Back to my 2014 goals, I completely flubbed my “write more” goal, though this was intentional, as I’ll discuss in a moment. I released 3 new iOS apps and one new Mac app, along with updates for all the above, and just about completed a new PC app. I also began my first tentative steps into the indie-eBook publishing world.

Let’s start with the fiction. I’ve been writing fiction on and off for over 10 years now, and during that time I’ve made a few hundred dollars in short story sales. My plan for 2014 was to kick my writing into high gear, increasing my word count, increasing submissions, and hopefully increasing sales. I was off to a good start in the first few days of the New Year, completing a new short story.

What derailed all this was the huge medical bill from last year, which the health insurance company decided they wouldn’t cover at all. I fought it tooth and nail for about 6 months before all avenues of appeal were exhausted. As a result, I decided to invest most of my spare time on app development, in an attempt to raise the necessary funds. This wasn’t entirely successful either, but I did what I could.

Halfway through the year I was pleased with an acceptance from Lovecraft eZine for my short story, That Which Dwells Beneath. That was finally published in issue #33, which came out over the weekend. You can read it here. It’s free to read on the website, with a podcast version soon to come, along with Kindle and Nook eBooks.

During the year I watched a bunch more writing lectures by Dean Wesley Smith and the folks at WMG Publishing. While not always full of earth-shattering tips, they always have lots of good, no-nonsense advice. Highly recommended.

Toward the end of the year I set myself an internal goal of self-publishing at least one short story online, to be available through Amazon and various other eBook venues. I had a few stories in mind, but didn’t get cracking on this until December. It entailed learning about cover design and eBook formatting, among other things. After watching a few WMG Publishing cover design lectures and reading Guido Henkel’s Zen of eBook Formatting, I set to work. The first story, Back Again, is available for sale direct from my website, as well as on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Nook.

Upon returning from our trip to Florida, I began work on publishing a second story online. Originally titled, The Diary of Amelia Burke, this is now available exclusively with Amazon with the title, Night Lights. Why exclusive, you might ask? This is all part of my experiment. If the story is available exclusively with Amazon, it’s automatically enrolled with Kindle Unlimited (KU). If you’re a reader signed up for a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you get to read it for free. Despite that, the economics of the program mean it’s currently possible to earn substantially more per short story download from a KU borrow ($1 or more) vs a direct purchase at 99 cents (35 cents or so). I’ll be curious to see how this pans out.

I wasn’t diligent about keeping my stories out for submission, so the submission count is pretty anemic this year. It didn’t help that I didn’t have many new stories to submit, either. I plan to address both issues in 2015.

I was reasonably happy with my volume of reading this year. I read the same number of books as last year, but the page count was much higher:

Fat Vampire Value Meal (Fat Vampire #1-4) by Johnny B. Truant
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
Zombie Cop by Ben Settle
Replay by Ken Grimwood
Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
Writer Dad by Sean Platt
Microsoft Visual C# 2013 Step by Step by John Sharp
The Dark Tower (Book 7) by Stephen King
Zen of eBook Formatting by Guido Henkel
Crash by David W. Wright

Between finally finishing Stephen King’s conclusion to the Dark Tower series (I’m ignoring The Wind Through the Keyhole here) and a hefty C# programming tome, I wasn’t able to read as much fiction as I would’ve liked. I also delved more into self-published works, which weren’t all to my liking (see my goodreads ratings). Aside from the programming book, I read exclusively in eBook form this year.

This year I continued to listen to short fiction podcasts on my daily commute via Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. The quality continues to be incredible, and I highly recommend them, even to people who might not be big short fiction readers. The podcasts are free, but please send a few bucks their way if you enjoy listening.

Now for some stats:

2014 Stats:

New apps released: 4
App updates released: 13 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2014 Word count: 4,930
Stories written: 1
Stories published: 3
Total submissions: 4
Total acceptances: 1
Total rejections: 4
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 10
Comics read: 16

As I briefly mentioned above, I doubled down on app development in 2014. While not releasing quite so many updates, I did release 4 new apps on iOS and Mac, as well as substantially completing work on a new PC app.

The scary thing I’ve noticed is that either the bottom has fallen out of the app market in the last 18 months, or my apps are reaching saturation for their respective niches. My year-over-year revenue is only marginally up, despite releasing more apps and updates, as well as localizing Bonsai Album for a supposedly huge market (China). As far as the China app market, I’d say it’s great to localize for free apps and games, but probably not worth the time for paid productivity apps, unless you have a high-volume app (i.e. not in a niche).

Since there seems to be little interest from Apple in promoting charging for app upgrades, and attempting paid upgrades on your own seems to lead to customer revolt, it’s going to become increasingly difficult to justify updating older apps. Even the market for new apps seems to be drying up due to the intense level of competition these days. At this point my only hope for continuing to develop apps is to release fewer updates, and hope for the PC versions to take off in a big way.

