The hidden problem with research

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There is one thing that will soon become all too apparent to you while conducting research for any fictitious historical story you might care to write. When it comes to the written records of events in days gone by, every historian you come across has an entirely different opinion, based on what they believe actually happened. You will find that they agree on some points while differing on others. This is all too apparent as I continue to research a series of three specific ancient battles, fought back to back during the short time period of barely a month here in England, almost a thousand years ago.

The only thing the historians involved do agree on, is to disagree with one another over their fellow academic’s interpretation of what they think happened. All of this shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you. Particularly as in this instance today’s historians are at an enormous disadvantage. They don’t have access to sworn eyewitness accounts of the particular series of events I am still researching. Therefore anything they come up with can be nothing more than conjecture. I do beg their pardon – I should have said theory, the posh word academics use in preference to the aforementioned. In other words, in this instance they are relying on pure guesswork on their part…

While researching for my latest story, so far I’ve read a dozen different versions, based on what the academics involved, think happened. As I said in a previous post, the initial account about what I’m interested in was not written until fifty years after the three battles happened. In other words, just like today’s crop of historians, its highly doubtful that the chronicler(s) involved back then, were able to lay their hands on any eyewitness accounts, mainly because of the fact that for one thing, at the time in question most people could neither read nor write. Secondly, given the fact that it is highly doubtful that any survivors of the events were still alive a half century later, when the chronicler(s) wrote their account to please the country’s new masters during those troubled times, it could not at the time be accepted as the truth. Which begs the question why today’s historians defer to it???

PS – I’ve come up with a possible title for the story

PPS – as the three events I’m interested in happened in a short time frame, I’ve had to reassess the probable length of the story. It looks likely that it may end up as a long short story (novelette). At best, by adding what my fictitious characters get up to in the narrative may add a couple of thousand words.

High ho, high ho, It’s back to work I go…

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What’s The Ultimate Conundrum?

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No not the Dodo – read on!

When it comes to that book we as writers have spent many months working on, sooner or later we are all presented with the same conundrum. Will it sell, bearing in mind that this business is extremely fickle?

Daily I see countless writers both new and old, endlessly talking/blogging about spending not only a considerable amount of time and effort, but also their hard earned money, on a book they wrote some time back that simply isn’t selling, in the vain hope that what they’re doing will increase it’s chances in today’s saturated market.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it until the day I die. If your book doesn’t work, no amount of spending money on changing its cover or having it professionally edited, together with purchasing a number of copies of the new version from your publisher to give away in a book store or writer’s convention in the vain hope of promoting it to an already jaded public, will make one iota of difference in the end. What you are doing is flogging a dead horse!

Despite what so many still foolishly believe, the fact that you have availed yourself of the services of a professional editor and maybe even a publicist, or perhaps you have spent money having it’s cover, hook and link added to one of the countless number of book advertising web pages who demand payment for your doing so. Or maybe you even shelled out yet more money by employing a professional reviewer to help kickstart your book’s chances. Even then, using all of these options still doesn’t guarantee sales. No marketing strategy ever does, no matter how professional it may be.

There is no magic formula for literary success.

In the end, the only thing that does matter when it comes to sales, is whether or not the story in question actually works. It’s immaterial that you and your immediate family circle and close friends loved it. After all, you and they are too close to it to be objective.

So, what might the discerning reader be looking for? I can’t speak for others, but when I am perusing the millions of books currently available, first of all I narrow down my search to the genre that has appealed to me my entire life – science fiction. Next, I totally ignore the often gawdy covers, if I want to look at pictures I’ll go to an art gallery!

Instead I read each book’s hook. If what I’m reading intrigues me, bearing in mind that as a successful science fiction writer, I am extremely hard to please these days, then and only then will I read the first few pages. If I feel that the story appears to show promise, I’ll buy a copy. If not, I move on to the next one.

Oh, and before you ask – no I don’t take any notice of a particular book’s reviews, no matter whether they are good, bad or indifferent. I prefer to make up my own mind thank you very much. The other thing to remember is that having enjoyed reading a specific work, when I see another by the same author, I will always seriously consider it.

