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 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:


a mid summer update

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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:

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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.

rambling with a cherry on top

Rainier Cherries

Pitted cherries – in total 10lbs of them. This batch went into the dehydrator to make tasty snacks.

I’ve been pitting a lot of cherries lately which is one of those repetitive tasks that keeps my hands busy and leaves me room to think. One of the topics I’ve been pondering is artificial intelligence because I’m about to delve into a near final (I hope) edit of my science fiction novel where one of the characters is an AI.

After the picture above, I feel need a segue such as AI is like cherries… hmmm, nope I can’t think of a witty ending. So how about, here’s some thoughts about AI with a cherry on top?

What will artificial intelligence look like?

No doubt machines have more computational power than a human, but when a machine becomes aware will the first thing it does be to turn on the humans around it like Hal or humanity in general like Skynet? Or will it spend its time trying to figure out how to be human, like Data? Or will they just take all our jobs as news stories suggest?

Will humans be replaced in the workplace as news stories suggest? My job requires specialized, technical knowledge with a peppering of creative thinking – it’s a good human job but perhaps in a few years it could be great job for AI. I’d bet a AI would be faster and more accurate.

As a tangent – would a post-job society free me up to focus on being human? Perhaps. There’s an interesting article about that here.

Or will they be one of us, like Lovely in the the long way to a small angry planet (there’s a nice review here)? Will we discriminate against aware AI? Humanity does have a long history of discrimination. Will AI discriminate against us? Will AI even want anything to do with us? Or will they keep us as essentially pets? Will they even care about us at all? Maybe they won’t identify us as intelligent.

Lots of fodder for thought.

dried cherries

In the end, 10lbs of cherries turned into this.

Changes are coming

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I took this photo on a recent trip to the local butterfly gardens

I started this blog shortly after going back to grad school after more than a decade away from anything academic.

At first, I didn’t think academic writing would be a big deal as I’d been writing fiction and journaling since I was a teenager. My supervisor suggested I start writing early (good advice), so I quickly produced a text destined for my thesis. Well… that first chuck of text got handed back to me covered with red ink and I was accused of being a taciturn writer (a word that I had to go out and look up).

Standing there with my massacred text, it hit me that I had to make myself into a better writer. All the research I could find suggested the best solution was to practice writing more – and (gulp) send my writing out into the world. I’d written 4 novels by that point which very few people had been allowed to read. Perhaps those books suffered from taciturnity, but my readers were kind enough not to mention (Some day I might work up the nerve to re-read those stories).

After an unnecessarily long time spent pondering the issue, I decided starting a blog was the best solution. I was both afraid to share my writing and worried I wouldn’t have enough ideas. But, ideas beget more ideas and writing this format is fun. I ditched thoughts of fiction and started focusing exclusively on non-fiction. I even stopped reading fiction – a state I stayed in for years.

One day, my husband’s co-worker loaned me The Martian. I loved the book, then I remembered some notes about a story idea I’d had years ago. I dug out the notes. It was an outline for a book with themes similar to The Martian (Even if I’d come up with the exact same idea, I would never have been able to execute it as well as Andy Weir). This got me thinking… maybe my story ideas could be good, maybe even good enough to share.

The Martian had the side effect of getting me to start reading fiction again – The Night Circus, Wool, Station 11, The Girl with all the Gifts and on and on. I’ve been reading fiction like mad since.

And (in case anyone noticed my blog posts have gotten a bit sparse) I started writing fiction again. I’m now three drafts into novel number 5 and one of my major goals for 2017 is to finish it and (gulp) publicly share it.

So now that I’ve admitted that I’m going to publish my book, I’m going to start shifting the focus of this blog (it is about tangents after all). There’ll still be some science-y stuff, still some mucking about in the garden and I want to start sharing some of the fiction I’ve been reading and loved along with some thoughts (not necessarily mine) on creativity.

I’m also going to share some fiction.

a saga of imperfect timing

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I captured a shot of this guy while on a recent trip to our local butterfly gardens – I love its eye.

