The NaNo experiment

Some of my favourite writing advice, but I still screw this kind of thing up.*

For November I ran a writing experiment (most everything is an experiment for me, a side effect of being a scientist in my day job), I signed up for the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. The goal was to write 50,000 words over the month. A whole horde of people do this, including a large group on my Pacific Island, there was even a steady stream of writing get togethers (I went to one).

The book I chose to write was book 3 of my Settler Chronicles series titled Abandoned Ships, Hijacked Minds, which can as simply summed up as space horror. By the end of the month, I successfully completed a first draft. Considering it’s a ‘shitty first draft’ I’m very happy with it – especially the ending. I’m itching to share it, but I need to finish polishing the first two books first.

So here’s what worked for me (and this is all common advice):

  1. I started with a moderately detailed outline, so I knew where I was going. Whenever I’ve tried working without an outline, I’ve always reached a point where I have to stop and write one. To write a book in a month (while working full time and not totally ignoring my family), I knew I wouldn’t have time to stop and worry about story structure.
  2. I found a writing buddy for support and we regularly got together to write. Find her here.
  3. I wrote every day, which went better than expected. My daily word count ranged between 200-2700. A migraine struck on one of the weekends (why do migraines always strike on weekends?), but I managed to do a bit of writing reaching the low end of my word count range.

With an outline to work from, I decided to start in the middle. Since I typically follow a three act structure, my starting point was the beginning of the second act (yeah, I started in that ‘muddy middle’). I came back to the beginning scenes at the end of the month. The reason I did that is my middle was full of action, which I prefer writing, while the beginning was focused on character development, which I find much harder to write.

I thought I’d be done with two days to spare. But, when I inputted my wordcount onto the official site, my total came to 49,999 words. I was a single word short! What was the probability, I’d get that close? I since added another few lines of dialogue, which put my comfortably over the required number.

I found NaNoWriMo a great way to get a draft novel done and I think I’ll do it again next year (assuming my writing buddy is willing).

*sadly I don’t know who originally made the zombie image

Abandoned Ships; Hijacked Minds

In perhaps a moment of foolishness, I’ve officially signed up to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year – which is where I’ve set a goal (along with many, many others) to write a novel in a month. More specifically, 50,000 words. My books so far have been just over 70,000 words – so, assuming I succeed and hit that 50,000 word mark, what I write will be a good first draft. Or, another way to look at it, the clay to mould a book out of.

What I’ll be writing is: Abandoned Ships; Hijacked Minds, the third instalment in my Settler Chronicles series (this is book 1, book 2 has a couple more drafts to go).

Currently (and I reserve the right to change things as I go) Abandoned Ships; Hijacked Minds is a horror/romance mash-up with plenty of action planned with references to Alice in Wonderland.

This morning I started (my outline was pre-written), and now I’m almost 2000 words in. I’m curious how my productivity will go and how my planned story will morph.

And, I’ve signed up with an author friend (you can find her stuff here)

Sadly, words written for my blog don’t count.

the green butterfly

jungle

rain forest in Costa Rica

I have a thing for butterflies – or more specifically for their erratic flight patterns and metallic shades. Even the cabbage white butterflies living in my backyard (and letting their young eat my cabbage), have this hint of iridescence giving the white of their wings a hint of shine. Sadly, my temperate climate doesn’t offer the full spectrum of butterfly bling that’s out there (but does save me from spiders with jaws strong enough to break my skin (mostly)).

A recent post I read about fear and spiders in Costa Rica, got me thinking about my own trip to the country years ago. Jungles are exotic – at least to me since I’ve always lived at mid-latitudes. They’re both fascinating and frightening, I certainly wouldn’t want to be out there alone at night. This trip was one of the few opportunities I’ve had to wander through jungles (and I didn’t get eaten!).

Out hiking, I spotted an iridescent green butterfly just off the trail. The green was colour of a granny smith apple and glittered with every flap the butterfly took. After getting my camera ready, I followed the insect through the undergrowth (mildly foolish, I know). I got lucky and it let me get close.

butterfly

The best shot I got of the green butterfly. If anyone can identify it, please let me know.

The iridescence in a butterfly’s wing (or dragonfly’s body, or a rooster’s tail, or even an oil slick on water), isn’t from a pigment. Instead an optical trick is required. In the butterflies case, the surface of the wing are covered in scales with a depth of one quarter the wavelength of blue (or green) light. Then the light reflected off the surface is augmented by the light reflected off the back surface giving the insect that fabulous iridescent effect.

I’ve written more on the physics behind iridescence here and here.

