I've published two novels and I am working on a third.
We live in Portland, Oregon now, a city I can recommend for writers. The Fall and Winter weather is so uniformly dreary that the distractions are few.
Other than writing, my hobbies are sport fencing (epee) and ballroom dancing with my wife. And I spend a lot of time taking care of our four cats (I hope you also figured out that I have cats, if you read my novel.)
A thoroughly enjoyable read. Full of great character development and space adventure. Great for the science fiction fan. Tommy was believable and identifiable. And the Aliens, The People, were fun and just alien enough to make them unpredictable yet believable. The only reason I give this book three stars and not four is because sometimes the language was a bit hard to follow (the computer stuff mostly but it’s part of the texture of the book) and the occasional spelling errors. I would suggest that the author get a proof reader for this book and his next (due out soon). I was really compelled by the characters and the plot.
A reader named D. Hurst just posted on Amazon a short but, in my opinion, the best compliment I have received on my novel, A Larger Universe:
I have read it twice now and enjoyed it both times…
I have a very small collection on novels that have stayed on my bookshelves through move after move so I could read them again. I can think of no greater praise than he/she would want to read it again.
A member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association asked the following question:
“The number of reviews you’ve received is remarkable. Would you mind sharing how you got them?”
I hope the correct answer is that my readers liked my story and some of them liked it enough to say so in writing, though there were a few who said they didn’t like it. Nothing is for everyone. That’s kind of a flip answer, because, I think, you want to know how I got them to read it in the first place. So, starting with the first assertion and working backward: Getting a large number of reviews is a numbers game (as long as you do it honestly, which I did. There is a lot of discussion on various blog sites about dishonestly obtained reviews.) I sold almost 900 copies of my novel in 2012 (which I can prove with reports from Amazon) I have, at this moment, 178 3,4,&5 star reviews. So approximately 20% were motivated enough to say they liked it with a good review. Only three people disliked it enough to say so in a review. This, of course, begs the question – how did I get almost 900 people to pay for and read my novel? (Actually, it has to be more than that: I discovered two websites that were giving it away for free. I was able to get one to stop, but I can’t afford a lawyer.)
First, I belonged to a really good critique group in Atlanta. My first draft had a lot of problems. They were completely, sometimes brutally, honest. If they didn’t like something, they said so.
Second, I listened and rewrote a lot of the story, learning how as I did so. This is my first novel. They critiqued it again. Sometimes I rewrote again. I think it is fair to say that none of them considered this his/her favorite genre.
Third, my wife, who is something of a savant on grammar and sentence structure, beyond anyone in my critique group, read it for those kind of errors. (In spite of that, I still find the occasional issue when I re-read the novel.)
Fourth, I tried to sell it through the traditional route of agents and publishers and got the usual collection of form letters.
Fifth, I was an “early adopter” of Kindle in 2011 as an opportunity to sell my books non-traditionally. This got me a few sales and a couple of reviews, but was, otherwise, nothing special.
Sixth, I was an “early adopter” of the Amazon KDP Select program – this, for a while, increased my number of readers into the thousands, although I received no income from the two- and three-day “free book” giveaways that Amazon calls “promotions.” So the percent of reviews per sale actually much lower than 20% if the free downloads are included.
So, lots of readers means lots of reviews and, to a large extent, a lot of good reviews means a lot of actual sales.
I recently, however, wrote the following about my continuing experience with KDP Select:
When I offered my novel the first time for free through KDP select in January of 2012, I got great results, almost 5000 free downloads and 30-40 reviews, and, the best part, it continued to sell at high rates (10-15 copies per day) for weeks thereafter. Each time I tried it thereafter – every four or five months – the results were less and less impressive until the last time I tried it, in July, I got no bump at all in sales or reviews, although I did see over 3000 in free downloads those three free days. I am convinced that there is a population now who downloads free books to read later – not the case when KDP was new. Anyway, I’ve discontinued my membership in KDP for the time being. Your results may be different, but I can’t recommend it; not anymore, although I was enthusiastic about it in early 2012.
I think, but don’t know for sure, what happened is that when the “free” promotion feature was first introduced by Amazon, the novel stayed on the top 100 lists for “paid” books in its category when the promotion ended. So if a free promotion got 5000 downloads during the course of the promotion, it would, at least, be in the top ten in its categories when it was no longer free. People would see it and continue to buy, though of course not at the “free” level. Unfortunately, they “fixed” this. They now have two distinct lists. Free and paid, and the two do not mix, so the listing is immediately invisible on the lists when the novel reverts to paid. Even after I came to this conclusion, I tried it a couple more times, thinking I would, at least, get a few reviews. Not so. As I said above, people download free copies to read later, so no reviews.
