Space Opera With a Twist

Month: April 2015

Renewal and Progress

The good weather has finally hit the Great White North, and I was able to take advantage of it by doing my first ‘hike’ of the year yesterday, walking home from work. I hadn’t taken the bus for a long time, and I was pleasantly surprised by how peaceful I found not having to drive in that morning, even if the trip took almost twice as long. The walk home, of course, took much, much longer – it is 10 kilometres after all – and though my pace at the outset was the usual 6 kilometres per hour, about half-way there I’d slowed down considerably. Surprisingly, I’m not stiff or sore this morning, which is good news when you’re no longer in your forties. I do look forward to hitting the trails with my photo gear in a few weeks. I miss being out in the woods, where the biggest noises are the wind in the trees and the woodpeckers doing their thing.

A great thing about walking the route I usually drive twice a day is that I can see things I normally wouldn’t notice as I zip by in my car. It gives me a new appreciation of how nice this city is, and allows me to connect stories I hear on the radio with actual places. There was a controversial place that opened last week on one of the streets I use to commute, and I didn’t locate it until I walked by yesterday, giving me a nice ‘aha’ moment. I intend to do this walking home thing at least once a week, on days where I don’t need my car to drive to meetings all over town, and the skies won’t open up to soak me. Of course, having a bus card, I can always hop on the next one if for some reason walking becomes not so nice. Hopefully, all this low impact walking will help me rid myself of the keg I seem to have developed in my midriff.

Progress on my books has been slow but steady. The first re-write of The Path of Duty is fifty percent done. I hope to have it fully done by the weekend after next, so that my editor can critique the story before we go into the rounds of proofing. I’ve also got almost a third of Cold Comfort written, but it’s been uneven progress. I think with the warmth and sunshine, I’m finding it harder to spend my spare time in front of the computer, and it’ll only get worse as we move into summer.

Tempus Fugit

Last week, I said goodbye to the boss who hired me several years ago and who took a bit of a leap of faith on my fit into the organisation I figure, but for whom I really enjoyed working over the last six and a half years. It was one of those rare occasions in a career where styles meshed comfortably. My boss’ retirement gave me a bit of a wakeup call on the speed with which time chugs along, since the last several years seem to have vanished in the blink of an eye, even if I can remember some painful episodes that took their toll on my patience. Those of you who work in IT and deal with clients can surely imagine what I mean. My boss is only three years older than I am, and that means my retirement from my day job is also potentially only three years away, and long as that may seem as I deal with yet another unreasonable client expectation, it will be quick when placed in perspective with the years that have gone by.

I got my second wakeup call last week as well, at a symposium, where I saw one of my course officers from my early days in training, more than thirty years ago. He was young, freshly promoted and only a few years older than I was at the time, and now, he’s one of the top men in the organisation. I suppose I could say that for many of the folks I saw last week, and yet I remember the days I served with them or under their command at a time when the USSR still rattled its sabre loudly, though one could argue we’ve come full circle with Mr. Putin in that respect.

It got me to thinking about time and how it’s been portrayed in fiction, and more importantly, how a person reacts to the passage of time. I used to read lengthy sagas at one point, the kind that cover generations of one or several families, James Michener’s well known epics being the most notable example, although Edward Rutherfurd is probably better known these days. However interesting these historical panoramas were, and I learned a lot from them even through the fictional veils, even if it was only where to look for actual information about an era that I found fascinating, I never really connected to the characters. They were there for a few chapters, and then the story jumped forward and they were gone. In terms of science-fiction, Asimov’s Foundation stories occupy a similar space, with a similar difficulty in connecting. I think the first series that really caught me in terms of a story arc going over a long period of time where I cared enough about some of the protagonists to feel the immensity of the gulf of years was Frank Herbert’s Dune saga. I found that there was a sense of loss as the story moved centuries and then millennia beyond the original setting, a sense of people long gone to dust whom one still felt for. It’s a bit hard to explain, or put in words, but reflecting on the passing years, and seeing the people around me age, or looking at the young generation just starting out at Royal Military College who have their whole life in front of them carries its own sense of loss. How much more would one feel that dislocation, if one were to be immortal while most of those we’ve known die at their appointed time? Immortality would certainly give one eons to experience loss.

It’s been said the best life lived is one with few regrets, and I regret little of what I’ve lived so far. My father remarked, the other day, that the fact Mrs Thomson and I are still together after thirty plus years is increasingly unusual in this society and something to celebrate, and this may be one of our greatest victories. When I think about it, on top of a partnership worthy of celebration, I’ve achieved what I wanted in the Army, had a tolerable career in IT so far, and now finally, decades after the ambition first struck me, I’m a published author with some success. Yet I can’t help looking back at my life, and thinking about how different the life of those who follow in my footsteps decades later is and will be.   There is no value judgement attached to those thoughts, just idle musing about what ifs.

