So…

In twenty-seven days (June 30th) I’ll be releasing book number FOURTEEN (that’s a lot of words — deleted during the editing process) and it’s called The Murder of Jeremy Brookes. It’s available now for preorder, but I’d like to get some reviews under its belt before (or immediately after) its release.

The genre is Crime-fiction, specifically of the Private Investigator variety. It’s set in a smallish town an hour south of Sydney, Australia. It comes in at about 73,000 words.

The blurb is as follows:

McGinnis Investigations has been operating a small but successful shop in Campbelltown, an hour south of Sydney, for over a decade. Business has been what you’d expect in a sort of rough town in a sort of rough country, with an ever increasing circle of rough and tumble clients spreading the word that Dan McGinnis’ team could get the job done, but only above board.

Nothing shady, nothing illegal, frequently successful and frequently just skirting the line.

But nothing could prepare Dan McGinnis for the depths he would plumb when a wealthy Sydney surgeon visits his office and asks him to investigate her husband’s murder. Her husband, Jeremy Brookes, was legal counsel for the owner of a right-wing media empire.

The police say he was killed during a mugging gone bad. She thinks it was a targeted attack.

Crossing powerful media types, the real killer and two other cases that seem to be connected drag Dan and his team into the darker side of politics, money and corruption.

If you’re willing to leave a review before June 30th (the first week of July at the absolute latest), leave a comment below. I’ll email you back, we’ll have a chat and if we come to an agreement I’ll shoot you an epub version for your reading enjoyment.

Cheerio, Tony

Right up front, nothing in this post exposes sources or methods or any other secret-squirrel shit that might get me in trouble with the Canadian Navy.

I hope.

I spent a work term at the Canadian Naval Engineering Unit in Dartmouth ,Nova Scotia. Memory is a little bit fuzzy, but I think it might have been the summer of 1980 or 1981. It was an opportunity that allowed me some small level of autonomy when it came to delivering what I was asked to deliver.

One of the many projects (and one of the most rewarding) was to deliver a level of automation to their sonar self-noise trials. There’s an interesting instructional manual on self noise, on how to identify it and mitigate for it here. Essentially, the ship’s sonar is used to identify many things external to the ship, but in order to be effective, it can’t contribute to what it’s listening to. That ideal rarely exists, so a second best is to know what noise the ship makes when nothing else is present, and then remove those signals when actively using sonar for real.

The self-noise trial, prior to my project, involved two or more days off the coast, after steaming to deep water, where various parts of the ship were activated, one at a time, then recorded on a sonar sweep. This was used as a baseline and a reference when sweeping later. It’s also used to identify noise on the ship so it can be corrected. The old way was to create a radial chart off each beam of the ship that “identified” noise sources. It was very time consuming; the collection and analysis was manual.

I wrote a program on a sort of HP computer. Remember, this was in 1980-ish, so state of the art was pretty archaic. It interfaced with an HP spectrum analyser connected to the sonar system. It was a really basic collection program (written in Basic) that logged date, time and sweep scenario (which elements of the ship were off or on) and digitally stored the sweep.

All of this sounds really boring, and up to the test phase, it was.

Then one morning I was told to bring a bag the next day — I was going to sea to prove the program.

We left the dock in the late afternoon and I was shown an upper buck to sleep in for the overnight steam. Naive me thought the trip was solely for the self-noise test. Just for me.

No.

Also on the schedule was some Bofors 57mm gun tests. If you don’t know (click the link) it’s a big fucking gun parked on the deck of the frigate. Now I realise there was absolutely no need to include me in the discussions of when and why these tests would be happening, but it would have been nice. I was asleep. Into deep REM sleep, I recall, when the first shot went off. I mentioned I was on the top buck, right? Smashed my head into the “ceiling” above the bunk. Naive me didn’t realise that more than a single shot would be required, either. When my heart rate finally dipped below three digits and I was trying to relax into some sort of hellish sleep, it went off again. Every minute for ten minutes.

Then it missed a minute. I’d adapted to the frequency by then, so the missed minute told my 20 year old brain they were finished and I could attempt sleep again.

They weren’t finished. They were on a break.

Another head smash and a dozen or more firings later and I slowly, tentatively slipped back to sleep. I got about four hours that night.

