Saturday, July 31, 2021

Small Screen Epiphany

So I was watching Castle episode 1.4 ("Hell Hath No Fury", a title which kinda telegraphs who did the murder, but whatever) and I had a writing epiphany.

[Nobody is allowed to judge me for watching Castle. The first half of the first season is very good. Just pretend it stops after that.]

If you've never seen the show, it pairs a famous writer and a police detective together.

In this episode, the detective finds out the character the writer is basing on her is called Nikki Heat. She wants him to change it. His response? "Think of the titles! Summer Heat, Heat Wave..."

Holy crap! Titles... I could plan my titles in advance and make it all easy on myself!

My current method is to cycle through a bunch of terrible titles based on what I've written, and then have one of my critique partners make a joke title that turns out to be the one I go with. It's a terrible system, and makes planning covers and setting up pre-orders difficult.

Anyhow, expect my next series to have the main character Ali Green. I don't know the genre or the plots, but the Christmas novella is going to be called Green Sees Red.

This is genius.

I'm absolutely counting the time I was watching television as writing research time...

Black cat sprawled on a desk chair.
Ripley really likes the desk chair I bought for him.

Friday, July 23, 2021


 Let me tell you how bad I am at selling things:

My credit card number was stolen a few months ago, and when the bank reversed the charges for the fraudulent video games, they also reversed the charges for everything I'd bought in the previous three days, which was:

  1. My CSA veggie box. The CSA people sent me mail, which is the only reason I knew about the problem.
  2. The grocery store. The charge was for something like $11.23.
  3. The pizza place. The tip for the delivery driver (which should be a lot, right, especially during a pandemic? We all agree on this, correct?) was included, so it was something like $85.
After three calls to the bank, it turned out that they couldn't un-reverse the charges. So the CSA people just charged my new card and everyone was happy. Then I called the other two places and tried to get them to charge me again.

Friends, I could not even give money to those two companies. That's how bad I am at sales.

So now I am taking a class on how to write sales copy, and it is just excruciating. I feel like I would have an easier time telling everyone what is wrong with my books (in great detail!), and yet these are books that I wish someone else had written so I could have bought them and saved myself the trouble of writing it down!


The other new thing I've been doing lately is writing a serial for Kindle Vella. What's Kindle Vella? It's Amazon's new serial platform (think soap opera instead of a movie), but I swear the only people who know about it are authors who are writing for it. It doesn't surprise me that I have yet to make back the $0.39 I spent to license the cover image.

But I am having a blast writing the thing. For me, it's an experiment in writing chapter endings that entice the reader to keep going. I have a terrible habit of ending chapters at the end of the character's day, and "and then she went to bed" doesn't really force people to keep reading. Eventually I'll tie off all the arcs and put it in a book -- that may be the end of my Vella experiment. We'll see.

In any case, I needed to write sales copy for the serial that nobody is reading. So here we go:

Masked woman with swords strapped to her back in a field of smoke

In the shipping port of Harbor Crag, dragon magic protects the city, and a greedy duke controls the dragons.

Freeholder Lisette climbs the tower with the perfect plan — steal the duke’s money to pay her shop’s taxes. But a second thief complicates everything, and Lisette plunges into the dragon’s den.

Bargaining with the dragon could end Lisette’s life. But it might just save them all.

Lisette races to finish her quest, getting unexpected help from her mysterious thief. If you love dazzling adventure with a hint of romance, unlock the next episode of Dragon Freehold.

Anyhow, that's what I've been up to lately. Maybe I should just let someone write the sales copy for a book they want to read and then write that. That might be easier...

Saturday, June 26, 2021

More Marketing Fails

Hey, look at that! I have a new book out!

I'm beginning to think I should write a book called "Stealth Releases: How to publish your book secretly". It'll probably never be a best seller, but only because nobody knows it exists...

Anyhow, this whole publishing thing requires some coordination to make everything show up on time. I haven't been doing pre-orders (because I'm really not ready to swear that I'll release a book on a certain day unless I'm done with everything, including formatting, and at that point, why wait?).

