Saturday, December 27, 2014

Guilty pleasures

I guess this is heresy for a writer, but ... *whispers* ... writing is neither my first nor my only artistic love.

*Looks around shiftily, expecting the Spanish Inquisition*

Whereas most writers that I know have had stories bubbling out of their heads for as long as they can remember, I only started writing ten years ago. And I can hardly pretend to have a logjam of story ideas bursting forth.

On the other hand, I was practically born with pencils and crayons in my hands. I think I could draw a pretty mean Dalek long before I could spell it.

So, on to a related confession. I haven't done much writing this month.

I had been on target to finish revising Tiamat's Nest by the end of January. I started the month over 60% done, after an intense three months' work, then hit a tough spot and came to a screeching halt. I've drafted a few sections of The Critique Survival Guide, but I think that's something I'll need to take in easy stages. Non-fiction writing is very different from fiction.

So, rather than beat myself over the head, I'm indulging in some guilty pleasures this month. You can see examples of my paintings on this blog and on my website, but for pure self-indulgence I like to draw plans and maps. I have a fascination for architectural drawings and for ship designs, so I'm having a go at drawing up one of the spaceships from Ghosts of Innocence. Here's the side view in progress, and I'm also working on deck plans. When they're done, I'll post them up to the website as part of the package of background information I'm slowly assembling.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On anniversaries

Anniversaries, on the whole, are celebrations. But some bring sad memories, some bring anxiety. From a cosmic perspective, anniversaries are arbitrary points in time. Why attach significance to the orbital period of a small planet around an average star? Yet they are psychologically powerful.

Yesterday, an anniversary passed which released a build-up of anxiety in the household that had grown so stealthily we didn't notice it until it was upon us.

Yesterday marked one year since my (luckily very minor) stroke. A year ago, my body gave me a warning. What it was trying to warn me of remains a mystery. A year has passed in which batteries of tests showed no obvious cause, which is good in many ways. The most likely explanation left is a culmination of stress and fatigue at that point in my life. So stress, presumably, is the obvious risk factor I need to manage.

Yup. So what did I do?

Started a new job in March, which I'd applied for before the stroke and which I didn't want to pass up. Stressful much!

And published my first book.

Nothing like taking it easy :)

Well, I'm still here. After the early weeks of complete disorientation, the new job has been a good move on balance. It's exciting, challenging, great people to work with. The only persistent down sides are the hideous cost of downtown parking, and the extra 15 minutes commute each way (which doesn't sound like much, but when it was previously 25 minutes it's a noticeable addition).

And keeping on the positive side, we recently marked our tenth anniversary since landing in Canada as new immigrants. Now that's what I call an anniversary!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Shopping bags

Every Saturday, I go grocery shopping for the family for the week. I take an armful of shopping bags with me to load everything in to. These are large and sturdy cloth bags bought from the store and which have served us well for many years,

Yes, it's a greener option than getting and discarding paper or plastic bags each week, but it's also convenient. It makes everything easy to carry from the car into the house in three or four trips. I take shopping bags with me, and I expect to use them, because it makes life easier for me, the paying customer.

So why do I have a battle every week with the cashier trying to leave items out of the bags for me to carry individually? They seem to be on a mission to use as few bags as possible.

I wonder if it's in their cashier training manual, because the store offers 3 cents per bag incentive for shoppers to bring their bags in. Well, I've brought mine in and I'd like to be allowed to use them. I honestly don't care about pitiful incentives, keep those few cents if that's what you're worried about, just stop trying to make life awkward for me.

A 5lb bag of potatoes, a similar-sized bag of carrots. "Do you want those left out?" No I bloody well don't. What an asinine question. You can get both of those into one bag and still have room for other things on top.

But while you're at it, stop trying to stuff one more item on top of that already-overflowing bag, I have plenty more here. No need to overload them so that they spill their contents all over the car on the way home.

Even that family-sized carton of cereal can go in. Yes, it's pretty much the size of a bag on its own and there's not much chance of getting anything else in there, but yes, I want it in a bag. You see, rather than tucking an awkward box under my arm to carry, a bag has handles!

So don't roll your eyes at me. Have you ever shopped for a family of four? If you did, you'd know what I'm talking about.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

30 Days of Thankfulness

I'm over at Mysti's blog today, taking part in her epic 30 Days of Thankfulness giveaway.

Hop over and join in the draw, and you could...

**  win a Kindle  **

... loaded with books from all the authors taking part this month - including Ghosts of Innocence.

Enter at Mysti Parker's blog here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Critique Survival Guide

Have you ever submitted your work to a detailed critique or edit?

If not, why not?

I believe that getting detailed, line-by-line feedback, whether from other writers or from paid professionals, is a vital part of the writing process. A necessary step along the way to polishing work for publication, and for self-improvement as a writer.

But, it can be a brutal and dispiriting process.

Next week, I'm giving a talk at my local library on how to receive and handle critiques.

I've based the talk around a series of blog posts I wrote last year.

The aim of the posts was to give tips on how to handle the pain of critiques and become objective and receptive to things you may not want to hear, how to look for points worth taking note of, pitfalls to avoid, and exercising judgment. As well as fleshing these themes out more thoroughly, I've book-ended them with the need to get onto the critiquing road, and some practical pointers on working with online critique groups.

Now I've expanded my notes into a ninety-minute talk, and I wonder if they could be developed further into a short e-book. If I did something like that, the aim would be to make it a freebie.

