Profile: Carlitos Paiva

Carlitos Paiva is the villain in my upcoming novella, “Rise or Die.” In 2214, he and his hand-picked unit are military advisors in Brazil during a long, long civil war. Unfortunately, he’s working for the losing side. His employer, General Diego, needs his help in arranging a strategic exit to a luxurious life in exile funded by a cache of stolen artwork. However, somebody is trying to steal that cache from both Paiva and Diego. That’s a bad idea.

As an exercise, I often start off by writing a profile for each major character in a story. Here’s the profile for Carlitos Paiva, international mercenary and military advisor. He’s 42 years old, 5’9″, 217 pounds and has close-crapped black hair and a salt-and-pepper beard.


Carlitos Paiva

Profile: Carlitos PaivaI just follow the money. I’ve got some specialized skills that are in high demand. The downside is I have to travel to some of the most God-forsaken spots on this planet to exercise them. Like Brazil in the middle of their damned civil war.

You can call me a mercenary, if it makes you feel better.

Security services, corporate extraction, tactical decommissioning, military consulting—I provide whatever the client needs. I’ve got a team that I regularly work with and a boatload of mil-grade gear, plus I can field larger units with sufficient lead time for recruiting and training. It’s a profitable, albeit dangerous business, but one that I’m well prepared for thanks to my military experience.

One big score, though, could push me over the top.

I’m good, but the years are catching up. Tech only makes up for so much. One big payday and I’m running Paiva Security Services from a corner office somewhere. Living the high life and sending others into the field and raking in money without personal risk. This thing in Brazil could be just the ticket.

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The Whispering Voice

Khalish, the God of the Forlorn Hope I just finished a new short story, around 6400 words, called “The Whispering Voice.” I’m submitting it for the anthology, “Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar,” edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray (wish me luck). It’s a sequel to the original anthology, “After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar,” which appeared in 2011 from DAW Books, by the same editors.

The Ur-Bar is a magical bar that appears in different cities throughout history, with Gilgamesh, the legendary warrior king, as the eternal bartender. He’s cursed by the gods, having achieved immortality but remaining trapped within the confines of the bar.

Each story has to feature the Ur-Bar in some significant fashion. My story explains what happens when a woman with an insoluble problem meets the long forgotten, has-been god of forlorn hopes.

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Foreclosure

Here’s a Halloween story called “Foreclosure,” which was created according to some very exacting microfiction rules. It tells a complete Halloween story in just 101 words, including the title.

Foreclosure: A Halloween Story in Just 101 Words

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Profile: Emily Dunkirk

Emily Dunkirk is the lead character in my upcoming novella, “Rise or Die.” In 2214, she’s an art curator working for the Monumentalists, an international organization devoted to rescuing the world’s lost and stolen artworks. The organization is a successor to the Monuments Men Foundation, originally formed in World War II to find and preserve artwork stolen by the Nazis.

She’s leading a dangerous mission to rescue the One World Exhibit, a traveling art exhibition promoting world peace that had gone missing thirty-two yard before in Brazil upon the advent of World War III and the Time of Troubles that followed.

As an exercise, I often start off by writing a profile for each major character in a story. Here’s the profile for Emily Dunkirk, the leader of the mission. She’s 34 years old, 5’8″, 130 pounds and has long brown hair.


Emily Dunkirk

Profile: Emily Dunkirk I think I’ve loved art for as long as I can remember. I came by it naturally. My father was a museum director and my mother was a graphic artist with a passion for Renaissance paintings. She’d always talk about famous paintings as if they were people, like they spoke to her, made her feel new emotions, showed her the world in different ways. Her favorite painting was the Mona Lisa, so one day I asked if I could see it.

She got this strange expression on her face. Then she told me that I could see a picture of it, but not the real thing. The real painting had been destroyed in the Paris Flash, a mini-nuclear bomb that had destroyed much of that city when I was just a baby. I recall being devastated, like something beautiful, and profound, had been expunged from the world.

For a long time after that, I was determined to become an artist. A painter, of course. But, though I had many talents, alas, painting was not one of them. At least not at the level I aspired to reach.

I found myself majoring in Art History in college. If I couldn’t be an artist, then at least I could choose a career that would leave me surrounded by fine art. I envisioned a future in which I might come to work in museums like my father. I certainly had the aptitude, and the connections.

Then I was invited to do restoration work on a batch of paintings that had been rescued by the Monumentalist Foundation. The paintings had disappeared, like thousands of other works of fine art, during the Third World War (really, more of a global meltdown) and the lengthy Time of Troubles that had followed it. The Monumentalists had followed the trail and retrieved the stolen paintings (and some statues), but so many more works were still missing.

