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Jul. 2nd, 2012

Now available ... Hal Junior 2: The Missing Case

I'm pleased to report that Hal Junior: The Missing Case is now available.

This is my second children's book, and like the first it was written during the madness of Nanowrimo 2010.

The Missing Case is available worldwide in paperback and ebook formats. For a synopsis, sample chapters and more, visit the home page.

Hal Junior Cover

Oct. 5th, 2011

Now Available: Hal Junior The Secret Signal

I'm pleased to report that Hal Junior: The Secret Signal is now available.

This is my first children's book, and getting it ready on time was one of the most demanding things I've ever done. I'm talking 18+ hour days for several weeks on end.

It was worth it though: there are already a bunch of four- and five-star reviews across Goodreads, Amazon, Librarything and B&N.

The Secret Signal is available worldwide in paperback and ebook formats. For a synopsis, sample chapters, plans for a killer paper plane and more, visit the home page.

Hal Junior Cover

(no subject)

Apart from being a lot of fun (who doesn't enjoy their moment on the soapbox?), writing guest posts is an effective way to reach new people. I've been busy answering interview questions and writing posts on topics close to my heart.

If you have a favourite topic, seek out blogs on the same subject and offer them a guest post. The worst that can happen is they say no. There are plenty of upsides though, for both guest and host. They get free content and extra traffic, and you get a bit of publicity. It's just like one of those symbiotic relationships we had to study in biology.

Some of my recent appearances:

I have a guest post on SFsignal.com : Where's all the junior science fiction?

Yesterday I had a guest post on the Boomerang Books website (George Ivanoff's blog) on the importance of editing for self-published writers.

And a week or so back I had a guest post on the Kids Book Review website which explains why I switched from adult to junior fiction.

Several more to come ... stay tuned!

PS Hal Junior is out!

Aug. 19th, 2011

Hal Spacejock 1 & 2 Kindle releases

You'll have to forgive my flurry of posts, but I've been waiting a long time for this.

I'm pleased to announce Hal Spacejock (book one) and Second Course (book two) are now available for purchase worldwide via amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and amazon.de. They're DRM-free, no rights restrictions, and each contains 80,000+ words of frenetic, lunatic science fiction.

Check the first link for the biggest selection of customer reviews. All those 5- and 4-star ratings certainly put a smile on the dial.

Hal Spacejock:
Hal 1 Amazon.com
Hal 1 Amazon.co.uk
Hal 1 Amazon.de

Hal Spacejock Second Course:
Hal 2 Amazon.com
Hal 2 Amazon.co.uk
Hal 2 Amazon.de

Just Desserts and No Free Lunch have already been uploaded, and should be visible RSN.

Aug. 15th, 2011

Why I'm self-publishing

Over the past 12 months I've been working on a new science fiction series for younger readers (junior/upper primary/middle grade). I've had a lot of fun with it, and when I was reasonably happy with the first book I sent it to my current publisher to see if they were interested.

Although they really liked the book they recommended I take it to a bigger company, for reasons including distribution and the fact I was planning to write two or more of these a year.

I duly submitted the manuscript to a larger publisher in June, but over the next two months I started thinking. (Dangerous pastime...)

(c)2011 Simon Haynes

Eventually I came to the conclusion that I'd rather self-publish my new series. I'm planning a whole run of them, and the way the book-selling trade is set up it's next to impossible to launch and maintain an ongoing series. (I shouldn't complain because it's even worse in TV land, where amazing shows like Firefly are cancelled because they didn't sell enough shaving cream or nappies.)

So, I withdrew my submission, dusted off my old imprint, dug out my block of ISBNs and signed up with a POD company. I've been prepping Hal Junior: The Secret Signal, and the first book in the series will be released in October 2011 on the Kindle, on Smashwords and in print (using LSI). Hal Junior will be available worldwide.

This certainly won't be my first foray into self-pub, and I'm sure it won't be the last. At heart I'm equal parts businessman and artist, and I love to get my hands dirty with the product.

Once this title is published I'll be able to focus on my next project.

(c)2011 Simon Haynes

Jul. 25th, 2011

A Hal moment of my own

For the past decade I've been writing novels about a broke, error-prone freighter pilot called Hal Spacejock. 'Error prone' explains why he's forced to land his spaceship on the remotest landing pads in the dodgiest spaceports ... and I use 'land' in the broad, all-empassing, 'well, at least we survived' sort of way. *

Over the past twelve months I've become a cycling nut, riding everywhere on a bike even when a car was clearly the better option. (A 30km round trip to deliver a large metal frame to a powdercoater springs to mind.)

