I have to fall in love with a story

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My fundamental philosophy about writing is very simple: I want to have fun, I want my readers to have fun, and I hope, if we’re both lucky, that they learn something.

I’ve long understood that the third part of this troika, the learning, is both a product and a cause of the mammoth amount of research I do for even the simplest pieces. (And yes, I did look up Fat Albert on Wikipedia just to write the first sentence of this supposedly throwaway blogpost).

I’ve also understood that the second part, my readers having fun, is why I need to constantly work to hone my craft. That’s why I don’t self-publish, but work with a publisher with a strong editor who serves as a gatekeeper and holds my work to a high standard. That’s why I attend a writing group; that’s why I work with beta readers; and that’s why I’m writing a monthly column on writing called The Centaur’s Pen over at the Write to the End blog.

But only tonight did I realize the first part is why I need to fall in love with my own stories. When I’m writing a story, I can power through it if I have to, daydreaming sequences inspired by music, character and knowledge, weaving those scattered fragments together with the rules of plot and conflict, and winnowing the chaff until what’s left is a cohesive whole.

But I’m better off if I fall in love with a story. I need characters to spring to life in my books and derail them, like Cinnamon in FROST MOON or Beneficenitor in HEX CODE (in progress). I need settings l fall in love with, like the Werehouse in FROST MOON and BLOOD ROCK or the Werehold in HEX CODE. I need vehicles on which I want to lavish detail, like the doomed Abadulon in DELIVERANCE (unreleased) or Independence in MAROONED (forthcoming). And I need scenes that I desperately want to write, like Dakota’s challenging encounter with Transomnia in FROST MOON or her somewhat different encounter with the Streetscribe at the end of BLOOD ROCK.

I realized this need for love of my own work when I caught myself daydreaming about the first encounter of the Freemanship Independence with a mammoth Dresanian starship near the end of BESIEGED, the third book I have planned in the Seren series. A clip of “The Planet Krypton” shuffled through my iPod, I realized how the aftermath of the climactic battle could be shot in the movie … and then began daydreaming how all the characters would react to what’s happening.

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Visualizing the Independence docking against the backdrop of a giant door like a Michael Whelan painting, a scenario I can visualize so strongly I was inspired to scribble it down on the spot, the question occurred to me: “Would the hero Serendipity finally secure sanctuary for her people … or would the war criminal Seren finally be called to account for her crimes?” And how would the crew of Independence react if someone else came to claim someone they’d chosen to claim as their own?

That’s falling in love with your story: when you think about it so much that random clips of music inspire you to write scenes, but you don’t just visualize them, you are forced to think through how all the characters will react to what happened, how it fits their own personalities, the setting, the story.

That’s what you should strive for in your writing: a love for your story that goes all the way down to its bones.

-the Centaur

The Big Apple

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Prior to Thursday, I’d visited New York maybe five to seven times … all total for probably less than 24 hours. Maybe even less than 12: four, or maybe 6 brief layovers, and one 6 hour trip for a product announcement when I worked for Enkia, where quite frankly I should have stayed home because I just stood behind our CEO Ashwin in a show of support and then missed my scheduled interview because me and my interviewer couldn’t find the Enkia booth. So I felt I’d missed out.

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But now my beautiful wife works in upstate New York, and for a rare occasion knew what her schedule was, so we’re taking the weekend off together in a belated birthday / Valentine’s Day / repeated honeymoon extravaganza. And the first thing you notice about New York? The traffic sucks. HA! Not really, I’ve been to Boston, Atlanta and San Francisco, not to mention Athens and Tokyo, so the traffic here is just fine. No, no, the first thing you notice in New York is the buildings.

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Like Chicago, New York has wonderful architecture, but where Chicago is ornate, New York is monolithic.

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Spires stretch again and again far up into the sky.

