Monday 1 April 2013

Guest Post - Matthew H Philips, Author of John the Robot

Today author Matthew H. Philips is joining me on the blog to recount his adventure writing his current releaase, John the Robot.

The Saving of John the Robot, a Comical Tale

Does the world really need another Robot story, or perhaps a Wizard-adventure and we could add the detective genre while we’re at it just to be completely thorough?  The answer on a philosophical level is of course we need as many entrees to these and many other categories as can be written.  Each author has his or her own slant on how a stock character will act, or perhaps they will find a way to take the ordinary person and give them some extraordinary traits which endear them to audiences worldwide.  Where a story takes place and how the entire plot evolves is something quite unique to each individual author, thus making their opus completely distinctive as well.  The critics might cringe when the rookie author tries his or her attempt at a Robot tale or new epics depicting battles of swords between ancient worlds long forgotten.  It matters not what they think, but the fact that the person creating the tale, weaving the characters through thick and thin and keeping the reader on the edge of their seat with plot twists left and right-does their level best to entertain and possibly cause thought provoking conversation about their book.

When writing John the Robot, a Comical Tale, I truly had no intent on allowing anyone to read it except for a few good friends.  Nearly nine years have passed since I wrote the short story about a space captain and his trusted side-kick, the robot named John.  Its creation was simply due to a writing friend who said to me in a letter (maybe e-mail) that she was going to enter into a writing competition.  She told me that the rules were simply to compose a short story in the sci-fi-comedy vein and it should be no longer than 2800 words.  I told my friend that I was not interested in submitting to the competition, but would write a story with her and trade evolutions and offer constructive criticism.  Within a day or two of starting the story I had far exceeded the maximum number of words and decided to continue to write what I felt was needed to have a balanced and hopefully well conceived story.

Upon completion of the story, I sent a hard copy to my writer friend and in time, after she read the work we discussed various ideas and concepts within the tale; then, I promptly went on to the next writing adventure.  To back track but a moment, over the time that I was writing this work and as a general rule, and relating to all my documents-I backed them up.  In the early 2000s, I backed up my data with both CD-rom and floppy disc.  The former method I still use in additional to a new process and the latter a relic of different computer era.  My back up process is to save to disc after each computer session.  When JTR (John the Robot) was finished, it was a fun interlude and placed aside.  There was no hope of a sequel and at that time, publishing at places like Amazon and Smashwords were not an option.  With other endeavors occupying my time, John and his human companion rested comfortably in the memory chip of my old Dell computer and as duplicates in many saved formats.

Nearly two years later, I was ready to write what up to that point would be my most adventuresome work to date.  Newrael:  Unavoidable Detour was begun in 2006 and just before writing my first chapter for this work, I decided to use John the Robot and the Captain of the spaceship Bessy, one Ithan Higgins as main characters for Newrael.  In this Epic Tale, Ithan Higgins is the protagonist and John is a casual character whose appearance in the story is rather mild indeed.  Yet, the two characters are front and center in an eBook which nearly didn’t come to on-line publication.  Having published Newrael: Unavoidable Detour in September of 2012; a disappointing realization would occur to me personally about its potential for success.  This particular insight would lead to the idea that a short story was needed and needed as quickly as well.

The article you are reading is not about Newrael:  Unavoidable Detour and yet the birth of JTR as a published story is linked directly to the larger chronicle.  Newrael comprises tens of major characters, multitudes of secondary characters and many one-line glory hounds.  It is a sci-fi story, but also a fantasy novel and an action adventure tale to boot.  With battle scenes comprising sword carrying armies to the inner struggles of a wounded space ship Captain, Newrael seemingly had everything going for it.  Humbly though, it has gone nowhere fast.  Many readers are adverse to a 151 Chapter enterprise filled with over one million words.  No matter how well written or how clear the ideas are laid out, there is little potential when nearly every marketing avenue is shut to you (another article someday) and that re-thinking your original premise is bound to come out.  After much careful thought, I decided to leave my epic tale as is and not consider breaking the colossal epic into a trilogy or even more segments.  My reasons in leaving Newrael: Unavoidable Detour as written is not privy to the public at this time.  Instead, I decided to try a bold idea (not really, many authors have lead in stories of different types) and add something to bring readers (hopefully, with fingers crossed and all that) to the larger story of Newrael:  Unavoidable Detour.  A light went off one day as I struggled with the thought of not being able to write a sequel to Newrael and delighted in the fact that I had a short entry nearly ready to go and it was called:  John the Robot.

