The Rough Draft

If you can't go through it. Go around it.

My seven month leave of absence from the day job went into effect at 15:15 hours on Friday. I have a lot to accomplish in those seven months. A lot of it for the benefit of my son Colin a lot of it for the benefit of my family and the rest of it for me.

Writing is a funny thing though. Once you put your works out into the world they begin to have lives outside of you. In the case of books, people buy them and read them and opinions are formed, some good, some bad, some wildly outside the scope of your original concepts. Those lives however are internal ones living in the minds of those who consumed your work. Film scripts or screenplays however, well they live and they die, well outside your ability to influence them.

A screenplay is a strong and fragile thing. The writing may be the strongest part of the thing but in order for the screenplay to find its footing, in order for it to mature it needs a very specific environment and if any part of this environment isn’t just right, the end result is either an imperfect rendering or at worst, it arrives still born at the end of the process.

One of the prime ingredients you need as a screenwriter is a deep well of hope. Otherwise it all becomes a rather degrading and cynical exercise in endurance of the soul. Its a bit like torture, everybody fights but everybody breaks in the end. I fought, I bent and in the end I broke. My well of hope had run dry. So you do what you need to, you pull back, you nurse your wounds and you rest up and build your strength.

My entire film career seems to run in two year cycles. I don’t know why, that just seems to be the way of it. Sometimes I’m looking for the gig, other times it just finds me. Which brings me back to screenplays, specifically one of my screenplays out there, living it’s life without me. This particular script has been optioned ever year of its existence and it’s as close to the original concept of what I was trying to achieve when I wrote it in the first place. It was borne out of love, frustration and anger but then what isn’t?

I know, you’re thinking, “He’s going on a bit.” but bear with me.

This week the producer associated with my remaining script has a bunch of meetings lined up in LA. It all looks very hopeful. I say looks because I’ve been down this path before and as previously mentioned, hope can kill you in this industry or was that , “The Shawshank Redemption?” I get them mixed up sometimes. Now would be a very good time for things to move on that front. For one, I could use the money, for another it would help propel my book sales. It is interesting that the whole thing is sort of like that girlfriend who calls you the minute you’re over her and into a new relationship. Trouble here is, this is the girlfriend who let you do all the nasty stuff that made you feel bad about yourself the next day…

Who could turn that down?

I’ll keep you posted.

Honda 2015 NC4 – A fully automatic 750cc motorcycle / lounge chair.

I took a spin round the Toronto Motorcycle Show at the Direct Energy Center yesterday. There was some cool stuff there but really I just wanted to go and be around people who like bikes. I had a good chat with a bunch of off road guys and I may try to do some organized days in the dirt this year if time allows it.

To be honest though there’s not too much new stuff on offer as everybody seems to be consolidating their bike lines. As much as I like the Suzuki brand, they really haven’t stepped outside of the design box for a very long time, preferring to make their bikes resemble their European counterparts, rather than carve their own esthetic. Kawasaki still seems very geared towards the hooligan market and Yamaha continues to refine what seems to be working for them.

Honda though does seem to be trying to push the envelope a bit. The NC4 (New Concept) platform is not available in North America unless you buy it sight unseen and have one built for you. It’s pretty comfy in a Barca lounger sort of way though the automatic transmission (sort of a slipper clutch in reverse arrangement) would take a bit of getting used to. I had a hard time getting good pictures of the thing as the Stealth Fighter lines of it play merry hell with my autofocus points. Still it’s selling to a select few and according to the sales guy, you can order a complete aftermarket Akira body mod and wrap kit for it, so you can ride around saving New Tokyo at your leisure.

I did get a good look at the Ducati Scrambler, which is their entry into the retro market as well as the semi dual sport market. Brand aside, I wasn’t super impressed with the ergos of the bike. The fit and finish are fine but it didn’t feel like a good fit for me and the single LCD speedo / data center looked like an afterthought and actually detracts from the whole retro feel.

Still, it was nice to get out and see some old friends and talk bikes for a few hours while the snow fell outside. I’m looking forward to Spring and a chance to ride again.

