Sunday, October 30, 2011

So it starts tomorrow

And like normal I am nowhere near prepared. Its been said that people will take ninety percent of the time doing the first ten percent of the task. That leaves the bulk of the work to be done in the shortest amount of time.

So it was with my planning. I could finish off the rest of the work, but in the true spirit of NaNoWriMo I will wing it.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It all has to happen somewhere

Yup, today I'm looking at setting. You may find it strange to look at setting this early, right after structure. But let me explain my reasons.

Setting is key to so many elements of a good story. For a start setting decides what can and can't happen. A plot about escaping a shipwreak only makes sense on a large body of water. An evil wizard taking over the world only works if magic exists. And try writing a romance without a predefined concept of gender.

Setting is also key to characters. Characters are born, grow up, live, love and die, all within the setting. A story in modern New York will have very different characters from one set in the ancient Mesapatonion jungle. You guessed it, time is just as important as place.

Some settings require more work then others. A completely fictional setting requires lots of work to make and keep it consistient. For example you can't have a literate population without both a paper and printing press equivilent. Okay, so thats one of my pet peeves that nobody else seems to notice, but you get the point. A familiar place will provide you with ready made details, but it will also constrain you. Everyone knows there is no alley way between first and fifth street.

My story will happen in a fictional modern earth city, it may look suspiciously similar to New Zealand. I want all the benefits of writing on earth, but none of the constraints of a real location. I'm somewhat nervous about this, my comfort zone is completely fictional locations. Current period. I might throw a chemical factory in the mix too.

Incidentally I will be trying out writing using the new beta of Scrivener for Windows. Set the structure up this morning.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


So here it is, the first stage of my planning process

Begining - 10,000 words - The good guys are hanging out
Middle - 30,000 words - The bad guys show up and make life diffficult for the good guys. The good guys fight back, but get it handed to them on a platter.
End - 10,000 words - Just when all hope is lost the good guys get their act together and manage to save the day. They live happily ever after.

This may seem like a trivial exercise. But it defines what the project is, and what it is not. For example, it is not a romance, by this stage a romance would already look completely different. Nor is not an epic.

Next I'll think about the where.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NaNoWriMo coming up again

Its amazing how fast the year rolls around. Seems like it wasn't that long ago that I was writing The Adventures of Zeek, learning wonderful things about writing without an outline. But its just a few weeks until everything starts up again.

After last years effort I'm not expecting to come in anywhere near target. There is this thing called life that just keeps getting in the way. While I admire those that put writing as their top priority, its not something I'm willing to do. Got a wife and two kids who I love spending time with. Got a job I enjoy that pays me too much to slack off. I'm sure someone will visit, get sick, and I'll discover a new book or video game that can't wait.

So that's all my excuses out of the way in advance. Now I can stop worrying about them and get on with the job at hand.

Like normal I'm going to approach NaNoWriMo differently. Last year was about not having a plan. This year will be about ignoring physics. Completely. Pure fantasy with no regards to cost or consequences. Let their be earthquakes and volcanoes (without destroying the local ecosystem). Let there be walking through walls. Let there be epic battles between good and evil, just because one side is good and the other is evil.

I'm thinking something along the lines of X-Men. If you're lucky, and if my daughter keeps deciding that Daddy should be getting out of bed at five in the morning, I'll share the rest of my planning process here.

Please comment and share your thoughts. I'll include as many as possible in the project.

BM out

Sunday, August 7, 2011

No More Mister Nice Guy

I'm currently rereading Robin Hobb. One of my favorite authors. Very well thought out convoluted plots. Very distinct characters. From the Fool to Nighteyes to Captin Kennit, even the bad guys are well developed.

That's when the penny dropped. I have no bad guys, not a single one. Sure I have 'villians', characters who want something different from the hero. But none of them are evil, just moving in different directions.

A few days later I was sitting in a versatility workshop at work. The guy was presenting on different social styles. All these pennies could make me rich, if the Americans ever get their economy together. All of my characters are basically the same style. Sure, they have completely different backgrounds. They have different motivations and goals. But they go about problem solving the same way. They react to stress the same way. Deep down inside they are all the same person, me.

