At the lake on a very warm January morning, with my son Colin.
Some weeks with my son are easier than other weeks. This week was a bit of a rough one and when you add the need to get a new outline figured out for my next book, the stress can get to you a bit. Not that there’s much you can do when Colin’s behaviors are an issue. It’s not like he can communicate what’s causing his stress to you all you can do is redirect his attention and hope his brain will click onto the newly offered track. Sometimes this works, other times he’ll redirect for the length of the activity and then go right back into the behavior when it’s finished. This can be pretty disheartening.
So when today rolled around and I had the opportunity to head up to A Vicious Cycle in New Dundee for their open house I was good to go. I needed a ride to clear my head a bit and having a place to go to to shoot the shit about bikes for a few hours with other like minded and afflicted maniacs is a welcome diversion.
I’m at the far left.
If there’s one thing I like about the Adventure rider community is how even it is. There’s not a lot of ego amongst riders, maybe it’s because we’ve all had various dumb get offs trying to do stuff that might have exceeded our grasp at the time or maybe it’s just that we’re all looking for the next road or ride to have a go at and like to share what knowledge we possess about roads or tracks we’ve taken. We look at each others bikes and ask about this or that modification and how its worked out. Today was interesting because there was a lot of talk about extra fuel storage. Which lead to discussions about the evil of Ethanol and how it eats fuel pumps. Knock on wood, my bike is still going strong and I’ve had fuel in it at times that was so shitty I was amazed it even started.
Of course there were also plenty of bikes to look at and for a change, it was a really good variety, not just the usual Beemers, KLRs and V-Stroms. Some Veradaro’s showed up along with a Tenere and a Husqavarna (Which I’ll admit, I was lusting over a little).
It was on the ride back while I worked my way up through the gears, I realized I needed to create a whole new opening for the new book. Which isn’t such a big deal as I’m not cutting anything out, I’m just making sure that everything that comes after makes sense. Character motivation shouldn’t be a mystery. I mean how else can you identify with somebody if you haven’t a clue as to why they’re doing stuff?
So the bones of the chapter are laid out, I just need to fill in the gaps. It’s been a while since I’ve built something from scratch, it’s nice to know the muscles are still there.
Sometimes you have to make the hard call and put a current project on the back burner. I had to do that last week. This was no seat of your pants story either. I had a very complete and detailed outline with a good arc and plenty of action. But when it just ends up being an exercise of putting words on a page and you’re not feeling the story anymore or the pull of writing, something’s not working and you need to pull back. Then again, this particular story always did have a difficult second to third act transition and I’ve been banging away for years at it to make it work. Once again though, it’s beaten me. The other side of the coin is it was more of a supernatural thriller and right now my feeling is that it wouldn’t be doing my ‘brand’ any favors, such as it is. I had hoped it could turn into another trilogy and it still may but now I think I’ll wait till my other two books in the, “Devil,” series are done before tackling it again. Distance and time always work well to shed new light on a problematic story.
That’s the bad news… at least to me.
The good news is, I’m working on the outline for Devil’s Salary and coming across all sorts of juicy research, a good chunk of which will find its way into the book. I hope to have it out by sometime in the Fall. It’s really clawing around the inside of my skull right now trying to get out.
Hold on tightly, let go lightly…
The contest to win one of five copies of Devil’s Gambit is on till the 30th. Click here to enter.
I’ve been promising to take my son Colin to the Toronto Zoo for the last couple of weeks and today was the first time it’s really been warm enough to go. Of course, the Zoo is still coming out of Winter so a lot of the exhibits aren’t up yet but that’s not such a big deal because there isn’t any big crowds and that’s a big plus.
this time because Colin has a tendency to wander off, I grabbed my SPOT Gen3 Tracker, so that if I did lose him I’d have a GPS fix to start looking. You laugh but he’s like a ninja when he wants to be.
I’ll be honest, I have mixed feelings about Zoos but they do allow me to photograph animals I’d never get a chance to and in some cases, they’re the only safe bet for certain very endangered species, though I’d be more inclined towards dedicated preserves to maintain habitat and allow populations to reestablish themselves. However, all that aside, I really got to use my Sigma 150-500mm f5.6-6.5 Zoom today and some of the results were very good considering a bunch of the conditions were less than ideal. The shot of the Grizzly above is through Plexiglass which is okay by me as he’s got me beat by about 400 lbs.
