Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Schwhine

Swine Schwhine

swine flu cartoon I talked to the kids last night about the Swine/H1N1 Flu. They hadn’t heard a thing about it. Apparently their schools aren’t talking to them about washing hands etc. I told them not to worry, it was still far away. Today there’s a school closed in Seattle because of it. Like closing a school makes any difference. So far, people seem to be treating this outbreak like…well…The Plague. We don’t even know how severe it will be. If there’s a 10% mortality rate like in Mexico…then we’re fucked. If all 306M citizens in the US get this flu, then 30M will die. I seriously doubt that will happen. However, I like to write Disaster genre novels so it’s the kind of thing I think about.

Since I’m a self-proclaimed “Master of Disaster”, let me tell you the mostly likely scenario. A normal flu outbreak claims about 36K people a year in this country. Since no one has immunity to this strain and there won’t be a vaccine available for months, it’s likely that this will spread quickly. We can expect 2-5 times more deaths, so 70-150K deaths from this. Timing is everything. Flu doesn’t spread as quickly this time of year, and people are paranoid about it, which could delay the spread enough to allow the vaccines to be distributed. So far it’s been contained mostly to the younger, more mobile population. Once it hits nursing homes and hospitals it will become much worse.

zombie attack kit So what can you do to prepare? The usual stuff. Find a place up in the hills and have no contact will people until the vaccine is available. Arm yourselves against angry mobs of looters once the government falls. Don’t forget that the survivors may be forever altered…and could turn into Zombies. Stock up on a year’s supply of MRE’s. Learn to survive out in the wilderness using traps made of maple saplings and clothes made out of bark. But don’t panic or anything. Everything will be fine. It’s not TEOTWAWKI. Yet. Just watch out for the wild dogs.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Done Moving

Done Moving

dump-cart2 Finally vacated the storage unit we had been renting. It took two trips with the small truck we rented but all our crap is now back cluttering up the place. The day culminated with a trip to the dump where I deposited over 800lbs of trash. I suspect once we go through every thing we just brought back, we’ll be ready for another trip to the dump although I doubt it will weigh so much. Our house now looks like we just moved in with boxes everywhere but we’ll get rid of most of it I suspect. After all, this is stuff we’ve had in storage for three years and never missed. Stuff we’ve had even before a tree fell on us and forced us to vacate half the house and pack up even more junk.

On the writing front, not much is happening, as mentioned in Friday’s post. I’ve been re-editing the “first 30” (now 43) pages of Dawn’s Rise but I’m still stuck on my query letter. However, I think I may have made a breakthrough. rsmellette at was bored and re-wrote my letter. He’s what he came up with:

Savior of the Planet. That's a hell of a job description and not one that Dawn Anami would have chosen for herself, but it was thrust upon her by prophesy. Now she has to contend with a space station breaking away from Earth, a massive world quake that destroys the cities (all of them!), a combination of asteroid and solar flares that threaten to annihilate the crippled station and everyone on the ground, plus groups of refugees battling over the world's remaining resources while the survivors on the space station struggle just to breath.

It's no wonder DAWN'S RISE is 145,000 words long. She needs everyone of them to meet her destiny and save the planet.

I think that’s awesome, and so do most of the people who have responded. I may try a variation of that, and see where it goes. It’s not quite my tone but it works. I’m hoping this is the week I finally send something out.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Nothing Doing

Nothing Doing

budget truck Okay that’s a lame blog title.

Not much to report. We’ve been busy getting ready to vacate our storage unit. On Monday we rent a truck and bring it all home, rip through as much as we can, and then take a huge load to the dump. So far we’ve gone through about 15 boxes of books and recycled a bunch. It’s amazing how little used books are worth these days. We sold them to a used book store for maybe pennies per book. It probably cost me more to store the damn things in the storage unit than what I got for them. We also got rid of a ton of old clothes we had in storage. What’s left is a ton of Xmas decorations, old bookshelves, sporting goods, and Tonya’s collection of craft magazines and Hercules dolls.

On the writing front, I put a new version of the query letter for Dawn’s Rise up for review. I think people like it better, but it still needs work before I’m ready to send it to an agent. One person wrote this comment:

Every sci-fi novel is a race against time to save humanity. You should consider something that separates yours from others written.

My takeaway from that comment is that A) I’ve successfully captured the essence of the SF novel and B) I do need to say what’s special about my novel.

