Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Update

No Brother of Mine is now very close to being finished. Tammy's edited the first 9 chapters, leaving her 5 more to go. Once I get those from her - hopefully sometime in the next week or so - then it'll be time to order a print draft copy to check over. When that's taken of, I'll place the big order and we'll be off to the races.

Despite being very busy at work at the moment, Tammy's been providing excellent edits all the way from Australia. She's thorough, and insightful, and clearly invested in the story. I find that I end up incorporating the vast majority of her suggested changes, as well as making other alterations to address concerns that she's raised at various points. I lost Julie as an editor beyond the first 4 chapters this time around because of her hectic schedule, but Tammy has subbed in extremely well, and I can't thank her enough for that!

And just a reminder that if you want a copy of No Brother of Mine and haven't pre-ordered it yet, please do so ASAP. I'll be figuring out how many copies to order soon and I want to make sure I get enough to satisfy everyone who'd like to read it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Agile 101 On 2 Hours Of Sleep

For whatever perverse reason, I woke up at 2:30 this morning, after having stayed up relatively late (12:30) specifically in the hope that perhaps that would improve my recent crappy sleeping record. Instead, I was wide awake for good a 'mere' 4 hours before the 6:30 alarm that was set to allow us to get downtown ahead of our 8:00 start. That's right: Vicki and I had yet another full-day Agile 101 session scheduled for today, and I ended up doing it on 2 hours of sleep.

Rather shockingly, this sleep-deprived performance received possibly the best survey results yet:

Presentation portion: 9.1 out of 10
Hands-on activity: 8.8 out of 10
Overall effectiveness: 9.2 out of 10

Those are insanely high scores, especially when you consider that a non-trivial percentage of the population typically doesn't give 10's out (on principle) when asked to rate something from 1 to 10.

Anyway, from this experience I've come to the conclusion that AgileMan's secret power has finally been revealed: I can do amazing feats on little or no sleep!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

40 Days & 40 Nights

That's all we have to get through now, before we can watch this:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Somebody's Got A Cute New Hairdo

And it's not even me this time:

For comparison, here's what she looked like last weekend when great-niece Emma was over for a Movie Night sleepover:

Of course, they're both a couple of cuties, no matter what their hair's doing!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

No Brother Of Mine: The First Few Pages

As we get close to the finish line on my 2nd novel I figure it's about time I let everyone see how it all begins. Keep in mind that, since the editing process is still underway, the precise wording of the early pages may change between now and publication time. But the following should still give you a very good idea of how NBoM kicks off (no pun intended):


When the doorbell rings around dinnertime on Monday, I’m in the middle of emptying the kitchen garbage. I used to be really bad about dealing with it before it got completely disgusting. After Sarah complained about the smell for the umpteenth time, though, I finally got better at noticing it. She may be gone, but at least some of the domestic training still remains.

The tied-off handles of the plastic bag are still looped over the index finger of my right hand as I make my way from the kitchen to the front door. I open it to discover a man and woman, both well dressed, standing on my front porch. The male is tall, like me, has short brown hair and is clean-shaven. His companion is about 5-foot-6 and blonde, but has her hair tightly bound up on the top of her head. Both are wearing dark blue suit pants and white collared shirts. He has a plain blue tie, while she’s wearing a beige jacket, currently buttoned up, which complements her serious expression.

My first thought is that they must be Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so I begin running through a mental list of possible escape clauses that might cut this interruption short. ‘My dinner’s on the stove and I think it’s starting to burn,’ maybe. Or ‘Actually, I’m an atheist who becomes extremely violent around religious types.’

But then I spot the badges. His is hanging off his hip, while hers is flopped over the bottom right pocket of her jacket.

“Mr. James?” the woman asks, while her male companion takes a quick look behind him, toward the brown four-door sedan parked on the street in front of my house.

I nod slightly, one hand on the open door and the other still clutching the tied-up kitchen bag.

“Mr. Mitchell Robert James?” she asks again, consulting a little black notebook in her hand.

“Yeah, that’s me,” I respond. “What can I do for you?”

“Do you mind if we come in for a few minutes?” the male officer asks, as he starts to enter without even waiting for me to answer.

I shake my head mutely, stepping out of the way. I lightly toss the garbage bag back toward the kitchen, hoping that it doesn’t spill out anything gross in the process.

We head for the living room, with me leading the way. I do a quick scan of the area, hoping it looks presentable. It’s not bad, and I’m sure cops see a lot worse than my slightly messy home in their travels.

