Bad Days, Good Days

THE last couple of weeks have been really heavy going at work, which is the main reason I haven’t had a chance to throw out any updates here. We’ve been moving a few of the web applications to new host machines, and it’s one of those jobs where ninety percent of the work is easy and takes ten percent of the time, but then you hit the ten percent that’s all hurdles and problems and means you can’t just finish it up and get it done. As I write this it’s Sunday morning, and tomorrow I have three, count ’em, three system moves that are stalled waiting on things.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, writing work has all but stopped, which is very frustrating. I’m working on a story I want to write, and I’ve been stuck at the planning part for something like a month. I have a character, she has a name, and she has an interesting past that’s given her an ability, if you can call it that—sometimes it’s going to be a lifesaver, most times it’s a curse. And I can’t say more about that without giving too much away at this early phase. The big problem is that I still don’t have a solid story, and I just can’t seem to get the time to think my way past that.

The day-job work craziness been part of that, of course—among other things I’m so tired at the end of most days I just don’t have the energy to get into writing, and in any case there are home/family things that take up what little time I might have had—but there are other things too. For example, I now officially work at home and hook into the office over VPN; I rarely need to go in. It’s great, but one definite downside is that it’s caused a complete change of routine. I used to use the drive time between home and office to think about story and characters; Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia was planned and plotted and all but actually written on that daily drive, as were The Artemis Device and Smoke & Mirrors (more on status of both of those shortly).

But I don’t drive in any more, and my writing time is suffering badly for it. I need to change my routine to give me some of that time back somehow.

OK THAT’S ENOUGH OF THAT. It’s not all doom and gloom. Time to focus on some of the positive.

One thing that’s taken away some of the writing time is that I’ve been catching up on READING, and that’s not something I consider at all bad. I mean, seriously, I went through a period of several months during which I hardly read a thing. Not good. So I kicked myself in the pants and told myself to shape the fuck up.

Rod Duncan’s The Custodian of Marvels came out Tuesday and I’ll be starting on that just as soon as I’ve finished reading Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles; I’m almost through Trapped (which I think is the fifth book in the series). But wait, there’s more: the eighth book, Staked, just came out and we went to Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins on Thursday to meet the author and get a signed copy. Really? I hear you say. Pictures, or it didn’t happen. Okay, then:

20160204_190840

There you go.

Now, last points: I mentioned I’d give a couple of status updates, so here they are:

  • The Artemis Device is still with my copy editor at Xchyler Publishing, but as I think I mentioned she got married recently, and then she was dealing with a book release (Ben Ireland’s Kingdom City: Revolt) and now, as I found out just a few days ago, she’s off on honeymoon. So I don’t expect to get back any editing notes in a hurry.
  • Smoke & Mirrors is still looking for an agent or a publisher. A publisher in England had an open submission period last month, so I sent them the first couple of chapters. The web site said it could be three to six months before I hear anything, so right now patience is the word.

Until next time, gentle reader . . .

There Will Be Blog

I’VE been having trouble with editing Artemis.

The first problem was that what I had to do seemed overwhelming. I’d be looking at the typescript and thinking, I have to think up and write these new scenes to add more backstory to this character and that character, AND I have to have to look for and change bits where I see problems, AND I have to fix the grammar accidents AND mop up the odd spelling mistake, AND I have to do ALL THAT in a single pass and OH MY GOD MY BRAIN IS MELTING DOWN. And then I’d stare at the page like it was the headlight of a freight train coming along the tunnel to turn me into meat-splat. Well, I think I found a solution to that problem: don’t try to do it all at once. So, what I’m doing now is reading back through the ‘script and as I go along, I make simple changes only—obvious spelling mistakes, missed or doubled words, in-yer-face grammar fuckups, and so on. Anything needing more work than that, I mark for later. I might hit a part where I can say, this needs a touch more dialogue to foreshadow something that comes later, or I might spot the ideal place for a new scene that’s needed. So for those things that need some actual wordage, I slap in a comment to say That new scene I need with rabid wombats goes HERE, or I’ll highlight a sentence and add a comment like, Alice remembers the man who shot her brother with a Nerf gun filled with lemon custard. It seems to be working; I don’t lose the momentum of the read-through, I have the right places marked up with the right changes, and then later, when I’ve done every chapter, I’ll gird my loins for the actual writing of new scenes, etc., knowing exactly what I need to write.

