Thursday, December 30, 2010

That’s so Skua

Every little corner of the planet seems to have its own dialect, its own vocabulary.  McMurdo is no different.  One of the most fun bits of McMurdo dialect is the word ‘skua.’

A skua is a native Antarctic seabird of the family Stercorariidae...what on earth does that mean?  It is closely related to the gull family, has a wingspan of about four feet and weighs two to four pounds. Skuas are scavengers, or kleptoparasites [thank you Wikipedia] that tend to steal food from other animals (and from people) rather than hunting on their own.  They are a major problem in the region because the steal penguin eggs and have actually wiped out rookeries that were already stressed by global warming (resulting in the extinction of some penguin subspecies).
I decided not to fight him for the day-old hot dogs.

How did ‘skua’ enter the local dialect?  Well, these entertaining aerial pests frequent the station where they are renown for aggressive attempts to steal food, relentlessly chasing and dive-bombing people who carry uncovered food out of the galley.
Note the ankle bracelet -- this character has been in trouble before...

As a noun, skua is something left, donated, or stolen.  Every dorm has a skua bin in the trash area where you can put items you no longer need, but are still useable.  Popular items are sunscreen, shampoo, alarm clocks, and hand-me-down clothes.  Lost and found also feeds into the skua stream after a while, and these bins are periodically emptied and the contents moved to the skua shed where they are sorted and stored.

The skua shed is like a thrift store where everything is free.

Skua Central

As a verb, skua means “to scavenge.”  As in, “I skuaed this alarm clock.”  It can also be used as a term for petty theft, as in, “I totally skuaed that dude’s ipod.”  Luckily, the stealing has been low this year (I have not heard of any), though in some years it has been a problem.

How much for the breaker box?

Lastly, skua is an adjective.  A lot of local arts, crafts and costumes (costumes are very popular here), are made from whatever is lying around.  Such works of art have a certain ‘skua’ property to them.  Late one night in the galley, I saw a woman's video Christmas card.  It included music she had compiled, and art and costumes made from ‘found’ objects (found art).  Her friends commented “That is so skua.”  Which is a high compliment down here.

Had my eye on that steak sauce.

Interesting skua fact, which I skuaed from the local newspaper:

Skuas have made it as far as the South Pole:  Non-Human Life Form Seen at the Pole

Stay warm Northerners.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve in Mac Town

After working a ten hour day, crashing in a smelly, cramped dormitory, and wandering the dusty streets of McMurdo it does not feel much like Christmas. Still, the people here do what they can to try and get some Christmas Spirit going.

Sleigh won't start -- get the bikes

There have been a number of special events this week, including:
  • Cirque de Glace -- the women’s soiree I mentioned earlier.
  • Caroling, including our own version of the twelve days of Christmas (laden with penguins, skuas, and C-17s).
  • Snowflake day in the arts & crafts room, which were then used to decorate the galley.
  • A local production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
  • Christmas movies.
  • A town party held in the vehicle maintenance bay.
  • Several departmental parties.
  • Decorations on the streets.
  • Spamming people’s doors
  • Giving people little gifts.
  • Many people wearing Santa hats or dressing in holiday clothes & costumes (several janos have been dressed as elves the last few days).
  • Getting smashed (the bars have been packed to the gills all week).
A lot of folks are hoping for packages from home which were expected to arrive before Christmas. However, there have been mechanical and weather problems, so we are in our 5th day with no plane. Ouch, as I was typing this, I heard that they boomeranged today’s flight (turned it around and sent it back to New Zealand due to zero visibility at the airfield) -- so it will be at least the 27th before we have fresh food…or mail… or beer. Yes, the station has been out of beer for days now, causing quite a ruckus.  Luckily there is still wine and whisky.

Pegasus Airfield under layer of ice fog

Guess the South Pole elves win again…the little Grinches

For me personally, it is the never-ending day and the lack of children that makes it seem very not like Christmas. There is no cold winter evening with glowing lights, a cheery fire, hot chocolate and a sparkling tree. Nor are there giggling children begging to open presents early, while writing a letter to Santa and putting out milk and cookies. What we do have are a lot of tired, lonely people trying to keep their spirits up a very, very long way from home.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

McMurdo Week 2

Three interesting things:
  1. The main entrance of each building is marked by a large red light.  This is so people can find the doors during white-out conditions.
  2. McMurdo station is located in the New Zealand claim.  Occasionally there is tension over this, such as when people on site misbehave on or near the Kiwi base and are dumb enough to post photos of this on the common drive.
  3. The night-crew (MidRats) flip their time orientation.  They hang out in the coffee shop in the morning, and talk about getting to bed before midnight (noon).  Since the sun never sets, that works great for keeping their internal clocks on track.
Another World
Just finished my second week.  Still enjoying it, though at times this place is like another planet, both physically and culturally.  Spent my day off writing, revised 15 chapters of ZPF, and wrote this lovely blog article for you to enjoy.

The weather

The weather has remained warm, near or a little above freezing most of the week.  There was one cold spell where it snowed a little, and one morning where the wind was still, the sun shining bright and it really felt like spring (minus the budding plants).

