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Author: Matt

Matt (MG) Herron writes science fiction thriller novels and nonfiction how-to guides. His first novel, The Auriga Project, was published in 2015. His first nonfiction book for writers, Scrivener Superpowers, was published 2016.

When he’s not bending words to his will, Matt organizes Indie Publishing Austin, a local Meetup for writers and authors. He also likes to climb mountains, throw a frisbee for his Boxer mutt, Elsa, and travel to expand his mind.

Save Net Neutrality!

Photo taken outside of the Mexicarte Museum. (Aug. 2017, Austin, TX)

Todos son bienvenidos. All are welcome.

Or all should be.

The news coming from Trump’s FCC puppet proposing to end Net Neutrality are not unexpected, but they are still infuriating.

The internet is a great leveler, an innovation machine, an infinite resource, a tool, and a way to stay connected.

It has changed my life, and I firmly believe that it belongs to everyone.

We must demand that open internet access be maintained.

What Ajit Pai is proposing we do by revoking Title II is put the power to control access to the internet in the hands of the government and giant corporations who don’t have your best interests at heart. If Ajit Pai has his way, ISPs will be able to throttle or block content and services as they choose. They’ll be able to jack up your rates, too.

“The FCC has confirmed that they will vote on 12/14 to abolish the regulations that prevent internet service providers from blocking access to certain sites, throttling internet speeds, and otherwise controlling what websites and online services are available to their customers.” Source: 5calls.org

We can’t let it happen. Don’t let them end Net Neutrality.

There has not been a single greater threat to free speech this year.

If our voices are cut off by giving control of internet access over to the hands of the few, that will mark the beginning of a long dark road.

Speak up. Call your representatives using 5calls.org. I know I will be.

Guest book review of Hyperion, the sci-fi epic

I’ve been on a mission.

A mission read a hundred science fiction classics.

Most recently, I read Hyperionan Hugo Award-winning 1989 science fiction novel by Dan Simmons. I enjoyed it so much that I also wrote a book review of Hyperion as a guest appearance on the blog of JR Handley, a military science fiction I recently met through a sci-fi fan group.

Here’s a snippet from the beginning of the review. Visit JR’s blog to read the full piece.

Guest Book Review: Hyperion

I’ll say this about Hyperion: it doesn’t pull any punches.

This epic science fiction fantasy novel follows a priest, a warrior, a poet, a detective, and the rest of their group on a tragic and often violent pilgrimage to the planet of Hyperion.

Their quest leads them not only to the Time Tombs of the Shrike, but down the battered, bloody, and often sexual fringes of their lives and memories.

Each of these characters is complex and nuanced, mysterious and determined. I don’t always like all of them… In fact, scratch that—I actively dislike most of them. They’re selfish, egostistical, vain people. But they turn out to be fascinating people too.

Read on: Guest Book Review: Hyperion.

3 great sci-fi mystery novels to read

After a full weekend enjoying the company of family and friends, taking care of some errands, and writing a chapter of Translocator 3, I’m winding down for the night by checking out some science fiction mystery novels I haven’t read yet, and thinking back on the ones I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve always loved sci-fi and speculative mystery, everything from Ghostbusters to the TV show Fringe to the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep to almost everything Isaac Asimov ever wrote. I immediately fell in love with Minority Report when I was a kid, and of course Blade Runner is a classic and Philip K. Dick did SF noir like no one else.

But there are a ton of science fiction mystery books I plain didn’t know about, or that I missed because I was busy doing something else.

You can always count on Goodreads for a good starter list. I’ll be checking out a bunch of these in an effort to get to know the genre better: Science Fiction Detective Novels.

I also want to give a shout out to these three novels from writers I admire. I read two of them recently, and I’m in the middle of the Asimov book, but so confident of its stature as canon in the SF mystery field that I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, too

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

This is the classic science fiction detective novel on which most of the fascination with Asimov’s work is based. Set a millennium into the future, Detective Lije Baley is forced to work with a Spacer robot detective…who is practically indistinguishable from a real person. This fascinates and disgusts him, and it gets worse when his orders go beyond work and begin to infringe on his delicate family life.

 

The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

The concept of this book hooked me from the start. Here it is from the book page:

“One day, not long from now, it becomes almost impossible to murder anyone—999 times out of a thousand, anyone who is intentionally killed comes back. How? We don’t know. But it changes everything: war, crime, daily life.”

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher. When his friend and colleague goes missing, Tony gets involuntarily pulled into a missing person’s investigation.

Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

While Sanderson is known for writing epic fantasy, this incredible short novel shows he’s got SF detective mystery chops, too.

