At a talk at Laurel Point Hotel by Dr Robert Ballard (of Titanic fame) and Dr Kate Moran of Ocean Networks, Canada on a new Oceanographic research resource on Sunday, I was reminded of a novel by that giant of Sci-fi, Arthur C Clarke, called The Deep Range. I remember it first as a short story, then owning a copy as part of a compilation. One of my all time favourite reads.
Enjoyed the talk tremendously. It was quite a boost sitting less than six feet from the man who discovered the wrecks of the Titanic and Bismarck. Although Dr Ballard modestly compares diving a mini sub from the surface to twelve thousand feet underwater and back as just “Another day at the office.” with a ‘three and a half hour’ commute. Which made me smile. He also wisecracks about the risks. Pointing out picture of two 1970’s vintage bathyscaphes with a mock-rueful “That one almost killed me. So did that.” His anecdote about finding the Titanic whilst looking for the wrecks of USS Thresher and USS Scorpion Nuclear submarines for the US Military came as quite a revelation. As did a number of other entertaining epiphanies like the flipping crab, and everyone on board a research vessel geeking out over a visiting Sperm Whale. I just sat there, totally engaged, scribbling the odd note and hardly noticing as two hours just sped by.
During the Q&A session towards the end I asked a question about the definition of sidescan sonar, the answer to which came as quite a surprise, although it shouldn’t have. Apparently at depths over three thousand metres or ten thousand feet, the contours that can be mapped are between five and ten metres, depending upon salinity and water temperature. As depth increases, so the contours that can be mapped decrease. At twelve thousand feet the definition degrades, so I am informed, to over ten metres between mappable contours. So anything smaller than ten metres or sixty feet doesn’t show up very well, if at all. No wonder they’re having such a problem locating the wreck of flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean’s vast abyssal plains. Meaning that if the wreckage is broken into pieces less than sixty feet across the wreckage may not show up on the plot, even if a survey vessel goes directly overhead. And this is with some of the best scanning devices available.
The Ocean Networks new ship, the EV Nautilus, is in downtown Victoria this morning, at Ogden Point I think. I’m sorely tempted to go and see, but my keyboard is singing a siren song, telling me I’ve neglected it for far, far too long. There’s a whole new story forming in my head right now about piracy, sabotage, black smokers and electrolytic mining in the ocean depths, knocking at the door, demanding to be let out.
One of the biggest problems with writing are not about grammar, spelling etcetera. As far as I am concerned the biggest issue is lower back pain. Most of my problems arising from poor posture for long periods, like sitting the wrong way in the wrong chair at the wrong height for hours at a time while writing. Which is an occupational hazard for anyone involved in the craft.
When you’re ‘in the zone’ and focussed on your work, it’s easy not to notice what you’re doing to yourself. Nothing matters but the web of ideas you’re spinning and the fact that your own hip and back muscles are about to turn traitor is immaterial. You leave sensible at the office door and spend long hours twisted and cramped into the wrong posture. Which is the source of my problem.
Now I’m not talking about some relatively mild discomfort you can shrug off with a good nights sleep or a couple of painkillers, this is the real deal. Pain like someone’s sticking a butchers blade into the top of your pelvis. Pain to almost make you cry. You can’t put weight on the afflicted limb. The discomfort is so acute it locks down your lower spine, making it impossible to bend, turn, stretch, walk up, or even down a short flight of stairs. Pain over the counter painkillers hardly make a dent in. A relaxing nights sleep becomes a stranger and every waking step becomes a purgatory in microcosm. It’s also depressing. When our new Canadian passports arrived on Friday I didn’t much feel like celebrating.
For the last two nights I’ve been tied in knots, hardly able to sleep and unable to get out of the house to visit a doctor. Now I’m fine. For a given value of ‘much better’.
