Big News and an Update

First, the big news...

I'm doing my first ever, official public book signing  for Rhubarb tomorrow, Saturday October 6th, from 2 p.m.-5 p.m. at Hastings in Billings, Montana. I'll be up at the front of the book section of the store, near the cafe. So come on by, and bring a friend or two.

And now: the update.

I've been working hard on this, the sixth, and hopefully final, major revision of Legitimacy. And just this morning, I finished working on a chapter that represented the bulk of the significant changes. So yeah for me! I still have eleven chapters to get through, but I have this dream that I'll be able to get through them all before the end of October.

My biggest incentive is that November 1st is the start of NaNoWriMo 2012. I really want to participate this year, and I have a pretty good idea in mind already for a new book. But I also can't afford to lose this thread on Legitimacy. I'm going to sign up anyway, so that even if I can't start on the 1st, I might be able to catch up.

Anyway, that's all. Wish me luck, and hope to see you tomorrow.


My Weekend with Surrealist Painters

I had an odd convergence this weekend. I hadn't planned this, but I read a graphic novel and watched a movie that both dealt with roughly the same time, place and characters. Kiki  De Montparnasse is a fictionalized biographic graphic novel about a famous model and socialite in Paris in the 1920's, who was immortalized by the photographer Man Ray in his photo Le Violon D'Ingres. While Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, portrays a young screenwriter, played by Owen Wilson, who considers his impending marriage and a wishful career as a novelist while on vacation in Paris. In typical Woody Allen style, he gets swept off (in his imagination or not, it doesn't matter) to the Moveable Feast of an idealized1920's Paris.

I felt a little like Owen Wilson's character myself, unprepared, but pleasantly surprised to find myself spending the weekend with golden shadows and line drawings of Ernest Hemingway, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, Luis Bunuel, before a backdrop of surrealists, bohemians, all at the epicenter that was Paris of the time.

Now, I've never been to Paris, and I've never been particularly nostalgic about the time, but as a working writer I can't suppress my envy of those who got to experience such a nexus of creative energy. A nexus that treated literature and art as serious concrete things that had the power to shape the world. A nexus that dared itself to challenge convention, brave boundaries, and shatter norms in almost every medium.

Can I do as much in my basement office or in the various coffee shops of Billings, MT? There's only one way to find out. Who's with me?



Relatively Big Deal

This may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but Splash, my recently-turned-twelve-year-old son, has learned how to play pinochle.

I didn't learn to play pinochle until my early twenties when it became clear that the best way to get to know, ingratiate, and interact with my future in-laws was to learn. Pinochle is like a private religion in my wife's family: the stuff of family newsletters, nicknames, and get-together rituals. But to an outsider like me who had only played card games that required no more skill or thought than Spoons or Slapjack, it was completely incomprehensible. If you've never played, here's the Wikipedia article...you'll see what I mean. And forget Hoyle. That guy has no idea what he's talking about. My in-laws play various pinochle variations depending on the number of available players, whims of the most vocal, and need for vengeance off of particular losses. And as if the game wasn't difficult enough, these cultists have made up their own system of coded bidding. But when you're in love, you do things like get baptized into The First Apostolic Church of Double Pinochle Reformed Central Iowa Synod, Montana Covenant. Motto: "Where a marriage is defined as a king and queen of the same suit, and if your spouse is on the other team, all bets are off."

And now, so many years later, just when I feel like I'm beginning to understand the game, I feel a swell of fatherly pride to see him play. And he's good. You better watch out Grandma. In a couple of years, you're going to have some real competition.


Rhubarb. Now on Smashwords!

For those of you who aren't familiar, Smashwords is a ebook retail site that provides readers options beyond the proprietary Kindle and Nook formats, and provides authors like myself with access to various ebook sales streams like the Apple Store and many others. While Rhubarb has not made its way across their full wide net yet, you can download it from Smashwords directly right now.

No, seriously, right now. Go. Thanks.


Spaceship Earth

So I'm sucker for dramatic space porn; but I believe that images like these are now as important as ever. Space travel can no longer be thought of as the politically motivated feats of an intrepid few. We are a space faring species whether we like it or not. It's time we starting acting like it.