Are these the real reasons my manuscripts consistently stall twenty thousand words in?

I believe the solution is simple, I have to exaggerate my characters, make each one is unique deep down, not just on the surface. Of course none of this will happen unless I find some time to write. I love getting my paycheck each month, but full time work has some definite disadvantages.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Just like a choclolate milkshake...

I got myself a Kindle the other day. Its one of the reasons I haven't posted in a while. The other one is lack of sleep due to the new baby. Good times.

The promoters will tell you the kindle is just like reading a real book. They are almost right. The secret is in the screen. In a traditional electronic screen is composed of thousands of lights, different combinations of on and off make up the picture. The kindle screen is composed of thousands of dots that can be black or white, each time you turn the page the kindle reorganizes the dots. Readers use an external light source, just like a regular book. Because it only uses power to turn the page the battery lasts ages (but not as long as the advertisements would have you believe). There is a parallax effect, but its barely noticeable after the first couple of pages.

Now for the crunchy bits.

The kindle can hold literally hold thousands of books. Organisation quickly becomes an issue. Amazon could have solved this quite easily using a folder like structure, the one we all understand and love. Instead they developed there own system, which quite frankly does not work. Its lacks the simplicity of scanning a bookshelf. The Kindle itself is difficult to customise in any way. Not as much of a downside as you might think, most of my time is spent reading.

The cost of new eBooks varies widely, there are plenty of free 'classics', there are plenty of 0.99c books, but best sellers are often more expensive then the print version. Somewhere someone is making an extortionate amount of money. It costs almost nothing to create an eBook, after all you have to digitalise everything for the printers in the first place. Based on simple economics its a bad idea, especially when you consider you can't lend the books, or pass them on to a second hand dealer.

I'm not advocating the practice, but does it surprise anyone that you can find pirated versions of all the bestsellers?

There are some big advantages over a traditional book. Turning pages is a breeze. You can read one handed, which is great when rocking a baby on the other arm, you can even leave it reading sitting on a bench. Its small size is also a bonus.

At this stage I'd recommend the kindle. Its managed to keep most of the joys of reading, and eliminate some of the pains. They just need to find a way to duplicate the smell.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kaylee Violet Gubb

We had a little baby girl this morning. She is beautiful, a little bit red and squishy, but beautiful all the same. For the ladies she weighs 4310g, that's 9 pound 8, a big little baby. She is feeding well and Mum is recovering.

Big thanks to both Nanas who helped out by taking care of Jade and Dad. Did have to kick them out of the hospital to let the patients sleep, but they were great when everyone was awake.

Jade is still unsure what to make of the new baby. At first she didn't want to get to close, but by bed time tonight Jade was giving Kaylee kisses, so cute to watch. Doesn't mind sharing Mum to much, huge relief to the parents.
The staff at the Taranaki Base Hospital were really good. We knew what was happening, and when. Thanks also to everyone who has offered us congratulations on facebook. I'll put new photos up as they come, the ones already up can be found here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tales for Canterbury

I'll admit it, I've never read a short story outside of high school English class. And you can forget about poetry, the last poem I looked at was an acrostic at primary school, 'mother' down the left side of the page in a card. My mum told me it was brilliant, I still believe her. No, I've stayed strictly puritanical in the world of novels. Beginning to regret that now.
From Saturn's moons to Aladdin's ring to zombie apocalypse, and that's just in the first thirty pages, Tales for Canterbury has impressed me. Alternatly inspiring or distirbing, moving or sad, there are even a few that I didn't get at all, meaning there is something for every taste.

Sure, you can't sink your teeth into a completely new world in a short story. Its strange to read science fiction that doesn't care about physics. But I would highly reccomend Tales for Canterbury.

And now I'm off to try my hand at a short story.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

An accountant moment

One of my bosses at work loves to explain things using funny little jokes. I'm not sure how much it improves understanding, but it got me thinking. We were having an account moment.

Question: What is one and one?