These two facts ARE related, and I'm about to tell you why.

Picture the scene. I'm returning from a shopping centre and it's raining heavily. Naturally, I'm riding my bike. You'd think I was caught out by the weather, perhaps riding to the shops when it was sunny only to watch in horror as storm clouds gathered. Nah, it was raining heavily when I set out on my 20km ride. The phrases 'cycling nut' and 'even when a car was clearly the better option' should have clued you in.

Clad in wet weather gear, squinting against the driving rain, I was negotiating a bike path Slartibartfast would be proud of. I don't know why, but in Western Australia they design dual-use bike paths by flinging wet spaghetti at maps and tracing the contours with an HB pencil. I don't know why they bother putting lots of gears on bikes, because you rarely get out of second before the next 45-degree bend. But I digress.

There I am, rowing home on two wheels, when I encounter yet another bend in the path. At the time I was shaking my helmet to get the drops off, and thus distracted I missed the six-inch drop and the deep, soft sand on the side of the path. Actually, I missed it but the front wheel didn't.

I was travelling at 30km/h, which is pretty nippy for a heavily-laden bike with panniers, but as I went over the handlebars I still had time to grin at the shocked look on the face of an approaching dog-walker. She was at least a hundred meters away, so she was unlikely to get hurt by collatoral damage from my fall, but obviously she hadn't been expecting this impromptu circus act.

By now I'm eight or ten feet in the air, which is a novel experience even for me. (I'm 6'3", and I ride an XL size bike. When sitting in the saddle I tower over other riders like an SUV owner in a sea of convertables.)

As I describe a graceful arc, arms outstretched, I glance back to make sure my bike isn't going to hit anything. The bike is upside down, cartwheeling, but I don't think it's going to hit me. It still hasn't dawned on me that I'm going to hit something, and very soon.

I'm still in mid-air, and I'm wondering how I can incorporate a bike crash into my next novel. Then I remember I've already made Hal Spacejock fall off a jetbike, a fence, several buildings and a planet or two. All of them were really funny at the time.

The ground approaches, and I put my hands out. Now, at this point I should note that I never ride without my fingerless gloves. They're specially designed with a thick pad over the palm, and I wear them because I went over the handlebars of a motorbike when I was fifteen and not having the use of my hands for a couple of weeks was very frustrating.

At this point, time sped up. I felt the ground on my hands, I absorbed the impact by bringing them sharply towards my face, I rolled right and used the momentum to drive me to my feet. The bike slithered to a stop alongside me, I bent to pick it up, then climbed aboard and rode past the dog-walker, who was still rooted to the spot with her mouth wide open.

For two days I had a very minor ache in my right shoulder, but I got off very lightly.  I'm still riding my bike when a car would be the better option, and I have full use of my hands.

* Hal 1

Jun. 16th, 2011

Where next for Hal Junior?

When my current publisher passed on the Hal Junior series (see my previous blog post) I realised I was sitting at a fork in the road. Start the submission/rejection merry-go-round, or go straight to ebook?

I must admit I was tempted by the idea of publishing an ebook right away. Commission a cover and internal art, edit and polish the text and then make the work available to all and sundry via the magic of Amazon, Smashwords and my own website. I've already published a number of short stories this way, and my ebook-generating scripts could be rejigged in a matter of minutes.

If this were an adult series I wouldn't have hesitated: you'd be able to buy & download the ebook right now. Unfortunately I don't think the market for kids ebooks is there yet - lack of dedicated readers in kids' hands, most kids books seem to be bought as gifts, etc, etc.

Therefore I have two queries for my junior Hal Spacejock novel out at the moment, and one submission. Each of these Australian publishers specify a 3-4 month response time, and I'm not expecting any favours just because I've been published before.

If I haven't heard anything positive by the first week in September I'm going to prepare the ebook edition of Hal Spacejock Jnr book one. If nothing else I'll be able to put that one out of my mind and move on to book two.

(Cue overwhelming sense of deja vu. A decade ago I went through the exact same process with the adult Hal Spacejock series, only back then we didn't have dedicated ebook readers. I put out an ebook version first, followed by a POD edition, and there were three books in the series available before I finally scored a publishing deal in 2004.)

