Submission impossible

by Richard Perkins

tor-delivery-confirmationIt’s official. Today I sealed my message in a bottle, and cast it into the remorseless sea that is a publisher’s slush pile. In late September of 2008, I decided that the ill-fated romance of Devon’s mother and father would be the subject of my first entry in the National Novel Writing Month contest.

After a month of development, I completed the 52,000 word first draft of The Renegade’s Door in November. Now, four and half months worth of reader feedback and revisions later, I have mailed the first few scenes of the 78,000 word finished manuscript to the acquisition editors at Tor Fantasy and Science Fiction . The submission also included an introductory cover letter and an 8-page synopsis, which was a new and different writing challenge to overcome.

The picture in this post is my official delivery confirmation receipt for the submission package. This way I’ll know when the package gets delivered to Tor’s slush pile. Then I only have to wait 4-6 months for their reply: a form rejection letter in all probability. :-( What can I say? I’m a realist. The odds of a major genre publisher like Tor Fantasy and Science Fiction picking up an unsolicited, unagented, unpublished author’s first manuscript are vanishingly small. But it happens. I might get lucky. And if I don’t, I’ll look for a smaller publisher or an agent who is willing to work with me to improve the manuscript until it is publishable.

In the mean time, I’ll get busy on my next authorial endeavor: development for Eliza’s story, which I hope to draft during JulNoWriMo. Stay tuned!

New rain barrel

by Richard Perkins

rainbarrelThis week I finally installed a rain barrel. It probably would have been better to install it when we were still getting rain… I know.

At least we have it now. I looked for an affordable ready built unit for several months. With the asking price for the few I did find was hovering around $100, I decided to make my own.

I started with a 20 gallon trash can for $17. After adding a washing machine valve for $3, some ABS pipes fittings for $7, a roll of sliding door mesh screen for $10, four cinder blocks for $5, and a flexible storm gutter joint for $2, the whole system cost me less than $40.

Funnel meshI cut two holes in the can and one hole in the lid. As you can see above, I mounted the washing machine valve as close to the bottom of the barrel as I could get it. I then turned the lid upside down and glued a square of the nylon mesh screen over the hole using ABS plumbing cement. This will keep mosquitoes out of the rain barrel while the inverted lid acts as a funnel to catch rain water from the down spout. I set the barrel on a platform of four cinder blocks, which raise it high enough to get my garden watering cans under the tap.

overflowTo finish the barrel, I mounted a 1.5 inch ABS overflow up at the top of the barrel, just below the lowest point of the inverted lid-funnel. This way, in very heavy rains, when the barrel reaches maximum capacity it will drain down into the previously existing gutter. Although you can’t see it too clearly in the picture, I mounted another screen of nylon mesh in the overflow spout to keep the critters away from the water.

Unfortunately, rain is pretty seasonal here, and I’ve already missed the rainy winter months. But the best part of my new system is that we can use it collect recycled water in addition to rain water. Let me explain. “No… there is no time… let me sum up.”

We use the shower a lot more regularly than it rains here. Ideally we’d have a gray water system installed to capture and treat shower water for irrigation or toilet flushing purposes. But we rent, so that’s not really an option for us. ;-)

What we can do is recycle our daily cold water blast without too much effort. My readers from cold weather climates will be familiar with the phenomenon. You turn on the shower first thing in the morning and have to wait 10, 20, sometimes 30 seconds or more for the water to heat up before you can get in. And even if you have a “water saving shower head installed, it still puts out 1.6 gallons per minute. That’s 0.3 to 0.8 gallons of drinking quality water you just sent down the drain to the waste water treatment plant without even using it. I could go into the amount of energy you consumed heating that water up and then just dumped into the uninsulated interior walls of your house while it sat in your pipes. But that’s a topic for another rant. :-o

We don’t waste that water and you don’t have to either. You can catch it in a bucket. Any bucket will do, as long as the rim is wide enough to catch the spray of your shower head. Leave the bucket in your shower so you don’t forget to use it. Put it under the shower head before you turn on the shower in the morning and wait for the water to heat up. Once the running water is warm enough, remove the bucket, set it aside, and shower as usual.

