…blog: 10 Things I Learned Writing How to Sing Butterflies

Cover of How to Sing Butterflies DX

DX edition (Amazon link)

Cover of How to Sing Butterflies

Standard edition (Amazon link)

Finally, with only two days of delay, I made it, I finished my short story collection How to Sing Butterflies. It will now roll out across the ebook vendors over the next few days, Amazon being the first as usual, but others following. They just happen to have the quickest system for new publications.
As you can see from there being two covers to this entry, this collection comes in two editions, DX and standard (or, well, non-DX). This is the one thing I hope I am still going to learn, publishing this book: Does this approach work? Is it a good idea to give readers a choice between a barebones edition and a deluxe edition with additional content?
To break the differences down, the DX edition features additional commentary for each story in the back of the book. Each story has a story behind it and this is what that commentary provides: The inspiration behind each story (often a writing prompt), how that inspiration turned into the story I ended up with, interesting trivia on the creative process in its planning and, more importantly, writing. That edition I set at US$2.99. The other edition has nothing but the pieces of fiction and is priced a little lower at US$1.99.
To me, that is a large difference: The higher price point gets me about US$1.40 more per sale, three times what the lower one gets me. But I realize this is not what the reader sees, so I want to give them free choice. I also realize short story collections are not very popular and people do not want to spend too much on them.
So, if you are interested in the stories behind those stories, or just want to support this here author, go get the DX edition. If you want to read the stories, but prefer not to spend too much on somebody you maybe never heard about before, get the standard one. I think that’s a fair deal for al of us. I’m very curious how that’ll turn out.
All that being said, as with every book I learned a lot from writing this one. And yes, I am stealing this idea from Chuck Wendig’s blog. Go on, try and stop me!

1. Working Title, Shmorking Title

I set out to collect my shorts a long time ago. It started out a year ago under the guise of Glimpses. By February it had morphed into the far more descriptive mouthful of Glimpses into World Unknown.
Then, I lost my progress on almost all works to a computer crash that affected both my main hard drive and the more recent backups. There’s still hope to recover those, but it’s expensive.
Anyway, I started from scratch. What got lost was some unpublished work, but I could still recover all those entries into Flash Fiction Challenges and the like, along with everything already published in some form. I didn’t like the original title I was working with anymore, so I ended up taking the title to one of the stories included instead: How to Sing Butterflies made for a nice title and the story itself served well to represent my brand of short fiction.

2. Free Ressources can be amazing

After I settled on a title, there was the issue of a fitting cover. I did not exactly make that easy on me with such a strange title. Searching for illustrations that combined butterflies with music failed, so I started searching all the stock photo sites for butterfly pictures, hoping to find something to work with. Not to get an overused picture, I even started to order the results by least liked ones first. This is when I stumbled across the perfect cover to this title. A butterfly shape of simple yellow lines, the perfect image to combine sound with butterflies.
Beautiful.

3. But sometimes you still have to pay for stuff

Sample of the font Sound Sample

Sound Sample, err, Sample


The cover illustration was perfect, but there was only one font I found anywhere. That was Sound Sample by Anfa. Everything else was either too fancy or not fancy enough. I mean, you don’t want to pair a picture like that with something like Arial or Times New Roman. On the other hand, some butterfly font would have been way too fancy for a book of tales that often veered to the darker side of things.
Very few fonts related to sound or music in any meaningful way, but this one was almost perfect. It could be more easily legible when sized down, but other than that this went perfectly with the title illustration, the titular piece of flash fiction, and the overall content of the book.
However, unlike all the fonts I had used up until now, this one was free only for non-commercial use. Five dollars is a good price for a well-made font, though, so I gladly sent that over to the creator’s Paypal as asked to on the site.
Yeah, we are all struggling artists here, but I paid five dollars for far less useful things.

