Space Opera With a Twist

Month: October 2016

Delusions of Adequacy

As readers of this blog will know, I’ve had to tear down a portion of the basement (that which we call the annex) due to leakage earlier this year. The pros came by several weeks ago to make sure the leaks don’t happen again. Since then, I’ve been rebuilding. In recent weeks (months?), I’ve concentrated on removing all the fiberglass insulation and wood turned damp, mouldy, mouse-poop infested and generally in violation of the building code thanks to a failed reno 20 years ago.  It’s amazing how long rot will accumulate before it becomes visible.

With fresh insulation and vapour barrier up a few weeks ago on the surfaces facing the exterior, that portion of the basement became ready for a Canadian winter. In the last few days, I’ve been rebuilding the parts that didn’t face the immediate exterior, replacing really crappy 2×2 framing (put up by a moron with delusions of adequacy) with proper 2×4 studs and rewiring it in accordance to code, where before it was an incompetent handyman’s disaster.

Take this as a plea from someone who’s not on his first house and not on his first reno: if you don’t know the local building code requirements for such basics as framing, wiring and insulation, put down the tool belt. As Mike Holmes likes to say, make it right. If you don’t know how to make it right, just don’t. Please, don’t. Call in folks who have a clue. That way, you won’t have to fight off the bad karma guys like me are sending out to all inept DIY wannabes as we fix problems that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place.

At least now, we’ll be getting workshop and laundry rooms that are not only up to code, but are also functional and good-looking. By the way, after my insulation efforts, those two rooms are the warmest in our 40+ year old house. I think that says something.  Once I’m done, I might just make the workshop my number one hang-out during the truly brutal January and February cold spells.

Howling Stars (Decker’s War Book 4) is currently under my editor’s red pen. I’ve not received an ETA on comments, but expect her to be done within the next two weeks. In the meantime, I’ve picked up the pen on A Splash of Blood once again, between bouts of framing, wiring and all the rest of the work needed to refinish the basement annex, but this time doing it right.  Between writing and building, life is good.  Using brain and hands in equal measure is a balance worth achieving.

Signs of the Season

Although the leaves aren’t completely off all trees yet — our red maple seems to be hanging on to its leaves with grim determination — there’s no doubt that we’re sliding headlong into winter. On Sunday, we enjoyed a long walk, to take advantage of the blue skies and sunshine, even though it was windy, and I remarked to my wife that the light already had a wintery quality, with early afternoon feeling like the supper hour was just around the corner.

Yesterday, I performed the annual ritual of cleaning out and reorganizing the garage so my wife could park her car in it on snow days, and we’ve started talking with growing enthusiasm about our next scuba diving trip, now that I’ve made the final payment to our travel agent. In past years, I would be facing the string of social events at work during the lead up to Christmas. They represented a sort of checklist of things that must be done before escaping into the holidays, but now, the only Christmas office parties will be in my own kitchen, with a dog who won’t insist on congratulatory speeches although a treat or two are expected.

Even though I’m a writer living in my own imagination most of the time, I’m not immune to the constant media bombardment of current event news. I often wonder how much they influence my story development, even though my protagonists won’t be born for another four or five hundred years. But then, as a lifelong student of history, I also know that humanity has a tendency to repeat mistakes over and over because human nature has changed little over millennia. Lust for wealth, power, sex, and fame are still today as they were when first discussed by the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. Religious fanaticism has existed since the first humans disagreed on the nature of God or the gods. Corrupt, self-serving politicians are a given, even in the most advanced trust-based societies, let alone those still based on kinship or tribalism.

As a result, it’s difficult to write about future societies without seeming, in the eyes of some readers, to make reference to and comment on present day events. The odd reader might even deduce (for the most part erroneously) my own political leanings. However, since I do not believe in the perfectibility of humankind, I expect our descendants, even centuries in the future, to act in ways not all that different from today. It’s a theme I explored in Like Stars in Heaven (albeit heavily influenced by Arnold Toynbee, to whom I was exposed in my college history classes.) and it’s become a common thread in the Decker’s War series.

Anyways, enough philosophizing. I’m most of the way through the final revision of Howling Stars in preparation for the submission to my editor. Another day or two of sustained effort and I’ll be done.

Finished? Or Not?

It’s telling that after my first revision of Howling Stars (Decker’s War Book 4), I realized that my editor would inevitably take me to task for the ending – again. I seem to have a habit of ending my stories too abruptly, perhaps because at that point in the first draft, I’m anxious to be done. This time, I decided to take the initiative and rework the ending before sending her the manuscript so that I don’t get scolded for it.

Considering that I expanded the epilog from a few pages into three full chapters, I probably wasn’t finished with the first draft when I declared myself to be so. Mind you, I might be told that it’s now too long, but probably not. My editor likes to see most threads neatly tied off, leaving only those concerning the wider series arcs hanging. We’ll see. I’m just about done with the revision, which means the manuscript will be in my editor’s hands by the end of this week.