Do you think there would be interest in such a book? And how do you handle blunt critiques?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

First Page Review bloghop

This post is part of the First Page Review bloghop. The idea is simple. On your own blog, post the first 1,000 words of something you're writing or have written, then sign up on this page linking your 1,000 word post. Visit other people on the list and read theirs, then leave a comment to let them know if you liked it, what worked, what didn't, and if you'd keep reading.

Just for fun, here is the opening from The Ashes of Home, sequel to Ghosts of Innocence, which will likely be my next project once I've polished and published Tiamat's Nest.


'Hope springs eternal' the ancient saying goes, but hope is a poor foundation to stake your life on. Shayla Carver, master assassin (retired) and first governor of the Freeworld of Eloon, was shielded by more security than any normal paranoid could hope for.

Any normal paranoid would have died years ago.

Shayla did not believe in hope. The official security measures were there to keep out the bounty hunters and the merely competent. The serious threats she relied on her own senses and training to deal with.

Her airways had clamped shut instinctively at the first salt-sweet taste on her tongue. Years of assassin training identified the airborne drug immediately. Peritax. A small dose would render her senseless in seconds.

Ambushed! In my own fucking bedchamber! Shayla pushed aside the annoyance. Questions of who and how could wait. All that mattered now was survival.

Time slowed as Shayla's mind went into overdrive. Long seconds marked by the thump of her heartbeat in her ears. She knew she had only moments to assess her situation and deal with it.

Peritax was not a poison, it would just leave her helpless. And it dispersed and broke down quickly, which meant there had to be someone nearby to release it and to finish the job. Whatever that might be.

Shayla's eyes scanned the bedchamber while she stumbled forwards a couple of steps, feigning the effects of the drug.

Two figures stood to one side in servants' robes. Barras and Gingallia? No! These could not be her servants. They were still standing for one thing. Any innocent party in this room would be comatose by now. And these two moved with stealth and menacing purpose. One behind Shayla, cutting off her escape, and one between her and the doors leading out to the balcony to her right. The only other way out of her suite.

Any more?

Shayla's lungs screamed for release. To draw a breath. A breath would mean death. Hah! I'm a poet! The irrational thought flitted through her mind on butterfly wings of madness. Focus! Shayla realised that she was losing her fight against the drug just from that small taste.

Her hand crept towards the hilt of the knife under her robes. She stilled it and instead stumbled another step towards the bed. I can't fight these two. If the drug didn't take her, anoxia would.

Another step.

The figures closed in.

Shayla let herself flop towards the bed, buying herself a few precious moments. As she pitched forwards her legs folded under her, then she launched herself across the bed. She rolled, outstretched hand reaching for a concealed button under the edge of the headboard. As she rolled, she glimpsed a face in the shadows of a hood. It looked like Barras, but Shayla noted nose plugs, a tiny breathing unit clamped between thin stretched lips, and eyes filled with hate.

A razor line of blue fire bisected the space she'd just vacated. A rapier shimmerblade!

Her groping fingers found the hidden button as she completed the roll. The bed collapsed behind Shayla, halved effortlessly by the shimmerblade. Tall windows ahead of her flew open and she continued her motion, hurdling the waist-high sill out into a hundred foot drop.

Gravity took Shayla as she forced the last dregs of tainted air from her mouth and drew in a deep, clean draught from the night rushing past her face. A second later, her feet connected with the broad eaves overhanging her bedroom windows. She hung upside down in the grip of an artificial grav field and drew her own blade, watching the lit window for signs of movement.

Every bedchamber should have its secret emergency exits.

Shayla hoped that her disappearance might have confused her attackers. If at least one of them leaned out of the window to see where she'd gone, she'd quickly have one less to deal with.

No such luck.

First one, then the other, appeared through the opening in a tuck roll, too fast and just out of Shayla's reach. Damn, they're good! They must have figured out what had happened. But she'd really expected no less. Only the very best assassins ever got this close.

They both landed in front of Shayla, back to back, in fighting crouches. The nearer one saw Shayla and signalled to his companion, who also turned to face her.

The first one, the Barras lookalike (traitor or impostor?) swung his rapier. Shayla's own blade flashed blue and met it with a jarring wrench.

A shimmerblade was a rare and fearsome weapon, highly prized by undercover agents as a weapon of stealth. When activated, the vibrating crystalline edge could shear through anything less than military grade vehicle armour -- or another shimmerblade. But when two such blades met in hand-to-hand combat, the results were random and potentially catastrophic for one or both combatants.

Shayla's knife hand went numb. She barely managed to keep her grip on the hilt as she stumbled back against the wall towering over her head to meet the ground hanging impossibly above.

But at least she had been prepared. She'd activated her shimmerblade at the last moment and knew what to expect.

Her opponent staggered back in the other direction. One foot found the edge of the eaves, and he stepped, without thinking, to keep his balance. But he was now half out of the edge of the grav field, and conflicting forces led his reflexes astray. He lost his balance. The planet's natural gravity reclaimed him and he fell, shrieking, into the night.

The remaining assassin reached into her robes. Her hood had slipped, revealing a good likeness of Gingallia, one of Shayla's senior personal servants. It also revealed eyes filled with fear and shock at her companion's sudden demise. This looked like the junior of the two, but she was still a force to be treated with respect.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Are we really half-way through October?

The first faltering signs of Autumn are starting to show. The unseasonable mild spell is giving way to grey skies and an evening chill. We switched on the heating and started lighting wood fires for the first time last week.

Writing goals for October/November:

Still plodding through critique feedback and revising Tiamat's Nest. This is a long haul. I'm about half way through since starting in earnest back in July.

I'm also beta-reading a novel for a friend, making good progress there.

Finally, I'm preparing a talk on critiquing to give next month at the local library.

