Getting Some Traction on SPECTRAL IRON

April 21st, 2014

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It’s been hard getting back into SPECTRAL IRON – the beginning of the story is a smoothly progressing freight train, but about a third of the way through, the story went off the tracks — not because there was anything wrong with the ideas, but because they lacked the right organization. I had to move many, many chapters around before I got the overall structure right.

Then, I found that I’d done “tricks” to speed up the narrative—scene changes, description, shifts of scale—which work great when a story is complete, but in early drafts just distract from creating what John Gardner called “the vivid continuous dream” of fiction. National Novel Writing Month material, for me, must be like that dream, continuously moving forward from point to point.

Often, if I was willing to just “dethrone my darlings” I could make progress. The old writer’s advice to “kill your darlings” is something I have a love-hate relationship with, but in this case, I interpret “darlings” as a great turn of phrase that started a scene or chapter in the early draft—but which I found were getting in the way.

Usually, when I couldn’t go forward from the next unwritten part of the scene, it was because the darling, while it sounded cool, glossed over too much. To fix the problem, I generally didn’t have to delete the darling; I just instead demoted it from its privileged status of starting a scene, rolled my mind back to the point just before the scene break, and asked: no, seriously: what would really happen next?

Thinking very closely about how characters would react to a life-changing event, in the next hours or minutes or even seconds after it happened, is something that produced (for me) more real, honest, and compelling reactions—and, usually, created a far more solid framework for all the scenes that followed, enabling me to think about them clearly and write more quickly.

This strategy has been working well for me, and today it really has started to pay off. I’m getting back on track at last.

Oh, yes, an excerpt:

“No,” Nyissa said, delicately picking up one of the gumdrops with her chopsticks. She gingerly put it in her mouth, sliding it past her fangs with the white ivory prongs, closing her mouth—then her eyes closed in bliss. “Ahhh. You’ve cultivated a different set of skills.”

“Beauty is a skill?” I asked.

“Dakota,” Nyissa said, smiling at me mirthfully. “You are beautiful, but you’re not trying to be beautiful: you’re trying to be a butch badass biker. You wear leather, and a Mohawk, and actually ride a bike, even a fuel efficient one. Your whole outfit says: don’t mess.”

“It’s supposed to say, check out my tattoos,” I said.

“It does say that,” she said, though today my arms were covered with the sleeves of a turtleneck. “But hairstyles and transport are more serious choices than a coat. You’ve cultivated a whole set of lifestyle skills to project a butch image, down to your manly handshake.”

Now I covered my face with my hand. “Ah, I’ll never live that down.”

“I, on the other hand, am a vampire dominatrix,” Nyissa said. “I lure men and women to my bed with my beauty and the promise of a mixture of pleasure and pain. That, too, is a set of lifestyle choices—down to my quite extensive wardrobe, and the shopping that goes with it.”

“Your success at that,” I said, “has a lot to do with your physical beauty.”

“Yes, but, you don’t need a great body to look hot,” Nyissa insisted. “It’s all about your sense of style. You need to project the aura that you’re fuckable. Not dressing in a way that asks or offers sex—but how you show off your body shows you know what sex is, and how to do it.”

I was staring at her. My jaw was dropped. Nyissa slowly raised her chopsticks, taking them in her mouth with a sly smile. She cleaned them between her fangs with a lick of her tongue. Then she leaned forward and touched them beneath my chin, closing my mouth.

It occurs to me that the art of finding an excerpt which is interesting, yet reveals no plot points, is itself a skill. Hopefully I’m doing it well.

-the Centaur

Weather spotty with increasing chance of progress

April 17th, 2014

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Overall I’m making some progress, but each day has its ups and downs. Today was one of the downs (more because I spent a great deal of the day cracking a problem at work, then following up with a nice dinner date with my wife), but hopefully I’m going to get caught up over the next few days and through the weekend, when I’ve got some long plane flights to write on.

No excerpt: a lot of reorganizing today to get pieces in place so the story flows forward smoothly. I do write out of order, quite a bit, but the pieces must all make sense in order so that when I sit down to work on one the past concepts all build to and constrain the current moment, and the current moment supports the future concepts going forward.

Oh, okay, maybe one excerpt; I may have actually shown this before, but now I’ve written up the backstory for this:

“Here, Cinnamon,” I said, reaching for her with the Santa Claus cap. “Wear this—”

“No,” Cinnamon growled, jerking away. “I ain’t wearing no Santa Claus shit.”