The TV’s still on one of the sports channels, now showing highlights from last night’s games. The second round of the NHL playoffs are underway, meaning that Canadian interest in the sport is approaching a fever pitch now. I grab the remote from the couch as we enter the room and mute the analysis coming out of the mouths of the ‘expert panel’ before directing my two guests to please take a seat.

I ask if either of them would like a coffee or soft drink.

The man accepts the offer, saying, “Any sort of pop, please,” while the woman politely declines.

I head off to the kitchen to grab a Coke out of the fridge, nudging the thrown garbage bag further out of sight with my foot as I pass it. I’m trying not to think about the fact that I have a couple of cops in my living room. It’s almost never good news when that happens, after all.

I quickly return with the can and hand it to the plainclothes officer. He opens it after thanking me. His companion has unbuttoned her jacket while I was gone, I notice.

Once we’re all seated, the woman says, “Mr. James, I’m Detective Constable Wozniak and this is Detective Constable Harrison. We’re with the New Markham Police, and we’d like to ask you a few questions.”

I say, “Um, well, I’ve never actually been to New Markham, so whatever it is you think I did, it wasn’t me.” I give a little laugh at the end, to show that it’s a joke.

Neither of them laughs, but Detective Wozniak at least rewards my silly remark with a faint smile.

Detective Harrison sets his drink down, looks me in the eye and asks, “Mr. James, when did you last speak to your brother?”

“Ray?” I reply, confused.

“Yes,” Detective Wozniak says, nodding. “Raymond Edward James is your brother, correct?”

“Yeah, he is,” I say, looking down. I’m suddenly overcome with a bad feeling about where this conversation is going. “But we haven’t spoken in years.”

“How many years?” Harrison asks.

“Almost 20, I guess.”

“I see,” Harrison responds, as his partner writes something in her book. “Then are you aware that he’s been reported missing?”

“Missing?” I repeat, stunned. Had my little brother somehow…? Shaking my head, I say, “No. I… Who reported him missing?”

“His wife.”

“Ex-wife,” Detective Wozniak corrects her partner, without looking up from her scribbling.

“Thank you. His ex-wife. You did know that he was married, didn’t you?”

“No, I didn’t,” I admit, feebly, my head swimming. “Or that he’d been divorced. Or even that he was in New Markham, for that matter.”

“I see,” Detective Harrison states, again. “Then the two of you really haven’t kept in touch?”

“Not at all,” I answer, my voice cracking ever so slightly. I can’t seem to get my bearings in this conversation at all. “But you say he’s gone missing?”

“Back in February,” Wozniak confirms, tapping her book.

“I’m… I… I really don’t know what to say,” I stammer. “Do you have any idea…?”

“Actually,” Harrison says, “I’m sorry to have to tell you but we have an unidentified body that matches the general description of your brother.”

“Oh,” I reply softly, awash in a wave of regret and guilt. Then I close my eyes and gently rub my forehead. “Is it him?”

“That’s actually why we’re here, Mr. James,” Detective Wozniak tells me, with a hint of compassion in her voice. “We’d like you to come to New Markham and help us determine that.”

“Me? But I haven’t seen him since he was in his teens. I doubt I could… I really don’t know that I could even pick him out of a line-up now. Wouldn’t his wife – sorry, ex-wife! – be a more logical person for that… responsibility?”

“Mrs. James is refusing to cooperate in that regard,” Harrison informs me. He’s speaking slowly and watching my reactions carefully. “Apparently there was some bad blood between them when the marriage ended. Of course you wouldn’t know that because, like you say, you haven’t spoken to him in 20 years. His ex-wife has refused to get involved in that way. She did mention you as an alternative, though.”

“She did? How could she? I don’t even know her.”

Harrison shrugs, and says, “She seemed to know all about you. She knew enough to send us here to Stafford, and even produced your current address not long after we talked to her.”

“That’s… very strange,” I reply, slowly. “But there must be someone else who can… Jesus, like I said, I don’t know that I’d even be able to recognize Ray, after all these years. His body, I mean.”

“We’d like you to at least try,” Wozniak says, hopefully. She smiles slightly and continues, “Frankly, we’re running out of options. We haven’t been able to locate his dental records, and you seem to be the closest family he has.”

