Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Archive for May, 2012

Grand Opening Celebration!
The New Store at Book View Café

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Book View Cafe Grand Opening

Book View Café is celebrating the opening of our new, completely-redesigned bookstore by giving our readers a chance to win the book of their choice. Just take a look around the store anytime up until midnight, June 8, and choose the book you’d like — all the books that are eligible for the giveaway are marked with a gold star. Then come back here and leave a comment with the name and author of the book and why you want it (we may use that comment for publicity purposes). When the promotion ends, I’ll pick a random winner from those who’ve commented, and I’ll send you a coupon for the book you’ve chosen.

So please head on over to Book View Café and then come back here and make a comment!

Updating the Ebook Cover of Dreamsnake

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyreDreamsnake is the classic novel by Vonda N. McIntyre that won the Nebula, Hugo, Locus, and Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Award, and is presently available in ebook form at Book View Café.

Recently Vonda asked if someone wanted to re-do the text on the ebook cover. She was very happy with the cover photo of a cobra by Tanith Tyrr, but wanted an update on the font.

It had been a while since I’d played with Photoshop, so I volunteered. The first image at right is the cover as it was, at the size used for display at Book View Café’s website. The text is silver/gray. The font is Mistral. Vonda wanted an easier-to-read text in white to increase the contrast.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyreBeing literal-minded, I started out doing exactly what was requested: changing the font face and color, but leaving everything else the same. I also added a tiny line of color between the image and the black panel. The result can be seen at right. The title font is “Matura MT Script Capitals”. I don’t have a big selection of fonts on my computer. I chose this one because it was big, thick, sharp-edged and interesting. The font used for the author name is Mona Lisa Solid ITC TT, which I chose because it uses very tall letters that can be packed close together. I thought the result was interesting, but I wasn’t happy with it. I felt the text was too crowded. To fit everything in one vertical line, I had to make Vonda’s name too small to truly read.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyreSo I decided to try a half-frame: put the title across the top and let the author’s name have the left column. Of course this left less room for the image of the snake. I decided to keep the image the same width and just crop off the bottom. In doing so I had to eliminate the curve of the snake’s body. I had some doubts about that, but I did it anyway, and I was pleased with the result. The title font was dramatic, the author’s font, “Trajan Pro,” was distinctly different but complementary, and both were very easy to read even at small size.

I sent both versions to Vonda.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyreShe agreed with me that the second version was better, but she really wanted that beautiful, curvy snake’s back to be part of the picture. To get the full height of the snake photo, we had to sacrifice width, so the left-hand black panel became wider.

Vonda also wanted something lighter for the title font and gave me a list of suggestions. I’d already tried almost all of them and thought they were too light in weight to make effective title fonts. But then I plugged “Handwriting – Dakota” in, played with it a bit, and really liked the result. The “D” is of course a much larger font size than the other letters. It’s at normal weight, while all the smaller letters are set in a faux-bold that Photoshop allows you to do. Strangely enough, the weights balanced quite nicely. And with their bright white against black, the fonts are very legible, even at small size. This was the final version of the cover, at least for this round!

Dreamsnake is available in epub, mobi, and PDF formats at Book View Café.


Friday, May 25th, 2012

I do it. Anyone reading my blog knows that. But last night I had a reality-check.

I’m in a writers group with four members, myself included. We usually meet once a month, but because of scheduling conflicts, last night was the first time we’d gotten together in six weeks.

I was bemused to discover that, despite what I thought was a thorough promotional blitz across twitter, facebook, G+, and this blog, not one of my three fellow members was aware that I had a short story out this month from Lightspeed Magazine–a story they critiqued, no less.

This is a very supportive group, and we follow each other on twitter and facebook. It’s not like they don’t care. So the situation begs the question: if I can’t get the word out to people I actually know, if I can’t get their attention, what hope for the wider world?

Unfortunately, I have no answer for that. We’re all busy with our own lives and thousands of things are vying for our attention. But it’s my business to write and sell books and stories. Obviously, how to succeed at the “sell” part is going to take further thought and innovation. People cannot buy books or stories if they don’t know that the books and stories exist.

Time for new ideas, I think. Or magic pixie dust.

Let’s Try This Again

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Back in early May I sat down, determined to do a quick read-through of the sort-of finished first draft of the current novel-in-progress. I seem to have gotten distracted when I was halfway done.

Well, there was the soft-launch of Book View Café’s new ebook store–that took some of my attention. And there was a short vacation to the Big Island. Oh, and there was a new short story that needed to be written.

Three weeks later, there’s no point in continuing where I left off reading, because what I’m trying to achieve is a complete overview of the story. So it’s back to the beginning for me. Wish me luck!

Oh, and if you missed my prior post, there is a $2-off coupon for The Dread Hammer good at Book View Café. Please spread the word if you’re so inclined, and if you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, well, now is a great time!