I blinked. Most children I knew loved Santa Claus. Loved Christmas. So did most people, for that matter. Sure, I knew a few grinches, but not even they would have turned down a Santa Claus cap, much less snarled and swatted at it. This was something more.

“I’m guessing,” I said gently, “it isn’t disgust at his square fashion sense.”

“New word’s jank,” Cinnamon said, wrapping her arms around herself, turning away.

I put the hat down and walked out onto the porch, sitting on the sofa, stretching my long arms out over its back and my long legs out to the bottom rungs of the bannister. After a minute, Cinnamon joined me, curling up next to me, leaning her head on my shoulder.

“Sorry, Mom,” she said. “Santa Claus is a son of a bitch.”

That is all for now.

-the Centaur

Now we’re talking

April 13th, 2014

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Finally, got 3400+ words done today, starting to get back on track. We can win this thing! An excerpt:

Cosgreave cleared a space on the table, then opened the black plastic case and withdrew a small bundle of embroidered cloth, which he unrolled upon the table. He reached into the case and withdrew by its leather-wrapped handle a long, dark object, which rang as it hit the air and kept singing faintly until he carefully set the weapon down on the soft, bone-white cloth.

“The Salzkammergutschwert,” Cosgreave said reverently.

The Salzkammergutschwert was a strangely curved dark sword almost four feet long from the circular pommel of its oddly-angled leather-wrapped hilt to the oddly-angled tip of its gleaming blade, forged from some strange lustrous metal so dark it reminded me of hematite.

Upon closer inspection, the sword wasn’t curved, merely angled, like a geometric S. The hilt had two angled parts, one short, one long, neither quite aligning with the dark blade, which was straight like an European sword, but with a strange triangular taper, like a cleaver.

I had never seen anything like it … and it creeped me the heck out.

-Anthony

SPECTRAL IRON gathering steam

April 12th, 2014

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Definitely not the official cover of SPECTRAL IRON … something I just whipped up for my Camp Nanowrimo page. My goal this month is to take this novel from 52,881 words to 102,881 words – adding 50,000 words, just like in Nanowrimo, except now I’m taking the novel from a ghost of nothing and turning it into a full bodied spirit.

Because publishing stacks deadline after deadline, I had to shift from scheduling 50,000 words a year to 100,000 in order to keep to my schedule. 50,000 words is a half-finished book, and I have plenty of those (SPECTRAL IRON, HEX CODE, and MAROONED from Nano, plus STEEL TEARS and few other older books).

100,000 words, in contrast, is a book that can be feasibly completed, and I don’t have so many of those ready to go. My 2002 Nano, DELIVERANCE, is at 150,000 words, but it needs a lot of work; my first novel, HOMO CENTAURIS, is a similar length with even more work needed. Not that I will never go back to them … but I need to move forward with new work.

Today was the first day that I really got my groove back on SPECTRAL IRON. The end of last month, when I was supposed to be finishing LIQUID FIRE, was consumed by EOQ (end of quarter) work at work, and so the start of this month was consumed with getting LIQUID FIRE to the publisher. I’ve only really been working on SPECTRAL IRON seriously this past week.

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Some of the delay was re-reading the manuscript, some was reorganizing it (some of the sections crept out of plot order as I worked on ideas here and there), some was legitimate work-work getting in the way (gotta pay the bills, so the Search Engine That Starts With a G gets first dibs on my time) but most was just getting my groove back.

Now it’s back. I just give you a tiny tease of an excerpt:

“Alright,” Terrance said, becoming less frustrated by the moment. “Alright. I may have no fucking clue what’s going on, but I’m still on the B team, and I have the entire sum of computable human knowledge at my fingertips. What can I do to help?”

“We’re tackling the ghost line,” I said. “But from a new angle. I’m less interested in the places that want to show us their ghosts—and more in the ones that didn’t. I want to know why they declined—particularly ones that were on ghost tours in the 1970’s and dropped out.”

“You may not remember this,” Terrance said, “but there was a recession in the 1970’s. Oil embargoes, gas lines stretching around the block, the double nickel—and the tourist industry in California collapsed. Most just went out of business—”

“But not all of them,” I said. “I know there are dozens of sites, and probably dozens of reasons a site might decline to appear in our show, but we can narrow it down considerably. I’m not asking them to change their minds—I’m asking if the ghost sightings stopped.”