Breakfast was good, I guess. I don’t remember it, but naval food is generally awesome. Then I went with the sonar techs to the sonar room to set up. I remember being a little nervous, since this was the proof of concept, in the wild, of something I’d basically just been playing with on my desk, but there was also excitement.

Because the ship’s captain wanted to run the trial as quickly as possible, we were setting up in the sonar room while we steamed to our destination. The sonar room is at the very bow of the ship. It’s also below the waterline. We were crashing through pretty heavy seas and I was  in the part of the ship that took the brunt of the wave action. There was no horizon to use as a reference (below decks, below the water line) and the deck dropped out from under my feet with nauseating regularity.

I got seasick, the one and only time in my life. The CPO (I wish I could remember his name) got me to the head in time and I left the breakfast and probably some of the prior night’s meal in the toilet. “No wonder you didn’t feel good,” he said. “You had a stomach full of puke.”

The test was a success. I was told it reduced the trial from three days (plus steaming to and from the test location) to an afternoon. Smarter brains than mine took the digital traces and performed more detailed analysis and helped make the Canadian navy a very quiet navy.

 

The Murder of Jeremy Brookes

McGinnis Investigations has been operating a small but successful shop in Campbelltown, an hour south of Sydney, for over a decade. Business has been what you’d expect in a sort of rough town in a sort of rough country, with an ever increasing circle of rough and tumble clients spreading the word that Dan McGinnis’ team could get the job done, but only above board.

Nothing shady, nothing illegal, frequently successful and frequently just skirting the line.

But nothing could prepare Dan McGinnis for the depths he would plumb when a wealthy Sydney surgeon visits his office and asks him to investigate her husband’s murder. Her husband, Jeremy Brookes, was legal counsel for the owner of a right-wing media empire.

The police say he was killed during a mugging gone bad. She thinks it was a targeted attack.

Crossing powerful media types, the real killer and two other cases that seem to be connected drag Dan and his team into the darker side of politics, money and corruption.

“The Murder of Jeremy Brookes” is available for pre-order now, and will be released on June 30th, 2019.

Amazon | iTunes | Barnes & Noble | Kobo  USD$0.99 until July 31st, $2.99 thereafter.

Paperback ($16.99 USD / $24.99 AUD) Coming Soon

Businessman using laptop computer

The first chapter of your book is the onramp to the world you are creating. It needs to be broad and hinderance free, sucking your reader into the vortex that is your story.

Which is why I’m re-writing mine, and you might want to consider re-writing yours.

I don’t know about you, but when I wrote the first chapter, my level of confidence that the story would end the way I thought it would was at, on a good day, 80%. I had a rough plot outline. I knew generally how the story would unfold, what the major plot points were and how the resolution would tie back to the beginning (though, to be honest, the resolution I ended up with ties back to a different part of the beginning, and in a much more satisfactory way).

The onramp I wrote was to a literary freeway that I didn’t quite get to.

And really, by the time you’ve written 80,000 or 90,000 words, you know your characters a lot better. You’re in their skin a lot more. The subtle characteristics you’ve developed in them, the mannerisms, the verbal back and forth between characters, is smoother, snappier, better by the time you’ve reached the end of your book.

But, unless your reader is a psychopath, buyers don’t read the last chapter to decide if they are going to purchase your book. Amazon’s “Preview” doesn’t preview the last chapter. Your best chapter shouldn’t be the last one, it should be the first one (but only marginally better than all the other chapters).

So one of the final editing tasks I will do, once I’ve cleaned up the rest of the manuscript, is to completely redo Chapter One.

What do you think? Let me know below.

 

I was thinking today, while in a position that is very conducive to thought, that there are some things in life that we expect to be easy, simple and basic, and some things in life difficult, complex and hard to understand.
In the ‘easy’ category we would have walking on the beach, opening doors and making peanut butter sandwiches.In the ‘difficult’ or ‘hard to understand’ pile I’d include triple integration, calculating the thrust required for geosynchronous orbit and how they get the pizza in Pizza Pockets.

We don’t expect the easy to get more difficult, and while we may pray for it, particularly just before mid-terms, we really don’t expect the difficult to get any easier.

Which brings me to my point.

Toilet paper dispensing should sit very close to the top of the ‘easy’ list, alongside ‘sitting’ and ‘Suzy the head cheerleader’.

