Chilling in Miami

Here’s a pic of my brother Chuck and me, shot by Chuck’s wife Youngmee. I’m on a brief stopover in Miami, en route to Puerto Rico. Chuck looks well, despite having started a second round of chemo, which we are hoping and praying will keep him going for a good long time to come. Echoing hopes and prayers would be welcome.

And here is Youngmee, with the two adorable and extraordinarily energetic new puppies Jahng and Tntn.

 

Yes, by the way, another round of Ponce Chronicles is coming up, as we strive to complete the renovation and update work on Allysen’s family’s house. That is, we’ll be doing another round of work. I probably won’t write too much about it, as I’ll be trying to focus what writing time I have on the book rewrite, which is coming along pretty well.

 

Arlington Chronicles: The Gate Is Up and the Fence Is Done!

Big gate and fence

It’s done, and everything works! The dogs can now run free in our backyard! And I can clean up the work bench and put away the tools, because it’s done! And if I do say so myself, I think it looks pretty frickin’ good!

None too soon, either. The temperatures are dropping (I could see my breath as I was staining wood*), and the first real snow of the season is predicted for tomorrow! Nothing like cutting it close!

 

*Not the recommended conditions for staining wood.

The Arlington Chronicles Part ?? — Wanna Help Me Build a Fence?

No idea what I last posted about our continuing building and renovation madness, and the thought of looking back makes me feel tired, so none of that. Look forward, always look forward. Do you see a fence? A backyard fence? Keep looking: It’s starting to come into focus.

back-yard-fence

This is what I’ve been building for the last month or two (surely it’s been longer): a little fence in the back yard to make a place for dog-in-law McDuff the Crime Dog to run around in. And since we’re going to all that trouble, we might as well make it big enough for Captain Jack, too, right? So he can turn our back yard into a moonscape, with his digging?

arbor-partially-finished

I told Allysen this would take a lot longer than we thought, and in that I was correct! For one thing, there was the little matter of putting together the arbor kit (some assembly required!) that I promised her fifteen years ago I would assemble for Mother’s Day. The arbor is part of one of the gateways for the fence, you see. A sort of portal into the backyard dimension. Well, I got that up—and I was never so glad that I’d bought a cordless nail-gun with a different project in mind. And as of today… there be a GATE!

jack-contemplates-gate

Here it is, in all its newly built glory! And from outside the portal into the back yard:

portal-to-the-back-yard-dimension

The second gate is gonna be bigger. But that’s another story, still to be told.

 

Thoughts for Thanksgiving

My main thought for Thanksgiving? That I hope you all have a joyous, thoughtful, and celebratory day today! Try not to eat too much, but don’t try too hard. And if you’re feeling down, whether it’s because of politics or family or the weather… see if you can focus for a few moments on something you’re grateful for. If you’re lucky, and my prediction pans out, you’ll feel better for it. In my case, it’ll be the family and friends I hope to have gathered around.

Have a most happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The photo above, by the way, is the countryside somewhere near Concord, Massachusetts. I took the economy autumn foliage ride recently, courtesy of the MBTA’s commuter rail. It was a lovely interlude.

The Move Is Done!

finished-shower_20160915Allysen’s mom is all moved into our downstairs apartment. That actually happened a couple of weeks ago, but we’ve been so busy working on things that didn’t get done that I haven’t gotten any of it written up. I know I sort of promised to tell all about it in the Arlington Chronicles, sequel to the famed Ponce Chronicles—but you know, I don’t think that’s going to happen. For weeks, we were flat out focused on getting the bathroom remodeled, the old five-layers-of-linoleum kitchen floor ripped up, the newly-exposed old hardwood floor (and all the rest of the apartment’s floor) refinished, old cabinets taken out or repainted, walls and ceilings painted, tripping hazards removed, electrical work done…jeez, just listing this stuff is giving me flashbacks. And here I had finally stopped dreaming about caulking and painting….

finished-bathroom_20160915During the planning of the floor refinishing, Allysen asked the floor guys to redo the stairs going up to our second floor apartment. Which is great, but the polyurethane stuff reeks forever, and we used the back stairs for two weeks while it aired and hardened. Then, just as we were starting to use the stairs again, I realized that the floor guys had forgotten to recoat the risers and side panels. They came back to do that, and gave a third coat to the steps for good measure. Can’t breathe! Back stairs for two more weeks! But those steps are going to outlast us… as soon as we can start using them again.

our-stairs-refinished_20160928You may be unsurprised to learn that I did not get a word of writing done during that month (six weeks?). I am now angling around the manuscript that was going so well in July, trying to size it up and decide if it’s really mine. It looks sort of like mine, but also sort of different, and I’m not sure anymore. But I think this is where I left it, so it probably is mine. I’ll work on it and see how it goes.

