Category Archives: Thoughts

Half-Way There

After the wettest and most miserable spring in living memory around here, we’ve had our first true day of warm sunshine. Summer seems to have finally arrived. Of course, the warm weather means little for my routine, if truth be told. I’ll still be walking the dog if it isn’t raining, only earlier in the day, because he doesn’t like walking on asphalt when it gets too hot, and I’ll still get my time at the gym. This year’s renos have been moving apace, and so far I’m keeping faith with my pledge to renew one room a year. I’m actually quite pleased now that I’ve done the workshop and the laundry room, and have made good progress on turning the basement rec room back into a livable space. The amount of junk that’s been trickling out of the house over the last 2-3 weeks is nothing short of miraculous. This coming weekend, our city is holding its semi-annual weekend of ‘put your unwanted stuff on the curb for others to take’. I’ll be filling the end of our driveway, judging by the amount of old furniture and light fixtures I’ve extracted from the basement. I know both Mrs Thomson and my dog are happy with the progress on decluttering Thomson Manor.

And yes, I have been working on Black Sword (Decker’s War Book 5) every day. In fact, the first draft is over 50% done and speed has been ramping up, as it usually does once I reach the half-way mark. I’ve also been giving further thought to the plot of the fifth Dunmoore adventure, tentatively titled Without Mercy. You may have noticed the book cover mockup.

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The Blessings and Curses of Technology

For a number of years now, we’ve enjoyed a home computer network cobbled together by yours truly from pieces and parts, many of them bought used. At its heart sits a server, a refurbished office PC that I bought for a song and upgraded with a pair of high capacity hard drives (one for the OS, one for data), and which runs on Linux. Yes, I had to teach myself many things, including Linux, and become my own system administrator.

This server holds all of our data, be it my manuscripts and cover art, our personal documents, gigabytes of photos, movies, tv shows, etc. Naturally, I rigged the system to run a nightly data backup to an external hard drive, in case the server’s internal drives fail, as they have once already, requiring replacement, and a server rebuild from almost scratch. Sadly, being a lazy sort of sysadmin, I don’t think about checking the nightly backup log to ensure that it’s running properly. The last time the external drive failed (it needed replacement, having turned into an expensive paperweight overnight), it took me over four weeks to notice, four weeks during which none of our precious files had any sort of backup. You’d think the lesson would have sunk in. But no.

Several days ago, I decided that it might be time to check the backup log and wouldn’t you know it, the last clean backup dated from April 1st. We’d been running for seven weeks without a safety net, meaning none of the pictures from our last dive trip had been backed up, nor had the final files for the last Siobhan Dunmoore adventure. Needless to say, I immediately made a copy of the most important folders onto a usb drive, just in case.

Since then, I’ve been trying to get a full and clean backup of the server, but without success. The process aborts part-way through, leaving me with a list of error messages, which differ in some way or other each time I make an attempt. I finally decided that the external backup drive is at the root of the issue, so off I went to Canada Computers and plunked down my credit card for a replacement. And wouldn’t you know it, with the new drive I finally got a clean, error-free backup. Moral number one of the story – hard drives may be getting larger and cheaper, but they still don’t last more than 2-4 years and will begin to fail without warning. Moral number two – check the darn log regularly to make sure all is well. A home client-server setup is a fine thing and allows us to store and share terabytes of data, what with Mrs Thomson and I working off our own PCs, each in our own home office. But it does need more care and feeding that I’ve been providing.

On the writing front, progress on Decker’s War #5 is almost at the 40%, while I’ve begun plotting Siobhan Dunmoore #5, still untitled as of this blog post.

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Fickle Nature

Mother Nature’s a fickle one, even at the best of times.  Last week, it was cold, rainy, with plenty of Spring flooding in my part of the country.  For the last two days, it’s essentially been mid-July, where the temperature, sunshine and humidity are concerned, yet the leaves haven’t fully erupted from their buds yet.  But, starting tomorrow, and at least into June, temperatures will be several degrees below the average for this time of year.  Go figure.  I love the heat.  Mrs Thomson, not so much, which means she won’t complain at the cooler temperatures.  Now if it could only stop being so windy!  The May rains have ensured a bumper crop of dandelions and other weeds, but spraying or burning them in anything more than a light breeze is asking for trouble.