Anyway, I have a list of email addresses of people who said they liked my novel. I hope to finish my second one sometime in this life. I will use that list to promote the new one and, I hope, see a bump in sales of the first, again, as others read the second one and look for other things by “this author.”
I would like to add to this, and I wish Amazon would listen: Amazon still calls the KDP free giveaways a “promotion” and this is clearly no longer the case. A real promotion should result in real sales after the promotion is finished. Theirs no longer does so since they fixed the “bug” in their ranking system. In my last attempt in July, my novel was briefly number one in science fiction downloads in the Free category. The day after the promotion, it had dropped to number 2000+ in the science fiction paid category, which is visible to the author, but not to potential readers, who only see the top 100. I continue to sell about one copy a day, I suspect from people reading my reviews, and I appreciate that, but it is nothing to get excited over.
So, the short answer is, I really don’t know how to do it again. I will probably try KDP select at least once when I finish my new novel, but I’m not expecting much beyond a lot of free downloads that might result in some reviews. I’m working on preparing my first novel for KOBO. I read that they are number one in Canada.
Since I wrote my last post, our first cat, who was the model for the cat in my novel, has died.
REST IN PEACE POTTER: The only cat we have ever had that didn’t treat his humans like staff. We were his people, and, for seventeen years, he trusted only us and gave us his love and attention. I can’t express how much he will be missed.
I lost a pet last month. I call her a pet, though I am sure she would have disagreed.
Two years ago, a very pregnant calico cat followed my indoor-outdoor cat, Potter, to the food bowl on my front porch. She was very shy from the beginning, and would come to the bowl only when I went inside.
She came every day for a week, then disappeared for several days. My wife convinced me that we had to do our civic duty, so I bought a trap and began to watch the cat’s comings and goings. By the time I found where she had hidden her kittens, their eyes were open.
I set the trap on my front porch and caught the mother at her next regular feeding. With her captured, I re-united kittens and mother in the extra-large dog cage I had bought and set up in our basement.
We gave her the very original name of “Cali” and began to give her everything she wanted, except her freedom. Every time we opened the cage to add food or water or change the litter box, she would back into a corner, hiss, and strike the floor of the cage with her paw. In spite of this, she was a good mother to her four kittens who were always clean and well fed.
The kittens loved us. When Cali would back into a corner, they would rush to the door of the cage and play with each other and us until time for them to go back with their mother.
When the kittens were weaned, we took Cali to the vet and had her spayed. I hope I never have to repeat that ordeal. She hissed and spat through the bars of the carrier after we forced her into it, and, the next day, she did the same all the way back to our house.
On the advice of the vet, we kept her in the cage, alone, for two more days, then released her back outside. She continued to show how much she hated us by hissing and slapping every time we brought her food. When she ran across my yard to her freedom, I was sure we would never see her again.
We didn’t see her again for several weeks. By the time she came back, we had placed her kittens and we were happy to be back with our one black and white cat, Potter. (Actually, we are his people, not the other way around. We hop up to do his bidding each time he wants in or out.)
One day, Cali was waiting for her turn at the food bowl as if nothing had happened. She stood back until I went inside, just as before. There was one difference. If I tried to approach her, instead of backing away, she would hiss, then back away. She hadn’t forgotten. She was just compromising. If we wanted to feed her that was okay with her, but we mustn’t get too familiar.
And so it went for the next two years. She became great friends with Potter. They slept the last two winters curled up together in the dogloo that I bought for them. We have a second story deck behind our house, and both cats would spend much of their day curled up in the large planter pots in the corners. She was always there to be fed in the morning and at night.
But although she was living on our deck, she continued to make clear that she hated us. A hiss and a slap kept us at our distance.
Last year we put a cat door in the screen to the deck for Potter to come and go as he pleased. Cali’s curiosity soon overcame her fear, and she began exploring the house. She would always run if she saw us, but I began to have hope that she would change her mind about us someday.
On a hot day in late July, we saw her lying in the shade at the edge of our deck, panting furiously. We decided that she must be sick and tried to help her. She hissed and slapped and pulled herself to the bushes the cats use for a ladder and disappeared.
We didn’t see her for a couple of days and assumed the worst. When she reappeared, it as if she had completely recovered, if she had been sick at all. Then she didn’t appear for a couple of days, and when she came back, she didn’t stay very long. This pattern repeated several times, until, finally, she hasn’t come back for several weeks.
In retrospect, we think she continued to be sick the whole time, and the struggle to climb to our second floor deck became harder and harder for her. I looked for her in the neighborhood, but I’ve not seen her. My wife says that feral cats will hide when they are dying and Cali will never be found.
