31 Dec 2013

Farewell 2013...

It's the end of the year, and I feel fine.

It's been a year.  Employment-wise, I was employed.  Contract work is variable.  Getting a contract longer than six months at the outset is unusual.  Extensions can and do lengthen the term, but contracts still end.  With companies outsourcing employees more and more, it's going to be a problem as Baby Boomers retire en masse*.  Many companies are going to find themselves missing corporate memory and will either flounder while internal positions get refilled or contract out those jobs to retirees.  Meanwhile, a workforce comprised of contractors doesn't have long-term stability.  The economy is going to stagnate; contractors preparing for the end of a contract and time before a new job aren't going to make major purchases.

Elsewhere, I'm writing.  Between Lost in Translation and this very blog, I've committed many atrocities to the written word.  Regular writing means writing becomes easier to do and lets me experiment a bit.  Of course, some of the writing is done to deadline.  The weekly /Lost in Translation/ review and the Thursday commentaries are often last minute.  But spontaneity can be creative, too.  Just look at the Doughnut Defender.

Overall, for me, 2013 was decent.  Really decent.  No major issues, except near the end when my glasses finally gave up and the arms wanted to cosplay as
Post-spaghettification.  Note the lack of the hook that goes over and behind the ear.
spaghetti while my netbook decided that the touchpad mouse was anathema.  These things happen.  I was expecting my glasses to fall apart eventually and I was overdue.  The netbook was more surprising; I have a seven year old HP Pavilion laptop with a broken keyboard and an undead battery* that I expected to die first.  Go fig.

So, Happy New Year, all, and enjoy the night!

* The leading edge of the baby boom reached retirement age in 2011.  Some have to wait two more years after the Harper Government raised retirement age to 67, delaying the inevitable.
** The battery doesn't charge anymore and may have, at best, enough juice to force the OS to start hibernation before dying.

27 Dec 2013

Lethal Ladies #21 - Arsenal Street, Westbound

St. Louis, Missouri
Arsenal Street, Westbound
29-JUN-2007  1613

    Amber kept the red Dodge Charger on the sidewalk despite the obstacles in the way.  The agent's Grand Am kept pace, having less to avoid on the street.  Allison called out street names as they passed them.  Amber fought the steering wheel, trying to keep her car from hitting the passing walls and posts.

26 Dec 2013

Lethal Ladies #20 - Commentary

As usual, please read the chapter before continuing.

Over the past few weeks, I've mentioned that I was writing the climax of Lethal Ladies long before I had hit the 50 000 word mark in NaNoWriMo 2006.  While the past couple of chapters were me trying to figure out how to keep the story going, last week's is where I figured out the change in direction to keep the novel from a premature ending.

I've probably mentioned this before, but it's a point that bears repeating: there is a difference between writing a short story, writing a serial, and writing a novel.  It sounds obvious, but, having written all three, I can tell the difference.  Most of my short stories were fanfiction, with a short enough plot to be told under, typically, five thousand words.  There's a beginning, a middle, and an end, none of which takes up much narrative time.  Characters must be fully fleshed out before starting, and the cast is kept small.  Few short stories cover more than a week*, so all the action gets concentrated.  Serials, such as Subject 13 have beginnings, but no real end.  They can have arcs that have their own beginning and end, and arcs can overlap.  Character development is rapid at first, to give readers a good idea of the character, then can build over time; the cast can expand as needed.  Novels, though, have the length needed to let the main character develop, and have a definite end.  The plot also has time to develop, and can ebb and peak as needed.  Lethal Ladies, with 51 019 words, is a long novella, but still counts for example purposes.  Stretching from short stories and a serial comprised of short chapters to a novel exercised my creativity and my writing skill.  Comparing this year's NaNovel to Lethal Ladies, The Devil You Know was easier to write not because I wasn't challenging myself, but because I gained eight years of writing experience since starting Lethal Ladies in 2006.

