Saturday, May 23, 2020

WeWriWa - The Long Dark

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.

Continuing the opening from The Long Dark, Anna drives a crawler across the surface of a massive plant hundreds of meters deep.


Through the wraparound windows of the cab, Anna judged the distance to her goal. The marker beacon, standing two hundred meters away, had canted at an angle, and the smooth olive ground nearby had a mottled look confirming the grim picture from the ground radar. The upper layers here had thinned dangerously. She couldn’t risk the crawler any closer to retrieve that beacon, but the town needed to salvage all the working equipment it could for next season’s harvesting operations.

Anna reached for the bank of controls alongside her seat, and the short wave radio hissing and sputtering on top of the ground radar and inertial navigation screens.

“Serendipity Control, this is Charlie Tango seven niner, respond please.”

She scrunched her face and hit the volume button at the blast of static from the radio. She fiddled with the decoding controls, tuning the software that struggled to pluck meaning from the waves of electromagnetic interference bathing the atmosphere.

“Serendipity Control, this is Charlie Tango seven niner. Anyone receiving?”


And (making use of the new rules) this scene continues ...

On the third try, a distorted voice answered. “Go ahead, Charlie Tango seven niner.”

“Got eyeballs on my last beacon for this run. Nearest end of the south-west line, but approach is tricky. Will be off grid for an hour or so.”


Last week, I started creating artwork for the book cover. As the weeks go by, I’ll include some snaps of progress. Here is a snapshot from Monday and Friday ...

Saturday, May 16, 2020

WeWriWa - The Long Dark

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.

It’s been a year since I last posted on Weekend Writing Warriors. A year ago, I'd just finished the first draft of The Long Dark. Since then, it’s been going through intensive critiquing and editing and I’m on the home stretch to publication later this year. This week, I’m posting from the opening chapter.


From the center seat in the crawler’s drive cab, six meters above the ground, Anna ’t Hooft studied the treacherous terrain ahead.

Ground radar painted a cross-section of the organic mass under her wheels. Labyrinthine chasms and crevices plunged hundreds of meters deep. Twisted columns and webs of plant tissue spread and interlocked to form a solid-looking surface.

On Sponge, looks could be fatally deceptive.

A tingle ran up Anna’s back, and she blanked the radar screen. She could read the surface details well enough. She could tell what they concealed, and in her mind could reduce the plant mass to safe, clinical labels: soft, brittle, strong, source of water, building material, harvestable tubers. All the treasures Sponge had to offer could be divined from the colors, textures, and contours up here.

She preferred to not actually see what lay below.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Support our workers

All around our neighborhood, hearts have been appearing over the last month. Someone has been making plywood cut-out hearts on posts to stick in your lawn. Some have appeared on hydro poles and in windows. Someone down the road shaped a string of lights into a heart on their fence.

All this is to show support for our armies of essential workers, from healthcare professionals to delivery drivers, to the grocery store workers and many others who are in close proximity to the public all day long.

We combined this heart theme with another suggestion to brighten up Victoria with Christmas lights, and clipped a string of lights to our hedge facing the road.

To give a sense of scale, the hedge is taller than our camping trailer (parked behind, out of sight) and twice as tall as me. The heart is about 9’ tall. Standing on tip-toe I can barely reach the red light at the bottom of the “V” across the top.

Of course with the light evenings this heart isn’t visible until some time after 8pm, but I like to think it brings some cheer to people driving past of an evening.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Wedding anniversary

Twenty-eight years ago yesterday, Ali and I got married at home in our living room, with a registrar and about thirty close family and friends. We had lunch in a marquee outside (it just about fit on our back lawn ... just) with a buffet that we prepared ourselves. The day finished with a noisy, raucous knees-up for 150 people at a venue in town. No question of social distancing then!

Being our twenty-eighth anniversary, it was on the same day of the week (Friday) as our actual wedding day. A small discussion ensued about the twenty-eight-year cycle. There have been three other times when our anniversary fell on a Friday, but this is the first time it’s also been a leap year. With leap years in between, anniversaries on the same day fall at erratic intervals of five, six, or eleven years but they always come around again at year twenty-eight (except when the next turn of the century messes things up, but that’s another matter).

Of course, our celebration yesterday was of necessity a very small family affair. There’s a nearby Thai restaurant we like that’s still open for take-out. I checked the menu online and phoned through an order. I figured I should do that early and my hunch proved correct, it was a hour wait, but that was OK.

