Monday, December 28, 2009

New Year Resolve

I'm aiming to finish Hal 5, natch. I've been working on other projects for two months now, mostly programming ones, but I'm beginning to feel the pull of the WIP once more.

To say I've missed a deadline is an understatement, but I have to write my novels a certain way. First, I get a rough draft together over a period of months. I keep working on it until I'm sick of the thing, and then put it away hoping never to see it again. Two or three months later all memories of the hours, days and weeks of solid writing and plotting have washed away, and I'm able to pick up the draft and tackle it with an editor's eye, rather than your typical tortured creative writer's one.

But Simon, you say, this is your fifth novel. Surely you know the routine by now?

The reason it's taken me this long to work out my routine is because I had to rewrite my first three novels for publication, which is why they only took 4-5 months each. I figured I could knock out new books in eight months tops, making one a year including the publisher's side of things.

Book four (Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch) emerged from the smoking wreckage of three different NanoWrimo efforts, so again I started with actual wreckage to rebuild - even then it took me 18 months rather than 8.

With Hal 5 the wreckage was still tumbling while I was trying to fix the thing up, and that made things impossible.

So, I'm sitting here with a pile of manuscript wreckage on my desk, and it's barely smoking at all. I'm just about ready to pile in with the bobcat, shovel and dynamite, and I'm looking forward to it.

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

Monday, September 14, 2009

Big Sky Writers Festival - report

Earlier this year I received an invitation to the Big Sky 09 writers festival, to be held by the Geraldton-Greenough regional library over three days in September. Geraldton is a coastal city abour 450km North-West of Perth, Western Australia, and in aussie outback terms 450km is a round trip to the shops. Accommodation & travel were all included, and it sounded like a great chance to meet some fellow authors and participate in panels on writing and science fiction.

I just got home last night, and I wanted to write a quick report on the festival while it's still fresh in my mind.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday last week preparing for a 2 1/2 hour 'meet the author' session (my first event of the festival), packed on Wednesday night and left home midday on Thursday. I brimmed the fuel tank just before I left, because my car generally does 450km on a full load, and 4 1/2 hours later I drove into Geraldton.

The library put me up at the Mantra apartments next to the marina, and I shared a very nice suite with all-round funny man and author, Jon Doust. (Jon is also with Fremantle Press, who recently launched his novel, Boy on a Wire - keep an eye out for it!)

The apartment was great - two bedrooms each with an ensuite bathroom, plus a lounge and a fully-equipped kitchen. There was the usual mini-bar stuff, but the Festival organisers had also loaded the fridge with goodies. There was fresh bread and the other basics, plus a fruit bowl, local olives and so on. Nice welcome.

The first evening was a catered dinner at the beautifully renovated home of Susan Smith, city librarian. I met the staff from the Geraldton library, which was great, and also most of the other authors & guests. Afterwards I did taxi-duties and chauffered Robert Drewe & Verity James and (someone else - sorry, forgot who!) to their accommodation (I was the only author to drive up from Perth - the others caught a plane. Me, I like to be mobile and free.)

Friday morning I drove to the Geraldton library for my first session. The library was huge and roomy, with a mezzanine floor and a wonderful light, airy atmosphere. The session was in the Council rooms next door, and I talked about writing & science fiction to a group of 30 lower-secondary students from a couple of the local schools. There were some good questions, a few laughs and a paper plane throwing session outside afterwards, which we managed to get in just before the skies opened.

I usually speak for 45-50 minutes in these sessions, but this time it was programmed for 2 1/2 hours with a 20 min refreshments break. That's why I spent two days working out what I was going to say, and how I was going to keep the audience awake. I extended my notes, and stretched the first 1/3rd of the material over the first half of the session, as well as throwing in a couple of readings ... including the first page of Hal Spacejock 5. By stretching out the first part I knew I could speed up in the second half, which is far better than rushing at the beginning and trying to extend & revamp the material to last another 20 mins at the end.

I did get one question about writing which left me searching for an answer: "What do you do if your parents won't let you write at home?" Over the course of each year I probably address a thousand students at various talks. On average, a handful are interested in writing fiction, and maybe one (or none) will go on to write later in life. So, when you hear from a student who is desperate to write but isn't allowed to, it really knocks you flat. Parents, if your child is keen to write - or has an interest in anything creative at all - please encourage them. If you don't, there's an excellent chance they won't dedicate their first novel to you ...

Friday evening was the gala opening, with Verity James as MC and an eloquent astronomer as guest speaker. All the authors were hauled up into the limelight, blinking in the glare of publicity, and then Jim Fisher entertained the crowd with a performance.

Afterwards it was off to the Geraldton Club for a buffet dinner with some amazing delicacies. Great conversation about books & reading, and fellow SF author Lara Morgan was on hand to help me push the SF barrow. (It was a table of eight, but unfortunately I don't have any names. I know the lady to my left was with the State Library of WA, I discussed kids with the lady to my right, and enthused about Asimov's Foundation series with a guy opposite.)

When we left it was pouring with rain so I lent Shelley Gare my jacket, dashed for the car, and then drove her and Jon Doust back to the Mantra. Stayed up very late watching episodes from season one of Bones.

Saturday morning I attended the keynote address by Anita Heiss, who gave an interesting talk about the Aboriginal perspective on astronomy and the night sky, and she then spotlighted her 'seven sisters' - seven Indigenous Australian authors and poets making a big name for themselves.

I disappeared from the festival for a couple of hours, and ended up driving around Geraldton. Haven't seen the place since 1985, and I decided it was time to update my memories.

Also did fascinating things like putting the washing on. (Told you the apartment had everything.)

At 1pm Liz Byrski launched her latest novel, Bad Behaviour, and I picked up a copy and had it signed for my mum. Liz signed it 'to the mother of Spacejock', which was a nice touch ;-)

At 2:15 there was a panel on the likelihood of extraterrestrial life. The panelists were Leonie Norrington, Liz Byrski, Jon Doust, Dean Alston and myself, and Verity James kept us all in line (and did a great job, too.)

Liz described the planet Geriatrica and Dean unveiled Hornbaggia, and between them they had the audience in stitches. Leonie shared a story about the white ghost, and I managed to find some deep space pics of thousands of galaxies, and we had those running on the projector in the background. Windows XP refused to cooperate, so I'd booted my laptop into Ubuntu - as luck would have it Ubu has a fantastic intergalactic screensaver, so that was a nice touch.

Radio Mama in Geraldton was broadcasting the panel live, and I saw the staff cringing every time the discussion ran off the rails, through the train yard and straight into the buffers. Which was often.

Later that evening I attended a dinner at Central West TAFE, where Kate Lamont shared her incredible knowledge of wine & food. Cast your eye at the menu:

Unbelievable. I usually don't drink, but I had a taster of each wine and they matched the food perfectly. (Although the word 'food' simply isn't appropriate.)

The table I was on was a real United Nations, with people either born in, living in or originating from places like Malta, Germany, Bulgaria, the UK and ... Geraldton. Having grown up in Spain and the UK myself, it was great to compare stories.