Even amongst friends a detailed critique can be hard to take, but blunt and honest critiques are a necessary growth pain for any writer. Venturing into the anonymous jungle of online critique groups in search of tough love is both terrifying and exponentially rewarding. I will be sharing practical tips for surviving - and thriving on - the harshest of critiquing experiences.

Details here if you happen to be in the vicinity and want to say "Hi."

All this adds up to a load of things competing for my time this month, but variety is good.

Monday, October 13, 2014


Today is the release day for Crystal Collier's Book 2 in the Maiden of Time trilogy.

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she's forced to unleash her true power.

Crystal has lined up a blog tour to celebrate, with games, interviews and prizes. Hop over to Crystal's blog for details...and don't forget to bring some cheese!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Small but spreading tentacles

Like the vast majority of writers, I'll consider myself lucky if I ever earn enough from writing to take my family out for a decent meal, let alone fund that cozy retirement to a log cabin with ocean views.

So, every once in a while it's nice to get reminders that my work has a tangible, if small, presence in the world outside my head.

First, the people who have read Ghosts seem to like it. Another five-star review popped up on Goodreads this week. I've had some wonderful reviews from long-time and supportive blogging friends - you know who you are, and I thank you with all my heart - but also a couple from people I don't know. It means a lot to me to find my words enjoyed by a complete stranger.

Also this week, I got a reminder from Library & Archives Canada to send copies of my book in to Legal Deposit. Yes, I, my publishing imprint, and my title, are firmly in the grip of officialdom and now preserved for posterity.

Finally, I visited my local library today, to see this...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The importance of research

I started writing about sci-fi worldbuilding back in August. Haven't posted properly in a while because it takes me time to get my thoughts in order, and I am trying to focus on revising Tiamat's Nest while also beta reading for a friend.

However, one of the comments last time gave me pause for thought. I was talking about the possible diversity of life in a universe where life has arisen independently on many worlds, and Alex pointed out that you'd need a lot of scientific knowledge to invent convincing alternatives, and the worldbuilding would be impossibly detailed.

I felt this was worth a bit of exploration.

Building alternative life forms

My last post, Diversity Rules, was meant to show where certain assumptions about the origins of life would logically lead - at one end of a very broad spectrum.

If you decide to invent a novel form of life and go deep into its biology, psychology, ecology etc. then I think Alex is right. It would be a gargantuan task.

But if you want to keep life forms and biology close enough to known forms for comfort, there are many ways to do so by choosing a different starting point or invoking suitable organizing principles.

And even if you want diversity and novelty, you don't need to go overboard on the details. For example, E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman universe is peopled with hugely varied species with an inventive array of body plans that are not simply derivatives of earthly forms. Sure, he makes some simplifying choices. Warm-blooded oxygen-breathing humanoids predominate, for example, but he pays suitable lip service to the common Arisian seed for life in the two galaxies and moves on. The biological details are not overly important.

In other words, you can choose to go as detailed as you want, but it really needn't be too onerous - just enough to paint the scene in terms your reader will accept. I think this last bit is vital. Do what is appropriate both for your story and your audience. Some are more demanding than others.

The importance of research

Having said that, I think you do need a certain amount of scientific literacy to write convincing science fiction. This doesn't mean you have to come from a scientific background, but you owe it to yourself to do the appropriate research.

In this, sci-fi is no different from any other writing!

If you were to set a spy thriller in London, and have your counter-espionage heroine stepping across the road from Westminster Abbey to the Tower of London, many readers who don't know London would likely not blink an eye - but many would point out the geographical absurdity. And if a character in London decides to take the tube, you'd better have at least a working knowledge of the underground network and what it's like to ride it.

That is called research. Authors do it all the time when they need to paint a convincing setting for their real-world stories.

Just because your story is set in another space and another time, don't expect a free pass. Remember, it's called science fiction for a reason.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors September 28

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

Shayla, codename "Shark", has rendezvoused in the tropical forest with members of a terrorist cell. They are traveling by boat, navigating a maze of waterways and finally emerging onto a wider stretch of open water. They are crossing painfully slowly, when they become aware of an Imperial air cruiser approaching...

I've kept this one short to avoid having to mess with punctuation.


For the first time, Shayla felt keenly the dangers of capture. She knew she would likely die before giving information away under interrogation, not from choice but from deeply implanted conditioning. And in Imperial custody, the road to death could be long indeed.

I will not be taken. Her fingers closed around the grip of a needle gun under her cloak. She glanced at Tiger, and saw the thin set of her lips and a small movement as she also loosed her pistol in its holster.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Chrys Fey - 30 Seconds

Today, I'm handing over the reins to Chrys Fey, whose novel 30 Seconds was released earlier this month.

When a woman finds herself in the middle of 
a war between a police force and the Mob,  
30 SECONDS is a long time.

Title: 30 Seconds
Author: Chrys Fey
Genre: Romantic-Suspense
Heat Rating: Spicy (PG13)
Length: Novella (105 pages)
Format: eBook
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Published: 09/10/2014


When Officer Blake Herro agreed to go undercover in the Mob, he thought he understood the risks. But he's made mistakes and now an innocent woman has become their target. He's determined to protect her at all costs.

The Mob's death threat turns Dr. Dani Hart's life upside down, but there is one danger she doesn’t anticipate. As she's dodging bullets, she's falling in love with Blake. With danger all around them, will she and Blake survive and have a happy ending, or will the Mob make good on their threat? 


