Persistence is Rewarded, Despair is a Mistake

September 18th, 2016

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So I’m proud to announce that “A Choir of Demons” was just accepted by Aurora Wolf magazine, with a projected release date of October 1st. More news as that gets finalized, but I’m more interested right now in the process by which this story was sold. Had I acted on feedback which made me despair on the story, I might have changed it ways that ruined it for its right home.

As I’ve documented before, I once sent my stories out to many places, only to get discouraged, and created a narrative that I’d sent them out until I exhausted the markets, and gave up. The reality was that several stories I told myself were no damn good actually got great feedback, but the markets that wanted to publish them went out of business.

Maybe those markets went under because they weren’t accepting better stories, but actually, many, many magazines went out of business right around that time, so I really was in a market contraction – and a time crunch, as I quit work on stories as my PhD ratcheted up, as I cut back writing because of RSI, and because I helped found a startup.

But when I started sending things out again, things got much better. I still get only a 15% acceptance rate, so on average I need to send a story to half a dozen markets or more before I get a success. But my latest story, “A Choir of Demons”, a steampunk police procedural which I wrote specifically for Analog or Asimov’s, wasn’t getting a lot of traction: it racked up almost a dozen rejections.

Most were form letters, but a few had detailed feedback. But that feedback was strange and contradictory. One complained that the beginning of the story didn’t get inside the character’s head … when the first two pages were primarily the protagonist’s reactions to her situation. Another complained the story wasn’t sufficiently standalone, when I tried to make it specifically standalone. And so on.

I was considering a major rewrite, but remembered Heinlein’s famous advice for writers: “Write. Finish what you write. Send your work out. Keep it on the market until sold. Only rewrite to editorial order” and so reactivated my subscription to the story-market service Duotrope, finding another dozen markets I hadn’t seen on the free listings on the similar site Ralan.

I have to give kudos to Duotrope – I found three markets that each responded almost immediately. The first two gave me prompt but nice rejections. The third was Aurora Wolf – whose editor passed on a few kind words which essentially called out “A Choir of Demons” as the kind of thing that they were looking for.

Had I limited myself to just a few markets, I might not have found a right home for “A Choir of Demons”. Had I changed the story to mold it to fit the markets that didn’t want it, I might easily have broken the things about the story that made it a good fit for its ultimate home.

So persistence is rewarded – but the road of persistence can get lonely at times, and it’s easy to lose your way. Don’t despair while traveling that road, or you might drive off the road straight into a mistake.

-the Centaur

Book Reading: 1pm Sunday

September 3rd, 2016

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So, Dakota Frost and Jeremiah Willstone fans, come to Dragon Con this Sunday at 1pm and you’ll get to hear me read from both series! I’ll be reading from one of FROST MOON or LIQUID FIRE (depending on how many fans in the audience there are who have read each book) and from THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE. Also, I’ll likely read one or more of my flash fiction pieces, probably “Solomon’s Baby” and possibly a few other short pieces depending on time.

  • Reading: Anthony Francis
    Sunday 1pm, Edgewood – Hyatt
    Anthony Francis reads from the Skindancer series, from THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, from his flash fiction work, and answers your questions!
  • Steampunk/Alternate History Is Here to Stay
    Sunday 8:30pm, Embassy CD – Hyatt
    Is the Steampunk market soft? Writers discuss keeping the genre alive and kicking. How to infuse your Steampunk/Alt History novels and stories with new life.

Later, I’ll be talking more about steampunk at 8:30pm as well. Also, at 10am on Monday, not on the schedule, I’ll be on a panel about starting a small press. Drop on by, and I hope you enjoy!

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Pictured: a cool staircase because it’s cool, and the neat badge schedule things they give us to tell us where to go when.

-the Centaur

Learning while Contributing

September 3rd, 2016

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I’ve been going to conventions for about thirty-five years, but have appeared on panels only in the last ten, and even that only consistently for the last five – so I still feel like a fanboy up with all the more experienced authors. And while sometimes I have a lot to contribute, I often find it’s better not to ask whether I have something to say, but whether I have something to add. It’s frankly awesome to be up here with luminaries like John Ringo or Esther Friesner, and it’s often just best to to sit back and listen – but even then, don’t give up on yourself. I was on three panels today with more experienced people, and I made sure I both shut up and listened and stepped up and said something at the appropriate time – with the result being that several people came up to me and thanked me for my contribution to the panels that I’d been on. Several of the authors got together afterward, and we all seemed to think that it was our interactions with each other that made the panels great. So … think of what you can add, but never give up on your own unique contribution. It’s there, you just have to find it.

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Pictured: the forward and reverse angle on viewer for a panel on “101 ways to kill a character” which I was on with John Ringo, who chose just the moment I took my selfie to lean over and ask someone a question.

-the Centaur

Con Crud!

September 2nd, 2016

So, I had all sorts of plans to post on my upcoming panels and the ambience of Dragon Con, but I overslept. Not by, like, an hour, or two hours, but more like eight hours. Sure, I got up and killed my alarms, a few times, but what really happened as I kept trying to get up and kept crashing out was that I realized I had caught a case of con crud.

