Space Opera With a Twist

Month: September 2015


My editor now holds Cold Comfort (Decker’s War – Book 2) in her hands.  Early comments are favourable.  I can now turn my attention back to Book 3 of the Dunmoore adventures – movement should start picking up now that I’ve finally found the right groove for the story.  For those who are counting, this is the fourth start.  Funnily enough, all three false starts provided elements to the proper storyline, which means number four is the synthesis of attempts one through three, but the thing that really broke the logjam was switching the gender of the “guest character” who plays a major role in the tale.  Once I’d done that, the rest fell into place almost immediately.  I had the high level outline for the entire novel down on paper in the space of two hours and the detailed outline for the first act and half of the second act as well.  I’ll likely still work on the other novel as well, just for a change of pace every so often.  At this rate, I’m guessing February next year for Dunmoore 3, though Cold Comfort is looking good for a late October, early November publication date.  I can never tell what will trigger the cascade of story ideas, but it just shows that I need to keep at it, false starts and all instead of walking away in disappointment.  Now if I could just walk away from the demented bureaucracy, I’d have a lot of stories to tell, but I’m not quite there yet.

Transitional Thoughts

I spent the weekend editing Cold Comfort (Decker’s War – Book 2), and at one point, I took a break and walked out onto the deck where Mrs Thomson was re-reading a sci-fi novel written almost 25 years ago by two of her favourites authors who were well-known and with many books to their credit. She made the comment that the book wasn’t nearly as appealing now as it had been when she was younger, not so much because of the storyline but because it seemed rather clunky to her more widely read eyes, especially when it came to transitions between scenes, which now struck her as very badly done, detracting from the flow of the tale.

In a moment of irony that gave us both a bit of a laugh, I’d just been putting the finishing touches on a transition scene in Cold Comfort that I’d known all along was lacking in depth and breadth. It was nice to hear unexpectedly from a lifelong sci-fi and fantasy reader that I was right to add the ten or so pages needed to make things flow more smoothly. Serendipity in action, I suppose.

Before going to bed last night, I checked the next transition to see if it too needed more time and space, but in that case, the abruptness added to the flow of the story rather than impeding it.

I should be done with the re-write of Cold Comfort later this week, after which it will land in my editor’s inbox. Once she has the manuscript, it’s back to Dunmoore Book 3, though I’m still not happy with the storyline and suspect I’ll have to go back to square one. I can only hope I’ll stumble on that elusive McGuffin soon and get going. I’d really like to have the first draft done before the end of the year.

If I’m unable to figure it out, then it’s onto the third work in progress, where I know I’ll be able to write to my heart’s content for a number of weeks, though, funnily enough, I’ve already got a transition scene that I’ll have to flesh out during the re-write. Where the one in Cold Comfort skipped a few weeks in Decker’s life (and now just glosses over a few hyperspace jumps between star systems), this one skips almost a year in the protagonist’s career. I suppose it’ll depend on the rest of the book whether that year is important or not. It’s all about the fine balance between keeping the action moving and fleshing out the background, especially if you want to keep to the principle of ‘show, don’t tell.’

Frustrations Galore

I’m in the strange position of having three works in progress this week, and like the dog faced with a multitude of squirrels, I’m in a bit of a quandary when it comes to focus.  The first draft of the second Zack Decker novel Cold Comfort is still maturing like good wine or cheddar.  I don’t intend to let it sit for three years, but I need to feel the spirit before I pick it up for the first re-write.  My second struggle is with the third Siobhan Dunmoore novel.  I’ve now restarted it for the third time, and though every attempt is getting closer to where I want to be than the previous one, I’m still frustratingly off the mark.  With those two fermenting in the background, I turned my attention to a project that’s been slowly growing in the background for a long time, and in the past three days, I’ve written thirty-six pages of the first in a new series set in the same universe and time as the Decker novels.  It’s a bit more of a coming of age story, at least the first novel is, but I’ve been finding so much easier to write than the next Dunmoore.  I can’t really explain why.  It just is, so I’m going with the flow.  The series and novel have tentative titles, but I’ll reserve them for the moment.  Suffice to say that as I’ve found with so many other things in life, sometimes the path of least resistance is the one that should be taken, so I’ll continue writing the first in the new series for now, when I’m not revising Cold Comfort, that is.  I guess Siobhan Dunmoore is just going to have to wait a little longer until a proper story line crystallizes.  Strange that my most successful protagonist is also the hardest to write – or maybe not.  Just so you Brakal fans out there know, I’m trying to bring him back for the third Dunmoore, but it’s not as easy as I’d like.  Some days, I’m thinking of writing a stand-alone on his struggles after the Cimmeria incident, but that would be yet another idea I’d go chasing and I’m already looking too much like my terriers when they’re faced with a target-rich environment of fuzzy-tailed tree rats.