But not having pre-orders means that I spend a bunch of time uploading the files to all the retailers and then hold off on announcing it because two of the retailers don't have it available yet. Any day now, Apple and Google Play! It's okay. I'll wait!

Honestly, though, it doesn't really matter because most series don't get any sort of traction until they have three books out. I have four books out so far. Have I hit book three in any series? No. No, I have not. In my genius publishing plan, I will only hit that with the book after the next one. Who planned my publishing schedule anyhow? Oh...

Anyhow, if you're looking for a cozy mystery starring a pet sitter in her fifties who trades witty banter with her husband and has a mastiff with a lot of personality...

Book cover showing a cartoon woman and hound. Title: Death Tracks the Scent by Tess Baytree

Saturday, June 12, 2021

In Defense of Screwing it up

Yes, my last post was about how I quit my job in favor of writing full-time, but I swear that's not what I'm referring to with the title, at least not yet.

The Point (complete with metaphor!)

Trying to get everything done as an independent publisher can feel like that day you first went in the ocean. It was cold (my memories are of the Pacific Ocean), and smelled weird, and just when you started to understand what the waves were doing, you turned your back on them for a moment and you got tumbled under the water until you didn't know which way was up.

Here's an incomplete list of things you will have to deal with to get a book published, in no particular order: knowing the different types of editors and figuring out which you need, how to get a cover for your book and how to make sure it is one that will help the book sell, getting a domain, creating a web site, setting up a newsletter, authenticating your domain, what affects deliverability of your newsletter, reader magnets, sales copy, reviews, street teams, ARCs, advertising, book categories, pricing, taxes... The list goes on.

And all of that is after you manage to write a book in the first place.

No, you can't really farm this out to someone else. I mean, you might be able to find a virtual assistant to do some of it, but unless you're really lucky, you're going to have to train that VA in those tasks, so you still have to know about it. Some of the things on the list you can ignore for a while (or forever), but you'll probably have to face them at some point.

But the good news is that you are absolutely allowed to screw it up.*

Is your sales copy terrible? That's okay. You can fix it later. Are your covers making readers think the book is urban fantasy instead of space opera? You can fix it. Did you end up with typos sprinkled liberally throughout the text despite proofreading? Not ideal, but you can fix it. Did you send the world's most boring newsletter and everyone unsubscribed? It didn't kill you and the next one will be better.

The beauty of ebooks and POD (print on demand) is that everything is flexible. There aren't 2,000 copies of your book with a typo in the first line that have to be sold before the next printing. Nothing is permanent.

Yes, it's better to get it right on the first try, and you should certainly put in the effort, but if making sure everything is perfect before you publish is keeping you from publishing, get over it. Make the mistakes. Fix them. Learn from it. Do better next time.

* It's probably better not to screw up too badly on the taxes.

Obligatory Pet Photo

Here's an old photo of the big dog at Putah Creek. Even he occasionally messes things up. And he's perfect.
Shows head and shoulders of alert and happy Alaskan Husky mix in front of a large river with green trees lining the banks

Monday, May 24, 2021

I Totally Know What I'm Doing

 I know I promised terrible cover attempts on here, but we are doing mock ups with art from royalty-free sites, and I'd have to buy the art if I want to post it, and I'm not totally sure that's what I want to use yet. But someday soon!

In other news, I sort of... quit my job. I mean, I still have another six weeks, four of which are vacation/personal days, and then two weeks where I either train the next person or fix everything that broke during my vacation and write some more documentation.

My goal here is to take at least a year off and try to get my writing career off the ground. Am I making enough money at this point to support myself? Ha ha, absolutely not! In fact, I'm making negative money when you factor in covers, editing, software, etc. But I have enough savings to live off for at least a year, which gives me some time to start building things up.

Sometimes I do have the confidence of a mediocre white man!