Jun. 2nd, 2011

Slings 'n' arrows 'n' silver linings

This was a bit long for Twitter, so I've turned it into a blog post of sorts.

I've mentioned my new Hal Spacejock Junior series a few times, and a while back I decided to post all the ups and downs I encountered on the way to eventual (hopefully) publication. Today was a down and an up.

I submitted the first book to the Hal Spacejock publisher a couple of months ago, then put it out of my mind to get on with other things. The response came this morning, and the upshot was something along these lines: We loved the book, we're pleased you offered it to us first but we think it needs to go to a bigger publisher.

I'm not kidding here, my initial reaction was 'bring it on!'  I loved writing this book, I believe the series has a big future and now that future lies squarely in my own hands.

So, I have some homework to do. I'm going to make a list of aussie publishers putting out kids books and find out who to approach, and then it's submission time.

I'll keep you posted.

Mar. 18th, 2011

Writing Childrens' fiction

In my article on how to get published I mention how important it is not to get hung up on selling your first novel. Sometimes it takes three or four completed novels before a writer brings it all together and makes that all-important sale.

There's nothing to say those three or four novels have to be full length adult works.

By way of example, last year I finally sat down to write the junior SF novel I'd had on the back-burner for a couple of years, and it was so much fun I went straight on to write a second novel in the series ... and half of the third. It was a different experience to writing my adult novels - lighter, more enjoyable ... and quicker.

After a few months of editing I put aside the junior novels and went back to my current adult work ... and what a revelation that was. I usually strive for clean, unvarnished prose with a minimum of description (x10 when it comes to junior fic) but I realised I could easily cut 10-15% of Hal Spacejock book 5 just by tighting up the writing.

And that's why I'm going to suggest the following. If you have one or two adult novels doing the rounds and can't face writing another just yet, why not write a childrens book? I aimed for middle grade (roughly ages 9-12), and my goal was 25,000 words of fast-moving and entertaining reading. I had a lot of fun with it, and it made a nice change from the vastly more complex adult novels with their multiple viewpoints, twisty subplots, and sheer word count.

Most of us have kids, or neices & nephews, or grandkids, or someone in the 9-12 age group. I didn't stress about writing the next Big Thing (as if!), I just pictured a couple of my younger relatives reading the book, and wrote the sort of story I hoped they'd enjoy.

Changing gears to write a shorter childrens book may just give you the tools you need to sharpen your adult works. If it doesn't work out, so what? I told myself 25,000 words was a nice bit of practice, if nothing else.

Mar. 6th, 2011

Counting ebook sales

I've been following Joe Konrath's blog for some years now, cheering him on as he went from experimenting with ebooks to selling metric tons of the things every single day.

His success is gratifying, but he's a big name in his chosen genre. How would ebook sales work for the rest of us?

This week my publisher gave me permission to sell my novels in ebook format via my website, and because they're available through my own server I'm handling every sale through a home-brew delivery system.

It's running fine so far, but a programmer's work is never done. Just this morning I thought to myself ... wouldn't it be neat if I could set up a page showing realtime sales figures for the four ebooks? And what if I made that page public, so anyone thinking about publishing their work in ebook format could pop over and see how it's doing for me?

Never one to hang around, I wrote the code, tested it, and put the page online right here.

Note that it only tracks sales made through my own site, not Amazon or others.

Mar. 1st, 2011

Hal Spacejock ebooks & signed copies

Just a quick update - My publisher has kindly allowed me to sell Hal Spacejock ebooks and signed copies via my website.

The ebooks are 4.99 each (mobi, epub and txt format included) or 15.99 for all four. When your payment goes through the ebooks are automatically emailed to you as attachments.

The paperbacks are all signed copies.

Details here: http://www.spacejock.com.au/BuyHal.html

Feb. 27th, 2011

Last chance to download Hal Spacejock

On Tuesday the 1st of March I'll be pulling the free Hal Spacejock ebook from my website, replacing it with a few sample chapters. I'll explain the reasons later, but for now if you don't have a copy I'd grab one quick.

