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Taking the Old Steam Cycle to New Places

by Chris McMahon

Since I’m off in the forest somewhere camping, being completely low tech, I thought I would do something completely different and natter on about modified steam cycles. Hopefully this will be of interest to SF types, or even steampunkers.

The conventional steam cycle, as used in typical coal-fired or gas-fired power plants, is the Rankine cycle. It is based on the use of water as the working fluid in the system, and so is limited in the temperatures of its application by properties of steam.

The typical arrangement of equipment is shown in the schematic above. The working fluid is heated to a dry, saturated vapour that expands through a turbine, delivering work (the Expander in the diagram). It is condensed back to a liquid and pumped back to the Evaporator where it is heated back to dry vapour. Typically a Regenerator is added to increase efficiency, preheating the condensed liquid before it enters the Evaporator.

Heat cycles are commonly depicted on Temperature versus Entropy diagrams – or T Vs S diagrams. They are a convenient way of visualising how the heat moves.

A typical steam Rankine cycle might operate between pressures of 0.06 and 50bar, which would require the boiler feedwater to be heated from ~40C to 265C, as shown in the T Vs S diagram below.

That means that there are immediate constraints when you want to use the conventional steam Rankine cycle to recover heat. For the example above, the heat source has to be above 265C. But waste heat might be available at 150C – or in an even lower range from 50C to 100C – so there needs to be alternatives.

The Rankine cycle can be adapted to waste heat applications by using more exotic organic working fluids that allow it to be applied at much lower temperatures as an Organic Rankine Cycle.

There has been a lot of work on Organic Rankine Cycles (ORCs) for small-scale and renewable power installations. There are now various commercially available “off the shelf” ORCs for applications up to 1MWe (1 mega-Watt electrical power).

Organic compounds are used for the working fluids in these systems because of their thermodynamic properties and also because they generally have a higher molecular mass than water. This gives relatively small volume streams and results in a compact size ORC unit. It also enables high turbine efficiency (up to 80%). Some examples of some typical compounds are CFCs, freon, iso-pentane, toluene, ammonia and silicon oil. There are also various exotic fluids developed by vendors and other refrigerant mixtures.

Recovering waste heat from an industrial process is not only energy-efficient, but also leads to a reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions, as well as potentially producing a new income stream from generated electricity.

Hot stack gases are a prime candidate from waste heat recovery. Unfortunately the standard Rankine cycle (steam cycle) needs higher temperatures than most stack gases can provide, which is why organic fluids are used in a modified version of the cycle called an Organic Rankine Cycle (refer to last weeks article for more information).

A T Vs S diagram for an Iso-pentane ORC Cycle is shown below.

Over the last few decades continued development of the ORC working fluids has extended their range of operation. Multiple refrigerant mixtures have been used to extend the range of potential heat recovery down to 24C. However you can’t really escape thermodynamics. There always needs to be a ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ reservoir. Accessing heat at such a low temperature requires that you reject the heat to a cold reservoir at even lower temperature – say 5C.

There is also a maximum limit to how much work you can extract from any engine working between two temperatures – this is called the Carnot efficiency (H). This can be defined as:

H = 1- TC/TH

The conventional steam cycle above might operate between a rejection temperature (i.e. cooling water temperature) of 30C and the 50 bar steam temperature of 265C (temperatures have to be converted to degrees Kelvin):

H= 1 –(30+273)/(265+273) => ~44%

Conventional steam plants operate at a typical efficiency of around 33%, which is as close as practical considerations allow operators to get to the theoretical maximum of 44%.

The efficiency of the ORC systems for the recovery of low temperature heat – even though better than other systems – will be low due to thermodynamic constraints.

For the above low temperature ORC example (recovering heat from 24C):

H= 1- (5+273)/(24+273) => ~6%

Only 6% of the incoming heat can be potentially captured. This is the theoretical maximum – what you could achieve in practice is much less, perhaps half. For this reason, very low temperature heat sources are rarely pursued. At 3% efficiency, 97% of the incoming heat has to be rejected through the condenser. In practice it is a high capital investment for little return in power.

Most ORC applications will be recovering heat from above 80C, and may have actual efficiencies between 10% and 20%. The fact that electricity is such a valuable commodity often makes the investment worthwhile, despite the low efficiencies.

One way to improve the efficiency of ORC cycles is to use a supercritical cycle.

Supercritical fluids are compressible like gases, but have a density much closer to liquids. Their properties allow close temperature matching to the heat source. They also still retain enough density to usefully drive a cycle. This makes them excellent candidates for modified thermodynamic cycles where their properties enable increases in efficiency over standard cycles.

A supercritical cycle is capable of giving a 40% lift in efficiency e.g. for a potential Carnot efficiency of 36% at 200C, ORC might deliver 16%, the supercritical ORC cycle will deliver 20%.

Well – I hope you found that interesting. Meanwhile, I’ll go and boil the billy. . .