(As it happens, a couple of days after making that decision I read something along the same lines in Chuck Wendig’s book, The Kick-Ass Writer, to the effect of, editing needs a plan just as the actual writing does. Well, there’s a plan that works for me.)

The second problem is finding quiet time. The last few days have been particularly bad on that front. Last Monday, I made the above decision about how I’d approach the editing, and a second decision, which was I Will Edit At Least One Chapter Every Day. Tuesday, the second part was already in tatters; that morning I did an hour of day-job work then had to head out for several hours for an appointment, then in the evening we had tickets to see Seether and 3 Doors Down, and we didn’t get home and to bed until 2:15am. Four hours later, up and back at the day-job . . . and then I found out that the family who were expected on Friday had arrived two days early, so off for an evening visit we went, and bed was after midnight again. Thursday, day-job was followed by a barbecue with just-mentioned family, and at the same time I was on the work laptop helping out with an emergency release of a web application. That night, bed happened sometime around 1am. By Friday (yesterday) after day-job I was so exhausted I could barely think straight; editing was not an option. I read a book for the thirty seconds it took for my eyes to feel like they had lead weights on them, then basically died.

Oh, well. At least I got a good night’s sleep last night and today I was able to edit two chapters, which makes me feel a whole lot better. And I came up with another damned good idea, which revolves around the fact that a few weeks ago, in preparation for the visit of aforementioned family, I cleaned up the basement and made it into what is essentially a second living room. And it is a place of light and wonder. Being underground, it is cool, and because the windows are small and face the back of the house instead of the front, it is also quiet—no noise from a motorbike left idling in the street for twenty minutes at 5am (curse you, evil neighbour), no banging and clattering of garbage trucks. There is no TV, or radio. And so, when the family has left for home, I will be making that excellent room my personal Fortress Of Writerly Solitude. Awesomeness will follow.

Until next time . . .

Various Sundry Items

I haven’t written anything here for ages… Since March, apparently.

No excuses. Yes, I’ve been really, really busy at the day job, and that hasn’t left a lot of time for much else. But if I’m honest, I could have probably found a few minutes here and there to put a post or two together. I have most definitely been remiss. But anyway, things have slowed down a bit, so—at least for the time being—I do have a bit more time. And so…

Writing Progress

WORK on The Artemis Device was going very slowly until recently (same reasons—not enough free time) but the last week or so has seen a change in that. I finished a related set of new scenes that I’ve been bashing my head against for a while. I have notes in place for seven or eight more, yet to be written, and I’ll be getting into those soon. Under normal circumstances I’d be doing that over the weekend, but there are other things around the house that I really must take care of: there are boxes in the basement and garage that need to be unpacked and reorganised, and I’m planning a big push on that tomorrow. If I can hit my targets, I might be able to spend some time Sunday working on writing. Fingers crossed on that.

I also did find some time to do a little bit of editing work on the Smoke and Mirrors project. Mostly just reading it back through, looking for obvious mistakes. That one is on the back burner for the foreseeable future, though.

Well, it turns out this is going to be just a short post. It’s Friday afternoon, I’ve just finished the day job work, and now I have to go and run a few errands. But I will be making more of an effort to post here more often. I promise.

Until next time…

The Artemis Device

I’VE been working on The Artemis Device, or at least trying to. The day-job has again been taking much time, including biting into my weekends, but at last things seem to have calmed down a bit on that front.

