First Command Book Trailer

Today I put together a simple book trailer using MS Powerpoint. The process was relatively straight forward, if you’ve ever used animations in Powerpoint.

You start by figuring out what you want your add copy to say and write it out in text blocks. I tried to cut my blurb down (which is incredibly hard), but came up with three blocks of text. I superimposed it over a darkened version of my cover’s background image. I wanted something dark enough that the text would stand out, but more interesting than a black screen. With some playing around, I got something I was happy with. I used a courier font in a bright green colour for fun.

For the animation, I wanted to create an effect reminiscent of 80’s science fiction movies where you would watch text scrolling across a monochromatic screen, often with some kind of ominous implication going on in the background. Some examples that come to mind:

You then animate the text blocks. For each one, select the “appear” animation.

In the effect settings you can make text appear by the letter. To get into this, you open your animation pane (under advanced animation), right click on the animation and go into “effect options.” From there you, under “animate text” you can select “by the letter.”

Then it’s a case of setting the timings for each block. I wanted the text to come up relatively quickly so the reader wouldn’t get bored, but not so fast it couldn’t be read. A timing of about 0.09s per letter seemed about right. I set the blocks of text to appear in sequence, (timing > start: after previous, the first one I started with previous so it would start playing immediately as soon as the slide show started).

After the text, I added a “disappear” animation for all the text blocks and then added a 3 second fade in for the book 3D image and a few additional copy points.

Then it was just a matter of recording and exporting the file as an MP4. It generated a 30 second trailer that I hope is a little more eye-catching than a static image.

Unfortunately I can’t post the trailer directly on my blog for some reason, but if you want to see it I’ve uploaded a copy to my Facebook Page:
First Command Book Trailer

As always, thanks for your support!

First Command – Amazon
First Command – Universal Book Link

First Command Launch Day!

Today is the day! First Command is officially out!

As excited as I am about this, there are so many people I’d like to thank for all the help and encouragement in this project. I can’t express how grateful I am, first and foremost to my ever-supporting family. My amazing wife has been a never ending source of optimism. My children are a constant fountain of inspiration and wonder. My parents have believed in me from the beginning.

My local writing group, The Lethbridge Riverbottom Writers, have given me the confidence to move from “writer” to “published author.” Writing is such a solitary endeavor, it’s so great to have friends to share it with. Even over the pandemic, many of us have managed to keep in touch virtually. This group has helped me interact with so many other writers in Southern Alberta at so many different stages in their writing journeys, I’ve learned so much from those ahead of me.

I’ve been fortunate to be a part of the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) community for almost twenty years now, starting back up in Edmonton. I even took on a role as a Municipal Liaison for a few years, organizing local write-ins, and helping others turn their ideas into words.

Thank you to my professional friends and colleagues. Most of you know I write, and have always been encouraging. Not all writers are so lucky. My close personal friends have supported me even more so.

I’m grateful to my editor for helping me go through this book with a fine-toothed comb and turn it into a story that I am proud to put out into the world.

On the surface, writing is such a simple expression of art. You sit down, think of something cool, type out a bunch of words to describe it. But if you do it well, another person can experience those exact same thoughts as if that experience is real. What’s more this process can transcend time and space. Words written thousands of years ago can still be read and experienced today.

As First Command goes out into the world, I hope that it brings experiences of joy and excitement.

First Command – Amazon
First Command – Universal Book Link

First Command… Cover

To an author, creating a book cover can be a surreal experience.

A story that until that point has been only words, enters a new medium. You get to see what your world looks like. And when you have another artist/designer do it, you get to see it through someone else’s eyes.

I commissioned the cover for First Command through MIBLART.

I started by explaining that the book was about a group of astronaut cadets who crash land on an alien world. The lead character, Cassi, is a 19-year-old cadet, who assumes a leadership roll as they battle pirates and aliens and struggle to find a way home. The designer presented an idea of Cassi in a futuristic suit holding her helmet aside. They wanted to set her against a background of alien terrain, and other planets or moons in the sky, with a wrecked spacecraft in the background.

We went through a couple of rounds of tweaks, and in the end this is the cover we’ve come up with…

First Command. Out now.
Ebook. Print Book.
Alternative booksellers.

Pen Names

Charles K James is not my real name.

I know… shocking.

I use a pseudonym for a couple of reasons. First, I have a day job as a scientist-clinician. Not only do I have clinical responsibilities for making sure that very precise doses of radiation are put into people, but I have an academic appointment as an adjunct associate professor. I write scientific papers. I teach and mentor graduate students.

Now I don’t think anyone is going to confuse what I write about in the Alliance universe for real science, but I feel it’s important to keep those dimensions of my life separate. Fiction is where I go to relax, to play, to exercise creativity. Using a pseudonym helps to draw that line.

