Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Automating Style Sheets

My next feature for my pre-edit software is to automate the creation of editor style sheets. I already have a feature that collects all the possible misspellings. In using the Story Shop planning app (https://www.storyshop.io), I noticed that it's an error-prone process to rely on human memory to create an element card for every person/place in the story. Therefore, I put a small add-on into my tool to collect, weight, and group each proper noun in a novel. Fiction Vortex intends to incorporate the feature.

The example below is from my book "the K2 Virus."  The computer can't tell if two similar names refer to the same person. In this case, even gender clues won't help because Tony and Tonia are the same person. My favorite is how Big Bang is a member of Warden Bang's extended family, and Mr. Park is right next to Olympic Park. That's okay. A human can very quickly convert this into something usable. Already, I've used the tool to find incorrect spellings (Reuben vs Rueben) or Dr without the period. The weighted nature helps to weed out noise and stress the relative importance of each character. I chuckled when I saw that the tool labeled Blood and English as key elements in the story because it's right.

Daniel Mann
    Tonia Benedict
    Tonia Marian Benedict
Varsity Kohl
Sister Ahn
Mr. Jero
    South Korean
    Korean Air
    Korean War
    Republic of Korea
    North Korea
    South Korea
    United States Forces Korea
Corporal Webb
Uncle Dae
Mr. Yeonlihan
Officer Tamguja
Henri LeBeau
    Seoul Central
    Seoul National University
    Seoul Internet
    Dr. Benedict
    Doctor Benedict
    Benedict Arnold
    Tony Marlin Benedict
    Doc Benedict
Colonel Branson
    Chinese Red Steppe
    Red Cross
    Red Snow
    Warden Bang
    Mr. Bang
    Mrs. Bang
    Big Bang
Sister Elizabeth
Dr. Young
    Monsieur Mann
    Mr. Mann
    Mrs. Mann
    Dr. Mann
Hong Kong
Christmas Massacre
    American Embassy
    Kaesong Industrial Park
    Olympic Park
    Bangi-Dong Park
    Mr. Park
Ryongchon County
Sinuiju Medical University
Hanawon Center
Aunt Eun
Officer Mylinsatu
Hamilton Hotel
Mr. Avery
Major Ganghan
United States
Sad Sack
Blue House

Monday, August 6, 2018

Do Goodreads E-books Giveaways Work?

Short Answer: If you own Amazon stock, then it's pure profit. If you're an author, it's an invitation for abuse.

Long Answer:
If you're not an independent author, you have no idea how hard it is to garner reviews. The rules keep changing. Amazon says that it's to stop "false" reviews. Hmm. I've found one Vine Voice reviewer who gives only five-star reviews without reading the book and others who OPENLY SOLICIT bribes: a donation to their foreign orphanage reading program or demanding I send the e-book as an Amazon gift which they cash in for something else. When I tried to turn these people in, Amazon had no interest in upholding the integrity of their system. So I think the real reason policy changed is that Amazon doesn't make money when an author gives away free copies. Note that Amazon requires Vine Voice folks to review a minimum number of books they send for free, so they've exempted themselves from the rules.

To get 50 reviews for my books "Jezebel's Ladder", I had sell 4500 copies, e-mail about 800 copies to critics, and about giveaway thousands more via Amazon giveaways. The problem with Amazon giveaways is that people download it because it's free, not because they are even interested in Science Fiction. I had one guy rate a book one-star because it didn't have bondage like he expected. But I have to find some method to stimulate reviews because every year, Amazon finds more reasons to delete old reviews, and they won't give you a justification. I worked hard for every single one of those reviews, and now I'm at 47.

What can an Indie do? Goodreads paperback giveaways traditionally got about 30 or 40 percent review rate. For $100 in paperbacks, I might get 3 reviews. If e-books do half as well, the 100 e-book giveaway program should get me 15. My latest thriller had 35 hard-won reviews, and I could finally see what happens when you reach 50! For the first year, Amazon restricted the program to only traditional publishers and its own 47 North imprint. I was so excited they finally opened the program to everyone. You pay $120 for a chance to get reviews. I decided to roll the dice. Within a week of the event ending, 4 people gave me drive-by rankings on GR, and two people gave me text reviews. I get 5-9 a month normally, so that didn't justify the money. I also garnered one review on Amazon, but this led them to delete two old ones at random. Net loss. That flagpole is greased. The new review was also the dreaded "this isn't my normal genre" type. Don't panic. I reread my terms and conditions, and two months after the event, Amazon is supposed to send out a reminder to the winners to rate the book. If 6 people responded without prompting, surely more would with the e-mail. As Ronald Reagan was fond of joking about the boy who got horse manure for Christmas, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere."