I take a deep breath in, and then let it out. “I suppose I am. I mean, our parents are dead, and we don’t have any other relatives here in Canada. Ray was never big on going to the dentist when we were kids, so I guess it’s not all that surprising…”

“We’d be very appreciative if you were able to come to New Markham with us right now,” Detective Harrison informs me as my voice trails off. “And we’d be happy to bring you back home again afterward.”

I think for a moment, trying to wrap my head around what these two strangers are telling me about my own brother. My thoughts are all jumbled up, though, and I can feel my heart racing. What I desperately want right now is to be left alone, so that I can have a chance to think. I’m also worried about tonight’s appointment, which I really don’t want to mess around with.

Finally I say, “Well, that sounds like a lot of running back and forth for you two. And anyway, I’ve got some things I really need to take care of here tonight. Would it be OK if I got myself there first thing tomorrow morning?”

The two cops look at each other, but I can’t read anything in the expressions that pass between them.

“I understand,” Harrison says. “It would make for a very late night for all of us. I’ll give you my card. It includes the address of the station, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding us. New Markham’s not all that big, after all. If you can be at the station by 9:00 a.m., then Detective Wozniak and I can take you to the morgue and get this unpleasantness out of the way.”

I nod, and my two visitors stand up in unison. Each shakes my hand solemnly before leaving. I stand in the front doorway as they walk back to their unmarked police car.

The pair of them sit in the parked vehicle for what seems like several minutes. They’re talking and periodically glancing towards the house. Finally, Detective Wozniak starts the engine and pulls the car away from the curb. I wave from my perch and I think maybe I get a nod in return from Detective Harrison. Then they’re gone.

And Ray is… what? Missing, possibly even dead? How could something like this happen? He’d only be in his late 30s now. He should be all grown up and settled down. Why would someone like that go missing? What was he running away from? It just doesn’t make any sense at all. What a way for him to come back into my life after all these years!


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Mother Would've Been 86 Today

It seems kind of crazy to me that I can't even imagine my mother as an old woman, but considering that she died in her 50s almost 30 years ago, I guess it's not all that strange.

Anyway, Happy Birthday to Doreen in some parallel universe where she's still alive and kicking, I say!

Nice Recap Of The Gaiman Vs McFarlane History

It's a long read, but this lovely recap of all the nonsense that Todd McFarlane has put Neil Gaiman through over the past 10 years provides some fine entertainment for those of us interested in comics. It always amazes me, when this topic comes up again, as it does every couple years or so, just how many losses McFarlane can suffer and yet still seemingly believe he's coming out on top! He's like the kid we all knew who had no friends but somehow went through life believing he was popular. (Fortunately, I know it wasn't me because I never thought I was popular!)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Great Early Obama Pictures

I'm sure some Conservatives will make all kinds of snide, conspiratorial comments about these photos of Barack Obama as a young man, but I think they're a great look at the President in his youth. Very humanizing, in fact.

Holey Optochips, Batman!

Wow! My one-time employer, IBM, is still innovating in the 21st century, and not just with Watson, the Jeopardy-playing artificial intelligence prototype.

"IBM has developed an optical chip — thats a microchip that uses light instead of wires to transmit data — capable of transmitting data at the nearly unfathomable speed of 1 terabit per second. That’s fast enough to allow someone to download 500 HD movies in one second, or the entire contents of the Library of Congress in an hour."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

No Brother of Mine Back Cover Blurb

Here's the current (work-in-progress) version of the back cover blurb for No Brother of Mine, providing you with your first glimpse into its storyline:

When Mitchell James answers his doorbell on a quiet Monday evening, he's not expecting to find two detectives standing on his porch. And he's certainly not expecting the pair to begin asking him questions about his brother, Ray, who he hasn't seen or spoken to in 20 years. But when the detectives go on to tell him that they believe Ray's dead body may be lying in the morgue, Mitch's comfortable little world is rocked.

As the shock of that news forces Mitch to re-examine memories from a painful childhood, he begins a journey to discover the truth about what has actually happened to Ray since their falling out so long ago.

Will the secret the two brothers share come to light now, after being buried for all those years? What part did it play in setting up the events of the present? And after working so hard to keep that secret from ever coming out, will Mitch have no choice but to watch its discovery destroy his own future?

How's that grab ya?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Birthday Treat To Myself

I just finished my 3rd or 4th reading of The Kraken Wakes, by John Wyndham. (I provided a brief synopsis of it three and a half years ago, after a previous journey through its pages.)

