April Showers

There’s nothing better than a Canadian spring when we’re blessed with torrential rains while the ground is still partially frozen and can’t absorb the extra water.  They’re predicting floods in our area, and I’m not surprised.  Fighting to keep the water away from our home’s foundations is a common struggle this time of year, no matter how well I reworked the grading the previous fall.  Water will find its lowest point, and if that’s the basement, then I need to figure out how I can stem the tide.  Mind you, this past winter’s thaw and freeze cycles were the most brutal in years, and that’ll do a number on homes and landscaping alike.  I have more than a few repairs waiting for me once this weekend’s wet weather lets up, not least reworking the drainage on one side of the house where our and our neighbour’s downspouts discharge water within a short distance of each other.  Maybe I should take up hydrology as a hobby.  I’m certainly learning a lot about it these days in an effort to keep the basement dry.

At least the wee little dog is getting his daily walks again.  Or I should say his daily sniffs.  We don’t cover much distance — not surprising since he’s about to turn twelve — but his nose gets a workout.  After all, he has several months’ worth of doggie Facebook and Twitter to catch up on.  And with the spring thaw, the aromas around here are just wonderful if you’re a canine.  Not so much for us humans, though, even if our noses can only pick up a fraction of what a dog’s can.

And in other news, Ashes of Empire: Imperial Twilight is nearing the 90% completion mark, so we’re still on schedule for an early summer publication date.

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Signs of the Season

I suppose winter is now officially over, even if there’s still plenty of snow on the ground — our snow removal contractor just took away the driveway marker signs which have adorned our front yard since last November.  I tried paying his invoice for the extra work stemming from our massive snowfall this winter via PayPal, as he prefers, and ended up so annoyed I cursed out loud. Listening to me go on didn’t do much for my wee dog’s nerves. Thankfully, his understanding of human sounds is rather limited, otherwise I think he might end up scandalizing neighborhood canines with salty language learned from his human.

But back to bloody PayPal. First, they held my payment for over a day, then reversed it without explanation, leaving me to mail my contractor a check.  When I asked PayPal why they did that, their customer service responded with a simple apology for any inconvenience. Not a word of explanation.  Argh!  This wasn’t the first time they screwed around with transactions in recent months and left me without explanations or recourse. I had to shut down my online ebook store because they started holding up customer payments, leaving me with understandably frustrated buyers and in one case, out of pocket. I’ll be shutting down my PayPal account as soon as I sort a few things out, since I’d rather not do business with incompetent, useless, thieving buggers who still hold money owed to me but refuse to release it.

Ashes of Empire: Imperial Twilight is now at the two-thirds mark and, as usual, I expect my daily output to increase now that the end is in sight.  The goal is to have the first draft done by the end of April, then take a week off before preparing it for my editor.

Sunshine Musings

Spring may have sprung and the snow/ice pack is slowly shrinking, but you wouldn’t know it based on temperatures and windchill this week. Yet the bright sunshine is ever so nice. And strong. Migraine strong. But who am I to complain? Soon enough, my wee little dog will be able to take his first walk around the neighborhood for 2019. Mrs Thomson and I took our first on Sunday rather than head to the gym for an hour of cardio. Funny how things can change in the space of six or seven months. In our area, the first wave of home building dates back to the nineteen-fifties and early nineteen-sixties, with newer houses springing up around them in recent decades as large lots were subdivided and patchy neighborhoods grew to merge into a single quasi-suburban area.

Nowadays, a surprising number of those early homes are being razed, their foundations dug out and the latest in construction techniques applied to dazzling new houses worth many times what their predecessors could command. We unexpectedly came across one rebuilt property on Sunday where an older family home stood last fall. It was another sign of the turnover that will eventually claim everything around here dating back to the last century, since none of the houses were actually built for the long haul and become heritage buildings preserved for posterity. I don’t know what that says about modern construction. You’re free to make your own conclusions.

Seeing as how our own house was built in the early 1970s, I can imagine that in twenty or twenty-five years from now, when we finally downsize and move into something more manageable for creaky old folks in their late seventies, someone will buy up our property only to demolish the house and build a mini-mansion on the lot. As we ambled along on Sunday, Mrs Thomson and I wondered whether any future renovations with a view to resale were even worthwhile, or whether we should simply strive to make our surroundings more congenial and not worry about what the property will look like twenty years from now. We didn’t buy this place to make a profit on resale but to live in, and perhaps live out our days in. Not worrying about resale value does put a different spin on priorities, so long as it remains in good shape, healthy, and able to ward off the worst our weather can produce.

Meanwhile, Ashes of Empire: Imperial Twilight is now past the halfway mark and chugging along nicely. I think we’re realistically looking at a June publication date, but it’s unlikely to slip any further. And I’ve reopened the ability to comment on blog posts. So far, no spam attacks. We’ll see if it stays that way.

