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Monday, November 20, 2017

Scrivener 3 released, new tutorials coming

Today, Literature and Latte released their latest update for Scrivener, version 3.0 (for Macintosh; the Windows version will be released "soonish" and will be pretty much feature-identical with the Mac version).

The new version is a major redesign and features significant changes to compiling documents (among a host of other changes as well).

I haven't had a chance to get into the weeds with it yet, but I will be publishing a new blog series on the compilation in 3. First will be a single blog for upgrading users, pointing out the differences and how to make the new compilation system work for old curmudgeons like myself. After that, I'll put together a logical series for new users.

One thing that promises to be true of version 3: it will be significantly easier for new users to work with, particularly with respect to compiling projects for publication or submissions to editors & agents.

I'm looking forward to figuring it all out, and getting new tutorials posted!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Editing updates July 2017

Just a quick update on the status of the revision of Universo Responsoriis, the Sci-Fi novel with which I originally "won" NaNoWriMo 2015.

I am in the process of rewrites and have the first 42k or so words—the first 11 chapters, of about 18 planned—revised and waiting for me to finish the last few chapters.

Once I finally get these last seven-ish chapters done, I'll do the 3rd draft revisions, which I am hopeful will mostly involve timeline and overall continuity revisions, rather than major structural problems or rewrites. (HA!)

I am very excited about this story! I think it will resonate with fans of Sci-Fi in general, and in particular with fans of Asimov, Herbert, and Clarke. Not that I'm claiming to be in their rarified air, but rather that there are some familiar themes that fans of their writing might enjoy.

Stay tuned for further updates and breaking news. ;-)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Teaser blurb for The Shrine of Broken Worlds, the (still a ways off) upcoming Book 2 in the Adventures Across Noflantia series

A religion once permeated the ground, trees, air, even the water around the area known as The Shine of Broken Worlds. An ancient religion of selfish strength, of uprisings and enslaving the weak, practiced by the orc and the ogre, the hobgoblin and the wood gnoll, as well as their nastier kin. Led by a strict order of non-combatant priests who communed with the avatars of Penem, the God of Nightmares, and Sariel, the Goddess of Fire and Pity, they ruled all of the land and waters for fifty leagues around the Shrine in every direction. They attracted uncounted legions of evil creatures, from the waters of Llandy Bay to the Llandy Vale, Caerphy Woods, and as far East as Diford Castle.

Fifteen centuries have passed since the lords and ladies of Wyham—the City of Castles—pressed their military forces Eastward to sack the Shrine. Dozens of thousands of bodies from both sides, who long ago perished in that massive war, stank their fetid rot into the mists and marshes, slowly melting into the ground and waters for fifty leagues in every direction around that foul altar for years afterward.

Even yet, it is said that a diabolical evil lurks there, unabatingly biding for a new manifestation to rise and wreak vengeance on those who desecrated these unholy sites. An evil that may have found its vessel, and could be teaching it how to reanimate the armies lost so long ago …

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Old poem "The Vices", found while cleaning up my office

I was in my office a couple of days ago, letting my mind chew on some ideas I'm working on as I edit Universo Responsoriis. While cleaning, I decided it was time to go through a pile of old CD-R and CD-RW discs that were cluttering up several shelves in the closet, and in so doing came across a few poems that I wrote in the late 90s. During this time, I was suffering from an as-yet undiagnosed dysthymic disorder (a form of depression), and some of that emanates through the themes of many of them, this one included. It was my first (and as yet, only) attempt at something resembling a beat poem.

This poem is not in my chapbook Hooray for Pain!, but it will be in an upcoming second book of poetry.

The Vices

Walls dripping with memory, the places we inhabit breathe
an air of sureness, remembering the things we fight to forget
and flee from for fortune knows no nose can safely smell
sense: seize the carpe diem day from the past of ashes and dust
and diamonds and rust reminders all the visible wall is only a memory
stained by the past.

Roofs radiating reality, the shingles that cover us heave
chortling at the profundity of promises we make to those who abet
us in our white oval altar worship—exhortations we know will impel
our hell of reflexively cramping muscle cell movements which must
cover our besotted pleas for some signal of acceptable expiatory
offering better than the last.

Linens crumpled and cursed, curled into the chasm we cleave
with our long-forgotten oaths to keep forever apart the sweat
and stains of heated exchange from the sight of those who foretell
doom—a devoutly wished consummation dripping from lips we trust
to tease the tortured twistings of youth and history we know a prioriwill not deliver rings of brass.

