From My Labors Rested

July 30th, 2015

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Well, another Nano has come to an end. I’ve added over 50,000 words to the HEX CODE manuscript, succeeding at the month’s 50K as of a few days ago, and last night I added the framework for the last few scenes that the revised story still needed, putting me way ahead of the game. Calling it done … for now, that is.

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It’s interesting to compare this with previous months, as I did before. Even after the huge push near the end, I didn’t quite catch up to the last time that I worked on HEX CODE. I must have been going gangbusters!

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I’d love to keep going, but I now see why in the past, whenever I hit the limit, my writing rate dropped off. By my calculations, I have five novels due over the next two years – one down into the final edits, one in rough draft, one (HEX CODE) almost complete, and two more in lesser stages of completion. So it’s good to take a breather … after climbing the mountain.

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Now, back to CLOCKWORK ….

-the Centaur

Viiictory the Twelfth

July 26th, 2015

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As of this afternoon, I have completed an additional 50,000 words on my Cinnamon Frost novel HEX CODE … making me an official winner of the Nanowrimo challenge twelve times. Woohoo!

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This was a good Nano, in that I stayed ahead of the game more than I thought I had. Even a couple of days I got physically sick helped me, as I holed up with my laptop and typed. Paradoxically, some of the best-feeling personal days I had this month I got no writing done at all. Yet, in the end, I managed to stay ahead, way ahead.

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But, while analyzing this data, I found out something else … I haven’t tackled Nanowrimo twelve times with one failure; I’ve tackled it fourteen times. You see, I remembered all the times I tackled Nanowrimo in November, and all the times I tackled Camp Nanowrimo, and even Script Frenzy. But ever since 2009, I’ve kept day-to-day word counts, and I found at least one more time I’ve tried Nano, in December of 2010. I was apparently having so much fun with CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE that I decided to keep going. Putting all this data together revealed something very interesting: this hasn’t been my best month at Nano.

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In a recent post, I said I thought I’d never been this consistently far ahead for this long, but was I wrong. Way wrong. In 2011, when I was tackling HEX CODE for the first time, I was so far ahead it’s crazy: several thousand words ahead of my best times on all the other months. Apparently I was going gangbusters. This month was close, up till Friday and Saturday where I fell off a bit and then had to take a day of for writing business stuff, but today after writing 4,500+ words I ended up only 8,000 words ahead, but at this time in November of 2011 I was almost 13,000 words ahead.

Cinnamon is such a delightful character, it doesn’t surprise me – though it does hurt your brain writing tens of thousands of words in broken English. Still, I’m really happy with how this book is developing. I realized, partway through this month, that this manuscript is actually the whole of the Spellpunk trilogy, and I reorganized it so the parts of #2 BOT NET and #3 ROOT USER were downstream of where I was writing, letting me focus on the story of HEX CODE #1, giving its own problems and climax. I think it’s gone quite well, giving the story room to breathe, making certain events more rational because they can happen over time in a natural sequence … and giving Cinnamon even more time to shine.

I’ll probably keep going on HEX CODE for a few more days making sure I core dump the rest of my story ideas, but then it will be back to editing THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE in time to send it to Debra, then revising SPECTRAL IRON in time to send it to beta readers, plus two stories for an upcoming anthology, then an essay, plus conference travel, oh finishing the Hugo reading and voting, plus that wedding, and wait shouldn’t I pay my bills aaaaaa ….

It’s a wonderful life. Back to it!

-the Centaur

Soaring on Thermals

July 15th, 2015

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As you may be able to see above, I’ve managed to do something I don’t recall having done ever in Nano: consistently stay ahead of the curve for the whole month to date. By my count, I’m almost 8% ahead of the game at the halfway point … over two full days.

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While there were a few days I didn’t get any writing done, I was always ahead of the game, so I never fell behind … meaning the “Current Debt” column was always positive … meaning I’m always in the black. Huzzah!

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This is a good feeling, but there’s slightly more to it than that. I made a discovery. I’m not actually writing HEX CODE.

I’ve been writing the whole damn SPELLPUNK trilogy.