I suppose I should start thinking about where we’ll take our first hike of the year this coming long weekend.  Mrs Thomson will probably want a reasonably flat trail, but it’ll have to be on higher ground.  Many, if not most of the good ones meander around ponds, bogs and outright swamps, and water levels are still high, meaning they might not even be open.  If all else fails, a long walk through the neighbourhood will have to do.  At least that kind of an urban hike allows us to gaze in wonder at the massive single family homes around here, most of them very tastefully designed.

Progress on Black Sword (Decker’s War Book 5) has been steady – I’m past the 25% mark – although I’ve stopped writing seven days a week, reserving Saturday and Sunday for home renos, to give my fingers and brain a break.  I’ve also visualized a good opening scene for the fifth Siobhan Dunmoore adventure, but have nothing more than a very high level idea of what the story will be.  Hopefully, I’ll get a starship-sized burst of inspiration at some point.

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Time Flies

One of the things I’ve noticed, growing older, is that the passage of time seems to accelerate.  In March, we celebrated our twentieth year living in the same house – a record for two people who grew up shifting from place to place as the military moved their fathers to new duty stations, not to mention our moves while I was in the regular army.  And this morning, I was reminded by our kind veterinary clinic that our youngest, and sole surviving dog, turns ten today.  Funny.  I still vividly remember him as a tiny puppy, barely larger than my hand.  Where did all that time go?  Mind you, at five pounds, he’s still small, smaller than the cat we encountered during our morning walk, but he has the spirit of big dog even if his growls and barks are more endearing than menacing.  I get a lot of smiles from passersby as we walk through the neighbourhood ever day, and I know what they see – a big, bearded, fifty-something guy enjoying a stroll with his wee little dog.  Now that he’s healed from his knee operation, my guy can put on some speed when he wants to.

Victory’s Bright Dawn has been out for nine days now, and seems to be doing well with Siobhan Dunmoore fans.  It’s the sort of encouragement that’ll have me write her next adventure, although inspiration for a storyline hasn’t struck just yet.  But I’m steaming ahead with the fifth Decker’s War installment, and as you might have noticed, the cover and synopsis for Black Sword are up both here and on my author website.  I’m aiming to have the manuscript in my editor’s hands late June or early July, perhaps even earlier if I can overcome my habitual tendency to procrastinate, which might be a struggle now that the weather is finally showing signs of improvement.

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Spring Sunday Blues

The calendar says that today, March 26th, is part of Spring, yet outside, it’s white, wet, damp and miserable.  Mrs Thomson and I went for a walk around the neighbourhood today instead of heading for the gym (a speed skating competition this weekend is making finding a parking spot at the recreational complex a tactical problem worthy of a special forces team), and it felt like one of the worst days of December in this fair town, where the humidity, Winter and Summer, amplifies the extremes.

You may have noticed that blogging has been light of late, but I have the best of excuses – finishing the revision of Victory’s Bright Dawn (Siobhan Dunmoore Book 4).  The manuscript is now with my editor and so far, she likes it.  I’ll be jumping  back into the fifth Decker’s War adventure in the coming weeks.  Its Act I is well along, and as I was chatting with Mrs Thomson over supper today, I realized that one of the plot twists I’m planning was inspired by the Peter Sellers Inspector Clouseau movies, which I’ve seen so many times, I can quote lines verbatim.  Funny how such things happen.  No, it doesn’t mean I’m turning Decker into a farce, but one of the leitmotifs of the movies seems to have infiltrated Decker’s universe.  I’ll let the readers figure it out once the novel is published later this year, but I can say that the foundations for said leitmotif were laid in the last two Decker’s War novels.

I hope those of you in the northern hemisphere are having a better Spring than we are, and to those in the southern hemisphere, may your Autumn not suck.

