The Real Meaning of Christmas

December 24, 2010

Today, Christmas eve, I contemplate the coming day, so eagerly anticipated by all. Leith and I no longer exchange gifts on this day, as we grew tired of getting caught up in the panic to buy something that the other may or may not need. We agreed instead to simply gather in the moment and enjoy the day relaxing together. This year, we will enjoy it with our dear friend, Anne and Leith’s mother, Phyllis.

Not so many years ago, I read an article from a source I no longer remember, presenting the premise that we shouldn’t reserve our typical Christmas cheer and goodwill towards all for just one day of the year. That article struck so true I decided to do my best to live up to its premise. I can’t say I’ve been perfect, but imperfection is no reason for abandoning the effort. In fact, each year I get better and better at it.

I live a busy life, with many demands on my time, so spending hours tending to the needy isn’t always possible for me. However, who says you have to only be generous with the needy? We’ve all learned, or should have, while growing up, that generosity isn’t just about money. I try to give an extra effort for everyone I meet, giving them what I can in time, knowledge, or gifts, as the need presents itself.

Another key thing I’ve learned is that everyone sees things from a different perspective. Thinking in this way makes me stop before criticizing someone for what I think is the “wrong way” of doing or thinking about something. More often than not, I find myself learning a new way to see my world.

One example is that I am not religious. Despite my dear mother’s best efforts, the “rational” of religious thinking never took hold of me. During my college years, I rebelled against my mother’s constant pressure to join her church and became quite anti-religious. If someone mentioned God or Jesus in a sentence, my mind immediately shut off. Using my new way of thinking, I eventually realized that not everything religious is wrong. I no longer feel the urge to criticize or belittle those who find solace in their religious beliefs. I’m still not religious, but I now look for the good in those who are. It’s not hard, once you open your eyes.

I think “give peace a chance” is the real theme of Christmas, and I do it best by opening my mind to other’s ideas, and trying to give as generously as I can to everyone I meet. My life is better for it.

Merry Christmas,

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – the series.
http://www.prisonearth.com

The Virtue Of The Virtual

September 21, 2010

Scientists In (Enter city name here) Discover Incredible Sleep Aid.

I saw this headline, and realized it kind of applied to me…in reverse. Years ago, I discovered a non-sleep aid: writing a book. Once I start, my mind rushes along at its own pace, sleeping or not. I suffer from middle-of-the-night bursts of creativity. My beloved life-mate has stopped worrying when she awakes at 2:00 AM to find a light on in the other room

“If one alien ate another, would it be cannibalistic?” “Wouldn’t it depend on whether they were the same kind of alien?”

“Can creatures from outer space be gay?”

“Why would a nine-foot-tall alien be interested in someone 3-1/2-feet-tall? (Besides as a night-time snack?)”

It isn’t just while I sleep. Some people put on eye makeup, or read the newspaper while they drive to work. I wrestle with my characters. We’re all a danger on the open road.

“I gotta get down on dat planet,” character, Thatchaya declares. “Dose Humans be ear-flapping crazy.”

“No, Thatchaya,” I argue, “You’re not supposed to leave your ship. Besides, your species has a hairball for a head. You don’t have ears.”

“Yeah. Ain’t dat a hoot?”

I’ve pretty much stopped having lunch with friends when I’m writing…for their sake. All too often, we’re right in the middle of a conversation when my mind takes off on a tangent only Freud could follow.

“How’s your salad?” one friend asked.

“I was wondering if a Torbian would eat something like this.”

“What’s a Torbian?”

“Oh, sorry,” I say while blushing. “I was thinking about my novel and…well…”

My friend just sighs. “Yeah, and I could be a tree stump.”

I do like real people. Really! I’m just possessed by the virtual people rattling around in my head.

There are those who live for their great adventure: sail the vast, untamable ocean; climb the highest peak; or jump from a plane thousands of feet in the air. I take another route: the deepest fringes of my psyche. It gets pretty wild in there sometimes. Life on the virtual edge can be just as thrilling as the real thing. You just have to let yourself go, believe the impossible is possible, and try not to scream out loud while you’re in a crowded elevator.

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – the series
www.prison-earth.com

Status Update

September 20, 2010

Sorry to have been absent from this blog for so long, but I have been taking some time to focus on my writing. My second novel, Prison Earth – A Loss of Face is in final edits. Since I’m the editor, I’ve been meticulously scouring through it looking for errors.

When that is done, I will start working on a new book about overlapping dimensions. Like the Prison Earth series, it will be fast-paced and full of twists and turns. I’m about 100 pages into it, and had to force myself to stop writing to get my current Prison Earth book ready.

So many stories, so little time!

Stay tuned.