Getting back on track, in February I released Cactus Album on the iOS platform. This is a similar app to my other plant care app, Bonsai Album, except taking into account the unique requirements for tracking cacti and succulents.

March saw the release of my first iOS game, Flapalope. It’s a free game with ads, and my take on the flappy genre. I’m pleased with how it turned out, even if it is the world’s greatest flying jackalope game that hardly anyone played.

In June I released Orchid Album, also on iOS. You can probably guess what this one does. I learned quite a bit about orchids in the preceding months while doing research for the app, gaining a new appreciation for the plants. In my usual fashion, I became a little fanatical about collecting them.

In July I released a paid version of Flapalope, with the imaginative title, Flapalope Gold. I’m not counting this as a new app, since it’s exactly the same as the original, just minus the ads. Again, this sank without a trace, and wasn’t really worth the week or so of development time.

Also in July I started learning a new programming language (C#), and became heavily involved in development of the PC version of Bonsai Album. The learning curve was quite steep compared with Mac and iOS development, but I think I’m getting the hang of things at this point. All the major features are now complete, though I still have another 6 weeks or so of tidying up details in preparation for the beta test. Following completion of Bonsai Album for PC, I’m also planning a version of Story Tracker for PC.

In early August I learned the 2D game development framework Cocos2D could also be used to create Mac games. Feeling positively frazzled from PC development, I took a short detour to work on my first Mac game. And thus, Flapalope for Mac was born! Again, nobody seemed too interested unless I dropped the price to free. Oh, well. At least I can say I’ve cornered the market on flying jackalope games on two platforms…

2014 was a discouraging year for my interest in bonsai. After one of the worst winters on record, I lost at least 7 trees due to the extreme cold. Some of these trees I’d been working on for years, so it was quite a blow to realize they were dead. A few other trees I’m still holding out hope for, though their chances aren’t good. Some surprised me, springing back to life during the summer, long after they normally would have in early spring.

I only made it to one Midwest Bonsai Society meeting this year. It was a memorable one, with renowned bonsai artist Walter Pall in town to demonstrate his carving skills. I was simply working too much overtime to be able to make it to more meetings.

I attended two bonsai shows this year, one at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and one at Morton Arboretum. I didn’t attend any bonsai workshops, being so demotivated about the hobby this year. I added one new tree to my collection (Hinoki Cypress), along with a large number of cacti, succulents, and orchids.

While I hardly took any time off in the first half of the year, we still managed to make some trips to Michigan and the UP in the second half, as well as northern Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Dells. A surprise from the inlaws was spending Christmas week in Florida. We took two days to drive there and two to drive back. While in Florida we visited Legoland, the Magic Kingdom, and the Florida Aquarium, among others. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, though the temperature change from 70F to 7F on the way back was a bit hard to take!

For the first time in my life I was very happy with my personal fitness this year. I made time for regular treadmill workouts, though I decided to skip weight training to save time, and due to my history of injury. I consistently exercised 3 times a week, with only the occasional week skipped due to travel. I’m counting 119 workouts this year, which is probably equal to the combined total for the last couple of years.

That’s about it for 2014. Since I’m a total sucker for New Year’s goal setting, even though I can’t always meet them, here’s what I’m planning for 2015:

– Stick with the exercise routine as much as possible. As I’m getting older, I’m learning it pays not to play games with your health. Regular exercise is great for keeping some of those age-related aches and pains away, as well as contributing to a more relaxed state of mind.

– Complete the PC versions of Bonsai Album and Story Tracker. I’m still behind on iOS app updates, so those might need to take priority early in the New Year.

– Finally complete my first novel. This has languished on my hard drive for years, so it’s time to dust it off and get it done.

– Continue experimenting with self-publishing and also continue submitting my work to publishers. I’m still a strong believer in submitting short stories to traditional markets, but not so much when it comes to novel-length work.

– Emphasize fiction writing over apps. I sacrificed my writing efforts this year, and I don’t want to do that again in 2015.

That about wraps things up. I hope you also had a decent year, and that 2015 turns out to be even better. Happy New Year!

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Night Lights – A Short Story

Night Lights - A Short Story

My second author-published short story is now available exclusively on Amazon.com.

Here’s the description:

Amelia and Robert Burke are traveling along a lonely stretch of highway in the Australian Outback, in search of the mysterious Min Min lights.

Their progress is halted by a blinding dust storm. Then Robert goes missing.

Trapped in their car and with little hope of survival, Amelia begins documenting their investigation and the horrors that lurk beyond the windscreen.