What do I mean when I say does a book work? There is nothing mysterious or complicated about it. If a story has been carefully thought out. If it gradually builds towards a climax, with the odd red herring thrown in for good measure. If the characters and their relationships with one another are believable. Then and only then do I consider that any given book works.

There are a few other things to remember. In this business, to succeed you have to gain a reputation as a storyteller – not an easy thing to achieve. To do that first you have to have written several books, preferably honing your skills with each one. Normally your first few won’t do it for you. Secondly, you will find that even though your book or books are beginning to be read as a result of those free giveaway promotions, (more often than not by tightwads looking for a free copy) there is no guarantee that you’re book(s) will actually sell in their thousands, meaning that you will earn serious royalties. Even if they do sell, the chances of more than a dozen copies per year is slight, no matter how much time, effort and money you may have put in to promoting them.

Only one of mine ever became a best seller. Because of it, I earned that elusive epithet we all seek – consumate storyteller. Never once have I pinned my hopes on whether or not any of my covers appeal. What ultimately matters is what’s contained within any given book’s pages, and whether or not the story actually works. Remember, in this game you are only as good as your last book. Having said that, I continue to enjoy regular monthly royalty payments from my publisher as all of my others continue to be bought and read, thanks to that one best seller.

PS – I sent a .pdf copy of my latest WIP to another writer Bob Van Laerhoven on Thursday night, asking him to decide if what I have written so far works. I am now awaiting his verdict. If his findings are unfavourable, then it’s back to the drawing board for me…

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When writing some types of fiction, how accurate do you have to be?

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Unlike some genres, when it comes to pure science fiction, if you as the author prefer a quiet life, the answer is – extremely!

If you want examples of wild inacurracy, look no further than the many sci-fi films and video games churned out by Hollywood and others. Accuracy means nothing to them, spectacular sound effects do. For instance, while it may be acceptable to have music playing in the background via a speaker system when you see a space ship travelling through space, what isn’t acceptable to the pureist is the sound made by the ship’s engines. Or far worse, the sound of any weapons being fired in the depths of space; bearing in mind that it’s actually impossible to hear sound in a vacuum. On the other hand, it is perfectly acceptable if what you are hearing is happening during a scene filmed inside the said space ship. But you just try pointing out that fact to the producers and directors responsible. They couldn’t care less. Nor could most movie goers and scifi gaming fanatics.

In that case, why is it that when it comes to a pure sci-fi book, if you as its author have the effrontary to say something about a particular phenomena that flies in the face of what is currently accepted, or when you are referring to a specific celestial body, that the nerds and others who endlessly obsess over minutiae will immediately take you to task. I can give you a ‘for instance’. I had one individual have a go at me here on my blog several months back, maybe a year, I forget exactly, when I called the Earth’s satellite a planet in one of my recent scifi books – The Next Age, after he had read it.

While learned gatherings of academics like the International Astronomical Union are emphatic that it is not, as seen here in an extract taken from one of their interminably boring papers –Β  A planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, other academics argue that the science behind their reasoning is sloppy at best.

In other words, the jury is still out. Maybe I was correct, maybe the nerd was. In the end, what does it matter? If you want peace and quiet, trust me it matters. Nerds, or anal retentives as I have come to think of them, can’t accept the simple fact that your book is just a fiction. To them anything like that has to be correct, fiction or not! In that particular nerd’s case, as far as he was concerned, what the IAU said on the matter was sacrosanct, not to be flouted by a successful mid-list scifi writer like myself!

If only he could have seen my instant reaction to his hissy fit when I read it. If memory serves, it involved the rapid upward motion of the extended index finger on my right hand, in conjunction with my tongue protruding from my mouth as a loud raspberry was blown in his general direction by your’s truly.

What? What’s wrong with that? Writers are no different from anyone else. We can’t stand total idiots either. We have feelings just like any other human being don’t forget.

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Yesterday morning I had just begun to write some more of my current WIP The Guardian, when I came to a grinding halt. I had just written a mini scene involving Lynne and one of the other characters – Cliff. In it I suggested that she had sensed something when the pair were exploring a part of Mars’ surface.