4. Translating is way harder than writing

Aside from 15 pieces of fiction previously published, this collection also includes three completely new ones and four translations. The translations turned out to be the culprit when it came to missing my deadline of Wednesday, August 3rd.
Turns out, translating already written text is much harder than writing something from scratch. The words are already there, but they are in a different language, written to suit that language’s vocabulary, sensitivities, even rhythm. You can’t just change the words into their counterparts, you have to rephrase everything without changing anything. That is hard, even when the words in the other language are your own. Maybe especially when they are your own words, chosen for reasons hard to apply in another language.
There’s a reason I write some of my work in German and some in English. And that reason is not planning with market size. Well, except for the Jurassic World book. That one I did write in English because of market size considerations.

5. A construction site does NOT make it easier

Somebody decided to build a few new houses across the road. Te last two weeks, they connected those to the water main. Meaning they opened the street with a huge buzzsaw-like contraption and then dug down with an excavator and some trucks, all driven by diesel engines. At least now they changed it to a truck with a built-in excavator.
Ain’t complainin’, just sayin’.

6. A story is never finished

Editing and especially translating my shorts taught me, you can always find something new to change in anything you did. A story can be part of a book consistently getting five-star reviews and still have jarring issues like details left out and characters changing their species (yes, species!).

7. Grammarly does help

Grammarly is by no means perfect. We often disagree about the necessity of an article for abstract nouns. But I do have problems with the use of commas in both my main languages and this is something the app excels at.

8. Backup, backup, backup!

About that incident in February: You know how barely anybody does a regular backup, even when it’s vital to what they do? Yeah, do backups. Once a week is probably a good rate.

9. I really need to finish this blog

Yeah, the English blog still has a few bugs to solve. Like something is really wrong with the book overview mixing up German and English titles. And the mobile theme needs to be replaced. I just rarely think about the latter because I rarely ever use a smartphone to go online.

10. The internet does forget

A zombie dinosaur short on io9 of all places had disappeared from their comment section when I tried to recover it. Huh.
I really liked that short. I hope I can recover it from my crashed hard drive to include in a later collection along with other tales lost in the crash.


Sleeper Hit

Image: George Hodan / publicdomainpictures.net

Image: George Hodan / publicdomainpictures.net

I haven’t done a flash fiction challenge response in a while. This is partly due to Indies Unlimited switching to image prompts instead of written ones. I’m just not as good with those and frankly, I found IU’s prompts to be rather uninspiring. but that’s just me, other authors keep doing great works with those.
There’s other stuff, like my hard drive taking its journey to the everafter in February.
But that aside, let’s do one of these again. It’s Chuck Wendig’s turn again, who this week asked for a story that features insomnia. Well, here it is. I went into this having no idea how dark it would get to just run with this idea. Oh, it got dark alright.

Sleeper Hit

Edinburgh, Scotland, 4:13 a.m.
For almost a minute, something was very wrong. Granted, 176 hours of partying always took their toll, and Burt knew the feelings that caused all the way from hunger to thirst, even boredom. But exhaustion was something he had stopped feeling for a long time now, a glimpse of maybe a second or two once a year was all that ever reminded him what kind of an emotion it even was. One like lead and rainy days and refusal of nice things. So bad, it made sleep desirable, that old king of unproductivities.
He had done away with all this a long time ago.

Bandar Tidur, Malaysia, 12:10 p.m.
Another one. Izzati fixed her view on the screen that had been pulsing with red for a few seconds before it went numb. To quick for anybody to rush in and change the bulb. A young immigrant from Thailand, like so many bulbs somebody with no other options in life here and only even worse ones back home. They were willing to take the risk, silence took care of that not changing.
When it began, one bulb could work two customers – batteries, as some started to call them, despite the weird reversal in terminology that created opposed to the real relationship between the two. A year later, there had to be one bulb per battery. Now, some batteries had started to burn through one bulb per year.
Bandar Tidur was asia’s hell needed to create europe’s paradise. The furnace to its engine.