Capclave schedule and other things

by Kate Paulk

I now have my schedule for Capclave – although the launch is still rather undecided. Some silly (*ahem) the lovely folks at Capclave have me moderating two panels, which should be fun, and I’m on a third panel and have a reading.

There will still be a book, although what, how, and when is rather nebulous still. Apparently they’ve changed hotels and they’re still feeling out exactly what works best with the current hotel.

So, the absolute certainties are:

Saturday October 15:  1:30 PM – Reading

Saturday  October 15:  4:00 PM – Worldbuilding: Alternate History  (m)

Sunday October 16: 12:00 PM – Urban Fantasy

Sunday October 16: 2:00 PM – Paranormal : Innies or Outies (m)

Yes, you saw that right. I will be moderating a panel titled “Innies or Outies”. There may be a great deal of immoderation involved in that one.

Unringing The Bell

by Sarah A Hoyt  (didn’t mean to sign it huge.  Is technologically declined.  Sigh.)

Those of you who haven’t read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Writing Like It’s 1999, do so.

For those of you who read my blog this might seem like I’m harping on a theme, or like I’m getting repetitive.  Well I’d think so too, truly.  Except…  Except…whenever I’m at a con, someone – usually someone much less published than I am – comes back with a variant of “I’m going to keep my eyes shut tight and in the morning, this will all go away.”

Disruptive change is very scary and most people would rather pretend it will all go away, and we’ll be back to the familiar landscape and the familiar certainties.  Even if those are horrible.  Freed lions will often pace as though in the confines of the cage.  Those few of us who are awake and exploring every possibility, looking in every corner, searching for the way things will be are a small minority.

At cons, I still run into authors who look down on self-published authors.   I still run into authors who parrot the line about how much the publisher is investing in them: when it is patently obvious they’re lost in mid-list hell; I still run into authors who say “if you want to make a living at this, you have to publish with the big six.”

I had the dubious privilege of hearing a mid-press published author telling a self-published author whom I happen to know makes more in a month on one book than the mid-press published author has made for any two or three of his books that “most of what’s self published is crap and no one would buy it.  The future is finding a publisher and convincing them to accept you.  In two years, all this e-book stuff will be gone.”

It was breathtakingly bizarre.  Kind of like, in a fantasy novel, standing next to the hidden prince and watching the false king parade down the street looking down on everyone.  Like Saturnalia, with the fools reigning.

And then I catch myself – occasionally – thinking the old thoughts, too: “Well, what does he/she know.  He/she is small press published.”  Or perhaps thinking that some of my fledgelings will of course, eventually, follow the route I have.  And then I stop.  Because there are few things I know, but I do have some certainties.

These are the things I know:

Even if e-books all went away tomorrow, it wouldn’t go back to the way it was
Not the way it was in the early nineties, or even the way it was in the late nineties when I came in.  No way, no how, never.  Because there’s this thing called Amazon.  The publishers no longer control what’s on the shelves and what gets seen.  And even if Amazon died tomorrow, there would be other e-tailers.  Trying to control shelf space is not a winning strategy.  That bell has rung.

E-books aren’t going away
You can’t put the e-book genii back in the bottle.  I’m reading on kindle.  My kids are reading more on kindle than on paper.  So is my husband.  So are most of my friends. Barring some planet killing type of event, this is not going to go away.  No, the economic crisis won’t kill it.  Kindle books published by indies are cheaper.  The tighter life gets, the more likely we’ll buy those instead of the agency-modeled-to-death.

The hierarchies of prestige are gone
Because the big six no longer control access to shelf space (except in Barnes and Noble, and it no longer has the influence it once had) the safe hierarchy of self-published, small press, medium press, big press is gone.  We used to assume someone who self-published hadn’t even been able to get a small press to accept him/her.  We approached their work expecting it to be awful.  It often was.  That certainty is done.  A savvy author with time on his hands can decide he has a better chance going it alone.  Be careful how you talk to other authors.  That person with a single indie book out might have a larger readership than you could dream of.

Most authors have had a taste of freedom
I’m one of them.  Look, I’ve done next to nothing Indie.  A Touch of Night and a few short stories through Naked Reader Press. Interesting results but inconclusive.  However, just knowing I can write whatever and if it doesn’t sell I can put it up on Amazon and it will sell a minimum of x – plus be in print forever – has given me massive freedom.  I no longer feel like I’m blindfolded in the cattle car of a train over whose destination I have no control.  Even if indie proves to be less than half of my income, the ability to put out there what I think should be out there is slowly molding me into a different person: a much less fretful and worried one.  It’s likely to lengthen my life.  It will certainly make me easier to live with.  I don’t know how it’s taking other authors, but I don’t think it’s that bad.