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Schroedinger’s Starship

I am more of what we scribblers call a “pantser” than a “plotter” meaning I fly by the seat of my pants when I write, relying on high-level plot points, storylines and desired outcomes to guide me rather than planning a novel down to individual chapter and scene details. My mind simply won’t let me do otherwise. Sometimes, it takes me down dead ends, but mostly, it allows me to set my characters free to do their thing and I’m often pleased when they take me down unexpected rabbit holes. It does mean, however, that I’m frequently confronted with decisions that force me to choose between two separate paths, each driving the story or part of the story in a different direction.

I faced one such decision point the other day while working on the fourth Siobhan Dunmoore novel and it suddenly occurred to me that I had stumbled on the science fiction writer’s version of the old Schroedinger’s cat dilemma. Part of the plot involves finding a starship carrying purloined naval stores and Dunmoore lands in a particular place with her shuttle but can’t determine whether said starship is there or not until she gets out of the shuttle and is able to examine her surroundings. Because chores were calling, I had to stop writing at the point where she’s about to disembark, still not knowing myself whether she would find her elusive quarry. At that moment, I realized that not only would Dunmoore and I have to wait until she opens the hatch and disembarks to find out but that until then, the starship may be simultaneously there and not there. Schroedinger’s starship – all in a day’s work for someone who writes by the seat of his pants.

And no, I’m not telling you how it turned out.  Read the book once it’s published.

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Turkeys and Typists

Last month, our scuba diving expedition saw us travel on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so we never actually had a proper Christmas meal, surviving on bar food and airport snacks instead. But I’m about to make up for that tonight. On the menu will be a beautiful turkey breast prepared sous-vide, with all the trimmings (except for cranberry sauce – too much sugar). The significant advantage of this cooking method is the near impossibility of ending up with dry turkey meat. The breast will be cooked to the same juicy consistency all the way through. The softly falling snow outside will help give the right ambiance as well.

In my last blog post, I spoke about the fickleness of inspiration. Right now, I’m unfortunately besieged by the inertia of procrastination. Progress on Victory’s Bright Dawn over the last week has been excellent. I’m just about at the 20% completion point, writing approximately one chapter per day. And yet today, I’m doing everything except writing, but not because I’m blocked. I know exactly what happens in the next chapter. However, I’ve been spending more time staring at dancing snowflakes outside than at the blank page of the manuscript, when I’m not planning out the evening meal, which will take three to three and a half hours of cooking time on top of everything else. Oh well. I’m sure that I’ll still manage to get my daily quota done at some point. Perhaps when the new keyboard I ordered from Amazon shows up this afternoon, I’ll find the mental fortitude to overcome my laziness. There’s nothing like a new toy to generate a burst of enthusiasm and energy, and since it’s a mechanical keyboard, it’ll feel better to an old school touch typist such as myself than the ergonomic one I currently use. Besides, muscle memory being what it is, I never did get used to the non-standard way in which some of the keys are placed, even after a year of daily use, and over time, the little mistakes caused by not finding the right key in the right spot add up.

When will I be done with Victory’s Bright Dawn? At this point, I’m not committing myself to an estimate. The one thing that’s sure is the snow will be gone by the time it shows up on the bookshelves. Beyond that, it depends mostly on my daily struggle with inspiration and procrastination. My hour at the gym every morning takes care of the perspiration.

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Inspiration’s Capriciousness

Inspiration is a fickle creature – perhaps the most capricious for someone embarked on a creative venture. I’ve been hoping to finish the first draft of A Splash of Blood by the end of this month, but seem to have come stuck at the three-quarters mark. In an attempt to get things moving, I wrote the ending, but that didn’t juice up my imagination. Thus, instead of sitting in front of a computer waiting for inspiration to strike, I turned my attention on the fourth Dunmoore adventure, Victory’s Bright Dawn, and fortunately, momentum seems to be building. I suppose I’ll keep plugging at it until I figure out how to cut the knot that’s tying up A Splash of Blood right now. Based on past experience, it could happen at any odd time, so there’s no point in forcing the issue.

