A Fictionish Spell

Posted by Rob on 9th September 2015 in Writing |

It’s been a bit of a nice spell for me. I sold my third story to a little market called The Colored Lens, a free online speculative fiction magazine, where a friend of mine previously had his story “Cuts” appear. It should be there in the autumn. Also, I got word back that my previous story Crescent Cross will be getting picked up for the upcoming Acidic Fiction anthology, in both e-book and paperback format, so a story of mine will actually be available in a printed medium for the first time. And on top of all that, I got word back that my first sold story The Bone Merchant is creeping ever closer to that elusive actual date of publication. It’s all good stuff.

Mixed in with this, you get the usual blend of rejections and stories-that-are-lingering, the latter of which is a maddening exercise in “Is it being considered, or has their rejection gone missing?” History suggests it’s probably about a 75% chance that it just went missing, or that’s where the chips have landed in the past. But I can’t stop myself from hoping, all the same, even though I’m probably daft to.

Hope springs eternal.

But against this, there’s also a downer — my friend (he of the aforementioned Cuts) had sold a story to a nice little anthology, which would probably have been his highest profile sale to date. But for some reason, after starting out with that anthology as one of their first announced titles, they’ve proceeded to release a bunch of other stuff and then, eventually, just scrap the anthology. A lot of people, my friend included in their number, are quite upset about it. The only silver lining here is that they’ll apparently still be paid for their stories, and that is a nice action on the part of the publisher, as they’re not required to do that — but all the same, it robs him of a decent publishing credit.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing does happen — an acceptance doesn’t necessarily equal a publication, or a sale for that matter, and not every publisher is actually any good at getting their publications to market. And while I’ve yet to have this happen to me, I imagine it will, eventually — so that’s something to look forward to…


Steampunk Cat

Posted by Rob on 22nd August 2015 in Other Stuff |

By Ruslan Svobodin.

I have nothing else to post today, but I did at least want to post this, just because it’s fantastic.


Harvest time?

Posted by Rob on 21st August 2015 in Other Stuff |

We’ve had a bit of an odd spell with plants this year. Some started out dying, others thrived. And recently, we had a sudden rush to try and buy the right soil, after we found that the wrong soil had started killing some of our hibiscus (and now they’re doing well, including the one that lost all its leaves and looked for all the world like it had been beyond saving).

And the other thing was our apple trees in the back. I’ve been knocking spikes into the ground, trying to straighten one of them with a ratchet strap, and generally taking care of them. And this year, they actually began to grow apples! A good thing, I thought, but when we tried one after the birds started taking a little interest, they were still a little too tough to pick (and too tart for my wife’s taste, though personally I like ’em either way). So, we left them to grow a little longer.

The healthier of the apple trees in mid-June, showing early fruit.

In hindsight, this may have been an error, as it turns out that birds are NOT so particular about apples. Yesterday, my wife saw a Steller’s Jay sitting in the tree opposite with one of the apples in its claw, pecking away at it, and so I decided I’d have to harvest what apples were remaining.

And that amounted to — wait for it — three whole apples.

They weren’t quite as tough as the first time, but they were still tart. I think they might’ve made for good cooking apples, or possibly been something that Mum might’ve liked to eat, except that there weren’t nearly enough of ’em. The largest was probably about an inch and a half wide, the smallest closer to an inch, but if I’d left them any longer they’d all have been bird food. So, I nibbled one, and took the other two round to our neighbours to share — not many, I admit, but it’s the thought that counts, right?


Brain Bite #15

Posted by Rob on 6th August 2015 in Brain Bites |

A lot of things going on at once means I’ve been struggling to write much of anything over the last few weeks, blog posts or otherwise. However, I’m taking a break at the end of my day to throw out some things, mixing everything together into a happy little Brain Bite. And naturally, to start with…

Black Sabbath — Children of the Sea
Dating from the Ronnie James Dio era rather than the Insane Ozzy one, this is easily my favourite Sabbath song (and it also inspired Children of the Damned by Iron Maiden, which is one of my favourite Iron Maiden songs, so it’s a double winner). As much as I like Ozzy-era Sabbath, I love Dio’s voice, and this song really showcases that.

And, moving on from here…

Copious Amounts of Spam
The internet is full of robots. These robots are about as bright as a brick, and they post comments to blogs. People don’t find my blog, but robots do, and they say things like “Hey, I saw your Brain Bite #12 Blog, and it could be getting more views if you just pay us money”, or just as often, posts with surprisingly coherent but unfocused content, posted by someone called “The Three Day Diet” or something equally imaginative. So I now get to delete a lot of spam comments. What fun it is!