I drove two of my table companions home, then hit the apartment. Checkout was to be 10am the next day, so I stuck some pots of water in the freezer - I knew I wouldn't be home until 8pm Sunday night, and that meant keeping a few odds and ends cool in the boot of my car for around 10 hours. After packing bags and so on, I watched a few more eps of Bones. (I doubt I got more than five hours sleep a night while I was away.)

And then it was Sunday, the final day of the festival. There was a monthly trash and treasure fair so I wandered around for twenty minutes, mainly to soak up the sun. A few people had remarked how pale I was looking, which isn't surprising when you work from home and you're stuck in front of a computer most of the time. That, plus the lack of sleep I suppose.

At 11am I headed back to the Geraldton Universities Centre, where I had a panel with Lara Morgan on writing science fiction and fantasy. We sat in the middle of the table with the audience arranged in a circle, which was a good setup, and there was much discussion about writing techniques, plotting, editing and so on.

After the panel I was sporting a fantastic headache, which I'd had all day but which was now really hitting hard. The final event on the program was a 4-hour picnic lunch at Nukara, a bush venue 26km North of Geraldton. I originally planned to attend for an hour or so before setting out on my 4 1/2 hour drive home, but when I realised it was a 50km round trip, and factored in my headache, I was on the point of giving my apologies and driving straight home.

In the end I told the headache to get lost, told myself 50km was practically the end of the driveway in country WA terms, and drove out to Nukara. The first 6kmh were spent crawling through the suburbs at about 60km/h, but then the road narrowed and the speed limit went up to a more reasonable 110.

Flew through the countryside enjoying the rises, dips and tight corners:

Nukara wasn't what I expected at all. I thought it would be a wildflower nursury, but it was a rustic bush venue with a weathervane the likes of which I've never seen before:

(Yes, they're 44 gallon drums)

Had a very nice lunch with the other authors - spicy chicken wings, meatballs with chilli dip, ham roll, salad, coleslaw, everything. The lunch tray was enormous, and we all had a whole one to ourselves. (Someone must have researched authors and hit my recipe page, then decided we do nothing but write, talk and eat. Fair enough ...)

I stayed for an hour or so and listened to Anita Heiss, Liz Byrski and Verity James, chiming in now and then. Eventually I decided I'd better hit the road, else I'd be barrelling through the outback at 110 in pitch darkness for most of the trip. Not that I mind darkness, but it's much easier to overtake 35-metre-long road trains when you can see which way the road is turning.

I said my goodbyes, and then Lara mentioned her partner Grant had bought along all four of his Hal Spacejock books. They were well-thumbed and clearly well-read, and I happily signed the lot. I said goodbye to the other authors, organisers and library staff, then drove into Geraldton, filled up with gas, texted my wife to say I'd be back in 4 hours and 31 mins, then hit the road.

The drive back was actually quite entertaining. I was following a four wheel drive for some time, and a bright yellow VW 'New Beetle' was trying to overtake. The vee dub got past, and when I zoomed past the 4wd I overtook the beetle as well. They sped up, and we spent the next 200 kmh playing catch. (If I got ahead, they'd catch up, but each time we hit an overtaking lane I slowed a little so they could get past if they wanted, only for them to drop back again.)

Then we stopped at a roadhouse where I topped up my coffee, and that was the last I saw of the bright yellow bug. I don't even know who was driving, and for all I know it was someone from the Festival. Hope you had a safe trip, whoever you were.

Got home, said hi to the family, handed over gifts, gave them a potted summary, and then I packed away my gear.

I had a great time at the festival, the libary staff were terrific organisers and I really enjoyed all the different conversations and perspectives from a group of authors I wouldn't normally run into.

Big Sky? Big thanks from me, that's for sure.

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

Monday, June 29, 2009

Still writing

If you're wondering where I am, the answer is ... writing. I set myself a breakneck pace to get the Hal Spacejock 5 draft finished and that leaves little time for other forms of writing - such as email and blogging. (And people wonder why I embrace my twitter account like a drowning man...)

Anyway, my Hal 5 schedule looks something like this:

By July 3: Finish the rough draft. (Still have 4 chapters to write, one per day)
By July 15: Finish the first edit. Much cutting, pasting, chopping, wailing.
By July 31: Send the finished second edit+ off to my first readers for comment
By August 15: Complete the third edit and read through all the first reader feedback
By August 31: Complete the twentieth edit* and send the MS to my editor.

+ Last time they got the twentieth edit. This one's going to be an eye-opener ...

* That's going to be a busy 2 weeks.

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

Friday, June 05, 2009

Writin' night

Tonight was a good night for writing ... it was funny, it was sad, it was moving, it had a terrific plot and the characters were great. Then I stopped watching Deadwood and started working on the novel instead.

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

MythOS launch interview

Today marks the release of Kelly McCullough’s latest book MythOS, and you'll find a new interview on the SF Novelists site.

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

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How to plot a novel ... now with extra plot!

Not sure whether you've seen my article on How to plot a novel, but there's a tantilising pic of a completed outline where the font is just too small to read.

I keep getting emails from people asking me to make the pic bigger so they can read the text, or to provide the Freemind outline it belongs to. In the past I've said no because the outline was written for my own use and could contain just about anything. The pic was deliberately designed so it couldn't be read.

However, tonight I caved in and skimmed the plot outline for objectionable or actionable content, and after a cleanup I've uploaded the file to my website.

You'll find a link to the file on the article page, and I've also included an html version of the file. It should be a decent example of a plot outline, and if you're curious to see how much it differs from the finished novel you're welcome to buy the ebook version of Hal Spacejock book four.

Obviously the plot outline contains major spoilers, so I'd read the book before the outline!

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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Writing: you call that a scene?

I posted a version of this to the yWriter 5 group earlier today, but realised it might be useful to others outside that list.

I've been working extra hard on my novel for the past week or so, and after much editing and re-editing I suddenly realised that working on dozens of scenes with 1500-3000 words in each is not much fun. After a few dozen changes to each scene, usually involving a bunch of new notes and comments, it's impossible to do anything with such big chunks of text unless I reread them to work out what I've stuck in there - and all that re-reading takes time.

So, today I took a dozen scenes from my WIP and broke them down into 35-45 much shorter snippets, each containing just 200-400 words. Each snippet is a logical piece of a scene, encompassing one or more events, and the description field in yWriter5 tells me exactly what that scene contains.

Obviously they'll be combined back into larger scenes again before the book is done, but in the meantime I can work on much smaller chunks of text, which makes it much easier to edit them (How long does it take to re-read 200 words? Most emails are longer than that!), and who can possibly procrastinate about sitting down to write 200-300 words of fiction? Especially when you have a one-line sentence telling you what those 200-300 words have to achieve.

It's all trickery of the mind, but the brain is all that stands between a writer and their next completed novel, so I say get tricking.

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

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Hal 4 powers on

Great news for the Hal Spacejock series ... the 2009 Ditmar Awards ballot has just been announced, and Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch (Book 4) is a finalist in the Best Novel category.