Protip: Full screen. Volume up. Child-like wonder.


Now with more Facebook...

If you'd like to keep up with all things about me, M.H. Van Keuren, author extraordinaire. Link on over to Facebook and like this:


 Don't be the last to know all the latest M.H. Van Keuren news. You don't want to be that guy.


Doctor What? or Requiem for a Would-be Fanboy

Julie’s been extremely busy this summer. And I’m usually barricaded in my office or ensconced at any available coffee shop to work on the final revision of Legitimacy.

This leaves Splash and Wallclimber unparented most hours of the day. When they were wee lads Julie and I worried about them, as we called it, going feral. But as typical American tweens and teens, respectably, they clutch their birthday presents (iPod, iPads, PC) in their Gollum-like clutches and scurry into the basement. Their eyes are growing lantern wide, and they wail at the Elven torments of bedtime, chores, sunshine, or fresh air. It can’t be good for them. But I understand it. I did the same thing, except back in my day, I only had books.

But lately I’ve emerged from my office to find my boys watching Dr. Who—the latest few seasons of the BBC incarnation—on Netflix streaming. I’d never seen it, so (for purely academic purposes as a sci-fi author) I joined them for a couple of episodes.

And now, even though it might destroy my sci-fi author street cred, I must confess: I do not get Dr. Who.

I remember trying to explain Star Wars to my father. He liked Star Trek, but his eyes glazed as I went on, his face grew pained, and in the end he would give his head a little shake. How could he not see how awesome it was??? The Force. Lightsabers. Hyperdrive. The Jedi and the Sith. And now, my vision blurs as Splash describes a Time Lord, My sinuses ache as he insists that the trundling Daleks are terrifyingly evil. My mind wanders as Wallclimber tells of the one character got cast out of time, was erased forever, but somehow came back as a Roman centurion…I feel my head shake. Is there more pie in the fridge?

Am I a traitor to my professed genre? In my heart I feel like I should love Dr. Who. I should embrace its fanciful alien technologies and ride the roller-coaster of near-universal destruction that seems to come in every episode. Am I just getting old?

I have hope, however. I asked Splash: Why, if the TARDIS can go anywhere in a chaotic populated universe, does this singular Time Lord worry so much about Earth and London?
“Because that’s where they make the TV show,” he replied.
At least one of us has a healthy perspective.


The Future is Ours

Inspirational videos may be this decade's motivational posters, but I wanted to share this one:

The Future is Ours from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.


Robots. Asteroid mining. Glorious launches and daring deeds. Asking the big questions. But the moment that the deaf woman hears for the first time through an implant...I'll admit I almost cried along.

As a writer of science fiction, and not a scientist, I can only hope that my work will contribute in some small way. To reflect the possible. To inspire the hitherto impossible. To allow readers a glimpse, a dream, of a possible future, and dare them to make it happen.


The Mother of all Free Book Promotions

This is it. Your last chance to get a Kindle version of Rhubarb for free. It will be free for 48 hours starting midnight Saturday 6/23 and ending midnight Sunday 6/24. (BTW: Amazon works on Pacific time.)

If this promotion goes like my previous ones, it should be a spectacular success. Rhubarb came close to #1 in free sci-fi last weekend, nearly reached the top ten in free humor, and for some reason was in the top 100 books for single women. You don't know how fun it is to see that.

But this will be my final free promotion. It's coming at the end of my exclusive obligation to the Kindle Select Program (which I won't review in this post), but it's great news for readers of other formats. Sometime in early July I will be releasing Rhubarb for the Nook, through Barnes & Noble, and for the Apple store and all the other various ereaders (Sony, Kobo, chisel and rock) through Smashwords.

Oh, and Saturday is my mother's birthday. So give her the only gift you can, and tell a dozen friends about Rhubarb. Happy Birthday, M.


Father's Day (is) Special

Just a quick post to announce that the Rhubarb will be free for the Kindle all day on Father's Day. (Sunday 6/17/12).

I don't know what my family has planned for me, but I'm sure it won't be as exciting as a free ebook. I'm jealous of you all. Peace out.