March Mildness

It seems spring has finally sprung in our part of the Great White North. And with St Patrick’s Day tomorrow, it’s not before time – so long as I don’t run into any leprechauns asking me if I’d be interested in 50 Shades of Green. And hopefully, even with all the heavy snow that accumulated this winter melting away, our basement won’t spring a leak or two.

You’ll be glad to know that work on Ashes of Empire: Imperial Sunset is accelerating. I’ll hit the halfway mark in the next day or two. The chances of it coming out in May remain good, though publication might slip into early June, depending on my editor and her availability.

Finally, if anyone has tried to comment on this blog in the last week and been unable, it’s because I’ve had to shut comments off. My spam filter was getting slammed with garbage from ugly little gnomes inhabiting the internet’s most odoriferous swamps. I’ll leave commenting off for a little while longer, until their spambots move on to other victims. However, commenting on my Facebook page remains open.

And that was all of my news. Happy spring equinox, everyone!

A Bit of Clarity

In my last blog post, I mentioned I had creative issues with where Ashes of Empire: Imperial Twilight was going. I’m happy to report those are now sorted out. Work has resumed and the first draft is now a little over one third complete, after making the necessary changes to set the correct course. But I wasn’t idle in the interval. While I let my subconscious figure Imperial Twilight out, I managed to write the first three chapters of my next project, one which I’ll keep under wraps until it’s done.

I only wish Mother Nature would sort herself out just as quickly as my writing muse. We’re in March and the temperatures are still well below freezing. In fact, so low it could still be January even if the sun says spring is two weeks away. And right now – drum roll – it’s snowing again. This winter has been one of the most challenging in many years. I’ve never seen such a thick layer of ice everywhere and my poor wee dog can’t even remember what a walk through the neighbourhood feels like. I think we’ll all be happy when we can consign the 2018-19 winter to the history books.

Finally, if you’re both a scotch whisky and Game of Thrones afficionado, check your local liquor store for a new blend called White Walker. It’s easy to recognize – the bottle is covered in a white and blue sleeve, and the face of the Johnnie Walker gent on the label has been replaced by that of the Night King. As of writing this blog entry, I can’t tell you how it tastes. The bottle is still chilling in the freezer, as per the distiller’s instructions.

Futures Imperfect

January in our part of the Great White North brought us record snowfall.  For the first time, we hit our snow removal service’s 250-centimeter cap in mid-winter.  Not to be outdone, February said, ‘hold my beer and watch this.’  At least the mouse problem seems to be solved for now.  I haven’t seen any mouse spoor nor caught any mice in my traps in the last three weeks.  But they’ll be back.  They always come back, no matter how well you think your house is rodent-proof.  Now if only the warm weather could come back…

Progress on Imperial Twilight has temporarily ground to a halt.  I’m about a third done and face doubts about the storyline.  I always meant Ashes of Empire to be a sweeping saga, covering several centuries with different characters taking the lead in each installment, many of them perhaps related to or the descendants of characters in earlier books.  But somehow, the first third of Imperial Twilight written so far occurs immediately after the closing chapter of Imperial Sunset.  And when I say immediately, I mean the Jonas Morane story line picks matters up precisely where they ended in the first book, at the Estates General meeting on Lyonesse.  So much for a sweeping, multi-generational saga. 

Nothing wrong with that, of course.  The 125 pages written to date cover interesting developments that move the Lyonesse tale forward, but this week, I began to wonder about whether I’m working on a side story rather than the main one.  After all, in the first book, Morane achieved his goal of bringing his ragtag band of survivors to Lyonesse and convincing the authorities to adopt his plans.  Perhaps following Morane and the others through their first weeks and months after arrival is indeed a side story, exciting as it may be, and not the central tale of a disintegrating interstellar empire.  As my editor says, the Ashes of Empire universe gives me so much scope for storytelling, it’s easy to experience decision paralysis — so many tales, so little time and I’m not getting any younger!  I know at some point, a flash of inspiration will strike me and I’ll know precisely what to do.  Unfortunately, that process can’t be hurried.

But I’ve not been idle.  While my subconscious figures out Imperial Twilight I began work on my next project though I won’t discuss it in detail just yet.  Suffice to say I’m trying something a bit different from my usual starship stories.  It’ll still be sci-fi, with a slight dystopian twist, though not of the military variety, and takes place in the relatively near future rather than five centuries or more from now.  But that’s both the joy and frustration of being a writer.  When the creative process works, does it ever flow!  However, when it stops, instead of staring at a blank computer screen in despair, I can always get a head start on my next project.