Still, I have managed to make progress of sorts. As I’ve mentioned, the first draft typescript of Artemis went off to my copy editor a few weeks ago, then I stepped to one side for a bit to finish the first draft of Smoke & Mirrors. In the meantime my copy editor read the Artemis draft and came back at me with a a couple of suggestions.

As part of this she pointed out that the last third of the story all happens too quickly. Now, on my original timeline, that was intentional. I deliberately paced the story so that there’s a major turning point at about the two-thirds mark, leading into the last third of the book as something of an epic battle happening on three fronts.

But here’s the thing: I realised there’d been a niggle at the back of my mind while I’d been writing that whole back third, telling me the same thing my editor was telling me, but I’d ploughed on and ignored it. It’s all very well saying to yourself, I learned a lesson there—but when the lesson involves trying to remember to listen to niggling, almost subconscious, voices from behind the curtain in the back of your head, it’s not quite so easy to put into practice.

Well, it’s just the first draft, after all, so some major rewriting is not unexpected. The published version of Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia is pretty different from the first draft, for example—it had a lot of stuff that needed improvement. Of course, as a writer I dream of a day when I can write a first draft so polished that it needs only minor edits to get it into shape for publication (and thanks to people like Susanne Lakin I know it’s possible to do that, but easy it is not—it’s a lot of hard work), but right now it’s just that—a dream.

So the work that’s been going on with Artemis over the last few weeks has all been in the form of thinking up ways to make that back third of the story become the back half of the story, without just throwing in junk to pad it out. In other words, that major turning point will happen at the half-way mark of the story (my editor and I agree that what leads up to that point doesn’t need anything like as much work), but from that point there’ll be a lot more new material.

The question becomes, what new material? At first that wasn’t easy to see. But the thing is, as my editor pointed out, there’s a lot of opportunity to expand on conflicts and side-plots based on the back stories of the characters I already have. A couple of the characters began as very much secondary characters, but took on a bit more life of their own as things progressed. I’ve been working on those characters to explore their back stories, and that leads to conflicts and little dramas that I hadn’t even dreamed of in the original story development. There are one or two characters that are just too perfect, and that’s just not realistic. One in particular has a turbulent family background that in the real world would, I’m sure, give rise to a much more flawed and complex character. That opens up some interesting possibilities.

The thought of writing thirty or forty thousand new words is exciting, and at the same time scary. The thought that I might have to dump and burn ten or fifteen thousand words of what’s already there fills me with dread, but if that’s what needs to be done, I’ll do it.

And on that note, gentle reader, it’s time for a late lunch and then to get on with more of this. Until next time . . .

Crazy

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I posted here. Things have been crazy, but I didn’t think they’d been quite that crazy until I looked at the timestamp on the last post. In fact, I can’t remember how things on various fronts stood when I left off, so forgive me, gentle reader, if I’m repeating myself. Again.

Writing

I already mentioned that the first draft of The Artemis Device was sent off to my copy editor at my publisher (a couple of months ago, in fact—where does the time go?) And I had some feedback and I’ll be doing some work on that, which I’m getting into gear for now. Mostly it’s the pacing of the second half of the book, but also some character work that needs doing.

The last time I mentioned Smoke & Mirrors I think I was at the point where I was writing new scenes for about the last third of the book. Good news on that front is I finished the first draft. Yay! So I sent that off to my editor to see what she thinks. Personally I think it’s a sock-blower-offer, but I’m biased. I really hope they like it, though.

So for now, Smoke can sit for a bit, and it’s back to Artemis. Next up on that, re-read and mark up, and see what ideas come to mind to improve the back nine.

Day Job

We want . . . information

We want . . . information

I am currently working on SIX projects—three being foreground projects that are active and I have to juggle my time between them. The other three are background, but when a crisis comes up on any of those I have to jump to fix it PDQ. I’ve been pulling extra hours evenings and weekends (fourteen hours last weekend). I feel permanently exhausted. Man, do I need a vacation.

Until next time, gentle reader . . .

