Humanism Lives Long, And Prospers: Star Trek Continues Review

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 By Shawn StJean

Who says it takes a hundred million dollars to do Star Trek right?

Under the wing of Farragut Films and Dracogen Investments, Vic Mignogna and crew have launched the second episode of their wonderful fan webseries, Star Trek Continues.  It takes place during the final three years of the original five-year mission that ended prematurely when the network cancelled Star Trek in the late 1960s.

All due respect to the rebooted mega-budget studio feature films–sorry, but this is where it’s at: no one is going to get resurrected by “Necrotic-Tribble-Cross-Superhuman DNA,” either.  That kind of technobabble/solution nonsense is for fans of Next Generation and its ilk.

I screened the just-released second episode in the webseries, “Lolani,” with a smile on my face the entire time.  This reaction was part nostalgia, part admiration, and part gratitude for Vic and the gang who’ve devoted themselves to continuing a great tradition of truly humanistic storytelling, even amidst the most technological setting.  I thought it bettered the excellent first episode (featuring the return of old nemesis, Apollo, reprised by Michael Forest).

As with the original series, the episode “Lolani” takes a local incident and extends it not only to allegorical proportions, but retains the Trek romanticism while it resists succumbing to the sentimentalism of dozens of silly imitation shows over the years.  An Orion slave girl, taking advantage of a dispute among her recent purchasers, kills the new owner who would have raped her.  The Enterprise rescues her from the drifting Tellarite vessel, and she proceeds to enchant the crew (Kirk included, naturally) with her pheromone-enhanced wiles.  The rhetoric of gender relations undergirds the script, and the threat of female power remains inescapable, but the story somehow escapes radical feminism and balances its themes in a way that would have made Gene Rodenberry proud.

The episode also does an excellent job creating moral ambiguity: given the laws of the Federation and perhaps even the Prime Directive, the crew is forbidden to interfere with her return to the slavemasters who sold her.  And yet, she gives a face to the thousands still under the thrall of the homeworld’s patriarchs.  Lolani herself, like so many women characters in literary fiction, remains a mystery until the end: part liar and manipulator, part sincere and helpless girl, worthy of the genuine love one crewman gives her.  Of course, the Captain wouldn’t be Kirk if he failed to make a pass at her along the journey.  In fact, many of the old tropes are present for the fans: the Vulcan mind-meld and neck- pinch, for example.  I have to admit to being disappointed that Kirk’s shirt wasn’t ripped during the fight scene–but then again, with a budget smaller than that of the original 45-year-old episodes, and adjusting for inflation–well, those things aren’t cheap.

The scripts of the old Trek were the reason for its longevity among fandom, and this tribute series follows suit.  While some may find the style hokey, I personally applaud the refusal to give in the cynicism and parody that invests so many of today’s remakes.  The production values: sets, costumes, special effects, music, lighting, and even a few stunts–really cannot be faulted by any reasonable viewer.  Some may wish for more professionalized acting, or folks who more closely resemble the original cast members–but naturally this would defeat the purpose of a fan-series, being both cost-prohibitive and elitist.  No one in the troupe’s ensemble cast fails to deliver competence, anyway, and guest stars like Sci-Fi vets Erin Gray and Lou Ferrigno are always welcome.  Naturally, such pros also deserve the thanks of fans everywhere for their contribution to keeping the Enterprise flying.

Visit the Official Site:

http://www.startrekcontinues.com/

And Kickstarter page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/125377036/star-trek-continues-webseries

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2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award–2,000 of 10k New Books Advance to 2nd Round

Image10,000 books have been entered by their authors and publishers, in five categories.  Clotho’s Loom by Shawn StJean, published under the Glas Daggre Imprint, is among 400 in the General Fiction category selected for the second round, and will attempt to move on to the quarter-finals of the ABNA (100 will be selected from each category, announced @ March 12, 2013.)

List of 2nd-rounders:  http://www.amazon.com/b?node=332264011  Congrats everyone!

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The Life You Save May Be Your Own: Imbroglio, by Alana Woods. Book Review by Shawn StJean

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Book Review by Shawn StJean

If the title of my review seems far less original than that of the novel it explores, that’s because there are some clichés that well-earn their familiarity.  For example, if overheard conversations, mistaken and assumed identity, and misdirected letters (nowadays more prevalent as lost or stolen e-mail correspondence and hacked computer files) are not fresh enough for your taste in fiction, then the entire suspense/thriller genre probably isn’t either.  Alana Woods deploys them all–there’s even a diary–but recombination is everything.