We’re scared, but we’re not stupid
I know, I know, Dean says we’re stupid.  And he’s right in a way, but we’re a very specialized kind of stupid.  Also, he’s not seeing the pressures on my generation – those who came in after 2000 when the publishing houses looked at things ONLY through agents, and the publishing houses’ decisions could make or break your career, regardless of how good your book was.  We had to learn to shut up, no matter how stupid we felt what was happening was.  Not anymore.  And we’re losing the habit of silence – slowly.  The chances of a mass exodus back to publishers on the old terms because we don’t want to do everything ourselves is about … oh, look, do you see that flying pig?  Yeah.  Some of us will go back, of course – most of us who have made our name and can dictate terms, or the really small ones who couldn’t make it on their own.

And I’m not saying publishers are going away
Of course they’re not.  Though a few of the houses will vanish and almost certainly a few of the imprints will vanish.  What I’m saying is that the majority of the writers are NOT going to go back on the old terms.  You want us back, you’re going to have to do things for us that we can’t do for ourselves or hire someone to do for us.  I’m thinking this is the true “demise of the midlist” and not in the fake way you tried to do it before, where you simply announced the midlist was gone and kept changing midlisters’ names and paying them as beginners and not allowing them to build a following.  No.  I think the “midlister” the “shelf filler” the “person we print but don’t do anything else for” is gone.  You’ll have to treat every author as if he/she matters.  You have to make it better for them than they can do by throwing it up on Amazon.  I’m thinking good covers, publicity, limited contracts.

Make it worth my while
Or at least, don’t use aversion therapy on me.  You can’t keep me in the dark and feed me on shit anymore.  If the book is not selling, sure, I need to know, but don’t tell me it’s because it’s not a good book, when I know you did nothing to market it, not even get it on shelves.  And don’t, then, treat me as if it’s all my fault.  Because if you make things unpleasant enough and treat me like a serf, I’m going to think “well, I don’t need to work for you anymore” and I’m going to go Indie.

Give me a public
I’m thinking more publishers should look at Baen books, instead of turning up their noses.  Baen commands loyalty among its writers and gets dedicated readers who look for the brand.  Some of this is (good) marketing gimmicks: buttons saying “I read baened books”, book bags given out at cons, a slide show where upcoming releases are announced, a forum where fans can meet and geek out on their favs.  Part of it, though, the most important thing, is what none of the rest in sf/f or mystery has (I don’t know enough of Romance): a brand.  A unified taste.  For the big houses with multiple editors, this is difficult, of course.  But you can no longer be all things to all people.  Baen chose and does plot.  It does plot really well – whether it’s in sf/f or any of the variations.  “Things happen in Baen Books” would be a great tag line.  Mind you, if it’s one of my books (or Dave Freer’s, too, or a half dozen others) the books also have characters and feelings – but the “things happen” and “adventure” aspect MUST be there for it to be a Baen book.  When I started being published by Baen I immediately “slotted” into a pre-made public.  This, as a newby, gave me something to put my back against, as I grow the rest.  So, what can the big houses do.  I don’t know.  I don’t know under what constraints they operate.  BUT if I owned one, I’d give each editor an “imprint” and then give them the resources to publicize that imprint.  “Okay, Jane likes craft mysteries.  She can specialize in that.  We’ll call it Golden Brush books, and…”  Have them appeal to a segment of public, but appeal to them very powerfully.  It’s better to command 50k loyal readers and grow them slowly than to have most of your books bomb, except for a mega ultra blockbuster a year – which these days might not materialize.  (No power to push, remember?)  And meanwhile tell the editors that the house does… oh, pick one.  Beautiful, doomed adolescents.  Or perhaps more generally “character” or “angst” or “Beautiful language.” and unify that across your “imprints” which will maximize the chance of people reading the brand, not just the imprint.

Will there be a new equilibrium?  Of course there will.  And I think it’s about two years out, too.  But will things be the way they were?

E-books.  E-tailing.  Soon, the book printing machines in every bookstore.  Writers who’ve taken the bit between their teeth.  Will all that vanish?

No way.  You can’t put humpty dumpty together again.  And you can’t unring a bell. So publishers and writers both will have to stay alert and change to survive.

A Ramble on the Writerly Life … Or how do we feed ourselves?

I came across this list on the Forbes site. ‘Ten happiest jobs, as reported a General Social Survey by the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago.’ What interested me about this list is number 4:

‘4. Authors: For most authors, the pay is ridiculously low or non-existent, but the autonomy of writing down the contents of your own mind apparently leads to happiness.’

And coming in at number 7:

7. Artists: Sculptors and painters report high job satisfaction, despite the great difficulty in making a living from it.

I would have expected musicians to be in there with the artists. Basically anything creative gives you that sense of satisfaction.  My favourite would have to be number 10:

10. Operating engineers: Playing with giant toys like bulldozers, front-end loaders, backhoes, scrapers, motor graders, shovels, derricks, large pumps, and air compressors can be fun.  With more jobs for operating engineers than qualified applicants, operating engineers report being happy. (I bolded that sentence because I think it tells us a lot about human nature).

(If you are curious, here are the 10 most hated jobs (by the people who do them).).