Use the bucket to water house plants or an herb garden. Or do what we do: dump it into your rain barrel and use it to irrigate your vegetable garden. It’s just one more little thing you can do to make your lifestyle more sustainable.

It’s hard out here for a… project manager?

by Richard Perkins

will-work-for-changeAnother day, another rejection… sigh. My dreams of breaking into the fast paced world of renewable energy technology development keep fizzling. In the bay area, renewable energy companies are slowly opening up job postings again after several dry months. I was very excited to see an opening for a technical project management role with a firm up north. I thought I’d have as good a shot as anyone: I’ve been doing technical project management for over ten years. But unfortunately, whatever these folks are looking for… I’m not it. I impressed their recruiter but not the decision makers. They summarily rejected my application with no additional feedback on why. Too bad.

Maybe it’s time to give up the fruitless job search and go back to school for a while. An advanced degree in power engineering might be what it takes to make renewable energy companies take my resume seriously. Or perhaps I should chuck the whole engineering effort in the bin and focus on writing?

Hah! Sorry… couldn’t actually complete that thought and keep a straight face. If only it weren’t for those pesky bills… Ahh well. Sometimes you can’t win for losing.

The never ending submission…

by Richard Perkins

In my last post I mentioned that I was finished with my revisions of Renegade’s Door except for the proofreading. Well… proofreading has taken a bit longer than anticipated. But I can’t really complain, since the friend who’s doing the job for me is working gratis. That’s right, unpublished author here working on a non-existent budget with no other income stream… free is the only way to go right now.

Meanwhile I’ve been working on my synopsis and cover letter for Tor Fantasy. For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with the submission process, here’s the cliff notes version:

Publishing editors receive hundreds, sometime even thousands of unsolicited manuscripts a year. They don’t have the time to read through all of them in full, so most editors ask for a submission package that includes only three things:

1) a cover letter – to introduce the novel, the author, and highlight the author’s relevant credentials

2) a synopsis – to describe the main characters, critical plot elements, story arc (including the ending), and ideally hook the editors by showing that the story is worth their valuable reading time

3) the first 3-4 chapters – to give the editors a taste of the author’s writing style

I’ve read that some editors won’t even bother picking up the sample chapters if the synopsis isn’t compelling or suited to their existing catalog.

So now that I’ve written the synopsis, I needed to find someone to read it. Someone who hasn’t read the novel. Someone who is also a fan of the genre. And ideally, someone who knows a little about what a publisher would look for in a synopsis. Among my circle of friends, I had to settle for 2 out of 3 (remember… no budget…).

And unfortunately, the folks that I asked to read the synopsis are also busy people (ie gainfully employed). So I haven’t heard back from anyone about the synopsis yet either. Now I’m trying to get some feedback from the folks at the SFFWorld. But if any of my readers are interested in reading a 1300 word synopsis of Renegade’s Door,  just drop me a comment.

Cheers!

Revisions finished, finally!

by Richard Perkins

It’s been a few weeks since my last journal post. I’ve been spending all of my writing time on Renegade’s Door revisions, but I’m happy to say that I finished the lasts scene late last night! Hooray!

I have a copy out with my volunteer proofreader right now (and my heartfelt thanks to Colleen for that). This revision took a quite a bit longer than I had hoped. My original strategy just wasn’t working so I changed tactics. I knew I had three brand new scenes to write and then shuffle into the original story line. But treating those new scenes the same way I was treating the rest of the draft manuscript proved to difficult to manage.

Instead I put my revisions on hold and dove into the three new scenes, NaNoWriMo style. I wrote short outlines for each scene and then sat down and drafted them. Start to finish, no revisions, no second guessing: just piling up the word count and following the scene outlines.