Nov. 18th, 2010

Exercise is good for you, laziness is not

Near the end of July I got off my backside and started using my pushbike to run local errands - shopping, post, banking, whatever. After a few days I realised I was riding up to 20km on some trips, and right there I made a mid-year resolution to ride at least 20km every single day. It's fun to pull up Google Earth and map cycling routes, there are no parking or traffic worries, life seems more leisurely and you get more time to think than you do in a car.

So, back in July my character sheet read something like this:

Weight: 92kg (202lb)
Height: 190cm or 6'3"
BMI: just under 25
Avg blood pressure: 160/90 (mild hypertension)
Resting heart rate: mid-70's.
Wii Fit age: about 64 (imparted with unseemly good cheer)
Armour Class: 1*

That's what 5 years working from home at the computer screen does to you, even if you watch what you eat.

When I started I couldn't ride 3km without getting out of breath, feeling like my legs were falling off, and panting like a dog in the midday sun.

Since July I've ridden 2600km/1600 miles, or 22km/14miles per day. My longest trip was 65km (40 miles), and last weekend I did 130km or 80 miles across both days.

Bearing in mind it can take three years to develop the right cycling legs, what's the new improved Simon like?

Nowadays it takes 5km before I'm even warmed up, and I can ride for at least three hours non-stop at a decent pace. I can still sprint at 40-45km/h by the end of it too.

Weight: 82kg (180lb) - down 10kg/22lb
Height: 190cm or 6'3" (surprise!)
BMI: just over 22
Avg blood pressure: 119/79 (Optimum!)
Resting heart rate: 59-60
Wii Fit age: 33 years old!
Armour Class: 8*

The results have been so great my new target is 80kg and I'm definitely going to continue riding at least 20km per day. I'm also saving a lot of fuel: I now use about one tank of fuel in my car every three months.

So, if you have fond memories of childhood cycling and your fitness is getting a bit iffy, why not have yourself measured for a bike (2nd hand is fine) and get out there? Take care, obviously, and I suggest a refresher course on your local rules of the road, because they vary a lot from state to state and from one country to the next.

PS the title of this post comes from a song on a Wombles album.

* Just checking you're awake.

Nov. 14th, 2010

Short intermission

October 2009 - I decided against participating in NanoWrimo 2009 because I needed to finish editing Hal 5 into shape.

October 2010 - Same, only one year later. (And believe me, I put a lot of work into Hal 5 during that time.)

The problem is I really, really liked Hal 4 and yet it's important the next book be even better. That's a hell of a challenge when you're working on an early draft of what is supposed to be your most amazing work ever - it's unpolished, it's incomplete, there's very little humour and it feels like you have a mountain to climb.

So, three days before November 1 I had a brainwave. Why NOT do Nanowrimo 2010? For some time now I've wanted to write one or more Hal Spacejock Junior novels featuring my character as a ten-year-old. My wife has been advising me to do this for ages, and over the past five years I've probably done ten author visits to primary schools for every one appearance for adult readers, despite the fact Hal Spacejock was written for the teen/adult market. (E.g. Hitchhiker's Guide)

In the end I decided Nano is just one month - and Hal 5 is already a year late anyway. I figured I'd knock off two 25,000 word junior novels (let's call them parts 1 and 2 of the same book to satisfy the nano nitpicks) and then go back to Hal 5 on the 1st December.

So, what progress? I'll tell you what progress .. it's day 14 and I've just capped off the completed first draft of Hal Junior book one (26,000 words) by writing a killer ending. It's so refreshing to have one viewpoint character and no subplots.

In a few minutes I'll make a start on book two, which is like ... wow.

Only problem is, now I have to top book one ;-)

May. 4th, 2010

Kindle - First impressions

I ordered a Kindle from Amazon recently, using a bit of store credit and a bit of my own hard-earned. I've been tempted by the Sony Reader in the past but there have been so many different models and revisions I never knew which to look for. Sometimes you can have too much choice.

First things first: I don't like the gleaming white plastic frame around the Kindle screen. In a well-lit environment it just makes the 'e-paper' screen look dull grey. What they should have done is make the frame a duller grey than the paper, so the paper looked crisp and white. (When this thing's out of warranty I'm going to investigate taking it apart and applying a coat of grey to the case.)

Once your eyes filter out the crisp white border it's easy to forget you're reading an ebook. I've had great success converting text and html files using the free version of the Mobipocket reader (runs on Windows, don't know about others) and the Kindle shows up as a removable drive when you connect it using the supplied USB cable, which makes tranferring ebooks a snip.

