2016 Q2 Progress Report

Hey folks! Sticking my head up again to keep you abreast of my progress. I’m still plodding along on 2016 goals. I’ve been getting more questions on when A Togahan’s Chance will be released. See below.

Read 20 books in 2016: I just finished Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which is a long-ass book, but a great read. It certainly captures the feel of a post-apocalyptic world. That brings me to five books completed this year, putting me at 25% complete with 50% of the schedule gone. I need to catch up fast. Maybe some shorter reads. I’ll have to shuffle my queue.

Write 36 posts in 2016: This will be my 7th post for the year, putting this goal at 19% complete, with 50% of the schedule gone. Pathetic.

Release A Togahan’s Chance (Togahan #3): Really, this is the main goal that you all care about. We’re still on track for a release at or before Thanksgiving. Nancy returned my manuscript with thousands of tiny changes, so I’ve been progressing and implementing those, and am about halfway through that effort. After that, it’s time to format for e-release and some other bookkeeping, and we should be good to go.

In the meantime I’m toying with another side project (Togahan related), but I need to do some outlining first. I’ll say more when that project has more meat to it.

I’m also itching to get going on the next major arc. A Togahan’s Chance resolves some threads, but launches others, and there’s a whole lotta space out there for Dante to explore…

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A Togahan’s Chance – First Look at the Cover

I finalized the cover this week, and am thrilled to give you a peak at it. For my next post, I’ll talk about how I put it all together. What are your first impressions?

ATC_Cover_take02.2.1.1-300x400

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2016 Q1 Progress Report

Ugh. Once again, I’m lagging on all things that aren’t the book. This should have gone out a few days couple of weeks ago. Mea culpa. Here’s the status of my 2016 stated goals:

Read 20 books in 2016: I finished Saturn’s Children, and picked up a copy of Myke Cole’s new Javelin Rain, which I’m enjoying. But for the books I’ve actually read, I’m at…3/20, which puts me at 15% complete with 30% of the year gone by. I need to pick up the pace and/or read some shorter books. Part of the problem is that I picked up that damn Fallout Shelter app game, which fills in much of the cracks. And while the game has given me several insights, I haven’t formed those into anything cogent enough to write a post about, except for that April Fools post, but arguably, that doesn’t count.

Write 36 posts in 2016: LOL, I’m falling behind on that one too, even though it’s a lower goal than last year. This post is my 5th for the year (14% done), and it’s late. That says something about priortization, I suppose. Although after reading Chuck Wendig’s post about platforms I don’t feel so bad. I tend to get more positive feedback on things that are more entertaining than insightful. I think I’m overthinking this one, and I need to just relax and write about whatever entertains me. Yes, less thinking is in order.

Release A Togahan’s Chance (Togahan #3): This is actually on track for a Thanksgiving-ish release, with the project at 81% complete. The manuscript is in the hands of my wonderful editor Nancy, who is diligently marking where I need to correct 4,000+ comma errors (I’m not exaggerating that number), and other things. Once I get that back (probably in 2-3 weeks), I can plow through the copy edits, format for release, finish up the back matter, etc, some light book keeping, and then you should have a copy for the e-device of your choice as you’re on your way to gobbling turkey. That’s the goal, anyway, and the one I take most seriously.

I have some professional obligations coming up for my day job in June, which will demand some outside time, but I’m trying to work things so that the writing schedule isn’t impacted. Also, I need to get some S.W.A.G. printed up for promotional purposes – probably pens again; everyone loves/needs/uses pens. Any suggestions?

Anyway, that’s the state of things. I’ll do another one of these in June, hopefully closer to the proper half-time.