Here’s a NaNo style word count chart for the new draft work.

new-scenes-stats

Once I finished the drafts of the new scenes, I inserted them into the manuscript. I tried to be environmentally conscientious and do my revisions directly on the computer, but it just wasn’t working for me. So I killed a few trees and printed hard copy to use in my next round of one-pass revision (thank you Holly Lisle…). Since my first round of revisions were red-lines, I called this pass blue-lines.

It took me several days of scribbling, scratching out, adding new pages, and tearing up old ones to get the story into shape with the new additions. It didn’t help that Frankie Manning Weekend was right in the middle of it… I didn’t get any editing done while we were up in Oakland dancing. But hey, a guy has to have his priorities right?

Since my blue-lines were completely in hard copy format, I couldn’t track word count on the fly. And after a second look at my Racing the submission post, it didn’t seem like a particularly relevant metric anyway. Instead I kept track of completed scenes (chapters) and running page count. You can see my tracking chart for the blue-line revisions below.

blue-line-stats

My final step was to transcribe all of my revisions from the hard copy back into electronic format. That went a little faster. But it still took a couple of days to wade through it all. (Hey sometimes even I can’t read my hand writing… what can I say?) Here’s my final chart for this novel (really… I mean it this time…)

manuscript-stats

After my proofreading angel finishes her markup, I’ll wrap everything up and shop it around to potential publishers. First up: Tor books. I know, I know… I’m a dreamer. But over one third of the books on my recent reading shelf are published by Tor. I like the stuff they print, and I write the kind of stuff I like. Seems logical enough to aim high first. If they shoot me down, I can always submit to some of the smaller, more adventurous publishing houses later. I’ll post an article or two about the submission process as I go through it, for those of you who are aspiring novelists yourselves.

And while Renegade is sitting on the shelf waiting for a publisher to run with it, I’ll be starting on my next adventure. Eliza has been whispering in my ear a bit lately. She thinks the next story should be about her. Maybe she’s right. I’m debating about participating in JulNoWriMo to get the draft written (that’s in July…).

That doesn’t leave me much time to get an outline, character, and scene descriptions completed… and if I find full time work that will be even harder. (For those of you keeping track, I don’t have any new prospects on that front so it doesn’t seem likely.)

Anyway, cheers from the (wannabe) writer’s desk.

Juggling priorities

by Richard Perkins

It may not be as impressive as juggling chainsaws, but keeping a balance between multiple priorities is challenge enough for me. Recently I’ve spent most of my free time revising my NaNoWriMo manuscript, The Renegade’s Door. Unfortunately that means I’ve been getting behind on new posts.

My Renewable Technology series is overdue for another article but I haven’t decided what topic to write about yet. I’ve already discussed hydropower, wind power, and solar PV power but there are still plenty of other topics to choose from. There are several types of thermal energy systems like geothermal, solar thermal, or biomass. Then there are alternatives in ocean power like wave energy, tidal current systems, and mechanisms that take advantage of variation in salinity or temperature at different depths. If you’re one of my renewable tech readers, leave a comment about which technology you’d like to read about next.

My search for a paid gig continues. But in the current economic environment, it’s tough for a project manager trying to break into the market of renewable energy product development. My latest interview was for a part time consulting position with a Solar PV installer. The pay wouldn’t even cover our cost of living in the Bay area. But it would give me valuable “boots-on-the-roof” experience. And it would help me understand the challenges of getting today’s renewable energy technologies out of the lab and into the field. That’s something at least.

On the social front we’ve been having great fun with our new Lindy group Wednesday Night Hop. When we left Melbourne behind we had to leave a great network of dancing friends at Swing Patrol. The Wednesday Night Hoppers have been very welcoming and we’re starting to feel right at home here. We even did a short group performance at one of the social dances, which you can check out below. (10 merit points to the first reader who correctly identifies us in the clip below ;) ) This weekend we’ll be attending a weekend of lessons and social dances with one of the living legends of Lindy, Frankie Manning.