We are under the ozone hole, and despite being at sea-level I burn in minutes without sunscreen.  I have even burnt inside our radome (as have some co-workers), which leads us to the conclusion that the membrane is transparent to UV.

Christmas and a shocking discovery
Christmas decorations are going up and people are getting in the holiday spirit.  However, I have made a shocking discovery:  South Pole Elves are evil.  Yes, they are stuffing Santa into a trash can.  The reindeer looked kind of mean too.

South Pole Elves -- not the nice kind
One of the big events for Christmas here was the Women’s Soiree which took place Saturday. This started out in the 90’s as a social event for the station’s few women who wanted to dress up and enjoy some wine and for some years men on station thought it was a women-only event despite open invitations (this is from the official history). Now the station population is about 60/40 men to women, with every job integrated, but the tradition of having women-only acts has continued.

It was described to me as talent show, but turned out to be a bit more involved, lasting over 3 hours with several exceptionally talented performers and nothing at all that was Gong-Show worthy (which is what I expected). The finale was a choreographed dance-off between the shuttle drivers and the Wasted Wrecked Jan-Hos (A team comprised of dancers from waste, recreation and janitorial).

Stage set up in galley

There also decorations on the streets and in the Galley, and even my door--my roommate is a regular down here and some of his friends did a drive-by decorating of our door.  Best of all, everyone gets two days off next week (yay!).

Long Duration Balloons
Another highlight was observing a long-duration balloon launch.  Nine miles out on the ice they have facility that launches very large balloons with a variety of instruments which ascend to high altitude and are carried around the pole by the prevailing winds which rotate around the pole in a very stable pattern during the summer.  Some of these balloons can remain aloft in excess of 90 days, and some carry huge instruments.  One I saw a lecture on carried a 2m optical telescope which has resolution rivaling space-based telescopes, at a fraction the cost.  From our work site we were able to watch it ascend throughout the day.

Unfortunately my camera lacked the zoom to really show much detail.  For a good part of the day it looked like a jellyfish undulating across the sky.

Stay warm northerners

Friday, December 17, 2010

McMurdo -- Week 1 Pix

For those of you not on facebook, here are some random photos:

Ice Runway at midnight
The ice has many different looks throughout the day. The sun never sets, so we get to see all sorts of conditions and lighting. Hiking at midnight, the glare off the ice was amazingly bright, the picture hardly does it justice. This runway is where I landed, about a mile out on the ice.  The ice is thinning and melting, so this runway has now been closed.

Seal on Ice
Several seals hanging out near Hut Point. The ice around it is part of the seasonal ice, it will be clear water by the end of January and we are likely to see penguins and sometimes whales here.  This is the same ice they built the runway on.  Kudos to the crew who groom it.

Ivan the Terrabus, an iconic ice vehicle which drives a lot of people in from the airfield.

The taxi fleet - -heavy duty 4WD vans.  We work outside town, so we ride these often.

When you miss the taxi, you walk.  Trekked from our second site to the NASA antenna after a mix-up with our ride.  The building is locked, but there is a warming shelter in one of the milvans (steel containers), which happens to have a phone, so we called for a ride.

More later....

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Where to hang out in Mac Town

Three Interesting Things About McMurdo:

1. It is a local call from McMurdo to Denver, Colorado. All other calls are…long distance.

2. McMurdo Station (Mac Town) has a 6 day work week. Sunday is the weekend, which includes a banquet of fresh food during the 4 hour brunch, parties, field trips, and a fair amount of cutting loose.

3. Expeditions and Antarctic bases used dogs as late as the 1980s. However, it is now against the Antarctic Treaty to bring non-indigenous species to Antarctica. So, I do not get to have a sled-dog team (how sad).

Yes, it is a troll.  Yes, it is under a bridge.

Where to hang out in Mac Town

Long hours are the norm down here (at least in the summer) as there are only a few months to get everything done before the cold comes back and the planes stop flying. But there are also a lot of opportunities for recreation, including movies, three gyms, two libraries and three bars as well as 6-8 social events scheduled each day.

My favorite haunt is the Coffee House. One of the three bars, it is a coffee house in name only since wine and port are the most served drinks. However, it has an espresso machine, so coffee can be had though most of the locals take it with a shot of whiskey. Still, it is a nice place to kick back. It has internet connections (a commodity here), warm drinks, and it is contained in a windowless Quonset hut originally built in the 50’s. Windowless is important as the sun never sets this time of year, and a windowless building gives the illusion of night--very important for maintaining a normal sleep pattern.

I also like the décor -- while much of the station feels and looks like a very dirty college campus, inside the Coffee House with its elegant wood paneling and arctic décor, it really feels like Antarctica. Compare to the galley (bottom photo) which could be just about anywhere.

Coffee House

The other thing I like is that the Coffee House has the best theater in town. With an HD screen, BIG speakers and the lights out, it looks and feels like you are in a theater, and those couches are amazingly comfortable.

Coffee House Theater

By comparison, here is the galley. Now tell me, where would you rather hang out?

