Surreality – Latest News


As many of you know, last week Surreality was not selected for publication on Kindle Scout.

First off, I want to thank everyone who nominated the book, shared the campaign on social media, and just expressed your overall support. I got some very nice notes on Twitter and e-mail commiserating with me after the campaign ended. Overall I feel good for having run the campaign, and am excited to continue down the publication path for Surreality as originally planned. I’ll write a more detailed retrospective on Kindle Scout in the coming months.

So, the big question: When will Surreality be released and where?

Short answer: 1-2 weeks and just about everywhere. Pre-orders may become available sooner than that, so stay tuned.

I’m working on putting together eBook versions for Amazon, BN, and other channels through Smashwords. (Yes, John, that means you’ll be able to buy a copy through the iBookstore). Smashwords in particular is very exciting as buying from there gives you the book in all of the myriad formats, meaning you really own it.

For those of you looking to do your Christmas shopping, I’m also releasing a print edition through CreateSpace. I intend to enroll the book in MatchBook as well (meaning you can get a cheap eBook version if you buy the physical book).

Anyone who voted for Surreality on Kindle Scout will get a notification that the Amazon version has been released. All of the other editions should launch at the same time, so if you prefer to buy for the Nook, the iPad, the Kobo or the hootinannie, you’ll find the links on the blog (and probably all over Twitter and Facebook as well).

I’m really excited to finally be getting this book out to you (just in time for cozy winter nights, and actually a little faster than if it had been selected).

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Surreality Kindle Scout Campaign: Last Day

Just a quick note before spending the rest of the day hanging out for my wife’s birthday. This is the last day of the Kindle Scout campaign for Surreality. Thanks to everyone for their support so far. I’m not sure how things are going to go, but either way there have been so many of you who have sent their well wishes and nominations, and that means a lot.

If you haven’t voted, there’s still time. Go to and nominate Surreality. If Amazon decides to publish it, you get a free copy. Remember to vote before midnight tonight.

Thanks so much to everyone!


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Everyone in the room is a human being

Except for Gleebmork. But even s/he has feelings.

I wrote about 5000 words of the sequel to Surreality a couple of months ago, then put it down to focus on getting the first book out. Coming back to it, I’ve been kicking myself because of where I left the story. Specifically, I’m in the middle of a tough conversation between two characters that’s the setup for many conversations throughout the book. I have a pretty good idea of what the conversation is supposed to accomplish structurally, but have been having a tough time translating that into believable dialogue and body language.

I’m an only child, and we tend to think of the world in relation to ourselves. In the most extreme form, we believe that every conversation has something to do with us, and that everything that is happening is happening to us most of all. Most only children have this notion shaken up by something, be it a good friend, or getting married.

But the attitude can seep into a book without you even realizing it. Surreality and its sequel have a central character, and while it’s a third person narrative, we’re mostly sitting behind one head and one perspective.

It was kind of a simple thing, but part of what got the dialogue flowing better was to think about what the other character was thinking and feeling at the same time. What motivated them to initiate the talk with my character, and what do they hope to get out of it?

Detective novel dialogue can be very objective based, “I am grilling this character for information”, or “I am sorting through my thoughts out loud before having a brilliant insight.” Even in these situations motivations of the other characters are important, particularly if they intend to lie or hold something back.

Some characters will still be flat. We don’t need Willy the drug-dealer’s life story (especially since he isn’t a character in either book). Willy’s just there to tell us what he saw in exchange for us looking the other way on some weed that’ll be legal in the state in a year or two.

But for non-flat characters (i.e. characters not derived from Edwin Abbot’s Flatland), we need to be able to see the scene from their perspective as well as the main character’s. Maybe an exercise in getting that perspective is to write both versions of the scene, one sitting behind your main character’s head, and the other sitting behind the other person in the room. Then blend these two together into a single working scene.

I’ve never tried it, but it sounds like it would work, right?

What I do know that works is to just keep at it. Even if you only add a net 100 words to the scene on evening, you’ve made progress. Because this is a formative scene, I’m probably going to write and revise it several times before moving on, because it will be the basis for a lot of what is to come. I just have to take my own advice and not put it down for another couple of months.