Tech Problems, Health Problems, and Writing

First came the technology problems…

THOSE began when the fan on my laptop—which was already making groaning noises from time to time—decided to start groaning constantly. Now, I don’t have a problem taking computers to bits. It’s part of my job, really. But taking a laptop apart is not the same as dismantling a desktop system, and not something I’d do lightly. In this case, though, I didn’t have a lot of choice. Anyway, the thing’s way past warranty. So I made sure everything important was backed up (thank you, Google Drive) then grabbed tools and bit the bullet.

One thing I learned: there is a federal law requiring that at least half of the mass of all laptops must be accounted for by screws. I swear, I’ve never seen so many screws come out of a single device. Keeping them all organised so you know where to put them back is a job in itself.

There’s another law that says getting to the fan—one of the few moving parts in any laptop, and therefore one of the most likely to require cleaning and eventual replacement—must entail dismantling the entire laptop. Sure enough, to get to the fan on my laptop, you have to remove the bottom cover, then the case, and take out the hard disk drive and the DVD drive on the way. Then you turn it over and take the keyboard off. Then you unscrew the plate under that, and carefully remove three tiny, self-destructing connectors (seriously—the one that holds the ribbon cable from the keyboard sprang apart and it was pure luck I found the important bit of it where it landed on the corner of my desk). Then you can lift that plate away. Et voila, you can get to the fan. Easy. (In case you think I’m kidding, you can see the video I used for reference here.)

Using a pair of tweezers and a can of compressed air spray I removed a huge wad of fluff and hair from the fan (Questions: How did that much muck get past the filter? I think the truth is, the filter’s there to stop that crap escaping). Then I put it all back together again, crossed my fingers and switched it on. And found that the fan was now making a much cleaner sounding groaning noise. So I guess that’s an improvement, right?

Sigh… I guess the fan itself is just plum tuckered out, so now I’ve ordered what I hope is the right replacement fan, and when that gets here I’ll take the laptop apart again to put that in. Here’s hoping I can manage that without destroying the thing. It’s still a damned good laptop and I’d be sorry to see its end.

In the meantime, since I HAVE TO WRITE and I can’t do that with a fan that (1) sounds like a coffee grinder powered by an electric drill and (2) could go tits-up at any moment, causing the CPU to turn into a white-hot blob of useless, I bit the bullet and bought a cheap laptop just to write on. It’s brand new and my old laptop outperforms it. Sad. Also, Windows 8.1 Update sure looks a lot like Windows 7, apart from the Start menu. I haven’t figured out what’s supposed to be different about it. Maybe that’s just me.

[UPDATE: The new fan arrived yesterday (Saturday) and so I took the laptop to bits again. And it turned out the new fan wasn’t the right one, and there was a great wailing and the gnashing of teeth. However, number-two-son came by the house yesterday evening, listened to the tale of woe, and promptly grabbed the laptop and the tools. He then proceeded to fix the old fan by tearing its skin off and ripping its guts out, giving them a quick clean and lube, and putting it all back together again—something I would have been very nervous about trying myself. The laptop is now back up and running, and the fan is like it was the day I bought the laptop three years ago. As for that brand new laptop, it’s going back to the store. Not because I don’t need it any more (I can always use a second laptop), but because it’s so loaded up with OEM junk software that it’s just crippled—HP’s unnecessary extra update software, and the worst possible choice of bloated, inefficient, intrusive antivirus they could have made, and goodness knows what else. I’d be typing along, then suddenly notice the last couple of words I typed hadn’t appeared on the screen and the mouse had stopped working. Then a couple of seconds later it would free up and carry on as if nothing was up. For a machine with a quad-core processor clocked at around 2.5GHz, that’s just wrong. Anyway, the point of this update is everything is back to normal and all is right with the world.]