San Jose, California, 09:00 p.m.
No matter how much he brooded, an empty page kept staring at Steve. He was the one man who banned unproductivity itself and now that blank page was mocking him for it like it never happened. He began anew.
“Sleep and death have much in common. The two great unproductivities, neither of which really known to man.”
He liked that, though it was followed by more blankness in his mind. The thing was, he had conquered sleep. When he invented a chip to monitor health years before, strange readings showed up and led his team to realize exhaustion was transferable and could be transformed into awakeness using sleep, to then be transferred back. Nobody really understood how it worked, but it did.
He and his team made these findings into machines, a network capable of electronically shipping sleep across the globe, to sleepers sleeping for their customers who could stay awake as long as they lived, continually drained of their exhaustion and supplied with new awakeness.
And yet, here he was, asking himself how to put to page a story everybody on earth already knew, effectively doing nothing with that time gained. More time, more ideas to have and pursue, but somehow not much had changed.
He erased the line and began anew again.
“So, this is the story of me, and how I did not change the world.”
That wasn’t it either.

Bandar Tidur, Malaysia, 12:12 p.m.
A new girl entered the chamber, her predecessor already removed. This one was a native, one of the first in an experiment. She did not look any different, but she was specifically designed to make her sleep more durable. Maybe a little pale for a Malaysian, but other than that just an adolescent young girl.
She let herself strap into the machine to be infused with exhaustion. Within a minute, the new bulb was asleep at work, hopefully quickly enough for the battery not to realize anything. Angry customers were the worst.
The old bulb passed Izzati’s door on its way to the pit, now somebody else’s problem.

Edinburgh, Scotland, 4:14 a.m.
The display in Burt’s left hand confirmed a short connection failure, but also his vitals being excellent. The connection problem had its fault with the other side, so he filed a short complaint. Within seconds, a response arrived, apologizing and explaining something about a bulb that needed to be changed.
As long as it was working again, he really couldn’t care less.


Day Five

Bild: Joan M. Borràs (ebrenc) CC-BY-SA 2.5

Bild: Joan M. Borràs (ebrenc) CC-BY-SA 2.5

Again a story inspired by an image prompt at the Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy, this time the picture was of a young man reading a book on the beach. Reading on the beach is an alien concept to me. When I’m at the beach, I just enjoy the beach and the sea. So I tend to think what book would be so compelling it makes one ignore the beauty of the beach.
This is what grew out of that.

Day Five

The year had begun lackluster. The next day he was pregnant, which also managed to clear weird off the list. Jovian on the third was hard to pin down but worse, it made Simon miss the fourth day, when he had to talk his way back out of an insane asylum. That would have ruined his project had day two not counted for two adjectives. So far, living every day according to a random word generator selecting an adjective from the dictionary had been a worthwhile experience.
Today he was gullible. A nice word, there was a ring to it and so he committed to it quickly.
He went to a bookstore and selected the book with the boldest claim. “How to breathe underwater” it said and it was a thin one, too. So he sat down low on the beach and began to read, convinced he would have mastered breathing underwater by the time the flood submerged him.
The book was practical, it mentioned how unfeasible it was to grow gills in the little time he had, so it clearly knew what it was talking about. So many exercises, many of the strange beyond imagination, yet he did them all and felt successful each time.
It became hard to read when the tide washed over the pages, but it was still possible and even made the exercises a little easier. When the water reached his nostrils, he inhaled with confidence. Simon hoped the remaining adjectives would work underwater.
Best book ever.


Master of Man

It has been too long, hasn’t it? Well, here I am with a new flash fiction story, this time a result of the competition at The Angry Hourglass. The version of the story posted over there is slightly different because of the 360 words word limit. The story originally reached 420 words, I then edited it down to 359 as posted on the Angry Hourglass site and then edited some new words back in where I felt cutting down had hurt the tale.
Interesting story behind this one: I originally mistook the image prompt preview for a man fighting in a dojo with a lamp in the foreground. When I later looked at the larger version I recognized it was a man carrying a flame on a stick. Both interpretations have found their way into this short piece.
Visit the link above to see the other version as well as the prompt and other entries resulting from it, some of them exceptionally good.