Various family members kept referring to me as "retired" over the weekend, but I consider myself to be living in Schrödinger's paradox -- I'm either a full-time author or I'm unemployed. I won't know until sometime next year. Then I might need to get another day job, but I'll worry about it then.

In the meantime, I intend to have a lot of fun!

Close-up of grey cat sniffing a yellow flower.
Guido finds this flower suspicious

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Get Ready!

 All I can say is that May may either be awesome or miserable, but probably nothing in between. I've signed up for (and paid a bunch of money, so I have to take it seriously!) a workshop on creating book covers.

Anyone who has been on this blog recently knows that I have a lack of both taste and talent in the visual arts, so my attempts to make covers might frustrate me, but they may kill the instructor. We have to turn in assignments every week for feedback.

Class starts this week, and I plan to post my assignments here. The best part is that the instructor is going to use some of the student work (anonymized) in the discussions, so people all over the world may be making fun of my art! I'll be (anonymously) famous! (In case it's not clear, I'm absolutely fine with this. I'm sure if someone was sensitive about this, they could opt out.)

In the meantime, have a skillfully edited picture of the bed-pets [does not include the little dog (who doesn't get on the bed) or the semi-feral cats (who won't come in the room if I'm in it)]. If they all stayed on this side of the bed, I would get more sleep, but the minute I get under the covers, there's a scramble to see who can be the most disruptive. A queen-size bed ought to be big enough for one person, but it's really not.

dog and two cats asleep on a bed, faded into a starry background

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

How Not To Market

 Hey, I have a new book out today! (Yay!) I sort of forgot to tell anyone it was coming out! (Nice job, T!)

People who write books that sell well usually know exactly what tropes are hot in the genre they write in, and make sure they nail exactly what people are looking for.

Oops, let me back up a bit. People who write books that sell well start out by knowing what genre they are writing in. I just wrote a book that has a colony on a partially-terraformed planet. With three competing sets of gods! And AIs! And a bicycle chase!

The main character used to be a nanobot technician in the army, but now she herds goats and sheep up in the hills with only a messed up AI to help.

Does this fit nicely into one existing genre? Absolutely not. It's probably closest to space opera, a genre best known for the space ships on the cover. Are there any space ships in this story? Not really.

My friend Paul Austin Ardoin told me I'm writing sheep opera. That's not a category on Amazon.

Anyhow, if you want to read a fun story with a woman with too much chaos, gods, AIs, sheep, goats, and a stolen shipment of genetically engineered sheep... uh, let's go with the family friendly term DNA... 

Book cover for The Chaos Job, with a metallic sheep head in front of a planet on a starry background

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Space Kitten #28

 Here we are, at the end of Thingadailies! I think we can all agree that this image keeps well within my general theme of photo manipulation for fun without any particular talent. And nobody can argue that this isn't a kitten in space, so I feel that I've held up my end of the bargain.

Kitten being transported to space with a red planet

I hope the rest of your year carries a little of the frivolity of space kittens with it.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Space Kitten #27

 I'm not sure how well this one will show up here. I probably should have blended it with fewer frames or made the image size smaller, but this is how we learn things.

I watched a tutorial which showed how to use a GIMP plug-in to help make things less manual, but then I found out that plug-in isn't supported on a Mac, so I just messed around with some things manually. Maybe tomorrow I'll find a plug-in that works for me.

Kitten on a colorful planet with twinkling stars

Friday, February 26, 2021

Space Kitten #26

 I feel this one really lives up to the "space kitten" title. I think I'm going to try to animate something tomorrow. Just imagine how that will turn out!

Three colorful kittens whirling in space

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Space Kitten #25

 All I can say is that I would be sad if the wave tool ever disappeared. That's probably a sign that I should put it down and walk away, but who doesn't love a good wave?

Kitten in space with aura

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Space Kitten #24

After tracing outlines for twenty-four days, I can confidently say that young kittens are blobbier than older kittens. They're all pretty cute though.

