Sunday, 20 February 2011

The unfocused focus group

The focus group yesterday reminded me why I deplore meetings at work. Thankfully, we have a "team chat" at the bank and no real "meetings" - these are just about updating us on how the procedure has changed, since it's very much in flux. I consider meetings a cardinal waste of my time. And they were, in 95% of all the cases. I'm much better solving my own problems or finding a work-around that allows me to function.

Yesterday, I ended up in a group of self-professed "experts", all of which were tremendously self-important. So self-important, in fact, that they spent 95% of the time talking about how great they were and what museums they were trustees of - rather than tackle the exercises we were supposed to tackle as part of the focus group. My complains about the museum - namely that military history was slanted very much towards vaguely nationalist "rah-rah" patriotism (quote: "The British Expedition Force was the best military force in the world." - I DON'T THINK SO) and the way the - embarrassing and ludicrous - mistakes at Gallipoli were brushed over. Oh my, I assume the Turks were so hardcore and somehow, those 200,000 Anzacs just kinda died. Ooops. No idea why or how. Oh, look, SHINY DIORAMA.

So, while the National Army Museum has a very impressive collection, the way it's presented in the WWI and WWII galleries is incredibly weird (this time, I actually stopped and read all the descriptions - which have typos and a TON of passive tense and lots of jargon and cross-references that nobody gets or cares about). And to the fringe nationalist element in the focus group: "Fuck you." And to the guy who said "I bet in Germany, they're saying the German army was the best in the world, too." - Fuck you. We may not have much military history left, but at least we look at it from a critical POV. Asshole. The British Empire is over, ok? And talking about why so much space is devoted to "non-English" soldiers - hey, you were shipping in colonial soldiers from half the world to fight YOUR enemies, the very least you can do is RESPECT their contribution. Look around - contemporary London is a very white, English place, innit? Idjit.

To sum up, I got paid nicely to look at WWI and WWII stuff and to be a smartass about it. I think the Saturday couldn't have been more perfect. I was still too ill and croaky to tell the self-important idjits in my group where to stick their trusteeships and planting patterns, but otherwise, I had a good time. Authors always have a good time, even in the company of obnoxious people. That small smile we wear? Means "you just made my book, buddy".

Then I spent most of the money in the museum bookshop (two histories of WWII) and donated the rest. Six hours well spent, overall. But also another reinforcement why me and "the general public" don't mix well. Especially when I'm ill and barely able to speak.

Friday, 18 February 2011

On towards the weekend

I did show up for work on Thursday, which was also the busiest day of the week. Editing back-to-back for eight hours while kept upright (mostly) by Lemsip and a box of cough sweets is an interesting experience. Don't ask me what I edited - I'm sure I could find out, but I don't remember.

I was invited to attend a "focus group" of one of the military museums in London tomorrow. I *assume* they invite carefully-chosen "members of the public" to ask them questions about the collection and presentation. I'm selling myself as an "expert" on military stuff (which I guess is not overselling), and I fit into the categories they were looking for. I'll get paid for my time, too, but I'd feel weird accepting cash from a museum, so I'll likely invest that in a "friends of the National Army Museum" membership and donate the rest. I'd feel too weird having *them* pay *me*. Museums, libraries and all other noble causes can have my services for free.

The cough has broken, and after a pretty rotten day yesterday, I'm actually a lot more lively today and more together. I can also breathe deeply, which is nice. You take too many things for granted. My voice is husky, though, so my partner addressed me all day as "hey, Croaker", which is funny in a Black Company kinda way.

My team in the bank keeps digging about my writing. The geek factor in the team is much higher than I'd have expected. They know a fair amount, but I'm still keeping the pseudonym under wraps. However, it might be the first workplace I come out to while still working for the place. (I tend to tell my chosen few friends in any team after I've left.) It's not like they can fire me for it - it doesn't affect my work performance and I have three levels of superiors who are extremely reasonably, human and simply *nice*. I've rarely worked for a more grown-up, mature and pleasant place. No back-stabbing - if there are any politics, it's us against the research analysts - and only the assholes there (of which there are very few. But those that are unpleasant, all regard us like a utility... somewhere on the same level as the toilets. Mildly distasteful, a bit of a hassle and generally not something you'd respect.) However, 97% of all analysts are nice, and we have ways of dealing with those that aren't.

