Fun with Text-to-Speech

This week, my wife and I have been proofreading the Hadrosaur Productions editions of The Astronomer’s Crypt and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires before these books are uploaded as ebooks and sent to the print vendor. Last week, my wife presented me with the code to upgrade Microsoft Office on my desktop computer. I upgraded the edition and began to look through the menus, making sure I knew where familiar features were located. Fortunately not much has changed, but I did accidentally stumble on the text-to-speech option while I had The Astronomer’s Crypt manuscript open. So, I decided to let it read a page or two to me. My first thought was that this is what it would be like for Stephen Hawking to read me a story. It was a fairly flat reading. Despite that, I found it surprisingly listenable. As it read over a section I had already approved, I noticed it skipped over a word. I looked closer and discovered that it had not skipped. I had omitted the word. Specifically it was a small one, the article “a.”

I began to think this could be a handy tool for proofreading. So I started playing it while I read over the formatted manuscript. Now then, I normally do a “read aloud” pass when I edit my manuscripts. However, if I get too much into the flow of the story, I can “read” words that should be there but actually don’t exist on the page. Also, reading it with my inflections means that I can overlook some weak, repetitive prose by placing the emphasis where I want it. The problem is, my intention may not match what another reader will see on the page. The upshot is that the flat reading of the Text-to-Speech actually proves useful because it helps me hear how well the prose itself is doing its job.

Not surprisingly, text-to-speech has limitations. If you write fantasy or historical fiction, be prepared for the program to mispronounce names. However, there’s a neat element to this. It will mispronounce those names the same way. Every. Single. Time. While going through Dragon’s Fall, I looked at names on the page and thought they were correct, but the text-to-speech program read the misspelled version differently than the correct version. This caused me to look closer. Humans have a tendency to read with visual clues, so a name like Myrinne will look very much like Myrrine when you read it on the page, but the text-to-speech program pronounces them differently.

Text-to-speech is functionality that has been part of Word processors and operating systems for a little while, so it’s possible this may not be new to many people, but if it is new to you, I recommend you give it a try and see how you like it as a tool. If you do give this a try, I recommend reading along on the page while the program reads to you. It’s hard to “hear” the difference between commas and periods, for example, but the program will make it clear when you have one of those in the wrong spot!

I have found that Text-to-Speech is enabled in Word 2019 and in Adobe Acrobat (though I found its interface is a bit clunky to use in Acrobat.) I gather it’s also enabled in the Mac edition of Scrivener, but it does not exist in the PC edition. Word 2019 gives you a nice “play/pause” button so you can stop when you hear a problem. If you get lost while the program is reading, I recommend pausing, going back to where you last were following and start again.

I’ll wrap up today’s post with an update about the books mentioned above. Lachesis Publishing has started to pull their editions of the books from publication. Last I looked, the only vendor that hasn’t pulled them down is Apple, but hopefully that will happen soon and I can begin uploading my editions.

The Astronomer’s Crypt – 2nd Edition Cover Reveal

Next month, the rights to my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, revert to me. One of my jobs this month has been preparing a new edition so its ready to launch as soon as I’m clear to do so. Overall, I was happy with the novel’s first edition and my updated edit has changed very little. I caught a handful of typos that were missed the first time. I’m not sure I believe it’s possible for a truly typo-free book to exist. Also, the editorial process on any book is a discussion between the writer and the editorial team. As the author, I find I agree with many editorial suggestions wholeheartedly. There are, of course, a few editorial suggestions that just don’t work for me and I ask to leave the section as written, or I come up with an alternative revision. There are also places where an editor makes a suggestion and while I don’t agree with it 100%, I still accept it, because I don’t disagree with it or don’t feel it substantially changes things. I’ve revisited a few of those moments in the book.

The bigger change will be the cover itself. Laura Givens who did the original cover is back to do the new take. The concept for the original cover was to present an observatory enclosure on a dark, spooky night like a haunted house. The potential problem with this concept is that unless you’re familiar with observatory enclosures, you might not know what you’re looking at. In fact, tall observatory buildings bear a close resemblance to silos. So when Laura took on the new edition, she wanted to better capture what most people think of when they think “observatory” and that’s the telescope inside. We also discussed it and decided to include one of the monsters from the book. In this case, it’s a creature from Mescalero Apache lore known as Big Owl, or He Who Kills With His Eyes.