That was really the start of it all. I knew the Mona Lisa was gone, but there so many other works that could still be rescued. I knew I had to help somehow. And that’s basically how I ended up more than a thousand miles up the Amazon and in the middle of Brazil’s unending civl war.

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Build a Space Battle

Build a Space Battle: A Workshop

I’ll be conducting my new workshop, “Build a Space Battle,” at Capclave 2017 tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to it. Here’s the official description of my the workshop:

So, you want to include a titanic space battle in your military SF novel or your galaxy-spanning space opera. But…who’s fighting? Why are they fighting? You’d like to make the battle realistic…but what tactics and strategies make sense? In this workshop, you’ll learn by doing as we collaboratively build an epic space battle.

My accompanying presentation is already complete and uploaded to SlideShare.net.

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Amazon Kindle Tiers

Amazon sells books in both print and ebook formats, but, frankly, most indie writers generate the bulk of their revenue from ebooks. Since most indie writers make the majority of their money on Amazon, this means the most indies are generating income from Kindle sales, borrows or page views through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription service.

Over time, as various authors have compared notes on sales, some general statistics have been developed to indicate what the different Kindle sales rankings actually mean in terms of the number of units sold. I’ve broken those sales rankings into seven distinct tiers, which are described below.

Note that these numbers are approximate, and may vary from day to day. Nevertheless, they provide a useful model for understanding Amazon’s sales and may be useful for planning purposes, as well.

Tier 1: 1 – 10

You’re selling an ungodly number of books and probably making six figures per month from just a single book. You’re also killing it in borrows and page reads from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription service.

Sales: More than 60K books per month.

Tier 2: 11 – 100

You’re selling ten thousand or more books and probably making mid to high five figures per month for an individual title. Again, borrows and page reads will kick in additional revenue. The highest charting indies may move into this territory briefly, but generally won’t be there for long.

Sales: More than 16K books per month.

Tier 3: 101 – 1000

You’re selling thousands of books per month. At best, you’re doing low five figures. Even at the high end of the ranking, you’re still making a few thousand per month. Best-selling indies who end up in this territory for even a relatively short period may end up making more money than most traditionally published writers ever see. Borrows and page reads are a significant revenue stream.

Sales: More than 3K books per month.

Tier 4: 1001 – 10,000

You’re a real writer making real money, selling hundreds to low thousands of books per month. Borrows and page reads are still a significant revenue stream. This is where best-selling indies tend to hang out, especially if they have a large portfolio of books for sale.

Sales: More than 400 books per month.

Tier 5: 10,001 – 100,000

You’re selling 1 to 10 books per day, which adds up over time. At the lower rankings, you may be getting some revenue from borrows and page reads, but most of that will have dried up at the higher rankings. A lot of indie books settle into this tier and steadily earn money for writers. This is probably the bread and butter tier for most indies. Once again, having multiple products is the key to success when books are in this tier.

Sales: More than 35 books per month.

Tier 6: 100,001 – 1,000,000

You’re making a few sales per month. Don’t quit your day job.The settling place for indies that need to learn more about marketing.

Sales: About 2 sales per month.

Tier 7: 1,000,000+

You’re basically not really selling at all. This is not a good place for a book to be. Ever.

Sales: A sale every once in a while, maybe.


Why are tiers important?

During an intense marketing effort, such as a launch, an ebook tends to naturally reach a particular tier in terms of sales. Amazon’s own internal algorithms even take into account different factors, such as honoring slowly rising sales more than temporary spikes, and try to optimize where the book should be in the sales rankings.

After a time, generally at the 30, 60 and 90 day marks, an ebook ages enough that sales generally fade a bit and it drops to a lower tier. What you’d really like is a book that, even on auto-pilot, settles into a high-enough tier that it continues to bring in significant revenue with little or no ongoing marketing.

Best-selling author Hugh Howey’s book, “Wool,” after five+ years in publication, has settled in at the high-end of Tier 3. This means that he makes money month after month with little to no advertising. The books also leads readers in to the next two books in the trilogy, which means that the sell-through makes him even more money.

If you’re marketing your ebook, what you really want to do is to create a campaign of some sort that generates slowly rising sales rather than a sudden spike. Likewise, you want your ebook to reach the highest level possible so that 1) you make a boatload of money, and 2) your ebook eventually settles at a lower tier in terms of sales, but continues to generate real revenue.

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Monday Mashup: Little Fuzzy

Little Fuzzy - by H. Beam PiperToday’s mashup is going to be a little different. The image is the excellent cover of the book, Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper (the Kindle edition appears to be free). The cover is from a 1970’s reissue of the book; it was originally published in 1962. The illustration is by renowned cover artist Michael Whelan.