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – The Series
www.prison-earth.com

A Question of Time

August 17, 2010

I am working on an idea for a book involving parallel universes and time distortion. (I haven’t stopped working on the Prison Earth series, but for reasons I won’t go into right now, I’m also writing this new book.)

I think we can all relate to time distortion, as opposed to time travel. Time travel is the intentional passage through time, while time distortion is a shift in time beyond our control. You wake up Thursday morning thinking it is Tuesday. Or even worse, the news does a follow up on an event that happened two years ago, but in your mind it was last month.

Yes, we all know it is just a trick of the mind, but is it really? What if Quantum Theory is correct and there are an infinite number of universes? How does time travel across those different universes? If a person were able to cross the barrier between them, would time be linear, or would you travel backward and forward in time?

The current working title for my new book is Three for Two. I’ve no idea how it will go, or what the ending might be. That is typical with my writing. The stories come to me like a fond memory, and before I know it, they’re typed out and ready for editing.

Or maybe it’s a life I’ve already experienced…in a parallel universe.

Stay tuned.

Clifford M. Scovell
www.prison-earth.com

Butterfly Nebula

Butterfly Nebula - in another universe, could we live here?

More Publishing Options

August 1, 2010

With the competitive price war going on between ebook sellers, we authors are getting a rapidly growing avenue for free publishing of our writings. Since ebooks don’t use paper, new sites such as www.smashwords.com are offering publication for free. (Editorial disclosure: I published my current book in ebook format with smashwords.com.) Just Google “ebook publishers” to see how many publishers are now offering the e-book format.

There have always been self-publishing services available. What is different? In the past, self publishing has been an expensive alternative for writers. Printing books on paper costs money, and to get a good price, authors were often forced to fill up their spare bedroom with books. In addition, the author had to sell the book themselves, as few bookstores would even consider stocking a self-published book.

The advent of POD (Print On Demand) printing has freed up the spare bedroom, but there is still an upfront cost of getting your book out there. It is also helpful that booksellers are also opening their stores to self-published books, but the author is often left with the daunting task of getting their interest, making sales, arranging shipping, and handling returns.

With e-book publishing, we still have to get people’s attention, but the rest is handled by the publisher. And even better, the author often gets a larger share of the profits.

A few caveats:

Fees: Be careful of publishers requiring an upfront fee for ebook publishing. There are already too many sites offering free publishing.

Commissions: Your share of the profits will vary widely from one ebook publisher to the next, but don’t make the commission rate your only criteria. My publisher, Smashwords.com, offers a high commission, but provides very little promotional support. (A free e-book on marketing your ebook, and a listing in their premium catalog.) Others may include publicity support, editing, cover design, etc., much like the larger print publishing houses. Obviously, if they take on more of the workload, they deserve a bigger share of the take.

Services: Few self-publishers offer free editing, or marketing help. However, be cautious of any paid services being offered. Some are an outright waste of time and money. If they offer editing, ask to see a sample of some books they’ve worked on. (Many ebook publishers now offer free samples of books they sell, much like Amazon does for their Kindle offerings.) If they sell a marketing plan, make sure it isn’t just a mass e-mailing of one press release. There are web sites offering such a service for free, and their effectiveness is questionable. In addition, make sure, as best you can, that they know the market for your genre.

Premium listings: more and more self-publishers are realizing they need to establish a list of the best books they publish, and are offering premium listings that are distributed to book sellers and distributers. (Yes, more and more bookstores are offering e-books in their online stores.) See if your potential publisher has such a listing and what you need to do to get on it. Note: the criteria for getting on this list varies greatly from publisher to publisher. Some look at content, while others only consider formatting. (Ebooks require different formatting than printed books.)

Happy publishing!

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – the series
www.prison-earth.com

The Value of Time Off

July 30, 2010

I recently spent a week whitewater rafting down the middle fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. As obsessed as I am about writing, I realize the value of taking a break. Getting completely away from everything electronic is a great way to do it. The break revitalized my spirit and energized my writing.

It worked wonders! The night we got off the river, I completely rewrote a chapter for my second book, Prison Earth – A Loss of Face, that had been plaguing me for months.

Once we were home, I started preparing my current book, Prison Earth – Not Guilty as Charged for ebook release on Smashwords.com. You can find it at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/20138. (The Kindle version is available on Amazon.com, but all other versions can be found using the above link.)

Prison Earth - Not Guilty as Charged

Prison Earth - Not Guilty as Charged

Very few writers are lucky enough to spend 100% of their time writing and promoting their books. We have day jobs that pay the bills, and consume a huge chunk of our day. Once you are published, however, the book, and the task of promoting it, takes more and more of your free time. It is important to carve out a bit of our year to get away from the stress and recharge ourselves.

