Wednesday, November 28, 2007

NanoWrimo progress

I really wasn't looking forward to NanoWrimo this year. I've been plotting, writing and editing Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch since April, and I only finished the final proofs early in November. I must have read the manuscript over thirty times, and the thought of starting another book immediately made me feel ill and very, very tired.

But despite that, I felt a strong solidarity with all those people embarking on their own Nano journeys, and from day one I never doubted I'd get there in the end. I took it easy, writing as much as I could each day and forcing out an extra 500 words here and there. I also put a lot of time into yWriter 4, which is probably the most user-friendly and reliable release of this app yet. (If you're one of the many thousands of yWriter users worldwide, I hope you find it as useful as I do.)

Oh, and I wrote myself a little text editor which allowed me to set a word count and then go at it, watching the count decrease in the status bar as I typed. I reckon that prog was the difference for me on many slow writing days.

So, without further ado:

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What am I reading?

Marshal Zeringue of the Writers Read blog recently asked what I was reading and what I had on my TBR pile. Naturally, I revealed all.

Also, I just saw the CMIS Resource Bank website has a listing for all three Hal books, giving each a nice review and rating them as suitable for ages 13+. (This site is run by the Western Australian Education Dept, and I guess that explains all the visitors to the site ... they can't all be after simple recipes.)

Snips from the reviews for each book:

Hal 1: "As might be expected, things start to go wrong and just keep going that way in this clever novel."

Hal 2: "The rich variety of characters and the very clever humour is attention-holding from beginning to end."

Hal 3: "The satire is great, the plot oddities continue to fascinate. Simon Haynes wants to write fifteen Hal Spacejock books. We are happily waiting."

I like how each review ends with a plea for the books to be turned into a TV series or a movie. (Although the phrase 'over my dead body' springs to mind. Hands up if you've seen a mainstream movie oozing with clever humour* lately.)

* Hey, that's how the reviewer described it ...

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

yWriter 4 beta is out

To celebrate handing in the final, final proofed manuscript of Hal Spacejock: Just Desserts I've released a beta of yWriter 4. The timing is awful, what with me needing to write 1800 words per day from now until the 30th of November, but what the hell.

(By the way, if I sent you a copy of Hal 4 for a cover quote, the final date of the 31st/Oct was wrong. Still have about a week to go.)

Anyway, you can import yWriter 2 and 3 projects into version 4, and you should read the warnings on the web page before running it.

(In short: When you open a yw3 file it's renamed to yw3.bak. Therefore, please make a copy of any project folders if you intend to open the contents in yWriter 4.)

Oh yes, and enjoy!

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Monday, November 19, 2007

The lol phenomenon

I know my sense of humour isn't defective, so why don't I laugh at the lolcatz pics spreading across the net like wildfire? I feel like I'm missing the joke. Maybe it's the fact they're cutesy, or the fact many of the pics have dumb animals carefully arranged into staged positions so we humans can laugh at them.

So, what kind of lolcatz would make me laugh? Something clearly not staged for the camera, something where the pic and the caption tell two completely different stories, something with hidden meaning for those in the know, something which is not the same old run-of-the-mill cute. And something where I know I shouldn't laugh but I just can't help myself. (Yeah, I'm picky, but I apply the same criteria to my novels.)

Anyway, my ideal lolcatz is something like this:

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ripper wrapper

Supposed to be getting my Nano words done and, more importantly, finishing the final proofing of Hal 4. So what did I do today? Amongst other things, I went to a concert my wife was playing in and wrote a system tray prog which wraps Video Lan Client (VLC).

VLC has this great transcoding mode you can run from the command line, so if you happen to have a DVD with home movies on (you know, a menu system plus several tracks, some of which are the ones you want), then my prog lets you view the DVD contents by track and playing time, tick the tracks you want and then rip & transcode them to much smaller AVIs in the background. It names them track by track, and does the whole lot one after another before stopping. (Incidentally, VLC is my movie-playing app of choice. Worth a download - and it runs on Windows, Linux and OS X.)

On a dual core CPU you can merrily do this ripping bizzo while foreground tasks run as fast as ever, which is sweet. And making it a systray app means no clutter on the desktop. For now there's a big kludge where the command line options are dumped into a text box, but ticks and checkboxes will follow. First I have to proof Hal 4 and finish my nano words for the day...

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Out of character

What happens when your major character gets involved in a situation where you suspect he'd probably act one way, and yet in the interests of entertainment you force him to do the opposite?

I'm having a fine old time writing a series of scenes featuring Hal, but they're not in character. Without revealing too much, he gets caught up with a military type, and they're trying to escape from a hotel which is under siege. Now, I'd half expect Hal to hang back, let the other guy do the work, and then nick off at the first possible moment. Instead, he's loaded to the eyeballs with assorted weaponry and is going for it like Arnie on speed.

