June 17, 2019

Some Things I Learned from Galactic Con

I had a really fun time on Saturday at Galactic Con. The event went pretty well, although I think there are some simple changes which could make the next one even better. But even though there wasn’t the turnout I’d hoped for, overall, the event was a pretty big success.

If you saw my Instagram story with the photo of my suitcase, you know I brought an obscene number of books—way more than I needed. I would have liked to sell more copies at the con, but I made back my table fee and then some, which in itself makes a local event well worth participating in. But beyond the purely financial aspects of tabling at an event, I also met a bunch of creators and a few other authors. After spending much of the day chatting with a number of creative minds, I took away a bunch of interesting ideas which I will likely apply to future events. Here are some:

Wear blue lipstick and a nerdy corset

I’ve already embraced this to an extent with my (currently green) hair and robot leggings. Conventions are a great opportunity to really stand out and make unorthodox fashion choices. Tees and jeans are boring (unless your teeshirt has a sick custom graphic of a character in your book series). Don’t be afraid to wear something original, silly, or over the top. Of course, make sure you’re comfortable, but beyond that, have fun.

Don’t be afraid to bring a lot of stuff

Somehow, it had become a point of pride that I was able to fit my whole setup in a single rolling suitcase which I could bring in by myself in one trip. For some events where I have to fly out, or there’s no parking or loading close to the vendor hall, the one-suitcase setup makes sense. However, I’ve attended a few cons where I did bring multiple boxes of books which were too heavy for me to carry, and I had to rely on help from other people who were bigger and stronger than I am.

I particularly dislike being the ‘damsel in distress,’ so naturally as I wheeled my insanely heavy suitcase into the exhibit hall for Galactic Con, the wheels on the suitcase broke. The staff had a dolly and helped me move my injured luggage to my table. Then as I left, although I got the wheels patched up enough to roll my stuff back to my car, I couldn’t actually lift the case into the trunk. Again, someone saw me struggling as they drove by, parked next to me, and helped me get everything back into my car.

Although it sounds like the solution would be to bring less stuff, there’s no getting around the fact that I’m selling books and books are heavy. Clearly, my one-suitcase system is no longer working for me.

My display was also much simpler than many of the others, mostly due to the space restraints of my self-imposed one-box limit. However, with just me in the car, I have tons of space to haul stuff, and I even have a hand truck somewhere in my basement. I can upgrade my setup just by allowing myself to use multiple boxes and taking a few trips between my car and my table.

Use KDP print

Several self-publishing blogs and forums state that to be a successful indie author, you must print with Ingram Spark as they are the most ‘professional’ option. But the other authors I spoke with at Galactic Con all use KDP print since the company doesn’t have any setup costs, and in many cases have lower prices per book. My fellow writers weren’t particularly concerned about getting their titles into bookstores and libraries since both have very little payoff for a lot of work.

Do it because you love it, not to make a quick buck!

There are a number of ways authors and creatives have been able to monetize their passion. Although it’s important to be cognizant of marketing techniques, there’s no one-size-fits-all business plan. And at something like a convention, nothing sells better than a love of your creations and shared passion over fun nerd culture.

The next event on my calendar isn’t until September, but I want to sign up for some more between now and then. Each convention I’ve done has been a learning experience, and I’m looking forward to growing even more as an indie author.

June 11, 2019

Release Day for my First Puzzle Book: Mystery of the Spaceship and the Missing Crew

As always, I’ve piled too many things into too small a time frame. I’m doing the big launch of my first Puzzling Escapes book at Galactic-Con on Saturday, June 15th, but I didn’t want to roll both the book launch and my post-mortem of the con into one mega post. And since I had to make my puzzle book available in advance in order to stock up copies for the convention this weekend, I thought I’d gush about my new book first!

While at a comic con last year, I stood at my table greeting attendees while also thinking about the kinds of things con-goers might enjoy. This particular con had an escape room, which I thought was a great idea since I love escape rooms. I’ve played a number of escape room board games and really enjoyed them. They are something that I imagine would sell well at a comic con. Then, the idea of making an escape room puzzle book hit me. I had never designed a board game before, but I do have experience publishing books.

I was so excited about this idea that I pushed aside the other projects I had planned to work on and focused on this one first. Coming up with puzzles and tying them together into a narrative was a ton of fun. The framework of how the book would flow was a lot of work to put together, but now that I’ve got all the pieces assembled, making another Puzzling Escapes book will be much faster.

The book is available now on Amazon. I’ll have signed copies for sale on my website soon, so keep your eyes out for that. I hope people really enjoy playing through this book. If you do, let me know and I’ll get to work on another installment.

As always, I have to give you, my readers, a heartfelt thank-you. Your love and encouragement have inspired me to keep writing and publishing, and with your continued support, I’ll get to keep doing what I love. Thank you!

May 27, 2019

Detroit: Become Human and the Future of Androids

I recently finished my first playthrough of Detroit: Becoming Human. Another writer recommended I check out the game when I told him the book I was working on had androids. However, the robots in my books are very different than the ones in Detroit. I really enjoyed the gameplay, and since David Cage created the game, the focus is on the ideas and story.