A tale of a potentially irregular newsletter and some other stuff

I love the juxtaposition between a low-tech tool (the plastic circle template) and a high-tech tool (a fancy tablet) – and that happens to be early stages of my cover for Day 115 on an Alien World
(Photo by Ian Rooke-Hanke)

I’ve decided to start an irregular newsletter.

On that note, I’ve taken the widget for subscribing to this blog down and will replace it with a widget for my newsletter sign up. This shouldn’t change anything for those of you who’ve already subscribed to my blog, you’ll still get posts sent to your inbox as I put them up and you won’t get my newsletter unless you subscribe to it (but please subscribe as I’ve got a lot of good things planned).

I’ve been researching how indie authors market their books and the best tool appears to be writing a newsletter. On mine I’ll be including a summary of what I’ve been putting up on my blog (and I will continue to blog about things that interest me), other interesting stuff I stumble upon (like space ships deliberately crashed into Saturn), updates on my fiction including potentially some short stories and other fiction-related giveaways, and some suggestions for other indie fiction (I won’t suggest anything I haven’t read).

If you’re interested please sign up!


On to some news.

I’ve had the opportunity to release Day 115 on an Alien World up on Radish Fiction. If you haven’t heard of Radish, it’s a mobile device app for serialized fiction. Since my smartphone is only a small step from a clay tablet, I had to ask a friend to download the app so I could check it out. Three are a lot of stories to read, especially if you are on the go and don’t have an ereader – the stories on Radish do lean towards romance. My book is listed under science fiction and 10 chapters are already up, with new chapters coming out three times a week.

I’ve also started putting my story up on Wattpad (another place for serialized fiction and it’s all free).

In other writing news, working with a friend, I have another novel approaching completion – Deep Trouble; A Cal and Emma Adventure. We’re planning on putting it out as an ebook in the coming months. I’d do a whole post on it soon. Just as a teaser, Deep Trouble is a fun action adventure tale where an oceanographer and engineer save the world.

a cool shot

the ferris wheel at the midway

My work sent me to a fall fair last weekend (that’s where I took the photo), we had a booth so I spent two days chatting to the people passing by. I certainly see the value of engaging the public about the science we do and I don’t mind answering people’s questions.

Since I’m an introvert, by the time I got home Sunday night, I was exhausted. Even though I wanted to do more writing, my evenings have been spent flopping on the couch watching bad action movies. More coming soon.

into the season of spiders

I blame these guys for continuously having to wipe webs off my face the last few days

We are currently suffering though a late summer heatwave. If I hadn’t recently melted my thermometer in a tempeh disaster (I kinda forgot the tempeh was incubating in the oven, along with plastic thermometer, when I turned it on to make pizza), I’d give an exact temperature. My guess is that my house is ten billion degrees as a result my brain is melting.

On that note, and considering around here we are in the season of spiders, meaning I can’t walk through by back yard without walking through dozens of spider webs, I thought I’d resurrect a post from when I started blogging


I’ve been reading Rachel Carson‘s ‘The Sea Around Us’ after discovering it among my books during my recent move. My grandfather gave it to me when I first expressed interest in ocean science many years ago. The book was presented to him in the 1950’s in recognition of meteorological measurements he took as a mariner. When I first was given the book I started reading it, but didn’t finish so when I found it this time I thought it was time to sit down and read the whole book.

In her chapter on island formation, this intrigued me:

So bare and desolate that not even a lichen grows on them, St Paul’s Rocks would seem one of the most unpromising places in the world to look for a spider, spinning its web in arachnidan hope of snaring passing insects. Yet Darwin found spiders when he visited the Rocks in 1833, and forty years later the naturalists of H.M.S. Challenger also reported them, busy at their web-spinning.

Spiders? How did they get there? St Paul’s Rocks are near the equator right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Discovered by the Portuguese navy in 1511 by accident, that is by crashing into them, these islands are now part of Brazil. They jut up from the ocean floor 800 km off the coast of South America, and are made up of 15 small islands and rocks with a highest point of 17 m. This group of islands is one of the few places (Iceland is another) where the mid-ocean ridge breaks the surface. Currently, the Brazilian Navy has a science station and a lighthouse on the islands.

On the 16th of February, 1832 the H.M.S. Beagle stopped at St Paul’s Rocks and Darwin had an opportunity to explore. His inventory of life included: 2 types of sea birds (boobies and noddies), a type of large crab, a fly, a parasitic tick (preying on the birds), a moth that survived by eating feathers, a beetle, a woodlouse and lots of spiders. He also observed that not a single plant or lichen could be found, since that time mosses and grasses have found their way to the island, probably helped by people.