Master of Man

He watched them flee into the darkness. Victory, but how? And why had he fought them? The aggression had been something that suddenly took hold of him to subside once they fled. Somehow not his anger, it was of somebody else.
„Hello“, Josh called out into the empty hall. Only one lamp burned against the night outside. Though dim, it should have been enough to see anybody hiding here. There was nobody.
„Hello“, answered something from no direction at all, feeling like a voice inside his head, „thank you for your assistance. This is my room. I was born here, I live here. And I cannot fight my oppressors, so thank you for taking care of that.“
„Where are you? Who are you? Why did I fight?“
„That was me, I made you want to fight. I can’t fight, but sometimes I can get help when I need it. I am who lives here. There were others living here, but those you drove off came in here. At first they started training as you do in any dojo. But as they got better, they started to become aggressive.“
„You’re not answering my questions!“
„No, I’m making you understand. There used to be more like me living here, one in every corner, but one day, they killed one next to the door, then the other one there. One by one, they climbed toward us, killed my brethren and had the hall grow dark and cold. You came in so I gave you eagerness to fight them. You saved me.“
„You’re not making any sense, who are you? I don’t even see a shadow.“
„That’s precisely who I am, no shadow.“
„That’s no better! Where are you and how do you make me feel like you speak inside my head?“
„Silly boy, that is what our kind does. We live to fill humans with emotions, with ideas, with warmth. To the most receptive, we can talk. I am flame, and fire, and light. And you will now pick me up.“
„Why would I want to do that?“
„Because you want to.“
„Yes, I do“ Josh said when a sudden urge to do so woke in him.


How to Sing Butterflies

The following is the result of this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge at Chuck Wendig’s blog. The challenge last week had participants come up with a title (without a story), this week it has them choose one of last week’s titles and make a story from that. How to Sing Butterflies on page 4 of the comments struck a chord with me, so I picked that one. Thanks to Medina who came up with it.
This is the first time I’m doing the challenge at Chuck Wendig’s. I’m always looking for good flash fiction challenges. I like flash fiction for it being so much to the point.

Speaking of which, on to the story:

How to Sing Butterflies

Muffled notes escaped the convict’s gag. Did the architects’ talent to conjure objects with their voices still work when obstructed? Dubious, but then again nobody really knew how architecm worked. Like electricity and so many powers before and since it, the technology had been discovered and used long before anybody understood what it actually was. A genetic mutation, a one in several billion event, discovered, isolated and copied to create a caste of people capable of conjuring any object from pure air by instinct.
Nobody knew how coded proteins on these people’s dna could manipulate quarks to form anything anywhere. Nobody knew why the ability used soundwaves or if they were a mere side effect or the method of change. Nobody knew why the music was always so beautiful when by all logic it should be random noise.
The girl just sang. Like any architect, she had sung before. This is how she ended up in front of a firing squad. Singing notes of mystery. Several monstrosities had attacked Tokyo in the last six months, ranging from nightmarish bugs to kaiju with everything in between. In court she said she wanted to create something beautiful, tried and tried, but always something eldritch came from it. She claimed there was just one thing missing and she would find it. The Architecm Guild had wanted to save her, the only architect to ever sing something to life.
In the end, she was just deemed too dangerous. The very knowledge of the possibility of singing life was. So it was all a secret. Nobody knew of the process and there had never been another option how it would end. Even making it illegal to create life by architecm was avoided not to give anybody any ideas.
The girl sang through her gag as the firing squad aimed. She sang as they readied. And then, as they fired the end of the melody became indistinguishable from the sound of the guns. Had it been the same sound from both guns and girl? There was no way to tell now. The final moment had happened quickly and pointlessly.
And then, everyone saw. Above the soldiers they flew. A pair of butterflies dressed in a color that didn’t exist.


A Weird Time to Unlimit your Kindling

During June I published The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, first in the new series Fiction Science. Like I said in that post, I specifically chose to test the waters of the Kindle Unlimited program with this one. As luck would have it, Amazon happened to make some changes to Kindle Unlimited just as I was testing it.
I will discuss both my results and the effects of the changes below.