Rings of steel, fire and stone surround our thoughts as we leave
worlds of dropped calls and mirrored walls straining to hear yet
always near to the heart of our lives where sirens scream and partners yell
and mothers cry and fortunes fall to pieces in gathering gloom just
beyond the thinly veiled veil of stoppage where gathered friends sing glory
to our day, now in granite cast.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Another new snippet from The Ruins of Lawic

“Rodire, my daughter, come and talk with me.” Ennad Malgolihod stood in the entrance to their home, a towering figure as he gestured for her to come inside for a discussion.

Arles patted her on the shoulder as he and his friend stood up. “I’ll be down by the canteen, seeing what they have available for a late dinner.” He gave her a good, long look, knowing she’d understand he was biding time for them to head off on their grand adventure.

She nodded meekly and stood. “Thanks. I’ll see you shortly” she replied, as her father disappeared inside the hearth.

She followed and found him seated in the communal room, cross-legged atop his stool near the fire. Gently crackling embers of the dying blaze alternately glowed bright and dark red, as the draft blew across them, somewhat mesmerizing Rodire as they caught her eye while she sat on the bare ground next to her father.

“Rodire, you have become a fine druid. Do not worry yourself about what Finwe has said; his aim is to protect the Grove from all threats, and he is still hot-blooded in this matter. He will learn.” His soft voice carried a weight of sadness, a realization perhaps that his only progeny was truly grown, and about to set away from his protection for the first time. “He has a good point about the dangers, here. You and Arles must both keep each other’s back, and be on your guards always.”

At this, he stood and gently stroked her hair, looking at her fair face and taking in the vision of his daughter. After a moment, he turned away and started walking toward the small chest that always sat at the base of the family banner on the south wall of the common room, saying “I have a couple of things for you to take with you. They should prove very helpful, especially while it is only you and Arles. With just two, it can be quite difficult to manage to stay safe in the open wilds.” He whispered something unintelligible, and then unlocked and opened the chest.

From it, he pulled two items and handed the first to her. “This rod will allow you to create a small safe space, impenetrable by most normal and many magical creatures. There is a phrase you must utter to activate it, but first, we must attune it to you. Right now, it will only obey my voice.”

She accepted it meekly, unsure what to say.

“Before we do that, however, here is the second item.” He reached around her neck and placed a chain and amulet on it, fastening it in the back. “This amulet is a protective ward caster. It will emblazon an invisible magic ward onto any items you touch with it while speaking a magical phrase three times. You must touch it to the items you wish to protect directly, it is not enough to merely be near them or wave it.” He took her hand in his and wrapped it around the amulet. “You must speak the phrase three times, within a few seconds. Speaking it once or twice will do nothing, and if you take too long between utterances it will not take effect.

“The phrase is ‘schroder astrotin signetiat’.” He waited for a few pregnant seconds, then said “repeat that for me, one time. ‘schroder astrotin signetiat’.”

She took a moment, and then repeated her father. “schroder astrotin signetiat,” very carefully. A few moments later, she repeated it. “schroder astrotin signetiat.”

“Good. Excellent diction.” His praise was soft, though effective. He looked into her eyes, his love for his daughter practically beaming from his light golden irises. “You have become a fine druid indeed, my daughter. I know you will do well.”

He took a moment, then released his hand from hers to lift the rod in her other hand.

Rodire’s attention shifted to the other magical item and took in its physical characteristics for the first time. From the feel of it, it seemed to her to be sourwood. At that realization, she realized the hefty weight of the gift, both physically and spiritually.

“What, my daughter?” Ennad asked gently.

“Its … well, this is a magical sourwood by the feel. Very heavy and dense for its size.”

“You have good instincts. Why does that change how you react to it?”

“Well, father, the sourwood is one of the final stages of forest development before the Holy Noble Roble tree starts to sprout. She grows a canopy that alternately shades in the summer, and then fertilizes the ground in the winter. It is through her loving guidance that the first of the Roble sends up shoots after the Red Parrot deposits the acorn in the fertile ground. She protects the young, vulnerable tree until it can protect itself, then remains a protective guide for the animals and smaller heath that continue to feed the ground, the air, the flora and fauna all. She is considered the Protective Goddess, the last bulwark of the Holy Pair against those who would harm.”

“You were paying attention in your Circles training.” Ennad’s face burned brightly, proud of his daughter’s progress and knowledge. “What can you infer about the object, knowing that information?”

“That it has a protection nature. That unlocking its magic will have some effect to protect something?” she asked, almost uncertain of herself.