Artist: Someting beautiful
Mathematician: Two
Engineer: Three, I always over design by a factor of fifty percent
Accountant: What would you like it to be?

And from some of my own roles

Student: Will this be on the exam?
Inner editor: What are one and one?
Writer: How did the ones get together? What would happen if they were separated? What if one was a two instead? Just look at the possbilities.
Plant manager: What does your operating procedure say?

And my wife

Graphic designer: Isn't it more about the space behind the ones?
Impressionist: Light, dappling in the shadows
Surrealist: A representation of inner dreams
Expectant mother: Too many days

(Okay, so I don't understand the art references, but that's beside the point.)

So what is one and one for you? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ahead of myself

Way, way, way ahead of myself. For the short version click here. For the full story read on.

Last year I completed a kiwiwriters challenge. Write a novella in a month, focusing on word count over quality. It was a nice break from my longer term projects, and strangely liberating not having to worry about plot or internal consistency. The end result was Kazhure Genesis, a semi-epic fantasy tale about a young wizard who's world is threatened by war. Needed a lot of work, but I was quite pleased with it.

It made good sense to let it sit before I started editing it. In the meantime school got busy and baby one came along. The little usb stick didn't really stand a chance. Other projects came and went, we move first into our own home, then back to my parents, then into another city. The stick spent most of the time in an unopened box.

Baby two is due in a couple of weeks. That means unpacking boxes in a mad search for clothes, cloth nappies, blankets, creams and all the other things little people need. In the middle of it all I found a tiny red usb stick, and my novella in exactly the same state I left it.
Now I'm set up to sell the book through createspace. Why createspace instead of a traditional publisher? This one is an experiment. I've read lots about self publishing and print on demand, now its time to see if it works for me. Kazhure is a great one to try it with, because I don't have a huge amount of energy vested in it if it doesn't work.

Setting up the store is getting way ahead of myself. My inner editor is working overtime retrofitting a story arc. My external artist (aka my beautiful wife) wants to give the cover a makeover. It may be some time before publication.

Nevertheless the store is active. Yippee!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Money money money

For the last few years I've been living off next to nothing. The student allowance in this country is about $160 a week. When you consider that board averages around $100 a week it doesn't leave much left to spend on basics, like food. And you can forget about luxuries like going to the movies. The numbers changed slightly once baby was born, but expenses went up too.

Now I'm finished my degree and working a full time job. My salary is comfortable. Its nice not to worry about money all the time. Sure we still have to keep a budget. But it has a little more wiggle room. Any wiggle room is more wiggle room.

But all of that pales in comparison to the corporate world. One of my roles is a project manager. I wanted some money for an experimental project. Disclosing actual amounts probably violates one of the forms I signed when I started, lets just say it was more then three months of the student allowance.

So I pluck up the courage to ask the capitial coordinator for money. He looks at me blankly. I'm thinking this is bad. I start to back down, remember I'm not even fully convinced this is going to work.

"Chump change," he says.


"Chump change. Two grand will barely show up on the radar. And if it doesn't work it doesn't work."

Puts things in a little bit of perspecitve. But that was just the start.

A few weeks later I'm sitting in a training meeting with the global capital coordinater, a pay grade or two above our local coordinater. He's talking about project methodology for small to medium projects. Because I'm completely lost I interupt him.

"So what exactly do you define as a small to medium project?"

"Its done on the basis of cost"

"So ten thousand would be a small project and a medium project might be one hundered thousand?"

I get that same blank stare again. Turns out it doesn't count as a small project till its more then three hundered thousand. Medium cuts in somewhere between seven and ten million dollars.

Thats some perspective for you.

Life experience

I read an interesting blog article about teenage writers. To sum up: You need life experience to write a story worth reading. Those without experience (ie young people) can write to get practice, but shouldn't try and get it published.

Okay, that's not exactly what the blog said, but the sentiment was there, buried between the lines. Most of the article has good advice. But I want to focus on life experience.

Where do I get experience fighting dragons? Riding dragons? Seeing dragons? Anybody had any practice kissing vampires? How about a serial killer, any volunteers?