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The second thing you notice is how friendly all the people are. Unfortunately I’d been prejudiced against New York City by a few bad encounters with arrogant New Yorkers – one of whom called Atlanta, the ninth largest city in the U.S., a “small town.” I shouldn’t take offense at that, of course, but having been from a town less than a tenth of the size of Atlanta … and knowing that THAT wasn’t even a small town, I had the temerity to correct her … at which point she seriously tried to defend that proposition, demonstrating in one short conversation that she had no knowledge of small towns, the properties of the power distribution, or the concept of orders of magnitude (and this from a supposed math major). One bad encounter led to pure prejudice, I admit it. Well, actually three bad encounters – two involving traffic cops waving cars into places they shouldn’t have gone. So three bad encounters led to pure prejudice, I freely admit it.

So I was expecting the worst when I arrived … but in my whole time here everyone has been so nice.

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True, there have been a few stereotypical “New York Characters” lurking in the backgrounds – clueless traffic cops who waved cars out into oncoming traffic, a pedestrian who blithely walked out into traffic and then kicked at the car that nearly ran him over, an ‘ey, buddy, watch where you’re going’ wiseguy in a cafe, and an overweight construction worker who looked straight out of central casting. But they’ve been extras, off the main stage.

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The cab drivers are all nice, and even roll down their windows to give directions to other motorists. The waiter at a tiny cafe which charges outrageous New York prices is careful to list every separate charge “because I don’t want you to be surprised” and to warn diners if they’ve ordered a dish that might take longer than the others. Parking garage attendants say “hey, no problem buddy” when you’ve unexpectedly got to hold up the line a bit to remove something from your car. Bookstores don’t ask you to check your bags; bookstore clerks try to be crystal clear about what they can and can’t look up for you out of the textbook computer. Shoe salesmen don’t take offense at “made from real leather, made in the USA” but actually help you find things, and chat with you about the music while your partner tries on shoes. Even the security guards were really nice.

So yneh, stereotypes of New York. Pfui on you.

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The next things you notice are the vibrant street culture and the vibrant mix of people. The bottom levels of every building seemed filled with shops, restaurants, and what have you, and the people milling about are more varied than almost any other place I’ve been to save perhaps Washington D.C. or global monuments like Stonehenge, Loch Ness or Olympic National Park.

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Like other cultured urban centers I’ve been in, such as San Francisco, certain parts of San Jose, and certain parts of Atlanta, there’s a definite … cultural class barrier. It’s hard to describe, but the first time I went to Santana Row in San Jose I definitely didn’t feel welcome: there was a certain snootiness, or projected disapproval, for people who didn’t quite fit in.

Unlike my beloved Santana Row, however, where I still don’t feel like I fit in because I’m the guy lugging the bookbag looking for a quiet corner coffeehouse while everyone else is trying to look hip, young and single, in New York I find it is pretty easy to look around, to see how people are adapting to their environment, and to fit right in.

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Or maybe I’m just a goofball wearing a scarf because it was frigging cold (but not like Boston).

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There are many beautiful things we’ve seen in New York … gleaming skyscrapers, ancient buildings, wonderful restaurants, variegated shops, the Stomp show and many, many people in fantastic clothing and even more awesome boots. 🙂 But the thing I’m most interested in? Well, you guessed it: the books….

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Tomorrow it’s the 9/11 Memorial, the Metropolitan Museum … and whatever else we want.

-the Centaur

Now that’s a sign we have a protagonist on our hands…

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Above is a wordle of the near-completed first draft (as opposed to rough draft) of THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE. Wordles are great visualization tools for your texts, and this one reveals … well, yes, Jeremiah is the protagonist.

Actually, now that I think of it, the full title of the book is JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE so I should have expected that her name would bubble to the top.

Jeremiah’s also the protagonist of “Steampunk Fairy Chick“, which was published recently in the UnCONventional anthology now available on Amazon … why yes, that was a shameless plug, why do you ask?

