Archive for category writing

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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Story Tracker for PC Preview

Track your story submissions on your Windows PC – Coming Soon!

Quite awhile back I announced my plans to bring my iOS and Mac submission tracking app, Story Tracker, to the Windows platform. After a prolonged development struggle, today I can finally present an early look at the interface.

While it looks very similar to the Mac version, the PC version was actually a total rewrite. I’ve had to learn a new programming language, and come up to speed with development on an unfamiliar platform.

The PC version will include much the same features as the Mac, including printing. enhanced search capabilities, and data transfer to and from the iOS version over WiFi. It will support Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 8.1. I also plan to support Windows 10 after that’s released.

I’m planning to release Story Tracker for PC for direct sale via my website. It’ll be available for download as a free trial version, with similar limitations to the Lite iOS version. The full feature-set can be unlocked via purchase.

Development is proceeding swiftly, so I’m hoping to release the app sometime within the next 2-3 months.

If a PC version of Story Tracker sounds interesting to you, and you’d like to Beta test or just be notified when the app is closer to launch, sign-up here. I’ll also be posting the occasional update on the Story Tracker Facebook page.

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Story Tracker v2.9 update now available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Story Tracker v2.9 is now available on the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Story Tracker

This update contains the following changes:

Note: This update requires iOS 5.1.1 or higher!

  • Added iOS 8 and 64-bit support
  • Support for new high-resolution iPhone 6 / 6 Plus displays
  • Added database transfer via AirDrop (requires iOS 7 or higher and AirDrop-capable devices)
  • All info screens now use scrollable lists
  • Device rotation is now supported on info screens for iPhone and iPod touch
  • User interface improvements
  • Bug fixes

If you like what you see, please spare a moment to rate or review the app on the App Store!

You can learn more about Story Tracker at my website or on the Story Tracker Facebook group.

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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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Story Tracker v2.6 update now available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Story Tracker v2.6 is now available on the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Story Tracker

This update contains the following changes:

  • Added search bar feature on the Stories, Markets, and Submissions lists
  • Improved Bluetooth keyboard support
  • Added “character” pay rate unit for Markets

If you like what you see, please spare a moment to rate or review the app on the App Store!

You can learn more about Story Tracker at my website or on the Story Tracker Facebook group.

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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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