Brown River Queen cover art

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Live From MidSouthCon 31 Update #1

MidSouthCon 31 is underway here in Memphis, Tennessee, and your roving reporter is right in the middle of it.

This year's Con is hosting the biggest crowd I remember seeing. The guest list is pretty impressive this year, and I'm sure that's a big part of the draw.

After arriving at the Con, getting checked in, and finding the nearest bar, I began my series of in-depth interviews with Con attendees. Being a bold soul, I simply turned to the first pretty woman I saw and asked for an interview. She not only agreed, but later accompanied me to my hotel room. Her picture and interview is below:

One of the great things about any Con is the Dealer Room. There you can find just about anything -- SF and fantasy prop art, books, comics, and of course art. 

We picked up an piece of original art by Levi White. Levi uses spray paint to create some really stunning and unusual pieces, such as ours, shown below:

In keeping with my newfound habit of sticking a Zoom H1 microphone in the faces of strangers, I begged Levi for an interview, and you can listen to it by clicking the link:

Levi can (and should) be reached via email at He does everything from superheroes to Star Trek to Dr. Who, and his prices are so affordable starving authors can afford them!

Artist Levi White and muse
When you think of cons, you might not also think of music. But MidSouthCon has a house band, and they are Order of Tyr!

Here they are in the Dealer's Room, many hours before their first Friday evening show. I picked up their new album, Tearing Reality Asunder, and they were also kind enough to speak to me after I made it clear I was fully capable of rolling on the floor and screaming if my request for an interview was denied. 

The Order plays a powerful, straight-ahead blend of heavy metal, hard rock, electronic, and prog-rock, all blended with fantasy themes and lyrics. You can check them out further by hitting their webpage, VideoGameMetal!

Costumes and cosplayers. I know that's what you want to see, so let's open with the best of the Con so far. I give you <drumroll please> The Black Widow!

Regular Con-goers will recognize Alex as the 'Catwoman Cosplayer,' who graces MidSouthCon and several othyers with her beautiful costumes every year. This year, she's at MidSouthCon as The Black Widow, and she was kind enough to grant me an interview:

You can find Alex on Facebook here. Stop by her page and give her a like!

And now, for a more or less random series of Con images:

That was just yesterday afternoon. More to come!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Frank's Handy Guide to KindleGen. And Suicide. Because You'll Need Both.

It all looked so simple. So easy.

As many of you know, I teach a couple of writing classes. I've been teaching them for a while now, and I finally put most of the material together into a short book.

It's nothing fancy. No tables, no graphs, no interior trickery at all. Thus I thought to myself, 'Self, why don't we package the whole works as a Kindle book, and maybe make enough extra money from it to buy a single burrito, come next May?'

Fool that I am, I agreed, even though my track record of Cunning Plans tends toward catastrophe and head injuries of mild to moderate severity.

But this is an e-book. Surely, I decided, I can safely create and publish a single short Amazon e-book all on my own without involving paramedics or morticians.

I've done it before. Wistril Compleat, On the Road, The Far Corners -- all are short story anthologies composed of stories I sold to print magazines back in the 90s. I put all those titles out myself, mainly for fun. So why shouldn't I be able to do so again?

After all, Amazon now provides free formatting and previewing software. Back in the old days, I had to do all the formatting by hand! Not so now, with the amazing Kindlegen!

Like I said, it all looked so easy.

First, I downloaded the free Amazon formatting program, Kindlegen.

Then I downloaded the free Amazon previewer, Kindle Previewer.

The advantage to using these two items, I am told, is that you are absolutely assured a Kindle-compatible product. No weirdness in formatting. No glitches. You can see how your ebook looks on each and every Kindle model, and fix any problems before you take the book to market.

Sounds ideal!

I used a free HTML editor called HTML-Kit to create my HTML ebook file. This part of the process is one I know. There's nothing at all hard about it. You only need know a dozen or so HTML commands.  Most of the code is self-explanatory.