All of which brings us back to how do we make a living at the thing we love. Well, most of us work another job. I teach in a creative area, so I’m really lucky. I get between 2 and three days a week at home to write (in the weeks I’m not marking, then it is full time). And even then, I resent the time that doing the shopping and driving kids to and from the train station takes out of my writing days.

Part of this post sprang from my disappointment today. I’d applied for an Australian Literature Board Grant to write a book. I don’t know if you have Lit Board Grants in the US. Here in Australia there’s a grant pie and heaps of writers, artists, musicians, multi-media artists etc apply for a slice of that pie. (It’s divided into aspiring, emerging and established writers).

To give myself an edge, I went to a workshop run by the grants board and what I learnt there was basically this. Say, you get 100 applications for grants. You can dismiss 30 because they are poorly written with spelling mistakes. What you are left with is 70 really good applications and 20 available grants in that area. What do you do? Well, fantasy is not highly respected by the literary world. Having said that some of my friends have received grants over the years. I did get a state grant to go to World Con in Glasgow in 2005. It was worth under $3,000 and covered my air fares and the cost of the con. Everything else I covered myself.

Which brings me back to how do we creative people survive. I came across this interesting post from Alan Baxter on Crowd Sourcing. (This is what Dave did with Save the Dragons).  A creative person says, Hey I want to write this book/make this film, design this game but I need the money to do it. If you want to see/watch/play it, then pledge some money and when I get enough, I’ll do it.

Alan Baxter talks about a project involving one of Neil Gaiman’s short stories.

Christopher Salmon was asking for funds to make a short film of Neil Gaiman’s short story, The Price. For a fully-realised animated feature he needed $150,000 of funding. Neil Gaiman himself endorsed the idea (which is how I heard about it via Twitter) and the thing went viral. The funding has hit $161,774 and the short film is being made. I kicked in and my contribution will result in me receiving a DVD of the film when it’s made.’

Alan has become involved in a  Crowd Sourcing project to run The Emerging Writers Festival in Brisbane, which has hit its goal and will be going ahead. So there are good outcomes.

Here’s another example for an indie tabletop game.

It all seems very egalitarian, thanks to the WWW.  In the past, the creative person would find a wealthy patron who would support them and ask for paintings of his family as recompense. Now the creative person asks the general public and if enough people chip in, they can finish the project. If the writer/musician, artist already has a following they may be able to make this work. There are also Indie Publishers attempting this.

Here on Writer Beware, Victoria Strauss analyses a Crowd Sourcing model, where the underlying message seems to be to read the fine print and know what you are getting into.

Meanwhile, I didn’t get a grant, which means teaching for another twelve months (and applying for a grant again next year if I can think up an intersesting project). Meanwhile, I’m keeping my eyes and ears open and watching developments.

Have you come across any Crowd Sourcing projects that look interesting?




Space Pioneer

by Dave Freer

Space Pioneer… No, actually I am not referring to Mack Reynolds 1965 novel – although it might be fun to garner the modern left wing response to a novel about colonization… before explaining that it was written a lifelong member of the America Socialist Labor Party, the son of its Vice Presidential Candidate.  It’s also curious that he was published by any number of editors (including John W Campbell) of a very different political stripe, right through the McCarthy era.  At that time Science Fiction was still an avant-garde genre, which challenged the rules. It’s became a very different place after that, sadly. Now you get called ‘daring’ for parroting a party line plus the obligatory weird fetish-associated gratuitous sex, and ‘unpublished’ for anything else. The world changes, and only sometimes for the better.

No, what I was referring to was an area of genre that has gone largely into PC-dictated decline, that of novels about exploration, settlement, colonization, pioneering new worlds. Once this was one the mainstays of sf.  Now it seems Dystopia, or  novels about long-existing settlements (at the ‘we will barely tolerate this, as long as you mention how evil the founding fathers were -do not mention ‘mothers’, because they were good and pure and persecuted ‘ level) have become de rigeur.

Yes, it does irritate me.

You see: for science fiction, it always struck me as the history of the twentieth century ‘but don’t mention the war’. There are, obviously, some speculative fiction areas that don’t take us into new worlds and new territory. Time travel… (except as in L Sprague de Camp’s LEST DARKNESS FALL, or Eric Flint’s 1632) that don’t involve building a new world. Or dystopia, where a la Atwood some authors get the opportunity to tell us what scum humans (as in men) are. But, well, I have found my desire to read this sort of thing is… rather tepid. Perhaps I need re-education. As I briefly talked about my writing blog Coal-fished Cuttlefish dystopias, in which at best the protagonists survive are still very fashionable in YA (Hunger Games for example). Some of these are very readable.  Sometimes that survival makes a good story. Survival and combat are, after all, basic human instincts. Books that satisfy these instincts will have appeal.

