Monday, July 28, 2008

Hal 5 FAQ

I just updated the Hal 5 page on the website, adding a bunch of Frequently Asked Questions which keen Hal readers might find interesting.

You're welcome to ask more questions in the comments. I'll pick some out and answer them on the page.

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

Conflux virtual mini-con

Just a reminder that the Conflux Virtual Mini-con "Prepare to Dream" will take place this weekend on the Conflux website:

For a full list of guests and appearance times visit this page. (I'm on at 4pm AEST.)

AEST = Australian Eastern Time

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

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Couple of things

First, I just signed the petition against age banding of books. This is a battle being fought in the UK, but you can bet Australia will be next. (There's nothing we love more in this country than a good classifying, preferably administered by half a dozen overlapping government departments.)

I don't intend to go into age banding here, but if you don't have a clue about the problems it might cause, visit the site above and find out.

Second, I just noticed Planet Fantastic's Bestselling Books of All Time, and the first three Hal books are all present. (Hal 4 was their #1 bestseller last month, so it's a bit soon to expect to see it in a list covering over three years of sales.)

First, this is the top ten:

1...Temeraire, by Naomi Novik
2...A Feast for Crows, by George R. R. Martin
3...Thud!, by Terry Pratchett
4...Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
5...Never Seen by Waking Eyes, by Stephen Dedman
6...Black Powder War, by Naomi Novik
7...Judas Unchained, by Peter F. Hamilton
8...Shadow Box, edited by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
9...Knife of Dreams, by Robert Jordan
10..Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

then the Hal books take up these positions:

#25...Hal Spacejock, by Simon Haynes
#57...Hal Spacejock: Second Course, by Simon Haynes
#86...Hal Spacejock: Just Desserts, by Simon Haynes

Congrats to everyone on the list.

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

Hal Spacejock thuds down in Scotland

Sarah Wise from The Creaking Shelves Bookshop in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, was so determined to see Hal Spacejock available in the UK that she ordered in a whole batch of Hal books to sell through the shop.

Due to freight costs they're a little more expensive than locally printed titles, but she's cut the price as low as she can without actually losing money on each book.

You'll find her blog post about the arrivals here, including a link to the shop's website and ordering info.

If you live in the UK and have been hanging out for Hal, this is your best chance to get hold of the books. I know it's a cliche, but stocks really are limited and some of the copies have already been pre-sold.

EDIT: I forgot to mention they're all signed copies.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Animated lunacy

(This is what my 10-year-old daughter put together after school tonight. Shared with permission.)

I've just lent her my SLR and a cable release for the sequel. I'm half expecting Guineazilla.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hal 4 bangs down in the States

Powell's books are showing Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch (book #4) in stock, and that means Amazon should follow suit within the next day or so.

No news on overseas publishers, I'm afraid. There are frequent rumbles from all points North, but I reckon most are due to those famous lunches we hear so much about.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Review & Plane

First, US Fantasy/humor author & occasional Andromeda Spaceways publishee Jim C. Hines reviews Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch. No spoilers here ... you'll have to drop by his blog to find out what he thought of the book. (While you're there, why not add him as an LJ friend? You get writing tips from a multi-published author PLUS goblins. What more could you ask for?)

Second, I've put the plans for the world's deadliest paper plane online. This thing nearly killed me when I was a kid, and it's still the best thing I've ever done with a sheet of paper.

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

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New review of Hal 1 & 2

We Read Science Fiction just posted their review of Hal Spacejock books 1 & 2. (The blog author discovered the books via the download version of Hal 1, and requested the whole series for review purposes.)

Couple of snips from the review:

Australia's Simon Haynes successfully lampoons the bedrock of science fiction themes and doesn't take himself seriously. At all.

No kidding!

First, you will need to read these books with an open mind and an understanding of why they were written to enjoy them. If you try and take them too seriously you'll hate them, but if you grok Hal, you'll love them. Second, they are great for teenagers who you want hooked on SciFi. Remember that if you don't have the mind of a teenager.

I've seen a couple of comments around the place from people who tried to take Hal seriously, and it wasn't pretty. Fortunately, the other 99.99% of the population still has a sense of humour.

One of the most interesting comments in the review was that Hal 2 was a lot better than Hal 1. I hear that a lot (usually followed by 'Hal 3 is better than Hal 2' and 'Hal 4 is better than Hal 3'), but I really don't mind at all. Getting better as the series goes along means I'm growing as a writer, and my goal of fifteen Hal novels isn't completely loopy. (Oh sure, people laugh at my bold claims now...)