       She panted with fear. What if they see the chest? What if we get caught? What if my breath stinks and I’m breathing right into Officer Hottie’s face? She shut her mouth and let oxygen flow through her nose.
Her eyesight slowly adjusted to the darkness and she could see Officer Herro’s silhouette. His head was turned and he was listening to the thuds of heavy boots getting louder; the intruders were coming their way.
Then the thunder of footsteps sounded right next to them. “There’s no one here, Red,” someone announced.
“Look for documents,” a man ordered, who Dani could only assume was Red. “I want the name of the person I’m going to kill.”
A moment later, there was a reply. “All the mail is addressed to a Dr. Hart.”
Hearing her name said aloud by one of the men who had ransacked her place made her want to gasp. Her mouth fell open and her breath was reversing into her lungs, but before she could make a sound, Officer Herro lowered his lips to hers, silencing her. Stunned, she could only lie beneath him with her eyes wide and her body tense. She couldn’t believe he was kissing her. She wanted to push him back, but knew if she did he might hit the inside of the chest, giving away their hiding place. That was when she realized he was kissing her so she wouldn’t gasp.
She let her body relax. After her initial shock faded, she was able to feel his lips. They were comforting and caused a reaction deep inside her. She couldn’t stop her lips from reacting to his. It was an innocent connection, a soft touch of lips. Until his hand slid from her shoulder to her neck and the kiss deepened into something else.


Chrys Fey is a lover of rock music just like Dani Hart in 30 Seconds. Whenever she's writing at her desk, headphones are always emitting the sounds of her musical muses - especially that of her favorite band, 30 Seconds to Mars, the inspiration behind the title.

30 Seconds is her second eBook with The Wild Rose Press. Her debut, Hurricane Crimes, is also available on Amazon.

Discover her writing tips on her blog, and connect with her on Facebook. She loves to get to know her readers!

QUESTION: If the Mob was after you, what would you do and where would you go to stay alive?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors September 21

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

Shayla, codename "Shark", has rendezvoused in the tropical forest with members of a terrorist cell. They are traveling by boat, navigating a maze of waterways and finally emerging onto a wider stretch of open water. They are crossing painfully slowly, when they become aware of a low growling noise in the air...


She wanted to turn her head to see the approaching air cruiser, but she caught Tiger's warning glance and slight shake of the head under her hood. "The river folk ignore Imperial craft - just sit still."

Shayla closed her eyes and concentrated on the sounds around her. The growl filled the air. Above it, she discerned a faint hum of machinery. The craft moved low and fast. It sounded like it would pass some way off. She listened for any change that would signal a change of course.


There is still a chance to win a free e-copy of Ghosts of Innocence over at Crystal Collier's blog. She featured me in her Writerly Wednesday spot last week. All you have to do is correctly guess the lie in the Truth or Lie game to be entered in the draw.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


If you want to see where my various blog headers come from, they are all details cropped from one or other of my paintings. I've now added an art gallery to my web site, with higher resolution images and a brief bit of background to each of the paintings.

Just for fun, try comparing the Ghosts of Innocence cover with the original painting...

Check out the whole gallery here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Writerly Wednesday

Today I'm over at Crystal Collier's blog for her Writerly Wednesday spot.

Please drop by and say "Hi!" Play the truth or lie game and you could win an e-copy of Ghosts of Innocence.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors September 14

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

Shayla, codename "Shark", has rendezvoused in the tropical forest with members of a terrorist cell. They are traveling by boat, navigating a maze of waterways and finally emerging onto a wider stretch of open water. This segment continues straight on from last week's.


Shayla pulled her hood close about her head, tucking telltale strands of blonde out of sight. She wondered why they were moving so slowly. She was sure the boat had the power to cross in a minute.

Cobra seemed to anticipate her thoughts. "We must behave like one of the river tribes if we don't want to attract attention. Their boats are not as fast as this one."

Tiger muttered a warning. Shayla heard a low growl above the soft hiss and suck of water.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors September 7

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

I have skipped ahead a bit from the last snippet. Shayla, codename "Shark", has rendezvoused in the tropical forest with members of a terrorist cell. They are traveling by boat, navigating a maze of waterways and finally emerging onto a wider stretch of open water.


The far side looked to be about a mile away. The water seemed unmoving, oily surface disturbed only by myriad dancing insects.

Weasel kept the boat close to the near shore and headed north. Tiger and Cobra scanned the sky constantly. After half an hour, Cobra held up his hand and Weasel cut the motor.

Cobra pointed to a smudge of deeper shadow amongst the trees on the far shore. Weasel nodded and angled the boat out into open water. Afternoon heat closed in like a vice, amplified by the heavy air and sunlight reflecting off the water.


If you enjoy these snippets and would like to read them properly in context, they are all from early chapters which can be sampled for free on most of the online stores listed in the sidebar.

Master assassin Shayla Carver has killed many times. That's what assassins do, nothing to lose sleep over, but this mission is different.

She's never killed a whole planet before.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors August 31

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

Shayla, codename "Shark", has rendezvoused in the forest with members of a terrorist cell. The group has discovered that she's injured, and things are turning ugly.


Shayla studied Tiger's stance, and assessed the speed with which she'd drawn her weapon. I could take her, I think, but... "I'd be happy to prove my ability to you, but this mission requires stealth. If I need to fight, it will be because I've already failed."

Cobra pursed his lips, then nodded. He gestured to the side of the clearing. "We travel by boat. The river network extends right up to the edge of Horliath."


If you enjoy these snippets and would like to read them properly in context, they are all from early chapters which can be sampled for free on most of the online stores listed in the sidebar.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Diversity rules!