McMurdo Galley

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sunday in McMurdo

It is my first Sunday in McMurdo and I am starting feel ‘in the swing of things.’ The pace of life here is interesting, very different from what most people are used to. Breakfast is 5:30 to 7:30. The typical workday is 7:30 to 6 with a lunch break somewhere in the middle. Bars open at 7pm and are usually packed. Day people tend to go to bed early, but there is a nightshift (Midrats -- so called because the cafeteria opens to feed them Midnight Rations). Walking through the dorms, “Day Sleeper” signs are common, reminding people not to wake the second shift (and raising the question of vampires). People work Mon-Sat, and take Sunday off. Saturday night is the big party night, with wine bottles at dinner and long lines to buy booze at the store.

The lifestyle is taking some getting used to. Though it is one of the most isolated places on Earth, the camp is CROWDED. Every public place has people in it at every hour of the day. Everyone has at least one roommate, some people have five. Public computers and internet ports often have waits, and sometimes the only privacy is to go back to the office after dinner.

McMurdo Station and Ice Runway

Our work is split between an office area (typical office), the T-Site where our first antenna was built, and an operations center in town where our back-end electronics are housed. The T-Site is on a hill overlooking the town and has spectacular views of Mt. Erebus, the Ross Ice Shelf, and the Royal Academy Range.

The Office

The biggest event of the week was moving flight operations from the Ice Runway to Pegasus. This involved about 24 hours of convoys moving buildings and equipment across ~8 miles of sea ice, including the air-traffic control tower. Apparently the road was so chewed up that one of the Deltas (see picture) got stuck and took several hours to extract.  The driver told us it was the "worst road trip ever -- 10 hours in a delta and I ended up exactly where I started."  I also heard from some mechanics that they burned out the transmissions in several vehicles trying to get everything moved in time for the next flight. The road is ice and packed snow, groomed much like a ski slope.  Several days of unusually high temperatures (we’ve had a few days in the high 30’s and low 40’s) contributed to the bad roads, which hold up better when it stays well below freezing.  The Pegasus runway is also on the ice, however it is on the permanent ice shelf (well, permanent so far...) so they can use it through the summer.
Delta on the Ice Runway

Three Interesting Things

  1. The waste processing center is in an area called sausage point. Minds out of gutters people. Apparently garbage was buried here in the 50’s and 60’s, and one season there was a vast amount of sausage left over, which was buried. When expanding a building, they dug into this lovely cache of 40 year-old sausage (permafrost--so things do not decay here). This delicious discovery a rather stinky clean-up earned the name Sausage Point.
  2. A skua is a 2’ long bird (about the size of a penguin) which will aggressively try to steal your food as you cross between buildings. Imagine a 20 pound pigeon with a beak as long as your finger that will NOT back down from a fight.
  3. There are several recreational hikes around the camp. For longer ones you must travel in groups, must carry a radio, must check out at the firehouse and if you don’t check back in on time they begin search and rescue in the 1st 5 minutes you are overdue. At least 3 people have died on these leisure hikes over the last several years, most by going off the marked trail and falling into unmarked crevasses. I can’t imagine the last hours of those they ‘almost’ saved.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I am in Antarctica!!!!!!!!!

We’ll see if I can get into a regular blogging schedule, but for now here is quick summary:
I am in Antarctica!!!!!!!!!

We are 20 hours ahead of MST -- so for me it is the next day, but four hours behind. (GMT +12 for those of you who are counting).
Arrived in New Zealand on December 1st. Remained there until December 6th poking around Christchurch and waiting for the weather to clear so that flights South could resume. Arrived at McMurdo Station on December 6th. Went right to work, touring the sites and helping with tests. Didn’t get to unpack until about 9pm.
Having a busy week and adjusting to the environment, culture, work pace, food, etc.
Sharing a room with a friendly janitor from Wyoming. This is somewhat lucky as one of our team members who arrived in October is stuck in a 5-person ‘temporary’ room. But not that lucky as another colleague has had a double all to himself since the day he landed.
Have only showered twice since arriving.
Have been too hot or too cold much of the time, though I am starting to get used to it (and I’m learning when to wear what).
Spent one day working on a ridge with no shelter, 40 mph winds, and temperatures around -4 C with a wind chill somewhere around -19. It was cold, but Big Red (the program issued extreme cold weather parka) kept me comfortable so long as I had my back to the wind.
Spent another day mostly in the office (boo!).
Today’s highlight: took a midnight hike -- since it is 24/7 daytime and tonight was clear-skies with almost no wind, I took late night hike out to Hut Point (a short hike). Saw a couple seals, watched a C-130 take off and looked over the original hut Scott built here in 1902. It is a protected historic site so we cannot go in or tamper with it. The oddest oddity there is a bundle of old ropes and canvas topped by the desiccated corpse of seal. I have no idea what the story of this detritus heap might be, but there is a chance it is from the original expedition (a 100 year old seal carcass -- yay).
3 interesting things:
  1. Up until 1972, the station’s power came from a 50’s era nuclear power plant. It was removed in the early 70’s due to a requirement in the Antarctic treaty that allows any signatory to inspect equipment on the continent. Not wanting to share proliferation technology, they removed it.
  2. Water + volcanic fines + cold = concrete. Watched an excavator trying to trench through fines (loose volcanic rock). It was making good progress when it hit a patch where water had penetrated forming ice-crete. The excavator only managed to chip away a couple inches over the course of an hour. He finally gave up -- they will need heavier equipment to break through the ice layer.
  3. Burger night -- it’s a big deal here. People line up 30-40 minutes early, standing outside (freezing) to get their $3 burger at Gallagher’s Bar.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

So you want to be a writer?