Last month Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch took out the WA Science Fiction Foundation 'Tin Duck' award for best SF/F/H novel of 2008. Earlier this year it was one of only five finalists in the Aurealis Awards Best SF Novel cateogory. Last year it was a number one bestseller at Fantastic Planet.

I'm a highly self-critical writer and I'm never completely happy with my work, always believing there are so many ways I could improve if I could only see through the writerly fog and understand where I'm going wrong. Therefore it's really encouraging to get all this external validation, and as long as it keeps my publisher happy and they keep asking me for more novels, I'll always have a chance to get a Hal Spacejock book just right ;-)

Congrats to everyone on the ballot and commiserations if you missed out.

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

Thursday, May 07, 2009


I love that moment where you've been working on a novel for months, you've written two thirds of the draft, and you suddenly get a flash of inspiration which allows you to greatly improve a sub-par subplot. Not only that, you also manage to tie it firmly to the main plot AND foreshadow upcoming events.

This happens to me with every book I write, which is why I'm happy to write chapters and scenes even if the plot isn't quite there. A plot outline should be organic, like a nice green vine, and every author should pack a pair of shears and grafting tape.

Words are free, and you can write as many of them as you want without paying taxes, so bash those scenes out in volume and you never know where you'll end up.

The biggest mistake is to not start writing until the plot is perfect, or to stop writing because you're not sure what should happen next. Write it anyway!

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

Monday, April 27, 2009

News roundup

I've been twittering lately, hence the lack of blog posts.

First bit of news: an award!

Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch won the WASFF 'Tin Duck' award for best professional long work at Swancon last weekend. This is the second WASFF award in a row for the series, after Hal Spacejock Just Desserts won the same award last year.

It's a very handsome trophy, although it was a real pain to photograph because it's solid glass!

Second bit of news: Big Media coverage!

There was a column in the Weekend Australian on electronic books, and Rosemary Sorensen mentioned the ebook release of Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch.

Third bit of news: Still working on Hal Spacejock 5.

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

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Hal 5 update

Just thought I'd take a quick break from tiling, grouting and painting to post a blog about writing. (For once)

One of the reasons I've leapt into decorating with such glee is that it's a great chance to let my mind wander. No deadlines, lots of repetitive work, and a feeling that when I finally get back to writing this novel I'll be able to give it 100%

The other reason is because whole plot lines can appear while you're mixing a bucket of tile adhesive, applying a third coat of varnish to jarrah or slapping acrylic paint onto the walls. (Given that heady cocktail of chemicals and carcinogens, you won't be surprised to hear those plot lines can vanish again just as quickly.)

Anyway, after more than four weeks tiling, decorating, &c, what has my fallow mind come up with? I changed the first name of one of the characers in the book. That's it.

On the plus side, it's a really good name.

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

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where's Simon?

These days, mostly on Twitter:

Brevity and random scattered thoughts suit the way my brain works.

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

Monday, March 23, 2009

JA Konrath on piracy & ebooks

JA Konrath is currently on a blog tour, posting on different sites every day in March to promote the release of Afraid, a horror novel he wrote under the name Jack Kilborn. I put my hand up to participate in the blog tour, and when it came to the topic I said 'give me something on ebooks'.

Here's JA Konrath's article on the subject ...

Let's talk about illegal downloading and ebooks.

As of this writing, you can Google "JA Konrath"+torrent and get over two thousand hits. Add in Usenet, eMule, Limewire, and other file sharing clients, and there are a whole lot of people downloading my ebooks and audiobooks without permission. Last year it was less than a thousand. The year before, just a few hundred.

While I love used books, many authors hate them. Some authors aren't keen on libraries, either. After all, authors only make money for each new book sold. If the books are traded, resold, or lent out, they feel they're losing money.

These authors are in for quite a shock in the upcoming years.

Once ebook readers come down in price and become as prevalent as iPods, the 4 billion dollar a year used book industry will be the least of their worries. One $10 ebook download will be up on the torrent sites the day it is released, if not leaked sooner, and will be shared by thousands.

This industry will go digital. DRM doesn't work. People don't consider file-sharing to be stealing. Sales will drop, guaranteed.

Technically, it's impossible to count illegal downloads as lost sales, because chances are most people stealing a copy wouldn't pay for a copy. If they had no way to get it for free, they'd do without it.

At least, that's how I feel about the majority of stuff I steal on the net.

But can we really blame the consumers? Or can the publishers take some of the blame? In this economy, can anyone even afford to pat $25 for a hardcover that will entertain them for 9 hours, when that same money can be used to buy dinner and rent 2 dvds?

Books are overpriced. So is music. And we all know what happened there.

The music industry blew it. Here they had a free distribution system set up by fans. No more production costs. No more shipping charges. No more wholesalers and retailers taking part of the profit. But instead of figuring out how to work within this system, they tried to shut it down and created a hydra.

If Google (with their Kindle), and Sony (with their Ereader), were smart, they'd begin signing writers exclusively to their platforms, split the royalties 50/50 with the writers, and charge a dollar or two for ebook downloads. An easy-to-access online store, well organized and cheap, could cut down on pirating.

Of course, if they were really smart, they'd give the books away for free and charge advertisers for spots. Then piracy wouldn't be a factor.

But print, as we know it, is doomed. The publishing business model is broken, books are too expensive and increasingly harder to find on store shelves, and the ebook revolution is just around the corner.

We can bemoan the change, but we can't fight it, even with contract renegotiations. The used book industry is peanuts compared to the ability of one ebook buyer to distribute thousands of copies for free.

And telling folks that stealing is bad isn't going to change a thing, any more than it did for music. Copy protection won't change a thing either.

Here's a fun thought experiment about new technologies: Pretend print books never existed. What advantage would they have over ebooks?

Let's say we grew up with ebook devices, like my son is growing up with his iPod. Would print even exist?

Ebook devices are still too expensive. But when they come down to under a hundred bucks, and are scratch proof and waterproof, then print no longer has any advantages. Ebooks can be cheaper or free, faster to acquire, you can adjust the font size and type, read without a light, carry 5000 books at once, the books can be interactive and searchable with extra content like DVDs, and the list goes on.

If such a device existed, would there be a single reason to invent print
books? What's the advantage of printing, shipping, and killing 40 million trees a year? (and that's just for the book industry, not newspapers or magazines.)

But we grew up with print books, so we're reluctant to give them up. That is, until we actually try a Kindle 2 and go nuts over that the same way we went nuts over out first iPod.

Some steps are being made in this direction. Amazon, and Sony (which just made a deal with Google for their library of public domain books) are now publishers.

Agents, and all of the big publishers, are anxious to hop into bed with them, rather than consider alternatives. No publisher that I'm aware of has been able to generate much in the way of website traffic and online sales.

But if Random House suddenly made it's entire backlist available online as pdfs for 99 cents a download, that could change the playing field.

They won't, of course. It isn't in their best interest to go digital. They consider erights to be subsidiary, not primary. While everyone is very interested in ebooks, no one believes it will actually replace print, so no one is taking steps to prepare for that.