Considering my ramblings about the passage of time, I wonder if I could write stories that are far from us in time, or that cover an immense span. I feel more comfortable spinning tales that occupy little space on the wheel of time, but a lot of space in terms of the main characters’ development. The same could be said about the vistas that provide a backdrop for my stories: they also are limited to the small slice in which protagonists and antagonists live or die. I guess I’m not a big picture kind of guy, but that’s okay. There are plenty of authors out there who like to paint gigantic canvases. I like small, but exquisitely detailed pictures and if you’ve ever seen my hobby room, you’d know how much I love intricate miniatures. Isn’t it funny how much my deeply held, lifelong likes and dislikes inform my writing?

The Lords of (Quasi-) Discipline

You’d think that a guy who spent my kind of years in uniform would be pretty disciplined in just about everything he does. You’d be wrong. I had cause to reflect on my character failings this week as some work-related issues drove me into unjustified laziness at home, and I came to realize that I’m a textbook example of the dichotomy between externally imposed discipline and self-discipline.

As a kid, I wasn’t terribly self-disciplined. I preferred to read novels or goof off instead of working on my academics, and it was a minor miracle that I graduated high school with good enough marks to be accepted at RMC. However, during my high school years, I was also in the Army Cadets and thrived in that environment: the short haircut (this was the ‘70s, so I kind of stood out at school), ironing the uniform, shining the boots, drill and all the other forms of discipline present in the Cadet movement. I think my mother had a hard time understanding why her kid could turn out a sharp uniform, go to summer camp and make his bed military style every morning while being, charitably, a bit of a teenaged slob at home. When I entered the regular military at age seventeen, the externally imposed discipline became a daily affair and cured me of my teenage laziness in most respects. Or did it? I thrived in the enclosed RMC environment, and didn’t do too badly once I graduated and was posted to a regular field unit. One could say that by serving in the reserve after I left the full-time Army, with its obligation to work one night a week and one to two weekends a month, I displayed a commendable amount of self-discipline as I balanced that with my day job and my family. But again, it was an environment where discipline was also by and large externally imposed.

Here I am now, four years after saying my final farewells to my Regiment, with nothing other than my day job to impose external discipline on me. Am I still the procrastinating, lazy and nonchalant teenager, albeit with grey hair and some extra pounds? This week, I’d say probably. My ability to will some self-discipline into my life seems to be somewhat of an erratic power. With the good weather returned, I’ve made myself go outside and walk away the day’s stress, but will I be able to keep it up, or return to my winter’s slump of goofing off on the computer while waiting for Mrs Thomson to return from work? I’ve made no progress on the rewrite of The Path of Duty, or failing that, the first draft of Cold Comfort, but I have been able to write this blog post, so it’s not writer’s block. More like a writer giving up his amateur status and going pro in the crastination game. I look at some of the good people I work with. They’re able to exercise consistently, always and with a will. They can get the yard work done when it has to, and I have no doubt that if they had writerly ambitions, they’d be able to pound the keyboard for a few hours every evening, day in, day out, and yet few of them have been in the military, with all of its regimentation. I can discipline myself to be as productive as they are at work, but incentives are different when it’s what brings home the bacon.

It frightens me to think how my career, and indeed my life would have gone if I’d had the kind of self-discipline we seem to attribute to soldiers. I might have *gasp* reached senior rank. Instead, this week I’m struggling to motivate myself to work on my writing rather than watching Netflix. I look with admiration at some of my fellow sci-fi authors, who can pump out good solid stories every three months. Granted, some might not be balancing out their writing with a day job, but I think the most productive writers are the ones with the most self-discipline.

It’s kind of sad that after all the years the Army spent teaching me to be a self-starting, hard-working, self-disciplined fellow, I can still easily fall back into the mindset of the procrastinating teenager I was, back when disco was in vogue. Hopefully, I’ll be able to kick myself back into gear over the weekend and start making serious progress, but it is interesting to realize that while the military was able to make me function as a highly disciplined individual and have a successful career even when I’m not intrinsically inclined to it, now that I no longer have that externally imposed discipline I sometimes struggle to accomplish things outside those for which I draw a regular paycheck.

Miscellaneous Updates

A few updates I thought I’d share as a blog post for those not inclined to go delving into the murky depths of my site.

  1. The ‘blurb’ for The Path of Duty (Siobhan Dunmoore – Book 2) has been posted on the book’s page
  2. You may have noticed that the Zack Decker story Death Comes But Once is now the first book in a series called Decker’s War.  The Amazon product sites have been changed to reflect this.
  3. The ‘blurb’ and cover for Cold Comfort (Decker’s War – Book 2) has been posted on the book’s page
  4. The publication of Death Comes But Once in paperback has finally occurred!  It is the new edition, with all the editorial changes that were recommended, and matches the ebook version.
  5. For those who care about world building notes, I’ve added background on the Shrehari Empire to the Political Structures page and some background for the Decker’s War series on The Marines of Decker’s War page.  As I may have mentioned before these info dumps are as much a means for me to put much of the data required to maintain continuity between books in one place as it is to inform readers who enjoy being sucked into an info vortex.