Results June 2015

In short, the book did great, both on Kindle Unlimited and in regular purchases. Not only did it help push June to include 53% of my current 2015 sales total, June also encompasses 75% of 2015 total ebook revenue so far thanks to this book. Sales and KU burrows were about the same. This surprised me, I thought KU would be a bigger contribution with only a few sales. As it turns out, I underestimated the price people were willing to pay when putting Fiction Science 1 at a price I honestly considered too much for a book this short.
Authors only get 70% for books between $2.99 and 9.99, incidentally making this the starting point at which authors get more than $ 1.00 per book. June 2015 was the first time I managed to make more than a dollar per book on average since 2011 (when I only had one book out, priced 3.99).
An especially weird surprise to me was that the book did best in the UK, despite being written in US English and published a day after the movie started in europe. Huh, weird.

So what I took away here is this:

  • Don’t be afraid of the 2.99–9.99 price tier. When it pays of, it really pays of. Also, more people are willing to pay that amount even for short non-fiction books than I thought, given the book is relevant or timely. This is the most important thing I take out of this: 2.99 is not as expensive to costumers as I tend to think with ebooks
  • At 2.99, Kindle Unlimited is perfect. It does pay a little less than a sale, but helps with exposure, thus driving sales. Well, at least it was perfect.
  • Media tie-ins work

And then, Kindle Unlimited Changed

No doubt all Amazon authors already heard of the recent change in Kindle Unlimited payments starting July 1st. In short, books lent via Kindle Unlimited will from now on be paid by pages read. It is not that clear how much money we’ll get, although I’ve seen estimates range from $ .005 to .006 per page.
This means The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World would make about 25 Cents per burrow. I’ll assume that burrows lower the number of sales, but I’ll also assume this is counteracted by better exposure and reaching readers unwilling to buy. Not having any real math to back this up, I’m nevertheless prepared to take the risk of being wrong as long as I’m only loosing a few cents at worst.
With a 2.99 book of 45 pages, I loose about a dollar per burrow when compared to a sale. Exposure conversion and costumer potential expansion are not going to cover a gap this large.

Luckily, I did not expect this book to do well beyond June. I knew its sales were going to be tied to the release of Jurassic World and indeed they spiked suddenly, stayed up until Sunday to slowly sink after the opening weekend. This book was not going to make me any money later on and I knew that.
Still, theere were conclusions to be drawnd for future projects, thus:

Conclusions

It’s strange to witness first hand how quick a business model can die. Even stranger to see how it can die from no ill intent, because I do consider the new model an improvement even if my own non-fiction suffers for it. In my case, I was preparing to publish erotica under a secret pseudonym.
The market for short erotica was dominated by using Kindle Unlimited to get money for burrowing very short steamy stories. Unlimited was its perfect environment, it managed to thrive there and really, why not?
I don’t know if that idea is dead now, but it certainly is not going to get me rich(-ish) any time soon. Basically, any business model using the high payout of Kindle Unlimited to its advantage is dead now. Just like that.
Which brings me to my most important conclusion: If you have an idea, be quick. You never know when it’ll stop working.


Fiction Science starts with Jurassic Park/World

Available now at Amazon, free to read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers

Jurassic Park. I freely admit I am the result of a boy being at just the right age when 90′s dinomania rolled around and having been enamoured with dinosaurs even before that point, JP never left me. So of course I was going to do something with Jurassic World coming up. Not to mention I managed to use being European to my advantage with Jurassic World starting one day early over here.

Jurassic Park/World. It comes with great hype. And with great hype comes great responsibility. That might be from a different media franchise, but it still holds true. And it’s the reason people on the internet get upset about the scientific accuracy of the dinosaurs in the series. Well, that and them being people on the internet, getting upset at stuff is part of the appeal. Anyway, I decided to collect all the scientific inaccuracies into a book. So I went through all canonical JP media with eyes open for this kind of thing and started collecting.

There is, of course, a lot to talk about: Naked raptors! Half-blind T. rex! Bunny handed Gallimimus! Dilopho-That-Is-Not-Even-A-Dinosaur-Saurus! Holyshittasaurus Indominus rex! If it’s a prehistoric animal and in either of the movies, the novels, or the Telltale game, I put it in.