In other news, I’ve sold over 60 copies of Devil’s Gambit and it continues to sell consistently and Two Wheeled Maniac is also selling pretty well too. I’ve got one more week to go in the day job and then it’s nose to the grindstone to get the next books out.

Did the Toronto Car Show on Sunday.  It was wall to wall people, which really isn’t my thing and as Colin likes to do these things at a run, I didn’t get to spend too much time looking at cars or even get to sit in any (not that I’m looking for obvious reasons if you’ve been following along). I did manage to steer the boy over to the Mini booth finally because I wanted to get a look at the Mini Super Leggera concept they’d concocted. I think my biggest issue with the new Minis are the size of them, they’re starting to push into regular car size and that seems wrong to me.  For all intents and purposes, the Mini Countryman is an X3 with a Mini’s skin over top. Another thing I noticed was that most of the cars on display were automatic transmission models though the John Cooper Works type did have the dreaded flappy paddles. Call me old fashioned but there’s something very satisfying about working a gear shift and clutch as you come round a corner as fast as you can manage. Working your way through the gears on a Mini is one of the most fun things you can do on four wheels. As an aside, the most dreaded words to me on any sales brochure when it comes to cars these days is, “Infotainment system,” because thats all I need as a motorcycle rider is for a driver to have more distractions at their fingertips.

But enough of that. Here’s a few snaps of the Mini Super Leggera

 

My dirty little secret is that through my entire writing career in film with the exception of a two year stretch, I’ve kept a day job.  Did it make for long days?  Sure but film in Canada isn’t as well establish as film in the US or the UK and when every script you try to get produced is pretty much a two year ordeal, well, your family and you can’t live on air.

Plus I was really good at my day job building and updating food plants with a short two year hiatus into building generators for the film industry.  I’ve always been a technical guy, maybe I can’t rebuild a car engine but I can troubleshoot a pasteurizer and fix the mechanical seal on a pump in good time. One of the reasons I enjoy it is that when I’m finished installing some new piping or building a skid based CIP for a plant, at the end of the process, there’s a physical useful object sitting there in front of me and every Thursday is payday.  Don’t kid yourself, a regular paycheck is a good thing.  You can plan your life around regular pay.  Film is a lot more flighty than that and it’s probably why most writers in film who are slugging it out in the trenches, are nervous all the time and obsessed with money.

On the 27th of this month, I’ll be leaving my day job.  No, it’s not because I’m selling a thousand copies a month on Amazon.  It’s because my daughter deserves to have a life.  For the last little while she’s been looking after her brother Colin, during the day.  Colin as previously mentioned is an adult with Autism.  My daughter has a good job lined up with decent pay.  We have not been able to find an equitable care solution for my son that any of us trust or feel comfortable with and so I’ll be leaving my job to look after him.  Will it give me more time to write?  Of course it will.  The difference now, is I’ll be doing it without the safety net of the day job’s salary.

When we explain this situation to people my wife and I get things said to us like, “You guys are saints.”  This is also accompanied by a look which almost all parents of special needs individuals have seen.  It a mixture of pity and misplaced respect.  Seriously?  Fuck off and spare me your pity, I don’t have time for it.  We’re just a family in the same position as a lot of families around the world who struggle to do the best for their kids with the limited (and believe me, they are limited) resources available to us.  We fight with the government at the municipal, provincial and federal level all the time.  We worry about our kids having encounters with law enforcement who are not trained in dealing with mental illness or deficiency and don’t know that the stimming behavior in front of them is a stress reaction and does not need to be dealt with deadly force.  Which of course is why you ultimately deal with these things in family because you’ve got years of experience as opposed to five minutes and a gut check.

Am I nervous?  Only a fool wouldn’t be but that being said, I’m very good at putting one word in front of another in such a way that reading them doesn’t make people want to tear their eyes out, so that’s a good thing.  I have a publishing plan and my books are selling steadily, which gives me a foundation to build on.  And the best part of all is I really am going to be the only one responsible for how well this turkey is going to fly.

Diorama From Heritagecon 14 – The subtitle could be — “Shit’s about to get real!”