The simple little video below came as a complete revelation. A lacrosse ball under the buttock? Who knew the answer to my problem was so simple? My relief was almost immediate, and a succession of cold packs further tamed the fierceness of my lower back’s agony to make it jump through flaming hoops.
Which is not to say that the pain is completely gone, simply reduced to manageable proportions where the painkillers work and I can actually function again. Fabulous.
Update January 3rd; Pain is gone. Completely. Last painkillers were taken 6pm 2nd January. Remarkable. Work chair has been changed for something a little more sensible.
Amazon used to do a little ap you could paste the HTML from into a blog sidebar or widget. Having updated my profile on five marketing web sites today, I went looking for the HTML on Amazon without much success. In the end I was forced to create my own profile link to Amazon using WordPress’ handy ‘Image’ widget, which allows a site owner to add a small image weblink from their site to just about anywhere on the web. I was originally tempted to use an adaptation of Amazon’s logo, but then had visions of copyright lawyer emails, closed accounts etc and chose discretion.
It’s the little icon on the right hand sidebar with the moon and a meteor shower. Which I think looks rather cute.
There’s one below it for my Lulu.com Author spotlight, which I think gives a more noirish feel.
The biggest source of headaches is trying to untangle the web of HTML and ensure anyone who is interested finds what they’re looking for. Preferably in three clicks or less. I’ve also tried to tidy up the site a little as far as sidebars are concerned. Simply for the convenience of any visitor.
On the distribution front there’s been one minor glitch with ‘A Falling of Angels’. All fixed now, but there was a little bit of hidden code in the manuscript file that iBookstore didn’t like. One line. This means revision and a further two week delay until the eBook gets listed on the main online outlets, but that doesn’t matter so much. I think I’m getting the hang of everything now, and will have proper links to and from all the major players by the end of this week.
After that Angie and I are off to Vancouver for swearing in, so will be incommunicado. Forty eight hours after we get back from the fleshpots we have family coming to visit for three days, so I’ll be busy ministering to their needs and trying to stay sober. Somewhere between now and the festive season I may even do a little proper writing.
4:10pm Pacific Standard Time. ‘A Falling of Angels’ pocket paperback is now ordered for printing. Can’t say I’m overly impressed with the end price of CAD$22.50, but that’s print to order I’m afraid. No economies of scale. The eBook version just went out for distribution at CAD$4.99, so I’m much happier about that.
Tweeted. Sent. Links will be posted here and at my Authors Den page when approval for distribution comes through. The latest Paul Calvin adventure has all been quadruple checked and I can go and deal with my Citizenship Interview with a clear conscience. Now I’m going for a lie down in a darkened room.
Well that’s it. I’m finally happy with the Manuscript, storyline etcetera for ‘A Falling of Angels’, the second in the Paul Calvin series of telempathic Policeman sci-fi novels. I’ve even written a brief foreword. I’m sticking with my chosen cover art, and will be making it available as an eBook and paperback. The eBook will retail CAD$4.99 or about £2.80GBP, which fits in with my coffee and a cookie pricing policy for eBooks. It’s taken me almost two years to get to this point, so I think that’s more than fair. Whether anyone likes my work enough to buy is another matter. I’ll just punt the end result out there and get on with the next in the series. Considering the big publishers are asking double the price for eBooks, I think I’m giving value for money.
The one thing I’ve tried with this series is to keep my lead characters humanity front and centre. Paul is a cop-with-a-conscience trying desperately to keep in touch with his children while battling a bureaucratic Hydra and putting real bad guys away. I’ve also tried to veer away from the usual whodunnit formula. In my stories he is both predator and prey, enforcer and victim, playing his part in much larger investigations, but being key in bringing the bad guys to book. Both cog and Deus ex machina.
Release date for the paperback is going to be end of November 2014. The eBook should be available via iBookstore etc, by then as well. I’m pretty well au fait with the ins and outs of self publishing now, so frustrations caused by those pesky formatting distribution rejections should be minimal. All I need to do is fill and reformat the text, which will take until Tuesday and the Lulu.com eBook release date should be November 5th. Firework or damp squib is not my judgement to make. We shall see. I’ll post the links here and my Authors Den page.