Police have the ability to take a snapshot of a day, and relive it. They use it to solve crimes. “Anthony Davis and his partner Chaz” relive May 1st in an attempt to solve a crime.

If that sounds surprising, just wait until you read what happens next.

As I was putting this blog post together, I saw at the bottom of the Snapshot page that the film rights have been options for this story. Here’s to hoping that means sequels, because I enjoyed the hell out of this book.

Click on the book covers or titles above to check the books out on Amazon. (Those are affiliate links, which means I get a few pennies if you buy the book. That money goes back into this blog, which means more books by me like the ones you see above. Thanks in advance for your support!)

Some thoughts on James Patterson’s “BookShots”

I bought a thriller novella in the grocery store checkout line today.

Well, I’d call it a novella. James Patterson and his publisher call them “BookShots.”

Now that I’ve finally had a chance to actually read one of these, I have some thoughts.

To start, I was among those chuckling under their breath when Patterson’s BookShots were first released.

I thought, Why is he renaming novellas? This is just a marketing shtick. Call it what it is.

Well, that’s true. I mean, look at the first line of his introduction, which is on the first page after you turn the cover:

Dear Reader,

You’re about to experience a revolution in reading—BookShots.

BookShots are a whole new kind of book — 100 percent story-driven, no fluff, always under $5.

I snorted a little. A revolution? Really?

You see, as an author familiar with book marketing, this is a little transparent to me. He literally just renamed novellas!

Also, a lot of authors are offering “100 percent story-driven, no fluff, always under $5” on the Kindle these days (though rarely in paper, even they have to admit).

None of this stopped me from buying the book, though. (Helped that it was 20% off) Call it professional curiosity. And the back cover copy was interesting.

This book is called Manhunt. The back cover reads…

MICHAEL BENNETT,
BE GRATEFUL YOU’RE ALIVE.

Someone attacked the Thanksgiving Day parade directly in front of Michael Bennett and his family.
The television news called it “holiday terror”; Michael Bennett calls it personal. The hunt is on…

Followed by pull quotes from Lee Child and Michael Connelly (thriller authors of the same type as Patterson, in case you didn’t know).

I finally opened the book, and what I found was a sparse, plot-driven terrorism thriller with good hooks and an emotional punch.

Part of me is still a little irritated that Patterson is coopting short novels and renaming them as this gimmicky “BookShots” bullshit, but the other part is impressed because the story has done its job and drawn me in.

The writing is solid and fast paced, but not without depth. One sentence paragraphs are common. There’s a very clear character voice and setting.

The chapters are short, often no more than two pages. If I had to guess, 500-750 words per chapter.

But the story moves. Hook after hook after hook. It’s very plot driven (what Patterson calls story-driven, I suppose), but as I said the depth is still there. We’re deep inside Michael Bennett’s head, whether he’s worrying about his large brood of adopted children or chasing a terrorist through the street.

I’m halfway through this book so I can’t say whether I was satisfied with the ending. But I’m gonna finish it.

In spite of the transparency of the marketing ploy, I’d happily read another one of these books. At the least, I’d pick it up and read the back cover.

I hate the name “BookShots,” but they seem to be entertaining stories, if you’re into the type of thrillers James Patterson is known for. Look past the silly branding and expect to be entertained.

And, to be clear, it’s not that you couldn’t get more out of an indie book, and probably for less, especially if you buy on Kindle or Kobo.

But I don’t know many authors who can do in 2 pages what Patterson seems capable of. To move a story at the pace he does takes skill.

This is the other secret…

This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Scrivener 3 update incoming! Here’s a peek

I try to keep my insane, nearly fanatical, love of writing tools contained—at least in public and on this blog—but I have to take a moment to share how excited I am about the Scrivener 3 update that’s coming out on November 20th.

According to their blog, it will look a little something like this:

That looks pretty similar to the current version of Scrivener, with some minor aesthetic tweaks. But wait until you see what’s inside.

One particularly awesome feature for all writers, no matter what genre or subject, is the Linguistic Focus mode. You’ll now be able to highlight specific parts of speech within the visible part of your manuscript, like dialogue, or adjectives.

This is particularly useful to fiction writers for whom some of these elements of speech could be used as crutches, and need to be rooted out and eliminated. I can also see myself using this when I’m doing a pass at a long manuscript with a particular aim. Say, for example, I just wanted to do a pass to improve the dialogue. Linguistic Focus mode will allow me to be more efficient by helping me ignore any irrelevant text.

Super neat.

Another feature I’m really excited about is wordcount history. Currently, Scrivener 2.x only supports cumulative word count for the manuscript, and word count for the day. The new version can apparently log word count per day over a period of time, which is something I used to have to do manually in a spreadsheet, if I wanted to see how productive I was over time.