But there is another instinct we’ve been told is ‘bad’ – which is odd, as every single living thing does it. We’re all colonists in one sense or another. We all alter our environment – even if only by breathing. The inner-city soy-latte sipping arts graduate in her boots made of the carefully tanned hide of  genuine vegans, and designer label jeans (from Vietnam) and natural cotton blouse (from India), as much the anaerobic bacteria making its energy from sulphur compounds three miles down in the ocean next to a black smoker (No, I played no part in drowning them, I mean an undersea volcanic vent. And really, the bacteria are not in the least fussed by color.). What’s more we’re all descendants of colonists – as is every plant or animal. But, as Douglas Adams said, humans are not proud of their ancestors and never invite them around to dinner. The environment of Australia was altered about 40 000 years ago when the first humans arrived… and that wasn’t the first time radical alteration happened either. I believe the Stromatolites from 3.45 billion years back are still considering demanding affirmative action, and are only held in check by the proto-atmosphere claims, demanding less free oxygen.

The guilt-exploitation games played by the prophets modern PC are largely to blame for this fashion, which, as a biologist and something of a traditionalist and guy who tries to live off the land with as little impact as possible, I find funny. Hey, it’s laugh or cry. They’re doing a remarkably good imitation of the British shipwrecked sailors on South African coast who died of starvation in the midst of plenty, heatstroke because woolen clothes couldn’t be taken off (indecent!), and thirst on the dunes where the water is maybe two feet down.  It’s a story of both good AND bad.  It is part of ALL of us, and learning to live within it has been something every settler–from Australian aboriginal to the tribes who expanded across Europe after the Ice Age–had to do or go extinct. If you didn’t learn, you died, as on Easter Island, or here on my home on Flinders Island, which was last inhabited more than three thousand years ago, before the new settlers.  And we’re — slowly it is true — learning not to destroy the treasure of new environments before we even know what they are. I kind of used this as a major philosophical thrust in DRAGON’S RING, where human destructive and creative nature is part of the story.  It can be that, too.

So how does this tie into what this blog is about: writing? Well, simply that it occurs to me that the areas that enjoy great popularity are, well, the deep philosophical bits… death and sex (well, they can be!) because they’re basic things that all humans (and everything else, but they don’t buy many books) are interested in (Look at vampire… OK, bad example, look at non-sparkly vampire books).  Of course, we’re a social animal, so we find social interactions and relationships fascinating (look at sparkly vampire books). Which is why those sort of elements make books work. But we’re also a tool-using animal that pushes into new environments and explores and alters them. It fascinates and pleases us at a primal level, rather like a campfire does.  Some of us (like me) are a little more primitive than others, but no humans are that far from it. (Maybe three meals?) In genetic and evolutionary terms it’s an eye blink, and we haven’t been through the enormous drift or pinch-points needed to change that. (I had one of very PC award-winning darlings of the literary world kindly explaining to me once that we had culture so we didn’t behave like animals, and social patterns and reproductive strategies had nothing to do with them any more. Uhuh. Really? Fascinating! I was very good. I didn’t tell her just how dim she was. It was exceptionally hard.)

Which is why I really think there is a niche for humanity-against-the-environment books. Yeah I know. Big bad humans beat up the environment and nature is all fluffy and cuddly — which is something you can delude yourself of in the inner city and while pulling on those vegan leather boots, going down in the elevator to your hybrid car and off to the supermarket to buy some cellophane wrapped Tofu. But that, seriously, can’t describe the arrogant ignorance of the entire market-place?  Tell me, please, that it’s not true? That there are people still who realize their great-grandad (or pick an ancestor) was tough, lucky and someone to be respected? That getting off a ship in a country you knew nothing of and carving out a life for yourself was not senseless wanton destruction, but courage and pluck? That there are some people who still realize polar bears aren’t cuddly. That a night in the untamed veldt would frighten most people sleepless – even with a rifle and fire. Sleepless or having something digestive happen to you. Tell me please that you still want to read about solving problems with your wits and few resources. Tell me that you want to read about building up again after disaster and dystopia. About new worlds and new problems. About making soil. About out-thinking the worst that the author can think of throwing at the poor fellow…

And I’ll tell you I want to write for you.

Oh BTW, I’m running a project on called The Changlinomicon — which is a serial story told from the point of view of a Goblin and a Human teenager, surviving each others’ world. Basically I’ll write the next episode a)when I get enough votes b)or when I feel like being snarky. Kate, this one is your thing.

*as in even the new species still had ancestors, and you can bet some of them arrived with carpetbags.

A Dog, A Dragon, The Moon and a Serenade

by Amanda S. Green

First an update.  Last week I reported that I’d been representing NRP at FenCon (this year’s Deep South Con) in Dallas.  It’s my first time at a con representing the press and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous about it. But, so far, so good.  The small press roundtable was Saturday afternoon and went well — I think.  What really interested me were some of the questions from the floor.  Despite the rapid changes in the industry, it is clear writers are doing their best to educate themselves not only on whatever subject they are currently writing about but also about the business of writing.  The questions ranged from do we have favorite agents we work with — and each of us noted that most agents don’t bother with small presses.  They let us work directly with their clients and don’t get involved — to why their book from Publisher X looks great in pdf but sucks eggs when it comes out as an ebook in epub, mobi, etc.  There were questions about promoting a book and what we expect our authors to do to royalties, etc.  This truly was a panel where there were no dumb questions.