The humour comes about because he's hung all these grenades off his belt .. by their pins. Now and then he loses one, yells 'Grenade', and in the ensuing destruction he fires off a few random shots to 'get' the person attacking them.

Nobody gets hurt, but the destruction is more and more impressive at every turn, and it's as funny as hell to write. Not only is he single-handedly destroying this hotel, but his military offsider has no idea it's Hal causing the damage.

I have no idea where this is all going, or whether these scenes will ever make it into a finished Hal book, but right now this novel is Die Hard meets Lost meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Fun!

So, what do you do when your own characters run amuck? Do you straighten them out and tell them to behave, or do you write on and see where they take you? (This is where series books can be tricky, because you've already established the character. However, that's no excuse for keeping them in a straight jacket ... just look at how much some characters changed over the course of BtVS or Angel, for example.)

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Beta versions!

I don't often blog about my software, but I know a lot of you are using yWriter.

Over the past week I've been altering chunks of yWriter3 to make the file storage a bit less extreme. Right now it sprouts text files like weeds whenever you do anything, and I wanted to tidy things up a bit. So, I wrote a version which consolidates all these additional files into the main chapters.ini, scenes.ini and so on. I also added features to the characters sheet, and tweaked a few other things.

Then I went much further, and rewrote the entire storage system to use XML files. This was a major change, so last night I dubbed THIS version yWriter 4, keeping just the smaller improvements for yWriter 3.

yW4 isn't available yet, but you can grab a beta of new improved yWriter 3 here. A couple of points: 1, you need yWriter 3 installed before you can run the beta - instructions on the page I just linked to. 2, make a backup of your current project folder, all of it, before running the new beta. Just drag and drop the folder to create 'Copy of ---'. Then, if this version of yW3 messes up on your system, you just reinstall the original, rename the messed-up project to 'Messed up ---' and rename 'Copy of ---' back to just '---' Once you've confirmed it's all running smoothly again, you can then delete 'Messed up ---' (In all of these examples, --- is the project folder, not the yWriter folder.)

Also, if you want to hold off messing with betas until AFTER NanoWrimo, that's probably a good idea.

There's another beta I've made available too: RMP. That one's here, and the same warnings apply. (Although in this case events.dat is all you need to back up, and RMP2 won't harm the original.)

As for yWriter 4... I'm now using it myself instead of yWriter3. What that means is that future development of yWriter 3 has ceased, and all improvements and extra features will go into yWriter 4 from this point on. I'm expecting to release a beta soon .. it's working fine, but I really have to deal with Hal 4 and 5 before I take on more work.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Here we go... getting into the zone

21,000 words into NanoWrimo and I finally hit that 'here we go' moment. It happens every time I start writing a novel ... one minute I'm on this side, writing on the laptop about things happening in an imaginary world, going through the motions and keeping the wordcount happening, and the next I feel the scenery blur around me and I'm in the other world. The characters are there, carrying on right in front of me, the place is real. From this point I can leave and re-enter whenever I want, and it's a whole lot easier to write the story.

Does anyone else get this? The Magic Portal to your Plot World which only appears when you've written enough to cover the entry price? Or maybe I'm just slightly odd.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Electonic Hal

I was browsing Dymocks Online today, curious to see whether the pre-release listing for Hal 4 had appeared yet. It hadn't, but imagine my surprise when I discovered they're selling an ebook version of Hal Spacejock book one.

Here, see for yourself. And have a giggle at the price while you're at it.

(I don't know whether their ebooks are available to buyers outside Australia, but if they are, then by my calcs an expensive Hal ebook is still half the price of a printed copy plus airmail.)

Oh well, I'm not sure Hal appreciated being digitised but I'm sure Clunk got a buzz out of it.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Odds and bods

Several updates today, before I get back to my NanoWrimo work. (I'm a whole day behind, but not for long.)

First, thanks for all the birthday wishes. It was the big 40 for me, and we had a nice BBQ in the hot Western Australian weather. (That means I cooked the BBQ outside in the heat while everyone else lounged around in the pool or sat under the aircon.) A very nice evening, and my steaks marinaded in whisky for 8 hours went down a treat. (After first going UP when I put them on the flames.)

Second, Nano progress: Lousy word count over the weekend, but 500 words here and there kept the thing moving. This morning I spent an hour plotting ahead, and another hour re-plotting some of the bits I'd already written. This after I discovered my 16,000 words to date have raced through the first half of the plot in about three chapters. Need to pace myself and develop things properly.

