Sunday, December 30, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: December 30

Six Sentence Sunday is a weekly blog hop where participants post six sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image, but hurry, it is only running until the end of January.

I am posting from my current WIP, Tiamat's Nest. In previous posts last month, I introduced Charles and his computer simulation. Here, a second strand of the story is unwinding. Three online gamers, Tin Man, Pink Marie, and Moonshadow, have had their immersive avatars captured by the mysterious Samurai.


Tin Man faced not the half-expected, unimaginable nightmares, but the expressionless mask of a Samurai warrior.

"What?" In speaking, Tin Man found that his avatar was once more under his control. He looked around, recognizing the cavernous, rain-spattered glass vaults.

The Samurai seemed unfazed by the inane utterance. "Seems I need to set better fences," he muttered.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

The innocence of animals

It takes the innocence of animals to restore some measure of sanity amongst the human-inflicted madness that has dominated life recently.

Earlier in the week, we added a 10-week-old kitten to the menagerie. Ever since the kids arrived on the scene, we have always adopted adult cats, but this year we agreed that next time would be a kitten again.

So meet Lucy. I like cats in general, but I do have a soft spot for kittens!

Today we took a drive out to the Wild Arc animal sanctuary with a bird we'd rescued from the cats. Well, actually I think Gypsy rescued it. I heard a scrabbling noise and went to investigate, to find Gypsy climbing the stairs with this bird in her mouth. She dropped it, and it fluttered across the living room floor, where Megan trapped it and kept it safe. It appeared unharmed apart from losing some tail feathers, but it couldn't fly.

It's hard to be certain, but I honestly think Gypsy was carrying it and trying not to harm it. She could have swallowed it in one gulp if she'd wanted to. I also suspect it was brought into the house by one of our old ladies planning to teach the new kitten how to hunt.

On our way back from Wild Arc, we stopped off at Witty's Lagoon to give Gypsy a walk. On the drive, we saw eagles and deer. To top it off, in the sea quite near shore we watched an otter diving for food. This is the first time I've ever had a clear sight of an otter in the wild, and it made my day.

Monday, December 17, 2012

I don't like Mondays

Sorry The Bald Patch has been unusually quiet lately, but I haven't been in the mood for posting. It's not been the best month.

Three weeks ago today, a close friend of the family died suddenly. He will be greatly missed by all of us.

Ali agreed to take on his dog, a husky called Toby. We've looked after Toby many times before and always been careful to keep him separated from the cats, but never had a problem. The following Monday, Tubbs failed to come in for dinner. We were worried but could do nothing about it. The following morning, we found him dead in the back yard. Toby had caught him.

Last Monday, both the kids were ill, but recovered well and life seemed to be getting back to normal. Then on Friday we read about the tragedy in Connecticut. This news hit unusually hard. I just keep imagining a whole class from our own elementary school torn away, and I feel cold inside.

Today, while taking some special needs kids from her school out for a treat, Ali had her purse stolen. Happy Christmas, whoever you are.

This evening, the world just feels surreal. I know it's irrational, but it feels like the overtures of a bigger storm to come. Our hold on life and civilization feels especially fragile and vulnerable right now.

Sorry again. I don't mean to write a gloomy post. I'm looking for reasons to be cheerful, and open to suggestions...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Out of sight, out of mind?

Since I posted progress on Tiamat's Nest last month, I've added another 7,500 words, a bit short of my target of 10k a month. I find I'm still struggling with that "What happens next?" question.

Things seemed to be going along fairly well for most of November. Then I hit a brick wall, and belatedly realized that I'm also grappling once more with an earlier demon from August - tangled timelines and parallel plot threads.

This demon got cunning, though, and ambushed me from behind. I didn't spot him until it was too late, because all my parallel threads are happening off stage and I didn't even realize they were there!

The thing is, when you write with just one or two POV characters, the story revolves around what those characters experience. It's easy to forget about all those others who've vanished off stage for a while.

Easy, but dangerous!

All your characters, even the minor ones, have lives of their own to lead. When they disappear from the page, it's tempting to shelve them, ready to bring them back into the story when they're next needed.

That might work if their lives off stage genuinely don't intersect with the story. While Harry, Ron, and Hermione carried on with their adventures, I'm sure Snape didn't spend the whole time perched on a stool in his dungeon until he was needed. He must have had other things to do, but we don't know about them because they weren't relevant. Fine, but as a writer, how do you know unless you've given it some thought?

When Frodo and Sam escaped from the Shire and arrived at The Prancing Pony, Gandalf was nowhere to be seen. Was he sitting in a leafy glade, smoking his pipe, and waiting for his cue to turn up at Rivendell? Was he heck! He was having his own adventure with Saruman, but we only get to hear about that later on because the story is not told from his point of view.

In my case, I started off with multiple participants and had to use various tricks to untangle the various storylines. I settled on just two POV characters, but I was still very much aware of the other threads to be woven together.

The point I've reached in the story, both my POV characters are now together (which is posing challenges of its own) and I was merrily pootling along telling their story. I started running out of steam, feeling like I was missing something important, and it finally clicked - those other non-POV individuals are still out there, and they are important to the story! They need to be doing things to help, and I've been neglecting them.

I hope they'll forgive me, and choose to co-operate!

The lesson is that all your characters have their own story to tell. It may be relevant, it may not, but even so it might help enrich the story you're telling. So, it's worth asking yourself, for each of your off-stage characters, what might X be doing now, and is it important to the story?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: November 25

Six Sentence Sunday is a weekly blog hop where participants post six sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image, but hurry, it is only running until the end of January.

Last week, I posted the opening sentences from my current WIP, Tiamat's Nest.

The opening is meant to tease you a bit. Some people wondered why Charles was unhappy at billions of people failing to die. No, he's not a master villain, he's a university professor trying to understand history. The uncooperative billions exist inside his computer simulation.

This snippet gives a small clue about the nature of the history that Charles is trying - and failing - to recreate.


Charles clattered down two flights of stairs to a dim hallway at street level. Faded wallpaper, antique lamps, and the worn wooden staircase with balustrade polished by centuries of use, jarred with the gleaming plastic of the inner porch door at the end of the hall. The door swished open as he approached, and sighed closed behind him. Sand crunched underfoot as he crossed the few meters to the street door. He ignored the row of storm capes and face masks hanging from pegs on the wall and stepped out into the street.

The mid-morning heat of Oxford gripped him. 


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Yes, it's warm under all that fur...

Yes, it's November.

Yes, I'm still wearing shorts.

I guess Tigger must think I need warming up...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: November 18

In the time I've been blogging, I've seen a number of esteemed blogger friends take part in Six Sentence Sunday. I've always thought it would be fun to give it a go, but always had "more important" things to do. Last week I discovered that it will finish in January, so I reckoned I better pull my finger out!

Six Sentence Sunday is a weekly blog hop where participants post six sentences of their writing.

Here are the opening sentences from my current WIP, Tiamat's Nest.

It was barely eight in the morning, and Professor Charles Ainsley Hawthorne was already having a bad day. He'd just watched six billion people live. People who should have died.

He closed his eyes, ground his knuckles into their sockets, and counted slowly. Calming his heartbeat, Charles poured a cup of tea. His usually cheerful demeanor would take longer to recover.

