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.


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 . . .

Smoke & Mirrors Progress Report

WRITING on the Smoke & Mirrors typescript comes along apace. Here are some stats:

  • Scenes written: 97
  • Scenes total: 133
  • Scenes remaining: 36
  • Words written: a bit under 67,000
  • Estimated final word count: neighbourhood of 90,000

Not as good progress as I’d hoped, but then I spent some of the time going back over recently-written scenes to tighten up some stuff and fix a few problems, which skewed the numbers a bit.

Meanwhile, my copy editor read the ‘script of The Artemis Device in a day (good sign!) and came back with a list of things to change, including some things to give characters a  bit more depth, and also to improve the pacing. I have a couple of ideas on that but for the time being I’m continuing with Smoke & Mirrors. I’d really like to stay on track with it and get the first draft finished before I switch back to Artemis.

In other news: Thanksgiving—our first in our new house—was a blast. Good food, good company, and good fun (apart from one blemish that I won’t go into here).

And on that note, it’s time for me to close this and think about some dinner, and get back to some writing.

Until next time . . .

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 . . .

Achievement Unlocked: Artemis

A few minutes ago I finished a major (i.e. several weeks’ worth of work) editing pass of the typescript of The Artemis Device. That’s a working title, by the way, but it’s also not bad as a real title and so the final product might very well end up being called that.

The original first draft was written waaaay back, I think before Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia had been started. (Don’t quote me on that, though; I was juggling three or possibly four writing projects around that time, and I really don’t remember which order things got done in.)

Completing the original first draft was a major achievement, that much I remember. This time it’s even more of an achievement, really, because my publisher has already expressed serious interest. Right now my copy editor is busy working on, I think, two other projects from other authors, so she’s not quite ready to start looking at Artemis. That’s ok, though, because it needs just one more pass before it’s ready for anyone else to look at. (You want details? Ok; I need to read it through one more time, comparing it against my timeline spreadsheet, to make sure the scenes are all there and in the right order, and to give me another chance to spot and correct any formatting, spelling, and grammatical errors I might have missed. I might even find some places where  things are inconsistent—that happens sometimes, when I make a change to some part of the story but miss one or two places that the change should impact.)

As for the book itself, it’s a kind of gothic adventure story with steampunk and science-fiction elements. It was inspired to a degree by other stories like Gormenghast and Dark City (the 1998 movie starring Rufus Sewell—one of my all-time favourite films). In it, a small group of people uncover a secret that threatens the lives of everyone in their city, and this is set against a background of royal family intrigue and murder. And that’s all I’m saying about it at this point.

Since it’s barely on my publisher’s radar at the moment, I have no idea how it’s going to fit into their publishing schedule. As such I have no idea when it’ll be out on e-shelves. If I had to guess, (and without trying to second-guess my publisher), I’d say sometime in the first quarter of 2015.

I just uploaded thirty-one files, one per chapter, to the cloud for safekeeping. On that note, it’s time for me to wander to the bedroom and relax with a couple of episodes of Person Of Interest.

Until next time . . .

One Third

THE editing of Artemis is coming along. Not quite as quickly as I’d hoped—many distractions and interruptions—but all the same, it’s not doing too badly. I had problems with chapter nine, mostly because I marked up a bunch of comments on the timeline about certain things that needed adding—several bits of foreshadowing, mostly, for things coming in later chapters—and then during the actual editing I forgot to refer to those notes, so they didn’t get put in and I had to go back and fix things afterward. Not once, or twice, but thrice. And then when I was editing chapter ten, I astounded myself by doing the same damned thing again, and had to go back to fix that one up, too. It wasn’t as bad as chapter nine, but it still took extra time.

However, as of last night, chapter ten is done and I’ve made a dent in chapter eleven. Given that the entire work is thirty chapters long (at the moment; that might change when I realign chapters to even up the lengths), that puts me right about a third of the way through. And that, I think, isn’t too bad at all.