In the meantime, I’ve come up with the MacGuffin for the fourth Siobhan Dunmoore adventure and have tentatively started to build the story skeleton during my breaks from revising Howling Stars, so yes, there will be a fourth novel in the series in 2017.

It is indeed a writer’s life for me.


A Time to Give Thanks

I pulled Howling Stars (Decker’s War Book 4) out of the fermentation chamber yesterday, after deciding that I had completed the first act of A Splash of Blood and could safely put it aside while I revised the latest Zack Decker adventure. It’ll take me a week or two to slice, dice, chop and sand it down to the point where I can safely present the manuscript to my editor for criticism and suggestions.

Yesterday was also the second anniversary of my first novel’s publication, when I unleashed Zack Decker on an unsuspecting military sci-fi fandom in Death Comes But Once. With two more adventures published and a fourth coming out before the end of the year, I’m a pretty happy author. Not only that, in less than two weeks, I’ll be celebrating No Honor in Death’s second anniversary of publication, having added two more adventures to Siobhan Dunmoore’s saga since then. Even now, both series are finding new readers every day, which is both gratifying and humbling.

It’s now been six months since I retired from my day job in the bowels of the demented bureaucracy and I still think I’m the luckiest guy in the world, especially when I read all the newspaper articles about the follies, foibles and failures occurring in my former sphere of professional activity. I dodged a few bullets by getting out last spring and have no regrets, though it’s still a bit strange, when I go out and about every day, to be rubbing elbows with fellow retirees who are somewhat older than me. On the other hand, being able to live according to my whims and finally pursue my dreams at a relatively young age is priceless.

The only downside is my constant struggle with procrastination. In fact, some days I feel like the king of the Procrasti Nation, but it still beats the piles of administrative trivia I struggled with for years, often under the pressure of unrealistic, if not downright idiotic deadlines, dulling my imagination and sapping my will to live. Therefore, on this Thanksgiving weekend, I can, for the first time in years, be truly thankful for everything and that is a most precious feeling. It is especially so as I think back to the dark place I inhabited twelve months ago when I made the decision to prematurely end what had been a successful career in IT and become my own boss as a full-time author so I could find some joy in life again. Mission accomplished. Now, the universe is the limit.

To my Canadian readers, I hope you have fun with family and friends on this weekend. Happy Thanksgiving.

Fall Follies

Although I don’t relish the idea of the upcoming Canadian winter, I have to admit there’s something enchanting about the changing quality of the light while we slowly head from the fall equinox to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Coupled with the eruption of colour as trees prepare to shed their summer cloak and descend into the annual cycle of hibernation, autumn can sometimes be the most pleasing of times. Or, as a gray weekend proved, the least agreeable.

As I write this, I see a whole army of squirrels on the neighbouring lawns, foraging to stock up food supplies. Are they sensing a harsh winter or a mild one? Time will tell. The weatherman on the radio just said we’d see our first bout of frost this coming Monday morning, which is about normal. I’ve finally put away the shorts until our next foray to warmer climes for a bit of scuba diving and am back in my usual writer’s garb of jeans and a button-down collar shirt. Though I’ll miss summer’s warmth soon enough, the cooler nights have done wonders for my ability to sleep better.

The first draft of the fourth Decker’s War adventure is still fermenting quietly in the darkness of an enclosed hard drive or two. Once it’s ready for the revision, I’ll know. In the meantime, I’ve not been idle. I’m scoping out story lines for the fourth Siobhan Dunmoore adventure, now that she has been given command of a new ship, with an old friend as first officer. And – drum roll – I’ve gotten well into (i.e. past 20%) the first draft of the first novel in a new series set in the Decker’s War universe, one I’ve wanted to write for a while.

The protagonist is a character who’s been lurking in my imagination for a long time, almost as long as Dunmoore. I’ve decided to call the series Quis Custodiet, taken from the Latin Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes translated as “Who will watch the watchmen.” You can read more about it here. I’ll probably have the first draft done before this coming Christmas, with publication in late winter 2017. While the series will keep the Decker’s War space opera flavour, it won’t be military sci-fi. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as police procedural or hardboiled detective sci-fi, but if there isn’t yet, I’ll create it. So far I’m having fun with the story. It’s told in the first person, and hopefully comes across as reminiscent of the style of some of my favorite mid-twentieth century pulp detective fiction authors, although the murder victim is an alien and the story doesn’t take place on the mean streets of 1950s Los Angeles or New York, but on the mean decks of an orbital station dozens of light years from Earth.

Happy autumn to everyone in the northern hemisphere, and a good spring to my readers on the other side of the equator!