Anyway, feel free to descend on the We Read Science Fiction blog and comment on the review. The site encourages this sort of reader reaction.

(You'll also find a lot of other book reviews - perfect reading for a lazy weekend.)

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Comp of interest to WA parents, teachers & librarians

Just thought I'd give you advance notice of a competition which will appear in the West Australian early in August. Teachers & librarians ... perhaps a chance for a class effort? Parents ... get your kids reading!

ED! Magazine in The West Australian are giving primary and secondary students the opportunity to win the complete set of Hal Spacejock novels by Simon Haynes.

The competition involves writing a 150-word review of any book in the Hal Spacejock series. It doesn't matter whether the review is based on the free ebook of Hal Spacejock book one or any of the other books in the series. I'm guessing 150 words is approximate, too.

The best entry will be published in ED!

So, you might like to keep an eye on the ED! supplement of the West Australian for entry details.

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

Monday, July 14, 2008

Newbie's guide to publishing

JA Konrath's all-inclusive writing book - over four years in the making, filled with more than 750 pages of tips, tricks, and advice. And it's 100% free.

You can read more on the freebie and download your copy via this post on JA Konrath's blog.

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

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Conflux virtual mini-con

Conflux will again be holding a virtual mini-con on the weekend of August 2 and 3. What’s a virtual mini-con, I hear you cry? Well, it’s an online convention, a gathering of friends and fans that follow a program to spend an hour chatting with a special guest. Best of all, it’s completely free!

(Taken from here - visit for more details and the full list of guests.)

I'm happy to be participating, and my guest slot on the forums is 4pm EST (2pm Western Australian time and - wake up! - 2am in New York.)

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

More on openings

Blogging super-agent Nathan Bransford just wrote about flash-bang starts, slower starts, and the point in the novel by which time SOMETHING has to be set in motion. Worth a read for everyone who participated in the comments on my blog over the past couple of days: You've got 30 pages, pal.

(That's 30 pages of double-spaced 12pt Times, each of which is roughly equivalent to a page in a published novel. If you're counting single-spaced pages you only have 15.)

Out of interest I dragged Hal books 1-4 off the shelf and checked to see what I'd managed to throw at the reader by page 30. In each case they've hit the end of chapter two and several plot threads have been set in motion. Since I make a point of finishing just about every chapter with a hook of some kind, it's likely they'd want to read on to see What Happens Next.

So, regarding the opening scenes of Hal 5, it looks like I can build it up and introduce all the plot elements in my usual fashion, as long as the boulder is rolling downhill by the end of chapter two. No sweat!

How about you? Are the events leading up to page 30 of your manuscript enough of a hook to keep your readers interested? (And yes, Fantasy authors, that twelve page prologue with the Entire History o' your Universe is included in the 30, even though I've never read a prologue in my life.)

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

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Interview with David Louis Edelman

David Louis Edelman's debut novel Infoquake was released by Pyr in 2006. Barnes & Noble Explorations called the story of cut-throat software entrepreneurs in the far future "the love child of Donald Trump and Vernor Vinge" and later named it their SF Book of the Year. The book was also nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best Novel, and Edelman was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer on the strength of that novel. Infoquake has just been re-released in mass market paperback by Solaris Books with a fancy new cover by Stephan Martiniere.

This week, Pyr is releasing book 2 of David's Jump 225 trilogy, MultiReal. The book continues where Infoquake left off, and has already been called "a thoroughly-successful hybrid of Neuromancer and Wall Street" by Hugo nominee Peter Watts.

BIO: In addition to writing novels, Dave has also programmed websites for the U.S. Army, the FBI, ExxonMobil, and Rolls-Royce; taught software to the U.S. Congress and the World Bank; written articles for the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun; and directed the marketing departments of biometric and e-commerce companies. Dave is well-versed in PHP, Ruby on Rails, WordPress, ColdFusion, HTML, Javascript, XML, and CSS, and is an expert in web usability, web design, search engine optimization, and writing for the web.

1) What was your inspiration for writing Infoquake and MultiReal?

Infoquake and MultiReal are two parts of a story I started writing in late 2000 about my dot-com experiences in the '90s. I'm a marketing guy and web programmer by trade, and I saw a number of crazy things during the dot-com bubble. Mostly I was interested in the personal dynamics -- how charismatic schemers like my protagonist Natch convinced so many people to invest in so many worthless companies.

