Hunting Ghosts

I spend a lot of time fixing issues in my job. Software engineering is about creating solutions, yes, but it’s also about diagnosing and fixing problems. Some problems are run of the mill. You see the symptoms, you hear the complaints, you look at the context and it all points to one thing. A busted database, user error, cruddy printer heads.

Then there are those bugs that crop up and have no immediate solution. They are reported as ‘it sometimes crashes’ or ‘it intermittently goes slowly’. These are the ones to watch out for. It’s too easy to fob them off as ‘ah, user error’ or ‘an anomaly, nothing more’.

The report itself is full of assumptions, and these assumptions must be solidified. What was the user doing at the time? When does it normally occur? Is it the same terminal each time? Is it happening at other sites? In fact, there are so many possibilities of what it ‘could’ be, that it’s seemingly impossible to see what it really is. Worst of all, the assumption that the user has isolated the incident to where it broke is a terrible one. More often, the user has a prejudiced idea about what the nature of the problem truly is.

Jumping in to solve a problem at this point is prone to error, and one can easily find oneself chasing ghosts about, grasping at elusive problems in all the wrong places.

And that’s where being methodical comes in. If there is one rule I’ve found when busting bugs, it’s to go back to the very, very start. Take all of the current context with a grain (or spoonful) of salt. Stop, relax, take a breath and look at it from afar. Is the machine turned on? Is the application running? What version is it on? Is there network access?

All of these things, and more, can be assumed. Without testing, they cannot be taken for granted. It usually only takes a second to verify these basic things, and, from there, move onto the more complex issues. Funny thing, I would say that over half of the problems I face stem from something very simple, and half of the rest stem from something only marginally less simple.

And so it goes on, getting more and more complex until there’s nothing left. You find the code looks clean, the tests are working fine, and even when you artificially break the code to recreate the issue, it won’t fail.

And then it gets into hunch territory.

What’s the hunch? Your best and worst friend, the guy who pops up at the wrong time and gives you the right answer, but then talks utter crap for the rest of the week. The dude who hasn’t got the slightest clue why but knows for sure that the problem is a threading issue introduced by a third party integration. The hunch leads you up the garden path for a day, or gives you the answer in a sip of coffee.

The perfect thing about hunches is that we can often test them, test the assumptions, test the outcome. Sure, it can be wildly incorrect, and that’s where the mixing of the two mindsets comes into play: Be methodical, and rule out the obvious, then entertain your hunches by testing their claims, seeing if there’s any validity.

It is the same with Cooper Alley Ghost. The protagonist has had a bellyful of rigorous scientific methodology, and has been trained to ignore his feelings, what the nagging, unreasonable back of his mind is telling him. Until now.

Milena shows us that there is more to this world than the explainable, that so much is going on about us for we cannot account, that we cannot understand. We cannot put it all into a single sentence to explain it and we need our hunches, our guts, our feelings, to guide us.

The Professor is not so blinded as to dismiss feelings from his own personal convictions. Rather, we find that it is incumbent upon him, as a member of the scientific community, to maintain his rigorous methodology, or suffer the consequences of ridicule among his peers.

Cooper Alley Ghost – Preorder

Can’t wait for the next in Paranormology? Me neither! That’s why I’ve been working into the night, propped up alternately by coffee and gin, to work the red pen and exercise my typing muscles to get the second draft down and smash out the third.

When I was working at MacDonald’s, I learnt a very important quote: “Hustle, don’t rush.”

In other words, get your stuff done quickly without sacrificing quality. It’s about being efficient, and thorough, and, above all, not procrastinating. And that’s exactly what I did. By last night, I was completely bushed, but I had in my hot little hand a manuscript that I could call a book.

And do this morning I consolidated and checked and poked and corrected and pushed Cooper Alley Ghost into the Smashwords Meat Grinder. What does that mean? It means it’s up.

Up?

Up! As in, it is going through the motions of publishing. First it goes through the Auto-vetter. That’s Smashwords’ fancy device to weed out common issues with formatting and the like.

Then it gets an ISBN: 9780463495261. Woot! With this, and after it has been checked for premium status, it gets distributed to the book outlets like Kobo and Barnes and Noble and iTunes. For Google Play and Amazon, though, I need to do this myself.

Finally, on 26th of April, 2020, it gets released into the big, wide (scary) world!

Head on over to the Smashwords page and have a look. The process of submitting to the other retailers takes a bit of time, so be patient. I’ll update the links as I go. And I’ve knocked up a landing page here. In the meantime, I’m going to settle down with a gin & tonic.

The Red Pen’s Revenge

The excitement builds. The whisky is poured. Draft two is complete. It is a relief. The first run, you see, doesn’t feel real, it doesn’t feel like the end product. It’s almost as if the first copy is a grainy image of what is to come. It can be lax. It can be unstructured. Things don’t necessarily need to follow or make sense. Great slabs of story are missing. Other flabby bits are hanging off the sides, waiting to be cut out.

What a mess! What a disaster! How can we clean this thing up and get it into something readable? Well that’s where the second draft comes in. Still on the machine, I read through it all, start to finish, and cut out what needs to be cut out and put in what needs to be put in. I correct obvious errors or grammar and spelling and correctness. I think whether the timing makes sense, the locations, the people and the settings.

