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Viiictory to the Twenty-Fifth Power!

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SO! After yet another National Novel Writing Month, I have added yet another 50,000 words of rough draft to my writing output - making this the fourteenth time I have won Nano, and the twenty-fifth time I have won one of the Nanowrimo or CampNanowrimo challenges! Woohoo!

This month wasn't so bad, though there was a bit of a dip around the time I was writing report cards for our robot learning systems ("Little Johnny 5 tries very hard, but needs to work on his cornering!"). But, as usual, the week I took off for Thanksgiving "vacation" put me back on track:

Yes, one day I did indeed get 6000+ words written, which was a record for the 25th of the month, but nowhere near my record of 9074 words - written on the 30th(!) of November 2016, in what I recall was a delerious mad dash sitting on my sofa wracking my brain to produce enough words to make my goal for PHANTOM SILVER. Frankly speaking, that sucked, and since then I have redoubled my efforts to ensure that I'm never THAT far behind.

So this month looks typical. It's interesting to me how much Nano has become a part of my life. First tried in 2002, first made into a yearly habit in 2007, and first made into a thrice-yearly habit (Camp April, Camp July and November Nano) in 2014-2015 ... now I've done Nano 27 times, with 25 successes, for 1.36 million words of rough draft ... it's a heavy feeling.

Do I want to keep doing this? Absolutely. I wish I had more time to, like, edit my books, so I didn't have a backlog of 6 finished novels, 2 novellas, and 5 partially finished novels. (Gulp!) But I like having a roof more, and the time and money to pay for my laptop, my nice dinners, and my late nite teas and mochas, so, teaching robots to learn by day it is, for the time being.

One of the most interesting things for me is how Nano breaks through your creative barriers. When I started on MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE, then titled TWO YEARS OF HELL, I had the idea of writing an action-adventure steampunk hard science fiction story around computer science concepts, and conceived it as a connected tale made of 16 short stories  --- two to the fourth power, a number beloved of many computer scientists.

But as I've written, the story has sprawled out from my original design, and there are at least two, perhaps three set pieces which may demand their own stories. Or perhaps existing stories will have to be cut or deleted. I don't know; I just create the worlds, but once they exist, they follow the laws of physics (plot and character physics). Here's an excerpt from one of those diversions, which may or may not make it into the final design:

The dark doorway loomed before her like a maw. Jeremiah steeled herself: she had been her at best a handful of times, but she felt like she knew every rivet of the damned hatch, felt like she was right back to waiting on the damn Keepers while they prepared themselves.

Oh, she did not, did not, did not want to be back here.

Yet she was, not a child, but a Major. She straightened, nodded.

“Major?” asked Thompson, looking back at her. “You look a bit green.”

Jeremiah smiled, to give herself a moment to speak. What would a cracker-jack young major say? Or … wasn’t that putting on airs? What would General Weiss have said? Perhaps she should just be … honest?

“Good eye, sir, but I don’t just look it: I feel it too,” Jeremiah said, forcing a grin—was that fake, or did she just want to take this in the best humor possible? “Every time I’m here, it takes me right back to my childhood.”

“Childhood?” Thompson asked. The white hairs in his saltpepper eyebrows sparkled as his brow beetled. “Why were you here as a child?”

“I, foolishly perhaps, asked to see the thing that killed my mother,” Jeremiah said. “And … foolishly perhaps, the powers that be let the granddaughter of Benjamin Willstone get what she asked for.”

Thompson stared at her strangely, then turned away.

“I would have let you,” he said at last. “Seems to have been the first step into forming a fine soldier who doesn’t flinch.”

“Oh, I assure you, I flinch,” Jeremiah said. “Just not from duty.”

“That’s the Major Willstone of my reports,” Thompson said. He leaned over and said a bit cheekily. “I hear you scream like a girl even when you’re firing both blasters at point-blank range—”

“Why, I never—” Jeremiah colored. “Well, that does speak to character—”

“Yes, yes, it does,” Thompson said, “and to good sense. Alright, in fairness: the report just said ‘cried out in shock before blasting the thing,’ but one could imagine the girlish scream—”

“Oi!” Jeremiah said. “Wait, what thing was this?”

“Er,” Thompson said, as the hatch opened. “I … don’t recall. Frankly, Major, with your record, the monsters start to blur—”

“Not all of them,” Jeremiah said, striding forward with a projected confidence she absolutely did not feel. “Have a look at that.”

Enjoy. Back to writing!