So in 2000 and 2001, I wrote a novel titled Jump 225.7, which you might call a far-future satire of the dot-com era. I literally finished the first draft of it on September 10, 2001. Then suddenly the next day, satire seemed the wrong way to approach the story I was trying to tell. So when I started rewriting it, the story became much darker and more serious in tone. I tried to ask all the big questions about capitalism, about Western society, about human nature and greed and what the long-term prospects of the species were. The end result was the Jump 225 trilogy, starting with Infoquake and continuing with MultiReal.

2) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

Growing up, my favorite author had to be J.R.R. Tolkien (unless Stan Lee counts). I'm sure I read the whole Lord of the Rings saga (including The Hobbit and The Silmarillion) half a dozen times. Then in adolescence I fell in love with Kurt Vonnegut, with a special reverence for Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five. College brought John Barth to my attention, and I've been running the biggest fan website for his books since about 1996 or so. If I had to name my favorite author since college, I'd have to pick either William Gibson or Thomas Pynchon.

3) What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

I think for me it's the ability to rethink absolutely everything about the world, down to the smallest nanoparticle. I'm a worldbuilding addict, so I like being able to examine and reconfigure the politics, the history, and the sociology of my world to suit the story I'm trying to tell. For the Jump 225 trilogy, I considered all of those things and more -- I even got down to the level of thinking up new building materials and trying to invent ways that people would move goods from place to place in the absence of trucks and an interstate system. I can't really think of any other genre you can do that in.

4) Why did you decide to make Natch a software entrepreneur?

When I started writing the Jump 225 trilogy, I followed the axiom of writing what you know. I'd worked for several high-tech start-ups run by young, charismatic, slightly unhinged software entrepreneurs. And so that's who I started with.

The supporting characters are also based on character types I'd met in dot-coms. Horvil is the heavy-set, brilliant engineering guy who prefers to run things behind the scenes and leave the politics to the boss. And Jara is the serious, no-nonsense marketing woman who has something of a love/hate relationship with the company.

5) What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

I'm incredibly boring. I read. I putter around on the computer and tinker with my websites. I watch a lot of movies, and I keep up with the news. I'm looking forward to having children so I can have the excuse that I'm "spending quality time with my family."

6) What sort of research did you do to write these books?

Infoquake is heavily concerned with biologic software (or "wetware," as it's sometimes called). I know something about software, but I know very little about biology or physiology. So I certainly had to do some basic research into how the human body works. The main technology behind MultiReal also involves quantum physics, so I had to beef up on that a bit too. I admit that I don't tend to delve very deeply into the subjects that I research; mostly it's just your basic Wikipedia and Google searches, combined with long involved discussions with subject matter experts I know.

7) Natch is a compulsive workaholic. Are you that way too?

Absolutely not. I'm actually not very much at all like Natch or Jara, the two main protagonists of the novels. Although I suppose I do share certain characteristics with them. If I had to name a character who was closest to me in temperament, I'd have to say Horvil, the fat cheerful engineer who's always putting up with Natch's crap.

8) The political factions in the Jump 225 trilogy are divided between governmentalists and libertarians. If you were a character in the books, which would you be?

A lot of people who've read Infoquake assumed that my sympathies lie with the libertarians, because that's where Natch's sympathy lies. But I'm definitely more conflicted in my politics. I like to pick and choose among the different parties and philosophies. I have some definite liberal tendencies but a number of conservative ones as well.

You'll discover in MultiReal that the political situation is much more nuanced than Natch makes it out to be in Infoquake. The central government, which really seems like the epitome of evil in Infoquake, is a conflicted organization itself with some do-gooders working in the fringes. And the libertarians are full of self-interested schemers who'll stab you in the back.

9) What are you writing now?

I'm currently about 80,000 words into Geosynchron, the third and final book of the Jump 225 trilogy. I'm a very slow writer and I write a million drafts, but I'm hoping to finish the whole thing by the end of the year.

10) Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

Yes, I always wanted to write, ever since I was a little kid. I wrote my first "novel" when I was about 6 years old, and I spent much of my childhood building up a pantheon of superheroes with my brother. I studied creative writing in college at Johns Hopkins, and tried to write a novel in my early 20s. It wasn't until I had given up on the writing and spent half a dozen years in the trenches of high tech that I came up with an idea that I could follow through on. And that was the Jump 225 trilogy.