In April my PhD funding was scheduled to officially end. My awesome supervisor had scrounged extra money for a few more months, to the end of the summer at most. But, I was suffering from financial angst, i.e. a fear of being unpaid which would quickly become a problem. I’m progressing on my dissertation, its mostly just writing now. Most of my first draft is done, but I expect to be revising for quite some time. I knew I was very unlikely to finish before my funding ran out. The best case scenario I could come up with would have me finish early fall. Timing that just didn’t match my funding.

To abate my financial angst, I started dabbling in freelance writing, actually found a few paying gigs (I discovered a secret talent for creating logic puzzles). It was an interesting experience, but there was no way I could earn ‘enough’ doing it in the short term.

I planned a massive garden as groceries cost. We turned most of what was left of the front lawn into food garden – effectively doubling the annual veggie beds at the house. Plus, there was my parent’s garden to plant and I signed up for an allotment with some friends. Because I wasn’t busy enough, when I came up with an idea for a novel last summer I decided to start writing. It’s a science fiction who-done-it with lots of plants (and butterflies), and writing it has been a fun diversion from dull academic writing. And, my busy three-and-a-half year old deserves plenty of my time.

In the midst of everything, a job in my field came up. I got it and with rather short notice started in April. It’s a perfect fit for my skill set and has removed my financial angst and much of my free time. It’s all good – however, adding full time work onto my already full plate left me overwhelmed. I had to let some things go (unfortunately this blog was an early casualty). I dialed back my garden plans, backed out of sharing an allotment, and gave my chickens to a friend with a farm (a literal farm, not a figurative one). I stopped freelance writing and cleaned up many of the ‘experiments’ I was running around the house.

I’ve managed to keep puttering on my dissertation. I no longer have to be in a rush, hopefully I’ll be done in a year. Surprisingly, I’ve finished a first draft of my novel and am puttering away on the second. It turns out, for me writing fiction is a nice late evening task. I like my story and am planning on self-publishing it, maybe late fall.

The garden is looking organized, beds are dug over, sprinklers on timers are set up and plenty of things are planted. I lost a few pepper plants due to not re-potting them in time, so I just bought replacements. With my husband’s help we are in good shape to finish planting in the garden. Plus, we’ve created a small plot for my daughter which she has chosen to fill with strawberries and flowers. I’ll try to keep posting updates here, but I don’t promise to be regular for a while.

practice, practice, practice

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These guys are now up.

It’s interesting how sometimes I notice the same idea coming at me from wildly different places. Lately, the concept of ‘practice’ has repeatedly emerged from very different sources.

A few weeks ago I listened to a podcast about Tetris (the 1980’s computer game). Compared to other video games out there it’s shockingly simple, yet it has endured in various forms since its invention. There is even a version on it on my computer right now. Tetris type games are my favourite type of games – mildly addictive and I never seem to tire of them.

The thing is, it’s impossible to win Tetris. No matter what one does, those blocks keep coming faster and faster until eventually they fill the screen. Every single game I’ve ever played, and I’ve played a lot, I’ve lost. But winning isn’t the point, in fact, there is no set end point. Which links to the concept of practice, I can always play a tiny bit better, manipulate those shapes a little bit faster and that’s what keeps bringing me back.

I recently signed up for a new yoga class. The instructor has been talking a lot about practice and how it’s a way for an individual to push their own boundaries. There is no real end goal to yoga – well… enlightenment maybe, but that’s well outside my expectations in the same realm as winning a game of Tetris. For me yoga (or physical fitness in general) is not a project that ends. I can always push myself incrementally a bit further through deliberate practice.

Along the same vein, I just finished reading a writing book (The Creative Compass) that’s also advocating for a deliberate practice of generating words, a push to get ideas down. Although, I’m working on several finite writing projects (with my dissertation being the biggest) when I finish, I’ll simply start writing something else, a different project – I suspect there is no set end to my writing.

Gardening also fits into this practice model, as there are seasonal cycles but no real end. I can tweak what I do from year to year but it’s never complete – I can’t ‘win’ in any absolute sense (nor would I want to). There will always be weeding, planning, planting and harvesting to do. It’s the process that drives me, which is perhaps the point of considering it a practice.