One of the challenges of including the monster on this version of the cover is that in contemporary American society, we tend to picture owls as cute or friendly. However, in many Native American traditions, owls are harbingers of death and to the Mescalero Apache, Big Owl was considered an adversary to the first humans. To get to the idea of a scary owl in the novel, I used the idea that modern birds are the descendants of dinosaurs and I began to picture a primordial, dangerous, predatory owl. I think Laura did a great job of capturing that vision on the cover.

Of course, Big Owl isn’t the only threat you’ll meet in this novel. There are drug dealers, ghosts, and a destructive storm as well. The first edition of The Astronomer’s Crypt will still be available for two more weeks. If you want to get your hands on that edition, do it now. Otherwise, I hope to release the new edition of The Astronomer’s Crypt in June.

You can learn more about the novel, watch the book trailer, and read the prologue at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html

Interviewed by Greg Ballan

In my last post, I shared an interview I conducted with Hadrosaur Productions author Greg Ballan. During that same conversation, we turned the tables and he interviewed me. We discussed my writing along with the history and future of Hadrosaur Productions. The first book of mine he read was Heirs of the New Earth. In the current scheme of my series, it’s the fourth novel of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. He jumped right in at the end, but still seemed to enjoy the read.

As with my last interview series, we recorded our conversation and I have posted it to YouTube. the questions and answers are organized in small, related blocks. If you don’t have time to watch the entire 45-minute conversation, you can listen to those parts that interest you the most.

As the interview starts, Greg discusses Heirs of the New Earth. He notes that it shows a hopeful, advanced society, but not a perfect one. Earth is still polluted and humans are still tempted by totalitarian regimes. He asks me what I think the future of the Earth will be like.

In the second video, Greg asks me what led me to move from being a writer to being an editor and publisher. As I tell him in the response, these decisions were not disconnected.

In the third video, Greg and I discuss the future of Hadrosaur Productions. In that context, we also discuss the future of bookstores. If bookstores go away, we consider what that will mean for the future of ebooks and print books.

From here, the conversation returns to my writing and Greg asks what spurs my creativity. In a twist from the usual plotter vrs. pantser question, he asks whether I’m an architect or a gardener.

From here, Greg asked me what was the one incident that actually made me want to write books. For me, it was more of a process that happened throughout my youth.

In this next video, Greg asks me to share my greatest personal accomplishment along with my greatest setback. Of course, a bad setback is really a way for us to learn and I tell how others helped me through that difficult time and how the work I did at that time helped me turn that setback into a success.

In the next video, I discuss a favorite book and a favorite movie. Greg also asks me what one piece of advice I would give to a new writer.

Greg saves his hardest hitting question for last. He asks me whether I prefer Marvel or DC comics. I have to say, it’s tough, because both companies produce titles I love, but you can learn about one of my very favorites by watching the video.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these insights into my writing and editing life, even if you just watched one or two of the videos. You can learn more about my writing at http://www.davidleesummers.com

You can learn more about Hadrosaur Productions at http://www.hadrosaur.com

Greg Ballan Interview

This past weekend, I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to Greg Ballan, author of the Hybrid: The Ethereal War duology which I’ve had the honor to edit and publish. The novels are Armageddon’s Son and Battle Lines. These books tell the story of Erik Knight, a detective who was born with alien DNA which gives him terrifying super powers. In the Ethereal War novels, Erik finds himself literally caught between the forces of heaven and hell.

We recorded our conversation and I have posted it to YouTube. I made each question and answer a separate video, so if you just have a few minutes, watch the introduction, then come back and watch the others as you have time. This is an interview you don’t want to miss!

In the first video, I ask Greg to tell readers about the Hybrid: The Ethereal War novels.

In the second video, I ask Greg to tell us about his protagonist, Detective Erik Knight.

Next, I ask Greg to tell us how he brought a new twist to the idea of the war between Heaven and Hell.