I was wrong about the pony. Two and a half months later, not one more person out the 94 other winners so much as clicked another button. When I asked Goodreads to double-check that the reminder had been sent, I was told: "Goodreads does not require winners to post reviews.  The primary goal of running a giveaway is to build awareness for your book, while reviews are a potential bonus.    It might also help to keep in mind that not every book is a good fit for every reader.  We've all had the experience of starting a book that sounds great and then discovering it's not what we were expecting."
So basically, I'm told my product that 2/3 of reviewers rate 5 stars isn't good enough to get anything. If it sucked so bad, someone would have complained. Total silence seems statistically unlikely. I doubt they went through the trouble of sending that reminder e-mail at all. Why bother when there is no way for the customer to check? If I private-messaged even one of those winners to see if they received the book or an e-mail, I could be tossed off the site for abuse.

Shortly after that customer-service query, Goodreads deleted 30 of my old reviews with no explanation.

To recap: I paid $120 to incur a huge net loss on both Amazon and Goodreads. This reminds me of the 1987 film "The Pick Up Artist" with Robert Downey Jr. He moves heaven and earth to finally pay off someone else's $5000 gambling debt. At the end of the show, the gangster in the casino orders his men to break Downey's kneecaps anyway. To which he responds loudly "What do I get for $10,000, rape and sodomy?" That's how I feel about the recent Goodreads experience.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Enter to Win a Free K2 Virus e-book

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The K2 Virus by Scott Rhine

The K2 Virus

by Scott Rhine

Giveaway ends May 30, 2018.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Monday, May 14, 2018

Word of the Day -- Gazingstock

I'm in the middle of upgrading my PREEN pre-edit engine to recognize archaic words, specifically common-domain novels from a century ago and the original King James Bible. Many of the words like "spaketh" are out of usage because English dropped the personal form of you, thou (like the Spanish word tu). Some are alternate spelling still used only by the Church of England or obscure agricultural textbooks. A few, however, are worth reviving.

We all know the term "laughingstock," the object of ridicule and derision, but how many of us knew that someone who is stared at by everyone who passes (for whatever reason) is called a "gazingstock." This could be a woman in a bikini or the idiot who wrecks his car while gawking.
This weekend at my house, it was the sign my daughter made my wife for Mother's Day.
No automatic alt text available.
Other fun ones included:
winebibber--a high-end lush like Penny on "Big Bang Theory."
sith--before "Star Wars," it meant since.
whoremonger--much more fun to say than pimp.
firkin--a quarter-barrel, also fun to say after you've had a few drinks.
knop--an ornamental knob, sort of a cross between fop and knob.
hap--chance, fortune, happening. Ever wonder where the word hapless came from? Now you know.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Blessings in Disguise

When bad things happen to you, sometimes it's for a good reason. Before you curse your luck, wait a while for the context.

Last summer, we had a cruise cancelled by a hurricane, and my wife really needed a vacation. Mainly due to the kids' school schedule, the only comparable cruise we could find was a 15 day trip to Hawaii and back on the Princess line. Disney was better on every account, other than the covered pool, but I did it to make my wife happy.

The best parts were Rainbow Falls where the kids got to crawl on the rocks and all the sea life we got to see on the beach: turtles, whales, and sea lions galore. My daughter made a hilarious t-shirt proclaiming "Gerald is My Spirit Animal"(from Finding Dory). Tammy turned out to be good at hula class, but her favorite time is days at sea.

The night we left Hawaii, at two a.m., I was awakened by a rattling sound. My lower rear crown came loose, and I coughed it into my hand. I'd never lost a crown before, but I saved it just in case. From rinsing my mouth out, I learned that the exposed nerve was *very* sensitive. No eating for
me until I got it fixed.