Kitten in space with three planets, some space dust, and yes, a supernova

Planetary textures:

grass texture: Photo by Eriks Abzinovs from Pexels

cracked dirt: Photo by Santiago Manuel De la Colina from Pexels

sea foam: Photo by Brady Knoll from Pexels

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Space Kitten #23

 Subtlety is not my strength. I love this.

Kitten on a colorful space background

Monday, February 22, 2021

Space Kittens #22

 Again, sometimes it's good to try things, even if they don't quite work out.

Three kittens floating on plasma clouds in space

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Space Kitten #21

 Once again, I was playing around with book cover ideas and then added in the space kitten. Neither book cover nor kitten are very successful, but this is how we learn things.

Kitten face in a moon over a dark planet with sheep and tree in silhouette against a red and purple sky

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Space Kitten #20

 It's a moon kitten. Or something.

It helps if you don't try to apply too much logic to these.

A silver kitten-faced moon shining down on a planet

Only eight more days of Thingadailies!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Space Kitten #19

 This is as close as I could get to a metallic sheep. Why did I want a metallic sheep? I've been playing with book cover ideas and I wanted to see what it would look like. Except, you know, with the addition of a kitten because that is the theme of the month.

Metallic sheep + kitten out in space

Original sheep: Photo by Trinity Kubassek from Pexels

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Space Kitten #18

 Today it's all about the colors.

Two kittens in space with color warping

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Space Kitten #17

I mean, if it's any consolation, I don't know what I was trying to do here either.

Two kittens, one green, the other purple on a spiral green background with two supernovas


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Space Kitten #16

 When kittens play dice with the universe...

kitten in purple space with multiple universes
The picture looks better if you click on it, I promise.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Space Kitten #15

 I got busy doing other things today, so I threw together some random things today. It's not a complete success, but it is a kitten in space.

kitten in space with random things happening in the background

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Space Kitten #14

 Someday I will figure out how to make all the layers look like they belong together, but today is not that day. I'm rather fond of this one anyhow.

Kitten on a lava planet

Tree silhouette pulled from: Photo by Alexander Zvir from Pexels

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Space Kitten #13

So... this isn't quite how I imagined it, but my technical ineptitude is showing. Still. I wanted to make a kitten in a flying saucer and this is a kitten in a flying saucer, more or less, so I'm counting it as a success. Besides, I have a bunch of plants that I need to put in the ground before it gets dark, so I need to stop messing around here.

kitten in a flying saucer in space

Friday, February 12, 2021

Space Kitten #12

I'm sure this is how solar systems are created, and nobody can tell me otherwise.

Kitten barfing up planets


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Space Kitten #11

 I started messing with this when I got on the treadmill, and it took just under 45 minutes. (That might have included a few minutes of web surfing...) So if nothing else, practicing using GIMP has made me faster. There's also 100% less aggravation because I sorta, kinda know what I'm doing now.

Lest I get too proud, I should relate that I needed to draw a simple diagram at work today and it took me 10 minutes to figure out why I couldn't just draw a straight line between two points of text, and that was with the help of two tutorials. Worse, it turned out to be the solution it always is -- the wrong layer was selected. (In my defense, I thought there was only one layer. I hadn't realized that each time I added text, it was creating a new layer.)

Anyhow, I decided to spin the stars a bit today. I think it adds an interesting touch.

Kitten on a whirl of stars

Planetary texture created using: Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Space Kitten #10

 I'm not sure I can create a career out of a daily kitten in space, but at least I'm getting better at it. (For some values of better.)

All three planets are based on the same photo of lichen on rocks (credit below), but I randomly changed the colors and blurred it a little differently for each one. I think they turned out well.

The supernova is back!

Kitten on a blue planet with two other planets and a star on a space background

Planetary texture based on: Photo by Laker from Pexels

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Space Kitten #9

 Look how restrained I was this evening! I didn't even add a supernova, which is pretty much unheard of.