Science fiction conventions gather an enormous amount of people, and hence, their diseases, and hence: con crud, that mysterious illness that hits you a day or two after you get to a con. I know a lot of people who have been knocked out by it, but it’s hit me hard only two or three times.

This time, I ended up sleeping on and off for twelve hours out of sixteen. Fortunately I didn’t get the cough or sniffles, though I felt them starting. But I rested up, and got up when I felt rested, and even though I missed hitting the dealer’s room today, I had a lot of fun at my two panels.

So what I’m saying is, be good to yourself. It’s easy, when you’re at a con on a mission, to get caught up on all the things you could do. Well, do the things you should do, take care of yourself, and relax: cons will roll around again, and you want to be healthy enough to survive them.

Up tomorrow, 10AM: You’ve sold your first book, now what? A bunch of people much more experienced than me tell you what to do when you’re facing book two. Oh, and I’ll be there. At 2:30PM, I’ll be talking about synopses that will sell – or not sell – your book. And at 10PM, I’ll be talking about fun ways to kill your character. Oh, hell, here’s the whole list:

  • You’ve Sold the First Book, Now What?
    Saturday 10am, Embassy CD – Hyatt
    What happens next? Publishing professionals offer information about the industry–what they’re going to do, and what you need to do for yourself.
  • Writing a Synopsis That Will Sell Your Book – MODERATOR
    Saturday 2:30pm, Embassy CD – Hyatt
    Writing a great synopsis may be harder than writing a book. These outliners and pantsers will offer suggestions to make the process easier.
  • 101 Fascinating Ways to Kill off a Character
    Saturday 10pm, Embassy CD – Hyatt
    Description: Our favorite writers recount some of the more interesting ways they’ve eliminated characters–or tried to.

Also, THIRTY DAYS LATER is still on sale for $0.99! Onward!

-the Centaur

THIRTY DAYS LATER on sale!

September 2nd, 2016

Hey gang, I’ll be at Dragon Con’s Avoiding Historical Mistakes tomorrow at 7pm, but if you’re interested in a lot of good steamy stories, go visit your favorite e-bookstore, where THIRTY DAYS LATER is on sale for $0.99! Thirty tales of alternate history for a buck – you can’t beat that! And it has the two latest Jeremiah Willstone stories in there – “Fall of the Falcon” and “Rise of the Dragonfly”, so go check it out!

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-the Centaur

Dragon Con! 2016! I’ll be there!

August 25th, 2016

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So, Labor Day is rolling around again, and once again, I’ll be at Dragon Con! I’m actually on a boatload of panels this year, but the most important one is my book reading, Sunday at 1PM at the Hyatt! Come on by and help me make this room:

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look like this room:

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I’ll be reading from THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, from the Dakota Frost series including both the published trilogy and the forthcoming books, and also I’ll likely read some of my flash fiction pieces! Come and enjoy!

If panels are more of your bag, however, I’ve got plenty for you:

  • Friday

    • Avoiding Historical Mistakes
      Friday, 7pm, 204 J Mart 2
      Our panelists will not debate whether science fiction/fantasy, even steampunk fiction, NEEDS to be as historically accurate as possible within the limits of its alternative universe. Our interest in this discussion will be in writing historically convincing fiction and sharing resources.
  • Saturday

    • You’ve Sold the First Book, Now What?
      Saturday 10am, Embassy CD – Hyatt
      What happens next? Publishing professionals offer information about the industry–what they’re going to do, and what you need to do for yourself.
    • Writing a Synopsis That Will Sell Your Book – MODERATOR
      Saturday 2:30pm, Embassy CD – Hyatt
      Writing a great synopsis may be harder than writing a book. These outliners and pantsers will offer suggestions to make the process easier.
    • 101 Fascinating Ways to Kill off a Character
      Saturday 10pm, Embassy CD – Hyatt
      Description: Our favorite writers recount some of the more interesting ways they’ve eliminated characters–or tried to.
  • Sunday

    • Reading: Anthony Francis
      Sunday 1pm, Edgewood – Hyatt
      Anthony Francis reads from the Skindancer series, from THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, from his flash fiction work, and answers your questions!
    • Steampunk/Alternate History Is Here to Stay
      Sunday 8:30pm, Embassy CD – Hyatt
      Is the Steampunk market soft? Writers discuss keeping the genre alive and kicking. How to infuse your Steampunk/Alt History novels and stories with new life.
  • Monday

    • The Good, the Bad, and the Scary: Witches in UF
      Monday 11:30am, Chastain DE – Westin
      Witches in Urban Fantasy run the gamut from helpful to extremely dangerous and self-serving. Our authors discuss their characters as reflections of the category they fall into.
    • Secret History: Bet You Didn’t Know It Happened That Way!
      Monday 1pm, 204 J – Mart2
      Our alternate history authors and experts describe that variety of tales where the public and world at large have no idea what really happened behind the scenes. Many authors have written in the subgenre. Classic short stories and novels will be discussed.