11) What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

I've never been very good about setting a concrete writing schedule. Maybe that's why it takes me so long to finish anything. I typically work about three days a week at my part-time web programming job, and then write whenever I have the free time and the inclination.

12) Where do you write?

I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I'm one of the guys you see sitting there at Starbuck's with his laptop for hours on end. For some reason, I find it easy to write with background chatter. But when I'm not writing there, I'm sitting on my couch at home with one dog on the back of the couch behind my head and one dog nestled between me and the armrest.

13) What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

The hardest thing for me as a writer is discipline. I have an easy time coming up with great ideas, and I find it very easy to sit down and start pecking on those first few paragraphs. But then I quickly burn out. If you're ever going to finish anything, you need to be able to batter your way through those burnout times, and I have a difficult time with that. And then I'm so rarely satisfied with what I write, it always takes me to forever to finish.

More about David Louis Edelman:

More about Infoquake:

More about MultiReal:

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

Monday, July 07, 2008

Backstory vs Buildup

You all know the in media res rule: start your novel in the middle of an action sequence, throw the reader in the deep end, make your first sentence, your first page, your first chapter as gripping as possible and fill in the details as you go along.

I know the rule too, but I have one or two problems with it.

First, I think it's relevant when you're trying to hook an agent or a publisher. You need to stand out from the crowd, and the attention-grabbing opening does that. Of course, if you DO secure a publishing deal there's plenty of time for rewrites ;-)

It's also relevant if you're trying to hook new readers (and who isn't?) If someone is scanning the first page of your novel in a bookstore, deciding whether to buy, don't you want to hook them in?

Well yes, but I have to confess I've never stood around in a bookstore reading the first page of anything. I'm drawn to new books by the spine (maybe the author's name rings a bell, or the title sounds promising), the front cover if it's face-out (title & author again, the cover art & any visible blurbs), or the fact the bookshop staff have just pressed the thing into my hands.

Once I'm holding the book I'm only interested in two things: the back cover teaser, and blurbs. These can be on the back or printed inside, but they DO influence my decision to buy. If there aren't any blurbs but the teaser is good, I'm in. If there are lots of positive blurbs from authors or reviewers I'm familiar with, that's also a plus but I won't buy a heavily-blurbed book if the teaser doesn't interest me.

You'll notice that none of my purchase decisions are based on the quality or style of the writing - for that I put my trust in the author, their editor, and the publisher.

The second problem I have with the 'action opening' is this: The author now has to fit in all that lovely backstory, and since it's already happened, it often boils down to characters telling each other things they already know just to bring the reader up to speed. Alternatively you get a flashback or three, sometimes lasting the entire novel, and you wonder why the author didn't just set the novel in the flashback era so the thing could play out in real time.

The third problem I have with in media res? It can play havoc with pacing and tension: You get a big BANG and then pages & pages setting up the hissing fuse. Me, I like to start with the hiss.

I'm not blogging about the problems with big openings because I think they're always the wrong choice ... hell, no. It's just that I like it when things start perfectly normal and gradually go wonky, so that by the end of chapter one (or perhaps chapter two), the freight train is rushing towards the rockfall or the helpless spaceship is drifting towards the asteroid field. Ideally you want the reader spotting things before the characters do, which not only has them anticipating problems but also willing the characters to spot them, discuss them and deal with them.

So, what prompted this blog post?

A couple of weeks ago I began plotting Hal 5 in my usual fashion, introducing the characters, the location and the setting before piling bigger and bigger problems onto the hapless characters. The plot grew and grew, until the spiderweb covered many pages.

Then, just this morning, I decided to play with it. I took a copy of the plot and started dragging & editing branches in Freemind to see how it would look if I started the book further in than usual. And, having made all those changes, I've ended up with a ton of stuff filed under 'backstory' which would normally be the first chapter or two of the novel. That's why I'm here, posting about it, because I'm weighing up the pros and cons, and trying to decide whether to stick with it or fall back on my comfortable opening chapter or two.

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

Saturday, July 05, 2008


Wonderlands is a new social networking site for Fantasy & Spec Fic writers, readers, fans, etc. At first I thought 'oh no, another one', but after seeing it posted and reposted on several blogs belonging to writers, editors and agents I'm acquainted with, I caved in and signed up.

You'll find me here. Hope to see you over there!