-the Centaur

My Novels and Nano

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SO! I love to write, and four of my novels are published - FROST MOON, BLOOD ROCK, LIQUID FIRE, about magical tattoo artist Dakota Frost, and JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, about steampunk heroine Jeremiah Willstone.

You can read about the published ones at my Novels page, but even though life got a bit away from me this year, I haven't stopped writing - I have six more finished novels in the editing queue, not to mention half a dozen more in process.

And every single one of these novels, published or not, was largely written in National Novel Writing Month in November (or its sister challenge Camp Nanowrimo in April and July).

Nanowrimo is a 501(c)(3)that helps people find their creative voices - and certainly helped me transition from mostly not-writing to writing over a million words of fiction! (Way over, now).

Every year, I donate to the Nanowrimo foundation to help them not just keep the lights on but to support young writers everywhere with their Young Writers Program. This year, consider helping them bring literacy and creativity to more people all around the world!

-the Centaur

Work, Finish, Publish!

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So I think a lot about how to be a better scientist, and during my reading I found a sparkly little gem by one of the greatest experimentalists of all time, Michael Faraday. It's quoted in Analysis and Presentation of Experimental Results as above, but from Wikiquote we get the whole story:

"The secret is comprised in three words — Work, finish, publish."

His well-known advice to the young William Crookes, who had asked him the secret of his success as a scientific investigator, as quoted in Michael Faraday (1874) by John Hall Gladstone, p. 123

Well said. The middle part often seems the hardest for many people, in my experience: it's all too easy to work on something without finishing it, or to rush to publish something before it's really ready. The hard part is pushing through all three in the right order with the appropriate level of effort.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Michael Faraday, Photograph by Maull & Polyblank. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

The Sole Test of Any Idea

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Inspirational physicist Richard Feynman once said "the sole test of any idea is experiment." I prefer the formulation "the sole test of any idea open to observation is experiment," because opening our ideas to observation - rather than relying on just belief, instrumentation, or arguments - is often the hardest challenge in making progress on otherwise seemingly unresolvable problems.

-the Centaur

Renovation in Process

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So you may have noticed the blog theme and settings changing recently; that's because I'm trying to get some kind of slider or visual image above the fold. I love the look of the blog with the big banner image, but I'm concerned that people just won't scroll down to see what's in the blog if there's nothing on the first page which says what I do.

So I'll be experimenting. Stay tuned!

-the Centaur

Pictured: Yeah, this isn't the only renovation going on.

GROW, Every Day

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So I read a lot and write a lot and occasionally edit what I write and even more rarely, something gets sent to an editor and turned into a publication. But this seems slow, for always there are more thoughts that I have in my head than I seem to have time to put onto a page and share.

Also I seem to get stuck in ruts. Actually I like ruts - I’m in one now, eating near my house and bank and pet food store at a restaurant with really good iced tea - but only ruts that are good for getting things done, like ruts in a well-trodden road.

When ruts leave you spinning your wheels in the mud, it’s time for a change. This can be as simple as engaging the locking hubs on your stuck all-wheel drive truck to get out of the mud, but you have to know that those locks are there to engage them. (True story).

So in order to grow, you need to learn. But if you learn, and you don’t tell anyone, then when you die, what you learn is gone. Fortunately, at the dawn of history humans learned how to speak to the dead, if only the dead are first willing to share, through their stories.

I don’t recommend waiting until you’re dead to tell your story. (Most people find that disturbing). Instead, it’s better to organize your thoughts - to reflect on what happened, what you’ve learned, and to package it the lesson with its context so it’s easy to share, like knowledge in a little case.

But I don’t do that all that well. I read for entertainment, and I occasionally write things down, but I rarely reflect, and I even more rarely share. But in my attempt to grow, I’ve read some things that made me think, and it made me want to find a way to make me share.

I like to LEARN, of course, usually some technical material related to writing or my job, and I’m now consciously reading books to GROW, like Art Matters by Neil Gaiman or It’s Not How Good You Are but How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden. But I don’t take time to ORGANIZE those thoughts, nor do I seem to take time to SHARE them. That made me think.

I already take time to LEARN and GROW. I’ve already decided I need to take more time to ORGANIZE my thoughts, to be a better scientist. Can I also take some time to SHARE? Maybe I can put all those together into, like, an acronym! And that acronym will help me do it!

Okay, then, let’s go: LEARN-GROW-ORGANIZE-SHARE. LGOS!

Well.

That’s a terrible acronym.

Alright, alright, if first you don’t succeed, go home and rethink your life. Or something like that, like rethink your acronym. LEARN and GROW need to come before ORGANIZE and SHARE, but G is a better thing to start a word with, as GL or GR is a more common start than LG.

