Friday, September 30, 2005

The Cover I Can't Show You


This is the cover for my upcoming MechWarrior Dark Age novel Trial by Chaos that will be released next year. Unfortunately, I can't let you see it.

The cover art (which is quite nice, by the way) depicts a new unit in the MechWarrior miniatures game which will be released at about the same time as the book, and the nice folks at WizKids don't want to spoil the surprise for dedicated game players.

So it's all classified. The art. The cover. I suspect I'm not even supposed to tell you what the unit is called, or what kind of unit it is, so I'm not going to.

Nyah, nyah!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

New Love (Bug)


This news is several weeks old, but I haven't gotten around to posting it here. We mourn the passing of an old and faithful family member, and welcome a new one.

R.I.P. "The Tick"
Back at the end of July, I had an accident in our beloved 2001 TDI New Beetle, "The Tick." I lost a tire and spun out of control at highway speed, smashing backwards into a guard rail. It was a close thing, but the car was totaled. Fortunately, I was not. Thanks to those crafty VW engineers and a side-impact airbag, I walked away with nothing but a few aches and pains from the impact.

This was a great car. The turbo-diesel motor had plenty of pep, and delivered between 40-50MPG depending on the kind of driving we were doing. The roomy interior made it one of the few cars I can comfortably get my 6' 6" frame into (yes, all those New Beetle "The Arch" commericials are true). It was smooth and fun to drive, and as a said, the crash protection was outstanding.

When we learned that the car was going to be totaled, we didn't hesitate for a moment, and started searching for another TDI New Beetle. Unfortunately, it was between model years, and with fuel prices being what they are these days, a TDI New Beetle was hard to find.

But not impossible...

Introducing, "Herbie, the New Love Bug"
I phoned around and located a TDI Beetle at a dealer about 60 miles from us, DeLon Volkswagen in Salem, OR. The car was a TDI, and had several options that had become near-necessities after "The Tick" had spoiled us with them for a while, such as the sun-roof and heated leather seats. It also had some other goodies like a 5-disk CD changer plus an in-dash single-disk MP3 player. So far, perfect. It also came equipped with the Electronic Stabilization Program, which might help save it from just the sort of thing that killed the poor Tick.

So far, so good. With cars so scarce, we didn't expect a choice of color, but I had to ask. "It's white," the salesman said, "with a black interior." There was a hesitation. "There is one thing that is unusual about the car. " More hesitation. "It has the Herbie kit."

Sure enough, the car had been created as part of the promotional tie-in with the 2005 film, Herbie, Fully Loaded. Well, you can see the picture.

Okay, if there are two people in the world wacky enough to drive around a Herbie every day, it's Chris and I. Chris says it's like being in parade with only one car in it. It is not a car you can go unnoticed in. People stop in their tracks. Kids point and make their parents watch as we drive by. People pull up next to you on the freeway and gawk. Everyone talks to you in parking lots.

It's fun, but you can't go unnoticed, and we feel compelled to maintain certain standards of behavior driving the car. No screaming or flipping people off in traffic. No cutting people off (unless the villains deserve it, of course!). You must always be considerate. It's a lot of pressure.

On the other hand, people are (usually) considerate to Herbie too. They seem to take extra care not to bump him in parking lots. They let him into bumper-to-bumper traffic. Kids always, always smile at you. It's a fair trade.

We're getting custom plates for the car. "HERBIE" was taken, unfortunately, but we're getting our second choice: "NEW LUV." The original Herbie the Love Bug was an original Beetle, so obviously this is a "New Love Bug." It's more than appropriate that Chris, a romance writer, is now the owner of a "Love Bug." It should get some attention parked outside her book signings. Hey, it's our car!

Appropriate. Ironic. Iconic. All of the above.

You know, you don't choose Herbie--

Herbie chooses you!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Puzzling out reviews

One of the more interesting and controversial features of Amazon (copied by other bookselling sites as well, but most significant on Amazon) is the ability of readers to post reviews of books they have (supposedly) read.

There have been many horror stories, of course, of trolls posting sham negative reviews, of stalker/"fans" obsessively slamming certain author's books, and even of low-life-types who post reviews that are thinly disguised ads for their own books. There are reviews that express a reader's anger at something besides the book itself: the publisher, or the editor, or some political leaning different than their own. Some just seem to be listening to the angry voices in their head.

Of course, the truth is like the disclaimer on those web polls, "this is not a scientific survey." A huge number of positive or negative reviews may say something about a book, but neither will insure that your opinion will go along with the pack. Not that the reviews are useless, but they're most useful when you read skeptically, looking for the poster's real agenda before taking their opinions over seriously.

Trouble for some authors is, people are lazy. They don't read any of the reviews. They look at the "rated three stars out of five based on six reviews." Thing is, with a low number of reviews like that, it only takes one crank giving you a one-star review to really throw off your curve. If you get they guy with the voices in his head that day, you're SOL.

Some of my writer friends say I shouldn't look at them at all, and they have some valid points. The commericial importance of these reviews is dubious (though I think there is some), and a writer can't let a bruised ego stop them from writing. But I'd rather know that not know, and at least be able to try to deal with a nightmare review if it comes my way. Generally, I find the posititive reviews to be encouraging, and I'm able to ignore or dismiss most of the negative ones (and sometimes even learn something from them).