“Yes. Don’t read too much into it. Remember, the magical ability of any such item—whether it be a rod, staff, wand, amulet, ring, anything—will have some of its nature determined by the materials from which it is constructed. Rarely will there be any such item you encounter that will be completely opposite, and uncommonly you will run into items which have magical natures that are unrelated to the material at hand. When you do, these will usually be simple enchantments designed to make a weapon, or piece of armor, easier to use or grant extra protection or sharpness, things such as this.” At that, he reached around behind his back and retrieved a simple, flax sling, and handed it to her. “This has been our family’s hunting and defense weapon for more lifetimes than anyone in this Grove can track. It was magically endowed with an uncanny ability to find its target, an enchantment to the fiber itself. You can use just about anything with any heft as a projectile, but these …” he reached around with his other hand, to pull a small hemp bag out from off his belt “are the preferred projectiles.” He placed both the sling and the bag in her other hand.

Rodire could feel a considerable weight in the bag. She laid the rod down on the chair next to her, then opened the bag with a quizzical look on her face. Inside, she saw about forty or fifty polished rocks, each of which not only shone with an internal glow but almost seemed to pulse with energy. She looked up at her father, with an inquiring eye.

Her father smirked and said “these are special. Here, let me show you.” He took both the sling, and the bag, back for a moment, and then reached into the bag. He pulled out all of the stones and put one back into the bag. “Watch carefully,” he said, pulling the one remaining stone out and putting it into the sling’s pouch. He opened the bag, showing Rodire that it was empty. He then fired the stone with the sling directly at the banner hanging loosely on the south wall, where it bounced harmlessly to the floor.

A moment or two after it came to rest, Rodire watched incredulously as the stone seemed to jump from the floor, into the top of the bag, and disappear.

“Look,” he encouraged her and showed the inside of the bag: the stone he just flung at the tapestry was sitting there, faintly pulsing with light.

She could feel her eyes pop open, and could scarcely believe what she’d just seen. “So, they jump back into the bag on their own?” she asked, suspiciously.

“For the most part, yes. If you are close enough to it, say within a couple furlongs, it will magically make its way back to the bag from which you originally pulled it. It does not have to be this bag.”

“So there are a couple dozen there because sometimes it will be thrown so far that it can’t find its way back.”

“Yes, exactly. And this demonstrates what I mean. The magic of the sling has nothing to do with the flax. It is just an enchantment that makes it much more likely that you will hit your target. The stones, however, are hackmanite, which you will remember can change colors under changing light. The enchantment of these stones takes advantage of that, which is why they glow but also takes advantage of the salt that is inside the stone. The connection between the magic and the salt means that it remembers how to attach itself to the inside of the container if left in the container for more than a few minutes. So always remember to let the stones rest in a new bag for a bit before using them.”

Rodire paused for a moment to take in this new information, then gathered up the remaining stones and replaced them in the small bag. “I … I don’t know what to say, father,” she said apologetically, glancing around at the magnificent gifts he'd bestowed upon her. "Thank you."

He pulled her to him and embraced her with a warm hug. “Don’t worry, my daughter. I simply want you to be as safe as you can be. Now, let’s have that rod again.” He pulled up her hand, with the forearm-length rod still tight in her grip. “As you properly assessed, this rod will cast a spell of protection in a small area around you, when you—and only you, after we attune it to your voice—speak the magical phrase.

“Keep in mind that both this rod and the amulet around your neck have only a limited number of times you can use them. You should be able to use each one at least thirty, or forty times, as they have been fully imbued with energy. When we attune you to the rod, I will show you how to charge both of them should you need to do so. Keep in mind that these are potent energies. There is always a risk that you will destroy it, each time you try to re-energize them. So don’t rely only on these items as your sole protection. Keep your wits, keep your guard, and keep Arles near—and you stay near to him, as he will need you as much as you need him. Going into the wild alone can be extremely dangerous, so do not let yourselves become separated out when in the wildernesses.

“Come, let us start attuning you to the rod. It is easier outside,” he said, gesturing for her to lead the way out of their home.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Audiobook creation lessons learned: Small things that can make a big difference

Welcome to the final step in this "lessons that Donovan learned while exploring the magnificent and confusing world of author-recorded audiobook narration"! In this episode, I'm going to cover a couple of things that can make a big impact in the final recording, but that don't really cost much (maybe a little time, but not a lot of money).

So after talking about the lessons I've learned about the direct input of sound (mic & preamp), and its capture and eventual manipulation (DAW software), today I will cover the lessons I've learned about optimizing the environment.

