Monday, June 30, 2014

#theN00bz - The Freedom of Free

In April this year I started Dimension6 the free, and DRM free, Australian electronic magazine of speculative fiction. Issue 2 is out this week on 4 July and will be free for immediate download on the website as well as a host of affiliate sites.

I've been an independent publisher since 2006 and worked for Aurealis Magazine before that, following the traditional (and costly) publishing model.

But the standard way of publishing is full of barriers. The thing that really fired me up about creating and launching a free electronic magazine was just how many barriers the idea of 'free' removed:
  • Free means there isn't a paywall between the consumer and their impulse to consume.
  • It means other websites and publishers are happy to carry my magazine and tweet and blog about it because it doesn't 'compete' with their own product. They can use the magazine to drive traffic to their site and offer it as an added extra. 
  • Free means I don't charge for advertising but I do ask for contra advertising deals i.e. I'll advertise you if you advertise me. It fosters business to business cooperation.
  • Free means I don't have to worry about people copying and disseminating my magazine wherever they want. In fact, I actively encourage it!
  • I can also give authors who appear in the magazine a free, unfettered copy of the file to use on their own website or to give away to others.
  • Free means I can demonstrate how passionate coeur de lion is about promoting talented writing and encourage others to do the same.
  • Free means we garner a LOT of goodwill, from readers, authors, other publishers and websites. 
  • Free hopefully means consumers look kindly upon coeur de lion and the authors we promote through Dimension6.
Of course being electronic means there are a whole bunch of other free things I can take advantage of, like free and instantaneous delivery and the freedom to print big stories and give the authors room to spruik and talk about their work and promote their books, because I don't have to worry about page count or printing costs. 

Free. It really is liberating. You should try it some time.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Cool science shows of the 20th century

There were a lot of very cool science  shows on TV when I was growing up. Now - not so much, as we seem to be more interested in what the Kardashians or the Wives of (insert practically any city on the planet) are doing. But I credit those shows with firing my passion for what things will be like in the future...

Tomorrow's World

The show had some great presenters, the greatest of which was Raymond Baxter who was a former spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain, but it also introduced James Burke who had an amazing talent for explaining the complexities of scientific development (and who went on to bigger things below).

The show demonstrated cutting edge inventions, and because it was broadcast live, sometimes those inventions didn't behave as expected (which all added to the fun and excitement). Kraftwerk debuted on the show(!), and the presenters demonstrated such marvels as the breathalyser, ATM, pocket calculator, digital watch, CD player and barcode reader. Heady stuff! But to a young kid growing up, if felt like tomorrow was here.


Dr Richard Dawkins - Horizon: The Blind Watchmaker (1987)
Horizon, which is still running today, began in 1964 as a fifty minute documentary series to, 'provide a platform from which some of the world's greatest scientists and philosophers can communicate their curiosity, observations and reflections, and infuse into our common knowledge their changing views of the universe.'

With shows on the latest theories of the universe, advances in medical science or technology, or environmental threats, Horizon exposed us to how fundamental science was to our daily lives.

The Sky at Night

Another long running show, starting in 1957 and hosted by the legendary Sir Patrick Moore until his death in 2013. The Sky at Night told us what was going on in the heavens right above our heads. Moore's style, complete with monocle and quick-fire delivery, was one of the great drawcards as he covered everything from the first moon landing to the launch of the Voyager space probes, the space shuttle and beyond with an infectious enthusiasm for space.


Presented by James Burke (from Tomorrow's World), Connections demonstrated how today's advances had their roots in the past and charted the sometimes tortuous, sometimes unbelievably fortuitous route of scientific discovery. It was storytelling science porn at its best.

One example showed how telecommunications exist because Normans developed stirrups to better ride their horses into battle, which led to further warfare-centric technological advances. You couldn't watch Connections without being blown away by how things came to be.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Waiting in the Wings

It's easy to lose faith in a piece of writing you've produced, particularly when a fair amount of time has passed since you wrote it. We all look back in horror at those dreadfully earnest works of fiction we penned in secondary school or university and wonder, 'how on earth could I have thought that was any good?'

Horizon is a novel I wrote a number of years ago. It's a deep space exploration story which is also a political and ecological thriller / murder mystery with some cool science. After sitting on it for a while, I subbed it to the Harper Voyager Digital Submission callout in October 2012.

Like everyone else I waited. And waited. To be fair the Voyager bods were absolutely overwhelmed with the response. They got literally thousands of manuscripts and while at last update they promised to get back to everyone by end of January 2014 by the looks of the site there's still a few people waiting.

In any case I am one of the lucky ones, being contacted a few weeks ago to say Horizon was under active consideration. So it's back to the waiting game. Although having subbed the piece way back in 2012, I did start to worry that now - after writing another 170-odd thousand words in my Lenticular cycle - the writing from pre-2012 Keith Stevenson may be embarrassing to the 2014 Keith Stevenson.

There was nothing to do but read the blooming thing in anticipation of a call from Voyager, and - happily - Horizon does not suck. Some dialogue needs a tweak here and there, and I'd really like to get a professional insight from a Voyager editor on any improvements they think might be possible, but at least - if it does get picked up - I'm not going to embarrass myself.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The fear of writing - actual effects may differ

I don't know about other writers, but for me the act of writing is fuelled by fear - which makes it an oddly masochistic pastime.

I've talked elsewhere about the the mild anxiety that I feel every morning when I start to write. Depending on what I'm doing, the feeling either falls away when I get started or stays with me. It's more likely to hang around if I'm tussling to understand a character motivation or finesse a plot point.

Quite simply, it's the fear of writing. Let's face it, there are a lot of things to be fearful about when you're putting together a story. Can you make it hang together? Will it make sense? Will it be 'good'? It takes a long time to write a novel. Well, it does for me. And even if I manage to create something that doesn't fall apart and actually entertains, there's no guarantee that anyone is going to read it (other than my significant other), let alone actually like it. With all the investment of time it takes, that is one scary prospect.

But reflecting on that 'normal' level of anxiety I experience, it's also very helpful. It makes me work harder. I know I'm experiencing this feeling because there's something not right about what I have down on paper: either because it's not finished or I've made a misstep, skipped over something I need to focus on, or taken a wrong turn. As long as I'm worried, I know there's work to be done. It's not 'finished'. And as long as I'm worried I know that - even if it's not front of mind - my subconscious will be fretting away at whatever it is until I have a solution.

Currently, I'm expanding out the storyline of my secondary protagonist in the Kresh books. I'm in uncharted territory, working out motivations, interactions and 'linchpin' points to help me turn my characters and set them on new (and necessary) courses. It's scaring me a lot, because of all the work I've already put into this thing. If I can't make this piece work, the whole novel will suffer. The stakes are high. The fear is just as high. But I think I'm edging closer to the resolution, one worried step at a time.