The bad penny

Hello… someone spilled blood on the grave dust. You were warned!

And now…

I’m back.

Salutations from the other side and all that sort of thing. I would like to say being numbered among the undead was dull, but in point of fact it was a great deal too exciting, and on a couple of occasions came relatively close to frightening me to death, and possibly squashing me as flat as the wicked witch (this IS Oz, after all, and modern gender neutral terms there is no reason I can’t be the witch. Except for the beard. I suspect there would be irrational objections to a witch with a beard. Equal opportunity for chin hirsuit-ness (or hisuit-ness) I say!)

In all seriousness, with the 20:20 vision of hindsight, I might well have either abandoned the project altogether, or tried yet another option. I decided to try and move the house to our site up the hill ourselves, based on the local who had moved houses before saying well he’d quoted $42 000 for the last one, and lost money at it (ergo, this would be more expensive, substantially).

This is, I know, a typical novelist, or would be novelist’s decision. You know: take on something you know nothing about in the fond delusion that it can’t be that bad, or that far beyond you skills. In other words the basic requirement to be a novelist is the habit of underestimating the size of the project and overestimating your ability.

Now, I am not saying that novels need to balance on tottering ‘Jenga’ stacks of prop-blocks, while you try to reverse a shuddery, juddery old truck under them – having no experience with said 10 ton truck or the fine art of jacking a house 5 feet in the air, without it falling over. But they always require taking yourself where you have little or no experience (unless you’re re-writing classic sf with a suitable politically correct slant) unless you’re doing the same book, and the same characters over and over. It does get easier and better with repetition. Like most of my jobs I end up taking things apart and putting them together A LOT of times. Patience, learning from your mistakes, and sheer obstinacy are required… just like my attempts to write novels. It wasn’t only my experience with fantasy as fisheries biologist writing fisheries recommendations that suited me for this job.

In a way, what I tried to do was a trilogy. And like most trilogies it fell down in the middle.  (I moved the first third – with all the drama of being a total amateur, a friend got a contractor with a lowbed, and I borrowed an extra excavator, and the contractor (an excavator driver, and another excavator driver) tried to move the middle – which… they broke the bearers to.  I then took apart the rest salvaging the frames and trusses. The break came down, frankly, to them not taking the level of over-care and extra support someone less professional (like me) would have put in.

Which left me with the final part of the trilogy to do better. A long story but the attempt to jack it up on my own meant the house slipped sideways.  It didn’t actually break (because I had reinforced it to the wazoo, and take precautions to make sure it couldn’t fall far) but it was indeed a good day to be wearing brown trousers. So I had to look at the intractable problem… and leave my pre-planned plot behind and try something else. Which, let me tell you, is what you have to do when books don’t work.

I thought –like the lady Great Dane and the amorous Pekinese – ‘if the Pekinese can’t manage stilts, I will dig a hole.’

I probably should have buried the Pekinese, but instead my attempt to dig a hole under the last third of the house met a rock.

Now there appeared to be nothing but sand under where the other 2/3 of the house had been, so some people might have looked at it and said ‘what bad luck.’  I said “I will dig the hole there and roll the house over it.” Which was another of those silly ideas like ‘write a novel’.

Only it worked.


Sort of.

In a manner of speaking.

Because 1) It rained (and the water table rose). 2) The hole was too deep. 3) even when the monkey had frantically dug the sand holding the house deeper to bring the two into contact… The springs on the truck still a further 6 inches to compress.

There’s more… of course. But it’s a long story, and in the end against the odds and against all probability… we got it up the hill where I am now busy repairing the middle third.

So: in summary, the biggest problem was not having a clue what I was getting into. It was also the biggest driver in the success of the whole project. Now I won’t say all novels are just like this, but my frank advice is start, get committed and then get a lot of clues. Yes, it may mean you waste a lot of time going wrong… but endless prep – and finding out the sheer enormity of the task kill far more novels than fools rushing in. Ask me. I am an expert at that.




  1. If at first you don’t succeed get a bigger hammer. It may not solve the problem but you will feel better.

  2. Well . . .with the middle third needing the rebuild, that can save some nit-picky finicky fitting three thirds of a house back together. All it takes is . . . probably twice or three times as much work.

    Congratulations, though, on not killing yourself. I was a bit worried. Why don’t you take a nice relaxing swim with sharks or climb a very big rock, eh?

  3. Seriously, you have got to post pictures of the house-work in progress! I am now eaten up with curiosity over how you managed it, and will, of course, want to see the finished house in full glory!

      1. Sadly, this may be the wisest course.

        I’d put up pictures of my dog house, but the state of Pennsylvania is talking about having dog house building codes.

        I should be safe, living in Canada. But… I might have to drive through there some day, and the dog house is nice but I didn’t read their new code. They might call for air conditioning and a marble bathtub, seeing as how a fricking BUILDING CODE for a dog house is already utterly insane. The bathtub wouldn’t make it much crazier.