So, what the F is special about Dawn’s Rise? My main goal in writing the novel was to A) include as many mega disasters in one book as I couldand I mean an over-the-top amount of disasters, and B) throw in the whole Space Elevator thing. So naturally that brought me to a Space Elevator Disaster. How do I fit that into 150 words without saying what I just said? This is the challenge I face.

Maybe I just need to focus on one aspect of the story, instead of trying to summarize the whole damn thing. Like a 150 word vignette? Just a taste of the story. A teaser if you will. I'll have to consider it. Something like "this is your standard 'World's coming to an End' but with this twist" kind of thing. Besides which, the Query Letter is not supposed to be a summary of the story, it's supposed to be a sales pitch, so I can say whatever I need to to get an agent's attention (although it's not supposed to "sound" pitchy).

I won’t have much time to work on it the new few days because of our mini-move but I’m determined to get something out soon to agents. Keep tuned.

Monday, April 20, 2009



300px-Hellfire I’m sort of stuck in Edit Hell on Dawn’s Rise at the moment. Turns out editing is 100x harder than writing. Writing is just process of saying, “this happens, then this happens, then this happens” until you have a first draft. Editing is more like, “does this word work? Does this sentence convey the character’s true feelings? Does this make sense? Will anyone ever read this dreck?” Every single thing is analyzed and considered, rewritten, cut, reordered, and then cut again. It’s like mowing the lawn with toenail clippers and Round Up. Each little unwanted weed must be replaced with a solitary grass stalk, patch by tiny little patch.

I keep getting advice about remove adverbs and adjectives, then I start reading some published works and the guy uses “suddenly, but, also, extremely,” etc all over the place. So are they bad or not? Writing is not like Engineering, there aren’t strict rules to follow that destroy your book if there’s one semicolon out of place. My biggest concern isn’t really the words but all the descriptive crap I have all over the place. It’s not that the descriptions aren’t necessary, they just get in the way of the action. I need to bring the reader along, not throw a bunch of stuff at him. I guess readers are on a “need to know” basis; I only tell them what they need to know when they need it.

Fun Facts For Last Week:

  • Running: 22+ miles, 2 days swimming
  • Weight Loss: Scale died. It’s either out of juice or it’s embarrassed for me.
  • The Immortals: I’m stuck on the current chapter. It’s not “writer’s block,” it’s just that the current chapter sucks and I can’t seem to rescue it.
  • Dawn’s Rise: About 30 pages edited, need about 10 more. Also need to work on rewriting the Agent Query for the nth time. I also should look into this “proposal” concept although I think that’s more of a non-fiction tool.
  • House Status: Recycled about 3 yards of old clothes. (That would be cubic yards). Going to recycle about ten boxes of books, hopefully we can get $ for these. I rented a truck for a week from today, and we’re going to empty the storage unit for good.
  • Mariners: 8-5 start which is great. They’ve been bit by injuries the first couple weeks but I think this should be a good season. Great to see Ken Griffey Jr. again.
  • Reading: Finished Heart of Hythea and began Orbit.

BTW that image is clearly facetious. I found it on this very strange site. Now back to Edit Hell.

Update: I didn't win the One Line contest...but I think they wanted more YA/MG type submissions and my writing is definitely for adults. 

Friday, April 17, 2009



fear Fear.

It’s what drives characters. Fear and desire.

Last night I participated in a discussion on Gather about Fear. I started thinking about the worst fears my characters have. Of course there’s always the mortal danger that surrounds their activities. Heck, Dawn’s Rise is a book all about disasters. Facing one’s mortality head on is always a good plot device. But of course that can get old after a while, so I got to thinking about their other fears.

In Dawn’s Rise, Dawn fears many things. She refuse to accept her role in the book because she doesn’t believe in herself. She fears being exposed as a fraud. She fears losing what little she has. After losing her mother at a young age, she wants to be cautious with her life. Her crazy Aunt has been a terrible role model and Dawn fears that kind of chaos. She also seems to be losing her sanity, so she fears losing her mind.

In 30 Days, Alex discovers a heinous plot and fears for his life because of the discovery that others have been killed. His life is turned upside down and everything he believes in turns out to be a lie. He doesn’t want to lose Elena because he fears being lonely and alone, especially since he thought she was “the one.” He also wants to maintain the respect of his family and realizes they could disown him if they knew the truth. Then once Carrie ruins his life, he fears the humiliation of defeat. Of course he knows his career is ruined, so he fears that his life is over.