And on a closing note, many thanks to a few of my Entrecard friends.  Jen’s current Vampire Valentine series at Your Dark Passenger and Stiletto Philosopher is a laugh out loud diversion from my daily grind. Stephanie at Rocket Scientist has written a couple of very insightful articles recently on character development and growth. And Ravyn’s articles on character interaction and group dynamics at Exchange of Realities has also been on my must read list lately.

If you haven’t visited these blogs on your own, drop by. I promise they’re well worth your time.

Racing the submission clock

by Richard Perkins

I’m afraid that I’m running out of steam on Renegade. Already I find myself thinking about themes for the next novel as I drift off to sleep. And my progress on the manuscript has been maddeningly slow lately. In order to inject a bit of urgency back into the work, I have decided to set myself a couple of deadlines.

That worked pretty well for me for NaNoWrimo in November. During the contest I had a target word count to achieve in a specific time. Like the geek that I am, I charted my progress against a trend-line throughout the month. The chart below really helped keep me motivated to stay at the keyboard and crank out the pages.
stats

But revising a draft manuscript doesn’t lend itself to tracking by word count. And just keeping track of the hours I’ve spent revising doesn’t really help either. How many hours per day should I expect to spend? How many hours of editing will the book require before it’s finished?
So I’ve decided to focus on scene completion rate instead. I don’t expect the story narrative to change that much before the manuscript is ready for its next submission, so I know how many scenes to expect. For example during my first revision for the pre-read copy of Renegade, I had twenty scenes that I wanted to have ready for readers by January 7. Looking back through my manuscript save points for that first week in January, I was able to create a chart with the rate of scene completion. I threw in the running word count as an extra.

stats

There weren’t that many data points, I know. I did most of the initial revision with a hard copy and a red pen per Holly Lisle’s one pass revision process. Only after I thought everything was in decent shape did I get back on the computer and start transcribing my notes into the edited pre-read version.

Now that I have all the feedback I expect to get from my pre-readers, I have decided to add a few more scenes and change the way some of the original scenes were organized. The result is that I now expect to have a twenty-four scene manuscript when I finish with the next round of revisions. I have decided to submit the manuscript to my first potential publisher by the end of February. I have another friend who has volunteered to do some proofreading for me before I submit. So I have to give her three or four days to read the novel and myself another couple of days to edit from her red-lines and get a clean copy shipped. That means my submission revision needs to be done by February 21.

And voila! I now have a plan to track my progress against. It looks like this.

stats1

I started responding to pre-read feedback in mid January and have actually whipped the first 16 scenes into good shape already. That puts me ahead of plan… for now. But the second half of the novel requires the most rework. Scenes 17, 20, and 22 are all completely new scenes, and the rest of the scenes around them have to be revamped to make the transitions work.

On top of that, I still have to identify which of the publishers on my short list to submit to first. So I’ve got my work cut out for me for the rest of the month! Wish me luck. ;-)

Taking the time to write

by Richard Perkins

Hello readers. This week I have been working on revisions to Renegade (still). I’ve outlined two out of the three new scenes I decided to add after feedback from my pre-readers. But I haven’t managed to start drafting the new scenes yet. I keep finding other things to occupy my time. Today it was a new entry in my Renewable Tech series, this time on Solar PV. Wander over to the Professional page to have a look and drop me a comment while you’re there.

I’ve also added a few feature to my website. Like my NaNoWriMo winner badge, some link love for my top droppers over at EntreCard, and some buttons to encourage readers to Stumble or Digg posts they think are cool enough to share. If you’ve got comments or suggetions on the site itself, log them with this post. I love reader feedback!

Cheers!

Renewable Tech – solar PV

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Renewable Tech

In my previous posts in this series, I described hydropower and wind power. Both of these renewable technologies could be classified as electromechanical systems. They convert the mechanical energy of falling water or moving air into electrical energy through the principle of electromagnetic induction.