What I did was, I wrote this over the course of the last month watching all movies and trailers, re-reading the novels and watching a Playthrough of the Telltale game. I ignored the comics and other games for not being in any sort of canon. Also, finding all errors in the builder games would probably take years just from those games’ sheer size. Of course, not everything in Jurassic Park that looks different from paleontology textbooks is an error. Some things are artistic license, showing things that are possible even if paleontologists can’t confirm it to be true. And some are just the result of the original movie being 22 years old when during those 22 years science’s idea of what dinosaurs looked like has been revolutionized by new findings. This book explains those things.
After that I took advantage of my european-ness, watched the earliest screening of Jurassic World I could get and made that tax-deductible and finished the book with new knowledge gained from that, adding a short chapter on Indominus rex in the process.

With this book, I also started a series, “Fiction Science”. This is something I wanted to do for quite some time. A series of books about the science in science fiction. More books will come out over time, though this one is somewhat special in being about a specific series. Future installments will be about things like FTL travel, alien design, or why we don’t have jetpacks and hoverboards everywhere yet. However, with dinosaurs there is simply too much to go through without focussing on a single franchise. The release of Jurassic World was just perfect for this book to come out, so I timed it accordingly.

So far, I am very happy with the result. The book sports high quality, a simple yet effective cover, starts a new series and also makes an excellent test run for creating titles that tie in to current events.
It’s also free with Kindle Unlimited because I wanted to test that market and I believe a media tie-in title is perfect for KU’s borrowing approach to books. This is a book basically meant to be borrowed and read quickly after seeing the movie(s). I am quite anxious to see how well that works.

Oh, for the record: Jurassic World is really, reallly fun. Not as good as the first movie, but still one of the most fun movie I’ve seen in years.


Dystopian Utopias and Counterfics – Some Thoughts on the new Minority Report Trailer

Warning: The following contains a spoiler for the 2002 movie Minority Report. Just in case you still haven’t seen it yet.

Minority Report is getting a tv series based on the movie loosely adapted from the original story and we have a trailer to show for it:

Yeah, this is weird. Let’s talk about why.

Dystopian Utopias

The original movie by Steven Spielberg is in the ranks of the sleeper classics, that is, movies with topics more relevant now than when they were originally released. Science fiction dealing with contemporarily current trends is prone to this kind of thing, see Demolition Man for another example, if a less serious one.
The point of Minority Report was that the idea of predicting crime to prevent it is a bad idea. Not only is data bound to get misinterpreted sooner or later, you also create a host of prediction paradoxes. You know, when a future event turned out to be caused by your prediction in the first place? As happened in the original movie? Because that was the whole point of the story?
Because sometimes stuff tends to happen in circles, especially when time travel and/or precognition is involved. Much like the previous paragraph did.

That was 13 years ago and apparently Minority Report hit puberty right on cue. Now it wants to hear nothing of its parents’ values and always do the opposite. Either that or society has become a whole lot different with us starting to embrace the sort of constant surveillance and data precognition that comes with big data and that had us all horrified after 9/11 brought with it growing sacrifice of freedom in the name of security. One might say Minority Report is strong evidence how we all have been brainwashed into accepting a world that gets close to calling 1984 a utopian vision, rather than the dystopian one we used to think it is. And that idea kind of scares me.
It’s not the first time that happened, either. I’m getting a similar sensation when reading Brave New World, now sounding like every damn text on the evils of this thing called the internet and how it turns young ‘uns into brainless media zombies.
Maybe this is what dystopia is really good for: Giving us a glimpse how our thinking has changed. Few dystopias need to convince readers that bad stuff is bad. But looking at a dated dystopian tale, realizing it has turned into either our present or inches ever closer to a utopia in modern eyes, now there’s real value.

Counterfic

The other thing I want to talk about is adaptations.

In fan fiction, there is a couple of categories works can go into. I want to briefly talk about fix fic. This is when an author think another’s work broken in some way and goes about fixing it. In the best cases this results in stuff like Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels, filling gaps from the movies and other Star Wars novels in such a way that any errors and continuity hiccups get explained to make the overall world of the stories more believable. In the worst cases, an author completely misses the point of the original work and manages to „fix“ the story into being its complete opposite.