Towel Day 2012

“A towel, (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”

My deep admiration for Douglas Adams is no secret. (Link here if you have only just crawled blinking and confused from a cave.) Those who know me very well might know that the first possession I would rescue from my burning house is my signed edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Those who know me inordinately well know that nearly every night of my life, I’ve gone to sleep listening to recordings of the Hitchhiker’s radio shows.
This morning, a couple of new Amazon reviews compared my writing and Rhubarb to DA and THGTTG. I fully, and shamelessly, claim him as an influence. But it got me thinking. What is it about Douglas Adams that I admire so much?
I was introduced to DA in the eighth grade by new friends in a new town, who thrust his books into my hands flabbergasted that I’d never even heard of him. (Hipster moment: I read DA back when his trilogy had only three books.) So is my admiration simply nostalgia—that I spent my most embarrassing emotionally formative years comforting myself by reading and rereading those books? Nah. It’s got to be more.
I do admire his writing style. He’s concise. (A sentence construction and paragraph design and planning skill, often related to proper word selection, that I have often neglected in the recent past.) He took big risks with his writing and never shied away from absurdity; yet somehow always seemed to make a salient point. (See almost any quote from Marvin the Paranoid Android.) I admire his work ethic. (“I love deadlines,” he famously said. “I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.”) And I have learned to enjoy a good soak in the tub now and then. (What better use for a towel?)
Do I admire his later work in the cause of endangered species? Is it his ability to blend true satire and speculative fiction to lampoon everyone and everything? (“To boldly split infinitives that no man has split before…”) Do I admire his willingness to wade into any and every medium that would have him—radio, novels, comics, nonfiction, television, computer games, Hollywood, theater? That the Guide is ostensibly the inspiration for Wikipedia? It’s impossible to put a finger on a single thing.
During the production of the notoriously horrible BBC television series of Hitchhiker’s, a bit actor called in sick, so Douglas stepped in to replace him. This wasn’t unusual; he played other bit extra parts in the series, and had appeared on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But on this particular day, Douglas Adams stepped in front of the camera, and on action promptly waded naked, and towel-less, into the ocean.
That’s the kind of author I’d like to be.



Are you looking for a light, refreshing Memorial Day read? Have you been sitting on the fence about acquiring a copy of Rhubarb of your very own? Do you know someone who would love a charming little tale of love, pie, and aliens on Montana's High Plains?

Then Have We Got A Deal For You!

For two days only, Thursday May 24th and Friday May 25th, the Kindle ebook Rhubarb by M.H. Van Keuren will be FREE on Amazon.

You heard right. Free. $0.00. Zip. Nada. Nothing. No shipping. No handling. No hidden fees.

So spread the word and come on down to your local Amazon, for the best value in reading entertainment since Gutenberg figured out the whole thing printing thing.

BUT WAIT, there's more. Inside every copy of Rhubarb is a recipe for the greatest rhubarb pie in the galaxy. And for every friend you tell, you get a warm, fuzzy feeling of having spread a little more good into this crazy, mixed-up world.

What do you have to lose? Act now. Amazon algorithms are standing by.


Kickin' It Old School

...well, not entirely. You'll still have to use the Internet a little. But...

Rhubarb is finally available in print!

You can purchase it directly from Createspace. Or if you don't want to give yet another company all your digits, you can buy it directly from Amazon.

I have had a number of people ask about getting signed copies. So here's what I'm offering. I have ordered a small stack of books and can sell them directly. Send an email to mhvankeuren@gmail.com with your request and a shipping address. I'll invoice you the $14 cover price through PayPal. Because copies have to be printed, shipped to me, and then mailed out to you, I can't promise anything like Amazon's super-duper shipping speed, but you'll get it eventually. If I get more requests than I've anticipated, it may take even longer.

Of course, if you don't order one from me, I'll still be happy to sign your copy next time we see each other.

Thank you all for your encouragement and support.


What's Next?

It’s taken almost six months to the day to take Rhubarb from concept to print. (Yes, the print version is coming…soon…I swear. And it’s a thing of beauty.) It’s been so much fun. I’ve learned a lot and couldn’t be happier with the results.

So—besides the inevitable marketing—what’s next?