  • First, write.
  • Second, write well.
  • Third, write often.
  • Forth, get feedback.
  • Fifth, revise, revise, revise.
  • Sixth, submit, submit, submit.
  • Seventh, grow a thick skin.
  • Eight, mediate on patience.
  • Ninth, continue until your find success (or you die...whichever comes first).
Congratulations. You are now a writer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Colorado Gold writer's conference

This weekend I attended the Colorado Gold writer’s conference put on by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Yes, practicing what I preach. Here are my thoughts on conferences:
  • Attend at least one professional conference each year. The experience and contacts are well worth the time and expense. (check)
  • Attend at least one fan convention each year--learn what your market is reading, talking about, tired of. (planned for October)
Colorado Gold was a great experience. Met a ton of interesting people, recharged the writing batteries, learned new tricks, picked up new books, added several new authors to the ‘must read’ list, and had the opportunity to pitch Zombie Proof Fence face-to-face.

The pitching fascinated me. There was both a formal pitch appointment, and informal pitching. In the appointment, I had ten minutes to catch the interest of an agent. There were editors on hand as well, but each attendee was permitted only one appointment and I chose an agent. The pitch went fine, far more low-key and conversational than I expected, and the agent asked to see more (wahoo).

The informal pitching involved talking to other attendees about the book. This gave me a rare opportunity to talk about the book, the characters, the world, why I chose the subject, and how I tackled the project. In my day-to-day life this almost never happens. This part surprised me because so many people were not only interested, but positively bubbling with enthusiasm.

My biggest surprise of the conference came when people I had not talked to started to approach me, asking about the book by name. A stranger knows the name of my book? And cares? Wow. The first time, I thought it was a fluke. But it happened again, and again. Buzz? Whoa. I hope (fingers crossed) that the buzz reached some of the industry people who were there.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Status - September 6th

Writing a lot, but most of my work has been on side projects. Mixed feelings about this. While it is fun, lets me try some new things, and builds up some marketing collateral for ZPF, it is slowing down production on Forbidden.
  • Finished one ZPF spin off: Soma
  • Worked on ZPF book 2 outline.
  • Worked on ZPF spin off told from the dog’s POV.
  • Reading up on graphic novel writing, illustration, etc.
  • Submitted short stories that were collecting dust on the shelf.
This puts me about 2 weeks behind plan for Forbidden, but I am feeling productive.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Write-a-thon Day 9 --> The End

Worked at Coffee shop in am, library until pm
  • Solid day -- very productive
  • However, all the work was on projects other than forbidden:
  • Rough draft of Soma -- short story in Zombie Proof Fence universe.
  • Novel pre-work for 7-facts
  • Extensive character sketches for 7-Facts
  • Blogging
  • Sketching for blog
  • That added up to a solid 6320 words

Results: Success!
  • 84.5 hours (beat goal by 4.5 hours)
  • 36,632 words
  • A bit low on the word count, but a lot of time was spent reading old material and organizing.
  • Major progress on Forbidden, and did work on 5 other projects.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Write-a-thon Day 8

  • Worked at the library
  • Marked-up sections 3,4 and 5
  • Finial analysis:
          > Throw away 40% (old Academy setting and related material)
          > Rewrite 25% (opening and several key character interactions)
          > Survives more or less intact 35 %
  • Outlined first month at workhouse, though many details are sketchy.
  • Added to introduction.
  • 4239 words
  • From here: back to the beginning to fill in gaps and make required updates.
  • Sadly, tomorrow is the last writing day, then it is back to the hour or two each evening. Ahh, sweet productivity, how I will miss you.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Write-a-thon Day 7

Very productive day.
  • Worked at the library.
  • Drafted new scenes in section 1.
  • Re-plotted introduction to the Cogs, and shifted that sequence from Academy to Workhouse. Most of Section 2 will need re-done (30K words).
  • Changed Mal’s backstory substantially, he now has a driving need to help kids at the workhouse.
  • Also sketched out a Captain Nemo short story (one of those ideas from nowhere).
  • Total of 5985 words.
  • Getting tight--only 2 more write-a-thon days.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Write-a-thon Days 5 & 6

Day 5:
Very distractible Day 5 -- went off on several side trips:
  • Art, page design and game-design for the zombie blog
  • Follow-up on submissions for ZPF
  • Research on creative commons licensing for photos used on blog.
However, I did return to the work at hand and made good progress:
  • Substantial clean up on Section2 (much of which becomes obsolete with move from Academy to Workhouse as principle setting).
  • Continued clean p on Section1.
  • 5000 words, but only 2000 were on Forbidden.
Day6: Plumbing day
Part of the deal for taking this week to write is that I would commit time to attend to household repairs. Focused on that today. Made 3 successful plumbing repairs, and left one sink disassembled until I get parts. Also did substantial yard work.