Today, I’d like to introduce a technology of an entirely different class: one with no moving parts at all. Photovoltaics, or PV panels, are solid state electrical generation systems. With the growing popularity of PV, you’ve probably seen a PV installation like the one shown to the right from Solar Depot. Unlike spinning wind or hydro turbines, PV panels reveal nothing to the naked eye about their mysterious energy transformation. Everything is hidden behind that innocuous looking veil of blue-black crystal an shimmering glass. Now that you understand how hydropower and wind power work, you may have been wondering what makes PV panels tick?

Solar PV power simplified

In order to understand the photovoltaic effect, let’s first talk about a class of material called the semiconductor. Materials of this type allow electricity (as in the movement of electrons) to flow through them sometimes. And sometimes they block the flow of electricity. It all depends on what state they’re in at the time. (I know. This analogy makes semiconductors sound moody and fickle, doesn’t it!)

To visualize this process, imagine a firebucket brigade. When every firefighter has a bucket and no one has a free hand the buckets of water can’t move from one end of the brigade to the other. That’s like a semiconductor in its insulating state. But when someone puts one of the buckets down, they suddenly have a free hand. We’ve created a hole in the line. The next firefighter can hand over a full bucket to the one with the free hand and suddenly we have movement! A full water bucket has moved in one direction while the gap, or hole, in the bucket brigade has moved in the opposite direction. This concept is called an electron-hole pair in semiconductor terminology.

So what makes the firefighter put down that first bucket? What makes an electron jump from the valence band to the conduction band in a semiconductor? Sometimes it happens spontaneously (think of a firefight getting tired and setting the bucket down for a moment). But in such cases the firefighter is more likely to pick up their own bucket again than to grab the bucket of the next firefighter in the line. This is what’s known as recombination in semiconductor terminology, and its one of the things you try to prevent in PV cell design.

Now imagine the scenario where a foreman comes along and says, “You there! Put that bucket down!” The firefighter closest to the foreman will not only drop the bucket, but he’ll probably reach for the next bucket in the line instead of the old one. In the case of PV cells, you can think of sunlight as the line foreman, who comes along and pulls one random bucket out of the line by knocking one of the electrons in the valence band up into the conduction band.

Now let’s go back to our firebucket brigade. How will the firefighter know whether to take the bucket on the left or the right? The firefighter won’t, unless the fire is visible in one direction and the pond is visible in the other. And if the buckets aren’t whisked along quickly enough, that bucket that was pulled out of the line could fall back into it’s old position and bring the line to a halt again. In our PV cells, one part of the semiconductor material has been doped to make it either electron rich or electron poor. The electron rich side is the pond, and the electron poor side is the fire. Once sunlight (our foreman) liberates some electrons and creates mobile electron-hole pairs, electrons will flow in one direction and holes will flow in the other. Now if you hook up some conductive electrodes on either side of the cell, the result is something that behaves an awful lot like a DC battery when sunlight hits it.

Small arrays of PV cells can be used to power electronics that run on DC electricity like calculators, watches, parking meters, and landscape lights, just to name a few. But to be useful for household power applications, the output of a PV cell has to be converted to AC. This is where inverters come into play. Now modern solid state inverters merit their own seperate entry in this renewable tech series, so won’t go into very much detail describing how they work here. Suffice it to say that they take the DC power from the solar panels and chop it by switching it on and off at a frequency synchronized with the utility grid. They then filter the resulting output so that it meets utility quality requirements and pump the power out so people can use it in their homes and offices.

Crystalline silicon PV cells

Crystalline silicon panels like the Evergreen unit shown to the right are still the most commonly manufactured and installed PV systems. These devices are manufactured from the same high grade silicon that goes into today’s high tech computer chips and microprocessors. Unfortunately that means that demand is high and supplies are sometimes limited. Crystalline cells are fairly efficient at converting sunlight to electricity compared to other PV cell types. But they also have high manufacturing energy and labor requirements, which makes their raises their cost of fabrication and installation. Still, they have a longer field record of proven reliability than any other type of PV on the market, which explains their dominant market share.