Smart companies look ahead and change accordingly, even if it means abandoning what originally made them companies. But often, people spend so much energy clinging to the now, they don't have any hands left to reach for what's coming.

But all this is going to do is make it easier for the thieves. Unless Amazon, Sony, and all of the publishers make the ebooks cheap, they'll be stolen.

Actually, they'll be stolen anyway, but the cheaper the book, the more copies that will sell. Why should I search for and download a torrent when I can get the book with a click of a button for 99 cents?

Then again, I have filled my iPod, and it wasn't using iTunes. Chances are, even if books are cheap, they'll still be stolen. But without wholesalers, retailers, or distributors to take a cut, it makes no sense why an author shouldn't make half of the one dollar download, or more. In fact, do we even need publishers any more? Why not just hire a freelancer to copyedit, then the entire dollar goes to the author?

Publishers are falling into the same trap that a lot of companies fall into when new technology comes along, which is: How can I make sure I'm still relevant?

So their business models obviously include themselves.

But what do publishers really do for writers? They print, distribute, and promote. With all the costs along the way, they profit about $3 on a $24 hardcover, same as the author.

Now there are much lower costs. Printing and distributing, which involves shipping and giving percentages to middle-men, are all but gone now.

So what exactly do we need publishers for in an ebook world? What service are they providing?

None at all.

Amazon realizes this. Why should they share money with a publisher for
an ebook? Why not publish the ebook themselves?

But Amazon is still taking a healthy cut, because they feel they're using their distribution system.

Sorry, Amazon, but $10 for an ebook is too much. People are going to steal it. And their distribution, while the only real game in town (except for Sony), still isn't that great. Amazon doesn't sell that many books, and they don't sell that many ebooks.

But has anyone actually compared cheap ebooks to free ebooks to see which people prefer?

I have.

As an experiment, I'm offering an ebook download on my website for 99 cents.

In four weeks, 183 people have downloaded it. Not bad for a midlist author. But I have several hundred thousand books in print, so 183 is actually pretty minuscule.

Also, as an experiment, I've been offering free ebook downloads on my website.

As of today, my free ebooks (not excerpts, these are full books) have been downloaded 16,534 times.

If I'd sold ad space in those ebooks, I could have made some money--a lot more than the 183 ebooks I sold.

So, even at 99 cents per book, even if the author made the entire 99 cents, I'm pretty sure free is the way to go.

Project Gutenberg has over 120,000 ebook downloads per day, for free.

If Amazon thinks they can compete with free, they're crazy.


JA Konrath is currently on a blog tour, posting on different sites every
day in March to promote the release of Afraid, a horror novel he wrote
under the name Jack Kilborn. Visit him at

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

Monday, March 16, 2009

DRM-free ebooks interview recently posted my article on the harm high prices and DRM (copyright protection) may be doing to ebook sales. You're welcome to drop over there and leave a comment.

I also submitted the Teleread article link to Slashdot, where it's sitting in the queue awaiting a few more votes. I don't usually ask for this kind of thing, but if you have a Slashdot account and feel the article deserves wider exposure, feel free to click the + next to the article header ("SF author Simon Haynes argues against ebook DRM") on this page.

(You can only vote once.)

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

Friday, March 13, 2009

Flycon 2009

Pinched from Chris Dolley's blog because I'm up to my elbows in floor tile adhesive...

FlyCon – the worldwide online SF/F con – starts today at midnight (Australia, EST) and 9am (US Eastern Time) and finishes at 5pm Monday in Australia and around midnight the day before in San Francisco. Panels and author chats are running continuously plus there’s a dealer’s room and a masquerade (photos on Flickr)

All in all it's everything you get at a con but without the hotel bill, the registration fees, the travel, the delays and the cold that follows you home.

Authors attending include Geoff Ryman, Kate Elliot, Sherwood Smith, Karen Miller, Roberta Gellis, Alma Alexander, Devon Monk, Marie Brennan, Sarah Zettel, Jennifer Fallon, Chaz Brenchley, Jack Dann, Sara Douglass, Jeri Smith-Ready, Lisa Mantchev, Simon Haynes, Pati Nagle, Dave Freer and SC Butler.

The schedule is here and I have a panel at 9am EST if you want to come and heckle. (That's 7am my time - talk about dedication to the cause, especially on a weekend ...)

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

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Hal Spacejock ebooks: how to score a free copy of Hal #2

Last year my publisher released Hal Spacejock book one as a free ebook, and we've seen just over 50,000 downloads to date.

As of today the rest of the series is available in DRM-free ebook format at a super-low price of A$5 each. (Approx US$3.50) That means you can grab the entire series for A$15 (approx US$10), which is less than the price of a single paperback, and way less than the international postage on one book.

Now for the good bit: I've wangled a superb freebie for anyone willing to share the good news. All you have to do is blog or tweet about the release of the Hal Spacejock ebooks (before the end of March 2009), then let me know you've linked to the news.

In return I'll email you a free ebook of Hal Spacejock Second Course, the second title in the series. Call it an incentive, a big thank-you, a 'review copy' or an outright bribe. I know Hal would!

There's an info page which you're welcome to cut and paste details from, or you can just link to it instead: (or if space is tight.)

You'll also find a custom mission patch for this very important launch.

Why important? Well, if these DRM-free ebooks prove a big success then other publishers will follow our lead. That'll lead to a bigger choice of titles which you'll be able to read anywhere, rather than the current system of DRM-locked ebooks which only work on specific devices.

A vote for Hal Spacejock is a vote for cheap, DRM-free ebooks. To place your vote, buff up the credit card or Paypal account and step right this way.

Incidentally, on the DRM front just published an article in which I state my case against ebook DRM.

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

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hope fanzine part 1

Hope is a new multi-part fanzine raising money for bushfire relief in the Australian state of Victoria. Issue #1 is now available in a PDF edition in return for donations.

Hope #1 contains contributions from Mo Ali, Sophie Ambrose, R.J. Astruc, Lyn Battersby, K.K. Bishop, Matthew Chrulew, Stephen Dedman, Mark S. Deniz, d.n.l, Paul Haines, Simon Haynes, Kathleen Jennings, Ju Landeesse, Damian Magee, David A. McIntee, Simon Petrie, Andrew Phillips, Gillian Polack, Robert Shearman and Daniel Smith. The cover is by Rebecca Handcock.

This is going to a really good cause, which is why I sent in a previously unpublished short story of mine. It's the first short I've submitted anywhere for 7 or 8 years.

Please consider making a donation to the appeal so you can pick up a copy of this fanzine. The suggested minimum is only A$5 (around US$3.50), and I'd really appreciate it if you can help out.

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

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hal 5 progress (really)

Still picking out floor tiles, still programming under contract, but yesterday I managed to write a little Hal 5 as well.

It seems to me I forget my working process with every book. For two weeks I've been reluctant to touch the messy, confusing draft because every scene in my project needed a ton of rewrites to match the outline. Yesterday I remembered what I did for Hal 4 (and 3, and 2, and 1) ... instead of taking 2000 words and editing them to match the new outline, just write the 2000 words again from scratch. It's probably two hours work either way, and writing them fresh is so much easier.