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

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ebay stuff

I've listed my entire collection of Asimov's SF on ebay in multiple lots, if anyone's interested. There's also a bunch of other SF mags, some books, a couple of Tintin comics & a large amount of UK Tiger/Scorcher/Roy of the Rovers comics.

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

Incubation times

This post was prompted by recent discussion on Nathan Bransford's blog, in which the following question was raised: what do you feel about authors trying to keep up with a book a year, or more, to satisfy their publisher and their readers? (paraphrased from memory)

Personally I believe the author should demand enough time to finish the book properly. Problem is, a book isn't a roll of toilet paper or a loaf of bread ... it's an artistic endeavour, and it's finished when it's finished.

Over time, most authors find a schedule they're comfortable with, and provided they stay on track they can write novels to that deadline. For me it's about 8 months from start to finish, and when you add in the publisher's side of things that's about one book every 14-16 months. (Hal 4 was the first book I've written for this publisher from scratch, and having done that one I'm confident I can repeat.)

This doesn't allow for writers block (Pah! No such thing!) and backtracking heavily to fix those major cock-ups we suddenly unearth near the end of the novel. That's why we invented extensions.

Just out of interest, these are the time scales for each Hal book, from my writing the very first word to their appearance in the shops with Fremantle Press:

Hal Spacejock: 11 years
Hal Spacejock Second Course: 4 years
Hal Spacejock Just Desserts: 4 years
Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch: 1 year (with a 1 month extension)

Hal 4 is a bit of a special case because I wrote the first bits of the novel in 2004, and also wrote two versions of it for NanoWrimo in 2005 and 2006, but so little of those efforts made it into the final version it was effectively written from scratch.

There's also quite a bit of overlap in the figures, because I started Hal Spacejock book 1 in 1994.

A long gestation period can give the writer time to dot every i and cross every t, to shine and polish until every single word belongs. Although if you believe this you clearly haven't read Hal 1. Even after all those years of editing and polishing, I can still open it to any page and see things I'd like to change. That's the sort of education you get from writing three or four additional novels.

Also, by the time you finish your one-book-a-decade half the book reps have moved on, stores don't remember you and fans have all found another writer to idolise.

On the other hand, writing a novel in 8 months can lead to consistency - plot, character, dialogue ... even the writing. You're not blending passages you wrote a decade ago with sentences you just crafted last week. There's a certain attraction to single-mindedly pursuing one goal over a relatively short time span, excluding minor distractions like your health, earning capacity, and your family.

So which is really better? Which do readers prefer?

Yesterday there was a reply to one of my recent posts which said something along the lines of 'Hal 4 has less of the one-line belly laughs than earlier books in the series, but it's my favourite so far' (Paraphrased from memory)

I think this is true of most comedy series (apart from the 'fave so far' bit - that varies), and there are several reasons for it.

First, there's the fact the author has probably been chasing a publishing deal for years, and during that time he/she has been tinkering with the novel in question. (What you should be doing is writing the next - and I did, twice. But that still doesn't prevent tinkering every time a new rejection or four lands in the mailbox.)

Second, to stay original and fresh with each book means NOT repeating yourself. Gags, dire situations, one-liners, plot points .. Personally, I err on the side of caution, avoiding anything which has echoes of earlier books. You tend to lose the freewheeling, carefree, have-at-it nature and become a bit more precise, and with each Hal book there are less irrelevant side trips just to fit in a funny scene I couldn't let go. Scenes are written to fit the plot, because I don't have time to let my brain wander too much ... or if I do, I'm happy to save it for a later book in the series, which was a luxury I didn't have when writing book #1.

Finally, with each book you want to grow as an author. You don't want to throw away a hard-earned readership with an artsy renegade volume of second-person stream of consciousness with no punctiation, but you don't want to put out the same-old, same-old either. For example, one of my goals is to fold one or more genres into each Hal book. Hal 1 was SF humour with satire. Hal 2 was an alien civilisation and corporate evildoers. Hal 3 was espionage and goverment coverups. And for Hal 4 I dug deep into the bucket and came up with mystery, crime, romance, horror and a bit of police procedural. (I wasn't sure whether it would be the last Hal book, so I threw everything in.)

By the way, whether No Free Lunch is the last Hal book or not depends on whether enough people buy a copy next time they're browsing in the local store. I'm working on Hal 5 now, but there are no certainties in the publishing game, whether you write one book a decade or three every year.

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