More snippets to follow in coming weeks...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How time flies

I woke this morning with a sudden realization. Today, we have been Canadian citizens for exactly six months!

I can't believe it's already half a year since this ceremony.

How time flies.

Monday, November 12, 2012

An impromptu grand day out

With Remembrance Day falling on a Sunday this year, all the parades and solemnities took place yesterday, leaving us with a day off today. There are some benefits of both of us working for government. After all the work earlier this weekend, we decided it was time for a family outing.

Much debate about what to do. Nothing too onerous - it was already well past noon by the time we got our act together, and rain clouds loomed. Megan wanted to ride the Mill Bay Ferry, so we planned our afternoon around that. Drive down the Peninsula then up the highway to Mill Bay, then cross back to home on the ferry.

Things didn't start off too promising. As we rounded the Saanich Inlet and headed north, we remembered that it was time for the annual salmon run at Goldstream. Kids wanted to stop, but we were deterred by the heaving parking lot as we drove past. The salmon run is always a big attraction and it's often difficult to find anywhere to stop.

Minor disappointment mended by soup and sandwiches at Tim Hortons in Mill Bay. And donuts. Don't forget the donuts!

With time to kill before the ferry, we cast around for things to do. Again, the things the kids wanted to do were too far off, or would take too much time. More disappointment. Gypsy needed a walk, so we settled for a visit to a tiny park just out of Mill Bay, that we've not noticed before.

From then on, the afternoon was pure magic.

The park was down by the water, and deserted. The trail led up by a small creek running into the sea, and we were treated to our own private salmon run. We stood, entranced, for half an hour watching large fish battling their way upstream.

On the way there and back, we passed a field with a herd of deer grazing. None of us have ever seen so many deer together at one time. Must have been thirty or more.

We got to the ferry just in time, and boarded. This is only a small run, a 25 minute crossing, with room for fewer than 30 cars on the open deck. We climbed up to a narrow viewing gallery overlooking one side of the car deck. Matthew went exploring. When we next saw him, he was waving to us from the door of the bridge on the other side of the ferry. The captain invited us up and explained to the kids how to steer a ship without a rudder - this design just uses the engines on either side to steer as well as drive.
Megan got to guide us in to the dock at Brentwood Bay.

This made our day.

Back to work tomorrow. *Sigh*

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Why is it that a holiday weekend invariably turns into anything but a holiday?

Not complaining, it's all good stuff, getting us into better shape for the winter, but it's hard work.

Apart from the usual Saturday stuff like grocery shopping for the week, and about six loads of laundry because we've been neglecting it for a while, we took advantage of the first real sunlight I've seen in nearly a month to winterize the trailer. Thankfully we've not had any hard frosts yet.

OK, the sun has made an occasional appearance in that time, but always when I've been at work.

Ali and the kids did a lot of sorting out stuff in the garage, including a load of things to take to the thrift shop, while I raked leaves and made good progress re-filling the compost heap. We have a large fenced-in bin that you could almost park a car in - maybe a Smart car, anyway. Every two or three years I shovel it all out to get at the yard or two of fine compost at the bottom, then all the rest gets shoveled back in again. It's a huge job, and I've been pecking away at it for the last three weekends, but I'm nearly there.

Then a few more small chores to drain the last of my flagging reserves of energy before heading to the shower.

Now, I think, my next actions will involve beer.

Cheers. How's your weekend going?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

So, what happens next?

Just topped 40k on Tiamat's Nest. That's 10k in a month (don't mock, all you NaNo-ers who've probably done close to that in the few days of November already) which is on target. And for me it's a psychological threshold - half a novel!

Things have slowed down in the last week, though, and I'm hoping I can pick up the pace again. I'm at that point where I've written all the early scenes that I'd mapped out in my mind, and I'm asking myself "So, what happens next?"

OK, I know what happens next, but only in broad terms. It's on a par with saying, "Well, Frodo and Sam sneak into Mordor and destroy the ring. Taa-Daa!"

That's great, but doesn't give me much clue as to how to write the next scene.

In fact, different writers could take such a sparse outline and come up with stories that bore no resemblance to each other, apart from the overall end result. The devil is in the detail - what happens from step to step along the way.

I look at my writing in three layers. There's the high level outline, something that could be a one or two paragraph synopsis. The middle layer is the scene level, things that happen, things that people do - this is where the action is. Then there is the writing itself, which puts the flesh on each scene.

In the above example, Tolkien chose some gripping "what next"s: The battle with Shelob, imprisonment and rescue in Cirith Ungol, disguise as orcs to cross Mordor...

With ideas like this in mind, I find I'm ready to sit down at a laptop and write. The fine detail tends to sort itself out along the way. When I know what is supposed to happen in a scene, I can usually visualize and describe the setting, animate the characters, let the dialogue flow. All this is spontaneous and organic.

But it's that middle layer of plotting that I'm struggling with right now. There's a gap to be bridged between the high level outline and the words on the page. What happens next? I need action!

When I was drafting Ghosts, I spent an hour or two each evening writing, but I also have a sheaf of handwritten notes from where I sat out in the sun at lunchtime and poked relentlessly at the "What happens next?" question. These sessions in between "real writing" helped me to keep the writing fed with ideas.

This incremental outlining, this time with my thoughts away from the keyboard, I've realized is an essential part of my writing process, and one that I find I'm missing this time around. Hence the hiccup.

Does any of this resonate with you? Does all your writing take place at a keyboard, or do you need time in between to let ideas develop?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Blog of Outstanding Natural Beauty

It's time to bestow another Blog of Outstanding Natural Beauty award. This time to Unikorna, of Why I Wake Up Every Day.

Unikorna's blog is varied, thought-provoking, and always visually rich. I find it presents beauty in many forms: mouth-watering food, the human body in all sorts of contexts, and some extraordinary fantasy images.

There is nothing to do on receipt of this award, no obligations, no questions to answer, no requirement to pass it on. Just acknowledge it and display it in whatever manner you see fit.

And this award is free for anyone to hand out. If you see a truly beautiful blog, feel free to bestow this award. You do not need to be tagged first. Just grab the image, say why you are awarding it, and let the recipient know.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bye Bye Bacon

In moving from Britain to Canada, we made a lot of adjustments settling into a new country. Many of these have been surprisingly easy. I think we came into this adventure looking for change, not being afraid of it, and not trying to simply recreate our old life in a new setting.

However, one of the first things we noticed, and which we have never really accepted, is the lack of decent bacon. Canadians really don't get it. The stuff that is sold as bacon here, we knew as "streaky" bacon back in the UK. Some people like it. We only ever bought it to lay over the breast and legs of a turkey to seal in the moisture.

We were delighted, very early on, when our growing network of contacts pointed us in the direction of a Scottish family butcher. This place was a delight. Amongst the many imported goodies, they sold black pudding and real Ayrshire bacon. Staples of a proper fried breakfast.

I haven't been there for a while. We usually buy turkey bacon these days, which is lean and tasty, but I fancied bacon fried with tomatoes for breakfast and you can't beat the taste of proper Ayrshire.

So, I was deeply saddened to visit the shopping plaza and discover that the butcher has closed down.

Seems like they were hard hit by the Alberta beef scandal, which has put many people off buying meat. The oddest thing is, I feel partly responsible, having not given them my custom in so long.

