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:

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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 . . .

Reading List, TV List

THANKS to a two-week break over Christmas and New Year I was able to spend a bit more time catching up with my reading list. And there’s been some seriously good TV on, too.

As a result, here’s a short list of some books and TV I’d like to recommend.

Books

The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan: (I posted a review of this a couple of weeks ago.) Steampunk/Alternate History. I couldn’t put it down. As I write this, it’s on sale for $1.99 in the US Kindle Store.

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Dammit, why does this thing keep putting pictures sideways?

Unseemly Science by Rod Duncan: Sequel to The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, and again I couldn’t put it down. In Duncan’s alternate-history Britain, the International Patent Office stifles scientific research that they consider “unseemly”—but medical research is an exception, and is never unseemly. Or is it? Elizabeth Barnabus, our hero from the first book, finds herself following the trail of a surgeon who’s up to no good. Also on sale in the US Kindle Store at the moment. A third book is coming out on February 2 (eBook and US release; February 4 for UK paperback), and I have that date marked in my calendar.

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Planetfall by Emma Newman. I started into this yesterday and I’m about two-thirds through. A must-read for sci-fi fans. [UPDATE: finished it. Damn, this is a good read.]

[More updates: I knew I’d forgotten a few things:]

The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. This is a series of urban fantasy novels about a two thousand year-old Irish Druid living in Arizona. Now, I’ve never been big on urban fantasy in the past but these books (and Chuck Wendig’s (see below)) have changed all that. These aren’t your dad’s fantasy stories, all heavy-going plodding stuff. These are fun reads you’ll find hard to put down. Trust me on this.

The Miriam Black novels by Chuck Wendig. More urban fantasy; darker and grittier stuff than Iron Druid. Miriam Black just needs to touch someone to know how and when they will die. That takes a terrible toll on her; she’s definitely damaged goods, but you can’t help being on her side. Three books to date, with a fourth out at the end of February 2017 (yes, you read that right. 2017.)

TV

(Actually I watched these online—my cable provider has an on-demand feature that means I can watch TV shows in a browser, and some shows are available online before they air. In case you’re wondering.)

The Expanse: On Ceres, a police investigator is trying to track down a missing heiress, and meanwhile someone’s trying to start a war between Earth and Mars. Oh, boy. I can’t say much about this without risking spoilers, so I’ll just say that if you haven’t seen it then you should. I’m five episodes in and can’t wait for the next one. (Aside: I’ve always liked Thomas Jane and his performance in this is, I think, the best he’s given.)

Outlander: Right after WWII, a woman is transported back to mid-18th century Scotland. The entire first season had aired before I started watching, so I’ve been catching up. I’m nine episodes in and pretty well hooked. And I want to punch Black Jack Randall right in the face. (One thing, though: as an Englishman with one-quarter Scottish blood, I can’t help but wonder if English soldiers of the 18th century, as depicted in shows like this and numerous others, were really that nasty and evil. It seems to be generally accepted without question that they were. I’d really like to know how accurate that is.)

Colony: Alien invasion story—which maybe has been done to death, especially recently, but there’s always room for something if it has fresh ideas. Is this that show? I can’t say yet—only the pilot episode is available online as I write this, so it really hasn’t got itself up to speed yet, I think. Still, I found the pilot compelling and I’ll definitely be watching more.

Mr. Robot: People have been saying good things about this, and even though I’m only halfway through the pilot episode I can see why. I’ll be watching more of this, too.

Now, I’d really better get back to getting some work done on the Artemis sequel. (Evenings are more TV and book time for me.)

Until next time . . .

Just Say NO To TV

JUST a short one today, to mark the fact that I’ve realised that I’ve been NOT READING because I’ve been watching far too much TV in my relaxation time. Over the last few weeks I’ve re-watched every episode of Firefly. And season 4 of Fringe. And season 5 of Fringe. And most of season 6 of The X-Files, with the intention of getting into seasons 7, 8, and 9. And Carnivàle. And other stuff I can’t even remember, senile as I am.