In the earlier videos, Greg mentions Erik Knight’s mentor, Martin Denton. In private conversations, Greg has told me that Martin was inspired by his father. I asked him to give me more details about that.

Of course, Greg has written other novels besides those in the Hybrid: The Ethereal War series. He tells us about them in this next segment.

As we begin to wind down the interview, I ask Greg what science fiction he’s watching now.

Finally, I wrap up the interview by asking Greg the question about what side he takes in the ultimate battle: Star Trek or Star Wars?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at Greg Ballan and his thoughts on writing. You can learn more about his books by following the links:

Return of the Scarlet Order

In August 2004, I signed a contract with LBF Books for my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Lachesis Publishing ultimately acquired LBF and asked me to do another book in the series, which became Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Earlier this year, the publishing contracts came up for renewal and both Lachesis and I decided it was time for the publishing rights to come back to me. The deal is now formalized and the rights will revert to me at the end of May. It feels like the end of a fifteen-year long era. I’m starting to get things set up so there’s minimal downtime between the Lachesis editions being taken down and the release of new editions from my Hadrosaur Productions.

As a result, I spent this last week giving Dragon’s Fall a fresh proofread. While it was the second book written, it was always intended to be the first book in the series. Timing my proofread right before Easter was an interesting coincidence, since one of the novel’s inciting incidents is based on the legend of Joseph of Arimathea taking the Holy Grail to the British Isles. It also explores a question that I’ve wondered about occasionally and that’s why don’t we have any writings from Jesus himself since indications from the Bible are that Jesus was literate. Now, there are many possible answers to this and most don’t even have huge theological implications. Still, the speculative writer in me did feel compelled to ask, what if Jesus did have writings that were lost?

Anyway, my proofreading pass is now complete and I just need to typeset the interior and finalize plans for a new cover. I’m excited about the preliminary discussions I’ve had with the cover artist and I hope to have a cover reveal and more news about that soon. Aside from proofreading catches and some stronger prose, the new edition will not be substantially changed from the earlier edition. I do expect the cover will make the title and subtitle a little clearer with “Dragon’s Fall” in a larger font and the somewhat modified subtitle “Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires” in a smaller font.

Once I finish some documentation in the coming week, I also plan to turn my attention to Vampires of the Scarlet Order. I’m thinking this novel will have somewhat more changes than Dragon’s Fall. Little of the actual text will change, but I’m tentatively planning to rearrange the chapters a bit to improve the narrative flow. As those who’ve read the novel know, I originally chose to tell the story in a very linear, chronological format. I’m thinking of revising it so that I start in the present day (where most of the action takes place), then let the characters tell the historical parts of the story when it’s natural for them to do so.

The return to my Scarlet Order world in this past week also coincides with the release of the latest Dance in the Vampire Bund manga’s English language translation. Its title is “Age of Scarlet Order.” The manga opens with the United States military appearing to take out vampire queen Mina Tepes and her werewolf companion Akira Kaburagi Regendorf in a drone strike. We then meet vampire refugees attempting to flee religious extremists in scenes that feel not unlike some that occur in contemporary America. From this opening, the story takes a turn and explores the origins of the vampires. Nozomu Tamaki first started using “Scarlet Order” in the titles of his books about a decade after my Scarlet Order Vampires first appeared. I have to admit, I came to his work out of curiosity about the similar title, but I’ve since become a fan of this series.

Upstart Mystique

Today I’m excited to announce the release of the latest novel I’ve had the pleasure to edit, Upstart Mystique by Don Braden.

The novel opens with the space vessel Marco P on its way to a distant colony world. It loses all power and an unknown force convinces the navigator that a distant, dead world is the vessel’s true destination. Commander Malcolm Carpenter orders the crew to abandon ship to protect them and to learn how to defeat whatever force has intercepted his ship. The crew discovers a small group of inhabitants, the only people on the planet who were not uploaded into a vast computer network—a computer network captivated by upstart humans and their imaginations. To free his crew and his navigator from the planetary network’s grip, Commander Carpenter must face a moral dilemma. Can he save his crew without condemning a planet’s inhabitants and their digital ancestors to death?