Anyway, this time I'm jotting down notes for a how-to manual, and for the next novel I hope to have a simple guide which will get me through the toughest part. (That would be turning 30,000-40,000 words of mismatched, disjointed scenes into a 100,000 word first draft. Last month the toughest part was plotting, and next month the toughest part will be turning a rough draft into a first edit. It never ends, I tell you ...)

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hal 5 progress

Words written in the past two weeks: 0
Tiled floors jackhammered up: 2
Contract programming jobs completed: 2

I'm currently contemplating the laying of 60 sq/m of tiles. Kitchen, PC area, entrance and two hallways. I've also taken on another programming job.

Re the tiles, we'd just about decided on a 450x450 marble-look tile, layed square, which is the easiest way to go. However, all along I've had a hankering for a picture-frame effect. This is where you lay one row of half-tiles all around the edge of the room, then put down a thin decorative strip (optional), and then lay all the tiles in the middle of this frame on the diagonal.

It's at least double the amount of work, the decorative border will add about 30% to the cost of the job, but it looks very special when done right. On the plus side, I'm saving over $2000 by doing all the work myself, and I've successfully laid a large area of tiles before now so I'm happy I can handle it.

Anyway, if you don't see many writing updates, that's the reason ..

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

Saturday, February 07, 2009

More on the decorating

First thing my daughter said when see saw me like this?

"Are you my mummy?"

Warmed my SF-centered heart, that did.

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


Words written today: 0
Tile floors jackhammered up: 1/2

Sometimes it's not about the writing.

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

Thursday, February 05, 2009

C.C. Finlay's Patriot Witch - Free download

Now this sounds like a good idea ... promote a series by giving away the first book as a free download ;-)

Yes, author and his publisher, Del Rey, are offering the first book in the Traitor to the Crown series as a freebie:

The year is 1775. On the surface, Proctor Brown appears to be an ordinary young man working the family farm in New England. He is a minuteman, a member of the local militia, determined to defend the rights of the colonies. Yet Proctor is so much more. Magic is in his blood, a dark secret passed down from generation to generation. But Proctor’s mother has taught him to hide his talents, lest he be labeled a witch and find himself dangling at the end of a rope.

Click and download - no registration rqd.

Feel free to repost, twitter, sms or shout the news.

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

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Friday, January 30, 2009


Five books into the series and it's finally time for a Hal Spacejock novel with flashback scenes.

I wrote a sequence of flashback scenes for this novel during NanoWrimo 2007, but until five minutes ago I didn't think I'd be using them. Now I've changed my mind. (Until I decide not to use them again.)

At the very least I'll get a blog post out of them.

I'm a very linear writer, and I like cause and effect. This minor thing happens, which causes that other slightly more alarming issue. A character overreacts and creates a much bigger problem which then leads to ... you get the idea.

Hal 5 is a mystery steeped in earlier events, and I have to choose between having characters in the present gradually uncovering what happened, or writing scenes set in the past, so the reader experiences the events as they happen.

Let me tell you that reading scenes where characters recap past events can be pretty dull. You can lose immediacy (and readers) very quickly.

On the other hand, if you jump straight in and throw flashbacks at the reader you run the risk of alienating them with a sudden change of location and a new batch of characters they've never met before. Overwhelm your readers and they'll feel like they're starting a whole new novel every time there's a flashback, and that can get tiring too.

What's the answer? Stuffed if I know. I'm not going to leap around all over the place, just flash back to one set of characters at a fixed point in time, based in the same location each time. I'm hoping I can cue the reader in to the flashback pretty quickly, and not by using strange dates or times in the chapter headings. (Those are useless unless you remember what date & time the previous chapter was set in. I'd rather authors just came out and said "Twelve years earlier ..." than put Jan 1958 instead of April 1970.)

I think it'll work, but I won't know until the first draft is done. It should be interesting to try it out, though.

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

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The plotting treadmill

I'm working on the fifth book in a series, and I think I'm slowly gaining an understanding of how to actually plot and write a novel.

Each book has a tortuous gestation period, which consists of me machine-gunning ideas at endless sheets of paper, then gathering up the smoking ruins and attacking them with a mental machete. My plot outlines get printed, scrawled on, stuffed back into the computer, printed and reprinted until (and I believe this is the key), I've memorised every nuance in the three to four page outline.

It makes sense, doesn't it? How can you insert foreshadowing for chapter seven events in chapter three, if this foreshadowing conflicts with events in chapters 19, 27 and 30? You can't be scanning and re-scanning pages of text to test the ramifications of every new idea.

I reckon it's 4-6 weeks before the general shape of the plot sinks in. This means not only the 4 pages of short scene titles, but the 10+ pages of lengthier descriptions too. Actors who regularly memorise parts for entire plays will be scoffing at this, but don't forget the plot of a novel is an ever-changing thing. The bits I remember most clearly were probably written out three weeks ago. Characters go missing and new ones take their place. A previously friendly sidekick is now a mortal enemy.

Once I have a finished outline I print it off and read it fresh, as though I'd never seen it before. Is it clear? Consistent? Does everything make sense? No, usually not. I may see the first mention of 'the robot', and so I scrawl an answer to the question "Which robot?" in the margin. If there are minor details I underline them, and later on I'll move those to the broader scene descriptions rather than the focused lines of summary.

After entering these changes I'll print off the summary again, and repeat the process until I'm happy.

Eventually this four page document will contain a clear and precise outline of the novel, with motivations and decisions explained rationally. That's the document I send my editor for comment, and the real work begins when she emails me back.

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

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Electronic Hal

Newsdate: Mid-February 2009
What: Hal Spacejock books 2-4 released as low-cost ebooks.
Where: Right about here
Why you should care: Can't buy them in the shops, can you? (Outside Australia)
What you should do: Repost this news.

I'm facing several months of hard work on Hal Spacejock #5, and if you want to motivate me you can really help by making the upcoming ebook release an Earth-shaking, record-breaking event.

I want to show my publisher they made the right choice in releasing the entire Hal Spacejock series in ebook format, and that means generating publicity, bringing traffic to the Hal Spacejock website, and ultimately selling copies of the three new releases.

So, if you can blog or twitter or stand outside and shout about Hal Spacejock's new ebooks, it would be most welcome.

The news page for the release is below, and I'll be updating it regularly:

I'm also happy to guest-blog about ebooks, publishing, the Hal Spacejock series or my writing software.

So, let's bring on the electronic Hal!

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

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Congratulations to the winners in all categories - it was a hell of a field, and the judges must have been working themselves to the bone to come up with a shortlist and then the eventual winners.

Commiserations also to those who didn't quite make it to the finish, which includes Hal & Clunk.

I bought myself a box of cherry bakewells to be eaten in the event that H&C didn't win, so I'm full up with icky goodness now ;-)

Now my focus shifts from awards to the upcoming ebook release of Hal Spacejock books 2-4, and I'm still writing Hal 5, adding new scenes and plot tweaks every day.