I shall meditate on the risks and boons associated with it. I'm not ashamed of what I'm doing, and they know about the genre and even that I'm a sex writer (when the situation calls for it, anyway). It might be interesting to see how they react. Maybe I'll come out with "Iron Cross", which may be the most respectable of all my books. I'll see. Or, as I keep telling people when they ask what the attraction of London is, "it's very hard to be a freak in London."

The boxer story is at 12k.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

I'm not ill, I just feel rotten

I'm in denial about my health at the moment, but when I got up and my vision greyed for a moment I thought, "okay, maybe I do work from home today". I don't want to go into graphic detail, but I seem to have the cold from hell. Blood is involved, too. Headaches. Woozyness. It's not the "clutch blanket, hide in bed" kinda cold, but it's bad enough that the last thing I want is to commute, cattle class, into London.

So I'm working from home, surrounded by Lemsip, dressed in several layers of clothes I can strip really fast when I get too hot, and also food so I remember to eat. (Last thing I want do to with a raw throat is eat - also, my body goes "Uh, no, don't give me food, can't you see I'm BUSY fighting those virii/bacteria, idjit.") At least I'm mostly coherent.

On the writing front, "Father of All Things" went back to Carina on Saturday (12. Feb). It got a completely new ending, and rewrites of about 6-7k of text. Which sounds easy, but trust me, it isn't. That book will be out on 15 August.

Then Dreamspinner has just emailed me to tell me that "Scorpion" in now in the editing stage. I expect the whole manuscript to come back to me in the next 4-6 weeks. Working on that will kick-start "Lying with Scorpions", the sequel.

My boxer story (the fist fighter, not the garment or the dog) hit 10k yesterday. It might grow to anything between 30-60k, but I expect it to be in the mid-range of that, so around 40-45k. I'd love for it to turn into a novel, of course, because I love the main character, as random and bipolar as he is. Working title of that is "Untouchable", but I may yet change that.

Then I got a very insightful, well-written review from Book Utopia for "Lion of Kent". While I respectfully disagree about the relative quality of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and "Lion of Kent" (DADT is four years old and I'd be shocked if I hadn't developed as a writer in the meantime, plus, Kate Cotoner is hugely talented and really made the novella shine), there's a lot of food for thought in the review.

"This historical does what not very many in this genre really do for me – made me forget I was reading a historical. It’s not because of the lack of detail to create the setting. It’s the opposite. The story is just so well-realized that it never feels intrusive, never feels like I’m being reminded page after page that this happened a long time ago. It rings of authenticity, which is a credit both to the rather seamless prose and the meticulous structure of its presentation. There aren’t awkward information dumps, or pages of facts that have nothing to do with moving the story forward. I sank into this story as if I was a squire within Sir Robert’s household already, a natural extension of the world the authors created."

Read the rest here.

I'm apprehensive about writing the sequel to "Lion of Kent". It's not just the amount of research or the fact that, most likely, I'll be writing it alone, it's above all the extremely high expectations I have for that book. I'd hate for it to be any worse than "Lion of Kent".

Research for "Iron Cross" continues, but I'm slow on the word count. While I consider 1,000 words written on any story a good day's work, for "Iron Cross", 100 words is good work. I keep wondering if there's something wrong with my outline or plot that it moves so slowly, or if I'm lazy or procrastinating, but I don't think it's that. I may still hit my deadline with that - May.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Slow week

It's been a very slow week at work, which enabled me to get a lot of research done and a fair amount of reviewing. My bosses (at least the first two - no idea what the ueber-boss thinks) let me do whatever I want in the quiet times between editing assignments. I've been reading, editing, answering emails, surfing, and doing research. So, very productive time, really, in terms of writing and research. I'm catching up with my email and I'm getting better about my reviewing assignments.

Getting out of journalism was the best thing I've ever done. Apart from getting out of Germany, of course.

I just updated my website with some info on FOAT, which Rhianon and me are still pushing over the finishing line. The things gets a complete new ending, and that's been keeping my attention lately.