I started this latest go at it on Saturday, as a small birthday treat. It was all I could do to stretch it out over 4 days, as I would've happily blown through all 240 pages on the first day, if I hadn't forced myself to savour it slowly. It's such a great story, and one I never get tired of re-living.

Incidentally, I noticed this time around that Wyndham's style of writing is something that must have subconsciously influenced my own. He's as sparse at describing people and settings as I tend to be, and often writes in the first person. However, he doesn't use flashbacks much, so I guess I'm not following him all that closely. Still, it's interesting to learn where some of my inclinations come from.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Starting My 50th Year

Yesterday's birthday party with Vicki and Julie was a delight, making for a terrific start to my 50th year (which will end next March 10, when I hit my 50th birthday, of course). Julie, Cooper and I went for a walk while Vicki and Finley (and Lucy, in hiding) stayed home to guard the house. Then we ordered pizza and wings and showed Julie some photos from way back in the early 90s. The highlight of that was watching her try to pick Tammy out of her Junior Kindergarten class photo, which only took four tries. She was convinced by the end of it that we'd actually switched kids that year, taking home the wrong class member!

After dinner, I got my presents from Vicki, which included some t-shirts, a great old Thor comic from the 60s, and a surprising hit: a package of Bottlecaps, a candy treat that both Julie and I have very fond childhood memories of! Julie ended up handing those presents out to me, after making me guess what each one was from the worst possible clues (she's really bad at that).

Then it was time for her birthday presents to Vicki and I, which included a headphone splitter shaped like a heart, travel guides to Disney World and Australia, and - incredibly - a Fringe Fest pass for this year! (I didn't think you could even buy those yet!) She opted to make all of the gifts 'joint' to both of us this year, in retaliation for the fact that I had the theme of 'sharing' for all of her Christmas gifts last year. Payback's a bitch, and Julie was dishing out payback! But it was a great haul, and it was topped off with a frozen 'pizza cake' that she'd brought with her.

We all retired to the living room for a Nova episode about last year's tsunami that hit Japan, which was extremely hard to watch but also made us appreciate just how badly parts of that island were hit. After that, Vicki headed to bed and Julie and I sat up talking until shortly after 2:00 (which we thought was shortly after 3:00 since the PVR clock had already sprung forward). And then another birthday was done, and it was time for bed.

Next year: I turn 50!!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My 2nd Novel Revealed... Somewhat

Several months ago, as regular readers of this blog are well aware, I started work on my 2nd novel. A little over a month ago, I finished the first draft of it. In between those two events, a lot of writing took place (no shit, Sherlock!).

As with Game Over before it, the initial draft of this book benefitted hugely from having our friend (and Cooper-owner) Julie in our lives, as she and I talked about it at length on our walks, on her visits here and on our visits to her house. She made several key suggestions along the way, and vetoed some ideas that I now can hardly believe I ever once argued for, and thus once again left her indeliable mark on a book of mine. Julie even found the time a couple weeks ago to edit the first 4 chapters for me, which I wasn't expecting but was extremely grateful for.

Vicki, as always, has supported me throughout the project with encouragement and feedback every time I needed it, and is already well into her second reading of the book, editing as she goes... just as was the case with Game Over, of course.

A big difference this time around, however, was the involvement of my brother, Rich. He not only let me read the whole thing to him, over several sittings, but was also invaluable in providing me with bits of his experience that the story desperately needed. He even came up with several important plot points, after I'd struggled for days trying to get there on my own. It was a wonderful experience working with him like that, and I got the distinct impression that he quite enjoyed it, too. It's a much better book for his contributions, and I don't mean maybe.

The latest draft is now out with several new sets of eyes, including Tammy's, who's doing an incredible job of editing it (and pushing me hard to become a better writer, at the same time, the little bugger!).

But while we wait for her and a couple other people to finish that chore, we do have a beautiful cover image to show. This comes to us from my former co-worker and hobby photographer Carl Pettypiece, who some readers of this blog will certainly remember. The idea for the image was mine, but everything after that stemmed from Carl's mind: the staging, the perspective, the design sense, the lighting and the dozens of high quality photos he took on his fancy camera in the quest to produce the following cover:

So now you have a picture, and you have a title: No Brother of Mine. What do either of them mean? What's with those shoes? And is it just a coincidence that the project my own brother helped out with contains the word "brother" in its title?

Sometime in the next week or so, I'll post the current version of the back cover blurb for No Brother of Mine. With that, you'll at least get some sense of what this book is about. Until then, please let the speculating begin!