That's how I created the other ebooks. Turn the book into an HTML file. Zip that file and the interior cover image together. Upload them to KDP. Yes, I know Amazon now claims you can use Word to create your ebook, and then save that as a Web page file, and upload directly to KDP, thus skipping all the HTML hand-coding.

And you can. You can also dance with a goat. As with goat-dancing, though, the results are usually messy and often completely unacceptable. You'll find weird spaces inserted at random, odd indents, big gaps in the text -- no. Just no.

Here's how I understood Kindlegen to work:

  1. Create your HTML file.
  2. Use Kindlegen to convert this HTML file into a perfect .mobi file.
  3. Use the Previewer to check your file for accuracy.
  4. Upload your cover image and your new .mobi file to Amazon.
  5. Become rich, buy your own tropical island, crush your enemies beneath your merciless feet.
I got as far as step 4 and thought myself a clever lad. I followed Amazon's documentation (I wince just using the words 'Amazon' and 'documentation' in such close proximity) and was pleased with the results.

I uploaded the new ebook and prepared my feet to begin the crushing of enemies like grapes.

What I didn't understand was that I'd skipped a step. Do you see step 3.5 above?


Neither did I.

Step 3.5 is displayed in invisible letters, you see. And what is says is this:

3.5 HAHAHAHAHA. We forgot to mention that for your interior cover image to display, you'll need to create an ncx file, and opf file, an xyz file, solve Fermat's Last Theorem, calculate the value of pi out to eleventy billion characters, comb Nessie's hair, teach Bigfoot to scuba dive, and finally provide us with a singing albino sea otter who can also drive a cab.

Here's what the Kindlegen README file should state, in towering letters of blood and fire:


Because by firing up Kindlegen you just entered Hell.

I was confused and a bit embarrassed at having released a Kindle book into the wild with an error. So I quickly grabbed my HTML code, gutted the portion of it that should have resulted in the cover being shown inside the book as well as outside, and replaced the interior cover with the title of the book in big letters instead. At least it doesn't look goofy, and I was sure I could resolve the missing interior cover problem in just a few minutes.

Ha ha ha. 

The documentation provided with the Kindlegen file never bloody mentioned ANYTHING about an ncx file, or an opc file. But Googling the problem quickly pointed out that both these files were required before Kindlegen could create the final file for upload.

Look, I'm no hacker, but I know enough to code and maintain my own website. I'd never heard of ncx or opf filetypes. I had no idea what they were, what they did, or how to find them.

The Amazon documentation?

I might as well go back to goat-dancing. Never a single word was spoken of these files, their purpose, their origin, or their content. 

The references I did find via Google all seemed to assume that the files simply sprang into existence from the heavenly aether. Seriously, I've never seen such an obtuse and uninformative collection of technobabble. What does ncx stand for? Nonexistent Carnivorous Xenophobe? What about opf? Obnoxious Probe Fatality? Ornithopter Pressure Frame?

Do I create the these elusive entities? Does Kindlegen? Are they files at all, or some kind of meat? Pets? Aircraft?

The more I read, the more confused I became.  In fact, after scouring half a dozen tutorials and discussion boards, this is how I've determined one must actually use Kindlegen to create a Kindle ebook:

  • Don't. Seriously, just wave money at someone until they agree to format your book for you. If they need a kidney give them that as well, you have two.
  • Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you.
  • Download Kindlegen and Kindle Previewer.
  • While you wait, drive to the liquor store, and head right for the rotgut whiskey because YOU WILL NEED IT. 
  • Create your HTML file. Now look at it. Look at it HARD. 
  • Do you see ncx and opf and half a dozen other previously unknown file formats appear?
  • Take a swig of whiskey (first of many, I assure you) and stare harder.
  • Run Kindlegen. Run around your living room. Both activities are equally likely to result in the creation of a fully-functional e-book.
  • Use the Kindle Previewer to assure yourself you have failed.
  • Look under the couch. Maybe that's where opf files wind up. No one seems to know. But there might be loose change under there, so check anyway.
  • Man, the bottom half of this Old Overcoat whiskey is really smooth.
  • Still no ncx files? Plenty of whiskey left. Maybe they only come out at night.
  • Really, who needs a lousy interior cover image anyway?
  • Leprechauns. That has to be it. Wait for a leprechaun to appear. Trick him into playing a game of riddles, and win by asking 'Where do ncx files come from?' 
  • Give up and decide to patch the roof instead.
  • Be careful on the ladder, because dude, you are hammered.