PC Builds and Future Preparation
I program for a living, but thanks to my work providing my hardware, I’ve never built my own PC (though my sister and brother-in-law have been doing so for years). Now that I’m out on my own, my next system will be home-built — but for now, I’m just upgrading my stock-built HP to help it last longer. Thanks to sale-prices and rebates, I got a new GPU, a new PSU (too big, but a heavily discounted bargain), and more memory — hopefully delaying the costs of building a whole new system for at least a few more years.

A nightmare of cable management, but it was the best I could manage with what I had.

But even when I do get round to building one of my own, I have no designs on building a “high-performance” PC. I’m curious about things like water-cooling blocks and performance tuning, but only in the same way I’m curious about how they construct space-stations and the like. Neat stuff, but not actually anything I expect to be ever doing myself.

And no more mousy wheel-clicks!
I opened my wireless mouse up, cleared out the fluff from the scroll wheel, and then accidentally pulled out a spring along with it. Turns out, the spring’s sole purpose in life is to take a smoothly scrolling wheel and make it go clickety-click while scrolling less easily. I’ve left it out, and I now like my mouse even better (which is saying a lot — I’ve had this mouse for so long now that the rubber padding on the outside has worn completely through where I rest my thumb).

And lastly, accents…
In England, people think I sound American now. Over here, people think I sound British (or, sometimes, the more generic “From somewhere else”.) And it seems that familiarity with accents really affects how well you can understand each other — so for example, I find Indian and Scottish accents mostly a breeze (excluding the insanely-thick-accented far North West Scotsmen, who sound like they’re growling cheerfully to me) while my wife can understand Hispanic accents much more easily than I can.

But it’s my own accent that seems to cause the more bother. Sometimes, I run into someone who doesn’t understand my accent or what I’m saying (case in point, trying to order “macaroni & cheese” through a drive-through, and the order-taker asking I’ve I’d requested “chocolate cake”). Responding to this, I try to talk more clearly. But when I do this, my accent becomes more clearly English, and people have even MORE trouble understanding what I’m saying. Bah…

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The Weather!

Posted by Rob on 20th July 2015 in Other Stuff |

Thunderstorms in the mountains are another animal. I’ve never lived in a place before where they’re so loud, or so likely to interfere with your day. Over the weekend, we got hit by the offspring of a hurricane — we’re far too sheltered to get the actual hurricane itself, but its loud little children were kicking up a fuss. Plenty of water, which is always welcome, but plenty of thunder too, which knocked out our power for a while.


The weather brings with it an interesting variety of things. We get dryness, then drought, then forest-fires. Rain and flash floods. Snow and ice, then visitors who don’t know how to drive in the snow and the ice and end up causing accidents that block all the traffic. But of late, it’s been the dryness, drought and fires we’ve been dealing with — which makes the forecast for the upcoming year quite hopeful.

El NiƱo is a repeating weather event, and recent models have suggested that they’re becoming more frequent, and more extreme than once they were. And now, it’s looking likely that the event may bring a little relief from the dry weather to California. I have no idea if any of what we’ve been experiencing is linked to this — I don’t know enough about weather patterns and suchlike to know if the hurricane splinters are in any way linked to this. But regardless of the source, every drop of rain is more than welcome here.


Brain Bite #14

Posted by Rob on 30th June 2015 in Brain Bites |

Let’s get to it, then, with something a little more unusual for the music…

Smooth McGroove – The Man With The Machine Gun
Smooth McGroove has been a YouTube hit, recording entirely a-capella versions of videogame music. This one’s from a game I like called Final Fantasy 8, and is battle music that happens during a side story arc. His cat appears in most or all of his videos, and he does a surprisingly good job of replicating the original music, recording the tunes channel for channel. He transposes up or down octaves for the notes he can’t hit, of course, but it’s all sung, and it works pretty damn well, or I think so anyway. He’s actually a drummer, not a singer, but he’s acquired quite a YouTube following for these numbers.

And so, what else?

Short Contests
There was a short writing competition this weekend. You get 24 hours, they give you the starting and ending sentence, and you do what you can. Unfortunately, I had to work around actual work for it, so in the end my 24 hours were reduced to about 2. Still, it was fun in its way, if a little weird.

Forest Fires
After some injuries but no deaths, and just one home burned thanks to a fortuitous (and, doubtless, assisted) path around civilisation, the gathered fire crews of the county, state and nation appear to have the fire under control now. We had a patch of rain, which seemed to help, and — though nothing’s ever guaranteed with fire, of course — they have it at sixty percent contained, and if history’s any guide, that usually means they’ll continue to press the fire back from this point. Good news for them and everyone else!