P.S. Just as all the cool kids referred to Game Over as GO, my 2nd novel has already been coined NBoM, or "N-bomb." It's like the F-bomb, only better!

Friday, March 09, 2012

What Ails Europe? Stupidity!

I think this Paul Krugman article really does a great job pointing out the true cause of the European economic crisis: a single currency, the euro, which "effectively reinvented the defects of the gold standard — defects that played a major role in causing and perpetuating the Great Depression." It seems inconceivable that anyone in the 21st century would actually be calling for a return to the gold standard, and yet some Americans politicians continue to do so. Here's hoping that President Obama's not nearly that stupid, and that he can get re-elected in November to provide a buffer against it over the next 4 years, at least.

The article also calls out conservatives for their unflinching commitment to blaming the Euro-crisis on the generous social safety nets in place within most of the countries there, despite the data completely invalidating that claim. "Never let the facts get in the way of you making your point," I guess.

This is such a crazy time to be alive, where lessons learned 80 years ago can be so completely ignored. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and we're all along for the ride, it seems.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

21 Years And Still Going Strong

Last night, Vicki and I had our wedding anniversary dinner a day early, and for the first time that I can remember, we shared the occasion with another couple. My brother Rich and my sister-in-law Meena took us out to the Keg and treated us to a great night out!

I had planned ahead, scheming with the two other Holmeses to surprise Vicki with news of a trip to Las Vegas for the four of us later this year, and I sweetened the deal by presenting her with an envelope stuffed with 21 $10 bills (US currency) for Vicki to spend there in whatever way she'd like. I've heard that you can gamble at a few select locations in that town, so she may choose to use the cash for that. Or possibly she'll want to go shopping, another activity which Rich and Meena assure us can sometimes be found there. Although no firm dates have been decided on yet, it's likely that this trip will happen in November or December, and probably be for 6 days or so.

This morning, Vicki presented me with several gifts, including the following little item:

That's right, kids: that's Batman # 29, from 1945! Vicki probably thought about holding onto it for our 29th anniversary, but that's still a long way off. So I'm glad she didn't make me wait!

With both of our birthdays just around the corner, R & M also gave us Cineplex gift certificates, which I have a feeling are going to come in awfully handy right around May 4th (The Avengers), June 8th (Prometheus) and July 20th (The Dark Knight Rises). It's almost like they planned it that way...

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Back To School Again Tomorrow

Yes, it's time once again for my semi-annual Agile lecture for one of the local university's Computer Science courses. I think this is maybe my 8th or 9th time doing it, so you'd think I'd be good at it by now. Yeah, you'd think so...

Monday, March 05, 2012

Coming Attractions

If you'd like to see the cover of my upcoming novel, title and all, this blog would be a good place to look, on Saturday, March 10th.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

For All The Austerity Nuts Out There

People screaming for governments like the U.S. and ours to cut spending right now really need to understand what happens when you do that in an economic environment like we have at the moment. Not just state what they think should happen - unemployment will magically drop, general confidence will miraculously grow, the private sector will heroically fill in the gaps created by the cuts, etc - but actually understand what does happen. And they could do that by, you know, looking at the large-scale experiment that's being run in Europe these days, for example. The results of which are striking, to say the least.

I could be wrong, but I think President Obama, at least, is beginning to comprehend this. He could do a lot worse than listen to economists like Paul Krugman, linked to above, when it comes to matters like this. If nothing else, he definitely has to turn a deaf ear to the lunatics in the American Republican Party who seem Hell bent on sending the world economy straight into the toilet.

Readers Gotta Read

The current draft of my 2nd novel is now in 3 new pairs of hands, doubling the number of people (besides me) who have access to it. I'm hoping that these new readers will provide some fresh perspectives on the story and the writing, and that I can use whatever they tell me to make the book even better.

My current plan is to publish next month, though I don't yet have a good sense of how late in April that might be. I've already been lucky enough to receive a few pre-order requests, and I'll send a mass e-mail out later this month looking for more. Anecdotally, it seems as though virtually everyone who read Game Over and took the time to tell me what they thought of it actually enjoyed it, so I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll get a fair number of repeat buyers from that fact. The new story is quite different from Game Over, of course, even belonging to a different genre, but anyone who enjoyed the style of GO will almost certainly have a similar reaction to the 2nd novel.

I expect I'll be slowly revealing details about the new project over the next several weeks. Stay tuned, if you're interested.