Creating a home-based location for recording is one place where you can really spend only a little bit of money and significantly improve your recordings. In my particular case, I decided to switch up the orientation of the recording area; instead of recording right in front of the computer, my office has what amounts to a small vestibule coming off the main hallway (see image to the right). It occurred to me that by closing the door (which I would need to do anyway) and putting acoustic foam and other noise-deadening materials up, I might be able to turn it into a very small recording studio. It happens that before my father passed away he had intended to turn one room (now, a bedroom) into a recording space but was never able to finish it, so there was acoustic foam tiling already in place in there (but, as I noted, it's a bedroom now and not suitable for recording space). So I started removing some of the tiles from the walls in that room and putting them up on the back of the door, and the wall to the right in the image. I wanted to try to avoid having to re-glue the panels, so I opted to use large binder clips; since the foam is very compressible, I could use the clip to hold the tile, and then place a pushpin on the wall or door from which to hang the clip. It works quite well and has significantly improved the quality of my recordings. Here are some images of the current setup:


As you can see, I've got two of the 12x12" panels on each of the two directly-facing walls. What you can't see in these photos is the underside of the shelf above, which I lined with the bottoms of foam and cardboard egg cartons, which I was able to wedge in and didn't even need to pin or glue them down, and cover them with a soft scrap piece of upholstery sample from years ago (long story, don't ask LOL) which I pinned up with some thumbtacks. Nothing in this particular set up cost me anything directly, they were all recycled from something else (even the pillow, visible on the left side of one of the above images … something that will eventually be replaced with cut-to-fit pieces of the remaining foam from the other room). To replicate this yourself, you could spend less than $25, really. One set of 12 panels of 12" x 12" acoustic foam on Amazon ( ) can be had for about $15, and of course the egg cartons you would just get when you finished a dozen eggs (just, of course, make sure to only use ones that didn't have any eggy spills in them!). Larger bundles of the same size panels can be had for about the same per-tile cost (roughly $1.25/tile). If you need to replicate the same kind of thing I did with the egg cartons but don't want to use actual egg cartons, of course, there are similarly-shaped foams available, and you could cut them to fit.

Logistically, there are still a couple of other challenges. While this does help, I still need to be able to read the book I'm narrating (no, I don't have my books all memorized, and none of the other authors I know have their books memorized either). So right now I'm holding my iPad, which is less than ideal. I'm working on creating a small lectern I can have off to the side (since I want to speak off-axis to the mic anyway, to help reduce the pop & sibilance noises), which can hold my iPad and my wireless keyboard (to control the recording software on my computer). The XLR cable from the mic is quite long, and easily reaches the amp connected to the USB port on my computer, so there are no problems there.

The other issue is the side where the camera is, in the above photos. I have been using a couple of small blankets clipped together with binder clips and pinned to the wall on the left and right, but they sag in the middle and are a pain to get up and down. Next, I plan to put up a curtain rod (which I don't have yet) and a blackout curtain (which I do have, but no way to mount it yet), and slide the curtain back and forth. This will greatly simplify the process of closing off that area and also add to the dampening of the sound (especially from the windows which are behind the camera in the photos). I do still have those windows covered with polystyrene foam (which has been there for years) and a double layer of thick towels pinned & clipped to the wall around the windows.

So, as you can see there are steps you can take to create a more recording-friendly environment. These are steps that with some creativity and out-of-the-box thinking you can not only save some money but drastically improve the quality of the recorded sound. I have done a couple of test runs, and the sound is so much better that it was not only easier to work with, in Audition, but I was easily able to get it to meet the technical requirements of ACX (something I was struggling with before!) and sound excellent. I am sure that you can have similar, and even better, success! I look forward to hearing your feedback and your own experiences if you have any to share then comment below!
I plan to do a revision of my youtube videos covering the audiobook creation process, so look for those coming in the next few weeks (I'll probably wait until I get the curtain up to start that process). As always, if you have questions or ideas post below! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Audiobook creation lessons learned: Software matters? (Not really)

Welcome back to my review of my "lessons learned" about creating your own audiobook narrations. Today, I'll be covering some things I've learned about the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software used to capture and manipulate your narration.

One of the biggest revelations was that they all basically do the same thing, and they basically all do it pretty well! Truly, the major differences between Logic Pro, Garageband, Pro Tools, Audition, Audacity, SoundStudio, and most others comes down to two things for the most part:
  • Interface, and
  • Price.
There are some other differences between them, but in my experience, most novice users will not see too much of a difference between them in terms of their features.

