Tag Archives: Domesticity

Just a walk in the dark

Not much writing done today. Spent a good chunk of this morning sitting waiting while my car was being serviced. As I was leaving the house I grabbed my proof copy of ‘Head of the beast’ to pass the time. It’s a little wordy in places, but the dialogues fairly snappy, and as reads go, its as pleasant a walk in the dark as most places. I was so engrossed, the three hours at the dealership just flew by. Seeing as I wrote it, I’m quite pleased with the end result.

‘Head of the beast’ is a dark little story which speaks about how mundane the horrors can be, how those who are paid to cope with the darkness manage it, and how seemingly lofty motives can lead to appalling outcomes. As far as my sci-fi writings are concerned, it’s fairly typical. A mixture of the horrific and mundane. Rather like real life, really.

Ergo I’ve changed the header tagline from the rather anodyne ‘A science fiction writers web site and blog’, to the mildly blasé ‘A walk in the dark’. Which, I feel, is a little more me, and far more representative.

Have picked up the thread with ‘a falling of angels’ and am busy piling on the words as well as tidying up a loose end from ‘Head of the Beast’. Well I like it. Perhaps that’s all that matters.

Something for nothing

Reading LinkedIn this morning, I came across this echo of my own cri de coeur from the New York Times: ‘Slaves of the Internet unite‘. I’ve been writing various stories since the age of fifteen with fairly mixed results. Few of them that well paid. On one salutary occasion in 2006, for a paltry fifteen hundred word short story, I ended up with a cheque for seventy five pounds. Not bad, you might think. Seventy five quid for fifteen hundred words? Money for old rope, right? No. The original story, which was a pretty lean piece to start with, had to be cut by two hundred and seventy words because of a graphic. Four requested rewrites over a forty eight hour period later, I had met all three targets for the magazines shifting wordage goalposts. The original target wordage was fifteen hundred at first submission, then changed to fourteen fifty the following day, then thirteen fifty, and finally thirteen hundred and thirty two. It was a cute little ghost story, but I ended up writing it for an hourly rate that wouldn’t get the most low aspiration burger flipper out of bed.

All through my working life I’ve been approached by people asking “Oo, could you do a little piece for our magazine?” or “Loved that story – can we use it for free now it’s been published?” or “We need a new logo – could you knock something up for us?” I’ve done a little graphic design work, and it’s never just one design these freeloaders want, it’s several. Frankly, I’d rather not work than work for nothing. I’ll happily practice my craft, but I’d rather be shot than give it away, ‘exposure’ or no.

While we’re on the topic of something for nothing, I got a cold call Monday night from a ‘charity’ asking me to be a volunteer canvasser. I’m sorry, what part of the word ‘volunteer’ don’t they get? A volunteer comes to you, not vice versa. If I do not call a charity to offer my services, then how is it ‘volunteering’ if they call me? Who gave them my details, and who do I have some very sharp words with? Canada has privacy laws, and I think they just got violated. Anyway, I’ve done enough voluntary work over the last five years, and I’m getting a little tired. Come to think of it, from helping rewire and refit Claverdons Dorothea Mitchell Hall, working on committees and suchlike, I’ve given away a great many hours of my time and expertise over the years for no appreciation, and on at least three occasions, personal threats. No more.

The same goes for giving stories away to get attention or reviews. No. They’re mine, I’ve spent time and energy on them, and as the New York Times piece suggests; you wouldn’t ask a plumber or electrician to work for free, editors get paid, so why is a writer any different?

Amusing myself with my wifes iPad

NewMKJprofilePhotoAngie has long complained that my current online profile picture “Doesn’t do you justice.” So during a keyboard break I decided to borrow her iPad, which has a rather good camera setup, and had a bit of a play. Then decided to try a picture using a mirror. After a few tries, which should probably be best buried on an obscure hard drive at midnight with a stake through its casing, I came up with this. Which for once meets with her approval, and as a writer of science fiction, the ‘infinity effect’ using the iPad camera also amuses. Good grief, I’m even smiling and don’t look as much like a crazed axe murderer as I usually do.

The more I get to play with it, the cooler I think her iPad is.