Back to the chapter, my saving throw versus end of story was to have Sexton exact revenge on Rose.  Probably cliché, but he was still on the loose and I had given Rose a family.  Problem solved!  I put the focus on the Ladies during this while I worked out the details of where Maria was being kept in my head.  However, I still had two other Ladies to deal with.

Amber and Allison are still working on the diversion.  Stopping beside Sexton's man is Amber being Amber again.  The scene gave me a chance to show off Amber's niche instead of leaving her as a lodestone for the team.  The calling of turns three blocks away comes from rallye racing, where the navigator is at least one turn ahead on the course.  The other elements of the chase, including driving on the sidewalk, was inspired by the far too many action movies I've watched.  Allison is reacting as any rational woman would, by being afraid of the madwoman driving.

The scene with Sexton raised the stakes of the story.  He has no intention of letting anyone live.  Having Maria cry over the phone was meant to show Rose how serious he was.  At this point, Sexton's goal is to escape, one way or another, with no concern over the collateral damage incurred.  The last scene hints at Elena's plan and shows Rose's reaction.  The battle between Sexton and the Ladies will boil down to experience and sheer bloody-mindedness on the parts of both sides.

Tomorrow, the situation escalates further.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, a last look at 2013.
Coming soon, Shadowrun, Traveller, BitCoins, and prep work for a new serial.

* There are exceptions, and I've read a few.  The focus of those short stories is on the passage of time.

20 Dec 2013

Lethal Ladies #20 - Interstate 70, Northbound

St. Louis, Missouri
Interstate 70, Northbound
29-JUN-2007  1553

    Rose maneuvered the gold Camero past slower traffic.  "I think I see why Dan wants one of these.  Makes the mini-van feel stodgy."

    Elena laughed.  "Going to get him one?"

    "Hell, no.  If I get one, it'll be for me.  Dan can get his own.  After the kids are older and in college."

    "Pity.  I can see you driving Pascal to school in this."

    "He prefers to bike to school, even in winter.  Maybe when he's older he'll get car crazy like Amber.  Well, maybe not like Amber."

    "No one can be like Amber."

    "Thank God."  Sexton's digital assistant trilled.  "See who that is, Elena."

    Elena picked up the Blackberry.  "Caller ID says it's Sexton.  Want to talk to him?"

    "I've got my hands full with this beast.  Go ahead and answer."

    "Hello, Mr. Sexton," Elena greeted.  "Rose is a little busy right now.  I'm her partner.  I see."  Elena's voice turned icy cold.  "I will pass along the message."  She disconnected the call.  "Rose, find a place to pull over."

    "What did he say?"

    "Get off the highway and pull over first, Rose."

    Rose took the next exit from Highway 70, arriving on Natural Bridge Avenue.  "Elena, what is going on?"

    "Stop the car, Rose."

    The Camero came to a stop in front of a convenience store.  Rose shut off the engine.  "What did Sexton say?" she asked with an even tone.

    Elena took a deep breath.  "He has Maria."

    "What?" Rose roared.  "That god damned son of a bitch!  Where is he?  Did he say?"

    "Calm down, Rose.  He's doing this to provoke you."

    "He damned well succeeded."

    "Rose, get a grip!"  Elena closed her eyes.  "He's going to call back in fifteen minutes with instructions and he won't talk to me.  We've been through a similar hostage situation before.  Rio de Janeiro, 1988, the Polish ambassador's wife."

    "That was different."

    "How was it different?"

    "She wasn't my daughter!"

    Elena checked the clock on Sexton's Blackberry.  "We have fourteen minutes, Rose.  You can be upset later.  Right now, we need to get moving."

    "We would be if you hadn't told me to stop the damned car."

    "I'm telling you now to get it going again."

    Rose turned the key in the ignition.  The engine roared to life.  With a high-pitched protest from the tires, the Camero jumped back into traffic.  "Where are we going?"


    "Now is not the time to joke, Elena."

    "No joke.  I've arranged to get some supplies we can use.  It'll take us twenty minutes to get there, so you need to stay together to delay Sexton."