It’s amazing how attached a person can become to an animal, even an animal who never showed the least affection in return. We miss her. I still look for her in the morning when I put food on the deck for Potter.
One thing is certain. The animals we have as pets don’t live long enough. My wife and I both, separately, and before we were married, swore that we would not have another pet. Losing one is just too hard.
Then Potter adopted us and Cali decided to call our deck home. We just couldn’t say no. How could we say no?
How many books in this series? It seems that almost everything you pick up is in this format which I try to avoid. There seems to be these interminable waiting for the next book and never seems to be a resolution. If there is a finish it almost always seems to be anticlimactic.
Believe it or not — and most readers don’t — I wrote this novel to be stand-alone, with the POSSIBILITY of one or more sequels.
This is written as a coming of age story about Tommy and how he overcame great obstacles using his special abilities and knowledge to return to earth. (Not really relevant, but I used to daydream about leaving earth on an alien spaceship when I was a teenager, long ago. I was a voracious reader of science fiction and it was a natural thing to daydream about for someone who was clearly a geek or nerd, except those terms weren’t in common use then. I was a dork, which was in common use as I remember.) Anyway, Tommy is kidnapped, grows up, overcomes the obstacles (I sincerely hope you liked the way I did that) and returned to earth. However, I’m an adult now, I know that life, or a period in life, doesn’t end neatly with everything resolved. So, the possibility of a sequel, which probably won’t end neatly either.
I, also, don’t like stories that don’t have a beginning, middle, and end. I accept that you may disagree, but I believe this story about Tommy meets that requirement. Trying to tie up all the loose ends are a problem no matter what: For example, Tommy lands on earth, re-unites with his parents, marries his warrior girlfriend, writes a bestselling autobiography about his experiences, Potter becomes a fat housecat. WHAT ABOUT THE SPACESHIP? What about the people on the spaceship? What about the alien civilizations that Tommy’s actions have unleashed on the unsuspecting earth? In fact, I can’t think of any ending that doesn’t beg for sequels, but then again, I can’t think of a single science fiction book that I’ve ever read (except some really bad ones) that doesn’t beg for a sequel on those terms – the story is a series of events in a much longer series of events that are affected by the actions in the story. For example, I just re-read for the umpteenth time Heinlein’s “Citizen of the Galaxy.” It ends with his protagonist having returned to earth but having made very little progress toward finding and eliminating the pirates/slavers that captured him in the first place. He’s rich, but is not even sure “who done it.” No sequel. Didn’t Heinlein care that his readers would want to know?
The paperback of “A Larger Universe” is 356 pages. That’s long enough for one story. So, to answer your question, there is ONE book in this series, so far, so it is not really a series. BUT, since a number of readers liked Tommy’s story – I hope you did – I am working on a sequel. I wish writing a novel were like writing a computer program. I could give you a reasonably accurate answer about how long it will take, since I have a lot of experience with that. On a positive note, since I am sure I will be self-publishing my next novel rather than having it main-stream published (dream on) the time-line won’t include the minimum of one year of grinding through the processes in a publishing house.
I do hope you enjoyed my story, even if you don’t like my answer.
Legend said that Rashid, a mage of great power, created Mir Vais’s palace and the citadel around it in a single day. Evidence of Rashid’s magic could be seen in the gigantic buttresses supporting the outer walls, in the great dining hall, where hundreds feasted beneath the largest unsupported ceiling in the known world, and on an inner wall, where tapestry, in threads of gold, silver, and the finest silk, depicted gods, people, and places otherwise unknown to mortal men. The buttresses and the ceiling might have been constructed by men of great knowledge and ability, but no one could deny the enchantment in the tapestry.
The Mir’s palace formed the shape of a quarter moon, with its western wall hugging a meander in the Sa Nadime and the eastern wall bulging into the gardens and courtyards enclosed by the ramparts of the outer citadel. Just inside that bulge, extending the length of the palace from north to south, the mage built a gallery for his magical art.
By day, Rashid’s Gallery glowed beneath crystal windows set high in the outer wall. By night, the ceiling fluoresced to illuminate the tapestry with an unquenchable cold fire. Day or night, as if rewoven at a tempo too slow for the eye to follow, figures in the tapestry moved from place to place, clouds changed position, couples kissed, and warriors fought and died beneath the gaze of laughing gods leaning down from above.