I'm going to miss my Ayrshire.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Award received, award given

I am dead chuffed (does anyone outside of Britain understand what that means?) to have been given the Great Comments Award by Danette.

Danette created this award herself, so I guess I can claim to be the proud owner of an "original", and it inspired me to be creative myself.

So, this is the launch of Botanist's very own Blog of Outstanding Natural Beauty award.

Da Rools!

The purpose of this award is to recognize blogs which do an exceptional job of extolling, presenting, or promoting beauty in some form or another.

This is not a tag, with lots of things for the taggee to do, so the rules are very simple.

For the giver

If you see a truly beautiful blog, feel free to bestow this award. You do not need to be tagged first. Just grab the image, say why you are awarding it, and let the recipient know.

For the recipient

You do not need to pass it on, or answer questions, or stand on one leg while drinking a glass of water and reciting the alphabet backwards. Just acknowledge the giver, display the award with pride, and bask in the appreciation.

And this first award goes to ... Danette!

While I was thinking about creating my own award and keeping it simple (inspired by Danette's example) her own blog inspired the subject itself.

I enjoy her frequent and illustrated excursions into the stunning wild country where she lives - the rugged trails, trees, wide views from high places. Her blog is a visual feast of nature in all its raw and untamed beauty. Please pop over and say "Hi!"

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Look at that!

Many thanks to the awesome Ellie Garratt for passing on another interesting tag: The "Look at that" challenge.

Here is what you have to do: Count up the 'LOOK's in your current WIP and choose your favorite three, then post the paragraphs around the word.

I decided to play with the opening scenes from Tiamat's Nest. The first few chapters are in one document, and I found a total of 32 'look's or variations in 7,700 words. A lot of them turned out to be very short paragraphs, which wouldn't make much sense to post, so I ended up choosing three with a bit more substance to them.


"Look, I know Tiamat can't really hurt us," Tin Man said. He tried not to stare at Pink Marie's impossibly generous bust filling her pink leotard, flouting the normal laws of physics. "It's all just photons in crystals in some cloud server in a basement somewhere."


The dragon, frozen mid-lunge, rotated slowly so they could all get a good look. A sinuous body rippled with power beneath iridescent scales. Individually, their color defied analysis, like a film of oil on amber, but overall the beast shone a lustrous reddish-gold. Translucent wings cupped virtual air, and razor-tipped talons stretched to snag invisible prey. So far, so dragonlike. But the eyes! As they swung into view, they appeared little more than flat black discs, vacant and lifeless. But as Tiamat faced Tin Man full on, for a moment, they seemed like portals to a limitless void, empty yet all-seeing. He felt them strip away the veneer of his avatar and pierce him in the darkness of his apartment. I know you! The sensation was overwhelming.


"And don't go whining. Screw your gamers' code. You screwed with mine when you broke in, so now it's my way, or nothing." He looked at each of them in turn. His Samurai mask, not bound by real world constraints, was subtly animated. Right now it wore a 'don't fuck with me' expression that brooked no argument.

Now, I should tag some more writers but I'm short of time today and I wanted to get this posted before it got missed, so if you want to play consider yourself tagged.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving, Eh?

Summer on Vancouver Island got off to a late start this year (I complained here about still lighting wood fires at the end of June). But it's lingered well past the time we've come to expect.

Usually, the Labor Day weekend signals the last of true summer, and, as soon as school starts, someone upstairs flips a switch and we are into autumn.

Not this year. We've had a few false alarms and the days are noticeably shorter, but right now we are still blessed with warm sunshine. Yesterday, a first for us, we took our Thanksgiving turkey out on the deck, sheltering under parasols from the afternoon sun.

Of course, we don't have family over here so our Thanksgiving is a very small affair. Many people I know are catering for full households. Folks here don't bat an eyelid at the prospect of cooking for 40 or more.

It has become something of a family tradition for us to take celebration meals, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, as well as summer barbecues with friends, at a slow pace spread through the day. Appetizers (just to tickle the tastebuds and stave off the temptation to snack) at 1pm, then a leisurely time to prepare vegetables and carve the turkey before serving up at 3pm, with dessert following several hours later. This lazy, spread-out approach makes for a stress-free day.

So, to all those north of the border, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. What are you all doing to celebrate?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

30k and counting

I wasn't paying much attention at the time, but I just realized that last night I passed the 30k mark on Tiamat's Nest.

*Happy grin*

Hoping to add another 30k by Christmas. I know that's a paltry effort compared to all you NaNo Ninjas, but it's a big deal for me.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Progress and motivation

Here is another little tool I use to help move my writing along.

This is not for everyone, I know, but I'm a bit of a measurement freak at times. When I'm tackling a big project, I need to see my progress somehow.

Writing a novel is a big project. Here's what I use to give a visual guide of how I'm doing. This is done in Excel. There's a table of data, and a graph.

First off, I need to explain how I write. I don't find it easy to find my way around a 400 page document, so I break it up into easy chunks. Ghosts wound up split over 13 separate documents. I give each document a meaningful name related to the story at that point, then prefix it with a number to ensure the documents appear in the correct sequence.

This makes it more difficult to keep track of overall word count, which is where the spreadsheet came in originally. There is a column for each document, where I keep note of the separate word counts. This is then easy to total up.

To turn it into a graph over time, I create separate rows showing the word count on particular dates. So as not to have too many rows, I usually create a row per week rather than per day. This shows how the word count rises over time - the red line in the graph.

But progress is more meaningful with a target to aim for. So, I have a "Target" row showing where I want the word count to be at some point in the future. It is then a simple formula to work out what the target should be on any given day, which automatically populates the target column, and produces the blue line on the graph.

You can see, I started off badly and have been slightly below target ever since. But I don't feel too bad about it, because I'm still on course for a reasonable word count by the end of the year. I'm pitching short of full novel length for a first run through, because I find it easier to add words in where scenes or characters need development, than to trim out later on.

I find measurements like this can be a double-edged sword.

If I'm doing reasonably well, and I've got some momentum going, then seeing the chart climb helps keep me on the straight and narrow. I feel good when I'm on course, and I can kick myself into making the extra effort to keep it that way. This worked for me while I was drafting Ghosts, and it seems to be working now. That little chart helps draw me back each evening, even if I only have the energy to add a couple of hundred words. I stay in the habit of writing each day.

However, if I'm not feeling the love, then no amount of graphing will motivate me, and I'm more likely to get depressed at the targets I'm missing. This happened when I first started Tiamat's Nest. I drafted some scenes, started tracking with the aim of completing a draft in a few months, then ran out of steam.

I don't believe in becoming a slave to targets, so the best thing to do in that case is acknowledge that this is not the right time, and set it aside. That's what I did with this WIP three years ago, and now I'm back with a vengeance!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Next Big Thing blog hop

I thought I'd been laying low in the blogging world recently, but clearly not low enough. This month, I got tagged twice for the Next Big Thing blog hop, first by the lovely Steph at Steph Across the Border, then by Pam Godwin and Pam is not the kind of woman you say "No" to. Not when she has you in her sights. So here goes...

The idea of this blog hop is to answer ten questions about my WIP, then tag some more victims.

I think you've heard enough by now about Ghosts of Innocence, so I'm going to introduce my next WIP instead.

