Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Long Dark - human habitation

Continuing occasional posts about worldbuilding for my current WIP.

Aside from extreme weather patterns, the colonists in The Long Dark have another major problem to contend with. The planet is superficially Earth-like - similar gravity, similar temperature on average, abundant water and an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere. All sounds moderately livable. Except for one thing. Both the air and the water are laced with a cocktail of poisons. Without treatment they are deadly.

OK. I decided the toxins would be large organic molecules and relatively easy to filter out, so there is no shortage of air and water per se, but they do need treatment.

That means you can’t go out onto the surface without a mask, and all living areas need to be enclosed and secured to keep the native atmosphere out.

This isn’t as extreme as living on, say, the Moon, where you have to pressurize living spaces against vacuum, but you do need a reasonably airtight barrier and airlocks everywhere. So, the colonists live in large domes, clustered together into towns and cities.

The dome arrangements of the town of Serendipity, where most of the action takes place. The large ovals are vehicle garages and warehouses. The smaller domes are habitats and workshops. The town is roughly a kilometer across.

The relatively habitable equator is ringed by eighteen large cities. These are occupied year-round, and contain all the major industrial processing and hydroponic growing areas.

Away from the equator, in the twenty to thirty-five degree latitudes, there is a scattering of nearly fifty smaller towns in each hemisphere. These are only occupied during Elysium’s summer months. Half the planet’s population live here, harvesting medicinal products and other useful materials from the depths of the plant mass. At the turn of the seasons they have to migrate across the equator to escape the winter deep freeze - the “Long Dark” of the book’s title.

Map of Elysium showing up to forty degrees north and south. The equatorial cities and the northern towns are marked here.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Husky Houdini

When we moved to Canada we got a husky. We installed a new fence all around the back yard to make it husky-proof. In all the years we had Gypsy, and later Ellie, our Australian Shepherd, we never had a dog escape unless someone left one of the side gates open.

Sadly we lost Gypsy in 2016, but now we’ve added Mishka to the family, a five-month old husky who gets along fabulously with Ellie.

Tuesday afternoon: Panicked call at work from Megan, who’d dropped by home to pick up some groceries. Mishka is missing. Ellie is still there, and the gates are secured, but no Mishka.

Immediate conclusion - someone’s taken her.

Luckily, a neighbor whose property backs on to one of our next-door neighbor’s, called Ali to say she had Mishka. She has two huskies herself, in a fenced yard, and noticed she had mysteriously acquired a third. So, we were glad to have Mishka back but instead of one mystery, we now had two. How did she get out of our yard, and how did she get into our neighbor’s - both supposedly husky-proof?

Tuesday evening: Check the fence all around the back yard. No signs of digging. No loose fencing anywhere. No obvious way for her to get out.

Wednesday morning: Feed dogs as usual and let them loose in the back yard. A little while later, spot Mishka roaming the front lawn.

Conclusion: Somehow, she can escape. So likelihood is that she got out on her own yesterday. No need to assume some stranger had let her out for some reason. From there, our favorite theory is that she found her way through the neighbor’s property to the road behind, and someone found her wandering. It’s possible someone mistakenly though they knew where she lived and let her in with the other huskies.

Wednesday evening: Take Ellie out the front and pretend to go for a walk, leaving Mishka on the deck under covert observation, hoping she’ll repeat her feat and let us see how she escaped. No such luck. A lot of plaintive whining and wandering around on the carport roof, but no jailbreak.

Wait ... what? She’s not supposed to be able to get onto the carport. We have a deck over the garage, with the carport alongside. The roof comes up level with the railing that runs around the deck. Very early on, to stop Gypsy climbing up there, I installed fence panels along the edge of the roof nearest the deck. It stopped Gypsy, but not, apparently, Mishka. She happily squeezed around the end of the fence in the few inches between that and the edge of the roof.

That’s the far end of the fence in this picture. The carport is behind the fence to the left.

More worrying, she then decided to jump into the hedge jutting out and shielding the carport entrance. She floundered in the greenery ten feet above a very hard driveway.

Luckily I was able to reach down from the deck and haul her out. She must have decided that was fun, because she repeated the performance later that evening and had to be rescued again. Not very comforting. What if she did that when we weren’t around?

Regardless, whenever we tried to tempt her to escape again, she went straight for the carport. Current theory is that she escaped previously by jumping down the far side, only a five or six foot drop into the neighbor’s yard because we’re on a hill. But clearly the carport has to be out of bounds.

Thursday morning: New lattice panel added to the deck to act as a deterrent.

Friday: No more escapes. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Breaking the Block

While I’m taking a breather from The Long Dark, waiting for the first part to get critiqued, I’ve turned my attention back to another small project that I aim to complete this summer.

A short e-book, Breaking the Block, looks systematically at a range of causes of writer’s block, and suggests possible remedies.