Sumatran Tiger, goofing for the camera…
I guess all cats like eating grass.
I felt lucky to get this shot.
I know people are wondering why I use a such a rapid shutter but it’s for shots like these. I took over 700 exposures today, I developed just over 40. Things happen in those 10th of seconds.
Lions always look so stoic, even when they’re sort of napping.
Okay, maybe not so stoic here…
The Cheetah, my favorite cat.
Okay, now we’re stoic.
One of the hardest enclosures to shoot through. Close mesh and very poor light. This was the best shot of the bunch.
I’ve always gotten a better shot at the back of the Polar Bear enclosure. Today didn’t disappoint.
The other good shot of the Leopard. I’m shooting through Plexi again and have my lens hood right up against the glass to minimize glare.
I’ve got my eye on you.
An Australian Tree Kangaroo. This way Skippy can drop down on you from above…
The Snow Leopard was asleep right up against the glass. And this cat was out. It was a rare chance to actually look at one from inches away. The, “Ghost Cat,” is one of the most endangered species in the world.
The paws are amazing.
Usually the Red Panda is just a ball of red fur sleeping but today he was really active and I got some great shots.
Meanwhile his bigger cousin is keeping his figure up.
And finally back to the Grizzly. The bears were sticking to the back of their enclosure except for this brief foray towards the viewing area.
I’ve been about this close to a Black Bear in the wild and that was pretty intense but looking at the size of the Grizzly in comparison, I’d want no part of that ever.
So that’s our first trip of the year to the Zoo, there’ll probably be a couple more. Hope you enjoyed the shots.
US Predator Drone – Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
I’m in the midst of doing research for a sequel to Devil’s Gambit which at this point will be called Devil’s Salary. This next book in the series takes place roughly three years after the events in Devil’s Gambit and will be set in South America.
I’d mentioned in an earlier post about some of the technology not really having changed much from its introduction some twenty years ago. Certainly communications equipment has been improved but as we’ve seen portable sets still turn to shit at the worst times in the harsh crucible of combat. projectile weapons haven’t really changed much either since the introduction of the cartridge round and the weapon systems that deliver them other than component configuration haven’t changed much either. However if you write technothrillers, you do need to be up on your technology and as much of that tech is classified, you have to guess at what’s floating around out there in specialized usage.
For a while the buzzword was ‘thermobaric’ weapons. A thermobaric weapon uses the Oxygen in the air to create and incredibly strong thermal pulse. The explosive used also creates reactions of long duration. They’re typically used against tunnel systems, bunkers and minefields. They explosions themselves can have huge psychological impact on the enemy. My first exposure to these types of weapons was when they were referred to as FAE (Fuel Air Explosive) weapons, and even in the early stages, they were impressive.
The trick is to walk the fine line between science and science fiction or as one of my old contacts used to say, “Sorry that’s classified but physics is our friend.” Form also tends to follow function and research, research, research. Which actually means three separate points of verification before I’ll even think about speculating on an application.
What interests me right now is the proliferation of drones on the battlefield. The deeper I dig into the world of drones, the more interesting it becomes. There’s no question, they’re here to stay. For surveillance, their loiter on station times are only restricted by their fuel load. I recently looked at one unit that uses fuel cells to power it’s engines. It’s loiter time was four to six days and because it’s uses electric motors to power it’s props, it’s all but silent. Add to that the fact it’s flying in the stratosphere and you have a what is essentially a spy satellite without the any of the downside.
Your soldier on the ground is not left out either. There are a number of hand launched smaller drones that can co overflights of a combat zone and furnish real time intelligence on what you could be up against. That saves lives. There’s even drones that mimic wildlife and as we’ve seen drug smugglers are even trying them out for getting drugs across the border. Which if you think about it beats out Amazon for the idea.
So right now as I work out the outline to the next book in what I’m starting to call my, “Devil,” series. He really is in the details but don’t worry, tech aside, it’s about the characters and how they make it through the situations I throw at them to make their lives so very difficult.