Is that what this character would do? Is that really the best way to describe that? Bit by bit I massage the story out from its amorphous shape and, with a pinch here and a cut there, it becomes a story with a purpose. Great. That’s the point I’m at now. That’s the moment of ‘woot’ where I can take a breather and fix up the garage or fly a kite with Joey.

That’s not the end of it, though. For now comes the nasty part – the Red Pen.

The Red Pen is ruthless. The Red Pen cares not for fancy constructs, nor for passive tense. The Red Pen spots that naughty comma and herds it into the right spot. It scrawls its thoughts down in haste, it draws arrows and brackets and, when it gets really steamed, it draws thick lines through words, sentences, even whole paragraphs!

That’s what happens when you leave a Red Pen in a cup for half a year. It gives it time to plot and scheme. I only hope there’s something left after it has had its fill.

Number Six

Number six of what? Of the Paranormology series, of course! There are so many avenues I could have taken, and it seems that every time I start one of the books, I set myself up for some to and fro before I can settle on just how it should be. I have learnt my lesson, though, to make sure I know what I’m going to do (at least in rough terms) before I go plodding along, and to keep asking myself, “Does this make sense?” while I’m doing it.

During my lunch breaks earlier on last year I tapped out the skeleton idea. It wasn’t so great. I flopped it about, got rid of some rubbish, added a bit of this and that, and had a look again. Not too bad, this time, not too shabby at all. There were elements that I particularly wanted in there, one of which was a psychic medium, with a play between scientific analysis and psychic phenomena.

The setting has changed from the previous books. The protagonist and the Professor have moved to Exeter, permanently, because there are more opportunities for the Professor’s research, and the narrator has landed a job with Mister Belfiore, the clock maker. This means the setting is within a city, as with Portsmouth Avenue, only the protagonist has become familiar.

The other thing I really wanted was to bring some humanity to the Professor. He can get cranky, and he certainly has his failings (how very human), but humanity is more more than this. We get to see that underneath his cantankerous exterior, he is vulnerable and fragile, and that there’s a good reason he’s as skeptical as his is about everything.

So, how far along am I? Happy to say that I’ve finished the first draft and I’m going to sit on it for a bit. First, I need to make the front cover and get the blurb sorted. Once that’s done, I’ll be finishing off some of the Audiobook work for the other books. After this, it’s back for round two and getting some eyeballs on.

Which reminds me: If you’ve ever wanted to be part of the creative process and give the book a going over in draft two, drop me an email and let me know. I’d be very appreciative.

Eh? What’s that? What’s it going to be called? Well, the working title is Dreyford Alley Ghost, however I’m not one hundred percent sold on that, so we’ll see.

Edit: I wasn’t sold. I’m now running with ‘Cooper Alley Ghost’.

Portsmouth Avenue Released

You know, I think I’m going to make a new rule. When it comes to releasing titles, I’m going to deliberately hold off past Christmas. With the development-o-meter hitting a full scale deflection, the obligatory seasonal parties, obligations and preparations, and the viruses that hover about until you’re just on the edge of desperation before striking you down, there’s not a lot of time left for everything else that falls under the category of ‘not immediate’.

So it got to yesterday – at least I think it was yesterday – and I was asked, “Hey Jez, don’t you have a book coming out?”

Oh, crud. Right. That. When was that again? Between all the competing voices nagging and braying and screaming and screeching, there was a meek little squeak calling, “Jez, Jez. Don’t forget about me.”

Well I didn’t really forget as much as neglect. Sorry, little guy. It’s a bit pathetic, but here’s your launch. Ahem:

Hey, y’all. Portsmouth Avenue Ghost, Paranormology Part 5 is out on Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Google Play. And a bunch of other, independent distributors. I hope you enjoy it.

You can find the book’s links on this page, Portsmouth Avenue Ghost or you can go to the following:

Smashwords

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Google Play

Kobo

iTunes

It’s not on Lulu just yet, that’s taking a bit of time, but all electronic formats are supported.

Cheers!

Next in Paranormology – Portsmouth Avenue Ghost

It’s official: the next in Paranormology sees our protagonist accompany the Professor to Exeter, following up on a potential lead involving a wealthy widow and a mysterious medium. I finished the second draft just now – coffee down, have a stretch, crack of the knuckles and back to it, Jez.

Naturally there’s the drama between the Professor and the Gypsy – neither appreciates the other’s presence. The protagonist is caught in the middle, being young and idealistic.

There’s the theme of the optimism of youth, and it helps in a few spots, yet the premise is related to controlling one’s emotions. Sound vague? Of course. I’m not going to spell out the premise, that’s the book’s job.

I don’t think I’ll be doing the whole KDP thing again on this one. Firstly, it wouldn’t be fair to those who have the rest of the Paranormology series on Kobo, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, etc. Secondly, I really like Smashwords as a publisher! They’ve got the author as their focus, not profits, and they make it easy to do just about anything. I’m cool with that.

As for the cover, I’ve got a particular house in mind that I pass by every day on the way home from work. It’s over in Essendon and I’m thinking I might want to ask for permission from the home owner first before I stand outside like a creepy guy and take happy-snaps of the house… Yeah, maybe I’ll do that.

Don’t know how I’m going to approach it, but. “Hey, hi. You don’t know me and, well, I don’t know you, but I was wondering if I could take pictures of your house…”

Hmm.

I’ll let you know how it goes.