I expect that the first re-write of The Path of Duty will be done by early May, at which point it goes into my editor’s hands for the red pencil treatment.  When that occurs, I’ll work on the first draft of Cold Comfort, whose opening chapter has already been written.

Author, Well Rested

Mrs Thomson and I just returned from our annual Easter vacation, where we practiced two of our favourite hobbies: scuba diving and photography.  This year, we traveled with friends old and new – eight of them in fact – something we hadn’t done in over ten years.  You don’t realize what you’ve been missing until you get it back, and in this case, while vacations as a couple, or with a pair of old friends were nice, moving as a pack of middle-aged, semi-feral divers was superb.  We were of disparate backgrounds, widely varying political views and in some cases sharing nothing more than an age range and a passion for scuba diving, yet we had a lot of fun, be it around the dinner table or on the dive boat heading out to another fine reef under a blue sky.

While it was only for a week, it was enough to recharge the batteries, change one’s outlook on the vagaries of life and lift one’s spirits, though I will likely see that good feeling drain away all too quickly when the every day drudgery of work returns on Monday.  I may regain some of it as I sift through my many pictures, but judging by the fact that I haven’t yet looked at the ones from the previous trip, that may take a while.  In this, I can blame writing: time I would have spent deciding which handful of photos among the hundreds were worthy of retention, then developing and printing them, has been taken over by Siobhan Dunmoore and her crew.  That I managed to complete the first draft of The Path of Duty before the vacation may give me the time for the more mundane chores surrounding my photography, though it might not give me the desire.

Suffice to say, this author feels well rested for now, perhaps too well, and gets to deal with reality again, starting by recovering the family mutts from the boarding kennel later this morning.  The littlest one apparently needed a visit with the vet and some antibiotics while we were gone, and our long-time boarding kennel owner took care of him just as well as we would have.  It’s a testimony to the quality of veterinary care that the boarding kennel’s house vet had already sent all the details back to our dog’s regular vet, and a message was waiting on our answering machine, suggesting we book a follow-up once the antibiotic course had been completed.  Would that some of our human care be so efficient and fast.  Mind you, we have yet to see the bill, which will be tacked onto the regular boarding fees.

I’ll likely start work on the first re-write of The Path of Duty within the next day or so, though with my schedule for the work week coming up, I may not have the energy or motivation to put in the kind of hours I did in past weeks.  My mind might still be wanting to be wallow in the unreality of a small Caribbean Isle where scuba diving is the only activity that involves movement, and where sitting around the open air bar swapping tall tales is the normal after-dinner thing to do.

Back to the reality of an unreasonably cold Canadian spring.  Unpacking awaits, as do the chores attendant on the return to the real world.

An End and a Beginning

The first draft of The Path of Duty is done, and on target for Easter, so you Siobhan Dunmoore fans out there, rejoice. I’m going to take a break now, to clear my mind and gain some distance, before I get started on the first re-write. I know that there’s going to be a lot of work involved. The earlier parts of the book lack the level of detail the later parts have, and because of that, and a few other things, the story is uneven. That’s normal. A first draft is like a rough sketch of a house, not an architectural plan. I’m satisfied with the story itself, and with my portrayal of the various characters, though I suspect that I’ll find a few loose threads I forgot to tie back into the main tale. It’s harder to write around moral dilemmas in a military fiction setting where the slant is more towards action than reflection, but I think I’ve done a decent job of portraying Dunmoore’s perplexity in choosing between the letter of her oath and its spirit. I know I’ll need to massage that some more, perhaps a lot more, to really get across the anguish of facing the true definition of dilemma, it being a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is practically acceptable. However, there is still enough action to satisfy all readers, so in that respect, I’ve found a good balance. I’m confident that I’ll hit the planned mid-summer publication date. I expect to publish some teasers on this blog after the first re-write, late April or early May.

In the meantime, the hero of my other story, retired Marine Sergeant Zack Decker, has seen fit to refuse to be a one book wonder, and has declared that he will have a new adventure. In one of my recent afternoons where I had to let Dunmoore stew around for a few hours before pushing out the next sequence, I found myself committing the first chapter of Cold Comfort, the second Zack Decker book, to the page, and boy does it start off with a bang. From there, it just gets worse for Zack as his carefully rebuilt life collapses into a deadly mess, and drives him to seek revenge among some of the worst scum in the galaxy. This time there’s no one to pull him out of the fire at the last minute, but with nothing left to live for, he doesn’t particularly care. Since Decker’s stories are more in the pure action and adventure sci-fi genre, writing it will be somewhat quicker than the Dunmoore books, and I hope to have it out by the end of the year. Dunmoore Book Three is germinating the back of my mind – I already have the initial concept nailed down, as well as how I wish to see it end.

It’s been quite the journey, and we’re only part-way there.