The idea that humans may reach a point where they can upload their consciousness into a computer is a familiar science fiction trope and one I’ve even explored a few times in my Clockwork Legion novels. In his novel, Don questions whether or not this is something that’s possible and what it would mean for all of a person’s memory and personality to be uploaded into a machine. He wraps these questions up in an action oriented novel full of great characters I enjoyed spending time with.

As it turns out, I’ve known Don Braden longer than any author I’ve worked with. He was my brother’s high school English teacher when my family lived in Barstow, California and by our best recollection, I would have been two years old when I first met Don. We reconnected a few years ago through my brother and have maintained a friendship since. At the very least, we’ve seen each other at least once a year since Don started attending the TusCon Science Fiction Convention in Tucson, Arizona.

Don has often used science fiction as a teaching tool in the classroom, and I’ve long been impressed with his knowledge of the genre and the themes it explores. We share a number of favorite authors and shows. In particular, we’re both fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s a real pleasure and privilege to be able to publish Don’s debut novel. I hope you will take a look. I know you will be caught up in the world of Upstart Mystique.

Upstart Mystique is available at the following online retailers:

Music for the Journey

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve started evaluating my revisions of The Pirates of Sufiro and deciding whether or not it’s ready for publication as is, or whether I should take the book through another round of edits. As I mentioned in the last post, The Pirates of Sufiro tells the story of a planet founded by pirates and their conflict with even more unscrupulous people. I’ve also come to realize that The Pirates of Sufiro serves as a bridge, showing how a pirate captain like Ellison Firebrandt guided the next two generations into becoming heroes who would save the galaxy.

The first part of this process is making sure characters like Ellison Firebrandt, Carter Roberts, and Suki Mori are true to the characters I envisioned in Firebrandt’s Legacy. I also reread the next two books in the series, Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth, to make sure I believe that Fire Ellis, daughter of Ellison Firebrandt, and her son, John Mark Ellis, are where they need to be. Of the two, I think Fire will need the most help in Pirates while John Mark needs a little more work in Children of the Old Stars.

The good news of my reading adventure is that while it looks like I’ll be spending a little more time rewriting The Pirates of Sufiro than I originally expected, the rewrites of Children and Heirs will probably go a bit quicker than I initially expected. In fact, I’m thinking once Pirates is released, it’ll only take about two or three months to finish the new editions of the next two books.

To elaborate a bit on the issue of character consistency, one element of the story that becomes increasingly important as the series progresses is that John Mark Ellis comes from Nantucket. He has a connection with the sea and has even become acquainted with Earth’s whales as intelligent beings. I think there’s enough connection with Nantucket and the whales in Pirates that these things don’t come out of the blue. Nantucket takes on greater importance in Children of the Old Stars.

Despite that, there’s a scene where a character looks into Ellis’s mind and sees a castle on the Scottish moors. I wrote that because I imagined Ellis’s ancestors as Scottish, but it doesn’t really serve a story point or fit Ellis’s self image. In the new edition, look for him to be sheltered in a light house against a raging sea. In another scene in Children of the Old Stars, I imagine Ellis humming “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I did this at a point where he reaches an important decision and it happens because Ulysses S. Grant was an early inspiration for the character and I wanted that Civil War connection. The problem is that Ellis himself wouldn’t see that connection. He would actually sing songs related to Nantucket and whaling. This led me on a quest to find such songs. During the search, I discovered a wonderful musician and educator named David Coffin based in Boston. He has an album called David Coffin and the Nantucket Sleighride which includes songs just like the ones I was looking for. I even discovered that one of the old songs from circa 1820 fits the mood of the scene I was looking for very well. What’s more, his old songs are great for getting me in the mood to write scenes with Ellis. If you want to learn more about David, his website is: http://www.davidcoffin.com. His albums are available on Amazon and iTunes and I highly recommend them if you want to learn more about sea chanteys and early American music.

After NaNo

I’m sorry to say I didn’t get a chance to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. My daughter did give it a try and I’m proud that she managed to make good progress on a project she’s working on. For those who don’t know about the National Novel Writing Month, every November writers are challenged to write 50,000 words in a month. Because I’m in the midst of commissioning two instruments at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I didn’t think I could commit to that amount of writing during November this year. However, I have participated twice before and both of my NaNoWriMo novels ultimately became published works.