If you're at all interested in the writing guide, and you believe you can live without an interior cover illustration, click here. 

And if you ever decide to self-publish using Kindlegen, take my advice and get two bottles of Old Overcoat.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ahoy MidSouthCon 31!

It's almost time!

I speak not of my next colonoscopy, but of my attendance at MidSouthCon 31.

If MidSouthCon is not known to you, it is the premiere SF/fantasy con in this part of the country. Held in Memphis, MidSouthCon is large enough to attract big names (Cherie Priest, Steve Jackson, John Picacio) and small enough to feel intimate and relaxed.

I'm even on a panel this year. If you're going to be at the Con, stop by the Grand Ballroom at 3:00 PM Saturday, where I'll be joining other Darrell Awards winners and nominees to talk writing.

I enjoy the panels. You can find everything from nuts-and-bolts author sessions to ghost hunting techniques. There truly is something for everyone.

Of course the press will concentrate solely on the cosplayers (i.e., people dressed up as fantasy/SF characters). Which is understandable, since the cosplayers are a dedicated and imaginative bunch. I've seen some truly awe-inspiring outfits at MidSouthCon, which always has a strong steampunk showing. Last year's girl with articulated wings was one of my favorites.

The Storm Troopers are always in attendance as well. They're a nice friendly helpful bunch, although they are a bit sensitive about mentions of unshielded thermal exhaust ports.

And what Con would be complete without zombies? We get all kinds. Zombie storm troopers. Zombie Alices. Zombie cheerleaders. Zombie tax preparers...


And, of course, steampunk Catwoman. Because -- who needs a freakin' reason?

This year I'm going to try something different at the Con. Along with the usual photos, I hope to post some short audio interviews (and possibly even video segments) with any of the more interesting cosplayers and attendees I can corner -- er, invite to take part in my blog. I've spent a lot of time tweaking my ancient Dell netbook, getting it up to snuff, and I'll be taking my microphones as well as my camera.

So, with any luck, next week's blog will feature an extensive Con report, with pictures.

March 26 is of course the release date for Brown River Queen. To celebrate, I'll be at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford, where I'll be grabbing the ankles of passers-by and begging them to buy a copy until the University Police Department tazes me into unconsciousness. You don't want to miss that, so if you're in Oxford on Tuesday the 26th, please stop by the B & N at noon. I'll also be signing copies of The Broken Bell, so even if you don't have a Kindle or a Nook you can buy a print book.

Did you know that authors who fail to sell all the books at a signing are ritually shaven and then held underwater for eight minutes by the infuriated bookstore manager? It's true. I mention that not to entice you to buy a book, but just to pass the time. I'm pretty sure I can hold my breath for three of the eight minutes, and let's face it, another five minutes of brain damage probably won't have a significant effect on my cognitive skills.

I'm kidding. Signings are a lot of fun, and the people at Barnes & Noble have been most gracious and kind. There WILL BE SNACKS. I am willing to share.

To recap -- noon on Tuesday the 26th at the Barnes & Noble on the Ole Miss campus. Stop by and say hello!

One final word: progress on the new Markhat went very well last week. Looks like I might make my goal of writing two novels this year after all.

Of course it's one thing to write the books, and another to sell them. But unless I've completely lost my ability to tell good from bad, this new book is a good one.

Speaking of which, it's time to get back to work.

See you at MidSouthCon 31!