Mining that SPIRITUAL GOLD

Well, we’re getting ahead of the curve at last on SPIRITUAL GOLD … two days ahead.

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My writing retreat this weekend has paid off. I spent some time hanging out with the Treehouse Writers at the Linde Lane Tea Room in Dixon, California, then holed up in a hotel in downtown Davis, hanging out in bookstores and coffeehouses in an attempt to make some progress on SPIRITUAL GOLD. The actual day of the drive was a wash, but after that, I managed to get more than two days worth of words done in each day, and almost that today.

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Now at last I’m ahead of the curve, and if I can stay there for a few more days, I’ll win Camp Nano. More importantly, however, I’ve marched forward in the manuscript so I’m around Chapter 37 out of roughly 50, with much of the text of the remainder partially written and merely needing some ironing out. With luck, I’ll finish SPIRITUAL GOLD at the end of the month, and shortly thereafter, and then can begin editing Dakota Frosts #4-#6 together as one big trilogy.

Onward!

-the Centaur

Getting Momentum on SPIRITUAL GOLD

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As usual, it takes me some time to get back into a book, especially if I’ve spent the first few days of the month distracted by something like, uh, I dunno, scouting locations for the book.

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But, now, after about a week of concerted work, I’m getting my legs under me. Blood remains in the water, but it is receding.

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Should I include an excerpt? Ah, sure. Raw stuff, still needs more research, but, here you go:

“Hey, hey, hey,” I said. “Why would you want me to use the isolation tank?”

“Because Carrington got infected after a spirit journey she took here,” Heinz said. “A journey which just might have taken her into faerie, given our current theory. And since I have the magical affinity of a wet noodle, and wouldn’t know a faerie from a star on Broadway—”

“Troglodyte,” I muttered, glaring at him. “Fine, fine, fine, I’m the best suited for this … this suicide mission—”

“No!” Wilz said. “If you really think this will hurt you, no go. I don’t need the liability.”

I sighed, then stared at Heinz.

“In my professional judgment,” Heinz said, “if this was a normal infection, one of the hundreds of people who’ve used this isolation tank would already have been infected. If this was a magical infection, you would already have been infected by your prior exposure. And if there’s magic here at all … you’re the most likely one to find it.”

“Fine.” I said. “Fine—”

“I … will show you to the showers,” Wilz said.

Ten minutes later, I returned from a quick splashdown, holding tight to my body a big, warm, white fuzzy robe provided by Wilz, as Heinz looked at me with quite the smirk. I glared at him, then turned the glare on Wilz, who recoiled in a mix of surprise and curiosity.

“No commentary!” I said, peeling off the robe quickly, bare to my metal bikini. “Zipit!”

Wilz took the robe, then drew his hand across his mouth, glancing at Heinz.

“Okay,” Wilz said. “We’d rather not have to flush this water after each use, so—”

“Don’t say don’t pee in it,” I said, pointing at him. “I know that already! I’m an adult!”

“Yeah, well,” Heinz began.

“And you’re not!” I shot back.

“I didn’t personally put Doctor Orleans in the tank,” Wilz said. “I don’t know what was said, so I don’t know how to recreate the conditions that she, er, he, experienced while in there. All I can tell you is to lie down, to relax … and to keep your head above water.”

“I hope there’s a headrest,” I muttered.

“There is,” Wilz said. “Let me help you in—”

The Epsom salt laden water of the tank was warm, thick, almost tacky as I went in. The tank made soft booming noises as I moved, strangely muffled by the outer padding. Wilz helped me straighten out to level, then guided my head down to a horseshoe-shaped rest.

The door of the tank closed … and I was left in darkness.

Onward!

-the Centaur

SPIRITUAL GOLD in Progress

So this is NOT the cover for Dakota Frost #6, SPIRITUAL GOLD …

… but it is what I’m using as a cover for my Camp Nanowrimo page for July.

For those not in the know, much of the Dakota Frost series is written during National Novel Writing Month and the related Camp Nanowrimo challenges. For each of these, I take on the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month. This month, I’m working on Dakota Frost #6, SPIRITUAL GOLD.

Now, this may seem far away, as the latest Dakota Frost out is, #3, LIQUID FIRE, available wherever fine books are sold. But, to reduce the gap between books – and to increase the coherence between books, I’m writing the next three Dakota Frost books and the first three Cinnamon Frost books together, as one, giant, loosely-connected, six-part novel.

Dakota Frost’s next adventures have the working titles SPECTRAL IRON, PHANTOM SILVER, and SPIRITUAL GOLD. Running just behind each of these will be Cinnamon Frost’s first solo adventures, HEX CODE, BOT NET and ROOT USER. I’ve finished rough drafts of SPECTRAL IRON, PHANTOM SILVER, and HEX CODE, and hope to finish the rough draft of SPIRITUAL GOLD this month.