This resulted in minimal writing. A few hours, 2692 words.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I am Slush

Agents and editors find me in their mailboxes and inboxes. I am raw, uncensored, somehow rough and incomplete. Yet they do not throw me away, instead they throw me on the pile. The slush pile.
Now and then, when the moon is full and no pressing engagements cry out for their attention, they crawl down to the basement, noses plugged against the terrible stink of amateurism and desperation. Bravely, yet with a shiver of hope, they shovel the pile into a blast furnace and set the charge to burn. Their fiery scrutiny heats the slush, melting it, allowing the pure and well-told stories to separate from the crazies and the borings and the poorly writtens, which clump into a vulgar mass and float to the top.

With glittering pens of doom, they skim the scum off the surface returning it whence it came with form rejections, one after another, after another. Sweating through the chill hours of the night, these intrepid souls burn down the slush until they can tap the vent, releasing the molten treasures that remain, and pouring them into the soot-black crucible of 'I would like to see more.'

I am then thrown into a hotter furnace, stoked with purer submissions and perhaps a cappuccino or three, heated to a white-hot frenzy of anticipation, and if lucky, I shall be poured pure and new from this crucible into the mold of an emerging voice, a shiny, newly minted author ready for the world to see.

Queen of the Coal Pile by Aaron Muderick
'Whole Gold Bar on Wood'

Write-a-thon Day 4

Worked at the library. Stayed later than usual -- good focus today. Something that helped with focus: ate very little today, and did yoga in morning and evening.

• Read-through section 1, marking what needs fixed or re-written, deleted old/out of date material. Cut ~3000 words, made ~1000 words of notes.
• Read-through 50% of section 2.
• Outlined bridge scenes for section 1.
• Outlined new opening.
• Still in pre-writing phase. This is behind where I wanted to be -- wanted to be into drafting new material and revising by today.
• Wrote 2633 words.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Forbidden - Revision Plan

Forbidden is my YA steampunk novel. Working on a revision, this pass focuses on story, character and structure more than language.

Here is the work plan for this one. My estimate is that I will have this draft done, and the story clean enough for beta readers, by mid-October.

A writing tip: Using a graph to show yourself (and others) progress against a fixed goal is a great way to motivate yourself.

Some points of interest:
• I update this weekly, Sunday evenings.
• The green lines are targets, one slow, the other fast. I need to stay between these to meet my estimate.
• The straight line across the top is the wordcount goal for the novel. You can see I need to cut 20,000 words to reach this.
• The other lines along the top show current word count.
• Also note that I refer to this as the 1st draft (because it is the first draft anyone else will ever see), though I have completed a previous rough draft.

Write-a-thon Days 2 & 3

Day 2 and 3 were good.

Day 2 -- worked at coffee shop

• Made tracking / management spreadsheet for this draft.

• Fine-tuned estimates -- estimating 150 - 190 hours for this draft.

• Worked on Snowflake (outlining method), and Synopsis

• Spent extra time working on ZPF artwork (this is a distraction as it was not part of this week’s plan).

• Wrote 2800 words

Day 3 -- worked at Museum of Nature and Science

• Awesome work environment. Best view of Denver, overlooking park with view of downtown & mountains. On-site food & drink. Mostly quite. Lot to look at during breaks. Only complaints: unsupervised children (loud/disruptive), and no public internet.

• Worked 7-facts short story. Spending time on this as it may grow into a novel.

• Made several updates to outline.

• Wrote 3422 words.

• Note: still in ‘pre-writing’ phase, no work done on manuscript yet.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Write-a-thon Day 1

Started write-a-thon with an average day, not terrible, not spectacular. Focused on pre-writing activities.
• Set up files for next draft.
• Started character dictionary.
• Reviewed all existing files.
• Wrote 2021 words -- all in brainstorming / outline.
• Have not touched the actual story yet.
• Sketched character designs for 4 zombies (for use in ZPF blog).
Non writing:

• 35 minutes cardio
• Installed new router (old one did not play nicely with Apple products).
• Ate 80% healthy.

Friday, August 13, 2010


At the start of a week-long writing spree. The plan is simple: write until I drop each day.

Had some trouble deciding what to focus on as I have just completed a long project and have not ramped up the next project.

Options are:
  • Short story spree -- crank out ~5 short stories to polished form and submit.
  • Start revision of YA Steampunk book
  • Write rough draft of MG mystery
  • Write rough draft of YA mystery

Each of these has appeal:

Short stories: I have not refreshed my list in a while, and I only have one pending publication in the queue, so I really should sell more shorts this year to keep my name work in front of people. I also have a serious idea backlog for short stories.

YA Steampunk: Rough draft is done. It’s a good story. Needs revised before anyone sees it. Completing this will give me two saleable books.

MG Mystery: Based on Doofus, this short book will be a fun Middle-Grade mystery. This too would give me a second book to sell, and I *might* be able to complete a draft during the write-a-thon.

YA Mystery: A new project. I have done a little exploratory writing with these characters and the setting (contemporary high school), but the outline is little more than a three page sketch and some character write ups. Would be fun, but unlikely to get through a draft.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Done with the 4th draft of ZPF. Trimmed it down to 90K and worked out the plot glitches pointed out by my beta readers. Now it moves into more intensive marketing.