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The Precise Art of Naming Characters

So I’ve been playing a lot of Fallout Shelter, and as my vault dwellers produced offspring or I welcomed newcomers to the vault, I jumped on the opportunity to name or rename the characters. This was a perfect place for a budding author to practice the fine craft of naming characters in a meaningful way. I imagined factors like:

  • What is the character’s lineage and how much does that matter?
  • Does the character go by their first and last name, just one moniker, or a title?
  • Does the name roll off the tongue?
  • If from a foreign (or fabricated) language, how does the name reflect that language, and does it sound similar to their kin, or vastly different from foreigners?
  • Does the name sound like other words that evoke an intended reaction from the reader?
  • Should a name sound like someone famous, and if so, how much do you call that out?

Continue reading

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Not quite a head shot

So I just wrapped up playing Far Cry 3 (I got it for cheap when Far Cry 4 came out last year), and found it thoroughly enjoyable. They did a good job with the open sandbox world, while still driving you through a main plot arc. Liberating the various enemy strongholds was strangely relaxing as I utilized the game’s well constructed sneaking and take-down functions. And it had an impressive arsenal of modern weapons which you could customize. My favorite was the Bushman rifle, unlocked toward the end of the game, and in general I enjoyed any of the SMGs or ARs with suppressors.

But something was up with the auto-aim. This is a feature on most games where the computer helps you (sometimes dramatically, sometimes very, very subtly) by adjusting your aim toward a target. Some games really fine-tune this feature so that you don’t even notice the game doing it, but as you get better scopes and other enhancements, your aim noticeably improves.

In my case, the auto-aim favored the crotch.

I don’t know what was up – maybe it had sometime to do with the sneaking mechanism – but with the Bushman, I found I was more often spraying enemies in the junk and ass, watching them hunch over as if they just ate a bad meal. Not only did it cost more ammo, it was just a piss-poor, ungraceful way to take them down. Or maybe the game had nothing to do with it, and my aim just sucks. I don’t know. Regardless; fun game.

Now I’m on to Fallout 4, which has a very different feel to the aiming mechanism, aside from the whole V.A.T.S. approach. I’m enjoying the fact that you can actually recycle all the in-game items into usable materials this time around. And reinforcing the town is the only bit I can actually play guilt-free in front of my daughters. (It feels very much like Minecraft, and there’s no gore when you build stuff.) If I see any notable behaviors, I’ll let you know. And no, the V.A.T.S. has no entry for “crotch”.

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2015 End of Year Progress Report

Yes, it’s late. Anyway, here is the current status of the three initiatives from last year. I didn’t do all I set out to; some of it fell short. But here they are in order of completion (or not):

Read 20 books in 2015: I just finished Chuck Wendig’s Zeroes a couple days ago, but since I didn’t finish it in 2015, I can’t add it to the list. According to my goodreads account, I finished 19 other books. Didn’t quite make the goal, but I can safely give myself a grade of 95/100 for this goal. A solid “A”. Twenty books was a reasonable goal for my reading pace and other distractions, and given my pathetic performance in 2014, was a vast improvement.

  • Refined goal for 2016: Read another 20 books (and I’m already 5% done!)

Write 52 Posts in 2015: This post technically doesn’t count, since it was written in 2016. My last 2015 post was about Star Wars, and was my 34th post for the year, resulting in an overall grade of …65/100. D. I barely passed. But, I passed. Or as my wife reminded me, “D is for Diploma”.

In all seriousness, I struggled with this one. I follow several blogs, and some are prolific, contributing one or more posts daily, and others are very scarce (one post/month or less). I’ll do a more thorough breakdown of the 2015 posts at a later time, but for now I realize that, while I’d like to post more frequently, I’m still finding my voice. Finding the time was an issue too; many nights it came down to “Do I want to work on ATC, or do I want to write a blog post?” Sorry, in that case, the novel writing usually wins.

While I think 52 posts was a worthy goal, I struggled to reach it and still post content that wasn’t pure fluff. For 2016, I’ll give myself a bit more time, and see if I can’t improve on what I did this year.

  • Refined goal for 2016: 36 posts, or about 3/month (and this is my 2nd post for the year).