Night Lights joins my other recently author-published story, Back Again, which I talk more about in my earlier post.

Why the Amazon exclusivity, you may be asking? This is all part of the experiment. By making the story Amazon-exclusive, it’s not only available for sale, but also means it’s automatically enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (KU) . Readers who sign up for a KU subscription (currently $9.99 / month) get to read it for free.

For short stories, the current economics of the program mean it’s possible to earn substantially more per download from a KU borrow ($1 or more) vs direct purchase at 99 cents (35 cents or so), provided the reader reads more than 10% of the eBook. It remains to be seen how long this will be true, but I’ll be watching how things go with interest.

I’d also like to point out my initial cover design was greatly improved with the help from a reader on the kboards forums. Thanks, cagnes!

I hope you enjoy the story, and look for more soon!

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That Which Dwells Beneath

My new Lovecraftian horror tale, That Which Dwells Beneath, is now online in the December 2014 issue (#33) of The Lovecraft eZine.

In addition to the free online issue on the website, it’ll soon be available for purchase for Kindle and Nook, as well as a podcast.

The story is also accompanied by a great illustration by Dominic Black.

I hope you enjoy this tale of a stubborn detective investigating an unusual case!

Back Again – A Short Story

Back Again - A Short Story

My first author-published short story is now available on Amazon.com and for sale direct from my website.

Here’s the description:

Tom Granger, a prisoner trapped in Kingsworth penitentiary, finds himself defending the prison against an alien invasion.

He soon discovers the situation is even worse than he’d realized when he encounters the enemy’s most terrifying weapon yet…

I’ve been planning this publishing experiment for quite awhile now, but put things on the back burner to focus on apps this year. When I finally finished a flurry of app updates, I decided it was time to work on this project.

To prepare, I watched some cover design video lectures from WMG Publishing and read the fantastic Zen of eBook Formatting by Guido Henkel.

I also found a great stock illustration on Dreamtime to use as the basis for the cover. I used the Mac image-editing software Acorn to complete the cover design.

This is all very much an experiment, but I’m planning to publish more of my stories in future. Meanwhile, I’m continuing to submit my work to publishers, as I have for much of the past decade. Look for another new short story soon in the next issue of Lovecraft eZine.

Enjoy!

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2013 Retrospective

Now that we’re entering the final hours of 2013, it’s time for my usual yearly wrap-up!

I was generally pretty happy with 2013. Other than a bunch of work-related stress, an unreliable car, and a health scare near the end of the year, things worked out quite well. I met some of my goals and didn’t do so great on others. I released a few new Mac apps this year and tonnes of updates for my iOS apps, began the arduous task of learning to write PC apps again, and restarted my fiction writing, among other things.

About 10 years ago I started seriously writing fiction with the aim of submitting for publication. In the years prior I’d messed around with a bunch of stories, but more for fun and to see if I could revive a childhood dream. In the past five years I found myself drifting away from fiction writing, other than participating in NaNoWriMo in 2011 and 2012. These efforts produced a pair of incomplete novels which I haven’t returned to since. I still kept a handful of short stories in submission, but mostly focused my efforts on app development instead.

Then something cool happened a few days before Christmas last year. A short story I’d worked on with Samantha Henderson found a home at Lovecraft eZine, a fantastic short fiction market and promoter of all things H.P. Lovecraft. Our story, The Strange Tale of Samuel Winchester was eventually published in the April 2013 issue. This issue is also available in podcast form and on Kindle or Nook. Check it out if you’re into Lovecraftian tales, or short horror fiction in general.

The story publication renewed my interest in getting back to writing fiction, though with all my app-related efforts, I didn’t get stuck into writing again until later in the year. It took the discovery of some writing lectures by Dean Wesley Smith to really kick things into gear. I’d been reading his Writing in Public posts for several months, where he’d post about his day and what he accomplished. At some point he mentioned he’d put up a new writing lecture, which led me to find he’d actually been doing these most of the year. They’re not free, but I think anyone serious about writing fiction would find them worthwhile.

I also happened to come across a new Podcastle short fiction contest toward the end of August, so I got back into writing fiction with a few flash pieces for that. Neither story won, though both were well received. After that I briefly started writing a short story per week, until the urgent need to work on iOS 7 app updates and some health problems derailed the effort. Despite the setback, I had more stories out for submission than I’d had in years. On the down side, that also meant a hefty boost to the rejection count which is rapidly approaching a total of 200!

I would’ve liked to have done more reading this year, but it’s always one of the things to get cut back when I’m busy. Still, it’s a decent amount more than last year:

Alex Jordan: Architect of His Own Dream by Doug Moe
The Last Revelation of Gla’aki by Ramsey Campbell
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson
Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life by Nick Mamatas
Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should by David Gaughran
Wool (Omnibus) by Hugh Howey
2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, by Rachel Aaron
Jay Lake’s Process of Writing by Jay Lake
Fat Vampire by Johnny B. Truant
Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant

The reading list was heavy on non-fiction and writing books this year, so I’m itching to read more fiction next year. For the first time I read more in the form of eBooks than in paper.

