Space Opera With a Twist

Tag: retirement (Page 1 of 2)

An Author’s Christmas

I’ve just noticed that another year has flown by without warning ­­– in two weeks, we’ll be celebrating Christmas 2016! And what a year it’s been. I’ve taken early retirement from my day job to write full-time, managed to release three new novels without going insane, and reentered the home renovation hobby (not that I had a choice, but I’m pretty pleased with my work so far). In fact, I’ve taken up the reno torch to the point where I’ve resolved to re-do one or two rooms per year until I’ve upgraded our entire house. My health has significantly improved, as has my physical fitness and thanks to a reorientation of my diet, along with my daily hour of cardio training, my weight is going down for the first time in years.

Blogging will be light over the next few weeks – even full-time writers enjoying the ‘work from home’ lifestyle need to take a break now and then, but I suspect I’ll keep plugging away at the first draft of A Splash of Blood, which is now a little over half-way done. Provided things work out as planned, it should hit the virtual shelves by the end of February.

If you enjoy my books and would like to give me a little Christmas cheer, consider leaving a review on Amazon. You have no idea how much a few kind words mean to an author who gets no other feedback. It also encourages me to write more adventures involving the characters you’ve come to love. If you’ve already done so, thank you!

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.

And On Labour Day We Rested

As you know, I’ve been subjected to forced renovations in the last while and I’m finally making headway on the reconstruction. The most important and labour intensive chunk, insulating the ceiling, was finished yesterday. Tomorrow, I start on the walls, and that should go very quickly. With any luck, by this time next week, the entire area will be insulated, covered with the requisite vapour barrier and the seams taped down, and that means it’ll be ready for the colder weather that’s just around the corner. The rest of the reconstruction I can do at leisure over the next few months, over the next year if I want (and Mrs Thomson is willing to let me get lazy about it). With that big first step completed, and with Like Stars in Heaven (Siobhan Dunmoore Book 3) coming off a good first week since it appeared on the virtual shelves at Amazon, we decided to celebrate work by hiking on a nice little six kilometer trail off the city’s west end.

We saw the usual, of course: chickadees, jays, squirrels, etc. But what struck us was the chipmunk population explosion. I’d seen a few more than usual around the house of course, and one elected to burrow by the garage, but they were everywhere along the Jack Pine Trail, and not the least bit put out by humans. In fact, a few came close enough to pose for portraits.

Chipmunk1

I also had a staring contest with a blue jay, and I’m not talking about the kind that plays baseball.

Jay1

The early September sunshine felt wonderful, though I’m already seeing changes in the quality of the light that hint at the approach of fall.  As well the morning fog is becoming ever more frequent, another sign that the season is on the decline.

Driving through the city, to get to the trail and then back home, I was reminded that I’d not been downtown in almost five months, after spending the better part of my working life there. I don’t miss the commute one single bit, especially when listening to the morning and afternoon traffic reports. I am indeed fortunate.  Yes, I’m still living the dream…

Howling Stars (Decker’s War Book 4) passed the three-quarters completion mark yesterday, so it’s looking good to land in my editor’s hands at the end of the month. As for Siobhan Dunmoore Book 4, I’m toying with some story ideas, but nothing definite has come to me yet, though I already know what the opening sequence is going to be (hint: it involves a lot of shooting!). By the way, if you haven’t yet downloaded a copy of Siobhan Dunmoore’s latest adventure, check out Chapters 1-4 or go to your Amazon store.

Mid-August Melancholy

I have always found mid-August to be a strange time. Summer has run two-thirds of its course, the days are still warm (sometimes too warm) but the nights are getting cooler if not downright chilly, while the later sunrise and earlier sunset become distinctly noticeable. The surest visible sign of mid-August in this part of the country is finding all that moisture coating the car when you get up in the morning.

Though I have not attended classes in over thirty years, I still get that melancholic feeling when I contemplate the beginning of September nearing at high speed. Funny how the imprint of the past still influences the way in which I see certain times of the year. It is as if life is somehow in suspended animation from late June to mid-August, even though I have not had a summer of complete and utter leisure in forty years.

There are still a good two months of golf left, and even more weeks of hiking before the first snows, yet we stand at the halfway mark between our last scuba diving trip and the next one, and at the two-thirds mark between last Christmas and the coming one.

A lot has happened since the last time I contemplated the strange feelings mid-August always evokes, yet some days, all these life changes still seem surreal, and charting the next twelve months is a bit like trying to predict the weather. I know what the general trends will be, but the details? How many books will I write and publish? What will I accomplish on the home renovation front? What other things will I discover in this life free from the demented bureaucracy? I will let you know in twelve months.

One thing I know for sure: this summer has been and will continue to be as active as every previous one. However, this is the first I spend working on my own terms since I became an adult, and yes, I still get a kick out of listening to the rush hour traffic report on the radio, happy in the knowledge that I’ll no longer have to suffer through the commute.