I've said before that this year is going to be slow. I'm already antsy about new releases. The last one was in November. That's four months! Feels like a lifetime now. But people have been wanting "more novels" - and novels simply take more time. I may throw in a few shorts just to keep my hand in, but largely, I'm concentrating on finishing my novels. Okay, there might be a novella in there, too.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Reviews, a new computer and progress

Also, I (and Barbara Sheridan) was reviewed over at Elisa Rolle's blog - she reviewed "Risky Maneuvers", which tends to be more hated than loved.

In computer terms, I went out yesterday and bought a new computer. The last one was named "Nero", this one's called "Muse". It's a dual-core, 3GB RAM, 500 GB harddrive + nice shiny graphics card desk top. I needed to get a Logitech trackball mouse, because my previous mouse didn't have the right plug attached, and I acquired a new "dongle" to log into our house LAN. All set up and ready in a few hours. Using it feels like using a real computer. I'm also proud because I managed to NOT buy the triple-core ACER. That would have been excessive for what I'm doing with my machine.

I've pulled all my writing files from my online update service Carbonite, and the files I was working on from Dropbox. Installing the rest of my files from Carbonite took the night, but it's all set up now. I'll have to reorganize everything into folders and stuff, but everything else is done - and looks and feels amazing. Powers up and down really fast, and NOT running iTunes, which has been choking my computer with millions of enormous updating files, feels like my computer lost 30kgs of weight.

Talking about weight, I shed 7lbs in the last 9 days, but I still have one supermodel's worth of weight to go (we're talking heroin-look era supermodel). This so far only means the new food regimen works for me. Exercise is just fast walking, dumbbell exercises and squats/push-ups at the moment, but I'll be soon back in the gym, too.

And that's really it. I'll have to do some work on FOAT today and for the rest of the week or three or four (there are some quite serious rewrites necessary). But so far, the weekend's been a success.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Working on other things

I'm still writing and researching - it's slow, but moving ahead (and not terribly exciting). Had my first encounter with an analyst parading as human, but the situation has been dealt with. I'm amazed how somebody who cannot write an English sentence can earn so much money - but anyway, it's done.

I've been reading about boxers (for a novella) and radio/newspapers in the Third Reich. Again, lots of excellent detail for "Iron Cross". More importantly, though, I've been addressing another issue in my life. Desk-bound as I am for most of my waking hours, and a stress-eater by nature, there's no longer any excuse for me to stay lazy and gain even more weight. So I'm diverting some of my energy and time toward trying to stay around for a little longer and stay healthy for as long as I can, which includes the shedding of a not insubstantial amount of weight. (I'm telling you this like I'm telling everybody - mostly so people can hold me accountable.) I'll let you know how it goes, but I'm eating a lot of fruit and vegetables these days, and so far I'm feeling good. I should have shed the weight by mid-September, if everything goes according to spreadsheet.

More shocking is that my remaining colleagues at the magazine have been made redundant. That's how the old company rewards loyalty... and I'm relieved that while leaving there was hard, I *did*, in the end, leave, despite promises I'd make the same kind of money in journalism "in a few years". Well, yeah, but probably while tearing myself apart, under constant scrutiny from the asshole publisher who, I know now, has only been brought in as management's hatchetman.

Why anybody on the planet does journalism under such conditions I don't understand. I'm pretty sure it's the hardest job out there in terms of skillset and hours-to-pay. No wonder most journos I know are/were alcoholics, four times divorced, accomplished cynics or worked themselves half to death for a pittance (or a combination of any of those). I respect the profession (if done right) enormously, but it would take a dozen wild horses to drag me back.

At work today, I completed some financial regulation training we're all getting (after money laundering comes insider trading). Slow day at work, though, so I ended up reading and drafting some stuff for the writing, to be better prepared for the weekend, when I'll actually have time to put some productive hours in. Which will go towards re-writing some scenes for "Father of all Things".

Most importantly, it's time for a new computer. My aging dinosaur is taking forever to start up and power down, and I think I can get on boat with Windows 7 after ten years of misguided and buggy development from Microsoft. Then I'll get the new Scrivener for Windows and work on my historical novel.