This year I spent my daily commutes listening to stacks of short fiction via Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. If you’re into genre fiction, you can’t afford to miss these. They put out some excellent work from great writers past and present, and the podcasts themselves are free. That said, they rely on donations to keep things going. If you like what you hear, send a few bucks their way and spread the word.

I’m admittedly a numbers junkie, so now it’s time for some stats:

2013 Stats:

New apps released: 2
App updates released: 34 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2013 Word count: 23,894
Stories written: 6
Stories published: 1
Total submissions: 16
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 11
Waiting for response: 5
Books read: 10
Comics read: 38

This year was a busy time for new apps and updates. Not only did I need to keep on top of a bunch of large updates for my existing iOS apps, Story Tracker, Artwork Tracker, and Bonsai Album, but I also worked on a few new ones.

In April I released Bonsai Album for Mac via the Mac App Store, with a trial version and direct purchase also available via my website. Like the iOS version, this one is localized into six languages, including Japanese, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Portuguese. Thanks again to the app localization services of iCanLocalize and the Linguan app.

Artwork Tracker for Mac came out in early August via the Mac App Store, and also with a trial version and direct purchase available via my website. In November I realized I hadn’t released a new iOS app in over 2 years, so I began brainstorming app ideas. Later that month I announced a new iOS app, Cactus Album, for cacti and succulent enthusiasts. I’m making good progress on that, and there’s a post with an early screenshot.

Not to forget, I’m still puttering away with some PC apps. In January I announced Story Tracker for PC, and in April, Bonsai Album for PC. Work on these is progressing with painful slowness, since I have to start from scratch and learn how to develop everything for the PC. Unfortunately I’m finding PC app development to be a great deal more difficult than for the Mac, despite once being fairly proficient in PC development over a decade ago. Things have changed a lot in the past ten years!

I’m still a member of the Midwest Bonsai Society, but I don’t think I made it to a single meeting this year, due to them coinciding with overtime at work or vacation plans. I attended the two shows they run at the Chicago Botanic Garden, as well as several workshops (Cork-Bark Maple, Japanese Black Pine, and Hornbeam) and visiting bonsai artist Bjorn Bjorholm’s exhibit critique of the August show. I also added a few other new trees to my collection (Shimpaku Juniper and Dwarf Crape Myrtle), along with a nice Sara Rayner pot for my first bonsai. And thanks to working on Cactus Album, I seem to have caught the cactus bug again!

This year we made a bunch of short trips throughout Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. We spent some time at the Wisconsin Dells, and spent 5 weeks with my parents (from Australia), who were visiting in Spring. The definite highlights were our visit to The House on the Rock, a riverboat cruise down the Illinois River, and our gastronomic tour of the region. We also spent some quality time with some other guests from Downunder, including my youngest sister and her husband, and my best mate.

I was doing great with my personal fitness until about April, when I ate far too much and exercised far too little. I resumed the exercise routine later in the year, but that was soon derailed by health problems and travel. Finding time for regular exercise continues to be a struggle.

So that was 2013. On the eve of the New Year, I’d like to come up with a few personal goals for 2014…

I’m planning to ease back into the exercise routine in 2014, with running and possibly adding some weights back into the routine. This is probably going to be the toughest thing to stick with throughout the year!

With my apps, I’ll be releasing Cactus Album to the App Store early in the year, with a possible Mac version to follow if the iOS app does well. While I expect I’ll still need to release some updates for my other iOS apps, I’d like to devote more time to getting the PC apps up and running. With the way the app market is these days, it’s becoming increasingly difficult (and expensive) to justify continuing to update older apps for free. I’m not sure what to do about that, other than to spend more time working on new apps.

As for writing, I was all set to post some insanely ambitious goals, but instead I’ll keep the goal simple: write more. That pretty much covers everything I planned to say anyway 😉

Have a happy and productive 2014!

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The Strange Tale of Samuel Winchester

The Lovecraftian horror tale I wrote with Samantha Henderson, The Strange Tale of Samuel Winchester, is now online in the April 2013 issue (#23) of The Lovecraft eZine.

In addition to the free online issue on the website, it’s also available for purchase for Kindle and Nook, as well as a podcast. I’m particularly pleased with the fantastic narration in the podcast. It’s well worth a listen.

Our story is also accompanied by a great illustration by Lee Copeland.

I hope you enjoy our curious blend of Egyptian mythology, Australian history, and the macabre!

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