Release A Togahan’s Chance (aka “novel #3”): The goal wasn’t to actually finish ATC in 2016, although that would have been super sweet. But barring a winning lottery ticket (or a layoff), there wasn’t time. When I launched this project, the estimated date of completion (with a fairly reasonable, fatty schedule) was June 2017. I’ve made better progress than I estimated. According to the mega-schedule spreadsheet, I’m 75.8% of the way through the project, and right now I can safely commit to releasing A Togahan’s Chance at Thanksgiving 2016, or before. All the beta reader feedback has been incorporated, and I’m halfway through a final sweep before I send it off to my copy editor. After integrating all those changes, then it’s final formatting for ePub/Kindle, and that’s always a wildcard. Since 2-3 years pass in between my releases, the software and process changes, and it’s hard to predict what technical snafus will come up. And I’m trying new tricks this year with the Kindle format, which could add 2 days or 2 months to the schedule since it’s the first time through. So…

  • Refined goal for 2016: Release A Togahan’s Chance by Thanksgiving.

That’s the progress; those are the new goals. We’ll see how 2016 goes.

Got a question or a comment? Something you’d like to see? What are your own goals? Let me know.

-Pete

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The Bowcaster

For those of you not obsessed with Star Wars, the bowcaster is Chewbacca’s signature weapon.

Oh, before we go on, spoilers for The Force Awakens are below. Stop reading here if that’s a thing for you.

Ok?

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Continue reading

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Why I’m boycotting the new Star Wars movie…

…trailers. Zing! You fell for my click bait. No wait! Don’t leave! I’ll explain. (And of course I’m going to see the movie).

I first saw Star Wars in the theater in 1977. I was four. Darth Vader scared the shit out of me. My brothers and I collected the toys and we dressed up as the characters for Halloween. I grew up enjoying the next two films (in the theater) – all the action, the spaceships, lightsabers, all of it. Being a kid, a lot of the nuance was lost on me until I saw the films several times.

When Phantom Menace was hyped in 1999, my expectations went through the roof, and I soaked up every trailer, teaser, and article I could find. Darth Maul kicked ass! Dual bladed lightsaber! Look at that CGI! We finally see Darth Vader’s origin! Bit by bit I pieced together everything I could about the story, and couldn’t wait for what the movie would finally reveal.

And of course, the film didn’t live up to the expectations, for all the reasons the internet has beaten to death in the last 15 years. The trailers showed much of the story, and what new bits were revealed at the theater were little more than gratuitous CGI, squandered dialog, and lost opportunities. Anakin’s just a boy? (I thought Obi Wan said he was a great star pilot when they first met?) Anakin built C3PO? What?!? And while the first run through the movie was entertaining (e.g Darth Maul kicked ass), it didn’t hold up nearly as well as the original three movies (e.g. with little dialog, Darth Maul was not the most compelling villain). Subsequent views brought more groans than cheers. The sheen faded quickly, and the next two movies only furthered this disappointment,  because my expectations were far too high, and the reality was…not.

I’ve seen one trailer for The Force Awakens, and that’s enough for me. JJ Abrams is directing it, and given his past work, I know it’ll be a hell of a ride, and I shouldn’t worry too much about consistency.

I’d prefer to go in knowing next to nothing about the story or the new characters, and I know I’ll be entertained. What I hope is that this movie resets the tone for the next trilogy – a story that will convey the same depth, transformation, and redemption as the original three movies.

I’m boycotting the trailers (probably “avoiding” is more accurate) because I don’t need to see them, in fact I need to not see them. Not now. Maybe after I see the movie, but not now. I’m hooked. I’ll be there. And hopefully, I’ll be delighted.

-Pete

IMG_1672

I literally have to dust off this X-wing. Yes, that is Gumby piloting. And yes, those are an A-wing and a Cobra Night Raven in the background.

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The Bandsaw

My brother once told me a story about some buddies of his who majored in woodshop and carpentry design. For their final projects, they made elaborately crafted furniture. As the end of the semester approached, their deadlines loomed, and the designers spent more and more time in the woodshop, cutting, carving, and assembling with the various powered tools. One such tool was the bandsaw.