Not including the crab, the only life form on the island that can’t fly or hitch a ride is the spider. No spider can fly, even though there is an Australian spider called the flying spider. Flying spiders are tiny with pretty blue and green iridescent colouring. Their abdomens have flaps that can be extended allowing them to glide when they leap, increasing their range. But even an ability to glide wouldn’t help spiders colonize remote islands.

Young spiders are forced to move away from their parents and siblings to avoid competing for food and other resources with them. To begin their journey, a spider climbs to a high point, and then point its abdomen into the air. It releases a long filament of silk that is picked up by the wind, taking the little spider up into the sky. Drifting spiders have been found thousands of meters above the remote Hawaiian Islands. Or according to Rachel Carson:

Airmen have passed through great numbers of the white, silken filaments of spiders’ ‘parachutes’ at heights of two to three miles.

Drifting is a great way to travel as it requires no energy expenditure from the spider. I wonder how many of these drifting spiders eventually find a suitable home?

a sneak peak of Day 115 on an Alien World

The writing and editing is done, my first novel almost ready to share! Right now, I hope to be publishing in October. It’s a stand alone story, but will be the first of a series about a new colony on a far off planet I’m calling Settler Chronicles.

Here’s the description for Day 115 on an Alien World:


This morning Gary Holbrook watched his wife die.

When he signed up for a brand-new colony on a desolate planet, there was a catch – the mission was for married couples only. Without a suitable spouse, he reluctantly married a woman he’d never met: Margo Murphy, a grubby entomologist who liked butterflies.

Starting with a crash landing upon arrival, everything had gone wrong. Accident after accident had robbed them of colonists, and their desperately needed skills, while damaged and broken equipment had stalled their efforts to make a viable colony. It just seemed bad luck.

But then Gary reads Margo’s journal, and the circumstances surrounding the accidents and her death become suspect. Now, in a race against time, he must unmask a saboteur.

The first communications window with Earth – their only chance to ask for help – is fast approaching, and someone needs to be alive to make that call.


You can find the first two chapters over here

I’ve also started a mailing list for those interested in Day 115 on an Alien World and my other science fiction work along with some other fun stuff. Sign up here:


Shifting Reality – book review

I just finished Shifting Reality by Patty Jansen. It’s been out a while, but I just stumbled upon it (it’s science fiction – so the story won’t be outdated for at least several more centuries).

The story is set on a space station filled with competing factions from bored, purposeless youth, to criminals to law enforcement, with a military base on top (plus geckos and chickens). Told from a single point of view, the story is fast paced with plenty of action.

Melati is from the worker class – originally taken from Indonesian, culture, heirlooms and all. Since they are low in the station hierarchy there is not a lot of options for this group – ice mining, small business, crime and selling their bodies. Melati works at a military support unit on the station caring for ‘constructs’ – people created for a purpose (how exactly is never explained). These people go on to become soldiers, technicians and pilots, but first they have a short childhood.

One of the minds to be installed into a group of construct children isn’t right. Melati realizes the problem isn’t a simple computer glitch. Her investigation takes her down an interesting rabbit hole of secret societies, internal politics, enemy factions and aliens.

Melati isn’t an stereotypical hero. She’s a compelling character caught between two worlds (plus she’s gutsy). Fitting in in either place is a challenge for her. Mostly she’s trying to do the right thing – even if it isn’t popular. The story has unexpected twists and turns that kept me reading. I’ll be going on to read the second book.

a mid summer update

love-in-the-mist

A wonderfully alien looking seed pod from love-in-the-mist. It’s been years since I’ve had to deliberately plant these, and they still come up every year.

It’s hot and smokey here (the smoke’s from the fires in the B.C. interior, fortunately nothing near by is burning). The garden is happily growing and I’ve been keeping busy with a plethora of projects. Since I stopped my monthly garden updates a few months ago, I thought I’d give a general update of what I’ve been working on.

Growing stuff

I’ve cut the water to the beans in the front yard. They all have lovely pods, so if all goes well, they’ll be dry enough to harvest by the end of the month. Potatoes are also ready to harvest, as will soon be my onions. The winter cabbages are putting on nice heads and we’re getting all the cucumbers we can eat.

And check out my hairy melon:

melon

Isn’t it delightfully hairy?

I planted some bigger fruit producers late winter including an apricot, cherry, assorted currants and gooseberries. All are doing well. As is my deck based lime tree (which will come in for the winter).

