Luke looked up. “Tell me something, tall man, do you have a good sense of smell for a pretty-face, or a bad one?”
Tsofair gave Luke a long assessing look, which seemed not to embarrass the other man in the least. “I have never had a sense of smell other than my own. I do not know.”
Luke grinned, “I’m partly yanking you, but I’m partly serious.”
Tsofair sat down and began configuring his displays. “Two-Spot, can you tell the difference between Zai and our medi by smell?”
Denver felt a surge of aggression at the idea of Luke knowing Zai by smell, but appreciated that the other was going to work Luke over the coals for hassling him, because the question obviously made Luke consider some things that he’d rather not.
“Um… yeah,” Luke answered.
“From across the room? With other people around?”
“I can.” Tsofair flicked his data about between screens as he spoke, “Can you tell at any given time who is out in the corridor, or in the artillery pods, by smell?”
Denver felt his skin crawl, and his mood wasn’t improved when Luke glanced up at him in the perch and grinned at him as he responded to Tsofair, “Nope.”
“Neither can I. I have kin who could,” said Tsofair, calmly checking through his data.
Luke pursed his lips and said, “Makes you wonder why the pirates would put the stationers in conditions that were bound to make the place reek. If it bothers us as much it does, it probably has ’em puking.”
“If they think it will bother the prisoners more than it will bother them, it makes sense.” Tsofair responded.
“Well, the funk won’t be anywhere near the top of the list of what’s bothering these folks. Maybe this bunch of prettyfaces hasn’t clued in that we don’t have such sharp noses, although to hear just about any Sekoni tell it, there isn’t much about us that they don’t know. It’s probably true they kept us in labs and experimented on us.”
Tsofair got a look of distaste and shrugged.
“Lockups are for efficiency,” said Denver.
They both turned around and looked up at him as he continued, “If there’s a small number of the Hounds, mass automated lockups is the fastest way to get people out of the way. Work their way through the station without being bothered. Including bothered with having to kill and dispose of bodies. Freeze and starve people to death where they’re sitting—less resistance. Slower than just blowing out the pressure, but doesn’t create a mess, or risk damaging components or data. Interrogation is just a bonus.”
Luke whistled and said “You need a drink and a meal after talking that much in a stretch, Four-Spot?”
The Multnomah County Library had a call to submit self published work for catalog consideration. It required self-publishing on the Smashwords platform first. Publishing requires prose, price, promotion, and a picture. The first I had: the project/novel/thing I call Ten Hearts has been sitting around for a really long time. The fourth I could get, but the middle two are total fuckery.
I had to get a cover design, because I know these sorts of things make a difference. I asked one artist whose work I particularly admire, and he agreed at first, but then he proved to be too busy. A veteran artist and close friend rescued me (again – Steve has rescued me before) and even let me pay him something. I sent him my concept and idea, exchanged some emails and calls. This required me to describe my characters out loud to another person, which was surprisingly difficult. Then I had a custom piece of art depicting two characters that I dreamed up myself (!), by an artist who would be way above my touch if he wasn’t an old friend. Of course I then created an acutely amateurish cover with MS Publisher, but one thing at a time, I reckon. Maybe if I sell a few copies, I can justify getting a cover design. (I know someone who does those too).
Then I had to figure out Smashwords. They have a style and formatting guide. After fifteen years using Microsoft for work, I learned how to use the Style formatting menu properly. And I had to decide on a price. This is where things get scary.
As a white collar service professional, I’m accustomed to someone (not usually me) assigning economic value to my time and brain. And I have many friends who are creative professionals who discuss the challenges of price, value, and the need to make a living (someone is always trying to screw you. Because “exposure”). Strictly speaking, I don’t need to sell my writing in order to eat. (If I did, my kids and I would be dead. Or more likely on public assistance and homeless). So in theory I could assign $0 as the price. But I sort of feel like that’s unsporting, because other people make a living selling their work and if I give my stuff away, because I can, it symbolically devalues the marketplace. And I’d like to think someone would be willing to pay even a teeny amount of money for something I made. So I settled on $2.99, because it seems like you can get all sorts of crappy novellas for that (or more) on Amazon. I still felt weird about it. Like I’m not entitled to ask people to pay less than a latte for something that took me six years to make. Which is B.S. of course. If no one wants to pay that much, that’s fine, but it’s perfectly legit for me to ask.