What? You Haven’t Read
The Dread Hammer Yet?

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

The Dread HammerWell, there’s no time like the present, because for a limited time you can get $2 off The Dread Hammer‘s ebook edition, by using the promo code PUZZLELANDS1. Only at Book View Café!

A coupon system is one of the cool new features of our revamped ebook store, and The Dread Hammer gets to be our first test specimen. You can buy either the epub (Nook) or mobi (Kindle) version. The ebook won’t load automatically onto your e-reader, but being DRM-free, you can either drag and drop it from your computer, email it to your e-reader if you’re set up for that or, if you have one of those flashy new tablets, you can probably just save it directly.

So if you haven’t read The Dread Hammer yet, now’s the time. And feel free to share the coupon code. We’d love more people to come check out the new store.

The Dread Hammer at Book View Café


A Writer’s Internal Dialog

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

DAY 1: You really need to write a new short story. Don’t get anxious about it. It’s not going to be that hard. It’s the second in a series, after all. You know the protagonist and the story world. So just figure out a plot!

Yeah, okay. But I think today I should work on the website.

DAY 2: You really need to do some work on that story.

Okay, okay! I’ll do some brainstorming. Some random writing. That’s good, right? There! That’s like a thousand words, with ideas and everything! Good enough, for now.

You only spent an hour on it.

And your point is?

DAY 3: Go do some more brainstorming on the story. Develop those ideas you had yesterday. They’re good!

They are good. And random writing isn’t too hard. I can crank up my word count easily this way. Hold on, I need to check my email. Hey, I wonder if anybody responded to my post on facebook? Hey look, I’ve done two hundred words already. Only eight hundred to go. Why don’t more people talk to me on twitter? I am too working. How about if I set an alarm to go off ten minutes from now, and I won’t stop writing for those ten minutes, no matter what stupid ideas I type! Huh? You want me do another ten minutes?

DAY 4: Okay. You’ve got a lot of useful ideas from your brainstorming sessions. Now you need to put together a coherent backstory, so you understand what’s going on.

Can I write by hand?

Whatever works.

Okay, I’m writing by hand.

Are you done already?

DAY 5: That was a pretty good job bringing together the back story, and you’ve got a good grasp of the plot. But there aren’t any scenes. Let’s just see what happens if you try Write-or–


Write-or-Die. It doesn’t matter what you write, just get some words down.

Okay, okay! There! Thirteen hundred words – though they’re not the right words.

Better than nothing.

DAY 6: Time for you to start the actual story.

I tried. I’m not getting anywhere.

Try this: break it down. Write out a goal, a theme, a concept, and then a short plot summary.

Uh, okay. Maybe I can do that…

Hey, it’s been a while. What are you doing?

I’m writing the story! As soon as I started on the plot summary, it just happened! I found myself writing the story, with scenes and everything! 2700 words!


They’re not the right words.

Never mind.

DAY 7: Okay, you’ve got all the parts figured out, you’ve got everything you need to pull together a solid draft. Go for it!

I don’t feel like writing today. I AM trying! There. I did the opening. That’s the hardest part, right? And it’s enough for today.

DAY 8: Let’s pretend yesterday didn’t happen. Today you’re going to sit down and make this story real—

Leave me alone! I decided to take my laptop into a different room and now everything’s working. I know what I’m doing. I’m into it…

There! I’m done! A solid draft and it’s good! Whoa … did nine hours just go by?

Congratulations on finishing the draft! Tomorrow, you revise.

Book View Café’s New eBook Store

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

(Crossposted at

Most writers start scribbling stories at a very young age. Not me. I waited until I had graduated from college before I started writing fiction – and what was my motivation? Having read something dreadful, I was struck by the certain knowledge that “Even I could write a better story than that.”

Fast-forward to December 2011. The writers of Book View Café, being well aware of the limitations of our online bookstore, were eagerly anticipating the launch of a brand new website that had been months in the making – only to discover at the eleventh hour that the new website had serious flaws. Correcting the issues would require extensive programming which we could ill afford, and no one felt confident that at the end of it all, we would get the website we wanted.

So we decided to start over.

I’m a fairly new member of BVC, having joined last summer, and hadn’t been involved in the website process, but at that point my occasionally cocky nature reasserted itself. I could build a better website than that, I thought, so I stepped up and volunteered my services.

This wasn’t quite the level of chutzpah I’d shown when I suddenly decided to be a writer. After all, I’d worked for nine years in website development, PHP programming, and database-driven websites. But the website committee was adamant that the new bookstore should run on a WordPress platform, and I knew very little about WordPress.