I’ve tried to pack the booklet with examples and practical tips, but the theme running through it is that writer’s block is not in itself an ailment, but simply the visible symptom of some deeper underlying cause.

It often seems to me that writers feel helpless when the words stop flowing, and they believe they have to wait for inspiration or for the right mood to strike. My belief is that the problem can be tackled more proactively, you just need some ideas on where to look for the source of the blockage before you can bring the right countermeasures to bear.

Even if you don’t find a specific tip in the booklet that helps you in your own situation, I think it helps to adopt the mindset that writer’s block is not some amorphous ailment of the writerly mind. Instead of feeling helpless, understand that somewhere there is a specific cause that can be overcome once you’ve shone a spotlight on it.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Victoria Public Library

Yesterday saw the launch of the Greater Victoria Public Library’s 2019 Emerging Local Authors collection.

This is the fifth year they’ve run this innovative program, now being emulated in a number of other libraries, which showcases local authors and illustrators.

I joined about eighty authors making up this year’s collection for a launch party in the covered courtyard at the library. Our books, including The Ashes of Home, will be shelved prominently near the main library entrance, and they’ve put together a rolling slideshow for their display screens.

You can find out more about the collection at:

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter weekend

Hope everyone is enjoying their Easter break.

I’m making use of the extra time to do some writing, obviously.

Aiming to complete what I call “revision 1” of The Long Dark. In practice, a revision is actually multiple passes through the text looking at various aspects. After finishing the first draft I let it sit for a while, then begin with a complete read through as a reader, making notes of general impressions and areas that need tightening up or expanding on. This is at a high level, to get a feel for the story as a whole. More reads on the computer, making edits as I go, then print the lot off on paper and go through it again with a red pen. Now I’ve just got a few notes left to work through.

At the same time, I’m pushing the nonfiction Breaking the Block through the critiquing queue at Critique Circle.

Back in the real world, this is the time of year we are usually thinking of getting our deck cleaned up and in use. But, despite a brief spell last month, it’s not yet warmed up enough to be inviting. Maybe next month.

Instead, we’ve revitalized a part of the garden that’s been neglected for years. This corner sites behind the garage and deck, and used to be a rather useless patch of grass. Several years ago, we got rid of the grass, built steps, path, and retaining wall, and filled it with soil but never got around to planting it properly. Well, now it’s planted :)

Saturday, April 13, 2019


Goodreads is an online forum first and foremost for readers. Readers discuss, swap notes on, and review books they’ve read. The purpose is to inform other readers and to share reading experiences.

Of course, authors hang out there, too. Wherever there’s an audience of readers, there are opportunities for authors to engage and maybe attract new readers.

One of the discussion forums I follow posed a question about authors rating and reviewing their own books. I’ve seen authors do this ... give themselves a five-star rating and a glowing review. At one point, very early on in my time there, I had seen this so often I figured it was seen as an acceptable practice and (briefly) wondered about doing this for my own book (just the one out there at that time).

Then I started thinking how this would come across to a prospective reader.

How does it come across to me?

That stopped me in my tracks, because my gut reaction was that it was sad, tacky, and smacked of desperation. If you have a load of other people’s reviews then you really don’t need to add your own. It serves no purpose in terms of visibility. On the other hand, there’s nothing much sadder than a book with just one review ... from the author. IMO you’re better off with none.

Actually, I take that back. A sadder sight is a five-star review from the author standing out among a clutch of one- and two-star reviews from genuine readers. That says they’re not only desperate, but completely out of touch with reality.

What do you think? What crosses your mind when you see someone rating their own book on a forum meant for readers?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Brexit ... or not

This side of the pond, we have ringside seats to the surreal reality show that is American politics. While I’ve grown heartily sick of hearing about the Orange Toddler’s latest tantrums, the rest of my family back in Britain is equally sick of the even-longer-running drama of Brexit.

Some groups are pushing for a second referendum. “Let the people have their say,” they say. Opponents point to the fact that the people already had their say. Here’s where I think we get into slightly shady territory.

I remember reading about the shock when the result of the referendum was announced. There was disbelief across the whole political spectrum, and more than an unearthly hint of “What have we done?” I suspect a lot of people who voted to leave didn’t really want to leave at all. But they did want to send a message to the politicians that business as usual was not an option. It was a protest vote, something that many people felt was safe because there was no way it would actually pass ... until it did.

That’s the danger of protest votes, or of poorly-explained polls.

The time for a second referendum would have been right away, as in - this was so unexpected and has clearly taken everyone by surprise, let’s do the prudent thing and ask, “Are you sure?” That’s the common-sense response when you get an entirely unexpected answer to a question. Verify, to make sure the question was understood and the answer is genuine. Then move on.

But nearly three years have passed, we’ve passed the date when Britain should have by now been out, and we’re still no closer to having any clue how this will all shake out.
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