Why is this a mashup?

Well, the character is Jack Holloway, a prospector on a Class III frontier planet called Zarathustra. The planet is essentially “owned” by the Zarathustra Corporation, which was created to exploit the planet. The story thus has the general feel of a western, albeit technically updated in plausible ways.

But note the furry little critters in the image. They’re fuzzies, a new mammalian species that’s migrating into Jack’s prospecting territory due to an ecological catastrophe caused by the Zarathustra Corporation. Jack comes to believe that the fuzzies are sapient, i.e. – as intelligent and self-aware as humans. If he’s right, it means that the Zarathustra Corporation may lose its exclusive charter to the planet.

Now we’ve got a thrilling David/Goliath showdown, with ecological overtones, combined with a first contact scenario.

But the whole story is going to hinge on a ground-breaking court case…which means that it also becomes a legal drama.

Now that’s what I call a serious mashup. Check out the book. It’s excellent fun, although you’ll have to ignore a few things that date it a little bit (cigarette smoking, the clumsy way the characters use view screens for communication, etc.).

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Monday Mashup: Buzz Lightyear Enters the Grid

Buzz Lightyear Enter the Grid from TronWhat could be better than Buzz Lightyear, of Toy Story fame, entering the Tron universe?

Heck, it’s even possible. Disney owns Pixar, which created the Toy Story movies, and Disney itself created the two Tron movies.

This is one mashup that I’d certainly go see…

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Monday Mashup: Godzilla vs. Titanic

Godzilla vs. Titanic

OK, yes, I know, it’s probably not politically correct. But it was a long time ago. This picture purports to show the true cause behind the sinking of the Titanic way back in 1912. Clearly, the tragedy resulted from a collision between the Titanic and Godzilla.

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Writing Tips: Sprints vs. Marathons

Marathon RunnerI’ve been in two writing groups for the last four years, both of which are open to new writers. At this point, I can’t tell you the number of times a new writer has arrived and said something like…

  • “I’m writing a dystopian YA novel…”
  • “I’m writing a werewolf urban fantasy police procedural novel…”
  • “I’m struggling with an SF thriller conspiracy novel…”
  • “I’m working on a post-apocalyptic novel…”

The common element here is “novel” and, more specifically, their first novel. Ever.

Folks, writing a novel is like a marathon. For those who aren’t overly familiar with marathons, it’s 26.2 miles long. I’ll come back to this momentarily…

In the last four years, none of these new writers have published any of these novels.

Let me repeat this. None of these new writers have published any of these novels.

None. Nada. Zilch.

Because writing a novel is hard. In order to reach the finish line for a good novel, a writer has to do a lot of things right. The story concept has to sustain a novel-length work, the characters need to be well constructed, the plotting needs to be crisp, the scenes have to move the story forward effectively, etc.

Only a few of these novels were ever finished. Even when they were finished, I haven’t seen any of the writers do the kind of ruthless editing and rewriting that would be necessary to bring the novels I saw up to what I would consider a professional level.

Admittedly, my writing groups are a relatively small sample of the overall writing pool, but all of the beginning writers had the same thing in common. The novel they were writing was the first significant work they were seriously trying to get done.

On the other hand, the writers who have achieved some degree of success seem to have a few things in common, too. They’d honed their craft by working on a bunch of different works over time before they successful completed a (publishable) novel. In the case of one author, he had a string of novels he’d either 1) abandoned part-way through, or 2) finished but had decided that they were unpublishable first drafts (that he didn’t know how to fix). Other authors honed their craft on short stories and novelettes before embarking successfully on longer works.

Now, obviously, there are people out there who have been successful with their first novel (although we don’t know how many drafts they went through to get the novel to where it needed to be). There are people who write very fast and finish novels in two weeks. But, based on what I’ve seen, that’s not the way I’d place my bets.

Runners typically train for marathons by participating in shorter races before moving up to marathons. So, if you’re a new writer, I want you to consider honing your craft on shorter works before trying to write that masterpiece of a novel that you have in your head.

And if you do choose to develop your craft with some short stories and novelettes, go for some diversity. Write that emotional story that doesn’t have much action in it. Write the origin story for the character that’s going to be the hero in your eventual masterpiece. Do an urban fantasy mystery short story. Do a…well, you get the picture. Stretch your boundaries so you’ll be ready for that novel when the time comes.

OK, your mileage may vary. I understand this. Starting with shorter works might not be the right path for everybody. But…at least consider it. I’m getting tired of critiquing trunk novels.

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