    Rose inhaled deeply.  "You're right, damnit.  But it's Maria.  She's innocent."

    Elena gave Rose a stern look.  "Just get to the Wal-Mart."

St. Louis, Missouri
Columbia Avenue, Westbound
29-JUN-2007  1600

    Allison spotted the Grand Am sitting in the parking lot of a Target first.  She pointed out the maroon Pontiac to Amber.  "There!"

    "I see him."  Amber careened the Charger around, across several lanes of traffic, driving into the parking lot.  She pulled up beside the Grand Am and waved to the driver.  Rolling down her window, she called out, "Looking for us?"  She revved the engine.

    The eyes of the agent in the car bugged out.  He sputtered on his coffee.  Amber revved her engine again, breaking the agent's shock.  He tossed his coffee cup out the window, the creamy brown liquid splashing on the asphalt and on the Grand Am's fender.  The agent reached inside his suit jacket.

    Amber gunned the engine and threw the Charger into gear.  Smoke rose from the rear tires as they spun in place briefly before gaining traction.  The Dodge surged ahead as the agent cleared his pistol from his holster.  Amber checked her rear view mirror to keep an eye on what the agent was doing.  The Grand Am came to life.

    "Allie, get out the map.  I need to know where I'm supposed to go."  She checked her mirrors again.  "Now comes the fun."

    Allison unfolded the map.  "Rose mapped out a circuit of downtown.  Closest intersection is Grand where it crosses Interstate 44."

    "Behind us, then, right?"

    "Um, yeah, right," Allison confirmed after glancing at the map."

    "Hold on!"  Amber twisted the steering wheel, fishtailing the Charger around one hundred and eighty degrees.  Now facing the agent's Grand Am head-on, Amber floored the accelerator.

    "Are you insane?" Allison cried.

    "Possibly."  Amber kept the Charger going straight.  The Grand Am swerved out of the way.  "Chicken!" the green-haired woman called.

    Allison resumed breathing.  "Don't do anything like that again!"

    "Allie, I need you to call out the turns.  Give them to me at least three blocks ahead."

    Allison glanced at Amber.  "Okay?"  The brunette's face showed her confusion.

    "I'm going to be busy keeping us on the road and away from Mr. Agent there to pay attention to street names.  It's not difficult."

    Allison nodded.  "Okay.  Just . . . just keep going straight for six, no, seven blocks."

    The Charger cut through oncoming traffic as it left the parking lot.  Amber steadied the car as its rear end threatened to fishtail.  Behind her, the agent in his Grand Am maneuvered through parked vehicles and past cross-traffic to keep up.  Horns blared as drivers braked or swerved to avoid colliding with the Pontiac.

    Allison held on to the door handle with a tight grip.  "I hope you know what you're doing."

    "Of course."  Amber's smile grew maniacal.  She changed gears, throwing the motor into a deeper hum.  "Think we have him?"

    A gunshot rang out from behind.  Allison craned her neck to find the shooter.  "Oh, yeah, we have him.  He's pissed."

    Amber steered the car to the far right lane.  Two more shots followed, one destroying the Charger's driver side mirror in an explosion of glass and plastic.  Amber felt the car bounce away from the sidewalk curb.  She glanced down the road.  "Come and get me!"

    The Charger climbed on to the sidewalk, maneuvering between two lamp posts, jouncing Amber and Allison.  "Amber!" Allison yelled.  "Street!  Now!"

    "Where he can shoot at us?  No way!"  Amber did a quick shoulder check.  The agent's Grand Am followed behind, remaining on the road.  "Ha!  Knew he wouldn't have the balls to try to follow."

    "You're insane!"

    "Quiet please, I'm driving."  The Charger knocked a garbage can off the sidewalk, sending it clattering into the street.  The agent's Pontiac nailed it, throwing it further down the street.  The car smacked it a second time, careening it across oncoming lanes.