Our Moon, Captured using a Sigma 150-500mm f5.6-6 Zoom ISO 100 shutter 1/200 – I find shooting the moon pretty difficult as it’s a moving target so ISO and shutter speed are really critical and you need to use a remote to not jostle the camera.
I’m suffering from information overload a little. When you push a screenplay out into the world, you pack it’s bag, hand it a boxed lunch and then watch it drive off in the strange man’s car. It doesn’t even turn around to wave. The next time you see it, it’ll either be an embittered young adult moving back into your basement forever or it’s going to be your new boss.
So far publishing books has been a totally different experience. They call you every day and let you know what’s happening, even when nothing is going on. So the one experience feels like buying a lottery ticket (granted one where you bought the ticket, built the booth and the machine that picks the balls) and the other is like a never ending auction where you watch the value of that thing you made just go up and up.
Make no mistake, both feel equally insane.
And to further beat this to death, because why not, I’ll fill you in on what’s going on right now.
My one remaining screenplay is in LA. My producer had meetings set up all last week. I know at least one of the Production Companies he was visiting and it’s a big deal. Meetings were had I’m told. Pitches were made, information was passed from he to them and others and my script was put onto reading piles. Not slush piles, no, we’re past that, these are the piles that the assistant has to go through to write coverage that will either put you on the ‘must read’ pile or the ‘not for us’ pile. The best part of this process is you have no idea about when or how well it’s going, ever. I’ll give it a month before I give my producer a shout and see where we’re at.
In sharp contrast there’s Amazon. Amazon likes numbers. Lots of them, a veritable cornucopia of digits. At any given moment there are around three and a half million books on the Amazon platform. Some are print, some are ebooks for their Kindle platform and app. And according to some, there is one new book being uploaded to Amazon every five minutes. Can your signal get lost in all of that noise? You bet. Which is why you need to build your presence in social media. Just like film, you stop being you and you become ‘You Inc.’ Unlike film, this does not come with a personal assistant or free stuff you can afford and don’t need. Not that any screenwriter ever got that deal.
I’m lucky, I’ve got a lot of interests and pursuits outside of writing. This is important because it keeps you grounded and not insulated and it also gives you a deep pool of people who have no problem calling you an idiot if the situation arises where you need to hear it. Which is why I polled the various motorcycle clubs and forums I belong to on the cover for Devil’s Gambit. People who ride adventure bikes tend to like reading thrillers. Asking them which cover appealed to them most was a smart move. Hiring an artist to create that cover was also a smart move. Hiring a professional editor to make sure my book was written as properly as possible brought the whole package together.
But we’re here to talk about numbers.
Everyday, I can track my unit sales and borrows on my reports pages. If I dig a little deeper, I can see where my books stand in their respective categories. Now numbers don’t always translate into sales figures but they do give you a good idea of what’s going on with your book. I’m sure Devil’s Gambit would be selling more if I was in the top general 1000 of all of the books sold on amazon.com but right now I’m making steady daily sales hovering around the 30,000 to 40,000 mark. On amazon.ca it made it into the top 100 Technothrillers for four solid days bouncing up and down like a yoyo. It also made it to #845 of that coveted 1000 general books sold but because the Canadian market is 1/10th of the American one it didn’t boost the sales numbers much. Still, I’m not complaining, merely pointing out how high numbers don’t always translate into sold books. This is fine. What it does mean is I’m gaining new readers everyday and a few of them have been very kind and left good reviews for my book. Which is very satisfying and makes you feel good about doing a good job. And it makes me want to get to the sequel to Devil’s Gambit that much sooner.
Two Wheeled Maniac on the other hand has been a real surprise. It has made it into a top 100 category on amazon.com. Which for a Canadian who didn’t ride his motorcycle across the Sahara or Siberia (though if somebody wants to sponsor my ride I’m up for it) is somewhat astounding. And even though it’s had some lower reviews from those who took umbrage with some of the things I had to say, it’s crunching along solid and steady. I’d love to write another Motorcycle Adventure book but I’m not sure when that will be possible.
I guess what I’m saying here is if you want your books to sell, they need to be put out in the most professional way possible. You need to engage with your possible readership and be approachable and human and you need to have fun with it. Fun has been missing from my writing life for a very long time, I’m glad to see it’s return. Number don’t always mean what you’d like them to.