The silence on the line stretched long enough that I thought something happened to him.

“Whoa,” he said at last. “Magic is real—you’ve proved that. Ghosts are real, or at least there are ghost like effects—you’ve caught them on film. So if ghost sightings stopped, it might not be because the light of day has burned away the campfire tales—”

“But because there was some real phenomenon that stopped operating,” I said.

More to come…

-Anthony

SPECTRAL IRON slowly leaving the station

April 10th, 2014

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Having trouble getting up to speed … after all, didn’t finish LIQUID FIRE until several days into the month … but made some conceptual progress tonight. That is all.

-the Centaur

From my labors, I rested

April 6th, 2014

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So, at long last … I have sent LIQUID FIRE to Bell Bridge books.

Phew.

This has been a long time in coming; the book that became LIQUID FIRE started with some florid philosophizing about the nature of fire and life by my protagonist Dakota Frost – 270 words written way back in 2008:

Liquid Fire

A Dakota Frost, Skindancer Novel

by
Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr.

Started: 2008-04-19
Rough Draft: 2012-09-26
First Draft: 2012-10-23
Completed Draft: 2013-10-19
Beta Draft: 2013-11-01
Gamma Draft: 2014-04-05

Along the way, the story became something very different, an exploration of Atlanta and San Francisco and Hawaii, of learning and science and magic and mysticism. My obsessive attention to realism led to endless explorations and quite a few set pieces.

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Now it’s in the hands of Debra Dixon, who’s already started to send me feedback. Feedback I’m going to do my best to shelve until May 1st, so I can focus the rest of April on SPECTRAL IRON, which is due early next year. Aaa!

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But for now, my labors, I rest. If only for a little while.

-the Centaur

P.S. This is is my fifth completed novel, and the third Dakota Frost. Only 18 more Dakota Frosts to go in the main arc!

Jeremiah Willstone Is on Her Way

February 2nd, 2014

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At long last, I have sent to the publisher my fourth completed novel, JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE: A Story of Love, Corsets, Rayguns, and the Conquest of the Galactic Habitable Zone.

This has been a long time in coming – in part because I had the not-so-bright idea of doing a related anthology, DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME, which has put me a solid year behind on my other writing projects – and in part because I had a lot of work to do. Lots of authors put their manuscripts through heavy revision, but the way I track changes gives a pretty clear view of my process:

Draft History
Started: September 7, 2009
Rough Draft: July 13, 2011
First Draft: March 10, 2012
Beta Draft: March 25, 2012
Beta Read: December 1, 2013
Gamma Edit: December 12, 2013
Gamma Draft: February 1, 2014

What’s less clear is the amount of research that goes into these books. For the story “The Doorway to Extra Time” I read parts of over 20 books on time travel. For THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, with its alternate histories and their intricate relationships, I read far more – dozens and dozens of books and hundreds and hundreds of web pages.

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Now all that’s done, and the book is off to Debra Dixon at Bell Bridge Books. Hopefully I’ve learned from previous edits what it takes to make a great book; if not, I’m sure she’ll tell me.

As always, I leave you with an excerpt:

Lightning gouged a chunk of the wainscoting an inch from Jeremiah Willstone’s head and she hurled herself back, bumping down the stairs on her tailcoat, firing both Kathodenstrahls again and again until the oak doorpanels were blasted into sparks and splinters.

Her shoulders hit the landing hard enough to rattle her teeth, but Jeremiah didn’t lose her grip: she just kept both guns trained on the cracked door, watching foxfire shimmer off its hinges and knobs. The crackling green tracers crept around the frame, and with horror she realized the door was reinforced with newly-added iron bands. She’d intended to blast the thing apart and deny her enemy cover, but had just created more arrowholes for him-or-her to shoot through.

Jeremiah muttered a curse: the doors weren’t supposed to be reinforced! The Newfoundland Airship Conservatory was a relic, near sixty years old—and electric pistols had barely been invented when it was built in the 1850’s, much less Faraday armor. Yet this lot of miscreants had managed to erect in a few days barriers proof to the most modern thermionic blasters. In over nine years as an Expeditionary fighting the mad men and women who sought to let Foreign monsters onto the Earth, she’d never encountered a force as well-prepared as Lord Christopherson’s.