 

Far more compelling than these stock conventions are the book’s two main characters, David Cameron (you may need a pen handy to keep track of his several aliases,) but more especially Noel Valentine, a heroine worthy of a series–though Woods doesn’t appear to be setting us up for one.  Among all of fiction’s many self-made detectives, few are given a motive for their investigations–which lead them into all manner of professional and personal hazard–more credible than simple money.  The universal catalyst, serviceable for everyone from Sam Spade to Jim Rockford.  Oh, other reasons have been invented among the better writers: egomania for Sherlock Holmes, or the occasional impressment into service (Rick Deckard.)  Woods’ David, like Hamlet, was bequeathed the task by his dead father.  Good thing for audiences, too–for it doesn’t always wash, that the motives of those seeking truth are the identical ones held by those seeking to cover it up.

 

For Noel Valentine, the impetus necessary for the pursuit of semi-comatose David’s nearly successful assassins, leading to discovery of several convolutions of corporate wrongdoing, surfaces from the depths of her very plausible, damaged psychology.  “Why not go to the police?,” she’s asked at several points, and the answer simply lies outside the realm of logic and reason. 

 

Sure, she wants to ensure the man she dragged from a fiery car wreck heals, she wants a prestigious account at her PR firm, she wants the perks of her boss’ favor.  It all makes sense, yet none of it is really accurate.  In fact, one of the latent enjoyments of the novel is witnessing how many different misogynistic interpretations of her behavior can be put upon Noel by the old boys’ network, projecting their own malfeasance onto a vulnerable target.  “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a dirty, double-crossing dame,” says one of the villains of the Hollywood noir classic The Killers, and apparently little has changed in three-quarters of a century.  Woods’ heroine must also endure multiple layers of claustrophobic pressure: from the confines of her tiny flat invaded by her healing counterpart, to sexual pressure from her boss and a nefarious client, and finally to the crushing depths of the sea itself.

 

No, for Noel, investigation is first about living dangerously–perhaps subconsciously attempting to carry out a long-time suicide wish of her own–and later, about simply living.  In fact, when the bad guys provide her with the perfect opportunity to slip quietly into that good night, guiltlessly in the world’s eyes and her own, it’s only then can she recover the id-energy to carry on and survive that her efforts on David’s behalf have been attempting to revivify all along.  That scene of crucible is worth the price of admission alone, straying so far as it does from the strictures of the genre, and invoking naturalistic archetypes from more high-brow literary fiction like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and even some Hemingway.

 

What difficulties there are can be faced down within the first half of the novel, which gathers much steam afterward–though thankfully eschewing many of the predictable action-elements we may expect (no car chases, and just a little obligatory gunplay.)  Sex, naturally, plays its role, though not overdone.  Woods provides several of her majors with fully stocked families, and various minor characters fill out the cast, necessitating full attention to relationships.  As for the geography, the locales of Cairns and Sydney, while well-described, may feel less familiar to non-Australian readers than we’d like.  However, it’s exactly this transportation of time, place, and generally stretching beyond the constricting neighborhood of the known-comfortable, among landscapes ranging to the deep psychic, that many will appreciate most.

 

 

 
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From E-book to Print Book: One Indie Author/Publisher’s Wild Week with CreateSpace

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Click for a larger image–copies of Clotho’s Loom by Shawn StJean, so hot off the press they could burn your fingers!

First, a disclaimer: in the course of this report, I’m going to mention several products and companies.  I’m not affiliated with them, except to the extent that, like many of you, I use their programs and services.  My purpose is to inform others of some of what’s available, and what works, in late 2012 for indie authors and small publishers wishing to pursue the object of bringing their books to the public, in print form.  And most of it is FREE–as far as CreateSpace goes, I did most of the work myself via software and internet, so I only paid for copies and a modest shipping charge.

Well, you have to savor these moments.  It’s not every day that the delivery man drops 100 pounds’ worth of your own creation on your doorstep.  Though it has happened to me before–that’s my first point.  I have seen two previous [text]books through the press, in 2000 and 2005, respectively.  Wow–much is changing in a brief span of time.  Only twelve years. Seven years.

When I relate the timetable, you may have trouble believing it.  I do, and I’m holding the evidence.