The saw consists of a single, hoop-shaped blade. Vertical wheels above and below the cutting table spun the blade in a continuous downward motion, allowing the designers to quickly make intricate, precise cuts. The single floor-mounted machine in the shop was a popular one, and the designers took turns as they feverishly tried to finish their projects. Soon, it was the day before their projects were due.

And that night there was a storm, and then a power outage. With the snuffing of the lights, every machine in the shop slowed to a halt, and there was no promise of when the power would come back on. The machine din was replaced with a chorus of profanity as the designers panicked about how to finish their designs.

Then two of my brothers’ buddies got an idea. They unplugged the bandsaw, then opened the side casing, exposing the top and bottom wheels.

“I’ll spin, you cut, then we switch,” one of them said to the other. And so he frantically pawed the wheel like a cat, spinning the blade as his buddy made his cuts and a third friend shined a flashlight on the work area. Others bought into the process, taking turns at the wheel, the light, or making their much-needed cuts.

In a pinch, they figured it out.

I find inspiration in that story when thinking about other problems. My day job often requires jury-rigging. My novels present a slew of obstacles to overcome. But when you break down the problem, sometimes the solution is just a matter of reconnecting the fundamental pieces in a different way.

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8 things I learned from playing Fallout Shelter

For those of you who are not geeks, Fallout Shelter is an app game where you manage a post-nuclear-apocalyptic survivor’s vault, trying to keep all of your dwellers alive, fed, happy, and radiation-free. You do this by building rooms, generating power, growing food, purifying water, and maybe sending some lone wolves into the wasteland to scavenge crap you need. After way too many hours of playing, it struck me how many of the strategies that help you survive translate directly to the modern office. Let’s review:

  1. Assign folks according to their strengths, not necessarily where you need a live body. Decide to put them in an area that demands their strengths? That area thrives. Put them where they suck? That area performs poorly (and you need more people to get the same work done).
  2. Give dwellers the tools they need, and they’ll work more efficiently in their given area (duh).
  3. When natural ability gets them only so far, give them advanced training to work more efficiently.
    1. And have enough folks to cover their absence.
      1. And sooner or later, get everyone the training.
        1. And change your training program to meet new needs.
  4. Explore! You can’t survive without looking out your front door once in a while. You might find something wonderfully useful you hadn’t imagined. Or you might get ripped apart by a rad scorpion.
  5. Check in with explorers regularly – pull them out if they’re in trouble!
  6. Arrange your rooms for anticipated growth. If you bunch them up poorly, it costs more to build more or rebuild later.
    1. If you have a sucky arrangement, fix that as soon as you can. The longer you limp along, the longer you have to limp.
  7. Keep track of morale – happier people produce more.
  8. Have frequent ethics/morality checks, or have someone on board as the voice of conscience. (Just because a process is more efficient doesn’t make it right, e.g. human breeding farms for repopulating a nuclear wasteland: totally efficient, but totally wrong.)

This shit seems obvious, right? Yet in the heat of a crisis, I made the mistakes of:

  • Moving people off their strengths just to cover an area, and then never getting them back where they added the most value. Sooner or later, everything went to hell.
  • Not reviewing my people enough to make sure they had the tools they needed. For long periods, they underperformed.
  • Skipping training because it was too expensive, or I was too lazy to reassign folks.
  • Forgetting about my explorers until they died.
  • Not paying attention to morale, and so they underperformed, or wandered off their tasks.
  • Building hastily and then regretting the inefficiency it caused, and wasting a lot of money ripping things down and doing it properly the second or third time.

Bethesda recently deployed an upgrade that makes the game even tougher. Playing it now is like shoveling mud – many of my dwellers are getting killed by invaders, giant roaches, or random fires. Yet it remains addicting, and the lessons still hold. Whether you’re a geek or a manager, you’ll get a lot out of this game. So play it.

If only corporate life were as straightforward as an app game filled with smiling idiots…

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