Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Elizabeth Chater Website Is Now Up!

   My grandmother, Elizabeth Chater, was a Professor Emeritus, wrote 22 regency romance novels, and published countless short stories. The Chater Trust has just created a website in her honor that will feature her regency romance collection, as well as some of her lesser known work, including an unpublished science fiction novel and a mystery novel . Being a female science fiction writer back in the 1950's wasn't easy, so she had to publish under the pen name Lee Chaytor. She published several stories in Fantastic Universe, among others, and in the 1970's she went to work as a professor for SDSU. She may have been the first person in the United States to teach a class in Science Fiction Creative Writing. That's quite a claim, especially considering nowadays you can't throw a rock without hitting someone teaching a course in Advance Klingon Poetry. John Scalzi taught a class over the summer at UCSD, the tuition for which was in excess of $9,000!
   Elizabeth Chater's classes were packed and she had students like Suzette Haden Elgin and Greg Bear. Greg Bear later became her teaching assistant. Joan D. Vinge and Vernor Vinge were teaching at the college at the same time and often shared works in progress and sought advice from Professor Chater. Science fiction was her first love, but after getting Richard Curtis as an agent, she knew she'd have a better chance selling regency romance novels. The science fiction work had to take a back seat, until now. The Chater Trust is going to posthumously publish one of her science fiction novels, which I can tell you is totally awesome. Dare I say award worthy...yes, I do dare. Grandma Betty was a genius, her IQ was off the charts, and she had an imagination that inspired and wowed everyone she met. It's no wonder authors like Greg Bear dedicated a book to her.  
   The first book the Chater Trust will be putting out is her cozy mystery thriller "A Course In Murder" due out September 2011. It's set at a college where a freshman girl tries to solve a murder caused by a demonic cult.
   There will be plenty more to come: short stories, novels, and poetry. So make sure to check it out:     

Friday, August 12, 2011

The first chapter of my new story, due out this fall: ‚Ą¶megasphere.

Chapter 1

Kurt often thought creativity came from some other place. How could those ideas he wrote in his novels come from him? Was it God, the Muses, or some great source in the stars . . . well, he didn’t know exactly, but he often felt like a radio receiving transmissions. He would soon find out how right he was.
Those broadcasts from beyond had brought him here, to the editor in chief’s office, on what he hoped was the precipice of a career in writing. He was already working as a reader down the hall in the nonfiction department, but after two years of battling the blank page he had finished his first novel. He was hoping for a spot on Lor Publishing's roster of writers whom he had admired since he was a kid. He wanted this badly.
Kurt had to know, "Did you like it?"
"I liked it," Miles said without making eye contact. His head was lowered, his attention on the manuscript on his desk. Miles was a veteran of over three decades in the publishing game. As the editor in chief of Lor Publishing, he was an important man to know in this town. Kurt had worked hard at getting his attention.
On either side of Miles’s desk stood two men in gray suits. Were they studio executives from Hollywood looking to option the rights to his novel before it was even published? Only in Kurt’s dreams. Had he removed the dollar signs from his eyes, he might have noticed the suits were a little too conservative for Hollywood types.
"Funny thing is," Miles said, finally making eye contact, "I liked it the first time I read it, over a week ago."
Kurt blinked several times. "What do you mean? I just gave it to you last night."
"I read up until chapter seventeen of your manuscript before flipping to the last page. The ending was exactly as I had expected. Word for word," Miles said.
Kurt waited for the punch line.
"I knew what the ending was going to be, because I’ve already read this manuscript. Unfortunately it had someone else’s name on it. It had Richard Bock’s name on it."
Stunned, Kurt was speechless. Richard Bock currently had three novels on the bestseller list, two of which were already made into movies; the third was on the way. He was Lor’s most important writer. Had Bock tuned in to the creative frequency first? Writers sometimes came up with similar ideas, but never complete novels word for word. It had to be a mistake.
"I asked my secretary to bring me Richard’s manuscript and, lo and behold, they were nearly identical. Same idea, same basic arrangement of words," Miles said.
"That’s impossible," Kurt said.
"I thought someone was playing a joke on me. You’re not playing a joke on me, are you, Kurt?" Miles asked.
"No." Joke? Kurt never joked about his writing. In two years he hadn’t even talked about his novel with his own mother.
"You’ve been working for me as a reader for . . . two years now. Like most of our readers, you have aspirations to be a writer. I’m always thrilled to come into work and find one of their manuscripts on my desk." Bullshit, Kurt thought. "And even though we publicly claim to have a full client list, the first thing I did—after my half-caf, no foam, skim latte and bagel—was read your manuscript."
"Are you telling me that last week Richard Bock submitted a novel exactly like mine?" Kurt asked.
"Same title?" Kurt asked.
"That's right."
"Same words?" Kurt asked.
"Some were different, but not many. It looked like a sloppy attempt at veiling plagiarism. Like kids do in school," Miles said.
"I wrote every word in that book," Kurt said, jabbing his finger at the manuscript.
"Richard Bock begs to differ. And so do his lawyers," Miles pointed to his left and then to his right, "Joshua and Byron Fickelstein of Fickelstein and Fickelstein."
The two suited men acknowledged Kurt sternly. The whole thing was like bad television, like they had rehearsed it.
"There’s more," Miles said.
"More manuscripts," Miles said.
"I stole more than one?" Kurt asked.
"You’re admitting it?" one of the suits asked.
"That’s an admission," the other suit chimed in, making a note of it on a legal pad.
Kurt glared at them.
"If this is a joke, now is the time to tell me," Miles said.
Kurt said nothing.
"Then you mean to tell me you don’t know anything about the other six manuscripts that showed up on my desk," Miles continued. "The ones exactly like Bock’s?"
"There are six other manuscripts?" Kurt asked in a shocked gasp. "Wait a second. Why are they like Bock’s? Why not like mine?"
"Richard Bock is a Hugo Award winner, has a PhD in astrophysics, and is a best-selling author."
"Yeah, so?"
"So, he’s innocent until proven guilty. The rest of you are suspects."
One of the suits handed Kurt a document as thick as a dictionary.
"This is basically a gag order," Miles said. "You can’t talk about, submit, or distribute the manuscript. The copy you submitted to me, as well as the other six manuscripts, are being held as evidence. Fickelstein and Fickelstein have also asked that your house be searched, your computer be confiscated, and criminal action taken."
"Criminal action!"
"Copyright infringement is a crime," Miles said.
"Miles, you can’t possibly think I put my name on someone else’s book? How stupid would that be? Give me a little credit!" Kurt said.
"No one is pressing formal charges as of yet, but I suggest you cooperate with the authorities in any way you can," Miles said.
"How could I have stolen from Richard Bock?" Kurt asked. "I work in nonfiction. You’re the only one at Lor authorized to read his material. I’ve never even read one of his published books!"
"As a reader for the publishing house, you have access to submissions. You know how manuscripts fly around this office," Miles said.
It was true. Last year one manuscript in particular, a tearjerker written by a well-known romance writer, had been passed around to every secretary in the office. One of the girls had even taken it home for a few days and brought it back wrinkled with tear stains.
"Miles. The whole reason I wanted to work in nonfiction is so I wouldn’t be influenced by other writers," Kurt said.
"Now Kurt, I’m not saying for sure you plagiarized his work, but it's a little strange you submitted the same book he did. What am I supposed to think?"
"Similar ideas come out all the time. Remember those two asteroid movies?"
"Kurt, your whole book is identical to Bock’s book."
"Impossible! No way!"
"If there’s been a mistake, we’ll find out what it is. You have my full support, but for now, I regret to inform you, I have to let you go. You’re fired."
"You’re firing me? I can’t believe this!" Kurt threw up his hands.
"Security has already cleaned out your desk. They’re waiting for you in the lobby."
As Kurt left the office, shocked, confused, and angry, Miles's last words were nearly lost on him: "Get a lawyer."
Out in the lobby, amid the pity-filled eyes of a half dozen receptionists, two security guards he knew by name handed him a cardboard box full of his stuff and escorted him to the elevator. He felt like a criminal.
To top it off, a very angry woman was waiting for him in the lobby.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What length should an eBook be?