One of the things mentioned in the discussion is that in many of the novels, the hero’s worst fears come true. Whether it’s a fear of spiders or fear of something like death of a loved one, the hero must face this fear and work through it. In Dawn’s Rise, Dawn does lose everything and goes a bit crazy. I’m wondering though if I should ramp it up a bit, IOW illustrate the fear a bit more, and then really drive her down into the depths of it until she’s practically paralyzed. In 30 Days, Alex never truly faces his fears and is buffeted around like a cork in rapids. That’s partly because of his role as narrator and partly because I wrote it all on the fly and it needs massive edits. There needs to be a point where he stands up to Carrie and Ellie, tells them to kiss off, and fights for his own life and well being. I don’t know if he even gets to this point in the sequel. Well, there’s always the final blogvel coming up in November.

And then there’s my fear, that I’m doing all this writing for nothing, that I’ll never get published, and never accomplish the one thing I’ve always wanted to do with my life. (Aside from becoming an Astronaut…I gave up on that dream a long time ago). I guess I need to face this fear. The biggest obstacle is really my fear of rejection…that my writing is crap and no one will ever read it. I don’t know how much of that I can take. But like my heroes, I’ve got to face it and overcome this fear, and not live my life afraid of failure.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The One Sentence Summary

The One Sentence Summary

Someone mentioned that my weekly summary sounded a bit like a “snippet” which is something I wrote every week at my previous job. So avoid sounding “professional”, this week’s progress post will be written in a more expository manner.

My main goal last week was to send a Query Letter to one agent, just to get the process started. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty this process would entail. The basic concept of the Query Letter is to describe your entire 600 page novel in only a couple sentences. This must somehow capture an agent’s attention in like 10 seconds of reading. It’s the entire intricate plot with dozens of characters summarized into a precious few pithy passages.

I literally spent the entire week banging my head against this. I soon discovered that I didn’t really understand my own damn novel. What are the important plot points? What are the goals of each character? What is the most important parts of the story? At the beginning of the week, I started out with something like this:

In a world heading for calamity, Dawn Anami rises from intensifying desperation and destruction to fight for humanity's last chance to escape from Earth's final demise.

Okay. Not so bad, but does it really capture what Dawn is fighting? Let me think….there’s the tyrannical Susan Franklin, a power-hungry woman who challenges Dawn every step of the way. But the story isn’t really about Dawn’s encounters with Susan. They are pretty secondary to the story, more like inconveniences. I kept re-reading important passages until I found this clue:

[Dawn is talking to Izzy about herself in the 3rd person] “And what if she doesn’t want to. I mean, what if she doesn’t want to be a savior and save the world and everything? What if she just wants the visions to go away and be left alone?”

Ahh, much better. That is an insight into Dawn’s inner conflict. The world is telling her to be something other than what she believes she is. The story is really about Dawn coming to grips with her real identity, accepting her role/fate/destiny, and discovering what all those pesky visions of dead and dying people are all about.

So now I’m up to this one line:

On a planet reeling from unprecedented disasters, can struggling psychic Dawn Anami find the strength to conquer her delusions and self doubt and accept her destiny—to lead the ragged remnants of mankind on an improbable path to safety?

I don’t think it’s quite there yet, but I think it really summaries Dawn’s struggle, and conveys the essence of the story. There’s a contest today for one line summaries…the top 3 lines get to submit a partial manuscript to an agent. I just saw they closed the contest…but I submitted anyways…it will be depressing if they don’t even look at it. I guess there are too many desperate authors out there.

I was going to send in a second line, just a random thing I thought of…don’t know if an agent would find this interesting or annoying.

Is it possible to have too many disasters in one book? I don’t know, but I gave it a try.

Okay I know that’s two sentences but whatever…they point is to get the agent to read the rest of the letter.

I will be getting a query letter out this week. Everything else is secondary right now.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Blogging From the Top of Tiger Mountain

Blogging From the Top of Tiger Mountain

Current Location:

West Tiger #3 Summit
Elevation 2522’

2009-04-08 Tiger Mt Hike 003 Took the dog up to the top of Tiger Mountain in Issaquah. There’s still snow up here! Blackberry did really well, me not so much but I made it. After the first 15 minutes I didn’t think I could do it but I persevered.  The dog probably climbed twice as much as i did since she kept circling around me going back and forth. We hiked for an hour before we saw anyone at all which was nice. Near the top we met a couple other dogs on the trail. Dog should sleep good tonight.

