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Move over, kitty!

I’ve written before about my struggles with maintaining my productivity in the face of carrying out a full-time day job that’s creatively exhausting and also completing deadlines associated with my other interests.  These include my personal cancer research project, and the general audience science articles I write for The Conversation. I don’t get paid for the latter two things, though I may be able to fund part of my salary via grants for the research project, and I find the science article outreach to be rewarding on an emotional level.  Today I wrote a 500 word outline of an article that will be about evaluating the risks and benefits of a new technology, with a focus on the debate surrounding neonicotinoid pesticides and bees. Since the final article will only be about 800-1000 words, I guess you can say it’s already half-written!

So that was useful, but I promised myself I’d do more creative fiction writing as well- and while I struggled for a few weeks to get anything written down since my last blog post, I did manage in the past three days to write four chapters for my novel-in-progress Anagama, as well as edit a number of other chapters to fix errors in continuity or to make events seem more plausible.  I actually sat down with a printout of what I have written so far as well as a notebook that I’m scribbling in longhand, since I wasted a lot of time in the past paging back and forth in my lengthening novel document, trying to find chapters I had written previously to remind myself of details, or try to regain a feel for a certain setting.  This new system of writing is far more efficient and relaxing for me, even though I write more slowly than I type.

I still need to sit down and type all the scribbles into my computer (something I look forward to, as I know from experience at this point I edit and re-edit, adding in details, which I find extremely satisfying), but I am happy with my progress.  Upon finishing this blog post, I will probably try to write another chapter (though this one will not be fuelled by espresso drinks, as the previous four were).

The fat orange cat was sitting in front of my camera for a while there, but determined effort on my part has made it shift its fluffy butt away. With luck, I can keep it occupied while maintaining my current good health and energy levels, and stay on track to finish a first draft of Anagama by the end of the year.

Writing around the orange cat

I don’t have a lot of free time to write fiction- I have evenings and weekends, and I’ve set aside one day (Sunday) and one evening (Monday nights) for creative fiction. That being said, for the past two weeks I’ve been exhausted and have used those times for socializing or working on projects with due dates attached, or simply resting. The fat orange cat of life’s inevitable requirements on my time and energy is sitting in front of the camera, blocking my attempts at art.

I hope to get another chapter for Anagama out the door today- I am now more motivated than ever to finish it, as I’ve sent the first two chapters to my former English prof and he liked them enough to request more. It’s a pity I’m so far from the finishing line! I have twenty-nine chapters or so to finish writing, and I hope to have them finished by the end of this year, if I keep to my writing schedule of one to two chapters (rough drafts) per week. If I manage this, I’m giving myself three months after New Year’s Eve to finish editing and polishing and check the manuscript for continuity errors (it’s easy to make these mistakes when you write the work in pieces separated over time). So the book should be finished in time for Easter 2016.

I also have a copy of Michio Kaku’s The Fuure of the Mind to read- the appendix has given me an idea for a technological twist to my current work-in-progress Infinity (still being plotted, I am afraid, though I have written a short piece involving one of the more colourful characters).

I know it’s terrible of me, but I keep hoping that I can get a break from my day job (I’m a scientist at the University of Guelph) and focus on this book exclusively for at least a month. If writing were my main occupation and I didn’t have to earn a living doing other things, I think I’d probably be a lot more productive than I generally have been.

That being said, I also am busy with a few other nonfiction writing projects- I am investigating links between neonicotinoid pesticides and bees, and hope to have a short (800-1000 word) article written by early September. I also am taking the lead on working on a grant proposal for my Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria project.

I feel I should have finished these things long ago, but the orange cat was there, batting at my face, occupying my attention. With luck I can manage to write around it and accomplish my writing and research goals.

A little field research in quantum entanglement

So a few days ago I went to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, and was given a tour of some of the facilities. It was fascinating stuff. I am trying to learn more about the phenomenon of quantum entanglement so I can write about it without making too many egregious mistakes.

This is research for Infinity, which may take some time, as I also need to look into recent work in neurobiology. This is fine, my focus group is busy and I await feedback from most of them on whether the plot, with all its time travel, is too confusing.

Equipment in the Institute for Quantum Computing - University of Waterloo
Equipment in the Institute for Quantum Computing – University of Waterloo

In the meantime, I know exactly what I want to do with Anagama and work on that is progressing nicely. I am busy this weekend with social obligations but I am ahead of schedule for writing chapters. The work is now at around 20,000 words.



In 1994 or 1995, I wrote a science fiction short story (pretentiously titled “Notes from the Underground”) about a cyberpunk vampire with no name who is addicted to a drug that helps him stop feeding on people. I sent it to several science fiction magazines and was soundly rejected, though Algis Budrys was nice enough to write me about two pages of ways in which he thought my story could be improved.