1. What is the working title of your book?
Tiamat's Nest.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
I honestly can't remember. I wrote the first chapters three years ago as an experiment. I had been querying Ghosts (first time around) while working on a sequel, but I was having second thoughts about investing time in a sequel if I couldn't launch the first book. I was looking for a project that would take me in a fresh direction. Somehow the story emerged from a mixture of Oxford University, computers, and climate change.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
Science fiction.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Tricky. I only ever envision my characters as themselves. I have never tried to cast suitable actors - to my mind, they are all way too "pretty" to be credible as ordinary people.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In a world battling lethal climate change, a reclusive professor discovers that the environmental disaster was deliberately engineered, and fights to save himself, his family - and the rest of humanity.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Undecided at this time. I will likely try the traditional route, because I love books on shelves and want to see mine amongst them.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I am still writing it. That's what "Work In Progress" means! OK, ignoring the three-year lapse since writing the opening scenes, I'm aiming to complete a rough first draft in six months.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Another tricky question. The one that comes to mind is "The Pelican Brief", because of the parallels (researcher uncovers environmental conspiracy and flees for life pursued by all sorts of deadly nasties) but (a) That's not sci-fi, and (b) I would not presume to compare my writing with John Grisham's.

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I get so steamed up by the deceitful strategies used by climate change skeptics to demonize scientists, I wanted a way to vent. They are so full of a "climate change conspiracy" when in reality the people with the most to gain from any conspiracy are the energy tycoons. The heart of this story is the awful consequence of a successful "business as usual" conspiracy.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Gory deaths, virtual worlds, and a vengeful artificial intelligence.

Now I am passing the tag on to the following wonderful writers (hoping you haven't already been tagged):

Jean Davis
Carrie Butler
Crystal Collier
Jennifer Burke
Stella Telleria

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Stalking agents

Seeing as I am actively querying, I thought I'd share something about my process.

The tool I use is nothing exciting. It's just a spreadsheet containing what I consider to be relevant details of each agency.

Probably too small to make out details here, so I'll zoom in a bit on each section...

Name/Website/address: All pretty self-explanatory. The thing to note here is the traffic light coloring. This is the end result of other information further on. Any clear red flags turn this overall indication red. Bright greens are reserved for those that definitely deal in my genre and have a good record. Pale green and yellow show some concerns in the details.

One thing that throws up a red flag in this technological age, is an agency without a web presence. If I can't find a web site, and most especially if the site is unused or invalid, then I won't bother any further.

Sci-fi: This is a crucial question for me, and is trickier than it looks. Some agents are very explicit in ruling out sci-fi. Of all the genres agents might explicitly list as something they don't represent, sci-fi/fantasy seems top of the heap. It makes me feel very unwanted as a writer. A few (a very small few) explicitly say they do. This leaves a large grey and ambiguous territory in the middle.

There's also a lot of conflicting information out there. Searches for sci-fi on sites like Publishers Marketplace can yield apparent hits that are contradicted on agency websites. I usually look for several pieces of consistent information before labeling a definite "Yes".

That still leaves the many agents who accept "genre fiction" or "commercial fiction" with little additional information. Nobody seems all that clear on what that means. Sometimes all you can do is query and hope.

Source: When I started building my agent list, I felt it important to keep a note of where I first saw the name. It was a strange and confusing world, and I worried that I might not be able to trace back to the source of information. Now the names are like old friends, I don't pay much attention to this column.

Alerts/track record: Important information, especially alerts. I am careful to check sites like P&E and Writers Beware.

Contact: Most agencies have several agents, each with their own specialties. Before I query, I need to identify which (maybe several) individuals are candidates to contact. Of course, I will only query one agent at a given agency at any one time.

Submissions: A very important piece of information before going further. I use a cryptic code to list submission requirements, but it is fairly self explanatory. Do they want a query - not as dumb a question as it sounds, some agencies require you to submit via their web site! Do they want a synopsis or not? A bio? Do they want pages included (5 pages, 1st chapter, 50 pages) - the requirements differ. Any additional constraints, such as a short synopsis, or query word count limit.

Most importantly - do they accept email? I have sent some queries snail mail, but it is such an onerous process in comparison, that not accepting email submissions is a significant handicap in my opinion.

Of course, all these details are important to re-check immediately before querying. Agents move around. Is the contact I made a note of still at that agency? Submission requirements change. Alerts change over time too.

So, I'm curious. For those of you who are currently querying, or have done so in the past, does any of this sound familiar? Any other tips you'd like to share?

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Making good progress with the first draft of Tiamat's Nest. More of that another time, but this post is about research.

I haven't yet had to do much research for my writing. Nothing like, say, a novel in a historical setting where authors like Gary Corby or Christian Jacq are clearly steeped in the cultures they have set their works in.

The people in Ghosts of Innocence have never even heard of Earth, so nothing of our history or culture can have any factual bearing on the story. I had a blank slate on which to craft worlds of my own. The most I had to do was check some calculations on orbital periods, and review the span of space my story was set in against the overall layout of the galaxy, to make sure I wasn't making any blatant astronomical blunders.

Tiamat's Nest is different. It is set on Earth, later this century. A markedly changed Earth, to be sure, but there needs to be some recognizable bedrock to the imaginary places I am building.

Part of the story is set in an ice-free Greenland, where new communities have become established on the newly-habitable land.

So, I needed a map of Greenland.

I set off with naive optimism, thinking it would be easy to find a decent map charting the features buried under the ice.

Search after search soon showed that, to most people, Greenland is a thin ribbon of fjords surrounding a big blank white space. Printed atlases are no better. Most of them cover it at such a small scale they don't even mark the human settlements there today.

Today, I visited the local library, hoping they would have more useful references.

They had some impressive atlases. All of them added precisely nothing to the meager store of knowledge I already had. The librarian tried to help, but told me that they had not long ago disposed of their collection of maps because nobody ever referred to them. The largest nearby bookstore still had a map room, though.

So, off to the bookstore.

I found a section with maps. Nothing of Greenland. I asked at the counter, explaining what I was looking for.

The lady thought for a moment, and remembered that there was indeed a map of Greenland sitting in a back room waiting to be returned because they'd had it so long they decided they were never going to sell it.

Talk about "meant to be"!

So, now I have something to work on. It's still mostly blank in the center, but it is a map with a scale, with existing settlements and other features named. I am now overlaying this with a topographic view I found online showing the true ground level under the ice. I figure that I am safe adding made-up names to features (like the large inland sea which would appear if the ice melted) because the first settlers in this new land would likely have a free hand naming things anyway. Who's going to argue?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Plot wrestling

I can't believe it! I looked back and it's over a year since I last posted about the Writer's Toolkit.

After all my posts about different kinds of tools to help in different situations, there I was this summer trying to wrestle a plot to the ground, and casting around for the right tools to help me out.

What helped me get moving again was the use of two tools, and, true to the central theme in the Writer's Toolkit series, both of them got modified to suit my immediate purpose.

First, the challenge...

Tiamat's Nest is a web of causal connections. There's a lot of things happening that affects what people know at any given moment, and how they act subsequently. Lots of "X knows this because of Y, but Z doesn't know that yet..."

And there's four major individuals or groups of characters, plus several other minor players, each playing out their own independent story. And these different threads criss-cross and connect to each other.