I started Devil’s Gambit twenty years ago. I was a young writer, very sure of myself. The internet was still in its infancy and most of your info on all things military came out of white papers and the “Jane’s Group” one of the largest public disseminators of semi classified information (for a price) available. For a rather steep fee I could subscribe to Jane’s Defence Weekly and get the inside track on the military procurement practices of every country in the world. Go a little deeper and subscribe to Jane’s  “Sentinel” and now you’re reading the same articles that the military planners are reading. How do I know this?  I asked every one of them I talked to point blank and they all gave the same answer. Who was their best source? Janes. If you were writing military fiction or technothrillers as they were known, Janes was the best way to make sure your info was accurate. To nail the dialogue and syntax, you need to talk to people who are active in that world. Which means you need to also get in there and get dirty too.

Of course reading the same stuff as the planners can get to you. You start to realize just how thin the skin of civilization is on the face of the planet, something we’ve all become far too familiar with these days. Your paranoia quotient increases as well. You see an outbreak of something and part of you wonders, was it a test of a bioweapon, or maybe an accident with a weaponized version of something the government was cooking up off the books so to speak. Why does mainland China need sixteen roll on roll off military transports, you ask yourself and so on and so forth and the world becomes just a bit darker.

Of course I never did publish Devil’s Gambit back then. I’d pissed off a certain editor at one of the big publishing houses and my chances of getting it to print were slim to none in a best case scenario. Ereaders were a thing of fantasy and many years over the horizon. So I turned to screenwriting and when I did that I decided to go for a more human approach and leave all or at least most of the world’s problems behind. I cancelled my subscription to all of my Jane’s publications and unsubscribed from a bunch of think tank mailing lists. Of course, they don’t want you to go just yet, so I endured another few months of gentle persuasion… “Look BTR-60s hull down on the Syrian border, want to know what we think?” That sort of thing.

But I was done and going to start a new chapter in my writing life. Which as anyone who has been reading this blog for a while, knows had it ups and its downs and its complete shit kickings of the soul.

When I came back to writing long form fiction, I took a good long hard look at what I had to offer as a writer and what was going to be the best way to get that work out there? The Kindle and the various Apple “i” products were obviously a game changer. But the real question really was, can my work be relevant, could it be good? I went through all of my back catalogue of story ideas and completed works and Devil’s Gambit popped up almost immediately. It’s a weird thing to read something you started twenty years ago. To see the you as you were before the time in the forge that has made you what you are today. But the most terrifying thing was the core precepts of the book had not changed, including a great part of the technology and weapons. The fighter wings at Kadena were still F-15s and 16s. North Korea was still crazy and even Russia had backslid into some of it’s old ways. In twenty years, stuff was still pretty much as it ever was.

That was pretty chilling.

I gave Devil’s Gambit a thorough rewrite – well a few really and with the help of my Editor Isaac Sweeney, I bashed it into the book it is today. The world has changed in twenty years in many many ways and in many others it has remained the same. What does that say about us?

I’m not too sure.

But I do know that I want to write about people, not just the tech of the battlefield or the conflict. The guts of the thing and how it effects my characters, that’s the thing I want to write about these days. That’s the thing that gets my motor running.

headshot

Ten days ago, I decided to try a promotion package for Devil’s Gambit to a service with an extensive Twitter presence (well way more extensive than mine anyway). Now bearing in mind, I’m a new to the scene writer. Twenty plus years of writing for film and TV doesn’t mean shit other than it does mean that I can write well enough for people to pay me.  Which I’ll admit has always been a bit of a benchmark with me in regards to how seriously you take somebody.  Yes I’m aware that’s not a great attitude but then film is not a very nice business.

Tempered by my years in film though, my expectations were low.  Prior to the promotion my sales were about one or two books a day with a couple of three and five a day spikes.  Low numbers to be sure but like I said, I’m new here and nobody knows me.  However, once the promotion rolled out, my numbers dropped to zero.  For five days, no sales at all.  This may just have been a statistical blip, I don’t know but it wasn’t a welcome result.  Right now, as you can imagine, I’m not super positive about the cost and effectiveness of online promotions.  Then again, I’ll probably have to offer a price drop or go perma free down the road to generate more traffic to my next book.  The promotion is winding down and my numbers are back to where they were, slightly higher actually but I feel this is more to do with the release of my second book, Two Wheeled Maniac, which covers the last eight years of me riding my motorcycle across the US and Canada.