I published my e-book through Amazon’s KDP Select back in August.  Never mind how many years it took me to draft, revise, edit, and format that project.  Suffice to say, many.  But once Clotho’s Loom was out there in electronic format, it quickly became clear to me that there were folks who would love to read it but, despite all my efforts to promote an ebook–a whole other tale–these people just want a physical book.  And I can’t say I blame them.  Even though, as someone who has moved my residence many times in the past decades, I’ve given and thrown away a lot of books I no longer had use for, I have kept a small and treasured collection.

Okay, skip to the very near-present: one week ago, in fact.  I had lain down the raw audio tracks for my planned Audiobook edition, and just as it was becoming clear to me that being an audio engineer would require (another) steep learning curve, I caught a cold.  Funny, huh?  It wrecked my voice for re-dubs.  No choice–I had to convalesce, and turn to another project in the meantime.  So I wondered, even though the original paperback publication was scheduled and announced for mid-January, if I couldn’t possibly finish that business up before the holidays.  I did not dare dream I could have a print edition for sale–I merely hoped to go into the new year with some solid work done.  Winter, after all, is reading season.  Also, I had shown one bit of intelligence by marking all errors and potential late revisions I caught (reading from my Kindle) while recording audio.  This, coupled with another pass through the MS Word’s spell-check, produced a text with far fewer problems. (For clarity’s sake, most of the problems were of a formatting nature.  I have been using WordPerfect and MS Word since the DOS days, and I’ll just say that a program called Scrivener may work better for 21st-century  fiction writers–I’m not sure yet.)

I opened my Createspace account last FRIDAY (a week after “Black” Friday).  My book is here in my hands today (the following Thursday.)  The mind boggles.  My first two books both took one year from acceptance to publication.  And lest you think this must be some little novella–well, no.  This thing is a brick — seriously, you could deck an intruder with the spine.  At 205,000 words, the volume weighs in at two pounds of bona-fide literary fiction, just like we used to read in school.  No cheaty-big margins, no oversized typeface, and only a few blank pages.  A single week.  I’m not going to say it was easy, but man was it fast.

Here’s the rundown.  You’ll need some software.  In addition to your favorite word processor and book files, and a very gamesome attitude, you’ll want an image-editing program (MS Paint works for basic tasks, but I produced the whole wraparound cover myself from CS’s template, using a more advanced prog called Zoner Photo Studio.  Obviously, you Photoshop gurus will be within your wheelhouse.  I, in fact, know very little of either.  You also need a PDF creator, not just a reader.  Adobe Acrobat serves well.  Again, I know little, but was able to learn in the course of a few late nights.

I uploaded my files Friday night–you should pay careful attention to CS’s guidelines, which are clear, and I do recommend downloading the templates.  On Saturday I was shocked to see electronic proofs ready for my approval.  Remember, this was a weekend during the year’s most hectic month.  Now, especially if you’ve never read proof, this vital stage in the process is best done on paper, and you can order old-school paper proofs from CS, or print them yourself on laser.  For those who have done this, you can imagine the next 24-36 hours were long ones for me.  In addition to error-catching, I had technical problems with PDF conversions, page numbers, setting margins, as well as choosing proper fonts and sizes, colors, creating logos for Glas Daggre (my publishing imprint,) and the rest.  You just take one problem at a time, hopefully patiently.  I approved the proofs on late Sunday, and sat back for more waiting.  But every time I thought I’d be going back to the audiobook, something else happened.

A CreateSpace store opened almost immediately for me–technically, the book was for sale!  This takes minimal set-up.  I ordered my own batch of copies, to see the product quality of course, and to distribute to reviewers, giveaway winners, and a few friends, as well as to stock myself up for sales though my website, or even a possible book signing somewhere. I was informed that CL would appear on Amazon in a week or so.  It was there Monday.  For Sale.  I then proceeded to Seller Central, where one can request the “Search/Look Inside the Book” feature.  Several e-mail exchanges and PDF uploads, and about 24 hours later: Done!  (I was also not aware that this feature makes the entire text of your book available to certain search engines, though only to searchers in small bites–obviously a big bonus).  Sometime on early Tuesday, I received an e-mail that my copies shipped out, and were on their way to me.  REALLY?

More promos.  Write on the blog.  A press release would be a good idea.  I can’t seem to get back to actual audio engineering, so I watch Audacity (open source, free) tutorials in preparation.  I also sign up for a Lightning Source account, for extended distribution channels and a possible hardcover edition, but I don’t commit yet.  Their process is slower and more deliberate, anyway, because they deal with accounts of every size, from sole proprietorships like mine, to behemoth companies.  I also don’t go forward yet, because I want to see the CreateSpace copies first. Notice I’ve shifted to the present tense?