Oh! Hey! I’m moderating one of them panels. Good to know! (Seriously, a year or two back I found out I was moderating a panel when I sat down, and I’d only found out about the panel ten minutes before). Regardless, come on down to Dragon Con and have fun!

-Anthony

This pays for that

August 23rd, 2016

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I’m not dead, I’m just playing a game of this pays for that. The above is this – reinforcement learning for robotics. The below is that – writing. I want to be doing more writing, but I need to keep working to pay for the writing. That is all for now …

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-the Centaur

Finished a rough draft of PHANTOM SILVER

August 13th, 2016

I just finished a rough draft of Book 5 in the Dakota Frost, Skindancer series. I’d love to sit back and reflect on all the novels I’ve finished (3 published, one at the editor, 3 more drafts finished, 3 more beyond that partially finished, one in the sock drawer, and one half-finished novel that got away from me) but I have contracts to edit. So, for now, I’ll just leave this here…

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One Day Your Strength Will Fail

July 31st, 2016

Wow, it’s already here – my flash fiction short story “One Day Your Strength Will Fail” is about to appear in the very first issue of the Bay Area’s new literary magazine, Fiction Silicon Valley! Thanks to Steve DeWinter for making this magazine happen!

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Viiictory the Fifteenth

July 31st, 2016

Print

Once again, I’ve completed the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenges – this time, the July 2016 Camp Nanowrimo, and the next 50,000 words of Dakota Frost #5, PHANTOM SILVER!

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This is the reason that I’ve been so far behind on posting on my blog – I simultaneously was working on four projects: edits on THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, writing PHANTOM SILVER, doing publishing work for Thinking Ink Press, and doing my part at work-work to help bring about the robot apocalypse (it’s busy work, let me tell you). So busy that I didn’t even blog successfully getting TCTM back to the editor. Add to that a much needed old-friends recharge trip to Tahoe kicking off the month, and I ended up more behind than I’ve ever been … at least, as far as I’ve been behind, and still won:

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What did I learn this time? Well, I can write over 9,000 words a day, though the text often contains more outline than story; I will frequently stop and do GMC (Goal Motivation Conflict) breakdowns of all the characters in the scene and just leave it in the document as paragraphs of italicized notes, because Nano – I can take it out later, its word count now now now! That’s how you get five times a normal word count in a day, or 500+ times the least productive day in which I actually wrote something.

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Also, I get really really really sloppy – normally I wordsmith what I write as I write, even in Nano – but that’s when I have the luxury of writing 1000-2000 words a day. When I have to write 9000, I write things like “I want someoent bo elive this whnen ai Mideone” and just keep going, knowing that I can correct the text later to “I want someone to believe this when I am done,” and, more importantly, can use the idea behind that text to craft a better scene on the next draft (in this case, Dakota’s cameraman Ron is filming a bizarre event in which someone’s life is at stake, and when challenged by a bystander he challenges back, saying that he doesn’t have any useful role to fill, but he can at least document what’s happening so they’ll all be believed later).

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The other thing is, what I am starting to call The Process actually seems to work. I put characters in situations. I think through how they would react, using Goal Motivation Conflict to pull out what they want, why they want it, and why they can’t get it (a method recommended by my editor Debra Dixon in her GMC book). But the critical part of my Process is, when I have to go write something that I don’t know, I look it up – in a lot of detail. Yes, Virginia, even when I was writing 9,000+ words a day, I still went on Wikipedia – and I don’t regret it. Why? Because when I’m spewing around trying to make characters react like they’re in a play, the characters are just emoting, and the beats, no matter how well motivated, could get replaced by something else.

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But when it strikes me that the place my characters area about visit looks like a basilica, I can do more than just write “basilica.” I can ask myself why I chose that word. I can look up the word “basilica” on Apple’s Dictionary app. I can drill through to famous basilicas like the Basilica of Saint Peter. I can think about how this place will be different from that, and start pulling out telling details. I can start to craft a space, to create staging, to create an environment that my characters can react to. Because emotions aren’t just inside us, or between us; they’re for something, for navigating this complex world with other humans at our side. If a group of people argues, no matter how charged, it’s just a soap opera. Put them in their own Germanic/Appalachian heritage family kitchen in the Dark Corner of South Carolina, on on the meditation path near an onsen run continuously by the same family for 42 generations, and the same argument can have a completely different ambiance – and completely different reactions.

The text I wrote using my characters reacting to the past plot, or even with GMC, may likely need a lot of tweaking: the point was to get them to a particular emotional, conceptual or plot space. The text I wrote with the characters reacting to things that were real, even if it needs tweaking, often crackles off the page, even in very rough form. It’s material I won’t want to lose – more importantly, material I wouldn’t have produced, if I hadn’t pushed myself to do National Novel Writing Month.

Up next, finishing a few notes and ideas – the book is very close to done – and then diving into contracts for Thinking Ink Press, and reinforcement learning policy gradients for the robot apocalypse, all while waiting for the shoe to drop on TCTM. Keep your fingers crossed that the book is indeed on its way out!

-the Centaur