A while back I talked about the possibilities of alien life, and our state of scientific knowledge about the emergence of life. The fact that we have more questions than answers leaves a lot of room for sci-fi writers to play with in convincing worldbuilding.

All the same, rather than dish up a random biological smorgasbord it pays to give some thought to the universe you're building, and how it came to look the way it does. This is like developing backstory, but instead of working out the past of individuals, or of societies, you're sketching out the backstory of life itself.

Today, I'm poking a little bit at just one branch of the tree of possibilities to see where it might lead. Other branches to follow in later posts.

For today, I ask what if we assume that life has emerged independently many times, and that it is common throughout the universe? What are the possible implications for sci-fi worldbuilding?

This is a common scenario in many sci-fi worlds, and yet I feel is the easiest to deal with in an unconvincing way.

Why do I feel this way? My line of thinking can be summed up as follows:

From what we can see of the universe, it appears that extreme diversity rules. This means that, unless there are some deep organizing principles funneling life down a few narrow paths, we should expect life to be extremely diverse too.

Let's unpack the separate elements of that paragraph...

Diversity rules

All around us in nature, at all levels, we see bewildering variety stemming from simple foundations.

Life, for example, comes in all shapes and sizes even though much of it has a lot in common in terms of chemistry and cellular structure. But that is just what we can see on Earth, and life itself seems to be a pretty special case so is probably not a good example to extrapolate. The trouble is, we don't (yet) have the technology to see what's going on elsewhere in any great detail.

What we can observe of other worlds, other stars, and other planetary systems suggests that diversity is the norm everywhere we look.

Within our own solar system, no two planets or moons are remotely alike. Just looking at Jupiter's four largest moons, for example, we have: highly volcanic Io, covered in yellow sulphuric lava flows; icy smooth Europa with its crazed and cracked white surface; rocky Ganymede with a thin oxygen atmosphere and a magnetic field (the only moon to have one); and dark and cratered Callisto, speckled with frost over its highest surface features.

A similar story holds true across all the major bodies we've examined.

Given that these are all (apparently) lifeless balls of rock and gas forged from the same mix of basic ingredients, this variety is both unexpected and quite breathtaking.

So, what might other life look like?

Here we can only speculate, but here are some thoughts...

Life on Earth is based on proteins, lipid membranes, DNA, many common respiratory pathways, and all formed on backbones of carbon. Once the first precursors of life took form and started spreading, they took over the planet and gave no chance for alternatives to arise.

But what's to say that, given a fresh start, different mechanisms might not arise to do the same jobs? I bet there are other molecules that could catalyze and regulate reactions that look nothing like proteins as we know them. And why should DNA be so special? Or even if alien life evolved DNA its genetic code, and what it codes for, could be wildly different from our own.

The same thinking extends all the way up through the hierarchies that make up complex organisms. Does complex life have to be cellular, or could some more amorphous arrangement of self-replicating chemistry scale up in a workable way? What if the entire ocean of an alien planet formed a super-organism from its soup of reactions? Could deposits of silicon form complex enough interactions powered directly by photo-voltaic reactions?

And what about Douglas Adams' hyper-intelligent shade of the color blue?

Organizing principles

In the absence of any other information, my default stance would be to expect vast diversity. That means, if you paint a universe where life arose independently on many worlds and it all turns out to be based on carbon chemistry with DNA-based inheritance then you'd better give me a darned good reason!

A useful fall-back mechanism is to invoke some form of underlying principles that lead to common solutions.

Back to the example of the highly varied planets and moons. Despite the variety, they all share one obvious feature: roundness. Gravity tends to pull sufficiently large masses into a low-energy state - a sphere. In other words, despite the superficial variety of composition and features, there is an overarching principle at work that imposes some constraints. I would not expect to find a naturally-occurring planet shaped like a cube, or a teacup.

In a similar vein, it's reasonable to suppose that only carbon, unique amongst the elements, has the chemical flexibility to support the complexity needed for life. At least in the temperature range we inhabit. You might also posit that self-replication, with just the right balance between durability and instability needed to promote evolution, would always converge on DNA as the solution. But you'd have to work a lot harder to get me to accept that an alien genetic code would be in any way compatible with our own.

Of course, there are many other ways to take these speculations, and this discussion only explores the path stemming from one basic assumption. There are many other paths we could choose, with other implications. More to follow...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Off visiting...

I am honored today to be visiting Teresa Cypher, over at Dreamers, Lovers, and Star Voyagers, for my first ever author interview.

Teresa is a warm and supportive blogger, a strong voice in the writing community, and one of the founder members of Weekend Writing Warriors (successor to Six Sentence Sunday). During the interview, I learned that "Cypher" is her real name, not a pen name. How cool is that for a sci-fi writer?

I hope you'll drop over to Teresa's blog and say "Hi".

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors August 24

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

Shayla, codename "Shark", has rendezvoused in the forest with members of a terrorist cell. The injury she sustained escaping the starship is coming back to haunt her.


Shayla grimaced as she shrugged her pack and cloak from her shoulders.

"You're hurt," Cobra said, concern in his eyes.

"My descent was never going to be easy." She tried to keep her tone casual, but she saw Weasel tense, oafish demeanor gone, and Tiger's face darken into tight-lipped anger.

Cobra reached out and peeled back the collar of her shirt, exposing the edge of the field dressing she'd applied.

"I have a vial of sprayskin in my pack," Shayla said, "I could use some help applying it properly."

"What use is an injured assassin?" Tiger's beam pistol was trained on her. "We should kill her now and return home while we still can."