I’ve also been thinking about the fifth installment of Decker’s War, and while perusing a gallery of images for the cover yesterday, I might have inadvertently changed my mind on what the tale will be. You see, I found a perfect image that fits with the series, yet it wouldn’t work with the original storyline I’ve been contemplating. Now, another idea that’s been kicking around in the back of my mind for several years might finally see the light of day, suitably modified to showcase Zack Decker. Of course, with two other books to finish before I start working on Decker’s War #5, I have plenty of time to change my mind, and no doubt my inspiration, fickle as it is, will take advantage of that fact.

That being said, I am glad to finally be back in the swing of things, after a week of post-vacation readjustment to my regular routine and our dear Canadian winter. Today is supposed to be “Blue Monday” the saddest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere, one would think, seeing as how it’s summer below the equator), but I’m not feeling sad. The sunshine, in the absence of wind, felt warm on my face when I went out earlier today and even though it’s only mid-January, the promise of spring implicit in the stronger sun and longer days cheered me up.

At some point, I’ll have to pick up the tool belt again and finish the laundry room, then turn my attention on the rest of the basement. Some of the construction material has been sitting idly in neat and not so neat piles since well before Christmas, ready and waiting for me to find my motivation. But as with writing, I’m not going to force matters. Inspiration strikes when it strikes, be it spinning tales, writing blog posts or paneling walls and absent pressure from outside sources, it’s best to let things occur when they’re naturally due to happen.

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Happy New Year 2017

Count your blessings instead of your crosses.

Count your gains instead of your losses.

Count your joys instead of your woes.

Count your friends instead of your foes.

Count your smiles instead of your tears.

Count your courage instead of your fears.

Count your full times instead of your lean.

Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.

Count your health instead of your wealth.

Love your neighbor as much as yourself.

And may we be alive this time next year!

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Musical Memories

Since quitting the bowels of the demented bureaucracy, I’ve kept a bit of background noise, both at home and in my truck, by sticking to a pleasant, advertizing-free radio station. It not only keeps me amused but makes me thankful, during the morning and afternoon traffic reports, for no longer having to endure the foibles and stupidities of people who shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel.

Because of the political garbage permeating virtually everything in the last few weeks, I’ve switched my radio allegiance to a station broadcasting classical music instead of opinions, editorials, and other idiocies. It’s as much a matter of taste as it is a question of health. I quit the bureaucracy to escape a life dominated by high blood pressure and bathing in politics would only keep me popping pills that much longer. In the process, by listening to the soothing sounds of masterpieces from a past that didn’t exude the unpleasantness of Anno Domini 2016 (although it had unpleasantness of its own), I rediscovered a pair of gems that aren’t as well-known as they should be.

The first, a little melody deserving so much more recognition is called “Vltava” by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. It is better known by its Germanic name, “The Moldau.” The Vltava is the longest river in the Czech Republic and is commonly referred to as the Czech national river. I was first introduced to Smetana’s enchanting composition by my mother at a very young age and even now, almost five decades later, it still evokes unexpected emotions. One of the few memories I have of being a small child is asking my mother to play the Moldau. The last movement in particular still touches me in a way few musical pieces can.

The other piece, Ottorino Respighi’s symphonic poem “Pines of Rome,” is an understated musical gem that doesn’t get much airtime, so I was enchanted to hear it on the radio a few days ago. I can’t quite remember when or how I was first introduced to it, save that it hooked me immediately. I suppose having studied Roman history in large part through Edward Gibbon’s seminal work “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” gives it a greater significance in my eyes.

Listening to both compositions, I can easily visualize the influence Smetana and Respighi had on their modern musical descendants, in particular those creating soundtracks for the movies. They’re not the only ones, of course. Gustav Holst, for example, has inspired such great contemporary composers as John Williams of Star Wars fame, among many others, but if you listen carefully, you’ll find that the two underrated composers whose works I’ve rediscovered still resonate long after their deaths.

And no, my life hasn’t been all classical music or home renovations (though the workshop rebuild is finished!). My final revision of Howling Stars (Decker’s War Book 4) is almost complete, and publication is but a few day away.

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