One thing I’ve noticed while doing this editing is that something like half of the actual edits and rewrites affect just the first handful of paragraphs of each scene. I think I know what’s happened, and it’s down to my writing process. When I’m writing the first draft, I look at a scene description in my timeline, then I think about how to turn that short description into the actual written scene. That thinking time can be anything from a quarter of an hour to several hours, depending on a lot of factors. When I’ve got the scene in my head in detail, I start writing. And I think what happens is that while I’m getting the first few paragraphs onto the page I’m still warming up, and the words aren’t flowing as well as they do later.

I’ve also noticed that I have a tendency to re-cap what’s gone on with the primary character just before the scene takes place. I’ll say things like, “She’d been to see her boss, who’d told her something important”. That’s a bad habit. I didn’t notice this so much during the editing of Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia, but that’s not to say I wasn’t doing it—my editors spotted it, and had me fix it. I guess I’ve learned that lesson, because now it stands out like a sore thumb when I read it. (And bear in mind that the Artemis first draft was written around about the time Gunn & Bohemia had been submitted, so at that time I’d never had the advantage of a professional editor looking at my work; as a result, it looked all right to me. Reading it a couple of years on, it’s most definitely not all right.)

So I now have a new step in my process, which is: when I’ve written a scene, I’ll go back and read the beginning and fix it if it needs it. (One day I’ll write this process down, for my own reference.)

Yesterday wasn’t so great on the progress front; I managed a little bit in the morning but then a whole bunch of other junk intervened and took up most of the day. I wasn’t able to get back into it until the evening (but at least I got some work done then, so it wasn’t all bad). Today, now that those errands and other junk have been done, things are looking a lot brighter. I do have a couple of small jobs to take care of—but those are the work of minutes, not hours, and don’t involve driving all over town like yesterday’s time-sponge.

And so, without further ado, the time has come to switch on the coffee maker and get properly wound into chapter eleven. I’d really like to get four chapters done today—that would get me up to halfway done, which would be a milestone to be proud of—but I doubt that’ll happen. From memory, I think I have at least two new scenes to write from scratch for chapter twelve, and maybe another one for chapter thirteen. All do-able, if I can work without distractions, but the chances of that are slim to zero. On the other hand, you never know.

Until next time . . .

How To Change Direction By Slamming Your Head Into A Wall

IT’S official: the sequel to Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia is on hold for a while. I’ve been having a lot of trouble writing it and I’ve been putting the blame for that on the disruptions generated by our recent house move, but after sitting back and doing some soul-searching I finally realised the truth: I wasn’t happy with the story I’d developed. Let me qualify that a little bit. I was, and still am, enthusiastic about the story’s Big Picture. The problem is in the details—the subplots and the “flow” of the story as a whole. I can’t explain how it went wrong—possibly that house move thing was part of it, possibly not—but the upshot is that the timeline needs some serious rethinking before I write another word. Seriously, I don’t even want to look at the current timeline in case it pollutes my thinking. So I’m going to start over from clean. But that’s not going to happen right away. I need time away from the project so I can order my thoughts. In the meantime I’m working on something else.

A couple of years ago I wrote a full-length story with a working title of The Artemisia Chronicle. It got put to one side when I started focussing on editing Gunn & Bohemia, and then after G&B was published I got pretty much straight into thinking about the sequel, so my other projects stayed on the shelf. Now that I’ve decided to mothball Gunn & Bohemia II for a bit, this story has been dusted off and is back in play. Today I finished reconstructing its timeline by skimming every scene and summarising it in a spreadsheet. The next step will be to review that timeline and fix a handful of problems (for example, there are a couple of early scenes that happen impossibly close together in time). Once that’s straightened out I have some work to do to fix a subplot that doesn’t really do anything, and then the ending needs some work to give it a bit more cowbell.