Third, Stephen Wrighton of No Krakana has posted an in-depth review of Hal 1. I'm not going to spoil the review by summarising it, but it's worth reading if you still don't know what Hal Spacejock is all about. Okay, perhaps one brief snip which I really liked: "It shows a grim understanding of both current culture in regards to software and how we interact with in on our PCs and the Internet, as well as an even grimmer understanding that companies will try to utilize such things whenever possible."

Yes, the books are funny ha-ha and Hal is a klutz, but I was pleased to see a mention of the satire which bubbles through the series.

Stephen's based in the US, and as with many of these reviews and comments, he includes the usual desire to see a US publisher take on the books ASAP. (Recently I've been getting a lot of those demanding that a British publisher take the books on, so I guess that's a nice change.)

All up, a busy weekend. Now for an even busier week...

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Nano progress days 7, 8 and 9

Wrote 1100 words on the 7th, 1000 yesterday and 550 so far today (although it's only 1pm.)

I'm hoping to do another 2000 today - enough's enough, and it's time to knuckle down and get ahead. I have a very busy weekend coming up and my publisher is posting back the page proofs of Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch for me to go over early next week, so I can't afford to let things slide.

Yesterday I designed & coded myself a little text editor which allows me to set a word count (e.g. 500) so that it can maintain a 'words left' count in the status bar as I type. I finished writing undo/redo and auto backup code for it today, and the 550 words was my first effort with it.

Oh, and today I also used Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate the words. I think much faster than I type, which means I usually edit on the fly, rewording the next sentence in my head while I'm still typing the previous one. (I type about 60 wpm.) Throw in plotting and character creation on the run and you can see why I don't like distractions when I'm working.

Anyway, Dragon is okay but somewhat CPU intensive, and it lags a fair bit on my laptop. The desktop has a dual CPU and power to spare, but I can't dictate on that because we have an open plan house - too much ambient noise.

The other problem with Dragon is punctuation, especially in dialogue. I've decided to plough on without it, and I'll correct it later. (And correcting misinterpreted words is another whole ball o' fun.)

How's everyone else doing with their Nano efforts? Ahead? Behind? Anyone else using speech-to-text?

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nano day 6

Nada! Zero! Zip! At least, that was the story until 10:20pm. You see, today was the day my editor and I had to discuss any last-minute changes to Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch. (That's book 4 in the series - I'm writing book 5 for Nano.) I compromised on a couple of things, she compromised on a couple more, and eventually we declared it done. I know she'd have liked a few more changes (sorry Janet!) but there's always something to tweak.

Anyway, I had a lousy headache after that so I turned to my favourite computer-based task ... programming. Yes, I spent the day converting the database in Remind Me Please to XML, writing an automatic converter for existing users, tidying up the custom alarm sounds bugs, fixing the delete-expired-events bug, and generally speeding it up. I really enjoyed myself, and it made a nice break from worrying about Hal.

Until half an hour ago. Then I realised I was 1700 words short of my daily target of 1700 words, so I typed like crazy and reached 1200 or so. I'll do the other 500 in a minute, just before bed.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Monday, November 05, 2007

NaNo Progress day 5

*Zap* *kerpow* 1919 words today, 8750 total.

Hal and Clunk have just uncovered the truth about their passenger, and they're not particularly happy. They've also realised there's an opportunity for some easy cash, which has taken the sting out of their problem. It's just a pity they've yet to realise there is no such thing as easy in the Hal Spacejock universe!

During today's sessions I wrote around a couple of scenes which were leftovers from years gone by - they can go into the draft after Nano.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow, because that's when Hal and Clunk meet a very interesting character. I don't know how to play this one yet, but often the character's age, personality and background don't really come out until the second or third draft, so I'm not too fussed at this stage. Even age and appearance are approximate - I just need them to play their part in the plot, and I'll sketch in the details and enhance them later.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Back cover blurbs

It's that time of the year again - no, not Nano, something far worse. I have to submit suggestions for the Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch back cover blurb!

I'm not sure whether you're aware of this, but my 'suggestions' for the first three books made it onto the back cover verbatim (go me), and I also designed the naff torn-out adverts for books one and three ('Space pilot for Hire' and 'Guaranteed Cheap') The card from my recent blog post ("the customer comes first") will probably be used on Hal 4, too.

Did I say how much I love working with my publisher, Fremantle Press?

Anyway, I wanted to come up with a blurb, so I turned to my wife for advice. She said I should just think of the funniest bits in Hal 4 and use something from those. Alas, the only bits I could remember consisted of the kind of humour which, taken out of context, would have my books delivered to school libraries in brown paper bags.