As I wrote, the story kept getting bigger and more bloated, while at the same time it was missing something. Threads left out. Pieces which didn’t quite fit. The magical computer virus of the title, the “hex code”, appeared in strangely spotty ways. And there were all these other threads, threads about the Werehold, the new werekin home.

I was thinking through how to fit these things together, and then started to notice something. I always had three titles in mind for the SPELLPUNK trilogy: HEX CODE, BOT NET, and ROOT USER (originally the last two were swapped, but whaddya know). And then I noticed: the first part of the book deals with the “hex code”, then later a “bot net” appears, then later, in the last part of the story … a “root user” appears.

Am I writing the whole trilogy? I asked myself. I pulled in the 700 words I’d written on the second novel. I reorganized some sequences. I started fleshing out more and more pieces. Finally, I allowed myself to write a sequence that I had considered dropping, when I thought I was writing just one young adult novel. But if this part of the book isn’t a part of a book, but an entire book in and of itself, that sequence was needed, was logical, was even demanded …

And 1400 words immediately popped out of my pen. (Well, keyboard, but you know).

So I’m even further ahead than I expected, not just on this month’s Nanowrimo thanks to this burst of creativity, but now on the next few years of my life. I knew I needed to get three books out in the next year – THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, HEX CODE, and SPECTRAL IRON – and five in the next two years – PHANTOM SILVER and one or more sequels. But now, I’m closer to the end of HEX CODE proper than I’d ever thought I’d be, I have a huge jump on the sequels, these books will all be shorter than the 150,000 word behemoths that I’d been turning into Debra … and they’ll have an inter-book cohesion that I’ve never attempted before, but which falls out naturally from the nature of the story.

In short, the story gets to breathe … and so will I.

At least, that’s the theory. I still have five novels due in the next two years. So, back to Nano. I have almost 22,000 words to finish for this month, after all. But now I’m not just flying above the mountain; I’m soaring above it, rising on thermals to new heights. Now, beyond what I have due, I also have a ray of hope – and a plan for success.

Onward!

-the Centaur

Reading the Manual after Jumping from the Plane

July 7th, 2015

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Still plugging away at HEX CODE. But even in the middle of Nanowrimo, when I’m desperate to make my word count before my upcoming adventures, even when I have a good feel for what needs to happen in the next scene … it still helps to do research. Above you see a pile of books fairly typical for working on Cinnamon Frost stories, plus one recreational one (I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one from the negative space of the context) and here’s how they have helped me. For those just joining us, Cinnamon Frost is a teenage weretiger with Tourette’s Syndrome who grew up basically on the streets, and …

  • Chelsea Cain’s “Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture” helped me get in touch with something entirely outside my experience … growing up as a teenage weretiger in essentially a werekindred commune.
  • Brooks Landon’s “Building Great Sentences” audio course (of which I have the printed notes above) reminded me to keep vary the patterns in my sentences, which helps me (in my terms) “solve problems” as I try to deliver the information I need to keep the plot moving while maintaining the right rhythm.
  • Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf” also helped me get in touch with the experiences that someone in a marginalized community might have, though I wasn’t able use this idea in today’s writing session, it might come up soon.
  • Patrick Newman’s “Tracking the Weretiger” is just damn fascinating, and is helping me flesh out the plot of the rest of the “Dakota Frost, Skindancer” / “Cinnamon Frost, Spellpunk” / “Quarry” series.
  • The Jesus Seminar’s “The Parables of Jesus” is helping me flesh out the moral dimensions of the story, by deriving the moral stances of the more “heroic” characters from the more “authentic” parables (at least, according to the Seminar) and deriving the stances of the more morally gray characters from the more “questionable” parables. Of course, all Scripture is profitable for instruction … but some parts of it do seem to get Jesus’s message more on point than others, and by assigning a spectrum of goodness to different characters I get to play with a lot of interesting moral conundrums.
  • Mitzi Waltz’s Tourette’s Syndrome: “Finding Answers & Getting Help” is also useful for helping me portray the subtle aspects of Tourette’s Syndrome, which Cinnamon suffers from, but which is notoriously difficult to portray correctly without it devolving into caricature. It has given me new plot ideas for the whole book and actually makes some of Cinnamon’s weird behavior seem much more understandable, but I need to work it in.