Finished two weeks earlier than projected, so I have a little breathing room. Not sure what to focus on next. Could move right into cleanup of the steampunk book, could revise and submit some short stories, or I could try to bust out a draft of a middle-grade novel I outlined back in December.

Leaning toward the short stories as I haven’t had a new one come out in several months, but don’t have to decide this instant. I’ll think it over and see where I end up.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What I have been up to

Not blogging...

Went on social media hiatus, not blogging, twittering, or face booking. Nothing deliberate about it, just fell into an intensive writing period and did not make the time.

So here is what I have been working on:

Forbidden, a YA Steampunk novel set in Victorian London: Completed world building and wrote the rough draft. Draft came out to 106,000 words, with 102,000 in support files (outline, brainstorming, world building).

The draft came together nicely, but it will need substantial rework -- at the mid-point it shifted from an ‘academy for gifted boys’ setting, to a Dickensian workhouse setting, and the tone became darker and far more dystopian. With this rework, I expect to have a clean draft by the end of the year (ready for first readers, and possibly submissions).

Also writing a new draft of Zombie Proof Fence, a YA novel set 3 years after a zombie apocalypse. This draft is based on feedback from several very kind first readers, and is mostly fine-tuning and trimming.

Sadly between the novels and other commitments, I have not found time to work on short stories or to blog. However, I am through the intense drafting on Forbidden and into editing mode so you may be seeing more on the blog.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Guest Post: Cereal Morality

Today we have a guest post by Dan Morehead, who takes a moment to ponder the relative morality of breakfast cereals:

The cereal Trix is of uniform sweetness, every piece is a party. The advertisements for Trix teaches children that you should withhold sharing with those who look different "Trix are for kids." In truth rabbits are omnivorous and Trix would be a nutritionally appropriate foodstuff for them.

Lucky charms features lucky marshmallow bits which are a reward for eating all the more nutritious brown bits. The advertisement encourages kids to embark with adventuresome spirit to boldly find where 'Lucky' has hidden his breakfast. Once found Lucky shares his bounty without any grudge. The cereal, like the marshmallows, is a reward for discipline and initiative.

Lucky Charms is therefore a far more moral cereal.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Writing 101: Meticulous Attention to Detail

I keep metrics. Lots of them. It sucks up a few minutes every single day, but it helps my writing, my motivation, and my sense of progress.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, here is the definition from Wikipedia: “A measure for something; a means of deriving a quantitative measurement or approximation for otherwise qualitative phenomena.”

In short, metrics collection = measurement.

Most writers use the metric of wordcount, looking at how many words they have typed on a given day (I am at 267 words today, including these).

I suggest you begin collecting metrics. The two most important are:
1) how many words you write each day, and
2) how much time you spend writing those words.

Begin recording this in a spreadsheet. Watch those numbers over the next month or two and I bet you will see them go up (this is the motivation factor).

Some other fun things your can do with them:
  • Determine which schedule works best for you--are you more productive writing in the evening, or morning?
  • Determine which environment words best--did you write more at the library, or the coffee shop?
  • Determine how long it takes you to complete a project--if you have never measured this before it will be illuminating.
  • I do not suggest you calculate your net hourly income from your writing as for most writers this will be depressing. Still, it can be calculated if you keep good metrics.

 Here are two snapshots of my own metrics, and if there is interest I can post more advanced metrics advice (maybe even spreadsheet design tips...):

My daily wordcount spreadsheet (notice how it is broken up by project, I wrote 5.75 hours and produced 4.3K words.  It was a good day for me.):

And the summary graph for my current work in progress. This summarizes a few sheets of data, but note how it shows how I am performing vs. my goal, and how my productivity fluctuates week-to-week:



Monday, February 15, 2010

Support Files

I recently received a question about support files. In my status reports, I will sometimes refer to support files, which seem to take on a life of their own and are not part of the final manuscript. So here are some that I use for novels (which may provide insight into my process). These are from my current work in progress:

00_Forbidden_Work Plan.xlsx
A spreadsheet with charts, timelines, chapter list, metrics from last book (for reference) and other data specific to this book.

27,554 words
Open ended brainstorming. Much of what goes in here is never used, but over time a usable dictionary, character encyclopedia, world encyclopedia and other reference material I use in the writing process.

The outline usually starts in here. When it gets unwieldy, I move it to its own file.

12,294 words
This starts as a template with a pre-determined series of exercises based on Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method -- a quick, fun way of focusing and developing the initial concept and characters using the concept of fractals -- simple, repeating patterns that form a complex structure. Check it out at: The Snowflake Method.

I don’t usually complete every section, and my outline tends to be more detailed that what the Snowflake produces, but many of these steps provide a crosscheck--if I can fill them it succinctly, it means that area is mature, if the I go on too long it means an area needs further brainstorming.

The end result of this process is a query-ready synopsis, good for marketing, good for proposals.

15,638 words
The outline is just what it sounds like. I have a template for each section, and each level (I outline by section, chapter, scene), as well as an area for tracking subplots, and another for tracking mysteries.

I write detailed outlines, often with blow-by blow scenes and snippets of dialogue, and for each scene I list 5-7 Key Points that need to be worked in--this helps keep the writing on track when I actually write the scene.