Even now I'm reluctant to raise them, so to speak. It'd be like pulling the naughty comments and gags from Blackadder and using them to promote the show - instead of being minor asides, people would think the whole series was wall-to-wall risque gags.

To me, the other important thing with a back cover summary is that it not reveal any of the plot beyond the early stages of the novel. Some books (and DVD covers) go way too far, giving away the ending and half the journey taken to get there. Spoilers, people! Hate them.

Therefore, the Hal summaries have to be enticing without being specific, funny without being filthy, and crafted so that people know what sort of book they're getting without revealing the plot.

The other thing I've tried to do is stay consistent across the books. Give the reader three things, mention Hal and Clunk, then include a second para with a hook and a bit of humour.

Okay, that's the preamble sorted. (Does that count towards my NaNo progress? Thought not.)

Here's an early attempt. It's much too wordy and not funny at all:

Hal Spacejock and Clunk are looking for a cargo job to settle their bills, and they find just the thing on planet Dulsuil. While Clunk signs them up, Hal visits the spaceport lounge for a quick coffee, and when an attractive young woman asks him out on a date he realises his luck has finally changed.

Yeah, right.

First an old rival swoops on Hal’s cargo job, stealing it away with a promise of top class service and a bigger, faster ship. And then Hal’s date turns out to be in law enforcement: yes, the young woman is really a Peace Force trainee facing her first – and possibly last – case.

Now Hal must choose: Take on his rival and attempt to win back the cargo job, or set aside his own problems to help the young woman in her dangerous investigation.

Whatever he decides, it’s No Free Lunch for Hal Spacejock!

Next up, version two. This one gives a bit more detail and attempts a bit of humour. You'll see three things from the book in the first para, Hal's reaction and a hook:

A cunning and persistant rival, a trainee officer sucked into a dangerous investigation and a planet with more bugs than a new operating system ... yes, even Hal Spacejock's unshakeable faith in his own abilities is under threat.
Will he take on the rival to save his own business, or set aside his problems to help the trainee with her first - and possibly last - investigation? Whatever he decides, it's No Free Lunch for Hal Spacejock!

However, the 'unshakeable faith' line isn't good enough, and I'm not happy about the three things either. I'll keep working on it.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

NaNoWriMo progress day 4

The Nano forums are up and down like a genetically modified mouse, but the writing goes on and on.

Today I extended the forest scene, threw in some nail- and shortbread-biting action and sent up three major films in a handful of paragraphs. "Make sure it hasn't got a sunroof!" - classic.

I've also ended up with a possible method of disposing of/freaking out the bad guys at the end of the book - but that's a long way off yet.

Tomorrow I'll leave the forest and get back to the actual, you know, plot. Hal and Clunk have to meet their client to collect payment, and that's when the fit hits the shan.

Footnote: Someone emailed me to ask that I stop promoting NaNoWriMo because the forums can't handle the load. Actually, the point is to write 50,000 words in November on your own computer, and whether the forums work or not really don't enter into it. Also, I seriously doubt my own modest efforts had much to do with the 139,000 people who logged into the NaNoWriMo forums on the 3rd of November. And if it's any consolation, the forums are much quicker tonight.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Nano 2007 progress

As usual, it took about 500 words before I'd abandoned the plot outline and segued into a much more interesting scene (which will then never appear in a finished Hal book, as usual.)

On day one I wrote about Hal & Clunk's new passenger, an old boy with a newly-purchased (but wrecked) old robot, who is promising to pay on arrival. He stands to inherit a large amount of cash, but has to present himself at the solicitors in time to claim it. Gotta love those deadlines.

Unfortunately the landing field is overflowing, and Hal and Clunk are told to land on the next planet and catch the ferry back. The alternative is to land illegally somewhere quiet. Hah. I love giving them these legal/moral choices, especially as Clunk is the legal & moral one, and Hal isn't.

On Nano day two I started on a farcical meeting between the various parties, with Clunk insisting on a democratic vote. Should they land illegally, or should they land elsewhere and catch the ferry? Guess which way the vote goes.

So, H&C drop off the passenger and agree to meet him outside the solicitors for payment. Then they go off to conceal the Volante in a nearby forest. In darkness.

They leave the ship and make their way through the trees, only to discover a five-metre-high electric fence with loads of warning signs on the other side. Oh dear.

Day three .. is today, and I haven't started yet.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Joss Whedon's new show

Article here

A quick skim of the plot & central character had me choking on my coffee. Yes, I know it's random coincidence, but it's pretty much identical to the antagonist's plot in Hal Spacejock Just Desserts.

Fortunately, the books have been in print for ages. Unfortunately, not in the US, where everyone will just assume I copied from Whedon. Damn.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)