As for the last book, for now it’s fun, but who knows, she’s a math genius, so maybe it will work in.

I didn’t read all of these over lunch, but I got a chapter or a half dozen pages of each, and as a consequence: I found out some interesting other conditions people might suffer from, gave them to a character, creating an instant conflict, and gave Cinnamon a new coping tool, leading to more conflict.

Easily three to five hundred words popped out of today’s salsa of reading, putting me way ahead:

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I’m doing my level headed best to not rest on my laurels though, as I have a LOT more to go:

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Still climbing that mountain. Still reading the manual as falling out of the plane. Still writing 1666+ words a day.

Onward!

-the Centaur

Still flying above the mountain…

July 5th, 2015

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… trying to get a good buffer before the crazy that is Comic-Con starts. That is all. Oh wait, an excerpt:

“So … how’s the investigation going,” I asks warily.

Mom chews, thinking. “Like shit,” she says. “One round of emails, mostly to my friends, but neither Philip nor Jinx nor Avenix were able to track the emails back to the source. They’re arguing now whether it’s Korean or Russian hackers, based on plaintext in the binaries, but—”

“That could be, like, contract work, or a smokescreen,” I says, tryin’ to keep up.

“Either one would be scary,” Mom says. “There’s more thought going into this assault than at first I thought.”

“And you’re still cuttin’ me out,” I says, scowling.

“Until Jinx gets us a way to look at the material without getting killed, yes.” Mom says. “After we have a better grip on what’s safe … actually, I would love your mathematical expertise on this one, Cinnamon.”

“Why?” I asks suspiciously.

“The mathematical patterns in the display code,” Mom says. “Jinx says they remind her of your cat’s cradles—”

“I did not have anything to do with this,” I says hotly.

“I know, I know,” Mom says, “but you are familiar with dangerous magic. I … I just don’t want you hurt, but you might be able to help us.”

“Fine,” I says. “Math is supposed to be fun, not a chore.”

“You don’t have to help,” Mom says.

“I’ll do it,” I says. “I … sigh, can I lay the cards on the table, Mom?”

“Sure.”

“I feel better, and want to go for a run tonight,” I says.

Mom purses her lips.

“I’ve already asked a friend from the werehouse, like you asked,” I says. I juts my chin out in defiance. “My boyfriend. Tully.”

Mom frowns.

“Whatdja got to say about that?” I asks defiantly.

Mom shrugs. “That … is what I said, isn’t it. Run with a friend from the werehouse—”

“It sure as hell is,” I shoots back.

“What about that thing on your ankle?” Mom says.

“I’ll be sure not to take it into any Edgeworld locations,” I says. “I ain’t stupid.”

Lots going on there. More to come. That is all.

-the Centaur

Thinking Ink Press Instant Books at the Arsenal

July 5th, 2015

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It’s amazing how things come together! Several of the Instant Books created by Thinking Ink Press, the small press of which I’m a part, are now on display as part of the local book section of the Arsenal artist-owned art store in San Jose!

One of the great things about Instant Books is that they seem to be opening new doors. I really enjoy working with traditional publishers and editors like Debra Dixon at Bell Bridge Books, and all my novels are published that way, but working with the writers and artists at the Write to the End group has really opened my eyes to the physical joy of handmade books.

Sure, I’ve done a couple printed chapbooks for my own amusement, but author and paper artist Keiko O’Leary introduced us to this folded format. Fellow flash fiction author Betsy Miller and I started thinking about the stories we had that fit the format. Writer and editor Liza Olmsted helped us prepare them for publication. Keiko, my wife Sandi, and I provided the art. And creative barrier-buster Nathan Vargas gave us important feedback that helped us push the project home – telling us how the prototype books had an awesome feel, like “snack books” that you can read in a single sitting but still get the feel of reading a traditional book.