WordPress is a brand of software widely used to run blogs, including BVC’s blog and my personal blog here at On my own blog I’ve modified WordPress to suit my needs. So I thought I knew some things about WordPress – but as it turns out, I’d barely dipped my toes in the ocean of WordPress knowledge and possibilities…

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Four of us joined forces in the effort to come up with a new online bookstore: myself, Dave Trowbridge, Vonda N. McIntyre, and Pati Nagle. The first task was to find and test ecommerce software packages designed to work with WordPress. This went slowly, taking up scattered blocks of time through January. There are a lot of ecommerce packages out there, but not very many that can competently handle downloadable products like ebooks. We found a good one though: by early February we’d agreed to go ahead with a product called Cart66.

In most group situations, I’m the cautious one: hesitant, careful, expecting the worst. So it was amusing to be outdone in this regard by Dave, who insisted that we should develop the new site on a test server, so that there was no way we could blow up the live website.

I was concerned. My expecting-the-worst nature reasserted itself and I worried that when we moved the website back to the live server, all the file paths would break. Nevertheless, working on a test server was proper procedure, so by February 21 we had our test site set up and we were ready to go!

Except that the hosting company hadn’t got it quite right. The file permissions didn’t allow us to make necessary changes, so there was very little we could do.

By the next day though, that was fixed, and we were really ready to go!

Progress through February was slow. Book View Café operates on a consensus system. We don’t really have a “boss,” and there was no supreme project manager. This can be a bit frustrating: issues are discussed, people have really good ideas or they bring up valid concerns, but many times no decision gets made—and besides, all of us had our own lives going on and our own work to do. So it wasn’t until early March that I started seriously looking at out-of-the-box themes designed to work with Cart66. I tried out one or two—and I quickly reached the conclusion that none of them were going to work for us.

WordPress themes are designed to make life easy for people who don’t know PHP or HTML. But when you do know PHP and HTML, themes can feel very restricting. It’s hard to design a theme flexible enough to satisfy any user. As an example, many WordPress themes have a massive header image. The one on my blog is a good example. This works on my blog, but in my opinion, it doesn’t work for an online store because the real estate on the page should be showing off the products, not the pretty magazine-style design of the header image.

So I eventually junked the Cart66 themes. Instead, I took a very basic theme, modified it to what I thought it needed to be, and asked my cohorts, “What do you think about this?” I got a thumbs-up on it, and in the process I learned all about “child themes”—something I hadn’t known about before. Child themes are a means of modifying a theme without changing the parent theme. This is important, because it means you can continuously update the parent theme without overwriting your customizations.

This became the pattern for me. Some new feature would be needed so, being used to working on custom programs, I would charge in and start creating it. But because the code is complex and modular, I would have a very hard time with it until, after much Googling, I would stumble over a function or a plugin that would do very easily exactly what I needed. So for me, WordPress was consistently hard to work with until I found the right way of doing something, and then it became incredibly easy. It was like mastering magic spells, one after the other, and I slowly began to grasp the logic and to learn where to look for solutions.

So the basic theme was settled, and Vonda and Pati were working on the details of the CSS. Meanwhile, I was having a crisis of confidence. I had a new book out, but hardly anyone seemed to have noticed. I’d stopped exercising, and my mood was growing bleaker with each passing day. I stopped writing—but at least I had the BVC bookstore to work on. What a great excuse to avoid writing! I enjoy complex website work. It’s challenging, like writing a novel, but the outcome is far more certain, and I can do it no matter how bleak my mood, so I put in a lot of time on the new store—it’s fair to say I was obsessed with it—and knowing myself, I figured it was best to just finish it, so I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore, and then I could get back to writing.

So before long I was satisfied. The store wasn’t a technical marvel, but it was a lot better than what we’d had before.

We showed it to our members. I was a bit nonplussed that the majority of comments we received involved the categories we would use to sort out our books—categories are very flexible and easily adjusted and not very interesting. What about all the cool and challenging stuff we’d done? Like controlling what posts showed up on any particular page? And creating pages for each author, showing their bio and all their books? We had to figure all that stuff out, you know! It’s not like there was a manual; each step forward was a sweet little victory.

But the thing about programming is that when you do it right, the difficulty becomes invisible.

Well, whatever, I thought. I just want to get this project out of my brain-space. So let’s load up our books and get this store launched!

That’s when Dave started making trouble.

In projects other than writing, I tend to be a minimalist. If it works, it’s fine. Right?

Dave, on the other hand, has vision. He’d been looking into what WordPress could do, he was thinking in the long term, and he had ideas. Me? I didn’t want to hear them. The store did what it needed to do. Couldn’t we leave it at that? I’d put in my volunteer hours and I wanted to get back to writing. But while I’m occasionally cocky, I’m not so cocky as to think that my way is always the best way, and eventually I settled down and paid attention.

And it was good.