But speaking personally, the Amazon reviews have been pretty kind to me. Looking at Amazon USA, my novels average a solid four-and-a-half stars.

Anthologies with my work do a little poorer, but the worst-ranked one is three-stars. That one has a one star-review, a two star, and two four-star reviews. The one-star guy just diagrees with the premise of the book (in a way I can't totally disagree with, but I wasn't the editor), and the two-star guy doesn't even realize that it's an anthology, repeatedly calling it a "novel."

Still, not much to complain about.

But it gets more complicated when you can't even understand the review. I'm speaking of the German release of my MechWarrior novel, "Fortress of Lies." I'm very excited about this book, as it's my first foreign translation of a novel (assuming you don't count the novel-length fiction that I wrote for the Sierra PC game "Outpost 2"). I also have a lot of German ancestry on my father's side, so it's kind of nice to appear there.

Well, there's a review there now. Click the link there if you want to read it yourself. If you can read it yourself.

I can't.

Okay, I admit to taking two years of German in high-school. But I didn't do that great the first year, and nearly flunked out the second year due to the deadly combination of my poor study habits and girlfriend problems (don't ask). What I did retain from all that consists of a few words and stock-phrases. But this review is well beyond my poor abilities.

I can read the stars, of course. Three of them. Not that bad really, but one hopes for better.

I could blame the translator of course (a cop-out, and an unfair one, but usually a safe bit of denial for the author), but I don't think that works in this case. See, I pasted the text into Yahoo's "Babblefish" translator program, to get some idea of what the review said. Machine translation is a very inexact business, but it's better than nothing (and better than my grasp of German). At least some of it is understandable. But some of it comes out like this:

"But in addition far down more. It is at the beginning of surely unusual to read itself in in the MW:DA universe above all, if one, as I, over one decade Classic BattleTech read."

But I can puzzle out enough to know that the reader seems to object to the books supposed similarity to a classic BattleTech novel. There seems to be an implication there that I copied it. Fact is, it was published here a decade ago, maybe longer, and I've never even heard of it, much less read it. It's possible that the main connection the reader sees is in that it has father-son issues between characters (well, it's uncle-nephew-cousin issues in the case of my novel).

If so, that's annoying, as at least half the novels ever written come down, on some level, to father-son issues (or at least parent-child issues). Of course, it could also be that they're saying the writing sucks. Hard to be sure.

Why is this so annoying? It is a three-star review, after all, which isn't that bad. It isn't as though I attach huge importance to these reviews. I generally enjoy the good ones, and ignore the bad ones. It isn't as though I intend to prepare a rebuttal for the review. It's ultimately one person's opinion, and you can't write a rebuttal to that.

I guess, finally, that it is because I can't understand it well enough to know how to respond to it.
It's not knowing exactly how I failed to satisfy the reader. It's not being able to prepare a defense of the book (valid or not) in the court of my own head.

Damn. There go those voices again...

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Message from Der Governator


Warning, very silly content ahead. Sometimes, my hobby of collecting and customizing 1/6th action figures, my deranged imagination, and the kind of waking fever-dream that comes from too long under deadline, converge in front of my digital camera. Then things like this happen (Site also contains cover thumbnails and information links for most of my writing published in book form). Feel free to pass this link along.

The Multiplex Archive
http://www.sff.net/people/j-steven-york/

New Books in Stores

The first book of my Age of Conan trilogy, Scion of the Serpent, is now appearing in stores. I didn't expect it until the official release date of the 27th, but my local bookstore called me last Monday and asked me to come and sign copies, so they're out there in the distribution system, even if your local store doesn't have them yet. Amazon (see link above) was still showing it as coming soon, but hopefully that will change shortly.

(Update September 28th, 2005. This book now shows as available on Amazon.com.)

The German translation of my first MechWarrior book, Fortesss of Lies, known there as Festung der L├╝gen is also out. The first link will take you to the English edition on Amazon USA, the second to the German edition on Amazon.de. Amazon.de also has the English version, if any readers in Germany want it instead (or in addition to).

Chris' Alias book done

Chris' upcoming novel based on the Alias TV series is finished, done, and accepted. The subject (an attack on the nation's oil supply) is more timely than ever. I believe it will be out in March.

Where's Steve?

It's not that I've been neglecting my blog, really. It's just that, as I said when I created this thing, deadlines have been a big part of my life for a long time. In fact, I've spent well over the last year under constantant, unrelenting, deadline pressure, and it's only been getting more intense the last six months.

Well, the good news (for me, anyway) is that I just turned in my upcoming MechWarrior novel, "Trial by Chaos." I still have a final rewrite to do on that book, but I can't start that until I get notes from my editor (in the next day or two probably). But I'm sitting here, for the first time in what seems like forever, with nothing scheduled that I have to do.

Not that I have nothing to do. There's tons of long-delayed work around the house, cleaning, redecorating, remodeling, repairs. I've got my own books to work on (and though I have another MechWarrior novel under contract after this one, I don't think I have to start it for a while yet). I've got a year's worth of recreating to do.

But for the moment, I'm enjoying doing just nothing except what I want to. Right now, I want to enter something in my blog.

Done.