Much like a race bike, Devil’s Gambit got drafted in its wake and sales picked up again.  Now it’s selling at about two copies a day to Two Wheeled Maniac’s one, which is interesting as TWM is a very niche book.

The real issue I’m running into is getting reviews. I have three so far and they’re all good, which is nice.  You do hope you’re not writing shit or your writing is shit and sometimes from the inside it’s hard to tell, though my editor was always positive and even though he’s being paid to do his job, I do expect him to be honest.  The one real benefit of working in film is it does toughen your hide somewhat.  Nobody has ever said something to me about my books where I’ve wanted to beat them to a pulp instantly.  This has happened more than a few times working in film.  Then again, sometimes people have an ax to grind and you just happen to be handy.

I know there are people who receive free books or payment for their review.  The free book thing doesn’t bother me as much though their lead times to get your review out can be very long and if you have that level of workload to get through, how honest a review is being generated?  I know when I was reading for a production company, you were so taxed to get through your slush pile that it was ten pages and out to pass something on up the line or in most cases, one page and a round file.  Again paying for a review, makes you wonder how honest it is?  I’m as guilty as the next person though, I prefer to give a star rating for the books I read, writing a review smacks of effort.  Though I do rouse myself out of my torpor and write something if the book is very good.

So now I’m also trying to build my email list. If any of you guys reading this have some insight, I’d love to hear it.  Comments are very welcome here.

Road Maniac Cover

My new book will be available on the Kindle platform within the next twelve hours.  I’ve decided to share the first chapter here in my blog.  This is a very personal book for me as it covers my travels for the last eight years and why I’m driven to do them but it also shows that you don’t need a crap load of gear or money to have an “Adventure” on your motorcycle and that’s really what I’m trying to get across here.  So if you’d like to purchase the full version through Amazon after reading this excerpt, just click here.  And if my non fiction works for you and you’d like to see how I handle a tense nuclear thriller, then just click here and check out my other book Devil’s Gambit.

Below is an excerpt from my new book Two Wheeled Maniac

Humble Beginnings

Sometimes you ride for fun; sometimes you ride to survive. I think for all of us drawn to two wheels in one form or another, it’s like that. I mean, how many times have you found yourself in the absolute thick of horrendous weather or tough terrain and the thought crosses your mind, “What the Hell am I doing here? This is nuts!” Only to be followed by the next thought, “Shut up, ride and get through it.”

I came to bikes later than some. I’d just turned seventeen. The family had had some ups and downs financially and we were renting a farmhouse just south of Abbotsford, BC. We’d emigrated from Scotland in the mid-seventies and I’d grown up in Abbotsford, BC over the previous ten years.

My younger brother Richard brought home a beat up Honda 80. Rough as it was, it ran sweet. It was mechanically sound (mostly), and since we were out among all that farmland, there were plenty of places to ride the thing and not have to worry about the local police busting us for riding on the road without proper insurance. Not that they didn’t try every chance they got.

Every junkie remembers his first hit and that Honda 80 had me hooked the first time I rolled on the throttle. It also started me down the course of always seeking the path less traveled or seeing where that dirt road leads.

The Honda turned into a 1980 Yamaha DT 175 (the one with the nice red frame), then a brief and ill-advised affair with a 1976 Kawasaki KH400, which lasted until I got married at twenty. This might seem to be too young for most, but we’re still together, so I’m guessing I chose well. Marriage and kids put the bikes to rest for a few years as we, built our first house and I started my training to be a welder. The kids came one two three, a daughter, Kathleen and two sons, Colin and Sean. It’s a good job the welding thing worked out.  I eventually became an aseptic TIG welder and pipe fitter, building food plants all over Canada and sometimes the US.