Like every author, I save my data to many formats to protect the literary vision from being lost because of a defective, lost or miss-placed back-up storage unit.  Located in my current computer, I had moved all previously saved data from the old computer and thought nothing of the JTR file or many others cohabitating within the matrix.  Upon conceiving of this great idea to publish JTR as a short story and lead-in to the Newrael Epic Tale, I was now about to come across a great jolt of unsurpassed panic.  There was no one hiding in my house to yell boo!  Nor were there persons of questionable character following me around town.  This was a writer’s worst nightmare come true and it actually happened to me.

It was a Friday perhaps in early November.  I had already begun coming up with a cover idea based upon my limited artistic wherewithal and as I worked on that leg of the overall short story project, I wanted to begin editing the text material I wrote nearly eight years earlier.  First, I looked at the file in the computer and was shocked and dismayed…saddened and distraught…angry and concerned that the data in question was not complete.  It was just a little more than half of the original tale that I remember-and how I missed saving the whole work of fiction dumbfounded me.  Before I had a proverbial nervous breakdown, this author took some deep breaths and went on a scouting mission to find the lost file.

Pulling out CDroms from years past and even floppy discs (ancient technology) as well as both a CDrom reader and a floppy disc reader, I was hopeful to find my lost file.  Slowly I went through each format, starting with the CDrom(s)-only to find the same information saved on each disc; the unfinished story to be specific.  My heart sank each time the file loaded and the same data appeared.  Once I had loaded all the potential possibilities from the CDroms (with no luck), I moved to the floppy discs.  Years earlier, Staples was trying to sell of a stand-alone floppy disc drive and I purchased one for under $20.  This would now be a test to see if the investment would pay off. 

It would be a similar story to the Three Bears.  The first one would not even load.  Maybe corrosion or something that happens to that kind of storage material, but it failed to work.  Next came the second disc and while I did get it to make noise and prompt my computer to allow for the loading of a file…It would not and could not do so.  Again, I am not a computer technician and so I have no reason except the floppy disc was corrupted in some way.  Despondent to near panic levels, I once again took some deep breaths and reminded myself that I had the ability to finish the story if no saved version in a complete edition was discovered.  My adrenalin was running high and my nerves were frayed as well.  Such a simple idea to quickly publish an already written story was becoming very disconcerting indeed.

First I loaded the next and last precious floppy disc.  Lucky number three held my full attention as I carefully pushed the disc into the hard-disc reader.  It ate it as it had done earlier discs and made those rumbling sounds that at least meant the floppy was somewhat viable.  Somewhat would not do this time as I needed that file to load in full and without any errors.  My computer indicated that there was a new device ready to be used and I clicked on the connection to the hardware in question.  I searched the files seeing all the same entries as before.  Finding the most sought after digital representation of my story that for me would mean the world, I left-clicked and was offered a resounding defeat.  The disc would not load the file.  I depressed the retry button one more time and acquired the same result.  Nearly devastated beyond words, I decided to eject the disc and start one more time the entire process of trying to upload my lost and very singular file.  Nearly an hour had passed since I began the struggle to find the disc.  My nerves were now completely worn out and I was ready to pass out in despair.  If you are a writer or composer or painter, you probably have had this same sinking feeling in your gut.  But in the tradition of giving it one more chance, I starting from scratch and prayed the file would load and be the “one” I so desperately needed.