Now this may be the news you’ve been waiting for: with that kind of incredible speed, how good could they be?  Answer: pretty damn good.  I’ve scrutinized over a dozen copies so far, and aside from variations that lie within some pretty tight production tolerances, they’re high-quality and consistent.  About 95% perfect, I’d say–and of the remaining 5%, maybe 3.5 is my own fault.  Remember one thing about Print-On-Demand: garbage in, garbage out.  If you submit a cover that looks amateurish, that’s what you’ll receive–so don’t.  And the resolution proved to be quite high (CS asks for 300dpi photos,) so if they have flaws, get rid of them before submission.  I’m very happy with mine, but remember what they used to say about Compact Discs: “the digital format can reveal limitations of the source material.”  Same here.  The color reproduction was excellent, but I allowed few jaggies and one shifted bleed area to slip through, that will get some tweaking for next time.  No biggie–a buyer likely would not blink.  And the beauty is I can submit corrected files NOW–not, as in the old days, when and if a new edition gets tooled up and printed.

If I had one complaint so far, I’d like my interior typeface a shade darker.  A magnifying glass will reveal that my Times-New-Roman was produced via dot-matrix tech of some kind–though again, not enough to disturb buyers, and probably my own fault.  CS and LS both specify that all fonts must be “embedded” in your PDFs–and to show you I was not kidding about not being an expert with any of the softwares this kind of work takes–I still don’t know what an embedded font is.

And, lo and behold, when I logged into my CreateSpace account following delivery, in order to check my balance against the packed invoice, I discovered I had the first of my royalties awaiting me!

So there it is.  Things could not have gone more smoothly, so far (aside from my own learning process, which always seems to hurt a bit).  And well in time for the Holiday season–I’m not sure if, like all the good folks in retail and delivery out there, they’re really amping up during the month of December over there at CS, or if this is now business-as-usual in the POD industry.  I am sure I’ll issue a follow-up report during 2013–but first impression: well done, Amazon/CreateSpace!

in case you're wondering, he's less than two inches tall!

Even the elves at CreateSpace and Amazon recommend Clotho’s Loom–and those little felt-fellas are REALLY BUSY these days!

Indie Authors: Beware Amazon’s Auto-Renew (and Miscellaneous Pitfalls of KDP Select)

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Activision’s Pitfall Harry finds a new way to get his heart broken

As a follow up to my post, Cowboys and Indies: Amazon and Monopoly in the Free Market,  in which I joined the chorus of e-voices lamenting Amazon’s latest wave of review removals (I’ll return to this further down,) I’d like to draw attention, especially for the benefit of new and aspiring authors, to a few of the other potential landmines in your path, if you choose to go with a program specifically designed to benefit fledgling writers: KDP Select.

First, I want to be clear that you’re making a good choice. It’s a great way to get launched. I’m not embarking on some anti-Amazon crusade—my own books are published there, and likely to remain, no matter what other steps I take to sell them. But the system is not perfect—and its flaws are, without question in my mind and whether designed consciously so or not, biased toward the building of the Amazon monopoly.

So if they’re going to police us and our reviews, we’d better police them. While we still can.

There’s a “convenience” feature (their word, not mine) built into KDP Select that renews you for a second (and third, etc.) three-month period, which requires you to UNCHECK the default setting of “go ahead and do it.” This obligates you to publish your book EXCLUSIVELY through Amazon for that period. At first, I thought I was unique in my blunder at overlooking this. Once you’re aware of it, it’s easy to locate within your author’s dashboard—one might say, it hides in plain sight. You will not, among your dozens of other Amazon e-mails, receive a reminder. I’ve since discovered several other authors who’ve essentially committed the first SIX, not THREE, months of their book’s existence to the the giant bookseller by this same lapse in vigilance.

At the end of the first 90-day period, you may feel comfortable enough as an author/bookseller/promoter/agent to want to branch out with outfits like Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Lulu, Google Play, and a host of other players in the market. You may also have given away hundreds or thousands of copies through AZ’s program, and feel that’s plenty to get your toe in the door of the electronic marketplace, especially if you are channeling those readers in venues like GoodReads, LibraryThing, blogs, and forums like the UK’s Kindle Users Forum (you should be).