Once I’m happy with that timeline I’ll be editing every scene. In some cases that might mean a complete rewrite; there will almost certainly be new scenes needed, and it’s more than likely that certain scenes will be trashed. That’s the way these things go. The end result will be a shiny new story, ready to be submitted to my publisher. And because it’s already been written once, it won’t take a very long time to write it again. Depending on the publisher’s schedule it might even be on shelves before the end of the year.

Watch this space.

Kindle, or No?

I thought I was being so clever, having an Android tablet. After all, why buy a Nook AND and a Kindle, when you can buy one device and download the Nook and Kindle apps (and Kobo, and Diesel, and a bunch of others) for free?


Well, in hindsight it really wasn’t that great an idea. Your mileage may vary on this, but for me it turned out that every time I felt like reading (to be more accurate, whenever I got time to read, which hasn’t been that often recently), I would pick up the tablet only to find that the battery was flat. Even just sitting there not being used, the battery only lasts a couple of days—and actually using it to read, you get a few hours at most before having to plug in the charger. Hardly what you’d call convenient.

And so a couple of weeks ago I went down to the basement and dusted off my Nook Simple Touch. It had been sitting there for months, and yet still had enough charge in the battery to be able to use it. It’s back in daily use, and I’d forgotten just how great it is to be able to read every day and not have to worry about charging it more often than once a fortnight.

In any case, how many different e-readers accounts do I really need? I have Nook and Kindle accounts; I also set up a Kobo account, but I never used it. At this moment I don’t need more. So right now I have the Nook, and I have the tablet I can use for Kindle books (unfortunately there are quite a few books available for Nook that you can’t get for Kindle, and vice-versa, hence the need for both). And the tablet’s battery is dead again, so I can’t read Kindle books until the tablet’s charged, which takes a couple of hours.

So, the question: should I buy a Kindle to solve that problem? I see the basic model is down to about $70, which isn’t bad at all. So I’ll definitely be giving that some thought.

On the Writing front . . .

Some status on the various projects:

  • The Voyage of Valerie McGrath: This went for final approval a couple of weeks ago. No word back on any changes, and the anthology will be on shelves fairly soon now. I imagine I and the other short story authors will receive an ARC for final proofing before it goes to press, and that’ll give us all a chance to check each other’s work for last-minute mistakes (and it’ll be fun to read their stories, too—I’m looking forward to that).
  • Gunn & Bohemia II: Great news to report here—I finished the timeline and sent it off to my content editor a few days ago. Subject to her comments and requests for changes, that means I should be able to start actually writing the first draft within the next few days, or a couple of weeks at most. Which means, if all goes well, I could have a completed ‘script before September. Don’t hold me to that, though—I’ll be writing and editing at the same time, and that’s not something I’ve done before. I don’t know how it’s going to work switching back and forth. Still, it means the first draft will need less work to get into publishable shape (Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia took months, because the draft I submitted needed a lot of editing work).
  • Top Secret Writing Project #1: Well, it’s not really that much of a secret now. I have a full-length first draft I wrote the year before last, and I’ve been editing it as a background project. Two chapters done, twenty-eight to go. It’s a sort of gothic/sci-fi/steampunk mix inspired by ideas from Gormenghast and Dark City and one or two other things. Fellow author Craig Hallam got a sneak preview of the first chapter way back and was kind enough to critique it.
  • Top Secret Writing Project #2: Another story that’s been sitting in the pile for a while. This one is another steampunk story but with a twist (don’t ask; I don’t want to spoil the surprise). I have half a first draft, and the plan is to edit what I have so far then continue on through the existing storyboard and get it finished. But that is most definitely at the bottom of the stack, and won’t see any work done on it until I’m done with TSWP#1.

Enough for now. Time to settle down for some telly, I think. Until next time . . .

Worries I Can’t Mention

I didn’t get around to writing a post last weekend, because something happened the Thursday before that really had my wife and I worried, and kept us worried right through the weekend and into the early part of last week. And while I know you’re dying to know what that was, I can’t say. Not yet. Expect a post dedicated to that story sometime in the future. All will be revealed.