So far the only seeds I’ve collected have been from the Alexanders (a perennial relative of celery) – we had enough to eat their shoots this year. Not bad for an early spring crop.

Other random projects

Miso – I started a batch out of soybeans with a friend last night (will have to wait at least 6 months to taste it). Now I’m thinking of making a batch out of my homegrown tiger eye beans – mostly because I could call it tiger miso.

Tempeh – we started a batch last night and I’m struggling to find a spot the right temperature for it to ferment. I have no idea if it’ll work out or not.

There’s a watering system that needs to be put in – I have the stuff and having a working watering system would simplify my life. The hard part right now is most my ground is cement-like, so if I want to dig anything in I’ll have to wait until the rains start.

Writing

Settler Chronicles book 1 – I’ve started my final edit, at this point I’m just wordsmithing. My cover should be ready this fall (October) and I’m on track to release then. I also have the first draft of the second book written.

I put up the first scene on this blog a little while back (see here). Should I put up more of this book here? Perhaps the first couple chapters. Let me know in the comments below.

Deep Trouble – A current day action-adventure I’m co-writing with a friend.  I’ll put up the first chapter soon (it was titled ‘Benthic Adventure’ until a friend pointed out that most people don’t know what benthic means. Perhaps it is best I don’t try to surreptitiously improve readers vocabulary in a fluffy, fun action adventure story)

And I’ve started drafting another story for Wattpad – science fiction with lots of action (I’ll share more on this soon).

Reading

Solitude – a non-fiction book by Michael Harris about how creativity grows out of solitude. So far I’m enjoying it. I’ll likely write my own review, but for now there’s a review here.

The Nakano Thrift Shop – a novel by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from Japanese. I’m trying to broaden what I read, so this one is quite different from what I normally read. It’s about the relationships between the quirky staff of the thrift shop, and I’m quite enjoying it (although I will need a good action book when I’m done). There’s a review here.

Playing with fire

candle

A candle on earth

I remember making candles when I was a kid. We filled empty food cans with paraffin wax – the stuff that comes as a opaque block about the size of a deck of cards. The cans were then put into a bath of boiling water until all the wax melted. A few crayon stubs were added to each can, creating an array of colours. I tied a thick piece of cotton string, destined to be the wick, around a pencil for easy dipping.

Next, dipping (the messy part) could begin. With each dip another layer of wax clung to what was already there, increasing the diameter of the candle-to-be. I rotated through the colours, creating what must have been gaudy candles. When the candle was thick enough to stand on its own, the fun part began: we could light them.

A flaming match held to the exposed end of the wick has enough heat to vaporize wax within the wick and react with the oxygen in the air. Within moments a teardrop-shaped yellow flame flickers to life. The heat from the candle’s flame melts the wax, and the melted wax is drawn up by the wick, sustaining the flame. At its hottest, a candle’s flame can reach 1400 degrees Celsius.

Heat vaporizes the wax creating a gaseous cloud where combustion takes place. Combustion is a series of chemical reactions converting molecules into new combinations – an inefficient process resulting in heat and light. Light, along with its cousin heat, signify the release of excess energy.

Compared to an incandescent light bulb, a candle produces 100 time less light, which is probably why candles are now mostly used to set moods, conduct rituals and provide light in power outages. I don’t often light candles, after all they are one of the leading causes of residential fires and they put soot and chemicals into the air I breathe. But, when I do have a reason to light a candle, I enjoy watching the flickering flame – I find something about it quite mesmerizing.

In my mundane earth existence, when I light a candle the hot gases formed are less dense than the air around them, and so they rise in a process of natural convection into the familiar teardrop shape. This natural convection hinders complete combustion, so soot forms which makes the flame yellow.

Out in my funky futuristic (imaginary) spaceship, where there would be no gravity, natural convection wouldn’t occur, and I would get a perfectly spherical flame. And, the flame would require ventilation or it would smother itself as its temperature would be evenly distributed. (here’s a good, but slightly inaccurate video) On the plus side, the combustion would be complete – so soot would not form. The flame would be bluer and more efficient.

Another effect of gravity on a candle’s flame is the flickering. The frequency squared of a flame’s flickering is proportional to the force of gravity over the diameter of the candle. Meaning that a candle with a smaller diameter would flicker at a faster rate than one with a larger diameter. So a candle on another planet (with different gravity) would flicker at a different rate than the same candle on earth.

A candle on my spaceship wouldn’t flicker at all (I would have to be mesmerized by its pretty spherical blueness instead).

note – this post was originally published back in May 2010 (here)

another note – I downloaded the image from here