-the Centaur

“Stranded” Away

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“Stranded”, the novelette which is the first third of the first book of my new young adult space pirates trilogy, is away to the editor! It came in somewhat over the desired length, so I hope she doesn’t hurt me, but it is the first third of the first book of a planned trilogy, so some of that length is unavoidable. (My awesome beta and gamma readers liked it. 🙂

“Stranded” tells the story of Serendipity, a young centauress explorer who must come to the aid of a shipload of children who’ve crashlanded on a world she wanted to claim as her own. It’s got aliens and fungi, spaceships and rayguns, and plush robots and kung fu, but it’s really about how people should be treated and learning to stand up for what’s right.

Here’s a teaser, illustrated thanks to my work on 24 Hour Comics Day:

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Sirius flinched as sizzling grey bullets tumbled around him in zero-gee. The grey dented veligen pellets rattled through the cramped innards of Independence’s life support plant, stinging his nose with the scent of bitter almonds as his hands strained at the yellow-striped master fuse. The girls shouted, their guns fired, more bullets twanged around him, ricocheting off the ancient, battered equipment, striking closer with every shot—but Sirius just gripped the hot, humming tube harder, braced both booted feet, and pulled.

Andromeda and Artemyst screamed for him to stop. Dijo, the engineer, screamed for the shooting to stop. Even the air screamed, out a bullet hole in a vacuum duct near his feet. But with every second, Independence shot a half million clicks farther into the deep, flying away from the Beacon that was their only hope of survival, so Sirius didn’t stop: he just screamed too, pulling, pulling, jerking—until the master fuse popped out and he shot free, bursting the hatch open.

Sirius flew out of the life support service chamber into Independence’s cavernous cargo hold. His head clanged off a handrail, knocking him into a dizzy spin in zero-gee. He smacked into the tumbling brassfiber grille of the hatch he’d knocked free, halving his spin—and leaving him right in the crosshairs of Dijo, Artemyst and Andromeda, all clipped to orange handrails far out of his reach. All had their guns on him, red laser sights on, green safety lights off.

Then the ship’s lighting flickered, and the whine of the air cycler slowly spun down.

“Halfway Boy!” Andromeda said, staring at the yellow and black striped master fuse in Sirius’s hands, her eyes as wild as the spray of feathers sticking out of her snakeskin cowl. She motioned to Dijo, who kicked off towards the life support plant. “What have you done?”

“Saved all our lives,” Sirius said, still dizzy, still spinning. “You can thank me later.”

Assuming the editor doesn’t put me in the hospital over the length issue, we hope the story will be out in an anthology later this year. “Stranded’s” parent novel, MAROONED, will hopefully be out mid 2012. So I guess the above is really a teaser. Sorry about that. Well, not really. I hope you enjoy!

-the Centaur

(No) More Procrastination

Finally finished my “From Nano to Novel” pep talk for the National Novel Writing Month site … should be coming out later this month to the donors list. (What? You’re not a Nanowrimo donor? You can fix that here: https://store.lettersandlight.org/donations).

But I’ve posted that to Facebook and to Google+. Posting it again here is, I think, a good idea to make sure people know what I’m up to, but in another way it’s just procrastination … I’ve got the gamma comments on “Stranded” to work on and this is not that.

Back to work!

-the Centaur

Last gamma comments for STRANDED in…

Alright, the last gamma reader comments for “Stranded” are in. (Gamma, because this is actually the second round of beta readers. 🙂

“Stranded” is the first novelette of three in a planned YA space adventure novel with the working title MAROONED. This will be part of a trilogy including MAROONED, PURSUED, BESIEGED, SHANGIAIED, COMMANDEERED … oh damnit I’ve done it again, haven’t I?

“Stranded” is also the novelette I adapted for 24 Hour Comics Day. Don’t know if I’ll get back to that as I have already 3 books plotted out in this series and parts of the next two outlined.

Hope to get “Stranded” the novelette out to the editor in the next two weeks for inclusion in an anthology maybe later this year (with MAROONED coming out next year we hope). When “Stranded” is away, then it’s back to LIQUID FIRE (finishing the draft) and THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE (polishing the draft to send to beta readers).

-the Centaur