Except on much, much nicer paper. It matters. It really matters.

My two titles are the flash fiction collection “Jagged Fragments” and the steampunk chapbook “Jeremiah Willstone and the Sorting of the Secret Post“, and Betsy has the flash short “Bees.

So drop in on the Arsenal and check them out, or stay tuned to Thinking Ink Press for more awesome books!

-Anthony

Happy Freedom Day

July 4th, 2015

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That’s not a flag, but it is my Nanowrimo word count for the day, so I’m off to enjoy the Fourth of July holiday with my wife. If you’re American, celebrate this moment – by convention, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but by connotation, commemorating our liberty. If you’re not American, hey, you can still take this moment to reflect on the ways in which you are free … and how important it is to preserve those freedoms. Enjoy the day!

-the Centaur

July 3rd, 2015

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Welp, just finished my word count for today … and tomorrow! And walked outside to find myself at the site of the Battle of the Stanford Bookstore from LIQUID FIRE. Cool to be at a place that appears in a book that’s done.

Testing posting from my phone, then it’s a phone call with an old friend, then off to dinner. Enjoy your freedom this weekend.

-the Centaur

Now this is a different way to start the month

July 2nd, 2015

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Normally a couple of days into a Nanowrimo project I’m already a bit behind, wondering how I’ll catch up. Today I’m actually ahead for the second day in a row. Onward!

-the Centaur

Check Your Assumptions

July 2nd, 2015

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Recently I wrote an essay about my writing. In it, in short, I said I used to submit a lot of short stories for publication, but then I got discouraged when they were almost all rejected, and ultimately stopped sending stories out completely. However, once I started sending stories out again, I started to sell stories again – so there was no use in getting discouraged.

That’s a nice little story, but even as I wrote it, I knew that story might be wrong – my data was clustered by stories in the order they were written, not by date of sales, so by necessity it caps my submission rate at the rate at which I wrote stories. I suspected that real chronological data might be even more spiky, with several stories being written and sent out in one year. As it turns out, I keep great records – all my rejection slips, spreadsheets of date sent, meticulous notes on submissions and magazine closures – and when I dug further into the data, I found that my story was wrong in ways that I didn’t expect.

First, I never stopped sending stories that I’d written. With rare exceptions of stories I couldn’t take from first draft to salable product, every single story I wrote, I sent out. No, even that’s not quite right. One story I didn’t send out at all after a particularly nasty review from a friend to whom I never send stories anymore. Other people loved the story and were “haunted” by it and said I should send it out. But the point being, most of the stories I thought I had never sent out actually got sent to many places.

Second, my story sending was even spikier than I thought – 1990 to 1998, with a spike in 2001 to 2002, not resuming until 2011; you can see this in the chart above. Now, there are lulls in there where stories didn’t get sent … but since I have records of sending out almost every story that I wrote, this sounds like I stopped writing stories, not stopped sending them. And that actually is true: when I joined a dot.com startup, I was largely too busy to write short stories, and I quit for a while again after my father and grandmother died … shifting gears instead to novels, of which the first one that I finished became my first novel published.

Third, and worst of all … I thought I wasn’t getting sales of my early stories because editors thought those stories sucked, but actually, editors seemed to love them. Excluding a Lovecraft pastiche, even the very first story that I widely circulated, “Common Ground,” got some very positive feedback. And I don’t mean just encouraging rejections – I mean people who wrote “Great story! Unfortunately, our magazine is shutting down and we’ll have to return it.” In fact, several magazines responded with “we’re out of business” letters – and most of the magazines I sent those early stories to have since shut down. So maybe I had the kiss of death, but I sure seemed to be doing something that attracted people’s personal attention.

So I was right to say that there was no point in being discouraged – but my picture of events was even worse than I thought. I have more thoughts about constructing and deconstructing your own personal myths … but for now, let me just say: check your assumptions. For those of us who are hard on ourselves, it’s all too easy to take a little rejection and turn it into giant discouragement. The reality is, even if things look bad, you might find a glimmer of hope … even in a rejection pile.

-the Centaur