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Mathematicians Protest Starbucks “War On Fractals”

Mathematicians on over 100 of America’s college campuses have expressed outrage over the new Starbucks red cup design.

“It’s a slap in the face,” said Dr. Emmet Lindenmayer. “Winter has been a traditional fractal holiday for decades.”

In previous years, the Starbucks holiday cup has featured snowflakes and other fractal symbols such as bare trees and Santa Claus’ beard.

The Starbucks red cup is just the latest blow in the so called “War on Fractals”. The coming El Nino for 2015 is expected to significantly reduce snowfall, cutting the number of unique falling fractals by hundreds of millions.

When reached for comment, Benoit Mandelbrot, coiner of the term “fractal” and author of many fractal books said: “I’ve been dead for five years.”

The fractal protesters have found a surprising ally in the Koch brothers, who have offered $200 million to affix eponymous “Koch Snowflake” stickers to every red cup in America.

“People should have the right to put fractals on their frappuccinos,” remarked David Koch.

Starbucks has attempted to placate the protesters by offering almond bread and Sierpinski’s squares bakery treats. The new items aren’t going over very well with customers, however.

“These Sierpinski Squares taste like nothing,” said Bernard Sholer, “And what the heck is almond bread anyway?”

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When you can’t write

We’re a third of the way through NaNoWriMo. To those of you who’ve managed to keep the ten day streak going, congratulations and keep up the good work.

For a lot of the rest of us, writing new content for long stretches can be draining. I dream of a time where I can sit in front of my computer every day and produce something new and good. I tend to believe that every time we get something on paper, it’s useful toward our “writing development”, but I also believe writing a lot of bad prose leads to writing more. Part of writing is knowing when to do something else.

Always be writing. But writing is a nebulous term. It can mean researching, revising, planning, rewriting, designing book covers, writing program code for fractals, or even reading. The thing I’ve learned most is how to be productive even when I’m not producing.

Writing something brand new is one small aspect of finishing a book. It’s a necessary part, but not the only thing.

The way I prefer to think about “always be writing” is “live in your work in progress”. If you spend too much time not thinking about a book, it takes extra effort to get back into it (as I’m finding with the reread of Dark Matter). But if you’re working on the book, be it planning future scenes, reading existing passages, revising tricky sentences, then you’re still living and breathing in that world.

And I also like to work on concurrent book projects that are not purely writing. My wife has introduced me to the idea of coloring books for adults (a little clearer phrase than “Adult Coloring Books”). It’s been an interesting puzzle to think about writing software to produce images that are fun to color. It gets your mind thinking in a different way, which allows you to see new patterns and new possibilities.

The worst thing you can do when you don’t feel like writing is to worry about it. I’m not even a giant fan of the term “writer’s block”. For me it just seems natural that some days are better than others for producing new work. I can try to do the things that create good days, take care of my sleep and eating habits, and consume lots of interesting reading material. But even then there are going to be days when things work better than others.

We writers and introverts have a tendency to get stuck in our own heads, and to over-analyze why something isn’t working. Rather than trying to figure out why you can’t get anything done, just do something else you need to do and pretty soon the rest will come.

And don’t ignore the days when you’re itching to get to something. Forcing 500 words on a bad day isn’t a good idea, and neither is stopping at 2000 when you’re on a roll. Almost every book I’ve written has started with 20% written over a short period, a six month gap, then 80% written in intense succession. I’m not a fan of the pattern, but if it’s what works, then that has to be good enough.

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Life To Writing

Writing is the ability to transform life experiences into art.

This is a bit of a paraphrase from a comment made by Lena Dunham’s father about her work. In an interview on Fresh Air I was listening to this morning, Lena Dunham talked about how she often takes experiences from her life and puts them on the screen, sometimes very soon after they’ve happened. There’s a lot to be unpacked on how you protect others with that content, and what would constitute “over-sharing” but it got me to to thinking about my own body of work.

I rarely take direct experiences from my life and put them verbatim or slightly altered onto the page. Certainly my technical and professional knowledge show up in scenes in Surreality, and a lot of the scenes with the dog Garfunkel are at least in part inspired by my first dog, Simon. Maybe a snippet of a conversation with my wife or with Brian or my Dad show up, but I treat these moments more as “easter eggs” than features that drive the narrative of the book.