Now, should you stumble into an Auto-Renewal, it may occur you to shrug and just do as you like, anyway. If you feel like it’s too much trouble for Amazon to take legal action against you because you’re so little, just don’t forget they have other options. First, it’s their store: they can ban you and your works. Second, due to the royalty payout structure, Amazon will have custody of up to three month’s of your royalty money at any given time. If you breach, and they counter-breach your agreement (somehow your money doesn’t arrive,) are you willing to pursue legal action against them, given they’re so big? Oh, and if I’ve reviewed the guidelines correctly, the 72-hour grace period for withdrawing only applies to the first signup period. I found it all-too-easy, assuming all along I would not renew, to miscalculate the exact day I thought to withdraw, and became obligated for another (big holiday) term.

Perhaps needless to say, this really does look like another of the many, many moves it takes to corner a market, build a monopoly. And you may not really be selling that many books, but as long as you’re also not selling any through any other channels, well, Amazon doesn’t need to concern themselves about you, do they? You’re not contributing to their competitors becoming a threat.

A quick update on the review removals: I’ve confirmed through several sources that it isn’t just certain reviews that AZ’s software bans: it’s certain reviewers from reviewing certain books (products). So that means, if you as an author are in contact with a reviewer (very common, and often very legitimate) and can persuade them to reword or even completely re-write a review, even in strict adherence to the guidelines, it will not stick. I wish to emphasize the importance of this. In my view, it reveals that the official line about reviews violating guidelines is baloney. And in the final analysis, if you can’t get enough positive reviews (the fundamental, traditional means of selling books,) then aren’t you even more dependent upon the Amazon distribution machines, like KDP Select and its giveaways, or whatever they come up with next?

By contrast, if you get stuck with a one-star review by someone who obviously did not read your book, did not buy your book, and for perverse reasons of their own would clearly like to sabotage your book, AZ had provided a “report abuse” button for you to push. I have not discovered many authors getting justice this way, however.

As several sensible folks have already remarked, blenders and generators and computer motherboards are one thing—you NEED reviews to help make an informed decision—but as far as content like books and music goes, perhaps it’s time we began behaving, as consumers, in a non-traditional way: READ the SAMPLE. At least several pages—and decide for yourself. As a literate person, you don’t need Amazon’s robots, or friends and family of the Author, or some ex-girlfriend with a vendetta, telling you who, and what, and how, to READ.

Casting Call–Miscellaneous characters–“Fair is Foul, and Foul Fair”

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Summer Glau as the viper, Ms. D.

As I record the final Audiobook chapters of Clotho’s Loom, I found myself searching for a voice characterization of “Agency” huntress Ms. D. (who appears to take custody of Nexus Wyrd‘s baby from her, as an unfit mother,) and it occurred to me that I wanted a faux-friendly, precise but somewhat robotic and mechanistic set of intonations, emblemizing the perfect company-woman: policy, rules, documents define her existence.  Also known as the Woman in Black, she relentlessly tracks the mother-and-son fugitives (sound familiar, Sarah Connor Chronicles fans?)  So the choice was inevitable: Summer Glau (Firefly is commemorating it’s tenth anniversary already, for you time-relativists).  Dye her hair black, put her into a sharp black business suit, heels, nails, hair–hell, everything jet black, even her car–a great contrast to the palest skin she can manage (we’ll have to catch her in winter, not summer.  Or maybe she has an obscure sister?)

The character of Jack (one of Will’s helpers) is best described as a desert rat: inhabiting the wasteland ranges west of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, he’s a deranged, starved, scarecrow of a hermit.  Probably doesn’t sound like the Sam Elliott many of you know as the narrator of The Big Lebowski, or of countless westerns, but I can see it there: the age, the eyes, the wild hair and potentially out-of-control facial grooming.  Strip him down to about 160 pounds of tall, lean muscle.  Jack functions as prophet and seer, which recommends Sam for his best feature (no, I don’t mean the moustache): his voice.  Jack doesn’t talk much, but when he does, you best listen–it’s all resonant.

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Sam Elliott as Jack the Hermit

New Book Trailer–Shawn StJean Video Interview on Clotho’s Loom

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As he finally gains some technical skills and prepares the Audiobook Edition of Clotho’s Loom for its upcoming release, Shawn StJean explains how his novel began as a guy-centered, military action-adventure, but became a hybrid with a woman’s journey to self-realization, in this 6 1/2 minute video interview.

LINK: http://youtu.be/FAaHkTjnHYM

Change the view to HD when you get there!