Two sparkling kittens in space

Anyhow, I pulled a lot of suggestions from this tutorial ( That tutorial is also a great example of two hosts that despise each other while pretending not to, and it also shows why you should work out the numbers you want to use before you do the demo -- half the demo is just "oh, that's too big, let's undo it and do it again with different numbers", which just makes the demo drag.

Anyhow, lessons from the evening: feather selections, and also... Sparkle!

Thingadailies is one third over with!

Monday, February 8, 2021

Space Kitten #8

 I was doing some random things, but I can see the seed of a way to make a planetary surface. Except with the addition of the wave tool and supernovas because I am weak and I just can't help myself.

Kitten in space

I believe the handsome kitten of the day is Shanty. He and his brother (available for adoption!) have mild cerebellar hypoplasia, but that doesn't seem to slow either of them down.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Space Kitten #7

Kitten Tina is traveling through portals in space. Or something. I'm not sure there's really any logical explanation.

Kitten in space

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Space Kitten #6

 I almost forgot to make a space kitten today, and after looking at this masterpiece, I think we can all agree that would have left the world a poorer place.

Kitten in a warp bubble in space

We do all agree on that, right?

(Also, I'm pretty sure my only artistic influence is Lisa Frank, and I'm okay with that.)

Friday, February 5, 2021

Space Kitty #5

 Carmen's son, Filch, discovered the bowl of dry food in the last couple of days. I grabbed this frame from the video. Because you know kittens would play with planets if they could...

Kitten in space playing with a planet

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Space Kitten #4

 This turned out more or less the way I wanted it to. I wonder if I can make a layer completely transparent except for the stars... I'll have to try that at some point. I've crashed GIMP enough times for one day already.

Tuxedo kitten with stars in its black hair

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Space Kitten #3

 At some point, someone should probably ask what the heck I'm doing, but therein lies the beauty of living alone (or at least, alone with a bunch of animals who don't speak English).

Three kitten planets, plus another planet, and a supernova

In addition to making this... work of art... I had a successful day in other ways as well. The galvanized pipe did not, in fact, splinter into bits when the T-joint was unscrewed, so I don't have to live in a hotel while trying to figure out how to have people fix a buried pipe.

I think I'm ready to live in a retirement community and let someone else deal with all that stuff.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Space Kitten #2

 Again, it didn't quite come out like I was aiming for, but... well, it certainly is something, isn't it?

kitten on lava planet

As far as reproducing this, all I can say is that there was a lot of the lava rendering, some mapping to a sphere, wandering around with the wave tool (always my favorite!), and then a bunch of fumbling around with layer masks. Perhaps I'll truly figure out layer masks by the end of the month.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Space Kitten #1

 I did mention I was doing Thingadailies, right? Part of the reason is so I don't forget how to use Gimp (which is similar to Photoshop), but the other part is so I can do things like this!

A kitten out in space with a pink planet in the background

Notes on how to make your own space kittens:

  1. Find a kitten picture! Mine are taken from House of Floof with permission. So many cute kittens.

  2.  To mask the kitten, this time I tried doing a quick and dirty selection manually, creating the mask from the selection, then blurring the edges of the mask. I suspect there are better ways to do this, but this seemed like an improvement over not blurring the edges.

  3. The planet I created using this tutorial ( The key steps were
    1. Filters->Render->Noise->Plasma
    2. Filters->Map->Map Object (Map to: sphere)

  4. I also added a semi-transparent background of plasma noise, and then some supernovas because I just can't help myself.
The first time it took about 45 minutes. Then Gimp froze and I hadn't saved anything (of course), so the second time only took about 20 minutes plus a lot of swearing. Save early and often! I should know this by now.

Could it be better? Of course! But I think this is a fine start to the month of space kittens.

Saturday, January 30, 2021


Things were a little stormy this week. I live in a town with a lot of big trees, so when the power flickered a few times at the start of the storm (winds > 35 mph), I expected to lose power for at least a bit overnight.