And I’m doing it to GROW. So perhaps it could be GROW LEARN, or GROW READ, naturally followed by ORGANIZE. That gets us GRO, which followed by S for SHARE is one letter short of GROSS; but what if instead we got to the point, and said what we have to do: WRITE.

So, here’s what I recommend to you (well, actually, to me): take some time every day to

  • GROW yourself by
  • READing to learn,
  • ORGANIZing your thoughts, and share them by
  • WRITING

GROW-READ-ORGANIZE-WRITE: GROW. Why, that’s nicely recursive: GROW to GROW! Since it is recursive, let me try this GROW thing out with this very GROW thought.

There.

How did it go?

-Anthony

Author Signing Now!

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Marriott, bottom floor, International Hall South. Follow the signs for the author signing, you can't miss it!

Author Reading: Saturday at 11:30!

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Loki the Cat and Anthony sitting on a bench reading a book

So my author reading IS on tomorrow, though you can't search for it by name (my name appears in the panel description, but not in the panelists), it does show up on the list at 11:30 tomorrow (um, today, Saturday):

Reading Session: Anthony Francis
Time: Sat 11:30 am Location: Marietta - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis)

I'll be reading from a mixture of my fiction and nonfiction, urban fantasy and steampunk, published works and unpublished works, and maybe even a preview of the Jeremiah Willstone radio drama!

Or, since this got finalized on the schedule at the last minute, I might just be reading a book by myself in a quiet room. Either way, so full of win! :-D

-the Centaur

P.S. It appears my author signing is still on the schedule, so I will also be appearing at 2:30 on Sunday:

Title: Author Signings
Time: Sun 02:30 pm Location: International Hall South 4-5 - Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis)

Don't miss it! (I won't.)

Appearing: Social Media for Authors

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So I will be appearing at "Social Media for Authors" at 4pm at Hyatt Embassy CD. Perhaps they're including me as the counterexample. Here's my advice to you on social media for authors: if you get into it, consistently engage it, and don't let anyone bait you into being a jerk. Imagine anything you say could end up on the front page of the New York Times, and you'll be fine.

-the Centaur

Dragon Con 2019!

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Time Machine Scooter at Dragon Con

Woohoo, I made it! After what seems like a year and a day of foo, I am finally back at Dragon Con! I had a wonderful dinner with writer friends, wandered the show floor seeing all the great costumes on the moral equivalent of Preview Night, and had a nice cocktail in the hotel bar, where I apparently sold two Muggles on Doctor Who! (We also talked about the Three Stooges, Wayne's World, and bingewatching Agents of SHIELD).

My reading session this year is in theory Saturday at 11:30 in Marietta [Hyatt] though it for some reason hasn't shown up on the schedule (and they have an author signing listed for Sunday instead). Investigating. In the meantime, my schedule this year is moderate:

Social Media as an Effective Tool for Authors
Social Media is an author's best friend/worst enemy. This panel discusses how to maximize the benefits without the side effects.
Time: Fri 04:00 pm Location: Embassy CD - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists:Moderator: Bill Fawcett, Anthony Francis, Tyra A Burton, Anya Martin, Trisha J. Wooldridge, James Nettles)

When Life Intrudes
Writers often seem impervious to their surroundings. But occasionally life throws us a problem we have to face head on. How do we manage career & crisis at the same time?
Time: Fri 10:00 pm Location: Embassy CD - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Holly Sullivan McClure, Katherine Kurtz, Nancy Knight, Anthony Francis)

Reading Session: Anthony Francis
Time: Sat 11:30 am Location: Marietta - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis)

Fightin' 'n' Writin'
How to write realistic fight scenes--whether utilizing guns, edged weapons, martial arts...or something not yet invented.
Time: Sat 10:00 pm Location: Embassy CD - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: John D. Ringo, Clay and Susan Griffith, Anthony Francis, Alison Sky Richards, R M Meluch)

Stitch & Witch
We are getting crafty for a bit. Feel free to bring projects to share or work on! While we explore the role that art, crafts, & hobbies play for characters & worlds.
Time: Sun 11:30 am Location: Embassy EF - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Jody Lynn Nye, Anthony Francis)

Transformations: Shapeshifter Magic
Urban Fantasy features many types of shapeshifters. Our panel of authors will discuss the type of magic used by their characters & where their inspiration regarding it is rooted.
Time: Mon 11:30 am Location: Chastain 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: D.R. Perry, Tina Glasneck, Jennifer St. Giles, Aaron Crash, Anthony Francis)

When life intrudes? Oh, I got this.

-the Centaur