Even in the quietest moments

Trying to move on with projects when your workplace is subject to unpredictable interruptions is difficult. So it has been for the past few months. Angie’s been panicking a bit over her Teaching History course exam, and I’ve found myself roped in to help with revision. All in all, what with new shifts, cuts in hours, hunting for a new day job, planning to move house, and a heap of other incidentals, finding the time to concentrate and write consistently has been at a premium. Even in the quietest moments there have been things clamouring for my attention, distracting from the job in hand. Next doors anti-social birds and my dogs habit of random fits of barking when there’s no-one there don’t exactly help. I don’t mind him calling me when there’s an issue, but barking at things which aren’t there, or a quarter mile away are not conducive to serious endeavour. So working on ‘A falling of Angels’ and ‘Darkness’ has proven quite an effort of late. Any sudden interruption sends my birds of thought fluttering off to the far reaches, and they’re a bugger to coax down from the rafters afterwards.

Normally speaking, when in a noisy environment, the human mind is rather good at filtering out the constant rivers of aural trash. When you’re in the ‘zone’ it’s like having headphones on, and the nervous hindbrain is lulled to a lower stress level, leaving the frontal lobes free to do the fine carpentry of narrative construction. Low flying aircraft noise, tugs in the narrows pulling log booms, gardening machinery, all these can fade into the background. Background music or documentaries help. But when the interruptions are random and unpredictable, the filters can’t work, and writing suffers.

It’s easy to write, any damn fool can string a sentence together and use a spell checker, but as good old Sam Clemens once noted, fiction has to make sense, real life doesn’t. You can’t just fling any old nonsense down on the page and hope it works. Within the framework of the narrative, premises must lead to conclusions, causality must be rigorously observed. Threads tied off. All that shizzle.

I do keep plot notes, I do try to write character traits down, but, and this is the big but; characters have to develop. They have to change with each major event or they simply become cardboard cutouts of stereotypes. Their humanity has to alter with each new challenge, just like with real people. Fixing them to a page can sometimes be akin to nailing jelly to the wall. Especially when inspiration keeps striking like random meteors. Those “Hey, what if?” thoughts constantly intrude. And if the story is changed, well nothing happens in isolation, everything has to be accounted for.

What is often not appreciated is how hard this is to do. At least for those of us who have real lives. Dogs to walk, day job to do, meals to cook, chores etc. Finding quiet time to let the consciousness roam without distraction and find answers to the many questions. Since Angie took her exam two days ago, the distractions are fewer, and I’m beginning to pick up the threads again. Yet again. Today I’ve sorted out a few gaping holes in the plot of ‘a falling of angels’, or at least nailed narrative planks over the worst of them, and I’m starting to write properly again.

Good advice from Goodreads

Pleased to say I’ve been accepted for GoodReads as an author.  As a matter of course I spent a few minutes going through their ‘Author Guidelines’ and found this solid little gem;

From time to time, Goodreads authors have responded to readers who gave their books negative reviews or ratings, and the results have been disastrous for the authors’ reputations. Goodreads is not private; other readers will see a hostile reaction from the author, and a single negative interaction is often enough to turn a reader against an author permanently.

Couldn’t agree more. Don’t engage with hostile forces unnecessarily, and you’ll never lose the fight. Make the trolls punch smoke. Sound thinking there from the Goodreads team.

There’s also a mechanism for flagging, downgrading and even removing pointlessly hostile reviews. Splendid stuff.

I have a feeling we’ll get on famously.

On the domestic front we had a minor panic last night. Around half past ten I was convinced I could smell burning insulation in the kitchen. Called Angie, who agreed; yes, that’s hot wiring, not my over active imagination. Called Mark, our landlord, who checked out the wiring and circuits, which were all running cool as frozen yoghurt. After he’d gone I checked underneath the fridge, which seemed to be the source of the hot insulation smell. Plenty of fluff on the evaporator coils, so I set to work with a long crevice nozzle on the vacuum cleaner. At one stage in a highly undignified posture with the fridge up on blocks and me scrunched up between it and the wall, straining to clear greasy dust off electric motor stators. This state of affairs continued until midnight, and I ended up sleeping with a fire extinguisher by the bed. Electrical fires, especially in frame built housing, are no joke.