The physics are extremely straightforward, and the application of the physics even easier. Sure, there will be interminable debate over whether ‘over the top’ is preferable to ‘hanging down the back‘, but that’s really just silly.

(‘Over the top’. Discussion just displays your backwardness.)

Unfortunately somebody at a company I can’t name has decided to complicate it. REALLY complicate it. (I’d name the company, but the dispenser doesn’t have a name on it. Anywhere. Hiding something maybe?)

This thing, which I examined very closely while sitting and thinking in the office today, is designed to hold three rolls of paper. A Tall, rectangular metal box nailed to the wall, and locked at the top.

Yes. Locked.

At first blush, this would seem a great idea. No chance of running out at that critical, and potentially embarrassing, moment. Nightly cleaning staff (this is in the office, remember) would be tasked to make sure it never got below two rolls.

Simplicity itself, you might be thinking.

And you would be so wrong.

You see, the bottom roll, the one that the would be accessed first, has two rolls sitting on top of it. When you try to roll the bottom one, you have to also roll the ones above it. The bottom one, rolls in one direction, the middle one is rolling in the opposite direction and the one on top, reversed again.

That’s a lot of extra weight to deal with.

Pulling on the square on the bottom roll requires an infinite amount of patience. You need to pull with some degree of force – you’ve got the weight of two additional rolls to deal with – but you can’t pull TOO hard or you’ll be ripping off single panels and that’s just not acceptable.

So, in an ideal situation, it is possible if you’re careful and patient.

It’s more often than not a non-ideal situation though.

In the non-ideal scenario, the middle and top rolls are loose, their respective tails dropping down and mingling, YES, MINGLING, with the TP tail you’re trying to grab. You might manage to grab the right one, but odds are better that you’ll get either the middle or top tail and then you are up shit creek, as they say, without a, um, paddle.

It’s like some weird kind of negative feedback loop is deployed. The harder you pull on the wrong tail, the tighter the whole mess gets, and you end up tearing off a piece about the size of a fifty cent piece.

Which is why I’m still sitting here, four hours later…

Write. Now.

Today (as I write this – I have no idea when you read this) is the monthly gathering of the NBWG – Northern Beaches Writers’ Group. (Note the correct placement of that apostrophe — we’re good.) (And proper parenthetical punctuation — we’re not fooling around.)

There will, or course, be a spelling mistake in here somewhere to completely subvert my message.

The NBWG (link in sidebar) is a very diverse group of writers who gather once a month to critique fellow members’ writing. Sounds really dry, doesn’t it? It’s so much fun. Frustrating, sometimes, but fun.

Some of the best writing advice I’ve received is from critiques on my work from the fine NBWGers. And some of the best (so far, unknown-ish) writers I’ve met, of many different (really different) genres.

So, to the point of this short post: If you’re a writer (no such thing as an “aspiring” writer. If you write, you’re a writer.) and you want to get better, you need honest feedback from other people who write, and preferably people who write better than you. Embrace the criticism. It’ll make you a better writer.

And if, by chance, you’re lucky enough to be part of a writers’ group, it’s good to sandwich the critique part between a couple of good things from the piece you’re reviewing. That said, if it’s your piece being reviewed and the critique opens with how lovely the font is, you should brace yourself.

This is an advertisement for a TV show that needs no advertising.

The best half hour show on television right now isn’t Brooklyn-99, it’s one of the other shows made by the guy that made B-99.

The Good Place, the story of 4 humans who have died and their adventures in the various afterlives, All the while learning about morality. AND mortality.

There’s so much good stuff packed in each episode, it’s breathtaking. some of the best episodic writing there is.

That’s all. A clip:

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived in a great number of places, exposing me to a great number of cultures and a great number of dickheads. And a great number of nice people.

But you remember the dickheads.

I’m trying to remember the dates. I started university in the autumn of 1978. I believe the Uni didn’t start the work term program until you’d already completed your first year (and, by the way, I barely completed my first year).

The work term program alternated work and university in four month stints, with the expectation that the work done during the work term was somewhat related to your program of study.

          The Flin Flon. Northern Manitoba.

So I did a year of university, spend the May – August months working at an oil refinery digging ditches (engineering adjacent adjacent adjacent), then back to school for Sept – Dec. The Jan – April period was a work term. And I believe it was Jan to April 1980 (yup – I’m that old).