So, with that in mind, let's start with the first point, the interface differences.

Some of these DAWs are really rough for a novice just starting out (I'm looking at you, Logic Pro), and didn't make any sense to me. Others of you might get it right out of the gate, which is awesome!

Without belaboring the point too much, let me break down a little bit what you need to be able to do with a DAW:
  • Record audio;
  • Edit audio (removing mistakes, accidental sounds, excessive pauses, etc);
  • Manipulate the sound (filters, compression, noise reduction, etc), also known as engineering the sound; and,
  • Output properly formatted sound files for ACX.
All of these software packages (and many others) will do all of these things more or less reasonably well. They will all record through multiple interface types (usually, you tell the Operating System which input to use, though some do come with their own interface for deciding which interface), will all allow you to cut (or, if needed, insert) audio out of the file before processing it, have the ability to compress, normalize, amplify, and perform noise reduction as well as other engineering feats (such as reverb, limiting, gates, and so forth), and then create a sound file that is suitable for submission to ACX.

There are definitely some differences when you get to the price levels. Free or inexpensive apps (GarageBand, Pro Tools | First, Sound Studio, Audacity) generally tend toward having limited tools, whereas more expensive options have more complete tools and even multiple options for each tool.

Without going into too much detail (this is a lessons learned article, not complete coverage of each software package), there is good value in GarageBand (macOS and iOS only, $4.99 for either, though I am under the impression that you can get GarageBand for free from the Mac App Store if you've recently bought a Mac) and Audacity (macOS, Windows, and Linux, free). Either tool could be your only tool. Sound Studio (macOS, $30) has a pretty basic set of features, as well; I had problems with the input volume being way too soft despite the gain settings on my preamp so I no longer use SoundStudio for my audio capture.

One free tool that I absolutely cannot recommend at all is Avid's Pro Tools | First. There are several reasons for this:
  • Projects are limited to cloud storage on Avid's servers (that is, no local storage on your own computer), and you can only have 3 of them (total).
  • Pro Tools | First projects cannot be opened in any of the paid Pro Tools software (nor can First open other version's projects), meaning that you can't use the free "| First" to start out, testing the Avid software to see if it works for you, then upgrade to the paid tools and use your existing recordings. Period. (I know, right? DUMB).
  • Pro Tools | First will not export to MP3. So even if you wanted to record just one project as a test, knowing you wouldn't import later (because you'd complete the process end-to-end and start the next one from scratch), you still couldn't send it to ACX because there's no option to get MP3 out of the software.
  • Although Pro Tools | First is listed as supporting AAX (and only AAX plugins), it only supports certain AAX plugins that are purchased from their in-app Store.
Basically, Pro Tools | First seems designed to anger users enough to pony up for the full Pro Tools when they realize how useless the | First software is. Incidentally, I'm not the only person who feels this way. My advice is to steer clear of Pro Tools | First, period.

On the paid side, I was not able to afford any of Avid's offerings (the cheapest was $600 for a single license, though it could be cheaper for monthly subscriptions), and even their "free trial" requires purchasing a $50 USB key (!! Yes, really!). Also, their free trial is of an older version of the software (11, the current is 12). So, basically, Avid is a company whose only function seems to be to separate people from their money, and not really giving them any benefit for it or reason to trust them (while assuming that their customers will all steal their software), and Homie don't play that.*

So, I ruled out all of the Avid offerings (I did download Pro Tools | First and tried to get it to work, but its limitations meant that I had no reason to consider their other offerings). You might have a different experience, so, by all means, consider checking it out. Just be aware that it has significant limitations. One thing I do like about Avid's offering, for all of the other flaws that are present, is that you can buy the software outright (see later).

The same is also true of Logic Pro X (macOS only, $200), that once you've bought it it's yours. Also, significantly, Logic Pro X will import your existing GarageBand projects. So you can work in GarageBand for as long as it suits your needs, then upgrade to Logic Pro after your first audiobook sells enough copies to bring in the $200 cost for the higher-end product.

Along with that cost, however, comes a pretty steep learning curve. I was able to set aside enough to buy a copy of Logic Pro, and I'm still learning how to use it.

The other tool I put my hands on was Adobe's Audition (CC 2017, macOS or Windows, price options below). This tool was much simpler for me to get into, and I had no problems making sense of the interface and the included tools. The effects rack is awesome—it allows most of the filters, compressors, and other tools to be stacked into a sequence, and actively ... well, "sampled" is the best way I can describe it. You can select most (but not all) of the filters available, and they are put together—in sequence—and will modify the sound you hear on playback. They won't permanently affect the sound file until you "apply" the rack so you can experiment with the sound quite a lot.