4,186 words
This bubbles out of the snowflake file, then gets polished and chopped into different lengths -- the full synopsis (~15 pages), a 10 pager, a 5 pager and the dreaded one pager. Right now, all I have is the full synopsis (which is out for the critique group to review).

0 words (so far)

Being paranoid, and wanting to measure how much rework I have on each project, I save all the big items I cut. Not words, sentences, lines of dialogue, but scenes and chapters when they go away or are totally replaced. This gives me a graveyard from which I can resurrect anything I change my mind on, and a file where I can see just how much I have tossed.

On my previous book (Zombie Proof Fence), my cut file ended up with 65,825 words -- yes, I threw out an entire book worth of material. The worst offender: the basement scene which went through 6 very different iterations before I settled on one I was happy with.

So there you have it, more information than you ever really wanted.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Status -- February 7th, 2010

Things are moving on the new book. Primarily working backstory, world building, character development and outline (45K in supporting files), with ~7K of scenes drafted.

Here's a taste -- some events leading up to the story:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Writing 101: Finding Time to Write

Welcome to Writing 101

Many people aspire to writing, getting published, finishing a book, and so forth. But for most of those I have spoken with and observed (blogs, twitter, etc.), the single greatest obstacle to realizing their writing dream is finding time to write--not talent, not imagination, not desire, but time. Think about that. Are you in this category?

At this point in my writing life, finding time seems simple--but I remember years ago when it was real struggle. In the early years, weeks, sometimes months would pass with little forward progress and it took years to develop good habits. If you are having this problem, here are some tips for finding, or rather making time to write.

Your mileage will vary, but I am confident ANYONE can make 5 hours a week to write. That adds up to 250+ hours per year. MOST PEOPLE can make 10+ hours each week (520 hours/year) and a MOTIVATED PERSON with a professional attitude toward writing can make 15+ hours per week.

But how?

Here are the top two. These are changes you can make, probably without impacting anyone else in your life. I have another list that starts to affect other people, but that will be another post. Hope you find this useful:

#1 -- TURN OFF THE TV -- do I have to explain this one? Most people watch 2+ hours of TV every day. This is not quality time. This is wasted time. Even the news, even educational programs--all television viewing is waste. On your deathbed, you will not look back and think, “Wow, I wish I had spent more time in front of the flat screen.”

For a typical 2-hour per day viewer,14 hours per week have been freed up for writing. That’s 728 hours per year. For an average writer, this is a book. For a fast writer, it’s two or three. You might want to use about 4 of those hours to exercise, do some cardio, maybe get in shape (another dream many people have, but don’t think they have time for).

#2 -- TURN OFF THOSE VIDEO GAMES. Sure, not everyone does this, but those who game know what a time-suck this can be. Hardcore gamers spend 20-40 hours per week playing video games. Casual gamers play 5-10 hours per week. And yes kids, this is an utter waste of time.

I’m a gamer. Used to be a hardcore gamer. Here is what I do now that I am a writer: I don’t game when working on a book. However, I do take time between books to play through 1 or 2 best-of-the year kind of games. It scratches the itch, and frees up a ton of time for writing.

For me, this was the hardest habit to change. Took over 5 years to decide the writing was more important and to unplug the console. What I am writing these days is far more interesting than even the best games, so nowadays I put them aside without really thinking about it.

So there you go: 14-20 hours per week are now available for you to start that writing project. What are you waiting for? A swift kick in the ass?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Status -- January 16, 2010

Exciting news: Sold “The Identifier” to Psudopod -- the #1 horror podcast going right now. This short story is a personal favorite and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

No major news on ZPF. I have gotten excellent feedback from beta readers, giving me several ideas to improve the book. No news from agents or editors, but that is a slow process. For now, ZPF is on the backburner (unless I get a call) and I am working a new project.

The new project has gone in an interesting direction. Around Christmas, I had thought I would the start the year writing a novel-length expansion of Doofus -- Young Billy solving the mystery of M.L.B. and finding his shoes. This would be a middle grade story (for 3rd-5th graders) running about 40K words. Then, as happened with ZPF, a completely random idea bloomed into an interesting idea that exploded into a mind-shattering, keep-me-awake-at-night brainstorm--the Cat 5 hurricane kind of brainstorm.

As a result, I have shelved Doofus, shelved another runner-up (about a gang of thieves posing as homeowners in suburbia), and gone to a steampunk story set in Victorian London.

Try this out:

FORBIDDEN: After investing a toy with the forbidden gift of life, Malthus, a tinker’s son, is drawn into a treacherous and secret world of machines, magic and spies in Victorian London.

This alternate past has a 3rd tier of society, the Enlightened Society, made of individuals gifted with Craft and/or Ken.

Craft is witchcraft/sorcery and is primarily found in women. Ken is an intuitive, seemingly mystical, understanding of machines which is primarily found in men. Craft is highly suspect (work of the devil and all) and in parts of the world it is forbidden. Ken is more accepted socially and is the engine driving a fast-forward leap in industry and steam/clockwork technology.