If you enjoy these snippets and would like to read them properly in context, they are all from early chapters which can be sampled for free on most of the online stores listed in the sidebar.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The shifting sands of blogdom

Today I am guesting over at Misha Gericke's blog, posting about how blogging has changed over the years.

As a writer, what do you look for in blogs that you follow? What kinds of posts do you want to read these days?

Pop over to Misha's blog, say "Hi", and leave some thoughts on these questions.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pacific Playgrounds 2014

We've just returned from our main vacation for the summer, and our sixth consecutive year staying up-island at Pacific Playgrounds. Each year, I mean to take the camera and post a mini photo-tour of the campground, and each year we return home with no (or very few) photos.

This time it's different. I took advantage of a dull morning, with everyone else off shopping for fishing tackle, to take a stroll with dog and camera in tow.

So, visitors are greeted by the welcome sign alongside the office and store. Straight ahead is a marina and boat launch.

The campground itself is pretty typical. Six roads with generous pitches and dotted with trees that provide welcome shade.

This is our pitch, complete with the clutter of two weeks' outdoor living. And, yes, those are animal cages in front of the picnic shelter. Our rabbit and hedgehog come camping with us, as well as the more traditional dog!

At the back of the campground is a large playing field. There is a swimming pool and playground behind the building just left of center.

A track leads into the woods behind the campground. This lamppost always makes me think of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

This track makes a good shortcut up to the public road, and this gorgeous old bridge. The grocery store is just a few minutes walk away. Very handy.

The bridge crosses the beautiful Oyster River, seen here meandering off towards the sea. The river runs right alongside the campground, hidden behind the trees on the right. The river was lower this year than we've ever seen it. Too low for tubing, but nice and warm for swimming in the deeper sections.

Follow the river downstream and we arrive back at the marina...

...And then the wide expanse of Saratoga beach.
That's a tidal lagoon in the foreground, with a sandy beach stretching out beyond the shingle bank.

That trip for fishing tackle paid off, with some salmon brought back from Campbell River.
And tubing may have been off the list of activities, but we got good at catching freshwater crayfish instead.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sci-fi worldbuilding

Last week I started talking about science in sci-fi worldbuilding. I have loads more to say on this topic, but thought I should clear up some things early on in case I come across as all pompous and preachy.

This is not meant to be a "thou shalt" set of posts.

Yes, I happen to think that a good appreciation of science is important to convincing worldbuilding, especially if your aim is to be taken seriously by scientifically-literate readers. If you fall into this category, then I hope you find a nugget or two to take away.

As a reader, I get a visceral reaction to things that strike me as absurd, and I've got a few pet peeves to talk about. But I'm not advocating slavishly following known science and squashing creativity. There are so many ways to stretch and extrapolate the world of science that you can be imaginative beyond belief while still being convincing.

But that is not the only option. I think it's quite possible to write sci-fi with a flagrant disregard for good science. The only inviolable rule in writing is "do what works", so under what circumstances might this approach work?

First off, you can often afford to play fast and loose with the rules for comic effect. For example, Harry Harrison's novel Bill, the Galactic Hero, introduces the Bloater Drive. Meant to provide a way around the speed of light limitation, it of course does nothing of the sort, but that doesn't matter because the novel is satirical and the science is visibly not meant to be taken seriously. Similarly, Douglas Adams brings out one whacky idea after another (my favorite is the "Somebody Else's Problem field) to great effect.

But note that, even here, the authors pay enough lip service to science - even though it's firmly tongue-in-cheek - that I suggest this is an example of knowing the rules first in order to break them properly.

Another approach, which many authors use with at least some elements of their story, is to simply brazen it out. Present the outcome and move on. Leave it up to the reader to fill in the gaps to their own satisfaction. This sleight of hand works time and again for minor pieces of technology, or for common devices such as FTL travel which everyone accepts as a necessity for most stories. Here it is. Deal with it. Move on.

Again, I think the amount of latitude you can safely assume depends on what kind of story and audience you are aiming for. I reckon the softer, space opera, end of the spectrum is more forgiving. If you are looking at realistic hard sci-fi then abuse the science at your peril.

This gets trickier when a major story premise hinges on dodgy science. Readers are likely to be less forgiving, but a good storyteller can still get away with it if the story itself is so engaging that readers either don't notice, or choose to forgive and forget.

Having said all that, I still believe that a foundation in scientific principles (note, this is not the same thing as the current state of scientific understanding!) can help make things more credible. Every whopper you ask the reader to swallow raises the bar for acceptance, so why do that to yourself unnecessarily?

Friday, August 8, 2014

It's life, Jim, but not as we know it...

Many sci-fi milieus are richly populated with weird and wonderful life forms.

Most of them, oddly enough, seem to be roughly humanoid and able to co-exist in a compatible environment, sharing similar gravity, air, and food.

This simplifies the challenges of storytelling, especially in the world of film where human shapes can be more readily acted, but it smacks of laziness. I will be looking at some science topics that crop up in sci-fi, and their implications for convincing worldbuilding.

The first big decision for sci-fi worldbuilding is whether or not we are alone

The origins of life are still largely mysterious, with some experimental hints and lots of fragmented and unsatisfactory hypotheses. There's plenty of guesswork but no real evidence of how easy or difficult it is for life to get started.

Spectra from interstellar gas show that very simple organic molecules are commonplace. Added to this, experiments over the decades have tried to simulate early conditions on Earth and have produced more complex molecules, including many amino acids - the building blocks of proteins. This hints that basic building blocks are in ready supply in the universe.