The text display is excellent, by the way. I believe it uses 16 shades of grey, which means anti-aliased fonts, and I had no trouble reading at the default font size. If you need larger fonts you just hit the text button and use the four-way control to navigate the menu. Easy!

Update. A picture is worth a thousand words ... I put my Kindle on the flatbed scanner and took a snap of the screen area:

(The image doesn't do the screen justice, but you can see it's nothing like a backlit colour LCD.)

There's a brief flicker when you change pages, but if you time it right you can blink at the same time. Refresh eyes & screen together - works for me.

The device comes with wireless networking which apparently uses the mobile phone network, and it also includes a basic web browser. Nowhere on Amazon (or repeated web searches) could I find any reference to data charges, but I can't believe it's a free-for-all. I do know the Kindle was already linked to my Amazon account when I unpacked it, so I've disabled all wireless features on the thing until I know for sure. (I downloaded a few pages, and will wait a few weeks to see whether my Amazon account shows any new charges.)

The storage space is around two gigs, which translates to a humongous mountain of reading material. Get onto Project Gutenberg, download a selection of ebooks, put them through yBook2 to reformat them, then export to plain text with the paragraphs all sorted. What a way to catch up on a few thousand classics - starting with Three Men in a Boat.

I found the Kindle comfortable to hold and use, so no problems there. It's a solid device, well-made and sleek but not too heavy.

Unfortunately the Kindle has a very slim USB connector which doesn't match any of my other gadgets, which means when I'm out and about with the laptop I can't use the single cable I carry for my digital camera, TV tuner dongle, backup drive, etc. Not a major issue, just a minor irritant. Plus the Kindle cable is very long, whereas you only need a short one if you just want to apply a quick charge from the laptop. (The US version comes with a wall wart, but overseas editions have to make do with USB only.)

In summary, I'm very happy with my Kindle. I have over 3000 paperbacks stuffed into my house, and I can see myself replacing many of them over the next few years. Obviously I'll always keep hold of treasured books, because it's not all about the words. For example, I have a complete set of Famous Five novels in hardback, some of them first editions, and my 1955 copy of 'Martin Magnus on Mars' took me almost 20 years to find. But there are many other books in my collection which don't have that sort of history, and I'd be happy to store those as electronic files in case I ever wanted to read them again.

Jan. 27th, 2010


Bought a new LCD monitor last week, and immediately discovered a dead pixel. With the weekend and Australia Day holiday out of the way, I finally managed to return the screen to the store for a new one.

When I got home this arvo the first thing I did was knock up a really quick 'n' dirty LCD Monitor Tester to run through the various colours and check out my new screen. Pass! Happy!

Dec. 28th, 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.

Dec. 6th, 2009

Aurealis Awards

Congrats to all on the shortlist - it's a competitive field out there!

Sep. 14th, 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.

More below the cut...Collapse )

Jul. 21st, 2009

Hal 5 First Readers - how to apply

If you're interested in being a first reader for Hal Spacejock book 5, you'll find the details here: http://www.spacejock.com.au/SpacejockFirstReaders.html

I'm still writing the second draft, but I thought I should give people a little notice...

Jun. 29th, 2009

Still working

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.

Jun. 17th, 2009

Time travel panel yesterwhen

Just a quick reminder that I'm appearing at a live discussion about time travel tonight at the Inglewood library in Perth, Western Australia. Next week it's the Mirrabooka Library.

Full details here: http://www.stirling.wa.gov.au/home/library/Whats+On/Whats+On.htm

If you live in Perth and have any Hal Spacejock novels you'd like signed, just bring 'em along and I'll do my best to remember my own name. (Busy writing Hal 5)

Jun. 16th, 2009

Wakey wakey

When Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine launched in 2001 many people expected it to publish three or four issues and then fold. Well, we just hit 39 issues so I'm glad to say they were all wrong. (I've personally stuffed, addressed and posted every subscriber, review and awards copy from issue 6 to 39, excluding a handful of issues last year.)

Anyway, I've reposted a call for new ASIM team members below, but even if you're not interested you might consider subscribing for three or six issues.

Australia is hosting the SF worldcon next year, and ASIM intends to be there showing the best we have to offer. The more subscribers we have, the stronger we'll be.

