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Topic Archive: Works in Progress
Save 15% on all my T-shirts at Retropolis and The Celtic Art Works

Filed under Works in Progress

T-shirts on sale at Retropolis and the Celtic Art Works

It’s true: now, in this brief moment before you start wishing they were sweaters, you can get a 15% discount on all my t-shirts from Retropolis and The Celtic Art Works.

The sale lasts through Monday, September 18th, and all you need to do is to enter the coupon code 150917 while you check out online. Save 15%!

 
 
A squinty, twitching update on ‘Patently Absurd’

Filed under Patently Absurd, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Locksmith's shop from Patently Absurd

As I said in my last post, I’ve been busy; I still am. I’m working on my tenth illustration for Patently Absurd since the end of June.

It’s not a bad average when you do the arithmetic, but I spent twenty days on the picture we see here. That’s slowed me way down since the beginning (the first five pictures went very quickly) but I knew what I wanted here, and it was obvious that it would take a bit of time.

Sometimes what you need is a little, cluttered shop filled with the things that clutter little shops, and if all those things are unique and new then your next twenty days are pretty well spoken for.

I kind of expected it to take twenty-one days. So if you squint a bit and tilt your head just right, it looks like I’m ahead of schedule.

That’s why I look a little squinty and twitchy just now.

It’s not working, though. When I lose the squint and straighten up my head I can see that I’m far behind where I’d hoped to be by now. So it’s likely that the blog will remain quiet for awhile longer.

I think it was one of Tim Powers’ characters who once said “If it was easy, they’d have got someone else to do it.”

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

I was pretty happy to see this latecomer of Switchboard reviews at Sci-Fi Fan Letter. Among other things, there’s this:

I loved the characters in this. Dash is so much fun, and Nola’s got a good mix of spunk and intelligence. The Campbell kids are… something. They were both great and terrifying to follow.

The world-building was great. The switchboard is sort of an internet, if history had taken a different path. The priests of the spider god were fun, and kept the old school pulp feel. The robot League and the interactions between robot and human people show a positive future that’s often lacking in modern SF and something I enjoyed seeing.

The book’s done very well over at Goodreads, with forty ratings and twenty-six reviews; at Amazon it has a good, solid rating, but only twelve reviews.

Hint: those Amazon reviews are really helpful at the Amazon site. So if you’ve read Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, consider adding a review at Amazon. Thanks!

The Lair of the Clockwork Book

I’ll close with a reminder that you can get an eBook copy of The Lair of the Clockwork Book for $2.99 (a dollar below list price!) at Radio Planet Books.

 
 
Get the eBook edition of ‘The Lair of the Clockwork Book’ from Radio Planet Books for just $1.45

Filed under Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

The Lair of the Clockwork Book

AVAILABLE IN PRINT:
AMAZON | CreateSpace
EBOOKS AVAILABLE:
AMAZON | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Radio Planet
Amazon & Kobo links are localized

Until the end of July you can buy the eBook edition of The Lair of the Clockwork Book for just $1.45, only at Radio Planet Books. That’s less than half the usual price of $3.99.

The Clockwork Book’s lair lies far beneath the city of Retropolis, in the world of the Future That Never Was. As far as anybody knows, it’s always been there – slowly collecting the stories, the ideas, and the secrets of its visitors, and then sharing them with those who come after.

If you were to visit the Book yourself, you might realize that in its own retro-futuristic world the Book serves the purpose of a social network – a mechanical social network. With that in mind, you could hardly be surprised at the misadventures its clients seem to have.

And what is the Book, really, and who constructed it, and why? That’s one of the few stories that the Book is not allowed to tell.

On the other hand… the Book has learned how to bend the rules.

The Lair of the Clockwork Book, with over 120 illustrations, began its life as a serial that ran from February of 2011 to April of 2012 at the Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual web site.

The eBook edition, in greyscale, is usually priced at $3.99. But at Radio Planet Books you can get it for $1.45 through the end of July. (Both mobi and ePub versions are available.)

 
 
Launch week round-up for ‘Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom’

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

AVAILABLE IN PRINT:
AMAZON | Barnes & Noble | Powell's | IndieBound
EBOOKS AVAILABLE:
AMAZON | Barnes & Noble | Kobo
Amazon & Kobo links are localized

It’s been five years since I started working on Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. Even though a lot of that time was spent not working on the book it’s been a great pleasure to see it out in the wild at last.