Before re-inserting the floppy disc that held all my dreams (not really, but sort-of), I checked the entire unit to see if it had any physical damage.  Not seeing any, I once again loaded it into the device and waited for the component to do its thing.  When my computer yet again noted that there was an attached hardware device ready to be used, I clicked on the icon and waited with barely any patience left with regards to the entire enterprise.  As you might reckon a bit, the disc did load and the computer was ready to access whichever file I so desired, or so everything seemed to speak to that possibility.  Not wanting to waste anymore time, I found the file in question and clicked on it to load the hot commodity.  A few seconds passed and I closed my eyes begging for providence to allow my desired file to appear before me on the computer screen.  For a second, maybe two, I cautioned myself that the chance of it working was perhaps not in my favor based upon passed efforts.  To my amazement and happiness the file loaded up and words at that time were impossible to annunciate.  Searching the loaded file displaying on my computer screen up and down and through all the pages, it was “by gosh” complete and just as I remembered it.  And like that old children’s story from centuries past, the third one was just right.  Quickly I saved this file to the computer, but that was just the beginning.

Once I had saved to every known method in the modern age of computer, the process of reading and editing began.  Writers often know the feeling of elation when you write something and see the consistency and quality that remarkably matches to something else you have written.  In some cases it can almost be a revelation for the canon you started in one work, nearly completely carries over to another writing project, but not because you planned it that way.  Much was the case with John the Robot, a Comical Tale.  As I read the story back to myself with a new set of eyes and purpose, there were obvious typos and some grammatical issues, but the fact that story canon was kept intact based upon the later Epic Tale Newrael:  Unavoidable Detour.  It was sheer astonishment that story arcs were present in the shorter fable that purposefully were written as major plot lines in the larger novel.  All in all, things were looking up.

Before any adjustments to the story were done, I decided to completely read the work through and then commence my editing process.  The original version had no chapters and that would be one of the last writing adjustments I would undertake.  But right after reading the story, I decided to use Spelling and Grammar check in Word from Microsoft.  For some unknown reason, after writing the story back nearly eight years earlier, I did not use this function in the software program.  There were the usual fixes that occurred and the quick click on the “ignore once” icon to keep names and exotic places left alone in the story.  I rarely found any immense grammatical error that the software finds to correct, so next I began the author correct feature in myself to improve the story to the best of my ability.

Writers have their own way of researching, sketching, outlining, writing and editing their great opi.  This particular short story was through-composed without any notes or outlining.  When I took to adjust the tale to be an all-over better written chronicle there was the pleasant surprise that what changes were needed to be made, were minor in nature.  This could be best illustrated by the changing of spelling of names to be uniform and consistent throughout the work and changing of the use of capitalization on some nouns that was present in the original, but not in the published version of JTR.  To the best of my recollection, there were no plot changes, additions or subtractions of characters or adjustments of any major kind to the short story.  The process in total, eight years past the original writing of the story, took only a two week period and only a few hours each evening after working (like many of us) my day job.  Also at this time in the work’s progress, I was literally building my prototype robot for use in the cover art.

No sane author will give away a cliff-hanger plot point, but it was a pleasant surprise to see that my short story featuring a robot named John had several of these and they smoothly dove-tailed into the larger Epic Tale as well.  One important point should be made to anyone who decides to purchase and download John the Robot, a Comical Tale-the story is complete and whole on its own.  However, I wrote JTR leaving open the opportunity to write additional short or long tales using both Ithan Higgins and John the Robot as major characters.  I also wanted to have, if the occasion presented itself to me the use of reoccurring secondary and even a few minor characters in future written works based upon the world of John the Robot.  With the editing process giving me a blissful benefit of a story holding more potential as a series than just a one and done tale, I took to the final editing process. 

At this point in the editing procedure, at least for me, the next step was a clean read-through of the story with all the changes now intact.  I hasten to mention that this was not the final one, though.  There comes a point to which an author must move on and allow their story to exist as is, but I was still coming across some awkward sentence constructs that needed minor improvements to make me feel better as the author of the story.  It would probably not be a stretch to say that many authors continue to edit and improve upon published stories throughout their lives.  For me though, the need to have the written text complete and ready for upload to Amazon and Smashwords was not quite an issue of time, but I desperately wanted to have a shorter eBook available and for only .99 cents-and sooner, rather than later was my intent.