But that is a far cry from the bewildering chemical symphony that makes up a living cell. It's a bit like expecting a tree to spontaneously arrange itself into a Louis XV sideboard. Molecules like DNA are fragile, and it's hard to imagine how this sophisticated self-replicating machinery could have bootstrapped itself into being. This looks like an impossible challenge, yet recent experiments using more realistic "early Earth" cocktails have yielded large segments of common metabolic pathways, hinting that organic chemistry has a remarkable capacity for self-organization.

Still, just hints at possibilities, not proof. So, life arising independently may be a rare (or even one-off) event, or it could be commonplace. We just don't know.

This is frustrating for scientists, but good for writers because it gives us plenty of room for the imagination. Even so, the forms life might take will be influenced by how we envisage the history of life in our own fictional Universe.

Here is an idea of the range of possibilities.

Emergence of life is a rare (or one-off) event

We might be alone.

Or are we?

Life may have emerged billions of years ago elsewhere and spread to Earth, a concept known as panspermia. Hardy bacteria keep surprising us with their ability to survive in extreme conditions, and it's not too implausible that colonies might have survived impacts throwing them off into space to seed other worlds. The implications of this are that alien life would be expected to share some ancestral chemistry with our own.

Or life may have emerged in one place and evolved to the point where other worlds could be deliberately seeded. Again, implies that alien life will most likely share some common chemistry.

Sci-fi authors have also played with more exotic variations on this theme of life spreading from world to world.

Life has arisen independently many times

This path implies that there are deep self-organizing principles at work in the Universe that make the emergence of life probable, rather than the unlikely event that it seems at first glance. Science doesn't have much guidance to offer here, and we can't call on probability with a statistical sample of one, so we are pretty much free to invent basic principles to suit our worldbuilding needs.

Down this path, it helps to decide where those organizing principles might lead. Do they all lead to carbon-based life? Do those then converge on similar metabolisms because they are the most likely to emerge? Or do you go in the other direction and speculate that any sufficiently complex arrangement might yield self-replicating structures? In other words, might we expect to find life based on all sorts of weird substrates?

In the world of speculative fiction, all these and many possibilities in between are up for grabs. But this is just the foundation. How do you build a credible world from here? More to follow...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Shades of fantasy

A critiquer once took me to task over whether Ghosts of Innocence could really be classed as science fiction. To count as such, the accepted wisdom is that science in some form or another should be at the root of the story. Take away the scientific premise and the story collapses.

I certainly think Tiamat's Nest fulfils this requirement. A secretive intelligence emerges spontaneously in the heart of the global network and manipulates people and the global economy to its own ends. The story hinges on science-based premises involving a mix of advanced computing and emergent phenomena.

Ghosts, by comparison, is firmly at the soft space opera end of the spectrum. Yes, there's space travel and lots of cool toys, but the story is largely about the human motivation of revenge. It could equally well be transposed to many historical settings, as long as one side possesses a significantly destructive weapon to provide the triggering event, and which could be subverted and turned against its owner.

The plot may not be hard-science driven, but as long as sufficiently plausible scientific principles drive the technology in use then I think it's fair game. It's speculative fiction, and I'd be hard-pressed to say what else it could be described as.

Other stories take a range of liberties with science in pursuit of a gripping tale, particularly amongst recent popular movies.

Star Wars has the Force, which brings in a touch of mysticism. But while the Force is not really explained, it is never viewed by practitioners as being anything magical or supernatural. Rather, it is seen as a part of the natural world, which is absolutely the domain of science.

Avatar came close to breaking the "rules" for me with unobtanium. This levitating mineral was just dropped in with no clear rationalization, and as a viewer my science-bullshit meter was twitching although I pushed it to the back of my mind because I was enjoying the story. I have since learned that the backstory talks about a superconducting mineral with extremely powerful and unusual magnetic properties. The explanation may be tenuous, but for me it pays enough lip service to known physics to restore a measure of credibility.

I think this also illustrates an important point in worldbuilding. Not everything needs to be spelled out to the reader (or viewer) but it helps if the rationalization is there in the mind of the author.

I find something like X-Men harder to swallow. The idea that genetic tricks can magically confer scientifically doubtful superpowers is never explained beyond hand-waving and an appeal to the emotive term "mutations". Although the story has some scientific window-dressing, I'm more inclined to class this as fantasy.

As you see, there is a broad spectrum where sci-fi drifts into fantasy, with no clear boundary between the two. For me, a lot depends on how seriously the worldbuilding treats the science. As such, I'm happy to class Ghosts as sci-fi.

Having said all that, how much does it matter? A story is a story. If it engages and entertains, then how important are pigeonholes?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ghosts of Innocence giveaway

If you would like the chance of a free paperback copy of Ghosts of Innocence, then head over to Goodreads any time in August and enter the giveaway there.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Ghosts of Innocence by Ian S. Bott

Ghosts of Innocence

by Ian S. Bott

Giveaway ends August 31, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors July 27

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

Shayla, codename "Shark", has rendezvoused in the forest with two members of a terrorist cell, Cobra and Tiger. We now meet the final member of the party...


A shrunken figure, swathed in a grubby, threadbare cloak, stood to greet them.

"Eating again, Weasel?" Cobra said with a laugh.

Uneven teeth flashed through straggly whiskers. Shayla realized there was a faint smell of cooking hanging in the air, reminding her stomach how little food it had seen recently. Her pack held a small supply of concentrated rations, enough for minimal sustenance, woefully inadequate for a body stressed by long hours of hard slog.

"Shark, meet Weasel," said Cobra. "He doesn't say much, but he is very useful to have around."