Meanwhile I have a Kindle and a Nook, both of which have a bunch of books on them—some of which have not been touched, and others that I’ve started reading but didn’t finish. Yet. I haven’t abandoned them, or given up. I just haven’t put aside ANY time for reading. And as an author that’s pretty damned bad. I NEED to be reading. I need to see how other authors write. I mentioned in an earlier post (in April, I think it was) how Keith Roberts’ Pavane wasn’t just writing, but poetry, painting mental pictures with words. It’s influenced my own writing, and it’s not the only writing that has. Stephen King is not alone in saying that authors must read.

So, a decision. I’m going to make a point of splitting off time from watching TV and using it to read instead. For example, if I want to watch a 45-minute episode of The X-Files, I will spend 45 minutes reading before I allow myself to do that. (And anyway, the chances are once I start reading I won’t want to stop just because the clock says 45 minutes has passed; I know I’ll want to carry on.)

On that note, this blog post ends here. In a few minutes, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Until next time . . .

I Don’t Always Write Blog Posts . . .

. . . BUT when I do, I try to make them interesting, and mention at least a little about what’s been going on since the last post. However, I’ve noticed that recently—according to my WordPress stats—I’ve gained more than a handful of new followers. If you’re one of the new followers then Welcome, gentle reader. For the new readers I’m going to put a little more background than usual into this post. And don’t forget to explore the other pages through the link tabs at the top. In particular, take a look at the Social page and consider following me on Twitter, too.

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The Day Job

BY profession I’m a Java web application developer. A few months ago the company I work for had a little bit of an unintentional downsizing, by which I mean that several of our other developers, by coincidence, all gave notice at about the same time—and as a result of that, my workload more than doubled as those other guys’ project work was dumped in my lap. So for several weeks I was working late nights and weekends, catching up with all the outstanding bug fixes.

Several weeks on, just about all of those bugs have been fixed, and so I’m back to regular maintenance on all those various applications. Which means I’m back to normal hours without the late nights and weekends. I’m even getting time in some of my lunch breaks to manage a little bit of writing.

Now that all the urgent work is done, I’ve also been spending some time evaluating some new software—web application frameworks, to be specific—to see what the next generation of our software should be using. For what it’s worth, we evaluated JSF (JavaServer Faces) and found it wanting; next up, I’m writing a small application using Apache Wicket to see how that goes, and so far it looks promising—at least, it gets away from JSPs (JavaServer Pages), which can only be a good thing.

Moving House

WE bought a new house, and we’ve been moving a few things in and getting the place ready to take the bigger furniture. Right now there’s not much we can do until some of the flooring has been replaced—but that’s just a few days away, now, and then we can get ourselves properly into the new place. And I can’t wait.

What I’m Writing

NOT that I should need to say, because it’s plastered all over this site, but I wrote Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia, a steampunk action adventure story that was published last year. Now I’m working on a sequel, which—with a little luck—should have a first draft complete by the end of August (at least, that’s the target I’ve set myself). The timeline, which is a scene-by-scene version of the story from beginning to end, is complete; that gives me a plan to work to. The first few scenes have been written, but progress has been slow. The good news is, the pace is picking up and I expect to get back to full momentum on that within a week or two, especially when the house move is behind us.

What I’m Reading

RIGHT now I’m reading Kingdom City by Ben Ireland. I’m only a couple of chapters in, so far.

What I’m Smoking

IF you’ve read back a few posts, you’ll have seen the post about how I’ve been switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes. On that, just a quick update: it’s going very well. Thanks to the e-cig as a way to stave off the craving I was down to about three “real” cigs a day. Then came another milestone: I haven’t smoked even one “real” cigarette in the last three days. Very pleased with that.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted

LAST word: I play some computer games as relaxation. I used to play World of Warcraft a lot (although I haven’t played in months now), and I’m also a big fan of the Half-Life games and their close cousins, the Portal series. Recently I found out about a game called Sir, You Are Being Hunted, which is variously described as steampunk and tweedpunk (is that a new word?). It’s a survival-stealth game, which under normal circumstances would have put me off because I’m not a fan of that genre (I tried playing Thief once, and detested it), but I’m finding Sir to be more than a little bit addictive. I mean, killer robots wearing country tweeds and smoking pipes. What’s not to like?

Until next time . . .

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?

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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 . . .