Okay, I did another two, possibly three readings of John the Robot, a Comical Tale and still found some annoying issues to correct.  How could I miss them?  This question went through my mind every time I found a foolish miss-step in the copy.  But when the two weeks were over and I was less concerned with the text and concentrated on creating my cover art, a certain feeling of confidence began to take route.  Don’t get me wrong though, I was only secure in the fact that the conversion from a nearly lost file to a completed text of story which I felt was necessary to help in promoting Newrael: Unavoidable Detour had been successfully concluded and ready for upload (more on that process in a moment).  During the next few months the story was set aside and my concerns were strictly on the actual robot creation.

If you are a betting individual, you would have made a lot of money gambling on the fact that I backed-up this revised story and in every imaginable format possible. To this day, I still can’t figure out how the full version of the original story was only saved to one lone floppy disc.  But that is in the past.  Looking to complete the cover art, I shopped at various stores for the parts of my robot.  I looked forward to the day I would be uploading all components of John the Robot, a Comical Tale story and then move on to the marketing of the nearly nine year endeavor.  It was around January 2013 that I began to use various graphic programs to take the photos of my robot fabrication and make a cover appropriate for JTR.  Once satisfied with what I came up with (never, but I will improve and update sometime in the future all my cover art) the final process of formatting for the various e-book platforms began.  Actually, the Kindle format I found easier to prepare my text for, but once I began formatting for Smashwords, I felt I needed to take a course or perhaps ten in the subject to just figure out how to write my name.  This is just my humble opinion, but it would be nice if all the platforms stuck to one method of upload rather than each having separate ways of editing the parameters of your text.  I know, it will never happen, but one can ask, can’t one?  In February of 2013 I uploaded John the Robot, a Comical Tale to available for download on the Kindle or Kindle players.  After a little struggle I eventually uploaded to Smashwords where a person can download the story for various devices beside the Kindle.  And no, I didn’t do a dance of joy-maybe just a cool jump to two.

As we come to the conclusion of this article, the story’s promotion is just beginning to take shape.  Though authors ‘round the world would not like to have to deal with the marketing, advertising, promotion and publicity of their current stories and just concentrate on their next writing effort; it is part of the business that once an e-book is published or print published that you have to drive sales by promoting the book.  For me, this is actually a very interesting adventure in itself and possibly the stuff that another expose will be made of.  For now, I hope that people will consider reading my little tale of a robot and the humorous adventure that followed.  Maybe, some readers might wish to tackle the Epic Tale Newrael:  Unavoidable Detour and see where John the Robot and Ithan Higgins end up.  Plus, I am currently writing the second JTR short story which I hope to complete within the next few months.  Good reading to all…

Ithan Higgins is a down on his luck freighter pilot just trying to eke out living.  John the Robot is his trusted co-pilot/engineer and probably his best friend.  Together, they are on a mission to deliver some mysterious goods to a wealthy benefactor who wants no questions asked and a timely execution of the transport of the unique freight.   To protect the innocent, mainly Ithan; he always keeps his nose out of the storage bay and hopes that nothing will crawl out into the ship proper.  For now Ithan and John the Robot carefully watch over their ship called Bessy as they travel the bleakness of interstellar space.  

Everything seems to be going smoothly, a rarity for this duo to be sure; however, just when Ithan is about to put his feet up and take a much needed break, the space police are on his ship’s fumes and desperate to take him in for whatever laws Ithan has broken on this voyage.  It will take much patience and extreme piloting skills to avoid his arch nemesis, the captain of the space police ship following Bessy.  Yet, Ithan will have to endure one creature and his constant and not very charming complaints to a level not reached---since their last trip.  If the space police don’t capture Ithan, his trusty and loyal robot may just send him over the brink of sanity.  Can one space going vessel be big enough for Ithan Higgins and John the Robot?
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