If you enjoy these snippets and would like to read them properly in context, they are all from early chapters which can be sampled for free on most of the online stores listed in the sidebar.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors July 20

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

Shayla, codename "Shark", has met Cobra and noticed he was keeping a line of sight clear between her and the side of the forest clearing. She challenged the hidden observer to come out...


The bushes hesitated, then rustled. A woman emerged, scowling. "You're late!" Her hand rested on a holstered pistol. Small, precision beam weapon. Deadly in the hands of an expert, but it took an expert to use it properly.

Shayla bowed low. "Shark, at your service."


If you enjoy these snippets and would like to read them properly in context, they are all from early chapters which can be sampled for free on most of the online stores listed in the sidebar.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

SOULLESS cover reveal

Today I'm handing over to fabulous writer, blogger friend, and avid cheese-lover Crystal Collier, whose new book in the Maiden of Time series is due out in October...


Have you met the Soulless and Passionate? In the world of 1770 where supernatural beings mix with humanity, Alexia is playing a deadly game.

SOULLESS, Book 2 in the Maiden of Time trilogy

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she's forced to unleash her true power.

And risk losing everything.

What people are saying about this series: 

"With a completely unique plot that keeps you guessing and interested, it brings you close to the characters, sympathizing with them and understanding their trials and tribulations." --SC, Amazon reviewer

"It's clean, classy and supernaturally packed with suspense, longing, intrigue and magic." --Jill Jennings, TX

"SWOON." --Sherlyn, Mermaid with a Book Reviewer

Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, three littles, and "friend" (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her blog and Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

COMING October 13, 2014

PREORDER your print copy
Sign up for Crystal Collier's newsletter to receive release news and freebies.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Goats on the roof

No Weekend Writing Warriors this week, and although I managed a couple of posts I haven't been visiting or commenting in a while. Just got back from a few days' camping up at Coombs, famous for its goats on the roof.
We love pottering around the crowded market, stacked high with delicacies, and browsing the little shops lining the pedestrian avenue and plaza behind, though we are saddened to see some of our favorites disappearing to be replaced by homogenized cheap clothing boutiques - now at least four of them in different spots all selling identical crap. Oh well, progress anyone?

We stayed at Coombs Country Campground, thankful for a well-shaded pitch now that summer has kicked in with a vengeance.

Me and Matthew preparing supper...

And the man-made lake where we spent most of our time...

Special announcement

This Wednesday, I'll be joining other bloggers in hosting Crystal Collier's cover reveal for SOULLESS, book 2 in the Maiden of Time trilogy. Please drop by and say "Hi."

The first book, MOONLESS, will be on sale during the cover reveal week: $0.99 July 14, $1.99 July 15-17, $2.99 July 18 & 19.

The pre-order link for SOULLESS is now live. Check it out!


Friday, July 11, 2014

Show those documents who's boss

Continuing from yesterday, on tips for organizing files on your hard drive. I talked a bit about using naming conventions to augment the use of folders. Here are a few more naming tips.


A slightly less structured form of naming, but which can be handy to organize files within a folder, is to use a prefix. In yesterday's example... see each file is prefixed with the book title. This means they will stay together as a group if I drop files from another book into the same folder.

A more subtle technique is to use numbers. I make use of numerical prefixes in two different ways in the following examples.

First, to keep files in sequence while still having a free hand in the rest of the name.

When I draft a novel, I find it hard to work with one large document so I split it up into a dozen or so more manageable files. I give the files names that relate to that section of the novel, but tag on a prefix to sort them into order. I choose to go up in increments of 10 so I can easily slot in new scenes if I need to without renumbering existing files, and I jump up in 100s to show the broad structure of the novel - beginning, middle, and end.

Second, to create a pseudo folder structure when I want a large set of files handy all in one list.

I took this approach in my "Writing planning" folder.
Here I am organizing a mixture of documents of different types in such a way that they can easily be found. I chose ranges of numbers to denote different types of files.
  • The 100s are common and persistent planning documents that relate to my writing business as a whole.
  • The 200s are reserved for specific projects with each project having its own number. These are only relevant for the life of the project, and there is only one showing in this example, but if I were to work on several at once this prefixing would keep them separate.
  • The 300s are research and resources with sub-ranges allocated for different topics. The prefix helps me quickly find, for example, everything related to marketing.

Yes, I could instead have set up sub-folders instead but that would mean another layer to navigate with very few documents in each. Your filing system - your choice.

One added bonus with this concept - it's transferable. I use the same numerical prefix in my mailbox folders, so whenever I see a "202" file or folder anywhere, I know it's a project file that relates to publishing Ghosts.

This example also shows use of a feature on the Mac which allows you to add color to file and folder names. The way I use it here just makes it easier to pick out related blocks of files in the list.


If you have a scheme that works for a particular purpose, you might want to repeat and re-use next time you do something similar. My novel folders all follow the same structure, and have many similarities even down to the file level.

Here are equivalent sections from Ghosts of Innocence...
And from Tiamat's Nest...
The similarities mean that when I move from one to another I feel at home and can find everything easily.


In the examples I've posted here, you may have noticed folders called "Archive" and "Dustbin". I find these useful in keeping my main folders tidy. I create a dustbin for files that I don't need but am reluctant to delete altogether - just in case. Archives are for more deliberate retention, for example I want to keep project documents for future reference while not having them crowd my active folder.

Another housekeeping tip is versioning. I keep back versions of manuscripts, copying the whole set of files into a new folder whenever I embark on a major revision. You can also distinguish versions in your file naming - e.g. "My file v1.doc"

Eventually I'll get around to tidying these up, but these easy tips all help to keep things under control by distinguishing current from old documents.
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