    On the sidewalk, Amber blasted the Charger's horn, warning pedestrians of her approach.  Those still staring at the red vehicle rushing at them broke out of their shock and dove off the sidewalk, either on the street or back into a building.  The people who escaped to the roadside leapt back on to the sidewalk as the Grand Am bore down on them.

East St. Louis, Illinois
157 Elm Street
29-JUN-2007  1610

    Sexton finished closing the last drape in the house.  He glanced over to Thompson.  "How's our visitor?"

    "She's in the bedroom, still cuffed," the agent answered.  "Sexton, are you sure this will work?"

    "Velasco won't risk her daughter's life," Sexton explained.

    "The kid can identify us."

    "And?  It's not like any of those bitches are going to live."  Sexton checked his watch.  "Get the brat.  Time for a call to Mommy."

    Thompson nodded and disappeared up the stairs.  Sexton picked up the phone and dialled his Blackberry's number.  On the second ring, someone picked up.  "Velasco?" he asked.  "Good.  Listen carefully.  I want my laptop and every copy you've made of my hard drive back.  This is not negotiable."  Sexton looked over as Thompson returned, dragging Maria downstairs.  "Maybe you'll see reason after you talk to my guest."  He covered the mouthpiece of the handset.  "Bring her over here," he whispered harshly.  Once Thompson had Maria standing in front of him, Sexton thrust the phone at the girl.  "Talk to your mother."

    "Mom?" Maria stuttered.  "Mom, is that you?"  Tears formed in the girl's eyes.  "Mom, you have to help me!  You have—"

    Sexton tossed the girl aside.  "Now do you believe me?  Or do I have to send a part of her?"  He nodded.  "Good.  You have one hour.  I don't care how long it took you.  One hour.  Do you take me for stupid, Velasco?  No, I'll tell you where when you call.  No sooner.  Do anything other than getting the laptop and the CDs and the kid is dead."  Sexton hung up.  Turning to Maria, he said, "Your mother had better make the smart choice."

St. Louis, Missouri
Travers Street
29-JUN-2007  1615

    Rose threw the Blackberry violently on to the Camero's backseat.  She stomped on the gas pedal, speeding up the car and forcing it to race past traffic.  Elena looked over.  "Rose, take it easy."

    "Not until I have Maria back," Rose snapped.

    "You can't help her if you get into an accident.  Slow down.  What did he want?"

    "His laptop and all the CDs."

    "Figures.  You know that even if he gets that, he's not going to let either you or Maria go."

    "Not helping me at all, Elena."

    "How long?"

    "One hour, then I call him to make the exchange."

    Elena nodded.  "Good thing we're going to Wal-Mart.  Turn here."

    Rose glanced at her passenger.  "You have a plan in mind."

    "Standard operating procedure during a hostage situation," Elena explained.  "Never give in to their demands except when it gets you closer to your goal.  Even then, make it only appear that you're giving in."

    Rose pondered over her partner's words.  "Devious."

    "Stock in trade, remember?  Especially when in came down to inter- and intra-departmental rivalries."

    "Happy to be retired?"

19 Dec 2013

Lethal Ladies #19 - Commentary

First, I have to write it.  Then, I have to read it.
As usual, please read the chapter before continuing.

The first scene let me show what Rose's actions were doing to Sexton.  Rose is essentially Columbo right now, keeping Sexton off-balance.  For writing both this scene and this story, I pictured it as a movie, with the camera focused on the key character for the most part.  There were and will be chapters where the camera floats a bit, but I tried to stay with one character as the main focus.  I tend to do this with most of my works; it's a visual metaphor for writing.  If I can picture the scene, I can write it.

A quick note about the "inner editor", as NaNoWriMo puts it.  The Office of Letters and Light want us NaNo writers to turn off our inner editors and just write.  What I've found is that I need my inner editor.  I work out the first draft in my head, letting the editor fix problems before I even type a letter.  I may have mentioned this before, but when I wrote longhand, my hand would cramp due to an old injury.  I wanted the words correct before I wrote them, saving the time and pain of further drafts.  It didn't help my English marks; I only had the one draft when I bothered to do assignments and the teachers wanted first, second, and sometimes third drafts.  Wasn't happening.  My inner editor, though, has been refined in the over twenty-five years since then and can get the words in a decent order so that when I type, I'm just making minor corrections.