Secondly, I want to have a name that’s relatively easy to remember and spell. I’m proud of my real name, but it’s very close in spelling to another much more common name. So my real name is commonly misspelled. On the chance that someone hears about my writing and wants to look me up, I’d hate for a spelling error to get in the way of that.

At one point I though about changing my pen name to “Local Author.” At least I’d get my own section in most bookstores. But for some reason, I don’t see that unfolding as favorably as I might like.

Despite my best efforts Googling, there is apparently another Charles James author out there. So I’ve decided to go by “Charles K James.” One of the members of my writing group asked what the “K” stood for.

Apparently it’s Knievel.


7 Tips to Increase Productivity for Writers

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It always amazes me when I read about writers who can put out several books per year. Getting a book written, edited and out on the market is hard work, particularly when you have to balance family responsibilities, a demanding day job and keep all the other elements of your life in balance. One might think that during a pandemic, being forced into lockdowns with nowhere to go and not much else to do, a writer could be more prolific, but a lot of writer friends of mine are finding it quite the opposite. It takes a lot of mental energy to block out the real world and create something within a fictional one. Fighting off anxiety, having more (or in some cases much less) ‘alone time,’ spending more and more hours working online, not being able to blow off steam with friends… it can add up to a massive creative void.

And yet people are still producing great fiction. Here are a few ideas for my writer friends on how to to be more productive…

  1. Setting SMART Writing Goals
    You’ve probably heard of SMART goals already, but I think when it comes to productivity, taking time at the “executive” level to establish what is you want to accomplish can make a world of difference. When it comes to setting writing goals, you want to make goals that are:
    1. Specific
      Rather than “write a novel” which is vague, be more specific… complete a novel outline, complete a first draft manuscript, sent out 10 query letters, etc.
    2. Measurable
      How will you measure your progress?  How will you know when you’re finished? One great example of this is setting word count goals.
    3. Attainable
      Given all the commitments you have in your life, is it reasonable for you to achieve this goal? Of course you can challenge yourself. But part of good adulting is learning to judge what’s reasonable.
    4. Relevant
      It’s important to spend time thinking about the big-picture.  Where do you want to be with your writing in five years?  Are your immediate goals consistent with that?
    5. Time-Constrained
      Time limits are important, even if they’re only self-imposed.  When you don’t have a deadline, anything else that does have one will take priority over your goal, which makes it that much more challenging to complete.
  2. Tell Other People About Your Goals
    Most people want to see other people around them achieve their goals. (One could argue that most great fiction is based on this single fact.) When you tell people what your goals are, you’re defining them in a concrete manner, and making a kind of commitment that at very least you’re likely to be asked about in the future. It also helps the people around you to understand where your priorities lie.
  3. Find Some Writing Buddies
    As fun as writing is, it tends to be a solitary hobby.  Having at least one other person you can talk to about your creative journey can help keep you inspired and accountable to your goals. Look for people who have similar goals and write in similar genres if possible. And making time for positive socialization is also a part of taking good care of yourself.
  4. Write 100 Words First
    Something that really helps me during National Novel Writing Month is to write 100 words as soon as I sit down.  Do that before you open an internet browser or check your email, or do any of those other pre-writing rituals. I know, for a lot of people those are important, but one thing that I’ve found is that often getting through that first 100 words can trigger those writing centres in your brain that it’s time to write.  And then, even if you fall into a black hole of procrastination and end up with nothing else for the rest of the session, you at least put 100 words down.
  5. Make Writing a Regular Habit
    When you have a regular writing period in your daily or weekly schedule it’s that much easier to tell other people that this is your writing time. You can defend it. You can organize (most) other responsibilities around it. And if inspiration doesn’t show up the moment you sit down and start working, you can at least have the satisfaction of looking up from your desk with a scowl when it tries to sneak in and say, “you’re late!”
  6. Leave on a High Note
    Its always tempting to write through a scene and stop only when you get to a natural break. But consider stopping the middle of scene. Even in the middle of a sentence. That will make it easier to start again the next day because you’ll know what to write next.
  7. Foster Resilience in Yourself
    This is one of those little tidbits that we all know on some level, but sometimes need to be reminded of.  By taking care of yourself, I mean getting adequate sleep (and not replacing sleep with caffeine), exercise, and nutrition… on a regular and ongoing basis. It can almost seem counter-intuitive at first. Taking time to work out can cut into valuable writing time, but life is all about balance. The point is that when you’re as healthy and alert as you can be, that will help with all the executive *willpower* tasks that you need to exercise personal discipline and stay on track as you work.