Bearing in mind that the planet’s atmosphere is 95.32% Carbon Dioxide, 2.7% Nitrogen, 0.13% Oxygen, 0.08% Carbon Monoxide, with minor amounts of water, Nitrogen Oxide, Neon, Hydrogen-Deuterium-Oxygen, Krypton and Xenon, I was about to say that she had heard it, when I wondered if that was possible. So I had to stop writing to research whether or not you could hear sound on the surface of Mars.

Eventually I came across this article –Β  On Mars, no one can hear you scream. According to the article the theory is that sound does travel through the CO2 rich atmosphere, but not nearly as far as in our oxygen rich one, which means that she probably could hear sounds extremely close to her, always providing her space suit’s communications equipment was tuned to the lower frequencies of the Martian atmosphere.

But just to be on the safe side, I have inferred that she felt vibrations brought on by a tremor, through the soles of her space suit’s boots, when she stamped one of her boots down hard, indicating a void beneath her. I don’t need any more nerds taking me to task over a minute detail like that after they eventually get to read The Guardian, now do I? Chances are though that one of these idiots will do just that, arguing over whether or not Lynne would feel anything like a tremor through the thick soles of her space suit’s boots.

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I’m not the only one in the firing line. I know of one well known writer of historical fiction, Michael Jecks, who also gets his fair share of flack from idiots who complain about all kinds of things in his books. Even my good friend Robert Bauval is constantly being taken to task about his knowledge of ancient Egypt. Lets face it folks, there’s just no pleasing some people.

Well, I’d better get back to it now I’ve found out how far sound travels in the Martian atmosphere.

PS – My ego was given a major boost yesterday when one young lady, Emma Paul, said of me in passing, “Jack Eason is a master storyteller.” It’s always nice to be appreciated. Thank you for making my day yesterday Emma.

That’s all for now folks. More later if your lucky.

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Of Pie Charts And Other Things

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There is always a very real danger when producing anything related to a specific subject, in particular when presenting facts, that unless you offer a true representation of the said subject you are offering an opinion on, as in the blog post linked below, which states that only a few genres are doing well with one reader group – children, that you will be seen at best to have offered an incomplete view.

Recently I followed the link provided by Chris The Storyreading Ape’s blog to this post published on the blog Taipei Writer’s Group – https://taipeiwritersgroup.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/books-sold-by-genre-or-why-you-should-write-childrens-books/

While it is clearly headed ‘Books sold by genre, or why you should write children’s books’, it can never be considered to be a true representation of all book genres’ sales to children when so few genres are included. In this particular case I suspect that the author of the post has either created, or imported, Pie Charts to suit their purpose. At the time of reading it, I left a comment on both Chris’ site and TWG’s – “Why isn’t Science Fiction featured?” So far TWG have failed to respond to my pertinent question. In Chris’ case all he could say was that he had merely reblogged their post. Like me, he had no clue why sci-fi did not appear in the breakdown of books for children.

To TWG, I merely say this – be fair. Don’t think I am making a mountain out of a Mole hill, far from it. Nor am I suggesting for one minute that you are wrong. But like most sci-fi writers, all I want is an honest reason why you decided to leave out our genre, let alone infer that today’s kids don’t like reading sci-fi based stories, when you and I both know that isn’t the case. Thanks to popular science fiction television series like Dr Who, sales of sci-fi specifically written for children is doing fine thank you very much. You would have known that TWG, if you had bothered to do your homework.

One other thing for anyone contemplating producing a post like the aforementioned, purporting to show the ‘facts’, make sure that you are doing just that, not merely using certain facts to support your argument.

To use a quote, attributed to the sixteenth American President, Abraham Lincoln – “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time”. Those of us who make our living within the literary world are not fools TWG. We are all fully aware of what sells to varying age groups and in what quantities. Being selective about the facts to suit your personal or collective point of view is never a good idea. If, on the other hand, your blog post was published to cause debate, you have succeeded. Although probably not in the way you envisioned…

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