At that point, I’ll start trying to get the Dakota Frost trilogy beaten into shape, even though it will take me two more Nano pushes (at least) to finish up the slightly shorter Cinnamon Frost novels.

Regardless, hope to get these in your hands soon. Wish me luck!

-the Centaur

Taos Toolbox in the Taillights

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So I and my wife have an agreement: if it isn’t a public appearance, I don’t blog about travel until it’s over. Well, Taos Toolbox 2017 is over, and I can say that this was one of the greatest writing experiences of my life.

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Run by Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress, the Toolbox is a “graduate level” workshop for writers who’ve either gone through another workshop like Clarion, or have published something on their own. It was two solid weeks of instruction, critique and writing, complicated by a simultaneous deadline on my part for the Conference on Robot Learning; even despite staying up late many nights working on that paper, I had an amazing experience learning science fiction.

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I’ll flesh out more about the workshop over the next few weeks as I digest it, but as for now, let me just say that this boot camp for writers was a transformative experience which really gave me a much deeper appreciation about how to construct stories and how to tell them. And now … time for a little rest!

-the Centaur

Books of Secrets

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I used to believe that the secret is that there are no secrets. There’s no special diet that will evaporate away the pounds overnight, no special pencil that will instantly make you a great artist, no special practice that will solve all your problems at software development. There is, in short, no mystical food or enchanted pen or silver bullet that will take the place of the diligent application of hard work when you’re trying to solve a problem.

I used to believe that about books too – that there was no magic book filled with secrets.

I didn’t come to believe that overnight. I read a lot, and collect books even more; as a child I’d come home from the library tottering with piles of books, and when I got older and got tired of paying for late fees, I began amassing a library. I scour my home cities for volumes, and when I travel I harvest new places for their used bookstores, where obscure volumes are kept.

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In particular, I’ve collected books in my subject areas – artificial intelligence, cognitive science, robotics, physics, writing, alternative culture, science fiction, and urban fantasy. Now, decades later, my library’s grown to ten thousand volumes, over fifty bookshelves spread out over three different locations, filled with almost every conceivable tome on the areas of my interest.

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But there was a point, maybe not even five years ago, when I despaired of finding books that had the information I truly wanted. I’d searched and searched and could not find books that answered the questions I needed – usually technical details about problems in artificial intelligence. Eventually, I decided, there were no books of secrets which would help you quickly solve the problems that really mattered to you – that there were no magic books.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

There are books that are special. There are books which will quickly help you solve your problems, or which will rapidly help you gain insight into the world, or which will deeply enrich the quality of your life. There are, indeed, books that are magic.

I call them grimoires.

Now, the truth is, there still are no secrets. The word grimoire means “a book of magic spells,” but just like the spellbooks of legend, you can’t simply crack open one of the magic books I have in mind and get an instant result. You can’t even crack one of these books open and get an instant bad result: unlike the comically unfortunate Sorcerer’s Apprentice, if you flip open the master’s grimoire and attempt to apply the recipes unfiltered, you won’t get a runaway army of water-carrying broom-Terminators, but instead just some broken sticks and damp straw.

No, grimoires are books that you have to engage. Earlier I said there’s no magic diet, pencil, or practice that will solve all your problems. However, there are diets superior for losing weight, pencils that are great to draw with, and best practices which will prevent software problems. Unfortunately you can’t take advantage of them without willpower, effort and training.

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So too with grimoires. Intuitively I’d known they existed for a while, because even as I was giving up on grimoires, I still populated my shelves with them – Misner, Thorne and Wheeler’s Gravitation , Russel & Norvig’s Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach , Joyce’s Ulysses , and so on – and had even read some cover to cover, like The Feynman Lectures on Physics , Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science , and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged . I’d even started to recognize my mistake as I was reading the “GBC Book”: Goodfellow, Bengio’s, and Courville’s masterful Deep Learning tome.

But it was a book called The Springer Handbook of Robotics that brought the point home.

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I’m a roboticist, and I’d been struggling hard with a recalcitrant robot – not physically, of course, nor mentally, but programmatically: I was trying to get it to drive straight, and it was ramming itself straight into a wall. Once I spent more than a day and a half tearing apart its drive controller until I figured out the mathematics of what it was supposed to be doing well enough for me to figure out what it was actually doing wrong so I could ultimately figure out how to fix it.

Then I cracked open a chapter of The Springer Handbook of Robotics, Second Edition . This big red book came across my radar at my previous robotics project, where half a dozen people had the first edition on their shelves – and my officemate, Torsten Kröger, turned out to be the multimedia editor of the new edition. I had more than enough books to read, so I resolved to wait for the new edition to come out, to buy it to support my buddy Torsten, and to get him to sign it.

Eventually, the Handbook of Robotics landed on my doorstep, all 2,200 pages of it – the book is thicker than most books are wide and some books are tall. After getting Torsten to sign it – just carrying the book around caused the spine to crack a little – I decided to spend a little time reading a few chapters related to the work I had been doing before putting the book away.