It made sense—the man had been in the Victoriana Defense League, and had their full playbook—yet there were dark rumors that he’d been bankrolled by Restorationist forces who threatened not just the Crown, but the Liberation Jeremiah held so dear. Given her history with the man, she hadn’t found the rumors surprising—but the complete lack of women soldiers among his ‘footmen’ practically confirmed them. Lord Christopherson wasn’t just in love with the monsters: he wanted to upend the whole Victorianan order. The man had to be stopped.

As the foxfire dissipated, the crackling continued, and Jeremiah’s eyes flicked aside to see sparks escaping the broken glass of her left Kathodenstrahl’s vacuum tubes. Its thermionics were shot, so she tossed the electric gun aside with a curse and checked the charge canister on her remaining Kathodenstrahl. The little brass bead was hovering between three and four notches. Briefly she thought of swapping canisters, but a slight creak upstairs refocused her attention.

No. You only need three shots. Keep them pinned, wait for reinforcements.

Now that Jeremiah is on her way, I’m returning my attention to LIQUID FIRE, which has a due date of April 1st, with a hopeful publication date in August. Wish me well, and hope that I have a picture like the following for LIQUID FIRE ready in the next month or so…

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-the Centaur

And Nanowrimo Draws to a Close Yet Again…

November 30th, 2013

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Well, Nanowrimo has drawn to a close once again. I finished early, and then used the time through Thanksgiving to spend time with friends, family and my wife. Hence the gaps near the end:

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As you can see, the last few days have seen a few words added to the manuscript, but they’re mostly the addition of notes and other materials to make sure the story isn’t lost. However, the total added words: 52761. Success.

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Now it’s back to THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, and when that’s off to the editors, I hope that I’ll have my betas back for LIQUID FIRE so that too can go to the editors. Then I’ll be finishing SPECTRAL IRON. So it may be a while before I return to Serendipity to finish her story; until then, however, I will leave you this:

“But … our last Loremaster died of the plague,” Dijo said. “We’ve saved the data, of course, but all the stories are lost—”

“Then we’d better salvage the ones we can,” Leonid said, staring at Serendipity. She was rapt: she was a historian. And as young as she was, she probably hadn’t had the chance to collect living history. And he’d given her just that. “So, Serendipity … you up to the task?”

“Am I,” she said, flicking an ear, leaning forward. “Tell me the stories of your people.”

“Alright, but we don’t tell stories,” Leonid said, motioning to Beetle, who drew out his strumstick. “We sing them.” Serendipity’s mouth fell open, and Leonid smiled. “Beetle, you’ve got some pipes on you. Sing the Song of Iranon, and remind us why we keep fighting on.”

Beetle smiled, tuned the stick, then began strumming. He sang:

Into Teloth Station wandered a spacer,
The vine cowled, yellow haired Iranon.
His suit was torn
His cloak was frayed
From mining the rocks of the belt Sidrak—

Soon they were all singing, Serendipity more than a bit awkwardly—she had little rhythm, and clapped at odd places, unable to keep time. But she quickly learned the chorus and response, and by the last verse she was singing along with them.

The spacers of Teloth were dark and stern
With frowns they asked his course.

And he said:

I am the spacer Iranon
With a cowl of vines, and myrrhwax in my hair.
I came from the Arkship Aira
A ship I recall only dimly, but seek to find again.
I sing the songs learned in my youth
In that far off paradise
And my course is set to find my way home once again.

And he said:

My trade is making beauty from memories of my childhood
And my wealth is in dreams of the places I have known
And I chart my course by the light of hope inside me
The hope I’ll find again my near forgotten home
On the Arkship Aira
In orbit round the gardens of the Lotus Moon.

Fare well, spacers…

-the Centaur

Viiiictory … in … Spaaaace

November 27th, 2013

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For the 8th time, I have won National Novel Writing Month! This year, I knuckled down early, focusing on getting as much ahead as possible so I could coast early in the month. This really worked because my story soon started turning in unexpected directions as I mined the emotional relationships of the characters, rather than the overarching plot. And I think it worked well! Look at that:

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I was successfully able to stay ahead of the game essentially for the whole month, enabling me to finish several days early. I hope to keep writing, to core dump the ideas I’ve had about the story, as while it is wonderful to find unexpected elements of the story (including a shout-out to one of my oldest childhood toys and the origin of the Dresanian universe) there’s more to write.