An exception to this rule came at a particular moment in Dark Matter. It’s a passage I’m not really sure will make the final cut of the book, and upon reading it again, I’m not sure I’m even comfortable sharing it here, but I can give you the gist.

The majority of Dark Matter was written in a 117 day unbroken period. What broke the streak wasn’t finishing the book, it was being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and the subsequent required surgery. Early on, long prior to this moment, I’d established that there was a chapel on the space cruise ship that’s the main setting for Dark Matter, and in day 107 or 108, sitting in Crimson Cup, I decided to have my character make use of it.

It’s not really that much text, just a four paragraph prayer. It’s at a moment before the finishing action of the book where it seems like the main character may fail in finding his family, and could lose his life trying:

“Lord,” he began quietly.  “I know we haven’t talked a lot lately, and maybe we should have.  I never wanted to be one of those Christians who only came to you when I was in trouble, but it seems like that’s what I am.  Maybe I’ve needed you before this moment but all I know is I need somebody now.”

Even though I think of writing as a form of worship, this is probably one of the few (or only) times I’ve actually been writing what I was praying at that exact moment.

Whether or not that section makes the final cut (especially considering I plan to completely redraft this book) is uncertain. I don’t like to think of writing as cathartic, as something I do to process emotions. I write because I want to tell stories. But every now and then, writing is the tool I’m most comfortable with using to organize my thoughts. There’s an editor version of myself who’s much more dispassionate about those moments after the fact. But at the time, it was deeply necessary to write those few paragraphs.

Writing about your life and your experiences shouldn’t always be comfortable. It’s not something you should do lightly. But every now and again, it’s something you need to do.

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Transmetropolitan and sticking the landing


Transmetropolitan is a difficult series to recommend and yet it’s one of the best things I’ve read in comics. There’s a lot of bad language, violence, sex, drug use, technological fetishism, bowel disruptors, two-headed cats and journalism. The main character is a bastard, and is also a deeply compassionate human being. If you stick with him, he’ll make you smile, then cringe, then smile again.

I’m a big fan of 50-60 issue series, long enough to develop a world, have notable side issues, and mysteries that are revealed gradually but not glacially. Transmetropolitan has a five year arc told over five years of comics from 1997-2002. In some ways it is very of its time, while in others it was quite prescient. But more than anything it’s a story that unfolds gradually, and that comes together to a satisfying ending, something difficult for any author, but doubly difficult in a monthly medium like comics.

Transmetropolitan tells the story of Spider Jerusalem, a gonzo style journalist in a 23rd century cyberpunk trans-humanist future. After five years away, Spider is called back to “the city” to fulfill the last two books of a five book publishing deal. The city is a mash of cultures, fetishes, technologies and architectures, constantly evolving and living in an ever present “now” with little memory of the past. Spider first decides to cover a transient movement in the Angels 8 district, a story that ultimately leads to his live coverage of police brutality bringing the riots to a stop. This earns him both fame from the public and the ire of city officials.

But the majority of the book’s arc has to do with two presidential administrations, the Beast and the Smiler, and Spider’s adversarial relationship with each. The Beast is a pragmatist who will only do the bare minimum necessary to keep at least 51% of the people happy and alive, and the Smiler is a man who wants power only so that he can use it for his own whims.

I don’t want to say a whole lot about the particulars of the conflict, but suffice it to say there are highs, lows, conspiracies and satisfying showdowns throughout. The best part is that ideas and concepts introduced in early issues are important and relevant to the conclusion. Everything feels like it has unfolded organically and inevitably to the conclusion Ellis and Robertson planned.

I’m not going to lie. It took me two reads of the first volume before I decided to go any further, with about six months between those readings. It took a deep discount and coke rewards points for me to buy the second volume, even after liking the first volume much better on a second read. There’s a lot of early world building. And the language and “colorful metaphors” (as Spock would say) are a barrier (though weirdly satisfying in later moments). This series is not for everyone, probably not even for most people. But you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try if it sounds the least bit interesting.


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