I did not expect to lose power for 36 hours. Then the power came back on in my area, and a few hours later I got a robocall from PG&E saying they knew about the outages and that it might be "several days" until power was restored.

Since I already had power, I laughed and said "oh, those poor bastards", at which point my power went out again.

Anyhow, I have power, and my internet is finally back. I don't think the temperature ever dropped below 45 F during the week, but it's hard to be motivated after 5pm when it's dark and chilly.

I had all my trees trimmed a couple of weeks ago, so I didn't have to pick up much other than some small redwood tree branches that came from my neighbor's tree. But the neighbor on the other side (A) and the people beyond them (B)...

If I didn't know better, I would assume there is witchcraft going on. A couple of years ago, one of A's trees dropped a limb on B's front fence. Then six months later, in the middle of a clear & still night, B's tree dropped a huge limb on A's driveway and demolished their car. This week, A's three-story spruce tree went down on B's pool house.

It's been going on for years. I can't imagine what their insurance premiums are. Plus, there was already some grumbling when B complained about A having chickens (hens, not roosters, and there's only six of them). Who complains about chickens?

Anyhow, it's five days later and I no longer hear the sound of chainsaws in the neighborhood. There are still areas downtown that don't have power, but I'm assuming they will be back up soon.

Coming Soon!

I'm planning on doing some photo manipulations for this year's Thingadailies, with the theme of "Space Kittens". I'm not sure if I'll have time every day, but anything that might give me more like this image is something to add to the list of things to do.

Two kittens looking through a hole in the floor at space

Wednesday, January 6, 2021


It's been an odd day.

Apart from the minor little coup d'etat, I had the experience of waking up to a Facebook notification that someone had liked the Tess Baytree author page. I was reading this on my ancient tablet, and the person's icon was tiny, but I thought "Wow, what an unfortunate crop of that icon. It makes it look just like male genitalia." (That is not a direct quote, but you get the idea.)

Then I got out of bed and fed everyone and sat down at my gigantic hi-res monitor, and got another notification. The new follower had posted something on my author page.

Friends, that was not a thing I needed to see while I was eating my cereal. I got my cardio workout in as I frantically clicked a bunch of different things trying to make it all go away. As part of the procedure to block the user, I was exposed to his profile page and I'm just saying, he seems very obsessed.

Anyhow, I have never been so relieved to only have three followers to my author page.

An Image To Help You Forget

This is a painting I did about ten years ago because I thought it would be funny, and then Jon (who sat in the cubicle next to me at the time) and I swapped it for some other artwork on the wall, and waited to see how long it would take before someone noticed.

A painting of a frog rowing a boat, with a clownfish in the nearby water, done by T. Baumgartner
As far as I know, this is still hanging on the wall.

Friday, January 1, 2021


 I'm not a great gardener. Mostly I just ignore everything around the house until it tries to come through the windows. I choose plants based on their ability to survive without intervention -- if something requires constant watering after the first year it goes in the ground, it's not going to last long here.

(In case you need a list of what grows in a dry, high-heat area with almost no water: roses, blackberries, artichoke, Swiss chard, and citrus. Oh, and of course oleander, which is poisonous and impossible to get rid of -- I'm not sure why people plant it all over the place. Sure, it grows anywhere, but it also burns like a torch.)

The best part of gardening, for me, is the meditative aspect. I'm bad at sitting still and thinking, but give me a shovel and some music, and I can dig for hours. (And then I can come inside and collapse because I don't use those muscles very often.)

I have a bunch of Bermuda grass (see terrible gardener above), and sometimes I make an effort to get rid of it. I realize that's an impossible task if you're not willing to use herbicides, but it gives me a goal.

In any case, today is the last day of Holidailies for the year. I hope you have your own version of meditative gardening to enjoy, and I wish you a healthy and happy new year!

Gratuitous Dogs Picture

Two dogs sitting in front of plants and flowers
(You can tell this isn't my garden because everything is alive.)