That's a lot to keep track of and to weave into a single story, and at the point where I got stuck I hadn't fathomed half of it out yet. It felt a bit like wrestling an octopus. The challenge for me was to depict the web in a way that allowed me to see the big picture, and flesh out the details without getting bogged down by them.

The solution...

Tool Number One was inspired by Randy Ingermanson. In a recent newsletter, he talked about story threads and writing character synopses, where you examine each main character in turn and write a brief synopsis of their part in the story.

In Randy's technique, each successive synopsis builds on the previous one and takes you further into the story as a whole. I modified this slightly so that they didn't run together into a linear whole, but essentially told the story from that character's point of view so I had several parallel synopses.

The benefit of this is that it got me closer to the characters, and allowed me to advance the story based on each character's perspective. This was great for ensuring consistency. It also persuaded me to choose a focus character where I previously had a group. The other members of the group are still there, but I now have a much crisper view of the action and a more personal perspective.

Tool Number Two was a modification of something I've used before - a timeline with swimlanes for each main character.

I had tried this originally, because the tool worked very well for me in Ghosts...
...but this is where I very quickly got bogged down in the extra mess of detail present in Tiamat's Nest.

The modification that helped me out was to forget the time aspect for now, and to focus on the key events that cross threads. Instead of each row in the table representing a block of time, each row now introduces a key event in the story. Where the row crosses columns for the main characters, I describe the character's part in that event, plus subsequent actions along that character's story thread for as long as they stay confined to that particular thread.
In this way, I can map out the major highlights of the story and keep the detail under control. This way of arranging information also helps with ensuring that each character's story remains consistent.

Now, you may have noticed that both of these approaches duplicate a lot of information. This is not a good thing. Duplication is wasteful at best. At worst, it gives ample opportunity for introducing contradictions, because keeping duplicate sets of information in step through the inevitable modifications is tricky and error-prone.

I am still working through the plotting, but the way I see it, the character synopses were a great way to get me into my characters' heads. I doubt if I'll flesh out the entire story in this way. Now I've got started on the tabular format, and transferred relevant data over from the synopses, I see this is my main vehicle for the rest of the plot. I will also need to overlay my timeline back onto it eventually, but for now I'm more concerned with the order of events and connections between them.

So, how about you? Do you have any favorite techniques for wrestling a troublesome plot to the ground? Do you use any structured tools? Do you take what you've seen other people do and stick to "the rules", or do you like to innovate to suit your purpose?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Writing update

Vacations imposed something of a blogging absence, which was no bad thing. It marked a new chapter in my writing journey.

After two years under the surgeon's knife, Ghosts of Innocence is back out in Queryland. Hoping for more positive responses this time around. We'll see how that goes.

And, ever since my first round of queries, I've been dithering between several projects to take on after Ghosts. See the Words and pictures tab.

I took stock, and decided to revive Electrons' Breath.

I re-read the scenes I'd written two-and-a-half years ago, and I fell in love with them all over again. I know I've been here before, I felt like this after setting it aside for a few months but then ran dry again almost immediately.

The first challenge for me was to get my mind back into the actual plot. I remember now that this was a sticking point before. The plot as a whole is quite simple, but there's a lot of detailed events that have to dovetail together - different threads of "who sees what and when" to be woven together into a coherent whole. I had the first part mapped out, then it all gets rather vague.

I left myself lots of notes on little plot points, and I got lost trying to find concise ways to capture it all so the important elements were clear without getting bogged down in detail. There were lots of "Aha!" moments as I revisited years-old lines of thought.

As a result, I haven't yet added many new words, and I am still struggling to find ways into the many scenes yet to be written. I find that I need to establish a very clear image of the scene in my mind before I can start writing it.

But that's all rationalization. Something was still holding me back from actual writing.

The turning point for me came on vacation. I lay awake one morning, feeling lazy and not quite ready to get up, and ideas started flowing. I could see much better how to tie the plot together, some scenes started to crystallize in my mind, and the characters came into sharper focus.

At last, I discovered that the group of students my MC supervises were far more important to progress than I'd given them credit for. As soon as I started picturing them as individuals, and settling on their unique flaws and characteristics, I was able to picture their part in the flow of events. Scenes that I'd been unable to complete suddenly came to life, and some of the later plot started to emerge from the murk.

Things are moving again, and I've provisionally renamed this WIP to Tiamat's Nest.

Oh, yes, and we now have another hedgehog!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Back from vacation

We've just returned home from our customary long vacation at Pacific Playgrounds - our fourth year in a row, and the most times we've ever been back to the same spot. It feels like a home from home.

This time last year, I posted on how the setting has stayed the same, but how the things we do have gradually changed over the years.

The campground itself is unchanged. The pool, the river, the beach. The generous helpings of delicious ice-cream at the little shop.

We meet a lot of familiar faces, too. Some folks have been coming here since the parents were children themselves, which says a lot for this place as a family getaway.

We spent more time fishing this year, and a lot more time swimming in the river rather than just floating down on tubes. The adrenalin-inducing rope swing into a deep sinkhole has gone. Maybe removed for safety, or maybe the rope finally broke - I don't know how many years it was there.

We've been staying longer and longer each time. At the end of last year's trip, the kids didn't want to leave. As an experiment, we booked in for three full weeks this time. I can't afford to use up that much vacation, so we all drove up on the first Saturday to set up camp. I then returned home on Sunday to go to work for a week. That felt strange, having the house to myself, but it was wonderful to be able to hop in the car Friday afternoon at work and head straight up the highway. A three-hour drive and I was there by tea time, and launched straight into my vacation without all the usual packing/towing/setting-up hassle.

Sad news to report. We lost our little hedgehog while we were away. Luckily we took him with us (the dog always comes too, the cats stay home fed by a neighbor, and the other small animals go to a friend to stay). He's not been well, unable to stand upright, and we learned that he had Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome - a well-known degenerative disease with no cure. For a few days, he seemed to improve, and we hoped it might just be an infection affecting his balance, but then he went rapidly downhill and we had to face reality.

Apart from that, it was an enjoyable break from routine. And please accept my apologies for a deficit of photographs. We simply didn't get the camera out once during the whole time!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

CREEPed out and totally FREAKed

I got to read CREEP largely by accident.

It's not the kind of book I'd be likely to go out and buy. For starters, it's in a section of the bookstore that I never frequent, so it's going to have a hard time attracting my attention. More specifically, it's about a serial killer stalking and kidnapping. These are not topics I do well with, emotionally.

Ali is the one into suspense and murder. I'm happy with shows like CSI, NCIS, and Bones, because it's easy to detach myself from the victims. They tend to enter the scene after they are safely dead. I struggle more with Criminal Minds, and I never want to read or see Misery. As soon as we get into kidnapping and hostage situations of ordinary people, I usually have to leave the room. It feels way too real for me to cope with, and stops being entertainment.

But I had to read CREEP. The fabulous Jennifer Hillier sent me a copy of both CREEP and FREAK for winning a contest on her blog, so I was out of excuses!

Nevertheless, because it is so far out of my comfort zone, I approached it with some anxiety.

I'm happy to report that I survived.

And I enjoyed it.