Looking for silver linings to all this, it was a quiet drive, parking available right outside. They were geared up to serve customers efficiently and I was straight in and out again, even though they were clearly busy with a row of bags lined up on the counter ready to be picked up.

And dinner was delicious. Thank you Sabhai Thai!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Grim statistics

Over the last month I’ve developed a grim fascination with figures. Trying not to let it become a compulsion - but what the heck! - Ali watches news briefings, I watch graphs. In these trying times I think a little short term madness is essential for long term sanity.

I discovered the Worldometers site which captures a whole raft of world statistics, including tracking the daily progress of the pandemic.

At the start of April, experts were suggesting the US might see between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths. At that time, when the tally was still only a few thousand, such figures were laughed at and quickly downplayed by politicians. A week or so later, the expected toll was revised down to between 60,000 and 80,000.

Now, the US is heading for a million cases by Monday and should exceed 60,000 deaths by Tuesday. On current trends I fully expect that original estimate to be realistic - if not optimistic.

I know it’s not really scientific to compare one country with another, when each has different demographics, different healthcare systems, and different approaches to handling the pandemic. But those are the only pointers we have to go on. So looking at countries that are further ahead in the outbreak, places like Italy and Spain reached a plateau in the graphs of daily new cases and daily deaths, followed by a slow decline. The US and Canada are still on the early part of that plateau. In fact, they haven’t really leveled off in a significant way. This tells me that today’s figures will likely at least double or triple over the next month.

While I’m making dire predictions, looking elsewhere in the world I am keeping a worried eye on both Brazil and Russia. With all the attention on China, then Europe and Iran, followed by the USA, they haven’t really been prominent yet. But just looking at the recent rates I can see them both joining the “100,000 club” by the end of the month and mingling with the hard-hit European nations soon after.

Finally, it sickens me to see the protests flaring up in some countries. These figures are bad enough, and they’ve only been kept at this level (I was about to say “this low” but there is nothing low about them) by the measures being taken. Healthcare systems have been stretched, but not completely broken. That will all change drastically if we let down our guards too soon.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The new normal

How are your self-isolation measures going? In the last week there’s been growing unrest down in the US, and increasing demands to open up for business again. Up here in BC we seem to have escaped relatively lightly, with strong public awareness of and support for the need for caution, but without the more stringent measures many countries have adopted.

Of course, schools, pubs, restaurants and many business are closed. But much of life continues, albeit in considerably altered form. Ali is home, but helping her students through remote one-on-one tuition. Grocery stores are essential businesses, so Megan is still working in the bakery. Matthew, of course, is in his element. He spends his days gaming online with friends and this is just an extended summer for him.

My office is still open. Although most of our services are online, we take in mail and couriered documents, and for some things there is no online alternative. So although we have a full complement working remotely there is a skeleton staff still physically present, and it’s important for at least one or two of the leadership team to be present for moral support. But the office is a ghost town these days. On a typical day there might be half a dozen of us there, in an office that is normally buzzing with seventy or more people.

I can mostly work from home, but I find I work better in the office. The mental switch that comes with the change in scenery is important for me, as is access to printer, scanner, and a handful of physical files. So I’m commuting in most days, and enjoying the silver lining of little traffic on the roads.

Many people in the branch are enjoying working from home, and even report better concentration and productivity. The government IT infrastructure has had a real workout these past weeks. Still some network capacity challenges, but they are still making improvements.

Grocery shopping is getting more organized. There are subtle changes each week. They’ve improved the one-way system around the aisles, especially through the produce section, and put up more screens at the tills to separate lines of customers so now they can open all the checkouts again instead of every second lane. The line-ups are manageable and the store has been fairly quiet the last couple of weeks, even on a Saturday morning.

And I noticed they even had toilet paper on the shelves this week. Things must be looking up!

Finally, I also managed to buy art supplies this week. I’m completing a major round of edits on The Long Dark and am looking ahead to cover art. The art store is closed to foot traffic, of course, but they are taking orders by phone. The store is just a couple of blocks away from my office, so I was able to pop out and collect my order that same day.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

It’s not COVID, honest!

Standing in line this morning, waiting to get into the grocery store, I coughed.

I glanced around, self-conscious, to see if anyone was giving me that judgmental “you should be self-isolating” look. But the lady ahead of me just smiled. “Allergies?” she asked.

This is my car after standing idle in the driveway for a day and a half.

Why, I wonder, would she think anyone would be suffering from allergies right now?

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