The War is Over

The final tally in my war against mice is five in mousetraps, and one which died from poisoned bait. I think that’s it for now since I haven’t caught any more mice or seen evidence of mouse activity in recent days, but I’ll be leaving traps out on a permanent basis and check them every morning.

The other war that’s over is one which has been close to my heart for the last four years. If you’ve read Hard Strike (Decker’s War Book 7) you might have noticed how I brought Zack Decker full circle and wrapped up a lot of his story. Yes, it’s the last Decker’s War adventure. You may also have deduced from his distant descendant, Brigid DeCarde, whom you met in Ashes of Empire: Imperial Sunset, that Zack still has an illustrious career ahead of him. Does this mean I’ll never write of our favorite Marine Pathfinder again? No, but for the next while, I intend to concentrate on continuing the Ashes of Empire saga, write the next Siobhan Dunmoore, and work on a project that’s been fermenting in my brain for a long time.

However, it’s entirely possible Zack Decker could return in a fresh series which will chart his story through the messy dissolution of the Commonwealth and the formation of the empire as he rises up the ranks. Perhaps I might call it Decker’s Empire or something of the sort. But that’s not for 2019.

In the meantime, progress on Ashes of Empire: Imperial Twilight remains slow but steady: I’ve reached the 25% completion mark.


Of Mice and Indoor Plumbing

One of the most important inventions of the modern era can also be the most destructive.  No, I’m not talking about nuclear power or the internal combustion engine.  I’m talking about indoor plumbing.

Yesterday, I got up at my usual time, just after six thirty in the morning and heard a sound like static coming from downstairs.  Had the TV or the radio come on by itself?  The moment I walked into the kitchen, I knew we had a much bigger problem on our hands.  The hissing sound was that of water escaping from somewhere near the kitchen sink.  The floor was awash and as I rushed into the basement to turn of the main water supply valve, I found our finished basement, complete with TV nook, hobby workbench and an extensive collection of scale models under a sustained rain shower from various parts of the ceiling.  The leak must have started in the middle of the night for so much water to come from what turned out to be pinprick holes and it had to be one of the few nights when I didn’t have to get up at oh-dark-thirty.

With the main valve shut off and Mrs Thomson roused from her sleep, we began recovery operations — she in the kitchen and I in the greater disaster area downstairs.  Thankfully, I’ve owned a pair of wet/dry shop vacs for years, and was able to suck up many liters of water in a very short space of time.  With buckets under the most active drip holes, I turned to rescuing some of my prized models.  Hobby grade basswood and water don’t get along.

Once things were under control, I tracked down the source of the leak, isolated it from the house’s plumbing system and turned the main back on.  A mouse had chewed through the dishwasher’s water supply hose — a hose sheathed in braided metal no less.  As you might imagine, I declared war on said mouse and the house is now replete with various traps designed to immobilize and kill the destructive little critter.

Fortunately, we had things under control within the hour and mostly dry by the end of the day, but the damage was done.  Our lower kitchen cabinets took a beating, which means we’re looking at another remodel in the next few years, even though our current kitchen is only ten years old.  The drywall of basement ceiling suffered in places as did a number of my handmade scale models.  All that means I’d better keep writing so we can sink more money into the house.

Water is vital to life and indoor plumbing is a blessing, but there’s no denying that it can be destructive.  I shudder to think what would have happened if we’d been away for a few days and I hadn’t bothered to shut off the main water supply valve as I normally do.  And as for tiny rodents with teeth capable of chewing through all sorts of tough materials…

In the meantime, I’m slowly progressing on Ashes of Empire: Imperial Twilight.  The first draft is just over 15% written.

Mapping the Story

While my editor is pushing through with Hard Strike (Decker’s War Book 7), I’ve been writing Ashes of Empire: Imperial Twilight and this afternoon, I hit a point where to continue, I needed a schematic map of the wormhole network connecting Lyonesse to the wider Coalsack Sector so I didn’t trip all over the story.  If you’ve read Ashes of Empire: Imperial Sunset, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, why not?

Thus, today, instead of writing, I designed.  MS Powerpoint might not be the first tool one thinks of for producing a network schematic, but it did the trick.  I deliberately stuck to making it a partial map of the Coalsack Sector, because a full map would be overwhelming – both for me and you.  All the important star systems and the links between them are there.  If you’d like to see what it looks like, I uploaded a pdf version – just click on the link:

Wormhole Network – Coalsack Sector (Partial)

I’ll probably include it in Imperial Twilight as an appendix, but since my books aren’t printed in color, I’ll need to revise the scheme just a little so it’s easy to differentiate the five types of star systems in black and white.

As for when Hard Strike will come out, that still depends on my editor.  But it’ll be by the end of this month.  All of the administrative niceties are geared up. I just need to finalize the manuscript.