It helped, I think, that the protagonist, Sheila Tao, is strong and resourceful, even in the middle of her ordeal. Even faced with a chilling sociopath in the form of Ethan Wolfe, a cold-blooded planner and expert manipulator, she manages to retain a small measure of control. I struggle the most when the MC is entirely helpless and falls into the role of passive victim.

It helped even more that the writing is strong and clean, and shot through with sparks of deliciously inappropriate humor.

So I turned to the sequel, FREAK with a real sense of anticipation, and I was not disappointed.

If Ethan Wolfe was chilling as a villain, the manipulative Abby Maddox in FREAK could liquify helium with her human warmth and compassion.

For me, FREAK was a more natural fit for my preferences, as it involved a more evenly-matched cat-and-mouse game between people who were mostly operating in familiar territory. I was kept guessing the whole time what Abby's plan was, and who she'd enlisted to help her. The twist at the end was delightful.

If you are into suspense and psychological thrillers, I would recommend both CREEP and FREAK.

FREAK is out in bookstores on August 7.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Squaring the circle

My recent posts have been labeled "Citizens first", which was all started by this post: Let's put citizens back in the frame.

The theme in that post was that early human societies developed to benefit their members. Our institutions have since grown so complex that they have lost touch with this purpose. Nowadays, they seem to serve practically everyone and everything but the ordinary citizen, and it's about time to set that right.

But recently, I've been prattling on about the arcane world of measurement - how we try to motivate people into certain behaviors by selective measurement of success. So, why is this important, and what's the connection?

The root problem is that governments and corporations are not motivated to think about ordinary individuals, let alone put their interests first. And why should they? I've talked a lot about measurement in various forms, and how often it leads to unwanted consequences, and here we see it in all its ugliness. Our world is the consequence of powerful measurements that reduce us to papers in ballot boxes and numbers on the bottom line. These organizations cannot possibly think of us as anything other than voters or consumers.

Which is scary, because these organizations dominate out lives.

My sense of hope is that we can take back control. That we can institute new ways of measuring success that will achieve beneficial outcomes for ordinary citizens.

For example, what if leaders and policymakers in education were recognized and rewarded not on exam pass rates in schools, but on some entirely independent measure of how well educated the general population was? What if the leaders and policymakers in healthcare were rewarded not by short waiting lists and how many drugs they can push, but according to the overall health of the general population? After all, that is what we pay them for, isn't it?

And what if the profitability of corporations was intrinsically tied to the net benefits they bring to the society in which they operate? This last example is a distinct shift in focus. What is the purpose of a car manufacturer? Is it to sell as many cars as possible, or is it to offer people the benefit of easy and convenient transport without inflicting undue harm in the process? Is the purpose of a grocery store to push produce, or to feed the local population? Because the profit & loss account is the only measure that matters today, corporate behavior leans towards the former end of the spectrum rather than the (IMO more desirable) latter end.

I spent some time examining measurement in the last few posts in order to show that this is no easy task. It is, after all, what many well-meaning people have been trying to do all along. They just haven't been very successful.

We need measures that are appropriate, which tell a rounded story, and which cannot easily be fudged.

To do that, we need to elevate the dark alchemy that is practiced (somewhat haphazardly) today into a precise science.

There's enough research into human psychology that I reckon we have a good handle on what makes individuals tick, but individuals are not really the problem. The problem is in the emergent phenomena that crop up at all sorts of levels when people get together into larger and larger groups, and the groups themselves start interacting and showing their own unique behaviors.

This is where the world has run out of control.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pitfalls of measurement

In my last post, I talked about some ways people try to influence behavior by measurement, and some of the disastrous consequences.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that these are not simply exceptional cases. These are the rule, not the exception.

Any time you measure performance hoping to achieve an outcome, you are more likely than not to be disappointed.

There are reasons for this, and some possible answers. I'll talk about solutions in another post, but first it's important to understand why measurement is so difficult.

The biggest problem is that people are inherently competitive. The moment you start measuring something, people are extremely good at making sure they "measure up" - whatever that means. Sometimes this shows itself as explicit and conscious behavior. Sometimes the effect is subconscious or more subtle. Sometimes it is indirect, such as through pressures created within the organizations that people belong to, as a result of organizational measures such as profit.

Whatever it is, measurement influences behavior, and often not in the way you want.

Why is that?

Here are a few reasons...

The measure is not a good indication of the outcome

Many of the things we want to achieve are difficult to measure directly, so we end up with lots of indirect measures. Some of these are reasonable, many are not.

For example, we would like to think we are being led by people most fit to govern.

The theory of democratic voting might work well in small groups, where people truly know each other, and assuming that people have the integrity to vote for those they genuinely believe would be the most suitable.

The trouble is that modern democracy is little more than a measure of popularity, and in a large world where voters have no prospect whatsoever of actually knowing the candidates, popularity has in turn become a measure of all sorts of undesirable traits such as the ability to lie convincingly, or to most effectively trash your opponent.

These traits have nothing whatever to do with fitness to govern.

The measure is appropriate, but is not the whole story

People will strive to achieve whatever is being measured. Sometimes this comes at the expense of something else important, but the other important thing suffers because there is little motivation to pay attention to it. It is not being measured.

For example, a focus on saving lives, and on life expectancy, has led to people being kept alive at all costs - whether they want to or not. In focusing exclusively on one (albeit important) measure, other things like quality of life tend to suffer. Also, health services are under pressure to spend disproportionate amounts on expensive procedures to prolong the lives of a few individuals, at the expense of less glamorous treatments that would ease the suffering of millions.

The measure can be cheated or subverted

One of the biggest problems with many measurements - it is often seen as easier to cheat than to comply. Often, the only thing stopping people is honesty - which is another measure that people respond to in varying degrees.

The point of cheating is to improve the measure by some means other than that which was intended. This varies from outright dishonesty - ballot boxes stuffed, records falsified - to more subtle tactics that fall into a grey zone, such as pressuring marginal students into not sitting exams in order to boost pass rates.

And the scariest part is...

Most of the ways in which measurements misfire are not down to dishonesty.

People act as a result of myriad - often conflicting - motivations. Measuring some aspect of performance alters that web of motivation, and it's only natural that people most feel the pressure of the measurement itself rather than the underlying intent. As a result, people tend to follow the line of least resistance, even if the results are clearly undesirable.

And, given how difficult it is to devise a truly good measure in the first place, bad things happen more often than any of us would dare to imagine.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Measure for measure

Education departments publish league tables of schools' exam pass rates

The intent: To encourage schools to improve standards of education so more children achieve passing grades.

The reality: Parents start pulling strings to get their kids into the "good" schools. Schools in neighborhoods where their intake is inherently unmotivated suffer, no matter how good the teaching. Schools in a position to do so start being more selective in who they will accept. School teachers only allow children to sit exams who they think will pass. Instead of raising standards of education, many kids are actively denied the opportunity to stretch themselves.

IT help desk is outsourced, and the vendor is paid by the number of incident tickets resolved.

The intent: A simple measure that costs little to implement and results in fair payment for the volume of work performed.

The reality: The vendor is motivated to inflate the number of tickets opened. Every time a client calls to inquire on the status of a ticket already open - bang, you get a new ticket to log the call which is then promptly closed. Also tickets get closed whether or not they are properly resolved, and the when the client complains - you guessed it - a new ticket is opened. Result: frustrated clients and poor customer service.