This seems to be what happened here: The makers of the series saw the movie and decided that it’s message is utter bull. So they created a series that (judging from the trailer) goes ahead to undo the movie’s events, showing viewers how awesome the world would be with precognitive people in police service around. This is not only the sequel undoing the original’s point, it’s the sequel turning around to slap the original in the face, telling it how stupid it supposedly is.
And that is something I have never before seen done on purpose, with the sole exception of Starship Troopers doing this to Heinlein’s novel (awesomely imho).

So…

That was my thoughts on Minority Report I thought to write down because I didn’t see anybody else seeing it that way. What do you think? Am I reading to much into a trailer? Or is this a sign of our times?


Don’t Believe the Hype: Standing Desks

Standing desks are all the rage right now when it comes to productivity. So, first week of 2015 I got me one. It did not go well. Here’s how.

This is nice, but all the pain…

A few days after the start of the new year, I got myself a standing desk. These things tend to be expensive, so I was quite happy to find a small standing desk for cheap (€25) at a welfare store. Well, a small cupboard with doors and a desk plate on top, but still. In fact, that seemed even nicer, because it could store stuff.
There are two kinds of benefits a standing desk has to a regular one. One is health benefits – it’s good for the back, burns calories when compared to working in a chair, and has some minor benefits in other areas that are affected negatively by sitting in a chair for hours. The other is productivity – sitting down tends to lead to slouching or otherwise signaling the body that it’s tiem to get lazy. At least I constantly had to fight this feeling of ”I sit therefore I’m in leisure mode, let’s go to Netflix„ when in a chair.
So yeah, a standing desk, hyped enough in the US to warrant its own Wikipedia page, seemed agood idea.

Pro tip: hat is not a good idea is carrying this thing around in your arms for about half a mile on foot. Let’s just say the benefits for the back got pretty much destroyed for the first week. Yeah, that one was probably me being stupid and not the desk’s fault, so I’ll let it pass.

After that, work could begin and I noticed something off: It became even harder to get myself into working mode. Now it was not lazy mode taking over, I just really disliked the feeling of standing there while typing. My productivity plummetted. Reading and writing short stuff worked fine, but it became really tough to get myself to write anything longer than a twitter message.

After about a week my feet started complaining. I was not used to standing in one place for that long. Just for context, I regularly walk barefeet for several miles when the weather is good, but that’s walking, moving constantly, shifting weight from foot to foot with every step. It’s what feet are made for, what they’re good at. Now it seems, feet are not good at standing still. At least mine are not. Which is probably why we invented sitting (and why animals that stand still a lot almost all have hooves).
On the plus side, my back felt great now.

Get it away from me!

I took care of my feet using lotion and reintroducing my comfy chair specifically for lazy time. At this point I figured it was an issue of getting used to working while standing.

It’s March now and not only has this blog has been quiet for some time, I also did not yet finish a book I was plannign to finish by March, a zombie novella titled Boy. I got it 10% done and that is completely representative of my productivity at the standing desk: I generally got 10% done of what I got done before.

My feet got better but the thing was I just couldn’t bring myself to work much while standing. Which was weird because I’d always been working in a standing position before, in other jobs. I tried a few other desks in stores and it eventually boiled down to all of them having either of two problems: One half was a great height to type on, but too low to comfortably look at the screen of my laptop; the other was, of course, tall enough to comfortably look at the screen but unpleasant to write at because now the keyboard was to far up.
However, I do not want to get a desktop pc again for a couple of reasons – it takes up space, it uses much more electricity, and it is not portable enough, among others. Maybe it works better if keyboard and screen are separate from each other. I won’t check.

Back from the Journey

So today, I retired the standing desk. I will keep it in the room for its storage space, but instead of my laptop I will put a plant on it. Work will happen on my old desk again. I can already feel my spine complaining about the move back, but this I will remedy by starting to work in shorter bursts instead of several hours at once like before.
The very fact that I got myself to start and finish this very text about it seems proof enough to me that I’m just better off working while sitting on a desk.