Bugs and bugs and bugs and argh.
Sometimes, I don’t enjoy my job much. Fortunately, at the time of writing this, I’m now BEYOND the bugs-and-bugs-and-argh stage, and dealing with polishing, refining and getting everything to play nicely within itself. (As a side note, I’m often struck by the fact that I’ve been working as a professional programmer now for some fifteen years, there are still aspects of programming that my Dad understands better than I do.)

And women’s football…
Because, frankly, they seem to be doing better than the men, and also seem altogether more humble (though proud) about what they’re doing than the men have ever done in my memory. Maybe this is the direction all sports should go in.

And, to finish, another tune!
Because I felt like two today — and why not? This one’s “AirMech”, by Frontline Assembly — it’s another electronic project, but a little different. It has something of the feel of movie scoring to it, or it strikes me as such anyway.

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A Mountain Burning

Posted by Rob on 21st June 2015 in Other Stuff |

To be entirely honest, even though I live up here, I still have a hard time getting my head around just how large and just how dangerous some of these forest fires can be. The fire up here, still safely distant from us, has now reached sixteen thousand acres in size — it’s a number that sounds big, but it’s still strangely hard to comprehend. What helps to put it into context a little, though, is the scale of the response.

Fire Engines: 121
Fire Crews: 47
Helicopters: 16 (including night-flying)
Air Tankers: 5
Air Attack Planes: 1
Water Tenders: 14
Dozers: 7
Total Personnel: 1,875

But even knowing those numbers, I find it difficult to picture a fire that needs over a hundred fire engines and almost two thousand people to work it — and which, even with those hundred plus engines, is still only fifteen percent contained, and still growing. To the credit of the fire crews working it, the growth of the fire has slowed sharply since the beginning, so I can only imagine they’re doing a fine job.

It’s strange to imagine it being so close, though. Part of me would like to drive out in its direction, to see it — but another, altogether more sensible part is content to leave it be, and to make sure the fire crews have all the space they could possibly want to work it. I’ve already seen a forest fire once, from a distance, when my wife, myself and our friends stood on a porch, cheering an air-tanker as it dropped — and that fire was only a tenth of the size of this one. I don’t suppose I really need to see another.

After some progress against the fire, it seems there’s been a setback, possibly because of higher winds — instead of moving towards the empty desert area, it’s been driven north-east back into the mountains. The fire has grown to over 23,000 acres, and is potentially threatening a few of the residential areas now.


Brain Bite #13

Posted by Rob on 19th June 2015 in Brain Bites |

So, what say ye to some music?

Halo, by Depeche Mode
I really like Depeche Mode, and while their more recent albums haven’t quite done it for me (aside from a song or two here and there), I’m still very fond of their earlier work, and this is probably my favourite song of the bunch. Added to that, the video is probably the product of some post-acid-trip dream, and in the best of musical traditions it appears to have bugger all to do with the song itself.

But come on, now — what else?

Forest Fires and Evacuation Bags
This isn’t the most up-beat bit of posting, but it’s going on right now, as it does some years — a fire broke out last night, just 50-75 acres when we heard about it, but by noon today it’d expanded to 7,500 acres, and who knows how big it is right now. The fire prompted us to get our evacuation stuff in order, making sure that our bags are ready to go, and we have a box with the things we REALLY don’t want to get rid of. And, speaking of that…

Getting Rid Of Things
Because we’re doin’ it. We figured out recently that we have a bunch of stuff we don’t actually like, or will never use — and the majority of it is now making the short leap from our shelves, racks and storage areas into black bin bags, ready to be dropped off at the nearest Goodwill. It’s odd how, when you take the time to look at some of the things you have, you realise you don’t have any good reason not to throw them away.

Apple Trees, Fruit, and Straightening
Our apple-trees are now beginning to do the Apple Thing, and though I don’t know if they’ll be good eatin’ apples (they MAY be good cookin’ apples) I’m looking forward to getting them off the tree anyway. Trouble is, I have no idea what TYPE of apples they are, which makes figuring out the appropriate harvest-time a bit of a pain in the backside.

Also, one of the trees is leaned over crooked — so I’m looking into the process of pulling up a tree with a couple of stakes and a ratchet strap (plus a bit of padding to protect the tree). The idea is, if you can get it straight, it’ll be able to bear more fruit — but it remains to be seen if I can manage it…

Five Hibiscus and a Free, Dead Hummingbird Vine
Last, we come to flowers. This Christmas, we lost two hibiscus plants — one through accidental neglect, and one through a reaction to the fertiliser, we think — but my wife’s sister sent her five more, which were in a dormant state. We looked online, and found that the company responsible for sending them had a terrible reputation — people kept reporting that they’d received half a dozen or more of these plants, given them all a couple of months, and then bang — bugger all happened. They were dead, stayed dead, and that was that.