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

Interview with David B. Coe

David B. Coe ( is the Crawford Award-winning author of ten fantasy novels and several short stories. A refugee from academia, David has a Ph.D. in history and has taught at the university level. In a life prior to that prior life, he was a political consultant. The Horsemen's Gambit is the second book in his Blood of the Southlands trilogy. It was published on January 20, 2009, which is good because there wasn't anything else of importance happening that day to draw attention away from the book's release....

Read the interview here

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Subscribe and win

Just a quick note to let you know that my publisher, Fremantle Press, is about to launch an e-newsletter and are offering a freebie as per below to encourage people to

The newsletter will be released monthly and will feature:

*author, poet, photographer and artist interviews for both new and backlist titles
*news items regarding our authors and their books
*author and illustrator events
*a spotlight on interesting author blogs and websites
*new release titles for each month

Subscribe to the Fremantle Press e-newsletter before 20 February 2008 for your chance to win. Ten subscribers will get to pick any book from the Fremantle Press catalogue.

The monthly Fremantle Press newsletter features news, author and artist interviews, author events and more.

Just enter your email address into the "Join our mailing list" box on the home page. Winners will be notified by email.

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

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Which beginning?

If you've followed the Hal Spacejock series you'll know that each book opens with Hal in the flight deck sipping a coffee. This gives me a chance to introduce the regular characters over the first page or two, which helps bring new readers who may not have seen the earlier books up to speed.

It's also a nice bit of calm before all hell breaks loose.

With book five I have a killer opening (A) which sends up the usual one, but if I use it I'll need to come up with a link (B) to the current dramatic opening (C), which involves driving rain, fog, and a soggy sofa.

If I do this, B will need to be as short as possible.

Unfortunately, C starts in the middle of a lengthy job, on a planet, while A is best suited to an in-flight situation. B could turn out to be a bunch of arriving and job description scenes, which I really want to avoid. Otherwise A could be on the planet, but then Hal should be doing something else, not sitting in the flight deck.


The other problem with the sendup opening is that it's heavy on the double-entendres, and I don't want to give Parents/TLs/booksellers the wrong impression if they skim page 1.

What to do, what to do? I suspect I have to write a really good pair of Bs before I can decide.

EDIT: Four sentences. That's all I needed for B, and it's turned out just fine. Isn't it funny how a scene you've written seems to be set in stone, when in fact it's only cast from jelly?

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Interview with S. C. Butler

S.C. Butler is a former Wall Street bond trader who always preferred Middle-earth to the Chicago Board of Trade. Currently he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and a whippet. His website is

What was your inspiration for writing Queen Ferris?

Queen Ferris is the second book in my Stoneways trilogy, which includes Reiffen’s Choice, and the third book, The Magicians’ Daughter, due out in April. The trilogy’s name says it all. I always liked Dwarves more than Elves, so I decided to write a book that way. With caves.

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

My favorite authors are Heinlein, Trollope, Tolkien, Lewis, Austen, Flaubert, Van Vogt, Vonnegut, Niven…

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

Fantasy and science fiction interest me for different reasons. I read fantasy for the story and the characters – it’s not that much different from why I read any sort of book. Science fiction is different, however. Science fiction I read for cool ideas and a sense of Wow!

Why did you decide to make Reiffen a Mage?

Because the Stoneways trilogy is a story about power, and what’s more powerful, in any tradition and at any time, than a magician?

What sort of research did you do to write this book?

Since it’s a fantasy, I did very little research. I checked out a few technologies to see if they were appropriate to the level of some of the cultures – in Queen Ferris, different cultures have different technological levels. The Dwarves, for example, have gas filled airships for traveling beneath the bottom of the world. The humans don’t.

Reiffen and his friends and love maple candy. Is that your favorite too?

Nope. Just syrup on waffles.

What are you writing now?

A story in which one of the main characters from Queen Ferris comes to our world. The working title is Avender in America.

Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it?

I always wanted to write. My earliest juvenilia dates back to when I was about ten years old. (Boy, is that stuff awful.) But it took me a long time to sell anything. 28 years from my first submission to my first sale. Of course, that will happen when you only write novels and get busy with a job and family. The job and my family were always my first priority.

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

My typical writing day depends on what part of the wip I’m working on. If it’s rough draft time, I try to write a minimum of 1200 words a day, which can take anything from two to ten hours, depending on my mood, how well I’ve imagined the scene, or whether I’ve burned myself out writing too much the day before. Rewrites, however, tend to be more predictably productive, running about four to six hours of work. I find writing to be exhausting.

Where do you write?

At home at my desk, on my laptop, with anything from punk to classical on my boom box. However I get many of my ideas while taking long walks, and often write a book’s songs and poetry while walking as well.

What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

It’s all hard. The only easy part is being done.

What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?

In my opinion, it’s the same as any other fiction: for readers to enjoy. Readers can enjoy books in many ways, from the cerebral and intellectual to the escapist and just plain fun. The point is in the enjoyment.

Both Reiffen’s Choice and Queen Ferris are available in hardcover and mass market paperback from Tor books. You can find them at most bookstores specializing in spec fic, or at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hal Spacejock ebooks ahoy

I had a meeting with my publisher just before Christmas, where we discussed a few things about the Hal Spacejock series. The main topic was ebooks.

I'm a strong believer in DRM-free ebooks, and I also believe the price point should reflect the fact there's zero cost required to pump out each copy of an ebook. I put this to my publisher, and they were happy to go along.

You may not be aware that the first book in the Hal Spacejock series is available as a free download. It was released as a freebie when book 4 (Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch) hit the shops, and to date it's been downloaded over 40,000 times.

However, there are two questions which land in my inbox again and again:

1. When can I buy the Hal Spacejock books in (insert country here)?

2. Can I buy the rest of the series as ebooks?

The answer to question one is ... no idea. Sorry.

The answer to question two is ... next month.

Yes, Hal Spacejock books 2, 3 and 4 will be released as low-cost, DRM-free ebooks in February 2009, barring any last-minute hitches.

Text, RTF and HTML files will be included, and most likely a Mobireader PDB as well.

As for the price, the target is A$5 or so, which translates to US$3.50 at the current exchange rate. (Don't hold me to that - it might be a little bit more depending on payment processing costs.)

So there you go - both of my ebook goals met. Now I just have to pray people buy the things so my publisher doesn't see me as a deluded idiot with the business sense of a certain inept freighter pilot.

However, with all three books selling for less than the cost of one paperback, anyone with more business sense than an inept freighter pilot will see that it's going to be a pretty good deal.

(While you're waiting for the Hal ebooks, why not pick up the latest issue of Andromeda Spaceways as a very low cost PDF?)

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

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Plotting, plotting, plotting

Question: How do you take three half-completed attempts at a novel, half a dozen plot outlines and a folder full of ideas, and distill it all down to a two page outline?

Answer: Very slowly.

The secret is that you have to be prepared to throw out anything which doesn't fit, even if you consider it the best chapter/scene/piece of dialogue you've written in your entire life. If you try and work that stellar scene into a novel where it doesn't belong, the next thing you know you've had to add half a dozen chapters around it to make it fit. Bad author, bad.