I also had the opportunity to go to Toni Weiskopf’s Baen Slide Show.  I’ve heard about the slide show for years, but this was my first time seeing it.  Toni’s desire to have good art that represents the novel shone through during the presentation.  I know there are a bunch of people out there who think Baen has horrible covers, but I have a feeling those are also the folks who don’t like the sort of books Baen puts out.  Mind you, there might be one or two that aren’t on my shelves at home or on my kindle, but not many.  What I was absolutely thrilled by was how wonderful some of the upcoming covers are.  One of my favorites is the cover for our own Dave Freer’s upcoming novel, Dog and Dragon.  The image on Amazon doesn’t do it justice.  (BTW, I’m going to do a plug here and recommend you run, not walk over to Amazon to pre-order Dog and Dragon and, while you’re at it, if you haven’t read Dragon’s Ring yet, do so.  It’s wonderful.)

So, while this weekend has been partly professional, it’s been a lot of fan girl time as well.  Not only have I had the great fun of spending time with Sarah, but I’ve been able to spend time with friends from Baen’s Bar who don’t live in the area.  The high points of the weekend so far have been meeting Toni in person and in meeting Dr. Les Johnson and his wife, Carol.  If you haven’t read any of Doc Les’ books before, let me recommend Back to the Moon (with Travis Taylor).

Since my mind is on the con and everything on the schedule today, I’m going to leave you with an excerpt from Nocturnal Serenade (Naked Reader Press, Nov 2011). BTW, this is not from the start of the book.  Why?  Because I’m evil ;-p

*  *  *

Elizabeth Santos Wheeler dropped her head into her hands and closed her eyes, fighting back a sob as she did.  This was all just a bad dream and she would soon awaken.  It had to be.  No other explanation, reasonable or not, made sense.  But what if it wasn’t?  What if it was real?  Then what was she supposed to do?

Damn it all, why was this happening?  It had nothing to do with her, not really.  So why was she the one forced to deal with it?

Because you’re the one with the most money as well as with the most to lose.  That’s why.

Resentment warred with fear, anger with the maternal instinct to protect.  For the first time in so very long, she didn’t know what to do.  It was as though her worst fears had suddenly sprung to life and she simply didn’t know how to react, didn’t know if there was anything she could do to protect herself and those she loved.

Damn it!

She shoved back from her desk and climbed to her feet.  As she did, she glanced outside.  Beyond the window, darkness swathed the yard.  Only the light cast from her window and the pale lights surrounding the swimming pool broke the darkness.  The leaves of the ornamental fruit trees on the opposite side of the pool rustled gently in the light breeze.  The oak trees shielding the yard from the golf course formed a dark curtain against the night sky.  In the distance, a neighbor’s dog barked once, twice, as if calling for someone or something to answer.  Everything looked so normal.  Yet it wasn’t and it never would be again.

Her lips pressed together in a thin, angry line.  She moved from behind her antique Georgian desk and began to pace.  Her steps were muffled, almost silenced, by the thick carpet.  She no longer heard the soft strains of the music she’d put on earlier in the evening when she’d come upstairs to work.  Instead, the sounds of her teeth grinding and her heart pounding filled her ears.  She didn’t have time for this.  She should be focusing on the Allingham case, not this – this stuff of nightmares.

As she turned back, her sea green eyes fell on the photos scattered across the top of her desk.  No one else looking at them would be this upset.  They would know with a certainty that the pictures had been faked.  After all, the images showed the unbelievable, the unreal.

But she knew better.  No matter how badly she wanted to dismiss the photos as a simple prank, she couldn’t.  She knew the images captured by some unknown photographer could be all too real, no matter how unbelievable they were.  After all, she had lived with this particular nightmare all her life, waiting, fearing for the moment it would manifest itself in either her or one of her children.  Now it had and she didn’t know what to do.

Her fingers trembled as she reached for the nearest photo.  Her chest felt as though an iron band had tightened around it, making it almost impossible to breathe. Instantly she was transported back to that terrible moment she she’d first seen the picture.  Despite the fading light caught by the image, she’d immediately recognized the subject of the photo.  In that moment, she’d died just a little.  Even as her brain tried to close down, to deny what her eyes saw, she knew the truth and she damned herself for it.

Sharp pain and the bitter taste of blood brought her thoughts back to the present.  Absently, she dabbed at the lower lips she’d been gnawing without realizing it.  But her eyes remained glued to the photograph she held in her right hand and a soft moan escaped her lips.

Why?  Dear Lord, why?

A young woman knelt on the ground, her head thrown back, her expression filled with agony as her hands ripped at her tee shirt.  Her green eyes, just a shade darker than Elizabeth’s, reflected terror at what was happening to her.  Even then, the change was obvious, if you knew what to look for – and, much to her regret, Elizabeth did.