The next scene reunites the Ladies.  Yes, it does happen in the same park that Sexton was in during the first scene.  I had looked via Google Maps for a park in St. Louis and realized that De Soto Park was big enough to allow both groups to be in it without seeing each other.  The scene gave Amber a bit of spotlight time where she could shine without being the lodestone for the others, particularly Allison.  The cars, the '74 Camero and the '07 Charger, were chosen solely because of their looks.  Dodge had reintroduced the Charger for the 2006 model year, about the time I was writing.  Amber makes a good point; there are cars that are as much works of art as they are vehicles, and not just the high end sports cars.

The missing Rogue, if you remember from last week, is the office manager, Tyler.  Sexton and his men were chasing four cars, but Rose wasn't in any.  She had recruited her employee to drive the fourth car.  The Ladies split back up and Amber's geekiness returns.  I wanted Rose in the classic muscle car; I couldn't see her in the newer Charger.

The Amber spotlight continued into the next scene.  Allison, for a lack of a better word, is "proper".  While she is in a technical field, she doesn't believe she needs to sacrifice her femininity to be taken seriously.  She also has expensive tastes.  If Allison were a pony, she'd be Rarity.  Amber, though, embraces her tomboy side.  She's young, and was precocious as a child.  Amber would be Apple Bloom if she were a pony.  There's also a hint of hero worship on Amber's side towards Allison and, though not shown this chapter, to Rose and Elena, too.

Tomorrow, Sexton isn't down and out yet.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, "So You Want to Adapt a Story".
Coming soon, Shadowrun, Traveller, and BitCoins, oh my!

, my hand would cramp due to an old injury.  I wanted the words correct before I wrote them, saving the time and pain of further drafts.  It didn't help my English marks; I only had the one draft when I bothered to do assignments and the teachers wanted first, second, and sometimes third drafts.  Wasn't happening.  My inner editor, though, has been refined in the over twenty-five years since then and can get the words in a decent order so that when I type, I'm just making minor corrections.

14 Dec 2013

NaNo 2013 - Sampler

Chapter 10

Karen was already awake and downstairs when Ione brought her luggage, a sports bag and a computer bag, to the front door.  "You're not leaving without saying goodbye, Ione."  She held her arms wide.

Ione set down her luggage.  She dashed into Karen's arms.  "This time, I'm doing sightseeing.  I'll bring something back for you."  She returned her tiny housemate's hug.

"You better."

"I'll keep in touch.  If I'm not back by Monday, call Olivier and give him some excuse."

13 Dec 2013

Lethal Ladies #19 - De Soto Park

St. Louis, Missouri
De Soto Park
29-JUN-2007  1530

    Sexton sat down on a park bench, can of Coke in his hand.  He popped the tab and took a long swig of the bubbly brown liquid.  The coolness of the soda flowed down his throat.  He closed his eyes to let the tension in his shoulders flow away.  His cell phone trilled.  Annoyed, he slammed the cola beside him on the bench.  He fished the phone from his jacket.  "Sexton.  Ah, Rose.  Nice trick at the parking garage.  Where are you now?"

12 Dec 2013

Lethal Ladies #18 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter first.

This time around, we start on the highway.  Elena is now discovering why Sergei needed a few days notice.  The cars could run; they weren't in any condition to be abused.  Amber would have choice words over them, if she had to repair them.  The numbering system wound up getting awkward.  The original idea was to use non-sequential numbers, to aid in confusing Sexton and his people.  With four cars, people would expect the numbering to be One, Two, Three, Four.  However, so far, we've seen Three, Five, and Seven and four cars, with Rose not even in the chase.  This was planned.  While writing the scene, I had a .txt file open so I could refer to it and see who was in which car.  Rogue Five was always Amber; her geekiness would not allow her to use anything else.  Elena is Rogue Three, Allison is Seven.