ASIM is recruiting

Here at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, we have exciting plans for the future. (And we'll get to those, as soon as we find out just where the time machine has been impounded.) In the meantime, there are issues to publish. Stories to consider. Pages to proofread. Marketing opportunities to explore. And all of the other tasks that go with the goal of publishing a somewhat-humorous, somewhat-serious magazine of short speculative fiction on an approximately bimonthly basis. We've got a good team, a solid mix of experience and enthusiasm, which has seen us in good stead for eight years so far. But we reckon we could do with a few more hands on deck. If you're interested, if you think you have what it takes to join the elite ranks of the Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-Op, then we'd love to hear from you.

The opportunity comes at a cost. Specifically, in the monetary sense, we charge an annual membership fee of AU$100 per annum. This fee includes a current print subscription to ASIM itself (worth AU$49), and the chance to do as much work as you want towards keeping ASIM in excellent shape: proofreading, slushreading, advertising, layout, representing ASIM at local (and sometimes overseas) conventions, editorial roles, etc ... the list isn't endless, but it's long.

But we won't take just anybody. For starters, you'll need to be humanoid, old enough to vote, and physically located in Australia. You'll also be expected to have an enthusiasm and an innate appreciation for speculative fiction in its various forms, and either (i) experience in hostage-negotiation situations involving laser-breathing Daikaiju zombie dragon hordes or (ii) a functional email account. If this sounds like you, why not get in touch with us at asimmembers at gmail.com?

Jun. 5th, 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.

May. 27th, 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.

May. 23rd, 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, above, and I've also included an html version of the file. It should be a decent example of a plot outline, but the only way you're going to find out what it turned into is to buy and read Hal Spacejock book four. If you've read Hal 4 and want to see what it COULD have been like, feel free to check the raw plot outline.

Ditmar voting opens.

From the Eidolist ...

The 2009 Ditmar sub-committee is pleased to announce that both an online voting form, and a downloadable paper ballot, are now available. All eligible votes, including all full or supporting members of Conjecture 2009 or Swancon 2008, are encouraged to vote.

The online voting form is available at http://conjecture2009.org/ditmar.php
The paper ballot is available for download at http://wiki.sf.org.au/images/2009_Ditmar_Ballot.pdf
Paper ballots will be mailed to those eligible voters for whom we have a postal address.
Voting will close at midday on Saturday the 6th of June. The deadline for postal ballots is Friday the 5th of June.

May. 14th, 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.

May. 9th, 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.

May. 7th, 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!

May. 3rd, 2009

Ditmar eligibility

This notice just appeared on a couple of mailing lists, so I thought I'd repost it. (Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch is eligible for Best Novel, although you shouldn't take this as a plea for nominations - it's traditional for authors to casually mention their eligible work and let the cards fall as they will.)

--- Begin Ditmar notice ---

If you haven't done it already, you've got until midnight tomorrow to nominate for the Ditmar Awards. The categories are as follows:

Professional Categories:
Best Novel
Best Novella or Novelette
Best Short Story
Best Collected Work
Best Artwork

Fan Categories:
Best Fan Writer
Best Fan Artist
Best Fan Publication in any Medium

Special Awards for works not eligible in existing categories:
Best New Talent
Best Achievement
William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

The category explanations and full rules can be found here:


For those of you who don't know, the Ditmar Awards are peer-voted awards
presented at the National Convention each year. They are one of the main
features of a Natcon. Anyone involved in Australian fandom can nominate,
but only members of this year's Natcon (Conjecture in Adelaide in June)
and last year's Natcon (Swancon in Perth in March) can vote for the

Note that the novels, stories, art, collections or people with the
most nominations in each category will appear on the final ballot.
Just being nominated doesn't guarantee you'll make it onto the ballot.
So don't think that just because you know someone else has nominated
something that you love that it will get on the ballot. If there was
something published or created in 2008 that you think deserves
recognition, then please send a nomination to the committee. And don't
feel you have to nominate for every category; if there are only one or
two things that you know of and want considered (such as just the
professional categories, or just the fan categories) then you can just
include those in your nomination. (There's no nomination form, so just
include the award category and nominated work or person and, optionally,
a short explanation. Make sure to include your name and, if you think
the committee mightn't recognise your name, the name of someone more
active in fandom who can vouch for you.

Email your nominations to ditmars@conjecture2009.org as soon as possible!

And thank you to everyone who has nominated so far; this has been one of
the most discussed and supported Ditmar procedures for some time, and
it's appreciated.