Now, it seems, all that will be done automatically! Fantastic.

One last cool thing to share is particularly relevant to indie authors. It’s not something you’ll notice much unless you’re publishing, but for me—and anyone else who uses Scrivener to create epub and mobi files—Scrivener 3 will now support the most current versions of EPUB specification, EPUB 3.

This should fix the Look Inside issue on Amazon that was troublesome to so many authors.

Literature and Latte says that….

  • Scrivener 3 can export to Epub 3 format.
  • Its Kindle export is also much improved, and should now work fine with Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.
  • The internals of Epub 3 and Kindle files are tidier, containing only a single CSS file.

And the exporter will now also have a place to edit the CSS yourself.

So all this sounds great to me, and it’s easily worth the small price they are asking for the upgrade. New users will be able to get a 30 day free trial of Scrivener 3. If you’ve never tried it before and you like to write at all, it’s worth checking out.

I wrote a how-to book on Scrivener 2 that will still be 99% applicable to Scrivener 3, although perhaps missing a few of these cool new features. You still may find it useful.

A chance for more sci-fi stories here

I’m a science fiction writer first, so I’ve been contemplating the best way to get more SF stories onto this blog.

I always post snippets from my upcoming novels, of course, but I don’t produce full length books fast enough to keep those snippets running for long. (The next book in my Translocator series won’t be out until early next year, for example, and that’s good for about 3 snippets, or 3 days worth of blogs.) I have occasionally posted short stories on the blog, but they have historically been few and far between.

If I add a weekly column like I’ve been contemplating, something like “Flash Fiction Friday,” where I publish short short stories (likely less than 500 words) once a week, that would be fantastic…but it would also add more to my workload. That time has to come from somewhere else.

So the trick to getting this right is going to be about timing and effort, and finding a balance between the two.

So here’s a couple things I’ve got to sort out, and what I’ve been noodling on while I consider the best way to make this shift without losing ground on the daily blogging streak (which has been super fun and gratifying!)

  1. Have a plan. Right now I have problems, not plans, but I’ll get there. Whatever the plan is, it needs to be sustainable.
  2. Gather the prompts/ideas ahead of time. Either come up with some process that generates infinite combinations of SF writing prompts, or buy books of sci-fi writing prompts, or just make and keep a massive list. Most likely it will be “all of the above.” Having the prompts takes the hard decision making out of the writing—simply open the prompts, pick one that sounds neat, and you’re off!
  3. Build up a backlog. So that I can plan ahead for holidays/times when I’m just busy.
  4. Start short. Start with flash fiction and short short stories. 50 word stories. 100 words. 250 words. No more than 500 words, TOPS. One day, I’ll have a back catalogue larger than you can believe, and I’ll be able to run full short stories (5-8k words) once a week on the blog…but that’s years away.
  5. Think long term. I plan on reusing the stories of course, bundling them together into books when I have enough to publish. So I am already thinking about themes and genres and certain series characters that would fit together in a book. Being able to publish stories later in books/collections, makes me feel like the time I spend on stories for the blog is not wasted, but is contributing to another product that helps grow my author business. That’s important to me, too, because one day I plan on making a living writing fiction.

So that’s it, basically. Publishing more short fiction here is something I want to do, but it’s always presented a challenge of time and effort. For the past few years, the vast majority of my fiction-writing time has been dedicated to creating publishable stories and books. For the foreseeable future, the vast majority of my fiction-writing time STILL NEEDS to be dedicated to publishable stories and books.

But if I can eek out a little more from my time and regularly publish flash fiction here, especially stuff that can eventually be wrapped up into SF flash fiction collections, that will be good for me and good for finding new readers.

So it looks like the next step is gathering a ton of writing prompts, and coming up with a process to nail down SF flash fiction ideas quickly.

More soon, I hope!

Belly full of cake

Shelly and I did a cake tasting tonight, for the wedding in March. I’m so full of cake! It was delicious. Wonderful flavors like peaches and cream, and blueberry bourbon, and all sorts of chocolatey caramel deliciousness. The caterers we found are very talented.

As for my writing projects, I’m making solid daily progress on Translocator 3. Up to 41k words now, past the halfway mark and into the third act (of four). I’m at the “shut up and type faster” phase, which is a great place to be because I’m not worrying about the words so much, just trying to get them down as fast as possible.

Meanwhile, I’m daydreaming about a sci-fi mystery series I’ve decided that I will one day soon create. Taking notes on that, since I don’t want to get distracted by starting a new project in the middle of another one. The new ideas will be 2018 slate for sure.