I wrote about Ten Hearts (and its sequel) about a year ago. It’s a SF and traditional het romance genre piece with an ensemble cast. There are mercenaries, aliens, organized crime, religious extremists, etc. This book is older than one of my kids. I’ve shopped it to agents and tried a couple of other gambits with it. Technically it’s even still in a query queue somewhere. It’s been edited by a professional line editor, reviewed but not edited by a professional genre editor (because I can’t afford it), so it’s got decent formatting but it’s too long because I don’t know which of my darlings to kill. But I figured it was the best fit to submit.
As I went back in to format it, I caught some more more typos. And of course I started fiddling with it again. This time I focused on some weird little world building tweaks. I started out with a vision driven by cultural relationships and intergroup hierarchy, but I really like figuring out backstage structure (I was a stage techie once, a life time ago). There are times when I would rather tinker around with what my characters call their equipment and how they use it, than deal with the grand scheme. [what hell is it with Star Wars and the apparent indifference to space, which is, you know, a VACUUM and will kill you?] So as I dived back into the world after having left it alone for quite a while, one of things that I fixated on was units and measures.
How we describe time and space is defined by the sun, moon and archaic cultural norms. In the 21st century, Americans still use a measure tied to some Renaissance, Carolingian, or Egyptian monarch’s foot. And most of the rest of the world uses an 18th century measure derived off base-10 fragments of the size of the planet. We assign meaning to days in units of 7, 30 or 365 based on rotations of a particular ball of dirt around a particular star. What happens if we live in a world where the solar orbits and planetary rotations are different, or where there isn’t a solar driven calendar at all? And more importantly, where no one cares what unit of measure we used where “we” came from? But on the other hand, I’m not writing an essay about the meaning of measurement, I’m trying to convey an accessible sense of movement through the world to a reader who understands English. So I think I managed to do away with “minutes” but not “seconds.”
And then there’s swearing. Curses can be pretty archaic and still retain some zip. But blasphemy still assumes someone somewhere had a god and cared if you took its name in vain. And obscenity requires some cultural taboos around something, be it sex or body functions. Arguably it also requires some hierarchy of denigration, so you can abuse someone by calling them something they are not, while simultaneously insulting a whole class of beings by using their identity pejoratively. Once again, I tinkered with my own native nomenclature, but I couldn’t make it unrecognizable.
The hardest piece of all. I have to go out and say, “I wrote a thing! Buy it! Like it! Tell your friends.” For any number of reasons having to do with my professional history (marketing! innovation! origination credit! disaster!), my familial and cultural background (Confucianism leaves a heavy mark) and my current circumstances, I find the prospect of trying to market a book freakishly difficult. I’m supposed to tweet, blog, etc, but I have like 200 twitter followers and a chunk of them are ‘bots who do stuff like follow you if you use the word “iOS” or tweet @Pontifex, even if what you’re doing is saying “iOS -or the Pope- sucks goat berries.” And there’s my “brand”. Lots of people write in different genres with different names, so I have no problem simply spelling my name with Pinyin romanization and telling the world that’s who I am for this purpose, but then do I have to tweet, blog, and instagram with that name (I don’t currently instagram at all and I already have two twitter accounts). All so five or six people can pay $2.99, if I’m lucky?
But I have to start somewhere. In 2015 I tried some stuff and I really started to run out of “try”. I’m going to try again. Maybe if 20 people buy my book, I’ll offer the sequel for $0.99, like an enterprising alum of my under grad did. Which brings me to my dedication. My sister read Ten Hearts in its earliest form, my spouse makes all things possible by supporting my underemployed arse, but as I looked at the process, I realized that many of the people who have edited the book, touched it, read, and cheered me on are people I went to college with. For all the challenges in my life in the last three years, I’ve grown closer to my college classmates, particularly after our 20th college reunion a couple of years ago. Going to Bryn Mawr was one of the few forks in the road of my life where I feel I unquestionably lucked out, and I didn’t even realize it at the time. So when I uploaded the edited book, I added a dedication page “To the sisters of the heart”.
If you’ve made it this far, here’s a link, although it’s also attached to the cover image up top. Thanks for reading.