Once I get Like Stars in Heaven back from my proofer and beta reader, sometime in the next week or two, I can finally wrap up the third installment of Siobhan Dunmoore’s adventures. In the meantime, the fourth Decker’s War is over half completed. Excellent progress, considering the previous episode came out a little under three months ago (where have those three months gone!?!).

But, as I look out the window on this beautiful, sunny Monday morning, I can only feel grateful for my life.

Life’s Little Pleasures

Among the many other non-writing talents I hone regularly (demolition man, do it yourselfer, photographer, scuba diver, husband, etc) I also cook. All the time. And I like to try new techniques because I can get bored by my own cooking rather quickly, even though Mrs Thomson, the beneficiary of my culinary efforts, never seems to get bored. I suppose not having to do the work yourself makes one more appreciative. Over the non-snowy seasons, I tend to use my gas grill and charcoal smoker/cooker rather frequently, but even with the best of intentions and slow cooking techniques, one can only get so far in producing cuts of meat that are suitably charred on the outside and juicily tender on the inside.

Enter sous-vide cooking.

I recently acquired the means to carry-out sous-vide cooking by purchasing an immersion circulator. It wasn’t exactly inexpensive, but then, I do tend to take my food seriously enough that my doctor noticed (that means I need to lose some weight!). The technique is simple. Season the meat, seal it in bag with all the air removed and immerse it in water at a given temperature for ‘x’ amount of time. Once that’s done, sear it briefly with an open flame (grill, bbq or propane torch) and serve. So far, I’ve tried it with steak, pork chops, chicken breast, salmon and haddock. The steaks turned out medium rare from edge to edge, superbly tender with the tough parts mostly dissolved, the fish buttery and moist to the point of almost dissolving on the tongue and the pork chops moister than I’ve ever achieved. Only the chicken didn’t profit as much from sous-vide, but that stands to reason.  Chicken breast is lean and tender to begin with. Tonight I’ll try lamb loin chops and tomorrow, wild boar medallions.

Eventually, I’ll tackle the more difficult cuts of meat, such as beef back ribs, which need to spend two days (yes 48 hours!) in the sous-vide bath to dissolve the tough connecting tissues and turn into something closer to fall off the bone tender. Pork ribs are on the horizon as well, although I’ve pretty much perfected my technique to slow cook those in the oven or smoke them on the Big Green Egg. One of the techniques I’ve read about was to smoke the ribs for an hour or so to get the flavor going and then place them in the sous-vide immersion. Things to try.

My editor has promised me that I’ll see her comments on Like Stars in Heaven by the end of the long weekend, i.e. in the next 48 hours or so. In the meantime, the first draft of Howling Stars stands at more than 40% completed and will possibly hit the 50% mark by Monday.

If all goes well, Siobhan Dunmoore’s third adventure will be published in August and the fourth Zack Decker sometime mid-autumn, say October. Three books in 2016! Not bad for my first year as full-time scribbler.

Instant Update: the sous-vide lamb loin chops were, hands down, the best I’ve ever eaten.  Moist, tender, evenly cooked, flavourful.  Delightful!

The Best Laid Schemes

As you know, I’ve been forced to do some basement renovations due to a bit of water intrusion earlier in the spring. Today, the tear down finally got to where I thought it had come in – figuring I’d find a minor matter quickly fixed before rebuilding. But things are never as simple as one hopes.

This is in the basement part of what we call the annex, where one day a four season sunroom will sit. Right now, the annex is only basement, with a flat roof a foot or so above ground level and simple wood deck on top of that, a deck on which I cook BBQ and we enjoy the summer.  It’s a bit like a bunker that way.

It was put in by some previous owner thirty years or so ago and he’d finished it in late 70s, early 80s style to provide space for a laundry room and workshop. I suppose he ran out of money after putting in a fully serviced additional foundation and never got around to building the planned extension above ground. I knew I wanted to spruce it up and bring a number of things up to code and make it more livable at some point, preferably after a new above ground structure sat on said foundation. The water intrusion forced me to act now.

Sadly, taking down the paneling and then the insulation, I discovered that the water was coming through a rotting piece of the roof, i.e. under the deck I just finished fixing to extend its life until we build that sunroom in 3-5 years. And that means the deck needs to be scrapped so the roofers can take out the current roof, replace the rotting wood and the re-roof the thing. After which, since we’re not ready to build the sunroom yet, I have to build a new deck, as cheaply as I can. The current deck was built for us out of red cedar over 15 years ago. I’ll build the replacement with pressure treated lumber and do it myself. At 25 feet by 12 feet, it’s not exactly small so I’ll try to stay cheap, seeing as how its lifespan is expected to be short.

I’ll be completing the tear down this week, while I get estimates for the roofing work and a dumpster big enough for the remains of the deck. After that, I’m at the mercy of the roofers. Until that’s fixed, i.e. the rotting wood removed and replaced and a new roof in place, I can’t rebuild the basement annex.  It needs to be fully protected against water intrusion again.

Fortunately, this came at about as good a time as possible. It’s the middle of July, which gives me plenty of time to get everything done before winter, when I must have fresh insulation in place. I have my full days to work on the project while my editor finishes up with Like Stars in Heaven and I’m over a quarter done with Decker #4.