Next morning, skipping breakfast, I went straight to the ship's doctor. Not being a dentist, he couldn't help me. But he did give me pain pills a huge dose of antibiotics. Without a crown to cover the root for the six or seven days that it would take to get home, it was "an open highway for infection." I obtained some pink putty that they use to temporarily fix dentures, but it didn't help much other than keeping the root covered for a few hours at a time. The bite plane was never right, so I couldn't chew anything, even on the other side. It also popped out while I was sleeping on two other occasions, so I slept upright and fitfully.

While everyone else was enjoying the fine dining room with pastries, pecan pie, steak, and lobster, I ate at the buffet. If I was very careful, I could eat scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, and pudding. Sometimes if the fish was mushy enough, I could swallow that too. At the peak of the cruise, I hit 215 pounds. When I weighed myself at home, I was 202. I lost weight on the cruise. That's not the worst part. The antibiotics we spent $200 on caused nausea, cramping, and diarrhea. I spent half my day in the bathroom or bed. Almost 50 days later, I still take daily pro-biotic pills and yogurt to rebuild my intestinal flora. My first experience was with Skyr Icelandic brand. Inside the lid, it brags "with protein and none of that awful sugar." I still shudder at the experience like eating cold vomit.

Though my dentist reapplied the old crown the first day, I still don't have a permanent replacement crown. What's the silver lining I bragged about in the title?

A little backstory. Almost three years ago, I started itching all over my body. No just a little. My face looked like it had Klingon bumps. Everyplace clothing touched me raised a rash or skin tags. Doctors couldn't explain it. They spent a year looking for the reason. Creams were no help because the problem was coming from the inside. After a year of this, a dermatologist drew on my back with a tongue depressor. The X showed up like a red welt within seconds. "Dermatographia," he said casually. My body's immune system was on high alert, attacking everything. "Have you been checked for cancer? That's usually the cause in men your age." He put me on antihistamines, and I started a series of screenings. Okay, Blue Cross covers colonoscopies, but only if they find NOTHING. If there is anything to find, even something benign, you pay for it all. I think they call that "double or nothing" in Vegas. Several uncomfortable months later, the dermatographia was ruled idiopathic, which means they have no idea what triggered it. My specialist told me after six months of a pill a day, I'd be cured. A nurse told me even one of those pills would knock her out.

After two years of antihistamines, I was at 5 times my starting dosage. By 8 every night, if I hadn't taken my pills, I would claw my face off itching. No one could tell me why or how to end it.
The first night of antibiotics, at nine o'clock, for the first time in three years, I didn't itch! Each week, I reduced my dosage of the antihistamines until a week ago, I was off it altogether. I am medication and itch-free--cured because my crown fell out and ruined my vacation.

What's more? The change in diet has helped me keep the pounds off. I'm pre-diabetic. A few other family members have it full on, and my sister almost went blind before they found it. I couldn't imagine being unable to read or write anymore. My best bet to prevent it is to control my weight. I can't even eat a full portion of spaghetti without skewing my test results for days.

Losing my crown was a blessing. I think that God healed me and gave me a subtle reminder at the same time. I also think he laughed his butt off watching me eat Skyr.

by popular demand, a photo of Emily's T-shirt:

It turns out that after 50 years of eating peanut butter almost every day, I am now allergic to peanuts.
:(  Do you know how hard it is to have a dessert or candy bar without them? Sometimes DQ substitutes peanuts for pecans when they don't have enough, and I look like a Klingon with a sunburn. But I never would have found out why without losing a crown.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Simply Said

At a meeting of the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Society (MinnSpec) critique group, a veteran said that I had “said bookisms” in my story. In the days when the Hardy Boys and Barsoom books were written, it was common for new authors to avoid the use of the word “said”. They even had a book of alternatives. However, this often results in the author sounding purple--like Frasier Crane at his most presumptuous trying to impress someone. At worst, you end up using a word with other associations and turning your work into a “Tom Swifty.” In Hardy Boys, Biff often “ejaculated” in public. Authors like Stephen King and Elmor Leonard advise that you should avoid all but the most basic invisible words: said, asked, replied, and sometimes whispered. Shouting is effectively conveyed by the use of the exclamation point (!). Of course, there are always times when you want to pick exactly the right tool for the job. In military fiction, one could make a case for words like ordered and reported. A dying man with a punctured lung might rasp or wheeze, but these should be the exception rather than the rule.