For example, I have 50,000 words of 2007 NanoWrimo novel just begging to be used, and after the latest update to my Hal plot outline I reckon I'll only be keeping around 3000 words of it. That chunk will need to be rewritten too, with a different location and different characters.

Worse, there's a 25,000 word chunk from 2004, which was originally intended to be the framework for Hal 4. I'll be ditching nearly all of it, and keeping just one or two ideas.

THIS plot outline is what matters. I don't care how many months I spent grinding out tens of thousands of words, and all those false starts are just distractions. THIS is the novel I'm working on now.

You have to be ruthless. That's all there is to it.

As for practical advice, the way I come up with a plot is like this: Over a period of several weeks I write and rewrite the entire outline from scratch, from memory. I start each version small and add more and more detail, until I end up with a 2500-3000 word document. It's liberating to start anew each time, because it allows me to bypass problems with the previous iteration. I can experiment with different ideas too.

It usually takes me a dozen versions of the plot before I can even approach some kind of ending to the novel, but I'm not fussed because the real ending never comes out until I've written 70-80% of the first draft. (I do a lot of drafts, so it's easy to rewrite earlier events to suit the ending I've decided on. I always know who the bad guy is and why they're doing Bad Things, but the actual resolution is never set in concrete.)

Once I'm happy with the outline, sans ending, I convert the whole thing into a yWriter document with empty scenes and chapters. Then I just start writing scenes in whatever order takes my fancy, updating them from Outline to Draft in the scene settings as I go. I can print off an outline any time, and the work schedule tells me how many scenes I need to write each day.

How long to write the novel? About 2-3 months on and off. But that's another blog post.

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

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Interview with Jim C Hines

Last year, Jim C. Hines finished his humorous goblin trilogy with GOBLIN WAR, which made the Locus Bestseller list the month it came out. January 6 marks the release of THE STEPSISTER SCHEME, the first in a new series of butt-kicking princess tales. This one has earned advance praise from the likes of Esther Friesner and Jane Yolen, and was a January Top Pick from Romantic Times. Jim is currently in full book-release freakout mode, but took some time to answer a few questions about the new series.


A) I think just about every author does a fairy tale retelling at some point. It's a membership requirement or something. But the thing about fairy tales and so many of the retellings is that our heroines often end up being symbols rather than fully developed characters. I wanted to make my three princesses real people, with strengths and flaws and depth and personality. I've described the book as Charlie's Angels crossed with fairy tale princesses, but more than that; it's a story of three women learning to work as a team to save a prince, fight evil, and generally kick ass. Also, it's got the best use of silverware in hand-to-hand combat of any book I've ever seen.

Q) Can you introduce us to these characters?

A) Danielle Whiteshore (Cinderella) is our viewpoint character. She's a little overwhelmed by all the changes in her life since she married Prince Armand. She's in heaven with a loving husband and a family who doesn't treat her like a slave ... even if the palace staff look at her a little funny for chatting with the doves and the rats. Talia (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow (White) both came to serve Queen Beatrice after fleeing their respective homelands. Snow is a bit of a flirt as well as a bookworm. She inherited her mother's gift for magic, as well as the magic mirror, making her quite the powerful magician. Talia is the fighter of the group, both physically and emotionally. She's learned to use her fairy gifts of grace and dancing to become one of the deadliest warriors in the kingdom.

Q) What sort of research did you do to write this book?

A) Mostly I read a lot of fairy tales. There are so many versions of the different stories, which allowed me to pick and choose elements from each when building my characters and their backstories. Then there were all the details: castle blueprints, wardrobes, medieval glassmaking, how far a horse can travel in a day, fairy myths, weapons, 16th century houses, hazel trees, and everything else you don't think of until you're midway through a scene and realize you have absolutely no idea how to describe what your characters are seeing.

Q) Are there any interesting scenes or ideas that didn't make it into the final book?

A) Snow White wears a choker of gold wire and small glass mirrors. In her original incarnation, Snow was blind and used those mirrors as her eyes. To be totally honest, I don't remember exactly why I changed that, except that it just didn't feel right for her character. I posted a deleted scene on my web site that shows Snow as she was in that first draft.

Q) What's next for your princesses?

A) I turned in the revisions for book two, THE MERMAID'S MADNESS, a month or so back. If you read the Hans Christian Anderson story "The Little Mermaid," the mermaid's prince chooses another, and she's faced with a choice: either allow the sea witch's spell to kill her, or take her prince's life to save her own. In the Anderson story, the mermaid oh-so-nobly gives up her life for her prince. My mermaid makes a different choice. I'm currently working on the third book in the series, RED HOOD'S REVENGE.

Q) What do you really think about "happily ever after"?

A) In real life, your story doesn't end until you're dead. Even then, your actions and your life continue to influence other people's stories. The idea that these three women could go through what they did, with murderous mothers (and why is it always the mothers?) and curses and poisons and betrayals, but then they have a good night at the ball and suddenly everything is happy from then on? That's the real fairy tale.

Q) Who is your favorite author?

A) The answer changes from day to day, depending on my mood and what I've been reading. Today, I think I'm going to say ... Snoopy. His prose isn't always the greatest, but he's quite the inspirational little beagle. He never lets rejection slow him down, and he knows the most important thing is to drag that typewriter back onto the doghouse and just keep writing.

Q) Any closing thoughts?

A) Thanks to everyone who read this far! I hope folks will take a look at the preview, or at the very least, check out the cover art Scott Fischer did for the book. I absolutely love the image he came up with. I have a larger copy at Scott actually used my daughter as a model for Talia, the princess on the right. Best. Cover. Ever!


Read the first chapter of THE STEPSISTER SCHEME at

Jim's blog:

Jim's home page:

Purchase link:

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

Friday, January 02, 2009

Interview with Joshua Palmatier

1) What was your inspiration for writing The Vacant Throne?

Well, The Vacant Throne is the sequel to The Skewed Throne and The Cracked Throne, so part of the inspiration was to continue the story already begun. But the main idea behind The Vacant Throne—that there’s a second magical throne out there, one that’s twin to the Skewed Throne seen in the first two books—actually came out of discussions between me and my editor while we were discussing the revisions to the first book. I’d already written about the existence of a second throne at the end of the first book, and my editor began asking me about particulars regarding that throne: Where is it? What is it for? How does it relate to the Skewed Throne? She got my mind working on the back story of the second throne, and that back story ended up giving me the setup for the plot behind The Vacant Throne.

2) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?
My favority authors while growing up were Andre Norton (who was my introduction to fantasy and science fiction), Terry Brooks, and Katherine Kurtz. I didn’t have a particular book from either of them that I’d rate as a favorite. I loved Brooks’ “Elfstones of Shannara” and the Camber books by Kurtz. Currently, I’d say my favorite authors are Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Stephen King.

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

I think it’s the boundlessness of it all. In fantasy and science fiction, you can do anything. There are no limits. You can push and push the bounds of believability, and then you can push it some more. Of course, you have to structure the fantasy or science fiction so that the reader is willing to push along with you or you won’t have any readers, but that’s part of the challenge. I think that an excellent writer can craft any story, no matter how unbelievable, so that the majority of readers WILL take that trip with them, and I think that most writers in SF and F are trying to become such an excellent writer.

