A 2 meter exhaust port just beneath the main port

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I had decided to take out Aprils to do do Camp Nanowrimo, but as you can see, this was thwarted by my work to finish LIQUID FIRE, which spilled over into the beginning of the month. So since then, I’ve been racing uphill to try to get back on track … and as of a few days ago, I think I can at last say I’m almost there.

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What’s even more amazing is that I was able to keep up this pace even when I was out for Easter … and THEN after I caught the cruds on the flight home and ended up spending two days out sick. And it wasn’t even crashed out sick, either; we had some internal deadlines at work that I needed to keep moving forward, so I spent most of my sick days working from home, sitting on the front porch bundled up in a blanket with my work laptop on my lap, trying to massage a tricky chunk of data through our pipelines while I watched surreal scenes unfold around me, like one of our elderly neighbors getting taken to the hospital.


But I’ve grown good writing in the margins, over lunch and at dinner, whenever I can, in the corners. (I’m writing this blogpost at dinner at a nice Irish pub right now, itself squeezed in between afternoon writing group meetings and Sunday evening prep for work). So I was able to, somehow, put in my time each day massaging that data, then still spit out the chunk of words I needed, and not kill myself, or at least not make myself any sicker than I was. And by the end of the week, we had the candidate chunk of data we wanted, I had the words I wanted, and I was out a lot of cold medicine and cough drops.


The weekend was even better for me, with a great swathes of time spent Friday late night, Saturday afternoon and Sunday lunch and early evening chasing that 2 meter exhaust port just below the main port. Allmost there … now I’m just 300 words away from begin caught up. Hopefully, I’ll close that final gap late tonight. Wish me luck!

Oh yes, an excerpt:

“Dakota,” Terrance said, not turning his head towards me, eyes guiding the pointer on the screen. “When you guys go back to see this,” he said, reaching his head aside to puff at his air tube to rewind the footage, “I so want to be there.”

My heart fell. I didn’t think it was safe to take a quadriplegic into a war zone. But perhaps that was just me trying to shield him; we could work the security arrangements out. I opened my mouth to warn him of the risks, but just then, he puffed, and the video played.

“There,” Terrance said, the red crosshair of his eye tracker active again. “Watch for it!” At first I saw nothing, and grimaced as my yapping mug nattered on. I was rapidly growing tired of seeing this. Then the black form moved behind me—and in the red circle Terrance had laid out with his eye tracker … I saw the tail of my Mohawk brushed aside.

“Jesus!” I said, fear clutching my heart. “It touched me!”

Oooh … buggedy.

Now let’s blow this thing and go home!


Getting Some Traction on SPECTRAL IRON

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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

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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

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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.


SPECTRAL IRON gathering steam


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…


From my labors, I rested


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


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

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.


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!


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!