My options for writing are starting to get severely limited. Who wants to read about a guy who works a nine to five in front of the desk. Everyone knows how the story ends. He retires to a rest home and his grandchildren feel guilty about not visiting.

Any experience age or life can give I can get. I don't want to read something I can go do. Even if I would have to travel to the other side of the world to do it. Eventually I will experience being old for myself.

Rest assured there are other ways to get inspiration. And they work while you still have all your teeth.

BM out

Sunday, April 10, 2011

You can't judge a book by its cover

But we all do anyway. There are too many books out there to waste time on duds. Have I missed some good books by sticking to these rules? Maybe, but I have read more bad books by ignoring them.

So how do I pick my books?

A dragon on the cover is generally a good start. A guy challenging him with a glowing sword helps to. Cover art is the earliest clue to the genre of the book. Pink turns me off, its a romance novel, but the same thing draws my wife in.

There are other more subtle signs on the cover. Well known authors use almost blank covers, the idea being that everybody knows what they write about. As a general rule the more prominent an authors name the better, I have no idea why this is the case. I like to see 'book on of the xxx series.' I'm not going to pick up book seven of a series without the others, regardless of where the book number is hidden. You can always tell by looking at the list of 'other work by the same authour' usually in the first few pages.

Everything checks out? I turn to the first sentence. The easiest to spot is plain bad writing. The occasional lapse on page two hundred is allowable. But on page one? That means it will also be on page two, three, four... Cliches in the first sentence also make me wary, but clever cliches drag me in.  'He was as dead as a doornail, now why a doornail is more dead then any other nail is beyond me, wouldn't a coffin nail be more dead.' (A Christmas Carol) Not quite the exact wording, but I read the rest of the book, and remember it well.

I need to find some reason to move beyond the first page. I don't want to know every characters detailed history. I don't need to understand intimate details of the plot, or be 'hooked' in the traditional sense. I just need to know that the author is capable of entertaining me. A favorite author gets much more leeway, they have already proved their value.
If the book has made it to this point its pretty safe. But it still has to deliver on its promises. There is nothing I can't stand more then abused suspense. The character gets kidnapped in the opening pages, I'll read the first chapter wanting to find out why. But suspense can only carry a reader so far, at some point questions must be answered.

What about a satisfying ending you say? To be honest I couldn't care less. Once I get to page three hundred and fifty I'm going to read the last bit, regardless. A good ending is like dessert, nice to have, but secondary to the actual meal. That said if any one pulls the 'read the next book to find out what happens' trick I won't be reading the next book.

I'd be interested to find out what things others look for in selecting books to read.
BM out

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The important things in life

Every once in a while something happens to make you stop and reevaluate. Sometimes its big things, like the earthquake in Christchurch, or the tsunami in Japan. Sometimes its the loss of a family member. Sometimes its a accident at work, the 'It could have been me' scenario. And sometimes its just noticing how tall a little girl is. And occasionally all of the above.

I'm not going to go on about spending every day like it was your last. I wouldn't turn up to work if it was my last day on earth. If everyone lived like that it would very soon be our last day.

The things we should do today are more subtle then that. Am I happy on my current path? If I keep going in this direction will I be happy in ten years? In twenty? In fifty? Am I spending the right amount of time doing the things I want to do? The things I would like to do? The things I have to do?

Its no good planning to be happy at some future time. Every moment of our lives is going to have a bad and a good. Plan to be happy today.

For me there was no drastic changes to be made. Just a few small ones. How about you?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Windows 7

Work just upgraded my computer, way more specy then my home model. Its built on Windows 7. The software seems great, but is taking a while to get used to. Fortunately I'd used ribbons before at uni, so office wasn't too much of a struggle.

Overall Microsoft have tried to make the whole system user friendly. That is a a complete new direction for them. I like it. Sure they have stolen every new idea from someone else, fortunately they have enough money to pull it off.