So I started watering and fertilizing ours with little hope. However, of the five received, four are now sprouting up nicely, and look like they’ll grow into healthy plants. The fifth remains decidedly quiet for now, while the hummingbird vine — a freebie — seems pretty determined to stay dead. Still, given that I expected six pots of dead, I reckon having four actual plants growing out of them is a winner!

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Almost time to change those gears…

Posted by Rob on 12th June 2015 in Writing |

So, at last, I have that Writers of the Future story polished and sent out for this quarter (hurrah!), which leaves me with a fair few stories still sitting around incomplete or in need of some spit and polish, but only two that I’m really keen to finish and send out in the near future. One has crept up into novelette territory, breaking eight thousand words, while the other’s a plain ol’ short story at about half that size–and it’s the second one that needs more work. Fortunately, both are mostly done, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get them both in shape.

And my real goal, ultimately, is to get them out the way — and then, gear up to concentrate on all that novel writing I haven’t been doing.

Vroom!Not the kind of gearing up I really meant, but so what — ain’t it pretty?

And it’s here where some of that outlining is going to come into its own. What I’m working on at the moment would be the third novel draft I’ve written — I finished one, extremely weak one back in 2002, and then another rather better one (but still not what I wanted from it) a few years ago. The latter of those two I’ve sidelined as being more of an exploration of the concept, mainly because I know I can do a lot more with the setting and premise I put together — I already know more than I did when I wrote it, and already have a fairly complex outline produced and printed out for what I hope will be much improved version.

In the meantime, I’m working on something different.

And that something different is something I’ve been working on for a while, and is something I still like, despite having worked on it for a while (which is quite unusual). And it actually HAD a solid outline, up to a point. But I’m now coming close to the point where that outline will be exhausted, and will get into the realm of “something like this has to happen” in my scribbled notes…

But I have the solution! Sitting just beyond my guide to poisons and my rhyming dictionary is a three-subject ruled notebook (I love these, why didn’t we have these in England?) with each of the three sections allocated to different things — the first for short-fiction ideas, with NOTES this time (my last notebook proved to be quite cryptic when I came back to it later, though that did spawn at least one decent story). The second is for short-story outlines. And the last is for outlines of bigger stories, such as this one.

I have outlined many stories on paper, and I really enjoy brainstorming the stories there. I can do a pretty good job of organising everything afterwards on the computer, and sometimes I even get a good story together — but I’m not as good at considering the storyline there. My best outlines are done either on paper, or lying in the dark and just mulling over the ideas. The PC is, I suppose, just too speedy an environment for the right level of consideration — or at least, it seems to be for me.

And soon enough, now, it’ll be time to shift gears — upwards, from short story to novel, and downwards, from PC to pen-and-paper. Let the outlining begin…


Brain Bite #12

Posted by Rob on 7th June 2015 in Brain Bites |

As is always done, let it begin with some music!

Flying High, by Samael
Samael in full swing are a heavy metal band from Switzerland, one that experiments with adding a lot of more unusual and varied elements into their music — and some of their broader experimentation was showcased when the band’s founding members (Xy and Vorph, actually brothers) produced a side-project album called Era One, which completely abandoned the metal aspects, and instead married Vorph’s croaking vocals with Xy’s keyboard electronica.

I may return to that album in the future — most likely, with Sound Of Galaxies — but in addition to the main album disc, Xy contributed an all-instrumental bonus disc, called A Lesson In Magic #1. I really loved both discs, but the Lesson in Magic most of all — and of the included pieces, Flying High is my favourite.

But there’s more than just music, of course!
Really, it’s been this way for a while now in practice, but it’s now my official role, as the company I worked with slowly dissolves into dust. I still work with the people who formed the company on bits and pieces, though, so it’s a kind of dissolution that leaves a sticky web residue behind.

Planting Cats
Technically, we’ve planted hibiscus and hummingbird vine, but if you were to look outside, you wouldn’t know it — many times, our planters have produced a beautiful cat instead…

Are those in season?I’m fairly sure it’s an annual.

Brain Health
All those brain games around the web, and it turns out none of them does a damn thing — instead, you’re better off learning a language. So says a BBC article on polyglots — according to cited studies, mental decline is delayed five years for knowing a second language, six years if you know a third, and nine whole years if you know a fourth. Who’d have guest that an actual useful skill would trump a bunch of daft puzzles for mental health?

Story Switches
So, what do you do when you’re three weeks before a submission deadline, and you realise the ending for your new story is junk? You switch it out! I’m now preparing to sub in an older story to the Writers of the Future, one where I like the ending, and where I’m happy with what it’s done and what it is. So even if it doesn’t win, I’ll at least know that it was still the story I wanted it to be.

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