While 50,000 words is a good amount of a novel, it’s shorter than what most genre publishers are looking for. Some publishers are happy to see young adult books around this length, but even they tend to want at least slightly longer. Also, the organizers of NaNoWriMo encourage authors not to spend time revising their works during the month. The goal is just to get 50,000 new words down on the page. So, how do you go from 50,000 unedited words to a novel you’re willing to submit to a publisher?

I first learned about NaNoWriMo from Jackie Druga, who owned LBF Books, which had just purchased my novels Vampires of the Scarlet Order, The Pirates of Sufiro, and Children of the Old Stars. She challenged me to try my hand at writing a novel in a month. I decided it was time to actually write a novel I’d started twice before, but gave up on called The Solar Sea. The reason I’d given up on this novel twice before is that I didn’t know quite what it wanted to be. Was it an adventure novel? Was there more of a suspense element? Should it be for adults? The 50,000 word length and being a parent of two young daughters inspired me to approach this new start as a young adult novel. I’d thought about it so much over the previous fifteen years, I had really clear pictures of the characters, so writing it was easy. When I got to the end of the month, I had a more-or-less complete novel. It needed spelling and grammar cleaned up. It needed details fleshed out. I ran it by three or four beta readers. I even read it aloud to my daughters and was pleased to see how much the story held them, but even at a young age, they pointed out places where they wanted more. By the time all was said and done, I had a 65,000 word novel and LBF said they were willing to publish it. If you want to see the result, you can learn more about the current edition at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Because things had gone so well, Jackie encouraged me to participate in NaNoWriMo again the next year. This time, my project was much less defined. I knew I wanted to write a prequel to my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order and I had a rough idea of what the story would be. I set out on the journey to create the book that would ultimately become Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. I did finish 50,000 words, but I was left with the feeling that I had far from a complete novel. I liked the opening, but felt like the book was beginning to meander toward the end. I also didn’t feel like it had a good focus. In this case, I set the novel aside until I had some idea of what to do with it.

I believe about two years passed. I made a few half-hearted attempts at editing, but was never quite sure what the book was missing. By that time, LBF Books had been purchased by Lachesis Publishing and LeeAnn Lessard approached me with the idea of writing five vampire novellas with erotic overtones. It occurred to me that my NaNoWriMo attempt to could be adapted into three of those. As I thought about what the other two novellas could be, I found a new opening that gave the whole project focus and an overarching theme. With that in mind, I was able to find an ending that became the final novella. Ultimately, those five novellas were published under one cover and called Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Each of the novellas is a part of the story set in a different time period. As the story evolves, the vampires of the story become romantically involved. In this case, it helped to give myself some distance from the original creation and to get some input that gave me a slightly different approach. By the time I fleshed out the middle and added a new beginning and end, I had a 94,000-word novel. If you’d like to learn more about this novel, visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

To all of you who made good progress on a project this year during NaNoWriMo, I salute you! I wish you the best as you polish your work and help it find its final form.

A Stormy Holiday

This year, I spent Thanksgiving on the job at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Because my daughter had the week off, we opted to have our family celebration at home on Monday before my work week began. Over the last dozen years, I’ve spent several Thanksgivings on the job. It’s not necessarily a bad way to spend the holiday. My co-workers and I get to share a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.

Of course we have diverse political views, so sometimes we find ourselves skirting those topics just like many families around the country. In many ways, those of us who work at the observatory are like a family, bound by a common passion for exploring and understanding the universe around us. Moving that mission forward is one of the things that makes working at the observatory on a holiday worthwhile.

Then again, working at a ground-based observatory, we’re subject to the wiles of the weather and this holiday weekend has proven to be a stormy one. Times like this do give us awesome sunsets like the one above, but not much time looking at the stars. We had rain, fog, and wind gusting upwards of 70 miles per hour. These are not conditions one should subject precision scientific instrumentation to. So, why do I have to hang around on nights like this?