But now that I’m back, its time to get that query letter ready for the second book…and finish the final edits…and prepare my YouTube video…and…

Sigh…

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – the series
www.prison-earth.com

Fair Results

July 12, 2010

Oh my, I’d never want to be responsible for putting on a fair. Hot weather, and less-than enthusiastic crowds made for poor attendance. The vendors at the Marion County Fair, of which I was one, did poorly. I sold five books in four loooonnnng days. All the authors in the Oregon Authors table did poorly. How could we do otherwise? I probably only talked with a dozen people, other than other vendors, the entire time.

There was one happy moment, however. I got to do a reading. Not my own work, but I read two Dr Seuss books to children. That was a great break from the monotony of manning a booth with no customers.

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – Not Guilty as Charged
http://www.prison-earth.com

An Unfair Fair

July 9, 2010

An Unfair Fair

For the last two days, I’ve been at the Oregon Authors booth at the Marion County Fair, in Salem, Oregon. So far, 97 degree heat and high humidity has turned it into a bust. In two days, I’ve sold three books. Hopefully the temperature will drop tomorrow. Otherwise, I won’t even cover the cost of the table.

Oh well. That’s the luck of the draw. Weather in Oregon was never concerned with what is fair, or unfair. It just is.

More tomorrow.

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – Not Guilty as Charged
www.prison-earth.com

A Rose by Any Other Name…What Fun!

July 6, 2010

Love is something we all think about, and hopefully, most of us enjoy, but from a writer’s perspective, especially an adventure/mystery writer, it can be pretty dull. Love is about caring, respect, giving, and compassion. Great as this is, it is boring as the central theme of a story: two people sitting around, cooing mushy stuff at each other.

Of course, there is the possibility that one side believes they are in love with a person pretending to be someone they are not. But when you think about it, the best opportunities for conflict in a relationship involve three emotional states that commonly create conflict: insecurity, lust, and infatuation.

Now this stuff gets my creative juices flowing!

Insecurity is the absolute best reason for creating conflict where there should be none. Romance writers would be lost without it, but it should be in every writer’s toolbox. It can be the basis for humor, misunderstandings, conflict, even violence. Insecurity mixed with love produces the most complex and interesting situations. The best thing is, every reader on the planet will be able to relate to your protagonist being insecure.

Lust, on the other hand, is an animal instinct so deeply rooted in us we cannot exist without it. While Lust is mostly associated with sex, people lust for all kinds of things: power, money, gold, possessions, fame…the list goes on. Lust is one of those “about me” things, and presents many wonderful possibilities for conflict. A person filled with lust has no misconceptions about the object of their intentions, nor do they consider the ramifications of their efforts to get it. Lust can be the basis for greed, jealousy, theft, and violence. When you’re looking for attention-getting conflict in a story, it doesn’t get any better than this.

The last emotional tool is as universal as the previous two. When people say, “love is blind,” they are talking about infatuation. Love isn’t blind. A person in love may give their beloved the benefit of the doubt more often than someone who isn’t. They still see them for who they are, and love them anyway.

However, infatuation is the act of overlaying your mental image of the “perfect” mate onto someone who may not come close to that high expectation. It can be befuddling to discover your companion doesn’t want the same things you do. In fact, they may not even like you. Infatuation almost always leads to disappointment, and can also turn into anger, angst, befuddlement, and bewilderment.

As a writer, you many want to clump these three emotions into one mash and call it love. Many before you have done so, but to make your characters believable, it is important to know the difference between them. Insecurity might keep your hero from his desired goal, lust can make normally respectable people do bad things, and an infatuated person may become a puppet for an unscrupulous person.

The important thing is to be consistent so your reader isn’t confused…that is unless you want them to be.

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – Not Guilty as Charged
http://www.prison-earth.com

A Salute to Our Soldiers

July 4, 2010

The 4th of July is not officially the celebration of the sacrifices our soldiers have made for their country, but in reality, it always has been. Since the Declaration of Independence was signed, we have had to fight for our freedom, initially from a country that eventually adopted those same freedoms. In fact, in most cases, we’ve fought against regimes that claimed to be bastions of freedom, only to be anything but.

Oppressive dictatorships seem to like to disguise themselves in false titles: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party, The People’s Republic of China, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

A Republic is defined as a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them.

A Socialist government is supposed to be one where all the people own everything equally, and share in its governance.

None of the above mentioned dictatorships allowed, or allow their people such freedoms and rights of ownership as America does. None of them allow free speech, the right to bear arms, or the right to peaceful assembly, but all of them had, or would like to see those rights denied us. And that’s why honoring the sacrifice our soldiers make is an even more important a part of our 4th of July celebration than the fireworks, the eating, the family gathering, and dancing around the campfire.

We can enjoy these things because of the sacrifices of our soldiers, both present and past.

And that’s what it is all about.

Happy birthday America, and a big salute to those who made it all possible!

Clifford M. Scovell
www.prison-earth.com