As Robbie Burns famously said, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, / Gang aft agley.”

And when they do go ‘agley’ as the Scottish bard so pungently puts it, I’m thankful for our ‘oh shit’ fund in the bank, money set aside exactly for these kind of unforeseen expenses.

Such is life.  Full of unexpected wonders.  Mind you, there’s nothing like an immediate problem to get a professional procrastinator like me going at full speed, so there is a silver lining to that particular cloud.

A good thing I’ve been watching reno shows on TV every evening for the last few weeks (Mike Holmes, Leave it to Bryan, etc).

A Walk in the Woods

Today, we had our first walk in the woods for 2016. Nothing too complicated, a simple 1.5hr hike in the Gatineau Park. It was also the first hike since the day when I decided to take early retirement and focus on writing. What a difference! I can still recall my state of mind late last summer, on this very same trail, when I knew that the next day would see me back in the bowels of the demented bureaucracy, fending off dragons and battling orcs. It was nice to simply enjoy nature today, without worrying about work. My commute tomorrow morning will be measured in meters and my boss will be looking back at me from the mirror when I brush my teeth.

I took this picture along the Lauriault Trail, just above the waterfall.  It was just cool enough to be comfortable on an otherwise sweltering day, and the bugs didn’t bother us too much.

LT001

Fatal Blade has been out for five days now and seems to be doing well. In another two months, Like Stars in Heaven will join it.  At the current rate of progress, I should have the manuscript in my editor’s hands by the end of June.  Perhaps I’ll be able to celebrate the one year anniversary of my decision to retire with the publication of the fourth Decker’s War adventure this coming November.

Imagination is Hard

You’d think someone who spent the better part of his adult life in uniform, full and part-time, would be able to invent futuristic military organizations, nomenclature and stuff from scratch at a moment’s notice.  Not really.  For Like Stars in Heaven I’ve had to create a human military organization for a society that – not to reveal any spoilers – hasn’t had a normal past.  The story needs it to be just off-kilter enough so that the reader feels there’s a substantive difference between Dunmoore’s Navy and that organization, which meant coming up with, among others, if not an entirely new rank structure, then new rank names which would have been derived from said society’s own history.

It took me a few days.  I scanned the plethora of fictional rank names filling the internet, historical names from classical antiquity, medieval times and from Earth societies through out the ages.  Inventing rank names in English that actually make sense and are not some sort of gibberish (Grand Moff, anyone?  sounds vaguely x-rated…) or something that sounds dramatically wrong (Senior Ninjasniperleader just doesn’t cut it!) sent me to look somewhere rather unexpected, but, keeping my story in mind, not necessarily inappropriate.  I’ll leave it at that for now, but it’s been a frustrating couple of days and it had to come to a head today because I was at that point in the tale where I needed to either have my nomenclature sorted or use conventional terms which would make things seem wrong to me even as I was writing.

Yeah, imagination can be hard, even if it’s inventing something related to a field in which I’ve been active for many years.  It’s so much easier to fall back into familiar patterns and thereby miss the chance at something different and potentially richer, more substantive.  I suppose that could be applied to life in general, which is something I’ve been reflecting on lately as I try to come up with a new routine that doesn’t involve getting to the office circa 7AM, sorting through emails and placating angry clients, demanding bosses and all the rest of the corporate drama.  It’s still a work in progress, but being able to go to the driving range and loosen up that golf swing on a weekday morning makes for a nice part of my new routine, whatever it’ll end up being.

I’m still on track to get my editor’s comments on Fatal Blade by the end of the month and the work on Like Stars in Heaven is picking up nicely, now that I’ve overcome a few idiosyncrasies (i.e. writer’s block and general laziness).  I should hit the halfway mark of Dunmoore’s third adventure by the time I have to get back to Zack Decker’s latest outing for the next round of polishing.

Work in Progress

I’m deep into the re-write of Fatal Blade (Decker’s War – Book 3) and should be done early next week, when the manuscript is due with my editor.  Then, it’s back to Like Stars in Heaven (Siobhan Dunmoore – Book 3).  I reorganized that manuscript on Sunday under a new to me system I’ll be using to break down all my work from now on.  It’s called Scrivener and will hopefully help increase my productivity.  Since I like to always have at least two books under development at any time, I’ve also begun to outline the fourth Zack Decker adventure, provisionally titled Howling Star.

If that sounds like a lot, it is, but since writing is now my full-time occupation (other than the basement renos I need to complete before October), I’m sure that it’ll all come together.  I had initially planned on publishing two novels this year, but it just might be possible that I’ll put out three, with the fourth Decker coming out in the late autumn timeframe.  All I really need to do is find a daily routine that’ll maximize the use of my time, though as I’ve heard from friends and family who’ve retired from their corporate jobs, they’re busier than ever now.

Am I having fun yet?  You bet!  Kissing Mrs Thomson goodbye when she leaves for her cubicle job early in the morning and then settling into my comfortable home office to spin yarns for a growing readership is a dream job come true.

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