The rough text on the ‘excerpts’ page has changed significantly in the finished product, which is a lot more polished and a better read. At least in my opinion. Which is all an author ever has when everything is ready to pitch out into the great unknown. In the meantime there’s a cover and marketing blurb to write and refine. Right now, I’m going to hang up my keyboard and go for a pleasant evening out in downtown Victoria, hoping not to trip over too many vampires, zombies and werewolves. Unless they are the names of cocktails on the menu.
One of the problems I have with editing is that it’s a bit of a drudge. Even stressful. Sometimes you’ll come to a passage that feels clunky and awkward. One that clangs in dissonance, like the sound of breaking glass during a symphony. Something has to be done to smooth out the flow of words and let them sing again, but you aren’t sure what. Normally I perform some sort of displacement therapy. Pace up and down my tiny office. Which isn’t far; three paces and back. Alternatively go for a walk, take a time out and peoplewatch, or if I need to be working like today, split my time between keyboard and kitchen.
This weeks culinary endeavour is cooking up batches of soup for when the weather turns even cooler. Let the batches cool off before decanting into Zip-locks and throwing in the freezer. Carrot and Coriander this morning, followed by Chicken and Leek this afternoon. As I’m also trying and succeeding in losing a few unwanted pounds on a low carbohydrate regime, I’m trying to lower the starch content of my preparations, which means playing a little fast and loose with traditional ingredients. Which also means definitely no potatoes and as little starch in the thickening roux as possible. Plenty of fresh ingredients, and in the words of my forefathers; Robert is one’s father’s brother.
As far as manuscripts are concerned; specifically there’s a story element I’m trying to thread into ‘A Falling of Angels’. To add a little more conspiracy into the second of the ‘Cerberus’ series. A hint at something darker beyond the stories sunlit uplands. Which means repeatedly reading and re-reading the content, correcting as I go before checking again for continuity. Which is very frustrating. In betwixt and between, the onions need sweating, chicken turning and other saucepans need stirring. Which in turn I find very therapeutic.
Finally. I think I’m within three thousand words of completing the first draft of ‘A Falling of Angels’. There’s just a little story detail to add, but the main MSS outline is complete. I’ve written the epilogue style ending, there only remains one last main story thread to tie up in chapter 29 and that’s it. Current word count just over 78,000. Target 80,000 words of drama, mystery and murder set in a post-Ebola, much chillier (At least in the main story location) world, around the year 2050.
This is just my opinion of course, but I feel this MSS is much better than ‘Head of the Beast’ because I’ve spent more narrative time on the interlinked cases my hero finally helps solve, rather than spending too much time building the backstory. When I’m finished today, perhaps even tomorrow, I shall put it aside for a week for a final checkthrough before deciding what to do with the finished product.
Whenever I’m writing a major character, I generally use a well known actor as my initial template. The question I keep in the forefront of my mind is; what would that person sound like speaking the words and performing the actions of that character? How would they play that role? What gestures would they use to interpret my character?
Today I’m working on ‘A Falling of Angels’ where Charles Hertford, spymaster and master manipulator is creating a situation where my hero can expose the bad guys and yet not bring down the government in the process. The physical template I’m using for Hertford is the current James Bond, actor Daniel Craig. In my head, I hear Craig speak Hertfords lines, see him make the gestures and generally perform the part. Likewise, my hero, mind reading detective Paul Calvin, loosely uses the voice and interpretation style of film actor Clive Owen. Which for me helps keep my characters consistent, and hopefully a little more credible. Chief Inspector Veeta Parnay for example, is based around the style of another Bond movie star, Naomie Harris.