And I got a job at a zinc mine in Flin Flon, Manitoba as an electrical apprentice. A bit closer to my studies – I’d decided early I was going to be an electrical engineer.

Flin Flon, by the way, is north. No, further north than that. WAAAAAAY North. January to April is the coldest part of the year there. So cold that snot freezes before it can drip.

I was lucky enough to be working below ground, in the mines, along side an old electrician (and looking back, he was probably younger than I am now). Not a lot of high tech back then. Pumps and lights, for the most part.

And while I can say I left the north on good terms with those I worked with, it did start out with a massive dickhead move by the arsehole I worked with for four months.

This guy, let’s call him Brian because I think his name was Brian. Or it may have been Dennis. It was almost forty years ago.

Brian it is.

Brian is taking me on a tour of the underground part of the mine (there was smelter action and cadmium extraction and stuff like that above ground, but I was below ground most of the time). The inclines and declines (relative to a central shaft, I learned – I first thought it was a “decline” walking down the path, and when I turned around it immediately became an incline. Nope), the lunch and locker rooms, the electrical rooms – all things I’d immediately forget.

We came up to a corner leading to a decline and he stopped. “Hang on a sec – traffic.”

Me, being the trustworthy sort, assumed he meant traffic. Like a cart loaded with ore or something like that. I opened my mouth to respond when there was a godawful KA-BLAM and the ground shook and dust filled the air and Brian (or was it Dennis) almost pissed himself laughing. They were blasting on the face. He knew it, and knowing what I know now about mines, he was more than likely well into an exclusion zone that he should (and I should) not have been in.

Dickhead.

Anyway, I survived. Almost electrocuted myself later in the winter and found out recently that much of that mine is now use to grow most of the medicinal marijuana grown in Canada prior to pot legalisation.

So there’s that.

I was a scrawny, painfully shy, face-stuck-in-a-book pre-teen which, in the neighbourhood I grew up, meant I was a regular recipient of smackdowns. They were fast, messy and painful (for me — though I’m sure the  other guy’s knuckles hurt, too). Messy not only because of the bloods, but because it invariably ended on the ground, a tangle of arms and legs and grunts and hair pulling. And before it got on the ground, any punches were wild swings that connected by luck, if at all.

The point of this isn’t to elicit sympathy. As my pops used to tell me, if you want sympathy look in the dictionary. It’s between shit and syphilis. And I haven’t been in a fight in over forty years.

The point of this is that fight scenes in books and movies are about as true to life as the depiction of writers in books or movies.

I’m watching Equalizer II, the Denzel Washington movie. A conceit in the movie is that he starts a stopwatch when the battle commences and he times himself to see how long it takes out the four or five or a dozen baddies. He’s rarely scathed. (That’s a word, right?) It’s always economic.

I want to read a book or see a movie where adults dumb enough to get in a fight actually fight the way a fight is actually fought. Grappling, but not BJJ style. Messy, flailing, torn shirts, quickly exhausted with no real winner.

I won’t though, will I?

Because people want the hero to lose their first fight, barely, then in Act Three face the same opponent and prevail in a slick, professional manner.

So maybe in this book (the one I’m currently working on) I’ll change it up. See how it goes.

I was born and mostly grew up in Canada. A lovely country. Gets cold enough during the winter to seriously curtail any really nasty threats. It’s a good news / bad news thing. You can go in the ocean in Nova Scotia without worrying about sharks, but you do have to worry about hypothermia. All year round. And bears.

I now live in Australia. Very little chance of hypothermia (though it’s not out of the question in Tasmania and some of the higher elevations during what is laughably called “winter” here). Sharks, a little more common. Had a shark warning at the beach a week or so ago. I wrote about it. ‘Twern’t nuthin’.

But even still, you don’t run into sharks on a daily basis unless you’re a surf lifesaver. Or, possibly, a surfer.

Here on terra firma we have spiders. And snakes.

The categorisation of threats held in my North American brain, factoring access (to me) and lethality (to me) has ALWAYS placed snakes above spiders. Hell, I can stomp on a spider. Wouldn’t think of stomping on a snake. Not without steel capped, steel-arched, steel-shanked – ah, fuck it — steel boots.

Then I saw this video. It’s about a year old, but it still freaks me the hell out.

Watch it. Don’t watch it. But remember things are never as good as you think they are.

Ever.