For now, though, I am able to report that things on the day-job front have settled down significantly in the last week. The Inherited Project From Hell is up and running in a production environment, and should soon be completely live (if you’re into river boating in the north-western states, you might even brush up against it indirectly). The other projects seem to be well under control.

What of writing work? Well, GB2 has had little progress made (last week’s worries meant I wasn’t able to focus on writing work at all—I spent much of the time playing computer games to take my mind off things). The plan is to get a couple of hours in on that over this weekend. The Voyage of Valerie McGrath has cleared line editing and gone to final approval. And the Top Secret Writing Project has had nothing done to it at all.

And so the plans for today: get some tea, and spend a little while on the GB2 timeline. Time to get to it. Until next time . . .


. . . and about time, too. The last few weeks have been far too busy, and to be honest I can use a break. We lost another developer last week—one who’d taken on one of the projects I’d worked on for a while—which means I got that project back on my plate. Lucky for me, it only has about four problems that need fixing, and three of those should be pretty easy to deal with. The bigger, more messy project (the one I mentioned in the previous post) seems to be coming together at last, in that it looks like the worst of the mess is cleaned up, and the thing seems to be working a lot more reliably.

Which means I’ve had a bit more time to work on writing projects, and I haven’t been quite so whacked by the time I get home that I haven’t had the energy to do something useful. And that’s meant that, at last, I was able to finish a major editing pass on The Voyage of Valerie McGrath this week (even though it took far longer than it should have). No bad thing, considering the deadline for content editing is less than a week away. (Stop press: email from editor telling me it’s gone off to line editing. Phew!)

The plan for this coming week, then: top priority, deal with any more editing on McGrath that comes back from my line editor as and when. Next priority, back to working on the sequel to Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia. My editor on that one came back with a herd of comments on the timeline, so I’ll be addressing those first, and I expect that to take all of this week at the very least.

And from experience, I’ll refrain from making any plans beyond that. Plans have a habit of getting changed or thrown out completely, in many cases before they’ve even been set in motion properly. Sometimes it’s better to just take it one day at a time.

Half Day? Not So’s You’d Notice…

The day job has been driving me pretty batty the last few weeks. Among other things I’ve been putting in some long hours to fix problems left behind by people who’ve left. To be more precise, most of the problems were left by just one guy, who left a project in such a messed up state that the only real way to fix it would be to throw it in the trash and start over. Unfortunately that isn’t an option. I’m stuck with patching the thing up with the software equivalent of duct tape. Right now it’s clunking along like a wagon with square wheels, and every day another problem shows up needing fixing.

Three or four weeks ago I put in about twelve extra hours, so I’d planned on taking the following Thursday afternoon and all day Friday off. It never happened; the problems just kept coming, and I had no choice but to continue working on them. This week was much the same—I’ve worked an extra four hours, so I’d planned on working this morning then having an easy afternoon (or rather, spending a few hours editing The Voyage of Valerie McGrath). I should have known better. It ended up being an eleven hour day (thanks to which I’ve missed another release party for one of the other Xchyler authors, damn it), and somehow I also got myself signed up to put in some more hours over the weekend. I must be nuts.

What’s really crazy about the whole situation is that I’ve been working on a design for this whole thing that would solve all the problems. It’s modular, it’s clean, it’s efficient and would be easy to maintain—and I could probably develop the entire thing, end-to-end, in no more than three or four weeks. So far, keeping this steaming pile clunking along has taken more than that, and there’s no end in sight. Please, dear employer, if you’re reading this, consider letting me build the thing so we can dump the current train-wreck in the garbage where it belongs.

I should get into some editing now, but it’s 8:30pm and I’ve had enough. My brain is fried. I need tea, and to watch a movie (Sherlock Holmes, with Downey and Law, methinks) then get some well-deserved sleep. Tomorrow, on with short-story editing.

I’m looking forward to a day when I can write a blog post about writing, and editing, and story lines, instead of day job concerns that are dogging my every waking moment. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. This can’t go on much longer . . .