After running 8 miles yesterday, I’m a little bit tired. It was about 45 at the trailhead and it’s probably 35 up here with the breeze. I definitely packed too much between extra water and this netbook, almost 40lbs of crap.

I’m hoping to do this a couple times a month. It’s a real great calorie burner. If I had  a 3G card I could just hang up here all day if it wasn’t so cold. However this rock I’m on isn’t real comfortable.

Now back home:

The trail definitely got a lot busier on the way down. Apparently they’ve redone the top third because I didn’t recognize it. It seems a bit steeper now but they eliminated the swampy part. Definitely going to get back into hiking this year.

Monday, April 6, 2009

I’m Free!

I’m Free!

For a week…no kids, no spouse, just me and the pooch. So naturally I’m sitting around in my shorts, cranking up the tunes, and living the life.

So now for last week’s accomplishments:

  • Rewrote the first 30 pages of Dawn’s Rise. Sent it out for review to a couple people, but if you’re interested in having a look-see let me know.
  • Started a new chapter in The Immortals. Didn’t get much done on it.
  • Finished Reading His Majesty’s Dragon. Started reading Heart of Hythea. (reading both on the iPhone Kindle App). I also ordered a bunch of books on
  • Made a lot of progress on the “drum room.” Which is no longer the drum room because I’ve moved all my drums and musical equipment into my upstairs office. I now have a drum set, a bass stack, and a PA system up here to keep me company. Now I’m trying to figure out how to hook the computer up to the PA without get a big hum. In the old drum room we went through almost everything and started dividing into “Keep", “Recycle/Sell”, and “Trash” piles.
  • Got all my planned runs in. And I found a new place to swim: Bellevue Aquatic Center.

So then here are this week’s goals:

  • Finish the first 30-pages rewrite.
  • Find an agent and send out a query letter. This should be interesting. I’ll post something when it’s done.
  • Keep working through the old “drum room” and get rid of what I can.
  • Workouts: Runs of 8, 5, 4, and 5, 2 swims, 2 weights. Also if the weather’s not too bad I plan on taking the dog on a hike up Tiger Mountain sometime this week.
  • Keep working on the paperwork.

Don’t forget this Opening Day for the Seattle Mariners. Go M’s! Next week is the home opener.

Friday, April 3, 2009

What do I Want?

What do I Want?

talking kitchen I’ve been checking out a writing discussion on Last night’s topic was “what do your characters want?” I posted some things down about my characters from Dawn’s Rise, which go me thinking.

What do I want? What do I, as a person, but also a character in my own life, want? It’s not a question I ask myself very often. I know for starters I want to be a novelist. I’ve wanted to be a novelist probably since high school. I didn’t write much back then, but I loved reading Science Fiction (now Speculative Fiction…probably because there’s so little science involved anymore). I divided SF into two classes: Pre-moon landing and post-moon landing. The reason was that after 1969 it seemed that SF went from the realm of the purely speculative into the realm of the possible, and authors adjusted their writings accordingly. That was one of the best times for SF.

I then discovered a new class of authors, the ones who wrote far back in the 1920’s like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, and HG Wells. Despite their lack of any kind of modern scientific knowledge, they still created wonderfully crafted works that still hold their value today. As I grew older, I started having a bit of distaste for Fantasy. I thought it was too easy just to make up stuff. Swords and Dragons and Vampires…boring. What interests me isn’t what someone can fantasize about, but some that might actually happen someday. If mankind is ever able to travel among the stars, that opens up just huge potential for the human race. However, given what we know about Cosmology, it seems like we may never achieve this goal. No transporters, no phasers, just communicators for now.

So now I feel a bit disillusioned. (See my 20 year old quote about disillusionment). Whereas scientifically and technologically we’ve achieved far greater than anyone could have predicted (although the books I wrote in the late 80’s predicted the Internet and iPhones), some of the glorious tenets of Speculative Fiction still remain well rooted in the realm of Fantasy. There’s no interstellar travel. There are no orbiting colonies. There are no flying cars even. Yes, I can get a talking kitchen (see picture above). Whoopdeedoo. The fact that this 3lb laptop has more computing power than all the machines combined at school the year I graduated is amazing, but we’re still flying the same damn space shuttle we had the year I graduated. And this laptop has more computing power than that hunk of junk too.