The great thing about eBooks is that a story can be whatever length the author wants it to be. There may be some reader expectation when it comes to something described as a book, so it's good to know the current industry standards. Also, if a writer wants to submit to a particular contest, or just wants to know what to call a work that's 17,420 words, there is a guideline available.
Book length was actually what started me on the path of eBooks.  About 6 months ago, I submitted a novel to an agent. It was 47,000 words and I was afraid it might be considered little too short for a novel, but at the time I wanted it that length and I hoped the agent wouldn't fault the work for it. I had read that, according to agents and editors, a first time novel should be about 80-100,000 words.  Wouldn't you know it, the agent sent me a message back saying that he liked the idea but that it was too short. He called it a short story, although I knew better. So I wrote him back and asked if he'd consider the book if it were longer. He said yes, so I started on a three-month journey of rewriting, trying to pull words out of the air, doing my best to make it fit to industry standard. I finished it, resubmitted it to him, and he said he wasn't interested. That was the moment I decided to self-publish.

Book length and size used to be set by distributors and pulp magazines. For instance, in the 1920's when Hugo Gernsback was pumping out Amazing Stories Magazine, he published stories that were about 30,000 words. By the 80's, when those paperback book racks started showing up in supermarkets, the books that fit them were about 80-100,000 words. Oddly, since the 60's the industry standard for a novel has gone up about ten thousand words per decade.  There are exceptions, of course. These days traditionally published mystery books average about 65,000 words. Kid's books are typically much shorter.  
The question now is: what length should an eBook be?
Answer: Any length.
Make sure your readers understand what they are purchasing.  Don't call a short story a novel, and be careful when referring to a shorter work as an eBook. It's best to include a word count and the proper nomenclature for the work in the book's description.
Here's what I found from a few sources on the web:
Flash Fiction: 100-1000 words
Short Story: 1000-7,500
Novelette: 7,500-25,000
Novella: 25,000-60,000
Novel: 75,000-110,000
Epic: 110,000+

There are always exceptions. Personally, I think a novel can exceed 110,000, maybe as high as 130,000, but these numbers are really more of a guideline. If you're shooting for a Nebula Award, stick to these parameters.
I've read reviews where the work was criticized for being advertised as a book when it was really a novelette or a novella. You don't want your readers to be disappointed or feel cheated.  Readers are very sensitive about what they feel is the right price for a work, and they might even be more willing to pay more for a longer work.
The story I'm working on now, so far, is looking to fall into the 20,000 word range, making it a novelette. A lot of readers might refer to that as a short story, unaware of what a novelette is, so when I publish it I'll be sure to include a word count. But who knows, I may get on a roll tomorrow and suddenly have a novella.  That's the cool thing about self-publishing eBooks.