We’re still not done. Tomorrow the plumbers will be here, and the next day the electricians come to upgrade our service. Maybe if I cover my eyes, they won’t see me.

Anyway, Fay is all moved in now, and she likes it here. Three cheers and a frozen margarita!

The Computer is Dead! Long Live the Computer!

My office computer Polaris, five and half years into its five-year mission, has gone to the great computer heaven in the sky. My new computer is a Dell XPS tower, with lots of power and a great deal of memory (by today’s standards; tomorrow, not so sure). It was on sale at Costco for a good price. I decided to name it after another great computer, renowned for its stability and wisdom. Minions, fans, and onlookers, I present to you…HAL! HAL, meet your minions, fans, and onlookers! Long live the computer!

hal-and-dave

I like my new computer. Windows 10, on the other hand…? Well. Let’s just say that several hairbrained design decisions on the part of Microsoft developers made the transition a lot harder than it should have been. For instance, whose idea was it that when you enter the profile name you want for your account, Microsoft quietly truncates it and uses the short form for all your file paths—rendering impossible what you probably want to do, which is to mirror the setup of your old system. Document paths? Gone. Itunes playlists? Gone. Well, that ought to be easy to change, right? No, actually, it’s not. I did finally fix it—thanks to Google, other users, and a bit of hacking in the Windows registry. (On a new machine! Really?)

I also decided it was way past time for a new monitor for my poor eyes. My new one is much bigger, with higher resolution, and so on. Thought I, this should make all the text on the screen easier to read. Wait, what? Why is all the text now tiny? Oh yeah—more pixels per inch. Smaller letters. Okay, sure—but how stupid is that? My wife nodded knowingly and said she gave up on her office computer and just got used to reading small text. (Yes, you can go into settings and enlarge the text, but you degrade clarity and performance when you do.) Why has nobody fixed this problem? Are all those developers in their early twenties, with great eyesight? That must be it. Same idiots who use light gray font on websites. What did I say about walking on my lawn?

Still, I think HAL and I are going to be great friends. Right, HAL? Could you open the pod bay door for me, HAL? HAL?

How Windows 10 Borked My Computer and Ruined My Life

Okay, it didn’t ruin my life, exactly, but it sure ruined my day. Microsoft laid the “Windows 10 anniversary update” on me—and I was still waiting to discover how the first Windows 10 upgrade was any improvement over 7—and that was the last time my office computer worked right. I’m typing on it right now, but I know it’s only a matter of time before the blue screen of death strikes again. I’m dancing at the edge of a crumbling cliff here. I’ve already fallen a couple dozen times, and I’m feeling bruised.

First place, this machine is only five and a half years old, for Heaven’s sake! Yeah, I know that’s, like, 35 in dog years, and a century in computer years, but I still don’t like how fast these things turn to rust. I also don’t like when “upgrades” break things that worked just fine!* And get the hell off my lawn!

http://quotesgram.com/angry-cat-quotes/Having spent the better part of a day running updates and diagnostics and doing everything but turn it upside down and shake it, I’m now thinking: Keep spending time trying to make an old computer run right? Or is it time to start checking prices at Costco…?

*Comcast/Xfinity was the subject of my wrath last week, when they summarily removed their very useful online DVR manager from their website, and replaced it with crippleware that I can only run on my Android tablet. I’m still fuming about that. And what’d I just say about the lawn?

 

The Arlington Chronicles – Part 1 – A Certain Madness

Some of you may remember my Ponce Chronicles and Revenge of the Ponce Chronicles, telling the adventures of house repairs in Puerto Rico last winter. Well, we’re at it again, this time on our own house, here in Massachusetts. We’re renovating our downstairs apartment, in preparation for Allysen’s mom to move in. Fay is in her mid-80’s, and there are a lot of changes to be made for “aging in place.”

old-showerYou may have thought from my recent posts that for the last few weeks, all I’ve been doing is plug my books. Indeed, no. In fact, we have been plugging the holes in our sanity, while researching accessibility, working with contractors, buying (or not buying) appliances that will work for someone Fay’s age, and so much more.

Do you like bathroom renovations? Who doesn’t, right? Right. We set out intending only to rip out the old bathtub/shower and replace it with a no-threshold shower, in hopes of preventing trips, slips, and falls. By the time it’s done (tomorrow, I hope!), we will have put in all new tile, toilet, fan, lights, walls—basically everything except the sink and the door. Fortunately, we found an amazing contractor who knew how to do everything we (Allysen) talked about. I cannot overstate the wonder of working with guys who are smart, knowledgeable, able to communicate clearly and share your vision, and do good work for a price that’s probably too low. We love these guys.

will-and-bill-ponder-what-theyve-wroughtIt hasn’t all been the bathroom, of course. I’m passing over the hardwood floors, the kitchen, the electrical work, the driveway, the porch lift… but I’ll get to those in another post.