Anyway, I found Audition to be the most usable of the tools overall. A major drawback is the fact that you can't buy the software outright. Unlike Pro Tools or Logic Pro, the only option for Audition (and, indeed, all Adobe products anymore) is to pay a monthly fee for a whole year (there is an option to, in essence, rent Audition by itself for one year for $240 or all Adobe apps for $600 for one year, but that does not give you the right to keep the software after the one year period is up). It is cheaper for a one-year subscription than Pro Tools is outright, but Logic Pro is cheaper even than that and you have a perpetual license for either Logic Pro or Pro Tools. I am not a fan of this forced subscription model (if you don't want to renew next year, you lose all rights to use the software, which I think is absolutely insane … especially considering how expensive it is).

So, what I'm doing right now is paying month-to-month to use Audition (monthly $30, or $20 if you commit to paying every month for a year) while also learning Logic Pro's interface. Also, keep in mind that you can use Audition for a month as a free trial.

I have to say that I really, really dig the Effects Rack in Audition (and the interface overall). I just don't like the pricing model. I'd really love it if we could rise up with a loud voice and tell Adobe that software subscriptions as the only model is totally disrespectful, and get them to offer the software that you can actually own. That's a rant for another day, however.

In my next blog post, I'll go over my lessons learned about the recording environment. This is a place where you can get a lot of bang for very little buck.

*: As if to pour lemon juice on a paper cut, Avid's website crashes Chrome tabs every time I visit their site. It's almost as if they're begging me to dislike their products!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Audiobook creation lessons learned: Microphones and their preamp pals

As I noted in my last entry, I have learned a few lessons attempting to setup my home writing studio in a way that would permit me to record audiobooks as well. Today, I wanted to further expand on the first point: microphones are critical, so don't skimp on them.

If you've followed along the earlier postings, I initially attempted to do this whole process for less than $100. What I have found is that you might be able to find a good mic second hand for that price, but I don't recommend skimping on this item. Mics for less than about $150–300 are just too low-quality (meaning they introduce hiss or are noisy) to be good for this process. Capturing the highest quality audio possible makes the editing later much easier, and that equals a good microphone.

I researched several options, and what I ended up with is the Røde NT-1A ( ). Other options in that category include the audio-technica AT2035 ( ) and the SE Electronics sE2200A II ( ).

I went with the Røde option for a couple of reasons. All of the microphones in this price range (as you might expect!) are pretty similar in performance. The NT-1A came as a kit and included the XLR cable (more on this in a minute), a pop filter, and shock absorber mount for the mic stand. Some of the others can be found online with bundles that include these things, as well. I read a lot of reviews, on Amazon but also on other sites ( and for example), and the NT-1A, in particular, is well-received and is one of the microphones recommended by ACX.

This kind of microphone (condenser mic) requires power to operate, and thus the inclusion of a power cable is essential. Both because of this need for power, and since it makes sense to have a pre-amp anyway (to allow you to get the best quality input to your recording software), one thing to also consider is the pre-amp—and, particularly, a pre-amp which provides "phantom power." Essentially, what this means is that power is not provided by a separate cable from that use to transmit the sound signal; they both travel over the same wiring.

Here, there are choices on top of choices:

  • How you connect to your recording software (most likely USB but there are other options!).
  • How many instruments or microphones you plan to connect.
  • On-board filtering or compression (audio compression).
  • Other included features (some come with a license for certain software tools, or for plug-ins) does the preamp's manufacturer offer.
To make it simple, I'll point out that you really must consider three things:
  • Phantom power supply (via XLR cable, almost always) and how much
  • Gain controls (allows you to dial in how much boost the sound will get from the preamp)
  • Output to the computer (USB, Thunderbolt are two popular, with USB more popular)
All of the other considerations are secondary, "nice-to-have" features for starting out.

First, the power. Since your condenser mic will require power, and will almost certainly use the XLR connection type, your preamp must provide that power and provide it via XLR. Now, XLR just refers to a particular connection type; it's a shielded multi-prong plug, just make sure both the mic and the preamp have the same number of prongs. The other consideration here is the voltage. Commonly, 48V phantom power is used for powering the mic, although there are 24V and 12V options as well. Best bet is to pick the microphone you want, and then select a preamp that will provide the correct phantom power (the NT-1A, for example, can use either 24V or 48V, which means more options for selecting a preamp).

Second, the controls. Gain controls will be pretty common for any preamp, but they should be easy to adjust, and easy to read.