Government starts measuring hospital waiting lists

The intent: To benefit patients by reducing the wait time for operations.

The reality: Doctors find ingenious ways to avoid putting people onto waiting lists in the first place. Patients miss out on badly-needed surgery as they jump endless hoops of referrals and tests.

People are elected into positions of power based on the number of votes they can garner

The intent: To use the collective wisdom of an educated electorate to select those most fit to govern.

The reality: Gaining votes becomes an end in itself, in a game which favors the most ruthless lying slimeballs imaginable. Truth is an early casualty, and actual fitness to govern doesn't get a look in.

Does anyone see a theme emerging?

In all these examples, and many more that I'm sure you could come up with, someone is measuring something that sounds perfectly reasonable, and with the noblest of intentions, but the outcome is far removed from the intent.

The moral of the story is - beware what you choose to measure, because measurement distorts behavior, often in unpredictable ways.

You think you are pushing people in one direction, but your act of measurement is in fact producing lots of forces in directions you never envisaged - and the system you are measuring will always move in the direction of least resistance. This will rarely be the outcome you expected.

This insight is part of the line of thinking in my "Citizens first" series of posts, which is all about putting citizens back in the frame as majority beneficiaries in our own society.

In order to achieve this goal, we need to find new ways to measure success - other than by the unfettered acquisition of money. Ways that will genuinely motivate individuals, corporations, and governments to think of the ordinary citizen first and foremost, and which will yield the outcomes we want to see.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On a diet, getting ready for some fishing

It's been a while - nearly four months - since I mentioned any progress on Ghosts. Back then, I fondly imagined completing my edits and being back to querying before the end of April.


March and April got ambushed by the A to Z challenge.

Since then, I've been on a bit of a blogging diet and made good progress with the edits. After the line-by-line critiquing feedback, I had a few significant scene insertions to work on. It felt good to get back to putting new words on the page. But this left the total word count tipping the scales at 100,800 - blowing my target of keeping it to under the magical 100k.

So now the MS needs a diet as I try to wrestle it back down a bit. Things are going well there, too. So well, that I started dusting off my old records from my last round of querying two years ago.

First stop is my existing master list of agents, which I keep in a spreadsheet.

Cross-check this with Writers Beware and Preditors & Editors for any new alerts or recommendations. A few things have changed since I last looked.

I am still building this list, and will need to visit places like AAR, Publishers Marketplace, and SF Writer, for more agencies that I don't already know about. These will also get checked for warnings and added to the spreadsheet.

I keep the "dodgy" ones on file, even though I will never query them, because it saves me from repeating the research if their name pops up again. If it wasn't on my list already then I'd be likely to add it only to have to strike it off again.

Each prospect gets further vetted through their website. Do they represent my genre? Does the specific agent bio talk about the kind of story I'm querying (even sci-fi is a big field)? Do I get any funny "vibes" from the tone of the website - i.e. would I feel comfortable dealing with them (for example, one or two I flagged as "sounds snooty")? Other red flags: closed to queries, only accepts published authors, only accepts snail mail (more a practical point for me, with so many agents accepting email these days why inconvenience myself before I need to?), website non-existent or link invalid.

Confirm address, relevant agent name, and submission guidelines.

It all gets added to the spreadsheet before I'm ready to start shortlisting agents to actually query.

So, for those of you who are (or have been) through the querying mill, how do you go about building your agent list?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Roll on summer

I hear some parts of the country are basking in a heatwave.

Can you please send some of it this way?

Megan & I were out this afternoon, got cold and wet, and I've just had to light a fire to dispel the damp. It's the end of June. What's up with that?

Before any climate change skeptics start saying smugly, "So much for global warming," remember, the world is warming remorselessly on average. Some bits warm a lot - spare a thought for polar bears starving as the dwindling summer ice shortens their hunting season each year - some bits warm a bit, others maybe cool down.

All over the place, though, weather is getting messed up.

Ali and Matthew are camping this weekend. Last of the season. Under canvas. I hope they're OK.

How are things where you are?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's official: I'm a FREAK

And I'm still dealing with the shock.

The absolutely amazing Jennifer Hillier held a contest on her blog recently. The challenge was to write something, in no more than 150 words, that would make her cringe.

This is Jennifer Hillier, the successful author who writes psychological thrillers that scare the pants of hardened reviewers. I write soft sci-fi. What the heck do I know about creepy horror-like stuff?

My first thought was, "Sounds fun, must check out the entries later." Note: Nowhere here was there any thought of actually entering! That's for other people.

For starters, it meant coming up with an idea, and ideas, for me, arrive with all the speed of a glacier. You can name geological epochs after the time intervals between my story ideas.

Nevertheless, a germ of an idea arrived, got fleshed out, and entered.

And won.

I am still in shock because (a) No writing of mine has ever won anything before, and (b) The quality of the competition was high. Just look at all the stunning entries here.

So, a big THANK YOU to Jennifer for making my week.

If you don't know her, head over to her blog, check out the contest, and say a big HELLO.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Here, kitty kitty...

A few days ago, I snapped this. Meet the feline gang...

From the far end, we have: Susie (looking to see what's going on), Tigger, Willow, Magic (just discernible by her pink collar) and Tubbs.

Nothing remarkable, it would appear. It's feeding time at the zoo, and they are all at the trough.

But this photo is remarkable to me, because this is the first time I've ever seen them all together in one place at one time.

We often get three or four of them in a room together, or out on the drive in the sun, but never all five. Even at mealtimes.

This is a unique moment.

My creativity is a bit like that, too. Writing, editing, critiquing, blogging... In a week, I might do one or two, occasionally three but badly. But these things all demand focus from me and are better kept separated.

At least one of you out there has noticed that my blogging is going through a quiet phase. And it's true.

At the moment, my writing muse is focussed on making life difficult for Shayla Carver. I have a few scenes to strengthen, to disrupt the easy ride she has in places. While I've been doing that, I just haven't been getting ideas to blog about.

And I'm not going to force the issue either. If an idea comes to mind, I'll post it, but blogging should be a joy not a chore, which is why I've never set myself a schedule. I'm still here, visiting and commenting from time to time, but most of the time I'm chasing the muse and the momentum to finish Ghosts and get querying again.

Here, kitty kitty...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In praise of Stormy Rich

I don't often pay attention to, let alone blog about, things going on in the popular media, but this story grabbed me on an emotional level and refused to let go.

A teenage, straight-As student, is branded a bully and barred from the school bus for daring to stand up for a special needs child who was being bullied.

Note, this was not a thoughtless, impulsive reaction, but someone who acted after months of watching a helpless student get bullied, and after repeated calls to the bus driver and the school authorities to do something.

The story can be found here, and on many other news outlets.

Now, I've seen some of the official responses, and claims that we can't judge because we are only hearing one side of the story.

What I have seen is a brave teenager clearly distraught at what she has seen, who went well out of her way to alert the proper authorities before resorting to talking to the bullies herself.

What I have seen are pretty lame excuses by the school authorities. So, they didn't receive a complaint in person from a special needs child who was incapable of being aware that she was being bullied. Does that make it OK?

What I notably haven't seen, amidst all the limp-wristed official bluster, is:
(a) Any rebuttal of the claims that Stormy made repeated complaints on behalf of the bullied child. So, presumably they did indeed receive the complaints.
(b) Any explanation of why they refused to take action on any of those complaints.