The young woman’s hands were altering, her fingernails lengthening even as the features of her face blurred.  Muscles rippled and bunched as her body was reshaped.  Hair seemed to sprout from every pore, short hair that was more fur than hair.  All of this was documented in the other photos strewn across the desktop.

A soft sob caught in Elizabeth’s throat as the photo fluttered down to the floor.  No, the image was all too real and her nightmare had finally come to life.  What was she going to do?

Not even the note included with the photos helped her decide what her next step should be.  A single sheet of ordinary white paper with just a few lines printed on it mocked her, revealing nothing about the unknown sender or what he wanted from her.

Mrs. Wheeler:

I thought you might want to see what your eldest daughter is up to these days.  Being a parent is such a trial at times, isn’t it?  I wonder if your other children will show the same bad habits as their sister.  But don’t worry.  I’ll be in touch soon to discuss what needs to be done.

That was all.

Mackenzie, what happened?

Unable to stand it any longer, Elizabeth abruptly turned on her heel and started out of the room.  Then reality once more intruded and she hurried back to her desk.  She couldn’t leave the photos where they might be found.

She scooped up the photo she’d dropped and then those scattered across the desk top and shoved them back into the envelop they’d arrived in.  Once she had, she locked them in the top drawer of her desk and pocketed the key.  They were safely hidden from view, for a while at least.  But how long would it be before the photographer made them public?

And what would she do when that happened?

Her left hand slammed against the light switch on the wall by the door as she passed, throwing the room into darkness.  She had to do something, anything to find out who had sent the photos.  The envelope had been delivered to her office.  Hopefully, the receptionist had made an entry as to who brought in the innocent looking brown envelope.  At least it was a place to start looking for answers.

Lonesomely over the bricks

by C. S. Laurel

Writers get lonely sometimes. I know I do, despite the fact that I have a loving partner and a decent enough income to keep me out of the homeless shelter. Just about.  But the thing is I’m really a social animal, and the writing life consists mostly of sitting at the computer, alone, conjuring up imaginary friends to play with – pretty pathetic for a guy who likes to talk and lecture and, I confess, on occasion babble – then yanking out your virtual notebook and secretly recording the proceedings before any of them notices and shuts up. The trick is to get it down on “paper” (really, it’s an electronic file, but let’s not quibble) before your “friends” leave. Unfortunately, some days are better than others; some days your “friends” don’t want to play.

What to do then? Turn to your real  or at least corporeal friends, of course!  The thing  is, when you work by yourself, you don’t have work friends.  And even if you still have a day job, as I did at a time, you can’t sidle up to the water cooler and go “my imaginary friends are driving me crazy” not unless you want to be taken away in an I-love-me-jacket.

Years ago, when I was slinging words onto the page at the blistering pace of a few hundred words every third Tuesday of months that didn’t end in “-ary” and not nearly as determined to earn a living writing, I found a writing critique group that met regularly and after I camped on their doorstep for two weeks unshaven and unwashed, they let me in, or at least told me to take a shower already, and I slipped into their meetings. When my characters misbehaved, I turned to my writing peers, moaning about how my characters froze me out. Sarah was in that group at the time, and she turned to me, looking like I’d grown a second head, and asked, “Really? Mine won’t shut up no matter what!” (Anyone who has known Sarah for any length of time realizes the newbie mistake of trying to garner her sympathy with errant figments but, in my defense, I had just met her.) I realized then that the relationship between writers and their characters wasn’t much different than the average schizophrenic’s – except maybe more like a marriage, honestly, with all the joys and heartache and the occasional partner who won’t shut up — I wonder why mine snorts when I say that?  The point is, they’re just as real to us as real people are.  Occasionally they’re also just as troublesome.

That experience stuck with me, and I learned from it. Now, when my characters give me the silent treatment, I treat them like my real friends and refuse to let them freeze me out. Usually, they relent quickly enough to release me from the doldrums.  Yes, they probably do that to get me to shut up, but what matters is that it works.

So, how can a writer ever be lonely then, you ask? Back in the day, when it was just me and my critique group, the only time most of us writerly types saw each other (beyond our groups, of course) was at conventions, once or twice a year. I used to look forward to those conventions for months, and that kept me from getting too lonely.  These days, I rarely go to conventions. We writers congregate almost daily online, on Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere, so we’re rarely alone any more, but I still feel lonely sometimes. Maybe it’s just because I’m a social animal, but I miss the quick hugs from con-friends you haven’t seen in years, the exhilaration of getting invited to an unexpected dinner party with a VP of a big publisher, the pleasure of shaking your idol’s hand and blubbering like a fan-boy idiot for a few minutes before sitting down next to that idol so you can sign your own books for your own fans.

I really miss personally connecting with my fans. You know who you are. One day, once I’ve built enough of a fan base to support the expenses involved with conventioning, I’ll get back to it. Which brings me, sideways, to an announcement.