It’s a bit of a cheat I know, but when you’re trying to avoid stereotypes it works for me. Having spent some time at drama classes I’m always reminded that a little spontaneity keeps a character fresh and hopefully interesting to a reader and I try to bear this in mind. Sometimes it all falls over and a character can feel a bit flat because this internal shorthand doesn’t translate very well to the page. Which is always the risk you take. Sometimes I’ll even try combining two actor styles and imagine a cross between say, Anthony Hopkins and Morgan Freeman (Hertfords Boss) in a role. If I want someone mature and smoothly sinister, I’ll begin with a composite of say, Ian Richardson and Ian McKellan. In the theatre of my head, it’s always a great help to close my eyes and see the character I’ve created make the gesture and speak the words I’ve written. As they’re such familiar screen icons it makes it easier for me to wring the words out of my keyboard.
There is a school of thought that states one should always base characters on real live people, but that can and does backfire. Particularly in libel suits. For myself I’ll continue steering to the windy side of the law and imagine how a specific actor would play my character.
In an effort to be disciplined and productive, I’ve decided that every Thursday is going to be an editing and rewriting day. What I’m trying to do is keep a story still fresh in my mind, reading and re-reading the previous few days output until I’m happy with it, at the same time keeping a lid on the typos and filling in details I missed on the first and second read throughs.
I’ve tried editing MSS all the way through from end to end and the results, to be quite candid, have been a bit patchy. Far better to run through the last six or seven thousand words and get what you want to say as close to right as humanly possible. Keeping the sentences rhythmic and fluid without getting too ‘flowery’. And try to keep the characters, dialogue and situations reasonably credible. Keep the ‘passive voice’ to a minimum without messing up the cadence.
Readers need to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, but not so much as to sprain a neuron every time they trip over an impossible plot device. Even if you’re writing fantasy, a certain amount of logical consistency has to be applied. These are the rules I write by. Even if I don’t always manage to live up to them. We’re all human.
So, today is the naming of parts. My editing day. Back to the keyboard, and maybe a walk later.
One of the themes I’ve been exploring in the ‘Stars’ series of novels is the nature of civilisation. What makes some thrive and others quickly crumble into the dust. Essentially what changes cause catastrophic failure in any given society.
On a little ramble around the Internet, I came across a number of sources which might help me finish the third volume in the series and tie up all the loose story threads. Having given the matter some thought, I compiled a timeline of six stages. I think they make sense;
Prolonged warfare, dramatic over expansion of administrative function, catastrophic environmental change, destructive social movements, or failure to adapt to any given changes which destabilise the supply chain of resources.
When the supply chain of general resources grows too destabilised, the overall living standard of those who depend upon it declines. Critical infrastructure maintenance also declines while resources are diverted by an administration for non productive purposes.
Resource flow declines further as available resources shrink. More resources are diverted into administration than the general supply chain.
Administration leaders and their contacts unsustainably divert resources for their own benefit.
Increasing authoritarian control and surveillance is required by administration to ensure that the population continues to comply with increased resource reduction / diversion and other constraints.
In the final phase, administration turns against its own people, treating the previously compliant like enemies (Failure of criminal law). A general failure of socio-economic agreements (Failure of civil law) is followed by economic and social collapse, often marked by excessive unrest and riots, capital flight, excessive inflation, and the permanent departure of the most productive.
By ‘supply chain’ I mean the flow of resources that a civilisation depends upon to flourish; be it the flow of commerce and trade, harvest, processing and use of raw material, or development of the intellectual capital of appropriately skilled people. It may help to think of these items not as things, but as processes. Like a flowing river, not a pond.
In ‘Darkness’ the collapse of Earth rule gives rise to ‘Khan’s rules’ as Suresh Khan and the other newly independent Association world leaders try to hammer out a workable constitution. One of the key items below.
Except in time of declared war, administrative function shall not form a total greater than one quarter of any planetary economy.