Third, consider how you will output to the computer. Since most of us in this situation will have USB, that is a fine way to go. If you require another option (like RCA, Thunderbolt, or Firewire), then, of course, you'll be looking for a preamp that uses those connectors instead.

There are lots and lots of options, even with these basic considerations. What I ended up getting was the Focusrite Scarlet Solo USB ( ), which is a pretty basic preamp that won't break the bank. It has the XLR connection (and 48V phantom power) that my Røde NT-1A microphone requires; it has a dial for the gain control (and, an LED light band around the control, which lights green when the sound is "in the green" and lights red when the sound might clip); and it connects via USB. It also has a 1/4" jack for a monitor (I use headphones), and a volume control for the monitor jack. It also has a line-in (say, for an instrument), as well as RCA left & right output (if you prefer RCA connections instead of USB).

Finally, one additional thing to keep in mind is how to support the microphone. Even if the mic you choose is the kind you can hold in your hand, you likely will not want to do so for long stretches of time recording your audiobook, so I recommend considering getting a stand to hold your mic. In my case, I got the Samson MK-10 Microphone Boom Stand ( ), but there are a ton of other options out there. In addition, you might consider taking a trip to your local secondhand store and buying a mic stand there.

All told, including tax, I spent less than $400 on the mic, stand, and USB preamp. This is a pretty reasonable investment, I think, to get good equipment as a starting point. As we'll see in the next couple of installments, this is far and away the most expensive part of this process, and there are some serious soundproofing upgrades that can be had for less than $30 (which I will cover in a different blog entry).

My next post in this series will cover some of the lessons I've learned with the software, so stay tuned for that! I'll see you in a couple of days!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Audiobook setup changes

So I've been working on a few things in the background, one of which was a new setup for doing my audiobook recording.

As much as wanted to try to make the recording work out by spending less than $100, I wasn't able to make decent recordings at that level (others might, I just couldn't do it). So I was able to do some research, and get better insight about where to save, and where it was important to spend some money. Here are a few lessons I've learned.

  • First lesson: don't skimp on the mic. A prosumer microphone can be had for $300–400, and will make a huge difference in the quality of your recordings.
  • Second lesson: the software you choose is secondary. Great quality can be had using Logic Pro, Audition, Audacity, Garageband, Pro Tools, and several others.
  • Third lesson: you can skimp on the amount of money you spend to soundproof your recording space, because it can be done fairly cheaply.
Over the next few days I'll be re-examining each of these things, and detailing my experiences in blog entries. Hopefully, that will be enough to set you on your way to setting up your own audiobook recordings!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fantasy Novel snippet

One of the myriad things I'm working on at the moment is a new Fantasy novel series, and I thought I'd take a quick break and share just a little snippet of it. This is part of Chaper 4 of the first novel in this series, The Ruins of Lawic Keep. Hope you enjoy it!