WordPress comes with a basic blogging package that will get you up and running very quickly. Depending on your purposes you can then start adding “plugins”—additional pieces of software used to achieve some goal. Cart66, our ecommerce software, is a plugin. We’d already used several other plugins for different purposes. Now Dave wanted to introduce plugins to create custom post types, custom taxonomies, and custom fields. (Did you just zone out on all that terminology?) I won’t bore you with an explanation of what all those things are. Let’s just say that in the end, Dave came up with some backend stuff that is incredibly useful for keeping the store organized and making it easier to update—definitely worth the extra hours of work, even if we did have to re-engineer some things.

There were some false paths along the way. We tried some things that didn’t work out, or that might have worked out if we had a lot more time to invest in them. At one point we had a backup of the test site made prior to installing a new and possibly risky plugin. After a day or so we decided the plugin wasn’t what we needed, so we had the hosting company restore the site from the backup—but the backup they used was a backup made after the new plugin had been installed—so after fighting over file permissions again, we had to rebuild the site by hand. But by April 9 we had agreed on a final structure to the store, and on April 12 we had the hosting company move it to the live site.

Of course that didn’t work out quite as hoped. My initial fears were partly realized and there were some broken file paths, but there was also a WordPress magic spell that fixed most of them, and in the end the result was better than my pessimistic self had expected.

Suddenly we were aiming for a May 1 launch date.

Vonda worked like mad to load chapter samples and book covers into the new store.

Dave, Pati, and Vonda spent a lot of time writing up the instructions that would be passed out to BVC members. We’re a cooperative, which means everyone helps, so members were expected to load their own books into the store. The instructions took a surprisingly long time and turned out to be a bit too complicated, so Dave very quickly re-wrote them, and suddenly we were on our way. BVC members started logging in and adding their books to the new store. It wasn’t perfect, but it was working . . . and then, without telling us, the hosting company decided to migrate our website to a new server, but the migration failed, and vanished from the Internet.

This happened on Saturday evening the weekend before we were scheduled to launch the new store. BVC members who’d set aside a block of time to load their books were unable to do so … and time ticked past. Sunday afternoon rolled around, and the website reappeared, but it was much too late for a Monday launch, and besides, our email wasn’t working. With the new store, our customers receive an email receipt that includes instructions on downloading their purchased ebooks. There was no point in launching the store if we could not send our customers this email. So we waited for word from our hosting company on when things would be fixed.

And we waited.

And by Friday we decided we needed a new hosting company. This took a few days, but by May 11, the entire website had been moved. Debugging followed, while Vonda and Pati worked hard to get the rest of the ebooks into the store and clean everything up.

Then on the evening of Monday, May 14, the new store went quietly live. We haven’t made a hoopla over it yet. We wanted to go with a quiet opening, that would let us address any issues that might crop up. So far, things seem to be going very smoothly.

We hope you’ll visit our new store, look around, buy a book or two if you’re so inclined, and let us know what you think.

The celebrated “grand opening” is still to come.

Contest Wrap Up

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Back on April 18th I launched a promotion to try to get twenty Amazon reviews for each of the Puzzle Lands books in twenty-one days. I didn’t make my goal, but I’m much better off than I was, with eight reviews for both books.

The winner of the contest has been notified, but my appreciation goes to everyone who helped out. Thanks so much!!

And if you’d still like to contribute a review, please do so. I still hope to get to twenty–it’s just going to take a little longer.

Next Projects

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Today I’m contemplating both what I want to work on next, and what I ought to work on next. I don’t really want to look back at my January 1st goals right now, because I suspect I’m drifting well off that track while also falling behind.

Once, I had great discipline and focus, and I would work on only one project at a time, refusing to consider another until the first was done. I don’t seem to work that way anymore. In theory flexibility is good, but I’m not so sure that’s true in this case…

…because right now I have four projects in mind – and that’s leaving out three others that I’ve contemplated working on.

First, what I ought to do: the novel I’ve been writing on and off since September now has a sort-of complete draft. I need to expand and revise until it’s sufficiently whole to hand off to a beta reader.

Next: Last fall I wrote a novelette set in The Nanotech Succession story world, and featuring the character Zeke Choy from The Bohr Maker. It’s scheduled to be published at Analog in the fall. I want to write two more stories involving Zeke, so it’s past time I tackled story #2.

Third, I want to start plotting another Puzzle Lands book.

And fourth, I want to start plotting an entirely new novel using some ideas developed in recent short stories, and see if that goes anywhere.

I post this stuff here because putting it out in public may provide some motivation for spending more time on writing and less on peripheral things.

One thing’s for sure though: * I Must Write Faster *

“Nightside on Callisto” — Update

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

This week, “Nightside on Callisto” is available for reading online at Lightspeed Magazine — or you can listen to the podcast!

This is my first-ever story to be podcast, so it’s exciting.

Please check it out! And check out the great illustration by Galen Oara.