In 1998, after I finished my first novel Perigee, I decided to pick this story up again- and it became a novel, Anagama. Its plot changed and changed again in the years between then and now, the cyberpunk went largely away, and finally last year I realized that it was missing an entire character, an entire subplot, an entire focus. So I tore it apart and changed it yet again, coming up with an entire new plot with, I thought, fewer holes.

I meant to finish Anagama last year, but was distracted with many other projects, and my best intentions of spending an hour writing every night were destroyed almost immediately after I had made those intentions. Life just got in the way, like a fat orange tomcat sitting in front of a camera that’s been set up to take footage of complex yoga poses.

I thought I’d never finish Anagama. Today is the first day in about eleven months since I did any work on it, and the only reason I am working on it, and not my new project Infinity– also a science fiction novel, this time based on actual dreams of mine which have recurred time and again and woven themselves into a complex narrative- is that I am awaiting feedback from my small, three-person focus group on the plot of it, as well as feedback from a very kind and patient string theorist from USC who has agreed to help me figure out less stupid ways to make stable traversable wormholes, or to have things move in a non-chronological fashion in time.

I’m pleased to announce that Anagama is currently at 17,864 words and that there are only twenty-nine chapters left, and twenty-two weeks left in this year. If I can finish one or two chapters a week for the rest of this year, I might even have a draft done by December 31st! That would be a great New Year’s gift to myself, and while I love the story for Infinity, it requires a lot more planning and care than Anagama. All I need to finish Anagama is relative peace, some creative energy, and time.

Here is hoping that fat orange cat doesn’t decide to sit in front of my camera again!

Draft outline of the story for Infinity has been finished!

A few weeks ago I pushed myself and finished a reworked draft outline of the story for Infinity, my science fiction work in progress.  I’ve lined up several people to read it over, including my former English prof (he taught a course in science fiction and moments from it stay with me to this day!). I myself hope to use vacation time in coming days to look over the draft I have yet again and perhaps fill out some of the notes I’ve made which are more notes to myself to note dream images, and not intelligible to other people.

As part of the research into this story, I’ve also finished reading Black Holes, Wormholes and Time Machines by Jim Al-Khalili (a wonderful book! If any of the subjects in the title interest you, go and find it), and I’ve downloaded a few articles on quantum entanglement to read as well. I found a copy of Lee Smolin’s Time Reborn in a local bookshop- it is a fascinating read, likewise! It rains on my particular time-travel parade, but I’m still enjoying it.

I’m making efforts to find a physicist kind enough to put up with all my silly questions about quantum entanglement, closed timelike curves, wormholes, and unusual movement through time. I’ve also asked the University of Waterloo if someone there can show me around the Institute for Quantum Computing, where apparently entanglement experiments are done quite frequently. I would love to see one!

Black holes, wormholes and closed timelike curves

So, I’ve been working on the physics of time travel- or I should say, the fake physics, since I am merely attempting to come up with a convincing explanation for how unusual movement in spacetime might occur that can fool everyone but a physicist. I’m not well versed in physics, so this is an uphill battle for me.

This is part of my work on “Infinity”, and I have to say that while it’s challenging, it is rewarding. I so far have spent time simply reading books on physics trying to glean information, and while some books are disappointing, providing too simple explanations and in so doing, being self-contradictory (Sean Carroll, I am looking at your book From Eternity to Here), Lee Smolin’s Three Roads to Quantum Gravity is a rewarding read which actually accurately explains the second law of thermodynamics. I have a library copy, but I want to buy a copy to keep as it will be a good reference.

I keep thinking of closed timelike curves, black holes and wormholes- I want to learn more about how these constructs work, BUT I also have to make them function in a universe in which it’s very difficult to change the past, and in which objects and information can move in unusual ways in spacetime- and this movement is not only possible, it’s easy.  It happens spontaneously all the time, though we often do not detect it as it happens in an untargeted way (an analogy is laser light as opposed to normal light- both are light, but one requires much more technology to achieve). I do have some ideas as to how to explain this movement in spacetime in fake science that sounds fairly good, but it’s important to be sure I’m not making a very obvious mistake- so I’m reading partly to educate myself to find mistakes, and partly to get ideas that might help me hone my explanations.  And in the process, I’m learning a lot of interesting stuff.

I am doing all this work because a pet peeve of mine is fake science in movies, shows and books which is so obviously wrong- it bothers me when people research costumes and setting meticulously but ignore something like the basis of plot elements that are rooted in science. It’s laziness not to at least try to learn enough about your subject matter not to sound like an idiot. I may not be able to avoid sounding like an idiot, but I am certainly going to try.


