Archive for July, 2016

One Day Your Strength Will Fail

Sunday, 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

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

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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

To think, I could be in epic crowds right now!

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

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And instead, I’m eating veggie quesadillas with salmon, reading about neural networks and reinforcement learning, and waiting to find if my jury number is going to be called. In truth, I miss Comic-Con this year, but I only have myself to blame for not renewing my professional registration, and in truth I need the time to work on PHANTOM SILVER.

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As you can see, I’m way behind, in part because of my Tahoe trip, in part because I’m also trying to finish THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, and in part because work is cuh-RAY-zee. But I’m making progress; I just cracked 20,000 added words..

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Back to work. Comic-Con, next year.

-the Centaur

Hashtag #stormofghosts

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

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Once again, starting behind on Camp Nano, but I am starting to get a little traction on the story, thanks to a lot of help from my friends. Of course, the most important thing is taking this week off for vacation, so I’m cutting myself a little slack here – but I plan to take one full day to just get caught up on writing. Hopefully soon. But at least tonight I solved two major problems in the story – how the climax works out, and how and why a couple characters that seemed to get dropped from the story can come back with a vengeance. Onward, fellow adventurers!

-the Centaur

P.S. Upon uploading this, I noticed I made a mistake – I counted writing done yesterday the 5th as being today the 6th (it’s just after midnight). The role of posting about Nanowrimo is to reinforce the purpose of National Novel Writing Month – to provide a public benchmark for your private achievement. Many people are runners, but a marathon provides a specific, external, timed goal at which you have to participate to succeed — and at which you fail if you don’t go the distance that everyone else is at the time everyone else is. My buddy Nathan Vargas worries that this can create a failure mentality, and I agree at that; many people don’t need to be exposed to the possibility of failure, but instead encouraged to success. But as my buddy David Cater knows, a marathon can push you to do things that you never would otherwise – and Nanowrimo can do the same. But that external accountability only works if you externalize it – and that’s why I sign up for Camp Nanowrimo, and why I post my writing goals here. I want to write more than 150,000 words a year – and I rely on all of you to help me do it. Onward!

Happy Birthday America!

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Today marks the 240th anniversary of the most important civic event in the history of humankind, the founding of America – the first nation founded on the principle that the purpose of the government is to defend the liberty of all human beings, rather than to protect the privileges of a particular tribe of people who live in a region. We didn’t get it all right at first – it actually took almost a hundred and fifty years – but it’s now an idea shared by peoples and governments all around the globe, notably in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So, to celebrate, I hope you all freely joined with friends and family to celebrate your freedom to do so, and then got to watch things explode. Because that last part may not be part of the universal fabric of human rights, but that’s the American way!

Camp Nano July 2016: PHANTOM SILVER

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

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National Novel Writing Month is November, but the Camp version – Camp Nanowrimo – has rolled around yet again, and I am returning to finish the final part of PHANTOM SILVER, which will be Dakota Frost Book 5. For my own entertainment, I put together the above cover, which will NOT be the cover of the final book – but it’s teaching me more about cover design.

http://campnanowrimo.org/campers/xenotaur/novels/phantom-silver-273805

Magical tattoo artist Dakota Frost just wants to raise her adopted children in peace, but when a routine film shoot at a haunted house awakens a real ghost and an ancient curse, she finds herself in a race to prevent the devious phantom from hurting her family … if the curse hidden in the family silver doesn’t kill her first.

Sounds exciting! What’s more exciting to me is that after a long conversation with the estimable Gayle Schultz, I’ve found a way to resolve the climax which could only appear in a Dakota Frost book – or maybe in a Jim Butcher book if he got on a lot of drugs. Now I have a destination – time to finish the drive.

Onward!

-the Centaur