Musical Interlude

I’m going to out myself as a big fan of 70s and 80s music (yes, I know, I’m dating myself, but there’s been precious little worth listening to in the last quarter century; feel free to disagree – de gustibus non est disputandum).  One of my all time favourites is Africa by the band Toto, who’ve produced a lot of great music.

A few years ago, I was surfing for the best rendition of my favourite Toto tune when I came across a vocal group from Slovenia called Perpetuum Jazzile and their rendition of Africa.  It was, in one word, fantastic.  They sing mostly a capella and yet manage to mimic the sound effects of a band to the point of giving their songs a depth you couldn’t achieve otherwise, with all due respect to the original artists.  The gentleman doing the human beat-box is worthy of a Grammy for his virtuosity.

Perpetuum Jazzile has covered a lot of good music, delivering not only an auditory but a visual feast.  You can’t appreciate their artistry without watching them elevate Abba, the BeeGees and so many others to a new level.  Fortunately, through the magic of Youtube, you can both see and hear this magnificent bunch.  They’re not hard on the eyes either.

Whenever I’m feeling down or I’m otherwise out of sorts, spending an evening watching and listening to Perpetuum Jazzile puts a smile back on my face.  I doubt they’ll  make it across the big pond to perform in North America again any time soon, but if they do, you can be sure Mrs Thomson and I will be at the head of the line for tickets.

Give them a try and if they don’t make you feel at least a bit more cheerful about life, you may have bigger problems than a blogging science-fiction author can help solve.

Enjoy, and long live Slovenia!

The Past is Always Present

As much as we’d like to think we can re-invent ourselves at will, our past always retains its influence on our present and our future. It’s often difficult to admit that events which occurred decades ago can retain such power on how we think and act today, even though we might try to go beyond them and fail, time and time again. I’m sometimes puzzled by my own reactions to people or events, but if I take the time to analyse them, I can inevitably trace a line back, tenuous as it might be, to something in my past that left a mark I often didn’t know was there. I suppose Socrates’ claim that the unexamined life isn’t worth living applies here, in terms of understanding why where we came from has such a deep influence on who we are.

This, I’m finding, becomes very important when developing fictional characters that are more than just two dimensional cut-outs. To make them compelling, my protagonists, antagonists and supporting cast can’t just spring fully formed into existence. Their actions and thoughts in the story’s ‘present’ have to be informed by their past. I’ve discovered that this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Just like examining oneself in order to understand one’s own motivations, I have to make sure my characters’ motivations stem from something other than just the needs of the moment, but without wasting hundreds of words in a character’s agonizing self-examination. The reader needs to intuit the influence of the past rather than have it spelled out in great detail. I’ve seen it done in many novels, tv shows and movies, and when it works, you can really get into the character’s head, whether he or she is the good guy or the bad guy. But when it’s done with a heavy hand, I often stop reading or watching the story. The balance is hard to achieve, which is why so many protagonists in science-fiction stories seem to lack depth – though in all fairness, in many cases, the science or technological aspect takes centre stage to the detriment of character development.

What I’ve tried so far, with a modicum of success, is ask myself, when a character does something unexpected, why he or she acted or thought that way. If I can find a reason that could rationally stem from the individual’s past history, then the scene remains in the book. If I can’t find one or the reason is too far-fetched, I delete the scene. Would that I could delete some of the real-life scenes I’ve caused because I didn’t quite understand where my own reactions came from.

When Words Rain, They Pour

I was expecting to finish the first draft of Cold Comfort (Decker’s War – Book 2) sometime this coming Sunday or Monday, but it’s been an exceptionally productive week for some reason, even though my sleep patterns have sucked to a point where I’m waking up in the middle of the night to hear the old dog snore, rather than the other way around, as it’s been since Spring. I’m pleased to say that I managed to finish the draft a few days early. Now I can go play (if that’s what it can be called) a round of golf tomorrow without guilt. In fact, it’ll be a celebratory round!  I have to set the draft aside for two or three weeks so I can come at it fresh for the second round before it gets reviewed by my editor, then my proof-reader. Late October is still realistic, but my editor and proof-reader have other things on their plate so it could slip into November.

This, of course, means that I can turn back to the first draft of the third Siobhan Dunmoore adventure.  Since I’ve finally nailed down the story I want to tell, I’m kind of excited to get at it.

I can never predict on any given day how much I’ll be able to write and it doesn’t seem to correlate all that closely with whether I slept well or not, whether I’m stressed out by the demented bureaucracy, or even whether I have firm story vignettes for the next chapters floating in my mind. I’ll just take it when it happens and make the most out of fingers that want to dance on the keyboard.

Have a great weekend folks, and for those who get next Monday as a Labour Day holiday, remember that we’ll be celebrating the joys of honest work by not working, a fine contradiction if there ever was one.