(Perhaps parenting counts as another sort of practice as there is no real end state, no ‘winning’ just moment to moment choices.)

garden in a cube

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an edible chrysanthemum – blooming when I rather it didn’t

As I sit looking out to the garden six lemon yellow flowers provide a cheerful punch in the winter garden dominated by greens and mud. They’re edible chrysanthemums, planted to provide winter greens, but they decided to bloom – in January.  The only other flash of bright colour comes from the Steller’s Jay that has taken up foraging the footprints of past compost bins, presumably ground full of tasty delights. The flash of blue keeps distracting me, but I don’t mind. Looking out always reminds me, the garden is about more than the food it produces.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a company that outfits sea containers with hydroponic gardening systems. Inside, lights cast an optimized spectrum of wavelengths on vertical crops creating a glowing purple world. These gardens (factories? systems?) are reminiscent of a retrofuturistic world without ground to plant and gardens are for one purpose only – human food production.

This kind of food production could feed a lot of people. Since I have a ridiculously long and flat driveway for an urban dweller, I could easily accommodate one of these portable systems – and it’s even tempting. I wonder if there has been thought of sending these systems to the remote communities in the north? Could they produce fresh produce cheaper than flying it in?

I have to admit, I prefer a more polyculture style garden. I would never sit in one of these systems, while I’ll sit in my garden and observe. I prefer the lushness of a polyculture set up along with the wildlife that come in. Plus, I like the illumination of the full visible spectrum, not just the wavelengths that serve growth best.

Hey, there’s the Steller’s Jay…

on the elusiveness of ideas

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I’m not really sure why, but this is one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken.

I’ve been a little short on blog post lately (by lately I mean the last two months). I’ve drifted away from diligently creating the right kind of environment that allows me to think. When I get it right ideas spring up like weeds when I don’t I feel stuck in a desert – I seem to be in one state or the other, never a middle ground.

Step one is getting enough sleep, as a natural insomniac this is a tough one for me. Add in a three year old on her own agenda and I find myself regularly in a sleep deprived mental fog. I could put a notebook beside my bed to jot down ideas that come to me at night. But, as soon as I turn on a light to do that, sleep, which is my ultimate goal, drifts further away.

My solution is to actively avoid thinking up good ideas at night, instead I play with slightly boring scenarios I’ve poached from TV shows, movies or something I’ve read – nothing I can call my own. This gives me something to think about while bypassing my monkey mind (also called the default mode network where the mind chews on itself dredging up negative tidbits and past conflicts that only creates useless worry). The goal is to relax and fall asleep. Even when I do come up with my own ideas at night I’m not convinced they are actually any good – and a full night sleep is more important as it makes it easier for me to think clearly the next day. Being clear headed enough to write begets more writing and often the ideas just flow.

Step two is to create a situation where my mind can wander. So, washing dishes works as does weeding, running, driving and even sitting on air planes. Going to a coffee shop with a blank piece of paper and no agenda but to write works, as does sitting in my comfy chair at home. My mind tends to go on tangents when I read non-fiction, enough so that I tend to read that kind of book with a notebook at hand. I often find myself putting the book aside to explore my own thoughts. The key seems to be being alone, creating space in my head and seeing what happens.

All this to say, I’ll be coming up with new posts soon.

As a tangent, after almost a decade away, I recently began dabbling with fiction writing again. Who knows if anything will come from it.

the grand re-configuration plan – an update of sorts

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Some rain-soaked rocks

The rain and wind have conspired to turn my backyard into its winter monster-mud-pit state. Mud gloms onto my boots every time I wander out there creating a slippery mess. It’s not cold in a Canadian winter way, which is why I live where I do, but it makes being out there messy. Garden work is possible – and this is why we built raised beds. Carrots, leeks and celeriac still reside in the ground well above the mucky level, but mostly the beds are empty so I can enact my grand re-configuring plan.

We’re changing the beds from orderly rectangles into more of a keyhole shape – since we’re working with bricks, the end result will be more like two big c’s. This should optimize my growing space while reducing the weed-whacking-requiring paths. A cunning plan that requires me to move a lot of dirt and bricks, so hopefully we’ll get a few days of light-to-no rain in the near future so I can get to work.

I’ll post before and after photos when I’m done.