It’s not like we don’t clean the kitchen regularly, but from what I could see, this was the accumulation of airborne muck from the day the fridge was installed. I’ve seen this phenomenon in old server rooms where the air conditioners were faulty or didn’t have decent air filters. Fine dust in the air builds up over time until you have motherboards that look as hairy as a Yeti in full moult, and there’s a growing smell of hot insulation. Even the odd soft ‘zipping’ noise of a static short circuit. No-one’s fault, but it can be quite worrying to see what people in ‘clean’ offices are actually breathing. Same for the fridge.

This morning; no smell, and the fridge is cool. We’re all good. The sun is shining and think it’s going to be a really good day.

So many profiles, so little time

Being a one man band has its downside. In short, self promotion. In between day job, looking for better job, writing, looking for new places to live, navigation and R/T courses, cooking and trying to do some research, I have to fit in updating all the profiles I’ve begun. There’s Authors Den (Hi guys), Goodreads (Profile needs completing) to mention but two of my multiple memberships. Never mind LinkedIn, and I can’t remember the last time I logged on to FaceBook properly.

Yesterday I spent three and a half working hours alone on my Authors Den profile (Including blog post) before four hours travelling to and talking to boat brokers and walking around various marinas looking at everything from an oversized dinghy to a minor gin palace as a live aboard, although the cost of satellite Internet is rather off-putting. Putting in over two hours editing the rough draft of ‘A Falling of Angels’ while cooking ribs to have cold for supper at work then working the graveyard shift at day job. Today I hope to get a few more hours at the keyboard before disappearing from just after four until after midnight.

That makes yesterdays total; five hours sleep; three and a half hours on Authors Den; just under nine hours including commute to and from day (more like night) job for paid work; an hour and three quarters in the kitchen; two hours writing; three and a half hours looking at boats; about an hour talking about boats and travel with Angie; half an hour reading one of my favourite books; an hour answering email, and I think I actually managed what our cousins down south call a couple of ‘comfort breaks’ during the day. I also managed a few minutes studying for an exam, but I’m not sure where I managed to fit that in. The bookmark has moved forward a chapter, so I must have done. What is that big expensive screen thing in the living room we never switch on?

Angie has noticed how tired I look, so I’m driving her down to Sidney and Victoria on Friday to visit yet another bunch of Marinas. More boats. More houses. More research. More job hunting.

I’d really like to be more active on these profiles, upping my visibility as an Independent; but then there wouldn’t be time for day job, looking for better job, writing, looking for new places to live, navigation and R/T courses, cooking, making time for my wife and trying to do some research.

Update: I forgot my dog. He needs me too. Walkies, food, time to sit at his master’s feet. There’s another hour a day.

Rambling on and on

‘A Falling of Angels’ is still work in progress. A very slow work in progress. Editing, re-editing, proofing and spell checking, but not much in the way of actual creative writing. Still, I’m happy with the way the story is developing. My lead character is driving the main thread along steadily, and the side plots and protagonists are suitably venal and unpleasant. They, particularly my gay club owner and highly intelligent crime boss feel nicely three dimensional. He, like villains always should be, is far more fun to write than my ‘hero’, the telempathic Detective Sergeant Paul Calvin, forever on the brink of losing both job and children.

Progress on ‘Darkness’ is likewise sporadic. There’s been too much going on outside world; shift changes at day job and Angie wanting to move. Now my shifts stretch to midnight, with the resultant knock on to domestic life. Makes it hard to settle down to a narrative. I feel like I’m just rambling purposelessly.

There’s an odd kind of feel to events, too. It’s unusually cool for August, with the temperature on our deck barely scraping up to the sixties Fahrenheit. According to the forecast, the trend is going to continue for the next week or so, when normally we’re restocking on sun block. Very odd. Maybe September will be sunny.

I don’t normally do Fantasy, but

Last night I dreamed a complete fantasy world. Social structures, storyline, the works. No context at all. No apparently external inspiration. Although I have been watching Discovery Channel features on Ancient Rome and Persia of late.

I fell asleep on the sofa studying for my VHF ROC(M) certification last night after evening shift at day job. Coming to this morning with a crick in my neck and a world in my head.