My first novel, B. Quick, came out a few years ago, and has been gaining readers ever since. I can’t tell you how pleased I get every time I get fan mail! (My partner could, but it would involve lots of eye-rolling and snickering and the occasional mention of duct tape.) As much as I love the book and the attention it’s received, I have a secret to share: it wasn’t my first Quick mystery! Yes, that’s right, I had actually written another one before, called Quicksand. Bill and Brian were already an established couple in that novel, and the main complaint I got from my critique group was that they wanted to know how such an odd couple got together, so I wrote B. Quick, which naturally got published first, being first chronologically. But I didn’t forget about my other baby.

So, without further ado…

Naked Reader Press will be publishing Quicksand next month! And to celebrate, I’ve asked them to put up B. Quick for free for a while and they did! Download it today, as my gift to you for reading about my figments and telling so many of your friends.

And, because my partner says I’m a tease, let me prove it.  Here’s a short excerpt from Quicksand.

 *  *  *

The doorbell rang at eight a.m..

I was already twenty minutes late for my first lecture of the day, stark naked and in the laundry room, rummaging through the hamper for a less than dirty pair of socks I might wear again.

I yelled “Brian,” as loudly as I could but without much hope.  “Brian, will you get the door?”

Our bedroom was right next to the laundry room, but I got no answer.  Then again, I didn’t expect one because the love of my life could easily have slept through a seven forty seven landing on the bed.

The doorbell rang and rang, as though the caller, tired of waiting, had decided to glue his finger to the button.

I tried to ignore it till I’d found socks, but the two pairs I unearthed — one liver-pill-yellow, one shrieking red — were obviously Brian’s, bought at bargain sales and unsuitable for a conservative lecturer in an old-fashioned college.  What the man did with my socks was beyond guessing.  Last time I’d asked him, he said he ground them and sold them to the health food store as gourmet cheese.  I hoped he was joking.

I yelled again over the ringing din, “Brian,” before giving up and walking down the hallway.  On the way I grabbed a robe and ran my fingers through my short dark hair in an attempt at looking knowledgeable and respectable, the type of scholar who would have spent the night poring over the most obscure Elizabethan Literature instead of blond ex-students.  You never know when the dean might decide to come calling.

Okay, yes.  It had never happened.  But that didn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

It didn’t help to look in the bedroom and see Brian, sprawled cater-corner on our king size waterbed, his expression one of absolute bliss.  Like a cat, he can take up all available space on any bed.  I pulled the door to — just in case our impromptu visitor got this far — and arrived at the front door ready to play decency incarnate.

I should have saved myself the trouble.  The man leaning against the doorbell didn’t even see me. The knife was stuck below his ribs, the blood pouring out to soak his striped blue and white flannel pajamas.

Murder, my mind said, helpfully.  Murder most foul.

While having Shakespeare quotes run through my mind might be a professional deformation as a professor of Shakespeare, that one was hard to argue with.  I looked at the blood pouringout onto the marble floor of the hallway.

Murder, definitely.  Unless this man had decided to perform surgery on himself on my doorstep, and that seemed too bizarre, even for a college town.

Police.  I should call the police.   The police would know what to do, right?  It was their job, wasn’t it?  But I couldn’t close the door and leave the man here, bleeding, could I?

Why not?   I hate it when my mind waxes sarcastic, but the whole point of the dead is that they are somewhat mobility challenged.  So it should be okay to leave him right here.  I started backing away and pushing the door closed.

My supposed dead man opened his pale blue eyes.

I must have jumped three feet back and the only reason I didn’t slam the door shut is that my hands were otherwise occupied, covering my mouth.

The dea– wounded man looked at me slowly, with a sort of wondering expression, then frowned, as if he were trying to recall something very difficult.  “Bill?” he rasped.  And then he fell sideways.

He’d called me by name.  I surged forward, broke his fall, pulled him into the house and banged the door behind me.  All too late, I realized I was trying to render assistance.  This, given my knowledge of first aid, was not unlike trying to grow a pair of wings.

I couldn’t find his heart beat.  As for his pulse, though I had a vague idea of how to feel for it, I could never locate a beat on anyone.  In health class, back in tenth grade, I’d gone from classmate to classmate, lying about counting their heart beats, all the while wondering by what luck I’d landed in the zombie class.

Assuming that the man might still be alive, I grabbed the handle of the knife — a smooth, wooden handle, much like our own kitchen knives — and pulled it once, hard.  I remember thinking I had to pull straight up, so as not to make the cut worse.

Listen, I’m not a medical doctor.  I’m a doctor of English and literature.  If a split infinitive ever comes to the house with a knife stuck in its middle, I’ll know exactly what to do.  With a wounded man, I acted on impulse.

The result was much the same as if the proverbial Dutch kid had taken his finger from the rhetorical dam.  Blood spurted everywhere, including my face, my white robe and my brand new white carpet.