I made my own list of synonyms for “said” and taught my editing program to flag them. Below are the first 188 I came up with. Other more physical variants like “spat, giggled, chuckled, laughed, shrugged, or smiled” aren’t considered valid dialog tags at all.

acceded, accused, added, admitted, admonished, advised, agreed, alluded, amended, announced, answered, apologized, argued, asked, asserted, assured, averred,
barked, bellowed, bemoaned, berated, blurted, blustered, bragged,
cajoled, cautioned, chanted, chastened, chastized, cheered, chided, claimed, coaxed, commanded, complained, conceded, concluded, confessed, confided, confirmed, continued, corrected, countered, cried, croaked, crooned,
declared, decided, decreed, deduced, demanded, demurred, directed, drawled,
echoed, ejaculated, elaborated, elucidated, embellished, encouraged, enthused, espoused, evinced, exclaimed, explained, exposited, expounded,
fibbed, finked, fretted, fussed,
gasped, gloated, goaded, griped, groaned, growled, grumbled, grunted, guessed,
hinted, hissed,
implied, inquired, insinuated, insisted, interceded, interjected, interrupted, intoned,
japed, jeered, jested, joked,
lamented, lectured, lied, lobbied,
marveled, motioned, mewled, moaned, mumbled, murmured, mused, muttered,
objected, observed, offered, opined, ordered,
persisted, pleaded, pontificated, posited, prayed, pressed, proclaimed, proffered, promised, prompted, proposed, protested, purred,
queried, quibbled, quipped,
railed, ranted, rasped, reasoned, recited, recommended, reflected, reiterated, related, relayed, remarked, reminded, repeated,  reported, requested, responded, retorted, roared, rumbled,
sang, scoffed, scolded, screamed, screeched, shouted, shrieked, snapped, sobbed, soothed, squealed, stammered, stated, stipulated, stressed, stuttered, suggested, summarized, swore,
taunted, teased, temporized, threatened,
urged, uttered,
ventured, volunteered, vowed,
waffled, wailed, warned, wheedled, wheezed, whimpered, whined, wondered,

yammered, yelled,

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mewtwo Battle Results

For those who haven't received an invitation, here is what one looks like in your pokebag (left). When you click on it, it tells you the date, place, and time range of the raid. (right) Note that this was a field test version.

Only three of the four of us received the invitation on Tuesday night for Saturday. Everyone caught pokemon like crazy for days to pump up their front lines. I had no pokeballs left. I was reduced to feeding 65 bananas to my people in the gym for stardust. It also freed up space in my bag. Today, we left at intermission during a volleyball tournament to attend the big EX raid event. 28 people arrived for a contest that could only hold 20. With only three minutes, two groups wrestled for control of the gym. By spamming it with berries, Blue held the day to gain an extra ball's bonus. Then came gamer's revenge. We divided up into "equal" teams, with the Blue group getting only 11 players.

In a last minute twist, one of our players was so nervous that she deleted the Pokemon Game from her phone. We had to loan her an iPhone. The next surprise was worse: this Mewtwo wasn't shadowball or focus blast. Instead, he caught us off-guard with hyperbeam. Fortunately, we still took it easily with 175 left on the clock. My Murkrow cannon was a resounding success! I earned extra balls for dealing the most damage in our group. I hit him 4 times with the big crow attacks--lasting a record 30 seconds in the arena. The boss had only a millimeter of red remaining when my third and final Umbreon fainted. I let the computer pick the second wave because we were so close to victory. Mistake. In the last twelve seconds, he burned through three of my biggest bullies (2800 CP). Everyone noted that his tail end was far more vicious than the opening.

My daughter caught her Mewtwo on the first ball. My first ball phased through him like he was a ghost (this happened 3 out of the 14 balls). My son caught his on the last ball, but I went home empty, consoling myself with 9 rare candies.

I worked the concession stands until about four when an alert was posted to the group's Facebook page. The legendary Entei had arrived early. My wife sent Pierce and I with all four phones. We took him with 11 people. Gyrados, Rhydon, and Tyranitar wiped the floor with him. We didn't even burn through our first wave of attackers. My kids caught him, while I got nine more rare candies. My second Blissey will be evolving any day now.