Oh and if my film script reads this, it’d be nice if you could drop me a line every now and then and let me know what you’re up to.
The contest to win one of five print copies for Devil’s Gambit is on till April 30th, click here to enter.
To celebrate my book Devil’s Gambit in it’s new print copy format, I’m giving away five free copies.
The contest will run till April 30th 2015.
Just enter your email below and if you’re one of the lucky ones I’ll contact you for the shipping details. And don’t worry, I won’t be giving your info to any third party as I’m not technically literate to even guess at how you’d do this.
UPDATE: I checked the numbers this morning and we’re up to #3 in Adventure Travel Ebooks and #1 in Travel Essays Ebooks. It’s also floating around the 1300 mark in books for sale in Canada. There’s a good chance we’ll get above that line as the month goes on. I’m a little gobsmacked by all of this but happy all the same. Now I want to go on a really big trip and write about it (grin).
My Technothriller Devil’s Gambit is now available at Amazon in paperback for those of you who aren’t a fan of Electronic Readers. Now that I’ve been through the Createspace process I’ll be creating paperbacks of all future books to coincide with my Kindle releases as well.
Thanks for your patience as I learn how to navigate this whole new publishing landscape and thanks for purchasing.
Me playing the part of Guard #1 in Director / Writer Audrey Cumming’s “White Horizons” Nov 30 2007
At first I was concerned it was an April Fools joke but as my sales numbers for the day started to climb, I checked my bookshelf on Amazon.ca (for some reason, your stats don’t show up on the .com site if you’re a Canadian) and discovered that Devil’s Gambit was #92 on Amazon’s Top 100 Technothriller’s list.
This was a very nice bit of news to receive and I’m thankful to everybody who bought a copy and especially those of you who took the time to write a review and give it a star rating.
This one is going to be long and picture heavy. I used to be an avid modeller, it’s how I met my wife (she was working at the hobby shop where I hung my models). I built models up until the point where we started to have kids and after that there really wasn’t time or money to keep going with it. I also realized at that time that as serious as I was about building the kits, I wasn’t as serious or as skilled as the majority of builders I was meeting. Could I have pushed myself to gain those skills? Sure, but I was just starting out my writing career and working a pretty intense day job while learning my trade as a TIG welder. Something had to give and as you can guess, it was the building of models.
This of course has never detracted from my love of all things miniature, which I hope has come across in these pictures. A little about the technical aspect of these shots. I had to shoot at ISO 2000. The light in the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is good but it’s high and overhead. I never use a flash for macro work and like an idiot had left my fill light at home, though whether or not I’d have used it is up for debate. I was using a Sigma 10-20mm f4:5.6 but in order to fight some of my DOF issues, I set the lens to f7. Most of my exposures were between 1/15 and 1/60 depending on my zoom.
One of my favorite things about the Canon platforms is Canon’s noise suppression at high ISO settings, though as I get on a bit I’m starting to introduce more noise into my images to gain ‘tooth’. For the landscape stuff I still prefer to shoot low ISO with the camera mounted on a tripod and add the noise (if I want) in post with the DXo Film look software.
These shots are manipulated very little. I’ve merely corrected some contrast, color and exposure issues from the original RAW images.
I hope you enjoy them.
This cross section of the flagship HMS Victory was not in competition and I believe it was heading for a museum. The mast on top extended to its full height, this was an impressive piece.
This modeller does wonderful detail work and seems to have a thing for Bathyscaphes.
I love anything to do with the Arrow but ultimately, these dioramas make me deeply angry at the lost opportunity of what Canadian Aerospace could have been if Diefenbaker wasn’t such an idiot.
Again, note the modeller’s attention to the small details in this nice representation of an Aermachi Floatplane. Though that tail gun really looks like an engineer’s afterthought.
The kid who built this is 16. Way more skill than I ever had at that age.
A Model of the X-RV from the film ‘Marooned’ which was directed by my best friend’s Dad John Sturgess.
I believe this is out of Starblazers.
A really nice Snow Speeder.
Slave One – Front
And back, with lit engines.
A cool ship from a terrible movie
I hope you’ve enjoyed these and as always, I’ll be looking forward to next year’s show.