I cracked open the chapter on navigation … and found the math for my robot problem.

This wasn’t something I had to dig at: it was right in front of me. The book had a chapter on my problem, and almost right at the start it reviewed all the math needed for a basic approach to the problem. Had I read it before I worked on the robot controller, I would have immediately understood that the code I was reading was implementing those very fundamental equations, and would have solved my problem in a half an hour rather than a day and a half. I realized that this book – which I discovered by going into robotics – is something I needed to have read before going into robotics.

Now, realistically, no-one can read a 2,200 page book prior to solving their problem … but, as Torsten explained to me, there’s something else going on here. Most of this enormous book isn’t relevant to my interests … but what is in the parts that are relevant to my interests are just the foundational results that are needed to understand that area of interest, and those results are annotated with references to the papers in which those results are derived and applied.

A true grimoire isn’t simply a comprehensive collection of all possible information on a topic – we call that a manual, and while grimoires are often comprehensive, and there are manuals that count as grimoires, manuals in general lack a true grimoire’s other attributes: focus, insight, and orientation. A true grimoire doesn’t just comprehensively exhaust its subject; it’s focused on some aspect of the subject, brings insight to bear that you can then use to orient you to the broader field.

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Inspired by my experience with Goodfellow, Bengio and Courville’s Deep Learning book, with The Springer Handbook of Robotics, and to a lesser extent my experiences with fictional grimoires like James Joyce’s Ulysses, I’ve decided to start reviewing them here.

Next up: my criteria for reviewing a Canonical Grimoire … and how they differ from Grimoires by Reputation, Classic Reference Books, Thin Little Volumes, and their fictional counterparts, Tours de Force.

-the Centaur

Applied Plotonium at Clockwork Alchemy

Boosting the signal … I’ll be joining my friend David Colby’s panel APPLIED PLOTONIUM at 10am on Sunday at Clockwork Alchemy:

Applied Plotonium
Monterey – Sunday 10:00 AM

Applied Plotonium is a discussion and series of examples of worlds that are, in general, 100% scientifically accurate save for a SINGLE element of applied plotonium – a single element or feature that is downright fantastical. Eagerly explores extrapolation ending in exposition!
Presenter: David Colby

Moderator: Roger Que
Panelists: Anthony Francis, Michael Tierney

David Colby is the author of the hard science fiction young adult novel DEBRIS DREAMS (think “The Hunger Games meets Gravity“) and proposed the panel to explore his love of making the science in science fiction not suck.

In addition to David and me, we’ve also shanghaied, er, convinced two of our  mutual friends to join in: writer and chemist Michael Tierney from the Treehouse Writers will join as a panelist, and the writer and computer scientist Roger Que from Write to the End will serve as our moderator.

Drop in – you’ll enjoy yourself!

-the Centaur

The Centaur at Clockwork Alchemy

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This Memorial Day Weekend, I’ll be appearing at the Clockwork Alchemy steampunk convention! I’m on a whole passel of panels this year, including the following (all in the Monterey room near the Author’s Alley, as far as I know):

Friday, May 26
4PM: NaNoWriMo – Beat the Clock! [Panelist]

Saturday, May 27
12NOON: Working with Editors [Panelist]
1PM: The Science of Airships [Presenter]
5PM: Versimilitude in Fiction [Panelist]

Sunday, May 28
10AM: Applied Plotonium [Panelist]
12NOON: Organizing an Anthology [Panelist]
1PM: Instill Caring in Readers [Panelist]
2PM: Overcoming Writer’s Block [Presenter]

Monday, May 29
11AM: Past, Present, Future – Other! [Moderator]

Of course, if you don’t want to hear me yap, there are all sorts of other reasons to be there. Many great authors will be in attendance in the Author’s Alley:

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There’s a great dealer’s room and a wonderful art show filled with steampunk maker art:

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For yet another more year, we’ll be co-hosted with Fanime Con, so there will be buses back and forth and fans of both anime and steampunk in attendance:

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As usual, I will have all my latest releases, including Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine, the steampunk novel I have like been promising you all like for ever!

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In addition to my fine books, there will also be new titles from Thinking Ink Press, including the steampunk anthologies TWELVE HOURS LATER, THIRTY DAYS LATER, and SOME TIME LATER!

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I think I have about as much fun at Clockwork Alchemy as I do at Dragon Con, and that’s saying something. So I hope you come join us, fellow adventurers, in celebrating all things steampunk!

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-the Centaur

Oh Myyy!

 

Wow. I guess a lot of books are going to be waiting for me when I get home tonight … either the shipment of LATER anthologies for Clockwork Alchemy has arrived, or I really messed up my last Amazon Prime order. Be sure to come by Clockwork Alchemy to check them out, or look on Amazon!