By the way, I’ve had to disable comments on most of this sites web pages because of the spam issue. IP blacklisting is also now in place for all comment spam trolling advertisers. Apologies to anyone who has anything to say. Use the ‘contact’ form if you get stuck and I’ll try to respond.
This is proving an education in so many ways. ‘Head of the Beast’ is now available on Amazon, and I shall be adding the heavily revised editions of ‘Sky Full of Stars’ and ‘Falling Through the Stars eBooks in the next two weeks. They’ll take a week to ‘go live’ on the major Amazon web sites.
In addition, last night I revisited Lulu.com for the first time in months and was delighted to find that their eBook distribution now covers both the Kobo and Kindle platforms as well as the Nook and iBookstore. All I need is to double check what’s available and tick two boxes. Hooray.
On the downside, what this means for me is a lot of administration. Creating and updating author pages and profiles. I’ve had one on Amazon.com some time, now the task has to be repeated for Amazon.co.uk. Authors Den and other promotional profiles need to be tidied up and improved. Adverts added to sidebars and a whole host of other time consumers. Not sure whether I want to become an ‘Amazon Associate’ though.
Also I’m writing again. Last nights contribution was a dark little tale of techno-convenience gone wrong. A 2500 word piece I’ve been struggling to finish called ‘Blink’. Today I have some domestic tasks to do before doing the weeks shopping. After that, while I’m in the mood, I’ll revise another 5000 word tale I’ve given the working title ‘the Immortality bug’. Thence another go at ‘A Falling of Angels’. It’s going to be a busy week.
The past two weeks have been somewhat traumatic, and I’ve hardly written a word, what with dashing back and forth across the Atlantic. Too many errands and too much jet lag. Today, for the first time in just over two weeks I feel back in control of my life. I actually only awoke at 5:30 this morning. For the previous three nights I was waking up, despite sleeping tablets, at around two and three thirty in the morning feeling tired but unable to slip into the arms of Morpheus until four or five AM.
Everything over the past two weeks, despite best efforts, has gone sideways. It’s been a harsh emotional lesson about planning for the worst family case scenario. Some unpleasant thoughts have to be faced, but these are best examined when the immediate pressures are off. Conversations must be had with family and arrangements made. Just in case.
On the bright side, I’ve been preparing for the two courses I start in mid and late April by raiding second hand bookstores and downloading public domain material online. Now I am the proud possessor of Diana Hackers ‘A Canadian Writer’s Reference, Strunk and White’s ‘The Elements of Style‘, Prentice Hall’s ‘Handbook for Writers‘, and Harold H Kolb’s ‘A Writer’s Guide‘. Not to mention applying for Student Membership of the Society of Technical Communication. I’ve done Technical Writing for real before, for a couple of multinationals no less, but without a Degree found it nigh on impossible to convince anyone to hire me in that role, especially on this side of the Atlantic. Hopefully I will have redressed this shortfall by October or November this year with a Canadian recognised qualification from Simon Fraser University.
The down side is that I won’t be getting as much writing time in on ‘Darkness’ or ‘A falling of Angels’ as I’d like but at least I’ll have a piece of paper saying that I’m a Canadian qualified Technical Writer.
The appearance and mapping of this site are undergoing a few changes while my head isn’t in story mode. My psyche has taken one too many shocks to the system to concentrate properly on stories of late, so I thought I’d have a tidy up of the blog. Produce some new headers to try and create a more consistent and workmanlike look than previous iterations. I’m also currently joining authors sites like crazy in order to up my commercial visibility and improved marketability; Not just Goodreads or Authors Den, but some of the others as well.
The five new header images which will appear on each page of this site are based on public domain Astronomical pictures, several of which started life as colour separation overlays and maps of Mars. I’ve played around with them to produce low to medium resolution images. There is also a new email contact form on the ‘About the Author’ page, and I hope to add my LinkedIn profile details to the sidebar as I expand my freelancing portfolio. There will also be a more professional ‘parent’ site, which will be more about our technical writing and educational business than my science fiction.