So I spent maybe forty minutes waiting tonight for a friend to join me at a restaurant, and managed to get about five or six sheets of notes down- a rough outline of scenes for the first half of a story I want to write. The story is tentatively titled Infinity and is loosely based on dreams I’ve had for the past two years.  This work is difficult for me to write in one sense, since it’s very close to me, and in another sense is quite easy, since I merely have to describe events I feel I’ve experienced already.

I’ve been reading screenplays, and the style in which they are written matches in many respects the way I like to write. I don’t flatter myself that I will be an award-winning screenwriter, or that if I write a screenplay anyone will make it into a film, but I figure I can try my hand at each of a novel and a screenplay. It’s such a cliché, the person writing a screenplay in her spare time, so this is a project I probably won’t talk about very much. I have no idea how long this project may take.

Fifty Shades of Easter

A silly story, inspired by a friend’s Facebook post, was concieved of on Good Friday this year and written and published the following day. You can find “Fifty Shades of Easter” here.

It’s now very early on Easter Sunday morning. I actually don’t celebrate Easter- I’m not Christian- but I do like the holiday for the festivities and food, and so I sort of observe the fun aspects without going to church.  In the story, my characters Agent Diamond and Charming Guy attend an Easter egg decorating fundraiser at a local Catholic church, and stop a crime in progress with the help of some fetishists.

We also learn a little bit of Agent Diamond’s background. I concieved of both Agent Diamond and Charming Guy as kind of silly, cardboard, cartoonish “spy” stereotypes, but slowly they’ve been acquiring families and backstories, and details of their personalities are slowly being fleshed out. I’ve been focusing a lot on Agent Diamond mostly because I enjoy writing about strong women, but I think the next story I write I need to focus on Charming Guy more than I have been. He’s Agent Diamond’s sidekick, really, being her junior in many ways, but he has his own strengths which complement Agent Diamond’s strengths and cover up a few of her weaknesses.

This particular story was written with fewer of the wisecracks and gags that Agent Diamond and Charming Guy stories usually contain, and my only explanation for that was that (a) I happen to have a cold, and (b) I wanted this story published before Easter. It was, if only barely (I published it about 11 pm on Saturday night).  I do admit I was contemplating making this an “adult” story and putting in a lot of actual fetish jokes, but I’m not certain how well that would go over with most of the people who’ve been downloading these stories. I have found that the less expicit work of mine is more popular.

I do admit that the intial, risqué images I had in my mind would have been suitable for a politically incorrect animated show (and I did imagine vignettes with characters from Family Guy, honestly), but I’ve got no way to contact any of the writers of that show, or to know that they would welcome a contribution from someone like me. That being said, if I ever do get a chance to contribute material to an “edgy” animated show, this will be among the things I would come up with.

In any case- though Passover is over if you celebrate it I hope it was fun for you, and if you celebrate Easter I hope you enjoy today’s holiday (and Monday’s, if you are given Monday off as a holiday as well). If, like me, you enjoy the trappings of these holidays but don’t worry too much about the religious aspects, please find what pleasure you can in whatever parts you enjoy, and if you find comfort in the coming of Spring, I sincerely hope you live somewhere other than southwestern Ontario in Canada because outside it is currently snowing.

Please enjoy “Fifty Shades of Easter” with my best wishes, and let me know if you enjoyed it.

Agent Diamond and the Red Rose Mystery

My character Agent Diamond showed up in a few dreams lately. I have several story ideas involving her, and, to a lesser extent, Charming Guy as well. I have been focusing a lot on Agent Diamond, so I may have to spend time contemplating Charming Guy to try and include more of him, or feature him in a story.

Around Valentine’s Day, I thought about how AD and CG are probably the subject of office gossip- and that led me to think, what might trigger a round of gossip? A dozen red roses show up for AD with no note- who are they from? Everyone assumes CG  but of course that’s ridiculous (he and AD are strictly platonic friends, with AD the older and more experienced secret agent). Who gave AD those roses?

This led me to wonder if AD has a romantic story in her past, a former beau who had to vanish from her life because he represents enemies of the agency she works for. I’ve concocted the outline of a story that I hope to finish and release for next year’s Valentine’s Day. The story will  explain why, every year, AD gets a dozen red roses, and why there’s an Escher print in her living room of a fish swimming in a river, with a scrap of paper hidden in the frame behind the print that says only: “To my little fish, the one that got away.”

I may give CG a romantic story as well. He tends not to take romance very seriously, but it’s not because he is a jerk. He’s just not ready to settle down. I am thinking he may fall in love with someone who does not reciprocate his affection, but I haven’t decided on the details yet.