Second technology problem: our DVD player went TU on us the same day. It was a five-disk changer, which is really, really nice because you’re not having to get up all the time to switch disks. So of course, when I went to the store to see about a replacement, I found that Sony doesn’t make multi-disk units any more. No-one does, apparently. Not only that, but the plugs on the “older” (i.e. more than six weeks old) speakers won’t fit any “modern” DVD player. (Standardization, anyone?) So I had to buy a one-disk player with a whole new set of speakers, even though there’s nothing wrong with the old speakers. Sony, you wacky bunch of fun guys… please look up the words “standards” and “obsolescence”, and maybe “wasteful” when designing your gear.

Then came the health problems…

SINUS infection, fever, sore throat, headache. Whatever it is, it’s knocked me flat on my back pretty much all week. Tuesday, I was going to take the afternoon off sick. It didn’t happen because of an important system deployment happening Tuesday night. That ended up being a twelve-hour day. Wednesday, I decided to take the whole day off sick. That didn’t happen, either, because of problems that came up stemming from the previous night’s deployment. Thursday, at least, I was able to take the afternoon off. Today (Friday) I’ve been feeling somewhat better—the fever appears to be gone, the sore throat is now just hoarse, and I seem to have a little bit more energy. I think I’m on the mend.

…But I’ve been able to write, at least

I’VE been working on Smoke & Mirrors, editing what was written already. And just a little while ago I hit a milestone: I finished editing the last of those written scenes. Starting very soon—probably tomorrow—I begin writing actual new content. Here’s a few stats:

Scenes written and edited: 89

Scenes total: 130

Words written so far: about 60,000

Estimated final word count: about 90,000

I’ll see about providing regular updates with progress, right here, every week if I can manage it.

Until next time, gentle reader . . .

Smoke & Mirrors

FRIDAY was a nightmare at the day job. An eleven and a half hour day with no breaks except when I forced myself to go to the kitchen to get coffee. (Warning: technical details ahead.) The biggest problem was trying to get two applications talking to each other over a secure connection—and even when I packed it up at around 7pm I still hadn’t got it working. The answer came to me this morning and so—even though it’s Saturday—I fired up the work laptop and fixed it. Normally I’d have left it until Monday, but it was bugging me.

With that out of the way I was able to focus a bit on some writing work. Not Artemis, though, because (wait for it . . .) Artemis is DONE. Well, the first draft is done, as much as I can reasonably do. It’s ready to go to my copy editor for her first pass.

So I’ve dusted off another script I was working on before Gunn & Bohemia. The working title on this one is Smoke & Mirrors, and it’s kind of a shame that I can’t use it as the real title when the time comes, because it’s a perfect fit. (Curse you, Neil Gaiman, for picking all the best titles.*) I’ve mentioned before (and on my WiP page) that this one is “steampunk with a twist” but that I couldn’t say much more than that without giving it away. For now the details will just have to remain secret.

I was under the impression that I’d already written about half of the first draft before editing work on Gunn & Bohemia took centre stage. It turns out I did quite a bit more; of a hundred and twenty-nine scenes on the timeline, eighty-seven are already done, putting me at two-thirds.

Over the last few days I’ve been taking a good look at what I’ve written so far (the first time I’ve looked at it for something like two years) to refresh my memory and get back into the swing. Very soon—quite possibly tomorrow—I’ll pick up where I left off. Forty-two scenes to go. That’s a good number; thanks to Douglas Adams, an auspicious number. I have a good feeling about this.

Now, though, it’s Saturday evening and time for some relaxation. I feel like watching movies; earlier I watched Cloud Atlas (for about the sixth time, I think—it’s most definitely in my top ten films of all time), and I’m seriously considering watching it again. I really can’t think of anything else I’d rather watch right now.

So I’m off to grab a cold beer and do that. Until next time . . .

(* Just kidding about the curse thing. Neil Gaiman: if you’re reading this, I loved The Ocean at the End of the Lane. And American Gods. And Stardust. And Good Omens. Etc. I haven’t read Smoke & Mirrors, though. Sorry.)