...Especially when they were so darned quick to act on the complaints leveled by the cowardly bullies themselves.

It steams me up when those in authority pay more attention to the "rights" of wrongdoers than to those of victims or people doing the right thing.

I may never have all the facts, but I can see well enough which side is the more credible.

Well done, Stormy.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Kreativ Blogger

I've been tagged by fellow writer, Teresa Cypher, over at Dreamers, Lovers, and Star Voyagers.

According to the Kreativ Blogger rules, I need to:
1. Thank the blogger who nominated me for the award, and provide a link back to their blog.
2. List 7 things about myself that the readers might find interesting.
3. Tag 7 other bloggers, providing links to their blogs, and letting them know.

So, thank you again, Teresa.

Now, seven random things about me. The interest factor you'll have to judge for yourself:

1. I enjoy building things. I built a tree fort, a tire swing, and a pirate ship in the back yard.

2. I can't tolerate the skin that forms on custard or hot milky drinks. The texture just creeps me out big time.

3. I have drawn and painted from the moment I could hold a pencil, but I only started writing a few years ago.

4. I am highly introverted, don't do well in crowds or parties, yet I love performing to an audience. After overcoming my initial terror of public speaking many years ago, I enjoy making presentations or facilitating meetings.

5. My wife and I got married in our living room, and did our own catering for a family reception on our lawn.

6. I have trouble picking a favorite anything - color, food, movie. I have many favorites of each, but they each become favorite in turn depending on mood and context, so to pick one over another would not seem right. It's like asking an astronomer which is the brightest star in the sky ... are you talking about visible light? Infra red? Radio? Gamma? The answer depends on the filter you apply.

7. I have just become a Canadian citizen ... in case you didn't know :)

Now to pass on the award to seven new victims:

Jean Davis, at Discarded Darlings. As well as being an inventive writer, Jean is amazingly creative and finds energy for all sorts of nifty craft projects.

Unikorna, at Why I Wake Up Every Day. A passionate lady with a stunningly visual blog and a no-nonsense attitude to life.

Gary, at Klahanie. Funny and irreverent, with whole families of wee folk inhabiting the bottom of his garden.

Katie, at Creepy Query Girl. Many highly creative ways to look at the writing process, with a refreshing hint of randomness thrown in.

Mynx, at Lizard Happy. Funny and artistic and is about to embark on the 30 Days of Creativity challenge. Pop over and wish her luck.

Lily Tequila, at Wishbone Soup Cures Everything. Has a way of describing the most mundane things in a way that brings them new life and new perspectives.

Super Earthling. The epitome of blogging creativity. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Canadian at last

I'm afraid I've been out of circulation for the best part of a week. We went camping for the long weekend (Victoria Day here in BC), which involved getting the trailer packed and ready beforehand, and unloaded afterwards, and ...

Oh yes, mixed up in there somewhere ...

Seven-and-a-half years after landing in Canada as permanent residents, and twenty-one months after submitting our citizenship application ...

We are finally proud to be full Canadian citizens.

Our ceremony was held on the naval base just outside Victoria.

The sun shone - almost too much, in fact, because by the end of the afternoon we all found ourselves suffering the effects of hours without shade. Despite that, though, the ceremony was enjoyable and moving.

There were some introductory speeches, then the important part - the oath. There were 58 of us altogether becoming new citizens. We stood up row by row, and we each had to announce our name. The children didn't have to take part, as they are still under age, but I was so proud when Matthew and Megan called their full names out, loud and clear. We all then had to recite the oath as a group. Immigration officials are very serious about this part - you must be seen to say the words otherwise you blow it.

Afterwards, there was a large and delicious cake to cut ... with a large sword and a little help ...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The human face of bureaucracy

My family and I are about to become Canadian citizens, the final stage of which involves a ceremony where we take the oath of citizenship later this week. This is exciting for us, because the whole process has taken nearly two years, lots of paperwork, and a test last month.

Today I got a phone call at work. 

Immigration Canada.

My immediate reaction was a sinking feeling...something wrong with our paperwork...ceremony postponed...maybe the reply we'd sent to the invitation had got lost in the mail and missed the deadline...

But no, nothing like that. The official was simply asking if we were planning to stay for the reception after the ceremony, and if our children would like to take part in a cake-cutting ceremony.

What a lovely touch.

Although much bureaucracy here seems to work at a slow pace, it does get the job done, and every once in a while we get surprised by a very human touch to remind us that we are dealing with people who also recognize us as people. This isn't something I usually associate with government officials, but I'm happy to be living somewhere where I can be surprised like this.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Citizens first

I'll probably question the wisdom of this later, because after an afternoon in the sun, a barbecue, and a bottle of wine, this post is likely to be rather more random than the subject matter deserves.

But, here goes...

After my last post, I thought about some of the comments. There's a lot more meat to be picked from this particular bone in future posts, but right now I decided to ramble a bit about what I mean by "Citizens first" - what it is, and what it isn't.

First off, a few things it's not.

This is not a rant against the evils of money. I actually think money is a great invention, and essential to getting us beyond simple bartering. It is a sophisticated way of allowing us individuals to specialize in what we're good at, and to exchange what we can offer for what we need. Without it, we would not have access to the bewildering range of products and services that we have come to enjoy.

This is not a rant against greed and corruption. They will always be with us. It is part of human nature. No. This is a rant against the social, political, and economic structures that allow greed and corruption to flourish. That is a very different prospect. You have little chance of stopping people from acting selfishly, but I think you have a very real chance of arranging things so that self interest aligns with the public good.

Finally, I saw the word "politics" in the comments, and thought to myself "this is not political". However, I have to retract that somewhat. Sure, this is not about conventional politics. It is not promoting socialism or decrying capitalism. Forget the "isms". However, as this touches on government and power, I guess that does make it political.

So what do I mean by "Citizens first"?

This is a dream. A dream that we can escape from the self-serving madness that the world has become. Where we are driven to exploit the planet at unsustainable levels, not because it makes any sense, but because it yields the biggest profits. Where things are produced deliberately to degrade and need replacing because that helps sell new products, whether they are needed or not. Where our leaders are not necessarily those who will make the best choices for us, but those with the best funding, connections, and sheer ambition to win the election race.

This is a dream, but more specifically this is about some concrete and - I think - achievable ways forward. This is about manipulating our web of interactions so that the ordinary citizen is considered the most important player. This is about devising new sets of rules and rewards to incent beneficial, rather than harmful, behavior.

Back to the "Nots"...this is not wishy-washy idealism, as in - if we can all just agree to get along, then everything will be hunky dory. I don't believe that. And that is not cynicism, it's realism.

This is a call for people to take concrete action, beginning with research and understanding of how people and organizations function. It is a call to find ways to motivate people so that their actions serve themselves by helping others, rather than at the expense of others.

I don't pretend that these thoughts will have universal appeal. Not everyone will agree.

Putting the ordinary person back front and centre of society is a choice, not a given.

If you are greedy or uncaring then you will not like this direction. But if you have half a heart for your friends, your neighbors, and your children, then you might agree that enough is enough.

The question is...are there enough of you out there to wrest your world from the hands of the greedy and corrupt few?
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