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But now I can take a more leisurely pace, read the giant stack of books I’ve accumulated to help me flesh out the plot ideas, and turn it all into something more interesting. For example, here’s an interesting combination of plot and emotional interaction, none of which I ever really expected:

The mammoth city-sized collection of globules drifted by. Some were firm and puffy like gasbags; some soft like pillows, some trailing and drifting like punctured balloons. So many tentacles fell down from it that it looked like it was raining beneath. Slowly, the globules crested a ridge and began to sink.

Leonid’s mouth parted, but he maintained his firm, watchful, captain on deck boots-wide stance on the window, even though his legs had begun to cramp. Then the city slowly settled to the earth in a cloud of dust.

“It is a city,” Serendipity said. “Or something very much like one.”

“I’m not willing to give it that yet,” Leonid said, as the globules settled and burst, gas streaming up from some, gasbags lifting tentacles up from others, remarkably like towers. “But my mind is open to the possibility. Spores, your grandmother said.”

“Yes,” Serendipity said. “Perhaps the gasbags make the cities, and the spores that they release inhabit the cities. I don’t know—like she said, it appears most of the records of Halfway were sealed after the war. Damnit. And Greatgramma Clarice led me straight into this—”

“Sounds like a dick move,” Leonid said, “but you and your family are all geniuses. Let’s not give up on her just yet. Maybe she thought you were your grandmother’s granddaughter, that you were the right person to deal with Halfway.”

“Maybe,” Serendipity said uncertainly.

“One thing for certain,” Leonid said, smiling down at her, legs still firmly planted on the rail, cutting as heroic a pose as he could, “black sun or no, Halfway is a beautiful world—and we’re going to make the best of it.”

Then something slammed into the ship so hard it knocked him backwards into the soup.

So, my Nanowrimo winner’s t-shirt is on it’s way, I’ve “won” … but I’ve got a lot more to go to get this novel done.

Onward!

-the Centaur

Breaking Horizon

November 25th, 2013

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At some point over the past weekend, I broke 40,000 words on Nano. This is no time to get complacent: even though I’m a few days ahead now – only 6200 words from the end – and I’m supposedly on vacation, I may need to go back to work tomorrow to deal with a minor, well, not crisis, but something that demands my attention.

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So while that mountain above has impressive height and slope, it ends in a plateau, because the month of November is not done. And if you don’t retain focus, you can end on that plateau, because the end of November is friends and family and Thanksgiving and Black Friday and the year-end scramble at work, if you have one.

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SO while I have a lead, I’m going to do what I can to keep it. Speaking of which … I wrote 375 words between what I wrote above and the end of this article. Here’s an excerpt:

“So, still thinking Halfway was a steal?” Sirius asked. “Was it worth it to spend your inheritance on the hideout of a war criminal, no doubt on her way back here?”

“She’s not a war criminal, and she’s not coming back,” Serendipity said. “She’s a prolific and nurturing mother. She would never have left her grandchild behind, much less her own daughter. Same rules as Norylan’s parents: if she could have come back, she would have—”

“Nurturing mother doesn’t mean,” Sirius said, “she wasn’t a war criminal.”

“A few hard choices don’t a monster make,” Serendipity said. “She led the First Contact mission between Dresan and Murra. For all practical intents and purposes, she founded the Dresan-Murran Alliance, the most harmonious grouping of aliens in the universe—”

“Founded on annihilating everyone who didn’t fit that mold?” Sirius said quietly.

For a moment, Serendipity didn’t say anything.

“I can’t take responsibility for the sins of someone who wasn’t even my ancestor,” Serendipity said, “but I’ll defend the values they bequeathed to me, values they developed trying to learn from their mistakes. When my grandmother came, I could have had her kill you all—”

“Hey!” Sirius said. Then he punched her arm. “Ass!”

“Hey!” Serendipity said back, feeling her arm. “Ow—”

“No, you couldn’t have had her kill us,” Sirius said. “She would have sliced up that blaster, and maybe lopped a few arms, or perhaps just gut checked a few of Toren’s goons with the back end of her scythe blades. Your back was turned. She took the room in an instant—”

“She’s a killer,” Serendipity said. “You don’t know her—”

“She’s a First Contact Engineer and a pregnant mother,” Sirius said. “I saw her face. Yes, she’s scary—I’ve never seen anyone that scary—but I could also see relief when she saw we were children. I refuse to believe she would just windmill through us all, rolling heads.”

Serendipity stared at him.

“I’m not sure I agree with you,” she said, “but I think you’re also making my point.”

Back to work.

-the Centaur