Because I was away so much, it was rare that I got on any bike, including my own. I was in that early-marriage head space of providing for my family and creating – along with my wife, of course – a future for us. Not everything was smooth sailing. My middle son, Colin, was diagnosed with autism. Classic autism, to be exact. Off hours were spent going to support groups and reading about the disorder to get a handle for what we were in for. It was rough at times, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

Then a horrible thing happened.

We were a week in a new house when there was an explosion in my garage. Colin and my youngest son, two-year-old Sean, had gone in there. Sean was probably just following his older brother; they were never far apart. To this day, we don’t know what happened or the cause of the explosion, but the end result was that both boys were badly burned. Sean passed away that night in mine and my wife’s arms and our world for the next few months revolved around Colin, who was first in the ICU at Children’s hospital and then in the burn ward at Vancouver General Hospital.

The world as I knew it was pretty much over; at least it felt that way.

Of course the world does not stop turning, but it does get pretty shitty for a while. I ended up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The emergency room experience put a pretty big twist on my brain. This, coupled with the guilt of not being there to protect my sons and daughter… Well you get the idea of how deep that particular rabbit hole can go. I was not in a good place and I was pretty textbook when it came to the harming yourself and others clause of the PTSD handbook. Lucky for me, I was able to find a good psychologist who helped me through the trauma. She gave me coping mechanisms to help me identify and ward off the variety of PTSD attacks / behaviors. I used to think flashbacks were bullshit until they started happening to me. It was about a four-year process to put me back together, mentally to where I could function in the real world.

Deep as I was in this blackness, I knew I needed to get back on two wheels. The beauty of riding for me is and always has been the level of focus required. A bike is not a good place to let your mind wander. You need to be aware at all times of what’s going on. This focus allows you a brief reprieve from those other voices in your head.

My friend Kelly, a guy who is much more bike mad than me, who works in the motorcycle industry and who is a best friend in every sense of the word, put out feelers and found me a slightly used 1990 Yamaha XT600. A big old thumper of a bike and exactly what I needed. She’d do 120kmh downhill with a tail wind and not much more, but I loved that bike and I rode it for the next ten years. It was a sad day when I sold her.

In November of 2001, we moved from Abbotsford, BC, to Mississauga, ON. What followed were another couple of bikeless years until I bought a 70’s era CB350. My usually supportive wife said I looked like a gorilla at the circus on it. Next up was a 1980 Yamaha Seca 550, which was fun until the engine blew. Then it was ungrateful after I found a replacement engine, which also blew (actually the drive chain snapped and seized the engine) and left me stranded eleven kilometers outside of Grimsby in the middle of the Niagara Escarpment. In hindsight, maybe my first test ride should have been just around the block.

I was all set to get myself another older bike, but my wife put her foot down and told me to get a modern bike; one that I could ride instead of “fix” all the time. As it is with all things bike, I called Kelly and laid out my dilemma.

“You should check out a V-Strom,” he said. “A bunch of guys in the race club have them as their runaround bike. They swear by them. It’ll fit your riding style.”

I’d never heard of a V-Strom before. Lucky for me, I had a job coming up in BC and one night after work, I visited Kelly. He took me to a friend’s house. The friend had a Strom and I got my first chance to sit on one. Yeah, it fit really well. I’m six foot two and about two hundred and twenty five pounds; leg room is an issue. It was roomy compared to the last couple of bikes I’d ridden. It was definitely a bike I could get used to.

When I got back to Ontario, I found an ‘04 with just twenty four thousand km on the clock and we started our life together. My wife calls her “The Mistress” and she’s not wrong. We do spend a lot of time together. On the plus side, she’s very discrete.

This short book is a commentary and collection of my trips from around 2006 forward. Yeah, I come to things late. It’s a common theme in my life, but once I’m there, I’m committed. I’ve just turned forty nine and my Strom has just rolled over 100,000km. I plan on taking her all the way to 250,000km and further if possible. Though by then, it might be a Mad Max world and I’ll be in assless chaps and a hockey mask.

I guess what I want to get across is touring is fun and there’s plenty to see out there just in Canada and the US and you don’t need to break the bank to do it. I’ve met some great people all over and had some interesting encounters. I’m usually riding to go somewhere, but not always, and that’s fun too.

And the bike is still saving me.

Every day.

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