        So having a handy self-posted picture of not-to-code dog house construction for Constable Plod to jam me with, I think not.

  4. Dave, and I’m almost afraid to ask this, but is there anything you’ve tried that went the way it was supposed to on the first run? 🙂

    There’s a lot to be said for 1. blind innocence when starting a project and 2. hyper-awareness that you’re not a pro and so can find new ways to make it go wrong. (Friend to DadRed and I: You overbuilt that just a little. DadRed and I: But it won’t break. And it hasn’t. We’d never built that kind of furniture before, so we sort of included screws, glue, a belt, and suspenders.)

      1. Some obviously works with wood, instead of having a baseline assumption that furniture is welded together out of box tubing and sheet steel.

      2. We had dovetails, and pocket screws to hold the shelves, and [peers at item] we did mortise and tenon on the trim. No biscuits, because we don’t have a biscuit cutter or appropriate jig.

        We’ve done other things with just mortise and tenon and dovetails, but for a bookcase that is “campaign style”, adding pocket screws and thicker shelves worked better than thinner shelves and veneer trim on the front of the shelves. Plus the shelves are semi-adjustable. I could change them, but it’s a lot of work.

        1. Ah. Redeemed are you. That is a generational piece, indeed.

          Probably shouldn’t have said biscuits – they aren’t really all that much stronger unless you’re working with massive thick pieces, and they are a pain to make. Just look prettier for some senses of “prettier.” (Myself, I like to see how things are put together.)

    1. My grandfather taught me that there are two ways to fix something:
      It’ll hold (for now).
      I’ll never have to %#$& with this again.

      My wife was shocked that anyone would use 4″ lags to install curtain rods. Even after I pointed out thateven with two generations of kids pulling on them, they were still level, she still seemed to think there was something wrong about it.

    2. I’m in the same camp. I believe that anything worth building is worth over-building. Or, like my character Alice Haddison is fond of saying, anything worth killing is worth over-killing.

    3. Yes, I actually manage few things well, the first time, with relative ease: -But (and here his the novelist’s take) where is the story in that? No-one wants to read: ‘I was well prepared, knew exactly what to do, and got it right, first time, easily. It happens, it happens to all of us (after all we do stuff that they struggle mightily to program robots to do, with great ease. Like get up, walk and make coffee) – but our minds ignore it and memory forgets it. My extra share of ‘things going wrong’ is really more about a guy who perpetually over-reaches, than an unfair share of disasters.

  5. You sir, are an inspiration.
    Or an object lesson.
    Hard to say, really.

    (Says the person who currently has half of the floors in his house torn up, but has diverted from the task to le learn about plumbing. )

    1. First story I wrote worked, and showed me that I can do stories that I have outlined. Second was a horrible mess that showed me I was not anywhere close to figuring out outlining.

      I have not since gotten in near enough execution practice.

      This past year, I’ve made some progress outlining, and have been working on one of my usual far too complex for me projects. I’m maybe not making good design trade offs. I don’t know if it is going to be a single book with mostly a single perspective, or more of a trilogy of the fat sort. Ever since I started suspecting the latter, I’ve been thinking about some of Dave’s comments on stuff.

    1. I think that was used in one of Hammer’s Dracula movies as a resurrection method.

  6. Sounds like a hellish nightmare, Dave. Glad you managed to prevail against physics and Murphy’s law.

    I’ve found that once machinery starts getting involved, things I think are strong start bending and breaking like toothpicks. A 6×6 post that could hold the Titanic at anchor will snap like a carrot when hydraulic pressure and vehicle weight come into play.

    Therefore I leave these big huge things to the engineers, and companies who can afford the loss if a five million dollar crane collapses.

      1. “We are not built to comprehend a lie, if you make a slip in handling us you die”.
        Secrets of the Machines, Rudyard Kipling

        1. Which is why Google (Amazon, Microsoft, etc.) is training its’ AI to do exactly that.

      2. I built a dog house (perhaps massively OVERBUILT is more true) last week and moved it with a tractor. As it was swinging in a completely unexpected way, I suddenly thought of you moving that house. Then I put it down most carefully and re-rigged it. Managed the whole move with only one sickening lurch that threatened destruction.

        Tractors can break -anything-.

  7. Hum… This post hit me with the sudden realization that writing novels wasn’t even close to the craziest projects I’ve taken on. That’s actually encouraging. Your flip that possessing such a temperament is something of a qualification is worth ruminating over a cuppa! Thanks, Mate!

    Besides, it was good to read that you are still in the fight. I know we don’t know each other, but my family has definitely been pulling for yours. This is an unusual blog, and I mean that in a good way.

    1. My current writing project is stupidly insane, but far from the stupidest or most insane thing I am attempting.

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