“So what do we know so far about the situation?” asked Brithra. “The gothi did not give us very much information before we left.” She picked through the plate of greens in front of her, searching for the nuts and seeds she knew must be buried underneath it somewhere.
“Well, not a whole lot,” Rode replied. “Dad said to seek out your gothi, and find help, and then go seek out the Lawic grove. The only information that he gave me was that it was important we try to gain their trust quietly, because the call for help was coded secretly, using ancient words and formalities.” She dug into the pot with the fish that Arles had caught and cooked, and plopped it onto Brithra’s salad. “Eat this, you’ll be much happier with it I promise.”
Brithra accepted the boiled Ravencraft Char and took a seat next to her friend Nelye on the felled tree she was using as a bench. She took a big gulp of the boiled fish and swallowed heartily, then bit off another chunk. “Scho,” she chomped out of the corner of her mouth, still chewing, “schwat do you” chew chew “schink might be” swallow “going on up there?”
Rode took a deep breath, and thought for a moment. She still wasn’t quite sure about the Galalwe worshippers and their penchant for violence, but decided to trust her dad’s wisdom. “I believe that they may be operating under some kind of a curse. There wasn’t a lot of information available before we left for Mopool, but the gist of it seemed to feel to me like dad suspected they’d perhaps lost their Oak through external forces, or were having trouble with their underbrush. Most of these kinds of Groves are diligent about how they handle their sacred plants and animals, so if the were having problems with them it would probably be due to an outside influence.” She stopped for a moment. “I … well, I just don’t know. It could be any number …”
“Could it be they angered their Oak spirit?” Nelye interjected. “If they somehow managed to piss off their tree that might cause an imbalance, and make it tough for them to recover on their own.” As she spoke, she emphasized her words pointing at the half-elf with her wooden fork, or flailing it around, the juices from her fish splashing over the others.
Rode calmly wiped her face with her sleeve, and continued. “It could be any number of things, including that they damaged their Oak through accident or carelessness. I’ve seen blueberry and heather dryads get bent out of shape because a cooking fire was left unattended, but their wrath is usually limited to causing the nearby animals to misbehave, or to cause roots & weeds to entangle the feet of those who stray nearby. Mischievous stuff, nothing malevolent and certainly well within the realm of a Grove with an active Arch to handle …”
“Arch?” Brithra asked.
“Archdruid, sorry. A Grove with an active Archdruid should be quite capable of pacifying any of those kinds of small transgressions. If their Most Sacred Oak was damaged through such negligence, or even intentional act, the Grove would disband until the Oak found a new place to settle. That wouldn’t cause them to panic. That kind of thing has happened occasionally throughout history.”
Rode paused for a moment, giving herself time to think and the others time to chew. Arles sat thoughtfully, then his back straightened as he cocked his head to the right.
“Wait,” he said, softly. “Hush for a moment.”
The others stopped moving, straining to listen themselves. Rode looked at Arles, and saw his brow furrow, then his face turned slightly red as his eyes narrowed.
“Set down,” he said. “Follow me, bring your weapons. Quickly and quietly. Come!” he barely whispered, then sprung without a sound into the dark underbrush and disappeared.
“Grift!” cursed Brithra. “Aye, Nel, let’s after him before he gets himself hurt.”
Rode noticed that Brithra’s eyes seemed to twinkle at that. She has a crush on him! she thought. Rode knew better, knew that Arles was a peerless tracker in almost any terrain—able to track mountain goats up sheer cliffs—but then remembered that Brithra didn’t know that about him.
The three scrambled to keep up, as Arles nearly floated over the ground. After a few moments, they came to a dip in the ground, where Arles sat almost like a pointer hound. As the rest of them took up positions immediately behind him, he signaled to Rode to look out over the edge. “See, just over the farther ridgeline? That is a hunting party from Clan Filthgrin. The one with a shield, it has the bloody smile design. It’s similar to the Clan Foamscowl from the Northern Bloodfen area, but has the bloody dripping instead of the foaming mouth. See?” He pointed to an imaginary shield on his own arm, then back out over the top of the escarpment.
Rode looked out over the open plain below, just peering over the top of their hiding location. After a moment, she could focus her eyes on the object of Arles’ attention: a small group of gnolls. Five, she counted: one larger than the rest with a tower-type shield over its left shoulder, clearly showing the image of a bloody, crooked grin. “Yep. I see it. They don’t look like they’re terribly successful hunting yet, and they’re also not coming this way. We should get back and strike camp.”
“NO!” Arles snapped. “We should after them now, so they don’t threaten any of the locals.” His face was stern, even angry, as he cast his gaze at the distant gnoll hunting party. “We should strike at them immediately for the safety of nearby villages.”
“Absolutely not. This is not part of our charge, we need to continue to move toward the Tumunzar clan meeting place. We can’t afford to waste…”
“This is NOT a waste! You know yourself how heartless and feral these filthy creatures are! I say we set off and kill them all, right now.”
“It’s a waste of time for what we need to do! No. We strike camp and continue North to Tumunzar. If we come across them again on the way, we’ll revisit this. But now we need to keep moving.”
Brithra and Nelye looked at each other, somewhat taken aback by Arles’ vehemence. Brithra in particular examined Arles’ face for a moment, which was seething in anger and bright red. She and Nelye started back toward their camp, leaving Rodire and Arles for the moment.
Arles continued to glare over the escarpment down at the gnolls for a good long time, several minutes at least. Rode sat for a few minutes, waiting to see if he would calm down, but as it became obvious he was simply going to stew, she started back toward the camp herself. Just before she stepped away, she put her hand on Arles’ forearm. “Arles. Look at me.”
He turned his glare toward her, softening a bit as he recognized his long-time friend. His eyes bore the torment of his soul, nearly to the point of forming tears.
“I know how angry you are. I was there when you got news of your parents' abduction. We will have our chances. Right now, we need to continue to work on getting to the Tumunzar dwarves to meet with their council, and then find out what is going on with Lawic Grove. We will have our chances.”
She watched as the blood drained from his face and he resigned himself to their current reality. “Okay,” he replied, “but this is not over.”
“We will have our chances, Arles.”