4) Why did you decide to make Varis an assassin?

The initial vision for The Skewed Throne had Varis on a boat in the harbor of the city of Amenkor, a common person, someone living the ordinary life, and suddenly this mysterious White Fire—obviously magical in nature—sweeps out of the west and touches her. However, when I sat down to write the book, I’d started thinking about Varis, about her situation and where she came from, and realized that she needed to be in more dire straits if I was going to make her story believable. At that point, she became someone trapped in the slums of Amenkor—like many others in the city—and fighting to survive, fighting to find a way out. Her desperation to escape her situation is what drives her to become an assassin when given the chance, and it’s what pushes her to do things that she wouldn’t normally do, perhaps. Her being an assassin was also a way to take a common person in the society and get them involved in the world events—the politics and maneuverings—that are going on at the same time. Also, I’ve always wanted to write about an assassin; one that actually kills people during the course of the book. *grin*

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

Besides writing and reading, I also teach a spinning class at my local gym and take other spinning classes as a way to keep fit and get some exercise (something writers don’t have a tendency to do as part of their job). I also collect crackle glass and go to numerous flea markets and antique shows looking for cool and interesting pieces, mostly related to the 1950s and the Art Deco era. And for real fun, I try to get friends together to play board games such as Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and Alhambra. Puzzles can also be fun.

6) What sort of research did you do to write this book?/What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?

I generally don’t do any research ahead of time for my novels . . . but that’s because I don’t know what I need to research yet. The way I write novel s is more or less by the seat of my pants. When I start, I have a vague idea of what I think the book is going to be about. This usually amounts to one or two scenes scattered throughout the book, including something near the end and a scene or two in between. (I always have the initial scene in mind.) Then I start writing. I keep notes along the way, and write down things I need to research as I go. Sometimes, if I hit something that’s important to the plot, I’ll pause in the writing and do research on that at the time, but most of the time I save the research until the book is finished and I’m getting ready to do the revisions. So the amount of research varies with each book, and depends on where the book decides to take itself. In The Vacant Throne, most of my research involved ships and in particular, how ships fought while at sea.

7) Varis loves her knife. Is that your favorite thing too?

Um . . . no. For Varis, having her knife close at hand is a security issue. She feels safer when touching the knife, knowing that with it handy she can protect herself. It comes from living in the slums of the city and knowing that at any moment someone or something bad could happen. I (thankfully) don’t live in that kind of world and so I don’t feel the need to have a knife handy. *grin*

8) If you were a character in The Vacant Throne and had the option of touching one of the thrones (and thus gaining access to its power), would you do it?

I don’t think so. Obviously it would depend on the need for that power at the moment. If there is no dire need, then why would I want to accept the power along with all of its consequences? For example, if you touch one of the thrones, then you’re tied to the throne, which means that you can never leave the city (or at least never pass outside the influence of the throne itself). That’s a fairly strong restriction, and I don’t think I could handle being tied to one place like that. There are other consequences of touching the throne that I couldn’t live it as well. So, assuming no dire need, I think I’d pass on having access to all of its power.

9) What are you writing now?

I’ve handed in the first book—called Well of Sorrows—that’s the start of a new trilogy set in the same world as the Throne of Amenkor books, but at a different time period and involving different characters. The new series will eventually connect up with Varis’ storyline, although how it will connect up won’t be obvious in the first book. So I’ve got the two sequels to that new series that I’m working on. I’ve also started the first book in another fantasy trilogy that’s not associated to the Throne of Amenkor books and hope to have the proposal for that finished (and hopefully sold) in 2009.

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

I’ve wanted to be a writer since the eighth grade, when an English teacher wrote on a short story that the story was good and I should continue writing. That was the first moment that I realized that all of those books I’d been reading were actually written by someone. And that someone could be me! From that point on, I started working on short stories and eventually started a novel. The first draft of that novel was HORRIBLE, but it taught me how to be a writer and I hope that it will eventually see print (although a completely revised version of course). As to how I got to where I am now . . . lots of hard work, numerous drafts, lots of rejection, and a metric ton of persistence.

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

My writing days fall into two categories: days when I have to work (I teach mathematics at a local college), and days when I don’t. On Days when I teach, I usually only get an hour or two maximum to work on writing, if I get any time at all. Basically, I sit down and write for that hour, usually brand new material, without looking at the old material, because my time is limited. On days when I don’t have to teach, I start writing in the morning and reread the old material, making minor changes/revisions, and then get on with new stuff. I break for lunch, and write after lunch until I have to head to the gym. On these days, I get in about six hours of writing. If I have errands to run or other writerly activities (such as answering interview questions, emails, talking to my agent, talking to my editor, etc) then I try to get at least four hours of writing in.

12) Where do you write?

I write on my laptop at a desk with a notebook to one side for writing down any plot thoughts that strike me, as well as to keep track of names of characters, places, things, etc. I also have a stack of CDs that are “writer friendly,” meaning I can play them without the music interrupting the writing flow. Other than that and a glass of water, there’s not much else in my writer space.

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

The hardest part of writing is just getting myself to sit down and write, damn it! *grin* Seriously. Once I’m writing, the hardest part is to work in the emotions of the characters without those emotions sounding stilted or fake or over the top. I also have to work very hard at the dialogue, since it has to sound real, and yet it can’t actually BE real, since if you listen to most conversations, they’re long and boring with lots of unnecessary wordage. The easiest part of the writing for me is probably the world itself. I can sink myself into the character and their situation enough that the descriptions take little effort, yet still get across the effect of having the reader there, living that particular scene.

14) This isn't your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

I have three books out and available in stores at the moment, all in both hardcover and paperback. They comprise the Throne of Amenkor series which consists of, in order, The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne. The new novel, Well of Sorrows, which starts a new trilogy, will be released sometime in late 2009, although I don’t have a set release date yet.

15) What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?

I think the purpose of fantasy and science fiction is to keep our imaginations alive. In order to keep advancing scientifically, you have to be able to dream and the SF and F field allows writers and readers alike to dream big, to dream the impossible. Some may think this only applies to science fiction, but I think it’s true for fantasy as well, since both ask the reader to open their minds and consider other possibilities, other alternatives, even those that might not initially make sense, and that ability is necessary to keep ourselves from falling into the same rut.

To summarize, GO FORTH AND BUY THE VACANT THRONE! *grin* The entire “Throne of Amenkor” trilogy is now complete in paperback, so go check it out and see if it’s something you might like. It’s full of assassins and thieves, murder and mayhem, cats and dogs living together . . . er, well you get the picture. There’s blue people and magic and insane furniture. But most of all it’s a series of rousing stories in a world full of danger where everyone is simply trying to survive, some at the expense of others. Here are the links for for all three books:

The Skewed Throne:

The Cracked Throne:

The Vacant Throne:

For excerpts from Chapter One from each book, and other information about the series, check out my website at and for entertaining tidbits about the author and his life, check out his blog at

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