The new start bar looks surprisingly familar, comes straight from the Mac system, its not as crowded though. Hovering over each button shows a small window displaying the program, very useful when you have seven word documents open at once. Very similar to the tabs in internet explorer, incidently those were stolen from firefox.

The start button is still there, comparatively ugly and not as useful as previous start buttons, the all programs menu now scrolls. Only cosmetic changes to the desktop, still much the same as 3.1.

Windows explorer (my computer or file manager) has gone through an upgrade. Took me about ten minutes to fins out what happend to the up button. Another useless innovation is libraries, the idea is to access all of your files from one place, no matter where they are stored. Basically turns into a huge messy list of files, defeating the whole intended purpose of folders.

I have mixed feelings about hiding the technical stuff. Its great having error messages that my mum could read and understand. But the changes to the file system mean its harder to keep track of where everything is going, especially if you copy programs without installing them. Developer tools, such as the visual basic editor, are also hard to find. On the upside the networking seems to work without much tweaking.

In short I like it. But like any new system it takes getting used too. In a couple of months I'll report if it is as bugfilled as previous software from microsoft...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Waters of Sebus 'published'

That's right folks. As of right now its going live, right here. Okay, so so far its just an introduction, but it will all be posted over time.

Of all the writing I have ever done the one I took most seriously was Waters of Sebus. I have only ever released short segments from the first chapter, dreaming of one day getting it published. Maybe even quit my day job and become a full time writer.

A friend of mine recently quit his day job to live the dream. He sold a book, as well as options for several sequels. As far as I can see he is enjoying it, but he is the first to admit that finances are tight. But its a worthwhile trade for a lifestyle you love right?

Then I started my job. I enjoy it and can see myself still there in forty years. We have spare money. Its hard to imagine going back.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not giving up my writing. But I no longer look at it as a potential money earner. Its now free and available for anyone to read. Which was what I really wanted when I started anyway.

BM out

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


At two thirty I got an email saying that there was another earthquake in christchurch. I thought nothing of it, just another aftershock, they happen all the time.

Wandering through the corridors a large number of people were on there phones. Nobody was saying much, just listening. I overheard a news report, it sounded as if someone had the wrong number, wires crossed somewhere in the system.

At three fifteen I went to a meeting. My boss has his time allocated in fifteen minute blocks throughout the day, he's never late. He was late.

My boss arrived we talked for a few moments. He made a call, one guys was okay, two still unacounted for, a fourth in Nelson. Buildings down. Bodies on the streets. Warehouse okay, workers sent home, more important things to take care of then a few busted containers. Another call interupted the first, missing guys accounted for, still trying to track down families.

I arrived back at my office. There was a message on my phone, from our new land line number. My wife loves being able to call people, I just have to remember to programme it in. The message system is strange, new messages come in through email, you open them and they play through your phone. Her voice is shaken, I know she was having a bad day. Mum had called, my sister had been driving into town around two thirty, I'd forgotten she was on holiday down there. She's okay. Kind of funny really, thought she had a flat tyre and pulled over to the side of the road. Turns out it was a little more serious then that.

Our prayers are with everyone is Christchurch. May God bless those who remain, and speed those who are gone on their way.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gone off the face of the earth

Well almost, moved to New Plymouth. We are finally getting the internet. Officially its so I can work from home, I have no problems letting them pay for it, but it also means I can get active in my blog and some forums again.

Job is going well. I working as a chemical engineer. Sad to see the bio bit go, but such are the decisions we make in life. I am doing half of two jobs, but I have two complete bosses. Makes for some interesting times. So far I've managed to avoid being caught in the middle.

Q: So what does a biochemical engineer actually do?
A: Support the running of the plant

Q: What does that mean?
A: The engineer does everything the operators don't have time to do

Q: Best perk?
A: I don't do any of the physical work

BM out

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Plymouth

Just settling in to our new house in New Plymouth. Got a job as an engineer in one of the factories down here. Its a pretty neat town. Lots of free stuff to do, including a zoo, which Jade loves. The library is massive, haven't yet had time to explore it properly.

If I don't post very frequently for a little while its because I've busy adjusting to honest work.
BM out