Thin film PV cells

Thin film PV modules, like the one shown here from First Solar, are manufactured very differently than their crystalline counterparts. Sometimes called second generation devices, thin film development has focused on ways to reduce the manufacturing costs of PV. Rather than slicing, doping and sandwiching bulk silicon wafers between electrodes and transparent layers of glass, thin film PV modules are made by depositing a thin film of photovoltaic material onto a substrate. The film can be deposited through electroplating, vapor deposition, or even through ultrasonic nozzles ( think of a very high precision ink jet printer). The substrate can be unprocessed silicon, glass, or in some cases a flexible film. The result is a PV cell which requires a lot less active material, reducing material and labor cost over traditional cell manufacturing techniques. However, thin films cells generally have a lower conversion efficiency than crystalline cells. So you need a bigger patch of thin film cells to generate the same amount of power as a crystalline panel. But for applications like large solar farms where land space is not a obstacle, the efficiency hit is an acceptable trade-off for lower production costs.

Multi-junction and concentrator PV systems

Multi-junction PV cells are not new per se. These high efficiency cells were originally developed for space applications well before we earth bound mortals started using them. But traditionally, their manufacturing costs have made them prohibitively expensive for marktet adoption, except in places where price is not a factor (like space and some military applications).

What makes multi-junction cells more efficient? They are made by sandwiching several different types of PV cells, each specifically tuned to a certain color or portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The combination of cells are chosen to cover the entire range of  energy available in the incoming solar radiation, a feat which is not possible for a single type of cell like crystalline or thin film PV. This allows multi-junction cells to reclaim some of the energy that would otherwise be wasted by a traditional PV cell. But putting multiple types of PV cell together in the same device is a challenging and time consuming manufacturing process, so the cost of such cells is high.

But multi-junction and other high efficiency PV cells have come back into the spotlight recently with a concept called concentrator PV. As the picture from Solar Systems at the left shows, the idea here is to combine an expensive yet very high efficiency PV cell with a bunch of inexpensive focusing mirrors and mechanical supports. This one tracks the sun and focuses at 500x intensity onto a single high efficiency PV module. Of course, there is added cost for cooling (ever fry an ant with a magnifying glass?) and the motors to drive the tracking system. But the added efficiency of energy conversion has the potential to make systems like this very cost competitive in a dollars per sense. Like thin film, this technology is still relatively new on the scene and doesn’t have a very long track record. But a handful of innovative technology companies acattered around the globe are working to commercialize their own versions of cost competitive concentrator PV.

Other systems

There is an incredibly fertile field of ongoing research aimed at pushing the boundaries of PV performance and cost of production. You’ll read about light absorbing dies, organic or polymer PV cells, quantum dots and others just emerging in experimental labs all over the world. Most of them are more than ten years away from any possible market introduction. But who knows which one of them might turn into a breakthrough in affordable renewable energy generation? Ultimately, the demand for energy in our world is only going to grow. Our future will require all of the methods we can discover to provide for that demand in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner. So for those of you researching ground breaking techniques in PV and other renewable energy sources, keep the light burning. I’m cheering for you. :D

Writers Offering Our Finest for 01/23/09

by Richard Perkins

This week I participated in the WOOF contest with one of the scenes from The Renegade’s Door. I made it into the list of top picks. Yay! Here are the other winners from this week’s contest

WOOF Contest – Top Picks:

Poetry

Web-Betty – “Diffident is spring- A poem about the beauty of spring, using some lesser common words, found via dictionary.com and their “word of the day”.

Dilbthelame – “These words that stare” – A poem I wrote a little while ago. Messing around with the structure.

Jennifer M Scott – “Magnetism” – Just a poem about being a writer.

Fiction

Richard Perkins – “Renegade’s Door – Chapter 3”An air mage and a healer work together to save a wounded merchant on an embattled wagon train.

H. Benjamin Petrie – “Jigsaw Puzzle” – A short piece of jigsaw-like monologues.

Brought to you by PlotDog Press with the Serial Thriller Novel “Dead Play