--- End Ditmar notice ---

Apr. 27th, 2009

News update

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! (Thanks to T for accepting the award on my behalf, and looking after it until I could claim it.)

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.

Apr. 9th, 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.

Mar. 26th, 2009

Where's Simon?

These days, mostly on Twitter: http://twitter.com/spacejock

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

Mar. 23rd, 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 www.JAKonrath.com

Mar. 19th, 2009

Before and after

Finally finished the kitchen tiling. Still have 2/3 the job to do (computer area/hallways/entrance), but here's a progress pic of the end of the kitchen near the sink:

(Still need to polish off the grout residue, but it's looking pretty good. I also need to strip and revarnish the cupboard doors.)

The step I made from four lengths of jarrah hardwood, glued and clamped then sanded and varnished:

A shot looking the other way:

In case you never saw the earlier pics, this is what it looked like when I'd just jack-hammered up the old tiles:

The rest of the before pics are in this earlier post

Mar. 16th, 2009

DRM-free ebooks interview

Teleread.org 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.)

Mar. 13th, 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 ...)

Mar. 9th, 2009

Hal Twilight

I used this image as a prop during my Night with our Stars speechette (3 mins ain't a speech), and a few people wanted to get their hands on the original.

So, here's a copy. Note that Hal has the all-important facial glitter. Don't leave home without it ...

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: http://www.spacejock.com.au/HalSpacejockEbooks.html (or http://tinyurl.com/sjbook 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 teleread.org just published an article in which I state my case against ebook DRM.

Feb. 24th, 2009

Anton Strout's Deader Still

... well, I hope not literally. Anyway, it's out tomorrow and Jim Hines has posted a review on his blog.

Free SF collection

Mike Brotherton, author of STAR DRAGON (Tor Books), has just launched a new book called Diamonds in the Sky, which is a collection of short fiction based around a range of concepts from astronomy. The National Science Foundation funded the project.

The book is free and to be as widely read as possible, with the goal of doing some public outreach/education, so please be encouraged to check it out and spread the word:


Table of contents:

In the Autumn of Empire (Jerry Oltion)
End of the World (Alma Alexander)
The Freshmen Hookup (Wil McCarthy)
Galactic Stress (David Levine)
The Moon is a Harsh Pig (Jerry Weinberg)
The Point (Mike Brotherton)
Squish (Dan Hoyt)
Jaiden’s Weaver (Mary Robinette Kowal)
How I Saved the World (Valentin Ivanov)
Dog Star (Jeffrey A. Carver)
The Touch (G. David Nordley)
Planet Killer (Kevin Grazier and Ges Seger)
The Listening-Glass (Alexis Glynn Latner)
Approaching Perimelasma (Geoffrey A. Landis)

You're encouraged to share this news.

Feb. 23rd, 2009

Sliced cucumbers required in aisle six ...

A contact is after Golden Circle Sliced Cucumbers in Perth, apparently something not made any more. Anyone know where they're available? (Yes, really)

Feb. 20th, 2009

Hope fanzine #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.

Feb. 19th, 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 ...)

Feb. 13th, 2009

Data recovery with Ubuntu

Last week a yWriter user got in touch and mentioned she'd just lost everything on her laptop's hard drive, including her novel-in-progress. Savvy computer users told her it was a goner, and she was investigating a US$400+ service to have the data read off the platters by a data recovery firm.

I suggested fitting a replacement drive to the laptop ($ depends on capacity), fitting the old drive into an external USB case (about $10), and downloading and burning an ISO of Ubuntu* (Free.).

I pointed out a site with step-by-step instructions on recovering your windows files with Ubuntu and hoped for the best. Worst case, she'd still have to recover the data professionally, and she'd have an external 2.5" drive for backups.

Anyway, I just got an email to say that the user has recovered ALL her data. To say she was happy doesn't begin to cover it, and I'm very pleased it worked out.

Remember it's YOUR data, and it's a huge plus if you can care for it yourself.

* I do realise there are other distros, because I use them. However, the instructions I found were Ubuntu-specific.

Feb. 11th, 2009

Decorating pic spam

The 'before' pics, as requested. The tiles have been chiselled up but some show the tile cement still in place.

Below the cut ...Collapse )


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 ..

Feb. 7th, 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.


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

Sometimes it's not about the writing.

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