And our role in this, besides signing checks? Painting, lots of painting; and rehabilitating the old kitchen sink cabinet that we decided, probably stupidly, to reuse. And making decisions? Oh yes…

Between us, I’m sure we spent hundreds of hours researching, measuring, and looking at refrigerators (we decided in the end to keep the old one), compact washers and dryers (used and refurbished), electric ranges, dishwashers… aaiiieee. It’s a Rubik’s cube.

Take selecting tile, for one. Oh, my head! Getting three people—Allysen, her mom, and me—all with divergent artistic sensibilities, to agree on style and pattern? And having chosen, discovering—after it was put down—that the tile company had sent the wrong tile for the floor? (Upshot: the tile stays, but the tile company refunded the money.) And selecting grout color?! Who knew it was important to pick out grout color?! And let’s not even get started on picking out the right toilet—only to discover, after attempted installation, that the one we picked out won’t fit.

shower-tile-getting-thereAll this with the date of Fay’s move breathing down our necks.

So, naw, I’ve done my fair share of hawking, but I haven’t only been hawking books these last few weeks.

More to follow.

Launch Day! Story of an Audiobook—Part One

Today marks launch day for the audiobook of Neptune Crossing! Narrated by the Grammy-winning Stefan Rudnicki! I feel as if I’ve just discovered a planet. Or maybe traveled to one. It’s been a long journey—and I often thought there would be no audiobook at all.

Neptune Crossing is one of my best known works, and the beginning of my most ambitious series, The Chaos Chronicles. But a thousand years or so ago, when I first sold the Chaos series to Tor Books, audiobooks were the furthest thing from my mind. They had not reached anything like the popularity they enjoy today, and Audible, iTunes, and library downloads were just a futurist’s dream. Only top-selling books got the audio treatment, and while I had my appreciative and loyal audience, I simply did not fit that profile.

Time passed, and publishing changed. Indie-publishing happened. I started creating ebooks of my older titles, breathing new life into books long out of print. And I discovered audiobooks myself. What’s this? You can download audiobooks from the library? I loaded up my trusty Zune and started listening to books while I walked the dog. What a discovery! But why weren’t my books available?

I cast about for ideas. Some of my colleagues—Jim Kelly, for example—were building their audiences through podcast readings of their own work. I could do that, couldn’t I? I thought I was a pretty good reader. Okay, I had no studio, limited experience, and only a cheap computer mic. But I gave it a shot. I recorded the prologue to the forthcoming Sunborn.

This is going to be great!

And that’s when I discovered just how frigging hard and time consuming it was to get an audio recording right. I’d thought to release the whole of Sunborn chapter by chapter, podcast style. But halfway through the first chapter, I realized it wasn’t going to work—not if I wanted to do anything else in life, such as finish the next book. So, with deep regret, I pulled the plug on that idea. (However, my reading of the Sunborn prologue eventually got turned into a video for an arts festival, and you can view it on my videos page. I think it’s pretty cool.)

Once again, I was left in the wilderness, with no clear road to audio for the Chaos books. Or, to pursue the planetary metaphor, I was adrift in the asteroid belt, thrusters sputtering. My agent eventually sold some of my other titles to Audible. But I didn’t have the rights to The Chaos Chronicles.

None of this went unnoticed by my wife Allysen, who had worked in TV production. In 2011, she decided it was time to step up. We found inspiration in Bruce Coville’s Full Cast Audio, whose productions we had been enjoying as family entertainment. We would start at the beginning and create a full-cast amateur podcast of Neptune Crossing, to put online for free, using local talent! In our suburb of Boston, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a writer, artist, or actor. We put out the call. And people came forth—people with talent and enthusiasm, and willingness to help. One of them, Bob Kuhn, even had book narration experience.

This is going to be great!

We bought a decent recorder, borrowed a bunch of sound curtains, and turned our living room into a Saturday afternoon recording studio. Allysen directed, and I took the part of Bandicut. Sam played the quarx, Peter and John each took several characters, as did Judy, Lisa, and Allysen. Bob laid down the narration track. Others came in for shorter parts. We got most of the book in the can, as raw recording. We began logging takes.

And then… Allysen got a new job, a demanding one. Someone else’s work schedule changed, making Saturdays a problem. We were running ourselves ragged. It was taking a toll on my writing. I undertook the sound editing… and rediscovered just how time consuming that job was. Finally we called a hiatus. I had a book to write! Allysen needed to focus on her new job. The hiatus stretched. It was maybe a year before we realized that this project, too, was something we could not finish, not now, not without killing ourselves. We’d gotten out of the asteroid belt, only to be trapped, adrift and blind, in the clouds of Jupiter.

[continued…]

(Spoiler! In the next chapter, you’ll read how we made it to Planet Neptune Crossing Audiobook. If you want, though, you can run right out and buy the audiobook right now!)

NeptuneCrossing-audiobook

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