There’s been a flurry of reviews. They started with book bloggers whose Netgalley copies didn’t even include the book’s illustrations, and then this week we saw the very favorable review at the Barnes & Noble Science Fiction and Fantasy blog. (Barnes & Noble has done a stellar job of promoting the book online, by the way. It’s really gratifying.)

And I’ve done some guest posts and interviews at blogs, not all of which are live as I write.

But we’re closing in on the end of the book’s launch week. It’s time to round up this coverage and pack it up for you into a single, easily digestible package. There are three raisins in every paragraph!

Luxuriating in a retro sensibility that evokes the Art Deco designs of classic SF like Metropolis and old Buck Rogers serials, Schenck combines his iconic artwork with a rousingly old-school adventure set in the city of Retropolis, filled with pneumatic tubes and flying cars, rayguns and not-so-giant robots.

― Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of June 2017

Inside Dash Kent's retro rocket ship

Guest Posts and Interviews

Lawrence M. Schoen (of Barsk:The Elephants’ Graveyard) decided that instead of questioning me about my book, he’d ask me to tell him about my most memorable meal. This was a terrible, terrible mistake.

For the Tor/Forge blog I revealed horrifying secrets about my hair and issued some timely warnings in The Truth About Mad Science.

Paul Semel, on the other hand, was far more sensible. He asked me a bunch of questions about Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom and I managed to sound pretty smart, the way you do when you have days to compose your answers.

Update(s)

Soon after I posted this, Fantasy Literature published my guest post The Accidental Novel, and Other Surprises. It sort of explains my writing process. Bonus! They’re giving away a copy of the book, plus a mug from Retropolis.

And then there’s this interview at The Quillery, where I answer some of The Usual Questions and do my best to sound smart again.

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom - Endpapers (front)

The Reviews

Juggling so many narrative threads is difficult work that can easily go awry, but Schenck holds them all together, creating a high-energy, ridiculously fun read from start to finish.

― Review at the Barnes & Noble blog

If you’ve read reviews of books after you’ve read the books themselves, you’ll have noticed that readers always bring something to the table. Now and then they seem to have read a completely different book from the one you remember.

And that’s the way it should be. No book is complete until a reader reads it.

Still, you can be surprised by the book a reviewer read; sometimes it sounds like a completely different book. Happily I haven’t seen much of that yet.

  • Publishers Weekly says “A genuine love for the material makes this a strong and entertaining debut.”
  • The Barnes & Noble Science Fiction and Fantasy blog observes that “In a period of relative angst about the future, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom feels positively wholesome, dastardly hijinks and all…”
  • Fantasy Literature calls the book “a sleek and shiny illustrated novel… that pays homage to the much-venerated Golden Age of science fiction while slipping a fair amount of modern social commentary beneath the chromed and bubble-helmeted exterior, and imparting the lesson that a well-equipped backpack will get you through most situations.”
  • And although Avalinah of Avalinah’s Books hates my cover with the white-hot fury of a thousand suns, she loves, loves, loves everything else about the book.
  • Bookwraiths tells us that Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom is “Fast-paced, hilarious, lavishly illustrated and optimistic sci-fi.”

But wait! There’s more!

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: Chapter 4 illustration

… and Your Reviews, Please!

People often wonder what they can do to help a creator whose work they like. And the answer is twofold.

First, buy something!

And second, talk about how much you liked it, and why. I mean, if you liked it, there’s a pretty good chance that some people you know will like it too. And in these days of social media that means posting and tweeting about it, saying why you enjoyed it.

Is this threefold? I think we’re still in the second fold.

Post reviews at retailer sites.

This is important first because those reviews influence customers. But just as important is the fact that the software behind the scene is watching the number of reviews a book or other product has. Lots of reviews? This is a thing that many people are interested in. Therefore, promote the thing.

At Amazon (and probably elsewhere) promoting the thing makes it appear in recommendations, in “Customers who bought this also bought…” lists, and on the prominent pages of the site. Promoting the thing promotes the thing.

So if you’ve read and enjoyed Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, please review it so that other readers can find out about it. Review it; post, tweet, and share it. Promote the thing.

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: Something's up
 
 
Illustrating ‘Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom’

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

AVAILABLE IN PRINT:
AMAZON | Barnes & Noble | Powell's | IndieBound
EBOOKS AVAILABLE:
AMAZON | Barnes & Noble | Kobo
Amazon & Kobo links are localized

We’re just two weeks away from the release date for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. If you’ve been waiting, that may seem like a long time: but as you’ll see in this post I’ve been waiting for about five years.

So bear with me. It’s almost here.

Illustrating your own story is, mostly, a pretty great thing; it’s just that it’s more embarrassing when you make mistakes.