Tomorrow, I begin not a new project, but the final major revision on a big novel that’s been in the works for several years. And when I say big, I mean big. The first draft weighed in at over 505,000 words, and thankfully fell in the forest far from where anyone could hear it. I honed it down to about 275,000. A few intrepid beta readers plowed through this version, for which I am very grateful.

Since then, when I haven’t been working on Rhubarb, I’ve been hacking away at the next revision. But through it all, it’s been chipping away at me, teaching me how to write, and it’s been an unforgiving master. I’m hoping for a finely polished word count somewhere between 150,000 and 180,000 words. This is still a sizable novel, but it wouldn’t kill your cat if you dropped it on her.

What’s it about?

It’s the story of a young man disconnected from the ubiquitous virtual world, his robotic lemur with a dark secret, a slacker computer science major who just wants to be a father to his daughter, and the worst disaster in the history of human space colonization. It’s titled Legitimacy, and it’s pretty hard sci-fi set roughly fifty years in the future.

Not every novel can be about dessert.


Blue Bird of Happiness

After much consarnit-ing and get-off-my-lawn-ing, I have finally done and creaked out of my rocking recliner and joined up at the Twitter. They tell me it's how all the kids are keeping in touch these days. Follow me at your peril...



I'm Done!....Wait. What?

I’ve never been done with a book before. I’ve deleted thousands of first lines. I’ve completed drafts. I’ve even had beta readers wade through a morass of a manuscript that could laughingly be called “ready to read.” (Sorry, folks. Lunch is on me next time you’re in town.) But I’ve never been done done. Finished. Finalized. No more changes. Ready to print.

Until yesterday.

I have finished the editing process for Rhubarb and sent it on to my formatters. I’ll tell you, it’s a very strange sensation.

The three-and-a-half-month editing process consisted of countless read-throughs by me, and probably half again as many by my long-suffering wife and editor, Julie. She read it out loud to our kids. I read it out loud to myself twice. I listened to it read by the Kindle’s handy text-to-speech function. Julie used her own dictation program to go through it a couple of times. (Very handy for finding missing words and such.) Then after all that, Julie and I spent this past weekend together reading it out loud to each other again as we followed along. (We’re still married, and still speaking to each other, so success!) It’s been honed, polished, and tightened to within an inch of its life.

I expected to wake up this morning with nagging, niggling doubts that I’d missed something important, or with regrets that I hadn’t tweaked that one line or played with that scene a little more. But I didn’t. Naïve? Maybe. Is it perfect? No, but near enough. But am I happy? Very.

In this new world of self-distribution, the reality is that I will never be done with Rhubarb—or any subsequent book. It’s only just begun and I can’t wait.

Stay tuned for important, life-changing announcements…you won’t be disappointed. It’s almost Rhubarb season.


The Icing on the Pie

Aliens! Truck Stops! Rhubarb Pie! Oh my! Coming soon to an e-book retailer near you!

I’ve always had this sense that book cover design was a mysterious magical tower to which publishers held the keys and no author was ever allowed across the moat. They knew what arcana sold books. They managed the sorcery, and authors could only look on in distant trepidation and horror. I had long prepared myself to endure this step like a rite of passage.

In the world of big publishing, the author, especially a first-timer like me, gets absolutely no—yes, you read that correctly—no input on the cover at all. But you know what? I can walk into a bookstore (“What’s that?” the kids ask) or browse Amazon and I can see what grabs my eye and begs me to read more. And so can designers. As e-reader independent publishing is fast breaking down the separation between authors and readers, it’s creating an environment where the tower has been unlocked and designers have been set free from their dungeons. Authors and designers can now work together, and at reasonable costs authors can afford to be experimental, perhaps create more than one cover, and be faster and more flexible than any publisher ever could be. (Thanks also to Moore’s law for all the cheap computing!)

This is all easy for me to say now, because I haven’t sold book one. But my first foray into the world of book cover design has been an enormously painless one. With fantastic results.

Honestly, I don’t know how exactly I found StreetlightGraphics—a little Googling, reading a few author blogs—but I immediately liked their company. Tabatha and Glendon Haddix have been great to work with. They’ve set up services just for independent authors. (She's an author herself.) They’re relatively new at this, but their portfolio had a professional look in a variety of different styles and genres. And after going through the process, I can at last recommend them without reservation.