In the weeks immediately after the palace’s construction, crowds gathered in the long corridor in front of more interesting scenes, commenting on the outcome of duels between heroes or the gradually changing positions of copulating lovers. Then one of the king’s Companions vanished from the midst of a double hand of witnesses and reappeared as an image in the weave, his terror filled face staring from the back of a cart rolling towards a headsman’s block. When his severed head lay before the block, Vais’s great-great-grandfather, Mir Saqr, on whose order the palace had been built, had the tapestry removed and burned. The next day, they again hung from the walls. The residents of the palace soon learned that to stare at a scene invited being included in the tapestry’s magical realm and hurried through the corridor with their eyes to the front.
Mir Saqr had been a suspicious man, and other evidence of his wishes and of the mage’s magic could be heard in secret alcoves and rooms accessible only to the royal family and their most trusted retainers. In these places, small, whispering voices echoed conversations from throughout the palace, revealing plots, and, more often, entertained with whispered gossip and the moans of sexual pleasure.
Fifty-eight light-years [-4.4, -6.8, 16.0] from Sol, on the planet Gift (Tommy’s Gift)
Tillie, former slave of the Nesu, senior master of the hydroponics guild, and former master of the only hydroponics farm above the commons in the Nesu portion of the Nesu Tol, screamed in frustration and sat down in the mud at the edge of the field. “Why won’t anyone listen to me?”
One of the guild-less dirt farmers that he had talked to, Kenel, looked up from the furrow he was gently weeding. “Because, without your tanks and pumps, you’re a useless pile of crap, you are.” He leaned over and picked up a handful of the rich black dirt he had been hoeing, letting it trickle through his fingers. “Crap that we don’t need here. You know nothing about real farming.”
Tillie, jumped up and lunged toward Kenel. “You can’t talk to me like that!”
Kenel’s raised hoe stopped Tillie before he stepped onto the first furrow. “Walk on my seeds and I’ll do more than talk.”
Tillie whirled and stomped away, splattering more dirt on his once brightly colored pants. He hurried toward the group opening the crates and boxes the Nesu Tol had left on its second visit.
Tillie and his journeymen and apprentices had quickly identified and marked crates containing equipment and chemicals they would need to build a working hydroponics farm. The arguments had started when he asked the other guildmasters to give him priority in getting everything assembled. There had been no dispute about the fusion bottle. Everyone needed power. But he couldn’t get anyone to wire the pumps to the fusion bottle, or put together the prefab building he needed to cover the tanks, or to connect the plumbing and water supply. Didn’t they understand that, without his farm, they would starve when the food Tommy had left ran out? Yes, the dirt farmers might make crops in time, but on a strange planet in strange soil, how could they know for sure? His hydroponics was proven.
When the masters of the other guilds had refused to help, he had turned to the dirt farmers. On the ship, the dirt farmers had learned to be self-reliant and could have, at least, attached the plumbing.
One of the just-opened crates fell in front of Tillie as he approached the crowd, scattering rolls of electrical cable on the ground. From the crate’s markings, it was one of his.
“We need that,” someone shouted. He wasn’t a member of Tillie’s guild.
One of Tillie’s apprentices, Drak, and another man grabbed one the rolls, each trying to pull it out of the other’s hands. The roll stretched into a long oval, and Drak slipped, his legs sliding forward and his head lurching back and down. When Drak released the roll, the other man stumbled into Tillie, knocking him to the ground.
Drak regained his feet, one hand holding the back of his head. When the other man held up the distorted roll and screamed, “Ours,” Drak charged him, planting his skull into the man’s stomach and pushing him on top of Tillie.
Later, no one admitted throwing that next punch. The fight didn’t last long. None of the combatants weighed more than sixty kilograms and the ground was slippery. The warriors might have prevented the fight, but they were hunting meat. Other than a few bruises and scrapes there was only one casualty.
Selective breeding of humans by the Nesu had created two distinct body types: the warriors, who were muscular giants, and the farmers and artisans, who were short and slender, with bulbous heads balanced on a skinny, vulnerable neck. In the brawl, someone stepped on Tillie’s neck. His last thought was that they should have stayed on the ship.
He didn’t post it here but:
Feb 25, 2013 5:40:40 AM PST
Christopher Sharpless says:
Mr Gillaspy, I am an avid reader of SciFi. I am in the military and so when I am on deployment, all my free time is spent reading. When I read your book, I have to say that I really enjoyed it. So with that being said, I have been checking for any news or updates about when the second book will be released. I noticed that the last time you updated this forum was back in July. By any chance do you have an update as to a release date? I know it must get old being asked the same question over and over, but as I am sure you do, you take it as being a good thing. Because it means that they all really enjoyed your book like I did. Well good luck to you and I hope you finish it soon. I know we are all awaiting it.
All I can say to Christopher and others with similar questions is, I’m slow. The second novel is proving to be more difficult than the first. I think I have performance anxiety.