From the title alone, you get the notion of the central theme: at some point, androids are people too. I have thought a lot about this, but since I didn’t want to tackle such a huge philosophical question in my writing, I decided that the androids in the In the Lurch series would be strictly tools. Detroit, on the other hand, really makes players think.

In each sequence, you play as an android and are essentially forced to sympathize with this remarkably human-like machine. They have learned to feel emotions, to empathize, and to acutely fear death. They form bonds of friendship with humans and other androids, and can even have romantic feelings. These attributes, the game argues, make the robots human enough to be treated as people in society.

I could go on and on critiquing different aspects of this game, but I thought I’d focus on the “becoming human” part.

Androids are living beings

Before writing a single word in my robot series, I discussed the future of androids with my dad. He said he believes that with AI, robots would be indiscernible from living beings, and we would need to take care of them similar to how we would a pet or livestock He even quoted the Bible, saying that God wants us to take care of our animals and treat them with respect.
Proverbs 12:10
“Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”
Considering society’s current stance on animal cruelty, I imagine most people would take the utmost care of their robot pets. I know vegans who won’t even eat items made with yeast, grouping the single-cell organisms in with animals. Surely an animated robot is more ‘living’ than that.

Of course, if we look at the biological definition of a living organism, androids would fail miserably. They don’t take in energy to grow and they can’t reproduce. On the other hand, if they’re so similar to life, shouldn’t we treat them the same?

Androids are Cognisant

One could argue a robot’s thoughts and feelings aren’t authentic and only resemble a human’s, but ultimately are only the execution or bits of code. On the other hand, isn’t the human mind just a mix of neurons firing electrical signals and chemical reaction? At what point will we say that a machine’s actions are authentic and not simply a ruse to appear lifelike? I personally don’t know, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Androids are Better than People

Back to the conversation with my dad: he believes that one day, androids may be so similar to people that they will have a role in society, including having a form of citizenship and representation in government. If they possess certain abilities that computers are better at performing than people, perhaps they’ll be more suited to some professions.

Naturally, that thought was what fueled the takeover of jobs by robots in In the Lurch. Already, automation has eliminated careers which were once performed by people. While I and other creators before me tend to support the take-over prediction, many people (including my dad) look forward to a more harmonious future.

Androids are Evil

The main fear most people have is that machines will become cognizant and take over the world or wipe out humanity. Is some stories, like the movie I, Robot, the robots are protecting people from the evils within humanity by exterminating all human. On the other hand, in The Matrix movies, robots enslave people and use them as fuel. Either way, it seems like the themes in these stories reflect more on the negative qualities of society rather than trying to accurately paint a future world.

I really appreciated that Detroit portrayed the burgeoning humanity of androids as being a positive movement for change (or maybe that’s just the ending I got?).

Spoilers for Origins by Dan Brown ahead:

The androids in Detroit reminded me of the technology Dan Brown featured in Origins. Throughout the book, Robert Langdon works with Winston, an AI which has been encouraged to make friendships with people. The big reveal at the end also showed Ed’s prediction of technology and humans evolving together to make a greater species than humans now. It’s rare to see technology as a force for positive change, so it’s refreshing when robots are cast in a good light in stories.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the topic. Do you believe machines will one day cross the threshold from lifelike to life-forms? Or will they always be just robots? Perhaps you think it’s too early to pore over this debate and you want to wait before forming an opinion. Let me know in the comments or share your thoughts on my post on Instagram.

May 20, 2019

Book Review: The Conjurer's Almanaq

I may have gone a little overboard ordering cool puzzles recently. I wanted to scope out the other items that people who might enjoy my puzzle book would also want to read. OK, let’s be honest: I used it as an excuse to finally purchase the cool indie puzzle books accumulating in my Amazon cart. For some reason, I never thought to write up a review for a logic games or interactive book. If you enjoy this review, let me know and I can post some more in the future.

The Conjurer’s Almanaq
By Roy Leban and Emily Dietrich
My Rating: 🟊🟊🟊🟊☆

The Conjurer’s Almanaq is the second puzzle book created by Roy Leban. I played through his first book (the first puzzle took over my dining table for over a week as I carefully arranged the 64 pages I was instructed to tear out), Librarian’s Almanaq, which was insanely difficult. However, the first one had instructions on what to do. Here is a puzzle. Now solve. This one does not.

When I saw the tagline, “Escape this book!” I thought this work would be modeled after escape rooms, but that wasn’t really the case. The Conjurer’s Almanaq is presented as just that: an almanac for a novice learning magic. A note at the front says you’ve been sucked into the text and must find and solve the puzzles in order to escape.

To say the puzzles are hidden is an understatement. One could read through the entire book and not notice anything resembling a logic problem. The reader is supposed to identify things which are odd or patterns contained in the words and illustrations. Once you’ve figured out what the hidden pieces are, they still don’t make any sense. There’s a lot of trial and error trying different things to come up with a solution, including (at least in my case) writing a script to check all possible answers until the right one pops up. You do get a satisfying feeling when you solve a problem, but it may take a while to get there. Although there aren’t any hints in the book, there’s a pretty active community sharing tips and solutions.

This book is at a level of difficulty for avid puzzlehunt fans, and I recommend it for experienced solvers. It’s a pretty serious time suck, but if you really enjoy a difficult challenge, you’ll love The Conjurer’s Almanaq.