On the ‘mostly great’ side, I was able to work on my characters’ appearance while I was still figuring out who they were. The version of Dash Kent we see in the book was my second try. (Version One looked too old for Dash, and he didn’t have quite the right attitude.) Working on the character models was a big help to me during the early days of writing the book. I got to find out exactly how these people looked.

There are several characters who existed already, since they’d appeared earlier in The Lair of the Clockwork Book. Harry Roy, Maria da Cunha, and Mr. King all came from that story. Rusty was even older: I was working on him back in 1999.

But Dash, Nola Gardner, Thorgeir, Howard Pitt, Lillian Krajnik, and most of the other robots were all new. I built many of them while the story was taking shape.

Once the first, and then the second, and then the third draft were behind me I was ready to start the illustrations themselves. I’m not quite sure when that was, honestly. Even the datestamps on the files don’t help me much; I can see that I created a bunch of folders on March 2, 2014, but that only tells me that I organized things on that date. I’m pretty sure the real beginning was some time in the previous December. The first one may have been this scene in Lillian’s laboratory, from Chapter 15.

Lillian Krajnik's laboratory, from 'Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom'

I was creating just one illustration for each chapter this time – far fewer than I’d done in my earlier stories – and that meant picking That One Scene was always the first problem. Because there were relatively few pictures, one part of the problem was which characters were getting their chance to be featured. I was already planning the endpapers, where all the major characters would get a vignette; but I wanted them each to show up in the body of the book as well. So picking That One Scene could be complicated.

With that done, I came to the magical thing about illustrating your own work. Sometimes the scene in the picture was better than the scene in the text. And since the text was mine, I could change it. This happened several times. It’s a liberty you just can’t take with somebody else’s story.

On the other hand, there were times when the scene in the picture differed from the scene in the text… and I didn’t realize it. Finding those, and resolving the problems, was an ongoing task while I worked on the revisions to the book. And I know of one that was never fixed, a pretty big contradiction that I didn’t see until I was checking the galleys. It’s still there and, no, I won’t tell you where it is. Somebody’s sure to point it out to me, and then I’ll explain the Navajo philosophy about imperfections: they’re there so that wandering spirits have a way to get out of the work, if they should blunder into it and get lost.

This is a philosophy that can be pretty convenient.

Dash Kent on the Moon, from 'Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom'

There were times when avoiding a contradiction was pretty frustrating, though, since in an illustration you want to convey a sense of what’s going on but you can’t make visible things that shouldn’t be visible. That problem led me down a rabbit hole several times when it came to the first chapter. I think I did more versions of that one than any other, even though what you see in Chapter One is pretty simple. But… oh, the many layouts. The many changes. The many deletions.

Rusty’s attic apartment, in Chapter Two, was pretty much the opposite. It was full of stuff, and I loved that stuff; but the picture wasn’t about that stuff. His books, his gadgets, and his collection of interesting mosses are all there, but they have to fade away behind the robots. There was even more stuff, out of frame. It saddened me that I had to leave it there.

Rusty's apartment, from 'Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom'

Around the end of September, 2014 I finished my first pass through the illustrations for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. But I went back to revise them, and I did that more than once: there are three or four different versions of some of them. I didn’t lock them down until about a year ago. But at some point you have to realize that you’re done, and so around June of 2016 I admitted that I was done with these.

For The Lair of the Clockwork Book I created close to 130 illustrations, and that took far longer than it took to write the story; for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom I made just twenty-four (counting the title page and the endpapers), and the story and its art took roughly equal amounts of time. That’s a much more workable ratio, if you ask me: and I was also able to spend a lot more time on each picture.

Among the differences I love in the new book is the way the text wraps around the illustrations, so like the illustrations in the old science fiction pulps. And the shift from color to greyscale, which was a purely practical decision, has pretty much the same effect. The art for the book evokes Dash’s approach to adventuring. He learned everything he knows from pulp magazines.

Title page for 'Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom'

That’s not true of the publisher, though: you won’t find any of that yellowing, pulpy paper here. The paper chosen for the book is so wonderfully dense and white that the book weighs more than you’d expect. That’s especially surprising because the paper’s not unusually thick. But the book’s weight was the first thing I heard about it, and once I’d hefted one myself I tried to exhaust every possible joke about that on Facebook and Twitter.

But you can understand why, when you see how little ghosting there is from one page to its reverse – even when the art is dark. This is a book with what I call confident weight.

You’ll have your own chance to gauge its weight in just two weeks, on June 13. I hope you take that chance!

 
 
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