So, here’s my advice to anybody thinking about getting a standing desk for writing work: Try to get a really cheap one first, preferably a used one off a flea market or welfare store. Just to try if this really is your thing. In the end, every one of us likes different things, every one of us works differently (in absolutely every meanign of the word ”works“). I am not going to say you shouldn’t get a standing desk. There’s always value in trying new things and figuring out wether they’re good for you — nobody can tell you what will and won’t work for you with absolute certainty.
I’m not here to counteract the hype with a nype (yes I just made up that word).
But I will say this: Don’t believe the hype. Any hype, really.


Khamel, Calmrill, and Gladbach

Last night, I finished a short story titled Khamel. I recently found the idea in a note written in 2012. It just said “Khamel”, but the idea behind it resonated well enough with me that it immediately came to mind again when I just saw that one word. Can’t believe I forgot it for long enough to need a note to remind me.
The story is based on the biblical metaphor that a camel passes the ear of a needle sooner than a rich man goes to heaven. And on the quip by some American comedian (Bill Maher? I don’t recall) that creationists apparantly don’t know about metaphor, imagining an event involving a sewing tool and a very unfortunate ungulate.
So, of course I got the idea of a story depicting that. But instead of a camel, I soon came up with using a man named Khamel, an actual Arabic name. Because why not?

The whole thing had an air of medieval european fantasy setting around it, so I put it there, into a semi-fictional medium-sized town called Calmrill. More on that later. Once set up, the story wrote itself within less than two hours.

I will not publish Khamel as an ebooks, at least not yet and not separately. Instead, I will go a different route with it. And if that works, you will be able to read it for free in a couple of places.
The problem with Khamel is that it is only about 1,300 words long, barely even a short story. Although in terms of structure and plot it is far more of a short story than Introduction was.

The plan

I opted to try and sell Khamel to the market, preferably a professional one. Daily Science Fiction is the way to go here, they’re specifically looking for stories of less than 1,500 words.
Paying 8 Cents per word and reaching about 10,000 readers is more than any of my sold stories can say for themselves, both in readership and short-term money. Not to mention it would give me a new status as a professionally published author. Now that’s be awesome.
Following that, I will try to get it into the reprint market, though I have not yet done a thorough research on that area. Payment seems to be around 5 cents/word. At this point, I will also put it up for free on this here site.
One other thing I will do is get my SFF writing kickstarted. So far I have very little published in that area and when I get exposure, I want to be ready by offering any new visitors here at least one actual book. At the moment, that boils down to my two zombie projects: and Boy. It’s probably going to be Desert King, which in itself will be doing something new.
So, if that works it means a free story for you (and I really think my best short piece so far), about US$150, and more exposure for me. What’s not to like?
Seems I try something new with every single new project. So, let’s see how that one works out, then.

Calmrill

No, no, you can like Calmrill. In fact, do like Calmrill!
Calmrill, like Pacifica, forms the first piece in a fictional universe. While the floating town of Pacifica formed the basis of my science fiction, Calmrill does so for my fantasy fiction. Both worlds are incompatible by nature, but most of my fiction from now on will fall into one of those categories, unless one comes along that fits into neither (the only one I can see this happenign with so far is Boy, because neither world has a place for a major zombie apocalypse).

You might wonder where Calmrill came from. If not, well, tough luck, because I want to talk about it.
Calmrill, called Kalmrill in German, is my hometown. Or rather, a fictionalized version of it. My hometown is called Mönchengladbach, translating litterally into Monk’s Smooth Creek for being founded by monks next to a small, quiet creek. It’s usually shortened to Gladbach (Smooth Creek).
I made smooth into calm and used a thesaurus to find rill as another word for creek. I decided Calmrill sounded nice, it had a sort of tolkienesque ring to it. A town might actually be called that.
So, there we go, Calmrill is basically my hometown, transplanted into a fantasy world and shrunken to its old borders as marked by the town’s wall, making it one densely populated, well guarded walled hill with a central marketplace on top, surrounded by a landscape that looks a lot like Tolkien’s description of the Shire in Lord of the Rings, dotted with villages.
The idea in the Calmrill universe is that it’s mostly our universe, but almost all legends are true, especially local urban legends, hoaxes, and canards. And it’s not limited to Calmrill/Gladbach, of course. It’s gonna be fun.