I had a few ideas about the cover when I started but nothing concrete, but Streetlight started with a questionnaire and ran with it from there. I really tried not to direct the ideas from the outset because I wanted to see what they would do with it. But either I did direct, or they “got it” at once, because they came out of the gate right on track. Once we got going, they were very responsive with major changes and nitpicky details.

Will “Rhubarb” sell with this cover? Can’t answer that yet. But I’d pick it up. Aliens? Truck stops? Rhubarb pie? What’s not to love?


Swimming Pool Maintenance

When I quit my day job, I knew conceptually that I would have to revise my writing before it would be publishable. I pushed this ugly fact to the back of my thoughts like a midlife crisis victim ignores the warnings that his fancy new car will require $300 oil changes and replacement parts air-mailed on dry ice. Or what’s the adage? The second-best day of your life is the day you buy your boat; the best day is the day you sell it. I have never owned a luxury automobile or any boat that wasn’t inflatable, and perhaps the main reason (besides a persistent absence of wealth) is that I generally heed the warnings. I fear money pits and avoid time sucks—even if the rewards may be partly luxurious. In short, I enjoy having a relatively maintenance-free life.

That’s why I hope to never own a swimming pool.

During the spring of my sophomore year of high school, I was hired by a neighbor to take care of his spectacular in-ground swimming pool—spectacular at least by the standards of a small Oregon logging town. I brought no special expertise to the job, just a need for cash. This neighbor, a doctor—a specialist of some variety that allowed him and his family to be on nearly permanent vacation—was seldom home. I was to check the water quality daily, put in the proper chemicals, clean the filters, skim the leaves and debris off the surface, and in general keep it ready to dive into if anyone ever came home and cared to dive into it. I met this doctor at his pumphouse/cabana one fine spring day, and he explained everything.

(I suppose the lesson I should have taken away from this is that I should have gone to med school. But I digress.)

At first it was a cinch. Each day, the little test vials would turn the exact shades of purple or orange they were supposed to. I’d drop fresh tablets of chemical into the filters as the old ones dissolved. I’d dutifully skim out the dead bugs and untangle the hose of the little vacuum that prowled the bottom. I was Pool Boy: loyal, competent, and trustworthy enough to never invite friends over to swim while the owner was out of town.

Summer came. I began to notice that the pH colors were just a little bit off from where they should have been. So I’d stand in a different light and declare them close enough. The surface skimming was a never-ending and thankless task, as the doctor’s house backed up to a wooded hillside. But worst of all, I noticed a certain green tinge—a layer of algae growing on the walls and floor. The doctor had not explained about algae. So I added more chemicals, and then a little more. This made the pH colors very angry but had no noticeable effect on the algae. This bright green scum was my Kryptonite.

For two weeks I fiddled with the chemical mixture, laboring in vain to banish the scum and to return the water to pristine balance, hoping every day that the doctor would not return. I found a brush attachment for the skimmer pole in the pumphouse and added scrubbing the walls to my daily regimen. But the unwieldy pole provided little leverage against the stuck-on menace and was, at the same time, too short to reach much of the bottom. There was only one thing to do. I donned my swimsuit and lowered myself into the heavily treated, unheated water, brush in hand. I scrubbed the heck out of that pool, coming up every few seconds for air. When I couldn’t stand any more, I shivered on the side and beheld a bizarre patchwork of green—a signed and dated monument to my incompetence.

I was not hired back the next season.

When I decided to write novels, I essentially bought a pool. Sure, I love to swim in my pool on hot days and soak up Vitamin D on the deck. And I’m planning to have people over for a pool party any day now. But there is no such thing as a professional maintenance contract for this pool. I had to hire a 15-year-old kid who’s learning the hard way how to balance the chemicals, how to keep the leaves out, and how to keep the algae from taking over. But he’s starting to get the hang of it.

I’ve found revising to be as satisfying as writing the first draft, if not more so. Sure, it can be difficult and tedious to scrub the scum away, but the luxurious end result makes all the effort worthwhile.

And maybe if I do it well enough, I’ll be able to afford a reallynice car.