In the last couple weeks I have gone through character and world-building exercises, developed an outline, and researched the period and other steampunk works. The plan is to start the first draft on January 17th and see how far I can get by April (I expect to finish a rough draft). After that, I will shift back to ZPF and edit based on feedback received from Beta readers--though a phone call on ZPF could radically alter my priorities.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Fine Art of Not Overreaching

Writing is hard enough without setting yourself up for failure. One of the smartest things a writer can do is to pick goals and projects that are achievable. One the dumbest things a writer can do is to overreach.

This is a huge problem for me.

When I start brainstorming, it is typically a big storm. One idea leads to another, to another, to another and so on. Then, just when things are saturated, a new idea emerges that is completely unrelated to the rest. I want to write all of these things. Sadly, this is not a realistic goal.

In the past I have tried to work too many projects at once--and failed. I have tried to work projects of epic and grandiose scale--and failed.

Thus from this cornucopia of concepts, I may only choose one. At least I am to be successful. This results in dropping 90% of my brainstorming, and taking 10%, developing it and making it shine. This strategy works well for me, I complete most of what I start. Many other authors have reported similar results. So let me offer you this advice:

Do not overreach.

Be realistic about your productivity, how long a project will take, other things going on in your life, and what you are truly passionate about. With these things in mind, take all those great ideas and whittle them down to one idea, an idea you can bring to life in a reasonable amount of time (1 month for a short story, 1 year for a book).

If you do that, you will finish the project, achieve your goal and go on to a life of bliss, happiness and achievement.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009 Accomplishments:

Here is a look back at 2009. It was a good year for writing.

2009 Accomplishments:
- Finished a novel: Zombie Proof Fence
- Sent out first round of queries.
- Received requests for fulls.
- Waiting to hear back.
- Finished 9 short stories
- Sold 4 short stories
- Saw 2 short stories published (other 2 pending)
- Maintained a blog (over 20K words)
- Captured over 50 story ideas for future use (over 22K in undeveloped notes).

The Numbers:
- 956 hours writing
- 447,828 words written
- Monthly average = 37.3K words, 80 hours.
- Beat goal of 57 hours/month

So there you have it. How was your 2009?

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 Goals Part 2

Here are my writing goals for next year, the “what I can do” sections have ideas that other writers may find useful. Achievability is crucial, so I have a plan to meet each goal. I have also looked at contingencies and challenge goals (because I am an overachiever).

Write another book, maybe 2

My goal as a part-time novelist is to write a book each year. The story at the forefront of my mind is a Middle Grade book, which will be very short (1/4 - 1/2 an adult book). Depending on what happens with ZOMBIE PROOF FENCE, I may have ~6 months available after writing the MG book. My challenge goal will therefore be to write a second book. Here is what I can do:
  • Write every day. This is the most important step. At 500 words per day, a first draft emerges fairly quickly. At this rate, it will take 240 days to write first drafts of both books. This leaves some wiggle room for life, revisions, short stories and the like.
  • Plan. Develop characters, story arc, know the ending, explore enough to KNOW the story closes in a satisfying way--all before starting the draft. This insures success.
  • Measure progress. This helps keep me focused, and also shows me when I’m getting off track.
  • Write first drafts. With so many things going on, expecting polished drafts is too much. If time permits, I will revise the new book(s), but realistically that may fall into 2011 as ZPF is the #1 priority this year.
  • Share. Sharing outlines and early chapters with my local writers group does two things. First, it provides external deadlines. Second, it helps expose weaknesses in characters, world-building and voice. This feedback allows me to make course corrections early on, and results in a far more mature first draft.
  • Re-evaluate after key life events. If ZPF sells, I will have a deadline for revision and need to focus on marketing. After the first book is done, my goals may shift. The unexpected could happen with family or work. After major life events, I will reevaluate to keep my goals achievable, yet challenging.
Write 6 New Short Stories

Short stories are fast--fast to write, to revise, and to sell. They improve writing skills quickly, they build self-confidence, they allow experimentation, and they help build an audience. I plan to keep this part of my writing going in 2010. Here’s how:
  • Write every day. Déjà-vu because I wrote yesterday too.
  • Capture ideas. You never know where a story will come from, so write down ideas, character sketches, dialogue, whatever--and keep those notes organized and indexed.
  • Pace = 1 story per 2 months.
  • Plan = 1 month to draft, 1 month to revise.
  • Share. Shorts are good for writers group. Once polished, submit. The more work in the mail, the greater the odds of getting work published.
  • Enjoy. A quick or experimental short story is a lot of fun and less stressful than the novel work. Short stories are good for taking a break, a change of pace, or a stress reliever.
Blog Weekly

Started blogging last year, but it was intermittent. Plan for this year is to blog at least once per week. The challenge goal is to blog twice per week. Here is what I can do:
  • Write every day. Hmm. I’m seeing a trend.
  • Post every Sunday. This is the most reliable day for getting things done (given my schedule).
  • Write book reviews. Interesting content for readers, and good ‘fill’ for lean weeks.
  • Write serial articles on writing. I know a lot about writing. Yay. Some of my trick and tips can help other writers so why not share? A structured series will be interesting to read on the blog, and I can write sections or themes more efficiently than random posts which improved the on-time delivery of content.
So there you have it. What are your goals, and what is your plan to achieve them?