So now we’re left with authors regurgitating the same old stuff or turning to vampire romances. Have we lost the creativity? What are we missing? Have all the promises of SF gone unkept for so long that we now no longer care? Where have you gone Isaac Asimov? Sure, there are still great stories to tell. After all, writing isn’t really about new invention and ideas. It’s about the characters, their personal challenges, and how they cope with an ever changing world that’s unpredictable and cruel. The greatest idea in the world is useless in the hands of an inept author. This is why Wells and Verne and Burroughs stay so readable, because they made their characters come alive, no matter how ridiculous we find their inventions in the light of modern technology.

What’s left? It looks like all roads lead back to Fantasy, where you have complete creative control to write anything without any limits except the own “world rules” that you set up. Which of course you can change with a word from Wesley Crusher. Fantasy still tells us a lot about who we are, and what we’re capable of. I don’t believe in vamps or ghosts or whatever, and I have no interest in writing about them. So I came up with a Fantasy idea: what if hi-tech objects possessed magical properties? What would a magical MP3 player do that a regular one can’t? That’s the inspiration for The Immortals. So what I want is to create or join a new SF/F crossover genre of high tech/magic. Sort of like futuristic steam punk fantasy. Or maybe it’s been done and I’m just kidding myself. Who knows. If I just focus on the characters I should be fine.

So now I’m heading into the dreaded Fantasy world. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

ASUS 1000HE EEE PC Review – My New Best Friend


51lr5ArrfjL._SL500_AA280_ So now that I’ve had my EEE PC for a couple weeks I figured I’d write a review of it. I’m also going to post this on the page for it.

Here are the basic features of the 1000HE:

  • 10” Display
  • 1.66Hhz Intel Atom N280
  • 1GB Ram (which I upgraded to 2GB for about $20)
  • 160GB Hard Drive (not sure of the speed)
  • Bluetooth, 1.3Mp Camera, 3.2 lbs
  • 9.5 Hours battery life

So here goes the review:

I’d spent about a month searching for the perfect netbook. I’m working on a novel and I want something I can easily carry with me anywhere, and if I lost/broke it I wouldn’t be either out a lot of $ or lose data. I had a few requirements: low price (< $400), XP, and a SSD. Unfortunately the SSD option put every available netbook out of my price range. I also like the Dell Mini 10 but it hadn’t shipped yet. I also looked hard at the netbooks with built-in 3G but I balked at the $60 for 24-months additional cost. The reason I wanted a SSD is because I’m considering taking the machine on bike rides or hikes and I wanted the durability. When I finally gave up on the idea, everything fell into place quickly. The feature that finally made me pull the trigger was when I discovered that this machine claims to have 9.5 hours of battery life. That made my quest for SSD moot. After all, if I kill the hard drive, I can always buy a SSD replacement drive.

My first impression of the machine is that it’s very capable. In terms of speed it seems no different than any other laptop, in fact sometimes it seems a bit faster. I haven’t downloaded anything to it which I think helps. The only thing I’ve put on there is Chrome, IE8, disk encryption software, and the Windows Live suite. No instant messagers, no media players, nothing that’s going to hog CPU/memory/disk access. I don’t have anti-virus on it…because I don’t plan to download anything. This has kept it running smoothly. The screen is bright without any pixel issues, and the case is actually pretty nice. Everything I use is online: email, word processor, spreadsheet, even music.

I did add the 2GB memory upgrade for $20 but given what I’m running I don’t even know if it was necessary. I use Chrome for almost everything since it has a small memory footprint and it’s faster than any other browser out there. The keyboard is a little small but it only took a day to get used to. I really love the touch pad. It has gestures similar to what I had with the MacBook Pro I used on my last job. I turned off the magnify because it had weird results, and now it's great.  The net card seems good and I haven’t had any connection issues at home or at hot spots. It’s hard to know if you really get 9.5 hours of battery because I’ve never used it that long but I bet it’s pretty close.

I’ve only had a couple issues so far. First of all, the charger is extremely weak. It seems to give up the ghost if you’re changing and running at the same time. The solution is to unplug the charger for a while then re-plug it in. I’m going to request a replacement from ASUS just in case this one is actually faulty. The other issue is that if you’re running on battery, you have to turn up the processor to high-performance to view online videos. I wish it would do that automatically.

I’m really happy with it and I’d recommend it highly for anyone looking for a take-anywhere internet machine.