It’s got slaves, Sorcerer Kings, Frost Giants, Five Empires, and rare sacred trees which are the source of all magic in the world. Since I don’t read Fantasy outside of Larry Niven, Jim Butcher and Terry Pratchett, don’t think I’ve read anything remotely like it. I’ve been watching ‘Game of Thrones’ of course, but who hasn’t? My fantasy realms are nothing like those of George Martin. My world is actually modelled upon an Earth where the Ice caps reach down to Southern Britain and a great shallow inland sea covers most of the continental USA. Where there is a magical trading empire that rules the seas to the fire mountains of the East, through the midland channels across the Vastian Ocean to the Silk Empire and all her vassal states. Where the great Valley state runs along the inland sea to the great sacred waterfall of the Lantan Emipire.

That’s all I’m saying until I do a little more research and begin to write properly.

Two pages of notes inside an hour and accelerating. Evening shift tonight, then six clear days to work on my other projects.

All this out of one uncomfortable night. Wierd or what?

Unscrambling storylines

After my recent brain fart storm, I find myself scrambling round the MSS of ‘Darkness’ tidying up loose ends. In making one story / character change, I’ve unleashed a cascade effect. While this does not alter the planned ending, it has sent the intermediate story skittering off in a new direction. Whilst this is not a completely unfortunate happenstance, it’s a lot of hard work reading and re-reading to clean up the glitches. Massively time consuming.

All this, day job, and Angie wanting me to help with her Canadian History Teachers course. Just been reading the unit on accounts of first contact in British Columbia by the Simon Fraser expedition, and to be honest it’s so dry I can hardly keep my eyes open. Great cure for insomnia. Although I’d prefer a large whiskey.

The best time of the day to write

Since the 1980’s I’ve been an habitual early riser. It may sound odd, but I have difficulty sleeping in after half past six. No Alarm clock necessary. This is probably a hangover from days when I travelled and commuted the length and breadth of the UK. Edinburgh, Manchester, London, Bristol, Cardiff and all points east and west. Going where I was sent, doing the job I was paid to do, then getting home, sometimes as late as nine at night. So I got into the habit. It’s programmed into my body clock.

At six or earlier, I’m generally up and working sometimes in my dressing gown, sometimes already dressed, researching, pounding keyboard or answering emails. No-one, apart from my dog, to butt in. Peace and quiet allowing time to ease into the writing zone before the day job begins. I’ve found I can get almost a full days output done before eight, and then make ready for whatever late day or evening shift I’m on.

This is my routine, rain or shine. At the moment mostly the latter, which is very nice. And when I have what I call a ‘flow’ going, when the ideas line up neatly into pure narrative, I reckon I can lay down a good fifteen hundred words in just over two hours. So for me at least, early morning has become the best part of the day to write. It’s oddly relaxing.

Life, as seen from my deck

Before I came to Canada, I had no idea about what I now call ‘deck life’. Yet now Summer is here, that is where I find myself living and writing. If it wasn’t for the mosquitoes after nine pm, I’d probably end up sleeping out here as well. Not that there are many mossies around at the moment. They usually arrive three days after a rain shower, and there’s been no rain since last Sunday. Just in case there are any strays wafting about, I’ve lit the mosquito coils and citronella candles.

Angie is off at her yearly conference in Squamish, so until tomorrow it’s just me and the Dog, chilling, drinking beers and getting dive bombed by Hummingbirds on their way to the feeder. Watching the glorious British Columbian daylight fade from blue through a dusky violet into broad indigo bands around the horizon, and the 8:40 flight passes overhead from Vancouver. The dog in next doors yard, a curly haired mutt, barks sporadic greeting at the world, and a tiny cooling breeze strokes my feet therapeutically. Et in Arcadia ego.

It’s not all fun because there are hard choices to be made. Do I get another beer from the fridge? Or do I simply sit here listening to far off conversations, watch the odd boat go past and let the stress drip from my bones. Choices, choices. Would I like some tea and a Digestive cookie before I reluctantly go to bed? Well goodness me, so I do.

Have hardly written a thing over the past week, barely two thousand worthwhile words, but after all the travelling, I’m having a little private time out.

Packing and packaging

Packing and paperwork become a priority from today. We leave on Sunday for the UK, and all the paperwork is being double checked and then checked again. Arranging feeding exercise and watering of dog. Treats and presents for Jo and Laura. Flight, hotel and car hire bookings obsessively pored over. Scanning the small print in travel insurance. Checking cash supplies. Credit cards brought out of cold storage. The usual travel minutiae.