While the confusion is happening, Rose is marching into Sexton's office.  I also just noticed that Sexton's secretary, Lund, went to get one person, Mr. Jacoby, but came back with another, Mark Darren.  I have no idea what I was thinking then.  Chalk it up to a continuity error brought about by a word sprint.  However, Darren is correct; the NSA's official realm is cryptography.  However, as recent* news shows, the NSA isn't limiting itself to just decrypting.  My choice to have Sexton be a rogue agent of the NSA came from the rivalry between the American intelligence agencies.  The CIA, FBI, NSA, and all the others are supposed to work together, but tend to trip over each other instead.

Rose has cut Sexton off from official help.  If Darren was involved in some way, he now has an out to throw Sexton under a bus.  If Darren wasn't, he can start an investigation to see what Sexton has done.  Detective Lepinski is also aware of what's going on.  While he's "only" municipal law enforcement, he can claim jurisdiction for the mayhem occurring.

Tomorrow, Sexton tries to regain the upper hand.
Saturday, at MuseHack, a look into the legal aspects of remakes and reboots.
Coming soon, a sample chapter of my NaNoWriMo story, year-end things, plus Traveller work.

* Agents got paid to play World of Warcraft among other games in the guise of spying on other players.

8 Dec 2013

NaNo 2013 - The Post Mortem

Another year's NaNoWriMo has come and gone.  I succeeded in reaching the 50 000 word goal, although the story isn't complete.  I count it as a win, but that's me being a bit of a NaNo rebel.

6 Dec 2013

Lethal Ladies #18 - Interstate 44 Westbound, Hampton Avenue interchange

St. Louis, Missouri
Interstate 44 Westbound, Hampton Avenue interchange
29-JUN-2007  1440

Elena kept the Accord at the speed limit, coaxing it to stay together.  Grateful that Rose had lured Sexton away, Elena could try getting the wheezing Honda to the second meeting site.  She kept her radio tuned to the chases happening elsewhere, tracking the progress of her fellow Rogues.  One pursuit sounded close.  Elena double-checked her location, then switched frequencies on her radio.

5 Dec 2013

Lethal Ladies #17 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter first  Spoilers, darlings.

In Lethal Ladies #16, we saw Sexton's view of Rose's game of Three Card Monte.  This time around, the view is from Rose's side of the board.  With Elena having problems eluding her pursuer, Rose stepped in and revealed her cards.  Rose even gave her reasons - keep Sexton off balance.  Again, this was the original climax for the story.  Again, this is nowhere near the 50 000 word goal for NaNoWriMo.  Here is where I started reworking the idea to lengthen it.  The true act of desperation is coming, though.

Rose has a good idea of her opponent's mindset.  She's now working several moves ahead of Sexton, thus the chess reference.  "Bishop to King Five" has no real relevance outside the reference; the notation is to show the bishop on the opposite colour of the player's pieces moving to the fifth row in front of the king's starting spot just past the halfway point.  The smoke bomb is to push Sexton further.  Rose wants Sexton to keep after her without giving him time to stop and plan.  If Sexton can only react, Rose can lead him around in circles until she gets him where she wants.  Sexton isn't a rookie, though.  He will get a chance to try to take the advantage away.

Tomorrow, Rose digs deeper into Sexton's plot.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Lost in Translation takes another look at the Muppets.
Coming soon, the NaNo 2013 post mortem.

1 Dec 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 - Time's Up!

November's over!  Pencil's up!  Go validate!

Congrats to all the WriMos, those who finished and those who didn't.  NaNoWriMo is a tough challenge.  Even if you didn't reach 50 000 words, either because life interfered or because the words just wouldn't flow, take a look at what you did accomplish.  Writing is tough.  Creativity is harder than it looks.  The idea is easy; bringing the idea to life can be hard.

So, to all WriMos, go take a well deserved day off.  You've earned it.