First and foremost, there’s the chance the weather may improve enough for us to open. In fact, on my first two nights of this shift, even though the weather looked hopelessly bad, we did manage to get about two hours of data each night when the weather calmed and dried out briefly. Another reason I have to be available is that some of the instrumentation will be damaged if we lose power. On a remote mountaintop in the Arizona desert with 70 mile per hour winds and rain and snow, that’s a real possibility. If power goes out and doesn’t come back before battery backups drain, I may have to jump into action to start an emergency generator. What’s more, we have had circumstances where the weather has damaged buildings and I may need to take action to protect the telescopes or instrumentation.

Fortunately, our buildings and power systems are designed well enough, I don’t have to spend my entire night actually saving the telescope. So, while I’m waiting to see if my services are needed, I get a chance to do some proofreading. This weekend, I’m proofreading the novel Upstart Mystique by Don Braden, which my company Hadrosaur Productions will be publishing in early 2020. It’s a great science fiction novel about a group of colonists who are pulled off course and are forced to land on a planet they didn’t intend to settle before their ship is destroyed. The novel explores fascinating questions about human and machine intelligence.

I became a writer because I love to read. Hadrosaur Productions exists, in part, as a way to give back. The company allows me to seek out writers whose voices deserve to be heard and bring their books to readers. I know many people who read this blog are fans of my writing, but I encourage you to check out the works of the other people I publish as well. This holiday season, I’m especially thankful for writers like Greg Ballan, Joy V. Smith, and David B. Riley who have given me the privilege of editing their stories and I’m thankful to all the readers who are eager to find new, exciting fiction. As we enter this holiday season, please take a look at http://www.hadrosaur.com. I bet you’ll find a good book to share with the adventuresome readers in your life.

Textual Origami

Back in 1993, when I was first writing my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, I created a very broad synopsis of each of the novel’s four parts. I wrote one page in a notebook describing what I expected to happen in that part of the book. Then, as I had time, I wrote the scenes that, I hoped, would bring the story to life. When I’m working on a novel, I often have a flash of a moment in a story. Back then, I was good about writing those moments down right when they happened. I would then call it a completed scene, then start thinking about the next “moment.”

Reading the novel now, over 25 years later, I realize many of those moments read more like scene fragments rather than complete scenes in their own right. The scene fragment might describe something significant that happens to a character, but it’s over and done with so fast that we don’t really feel like we spent time with the character or got to know how that fragment fit in the story’s bigger context. So, one of the things I’m doing in the novel’s 25th anniversary edition is identifying fragments that can be folded together into longer scenes, so the reader spends more time with each character getting to know them and understand their motivations a little more before moving on to another scene. I’ve begun to think of the process as textual origami.

As an example, I had a scene fragment where a colonel is watching a holographic display of a space ship. His adjutant arrives and they have a brief conversation. I then move onto another scene fragment with other characters. In the next scene fragment with the colonel, he’s still watching the hologram. Another ship arrives. Then we move onto the next fragment. It occurred to me, there’s no reason at all that the two fragments of the colonel and the hologram couldn’t be combined into one scene. The colonel and his adjutant could be talking when the second ship arrives, adding another layer to the scene.

Over the years, as I grew as a writer, I tended to get better about creating longer scenes all on my own. However, I still occasionally wrote and inserted a scene fragment here or there. I didn’t really think about my tendency to create scene fragments until I wrote my novel Owl Riders just a couple of years ago. The novel’s editor was the first editor to encourage me to combine some of these fragments into longer scenes. Once it was pointed out, it was easier to see my scene fragments in other novels.

Admittedly, not every scene fragment needs to be folded into long, extended scenes. Sometimes a fragment can help to highlight a moment or emphasize a very particular incident. With that in mind, I think the scene fragment is a very powerful tool, but its one that should be wielded carefully.

If you want to see more in-depth posts detailing my process of rewriting The Pirates of Sufiro for its 25th anniversary edition, I encourage you to support my Patreon campaign at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. Also, I should point out that supporting my Patreon campaign is also a way to help support this blog. I took the leap earlier this year to buy paid WordPress hosting for this blog to give readers an ad-free experience. A portion of the money I get at my Patreon site helps to cover the hosting fees.