One thing I’m trying to get up and running before we go is some editions of ‘Sky’, ‘Falling’, and ‘Head of the Beast’ in the Kobo marketplace. From what I’ve read so far, since I exclusively hold the copy and publishing rights, I can utilise existing ISBN’s and simply have Kobo as a separate distribution platform for eBooks. My only issue at present is setting up the royalty payments. Despite repeated checks with my bank and a dozen failed attempts with Kobo, their site won’t register my account to set up the electronic funds transfer or direct payment. No doubt I’m missing a trick. Somewhere along the line. Possibly. I need to read the FAQ’s no doubt. Again. Perhaps it’s too early in the morning. Yet there’s this driven streak in me that won’t let go. I’ve started, so I’m going to damn well finish. Get it out of the way so I can enjoy time with family and friends without having to worry about it. Although I’m sure there will be something else to obsess about.

I haven’t even started packing.

Final checks and formatting

Have got to the point with ‘Falling’ where I’m happy to release the rewritten content into the wild as an eBook. I’ve been holding back in case I get one of those ‘Distribution rejection’ e-mails from the previous volume. Reformatting is time consuming, and trying to weasel out the reason for the rejection equally so. They just send you stock e-mails about your works ‘metadata’, and never respond when you ask for details on which specific field doesn’t match the content. Although a better help section has been in evidence over the past year or so. This time, I think, I’ve got the formula right. I think. Touch wood, all that shizzle. Fingers, toes, nostrils and eyes crossed. (Don’t go there.) Hoping for the best.

Final spell check is due this evening after work. Which will take two hours, even with semi automated shortcuts. Final proofing will take another two days and eat up all the spare time I don’t have. Primary release via Lulu.com will happen probably Saturday afternoon before we finish packing and cleaning for our UK trip. Dog will be well cared for while we’re away. He’s on a vet mandated diet at the moment to see if we can shrink a fatty lump he’s developed. Special food has been purchased with strict instructions of no treats.

Sunday is a travelling day, arriving Bristol Airport in the UK on Monday. When travelling to the UK I like to arrive at provincial airports simply because Heathrow is my least favourite air terminal in the entire world. Dirty, crowded, high flight taxes and fees. Flights often late and everyone seems so bad tempered. So I try to avoid using it. Far better, and cheaper to take a flight into Schipol, hang around in relative comfort for four hours, then take a short hop to Bristol. Truro for three nights to visit Angie’s family, then up to my old home of Stratford upon Avon for a week. After that a hike over to Ireland to see the sights of Waterford and environs, thence back to Bristol and a two night layover in Amsterdam before home for tea, cookies and sleep.

Will try to write when I can find the odd quiet corner to hunker down in. If not, I’m in Bristol, Truro, Stratford, Ireland, Amsterdam etc.

One hundred and fifty six thousand words

156,000 words. I have just edited and spellchecked one hundred and fifty six thousand words. That’s rewriting, tweaking, removing errant apostrophes, changing the odd metaphor, scubble handtweek and burble. Gods I’m tired.

It didn’t help that some inconsiderate neighbour went out last night having left their stereo on until five thirty this morning. Thump, thump bloody thump, all flaming night. All this and a Sunday shift. Did I say I was tired? Fortunately I’m not working tomorrow, which is Victoria Day here in BC thank the Lord. I may spend most of it asleep. My eyes feel like they’re about to roll out of their sockets. I did say that I was tired, didn’t I? Something of that ilk. Even the dog is giving me funny looks.

I’m formatting this many words for an eBook release. All a hundred and bloody fifty six flaming thousand of them. Spellcheck, spellcheck and re-read again. Get my word spanner on the odd sentence and tighten it up. Grease a metaphor, polish a simile and take a very large hammer to any conceits. Just to make sure they stay put.

It’s another self publish, hence the grunt work. I want this up and in the marketplace before I trot off back to jolly old Blighty in June. Three weeks of playing catch up with the odd old mate, far flung family and a side trip to Southern Ireland. We’re also going to do a stopover in Amsterdam. Go do things like the Rijkmuseum, a day trip to The Hague before heading back to yet more jet lag.

Now I’m going to walk away from the keyboard to make friends with a bottle of vodka. I’ve earned it.