I Have Landed at Clockwork Alchemy

May 24th, 2014

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I have landed at Clockwork Alchemy. (Technically, I arrived yesterday). In 11 minutes, I am appearing on a panel on Real Women in the Victorian Era, even though it is not listed on my personal schedule.

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Oh, and I almost forgot: this is my very first booth of my own!

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More in a bit…

-the Centaur

The Weird Experience of Marketing Yourself

May 21st, 2014

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This Memorial Day weekend, I will be at the Clockwork Alchemy conference, appearing on three panels (Real Women in Victorian Times Saturday at noon, Avoiding Historical Mistakes Sunday at noon, and Victorian Technology, Sunday at 1) and giving one talk (my old standby, The Science of Airships, Sunday at 4).

Since I won’t be at my table the whole time, I decided to print up a series of postcards for all of my books using the service at Moo.com, which I and my wife have found to be great for printing customized business cards with a variety of artwork on the cover. I decided to do one for each book, showing the cover on one side and a blurb on the back.

But then I discovered that, just like for the business cards themselves, while you can have many different covers on the front, you get only one choice for the back. So what should go on that single back cover? What should it market? Then I realized: I don’t have a book coming out right away. These cards actually have to market … me.

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Ulp.

More precisely, the cards have to market my work. But I’m not a single-series author; I can’t (yet) pull a George R. R. Martin and just say “author of Game of Thrones,” especially not at a steampunk convention when my most prominent series, Dakota Frost, is actually urban fantasy. “Anthony Francis, author of Dakota Frost – who? Author of what? Ok, fine … but why is he here?”

So I have to list not just one series, but all of them, and not just list them, but say what they’re about.

After some thought, I decided to use some of my own comic art that I’d previously used on my business cards as a backdrop, but to focus the content of the cards on my writing, not my comics (sorry, f@nu fiku and Blitz Comics … there just wasn’t enough room on the cards or poster), unifying all of my books under a theme of “The Worlds of Anthony Francis”. I feel like breaking out in hives when I write that. It sounds so damn aggrandized and pompous. But strictly speaking … it’s accurate.

One of my worlds is the fantastic space of the Allied universe, where genetically engineered centaurs hop from world to world like skipping stones in the river (collected in the anthology STRANDED). Another is the hyper-feminist alternate history steampunk adventures of Jeremiah Willstone (collected in the anthologies UnCONventional and DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME). And yet another is the world of Dakota Frost, Skindancer, and the magic tattoos she can bring to life (FROST MOON, BLOOD ROCK, and the forthcoming LIQUID FIRE). And I hope you choose to read all of them! Enter the worlds, indeed.

But if I want people to read them, I need to tell people about them, in terms that make people, I dunno, actually want to read the books. Normally it’s a publisher who writes that copy, but they’re generally marketing a book, not me. I don’t yet have a publicist, and even if I did, the entire point of me is to do as many of the tasks of creative production myself as is practical, so I can speak at least quasi-intelligently about the process – case in point, the graphic design of the postcard above, which will be a blog post in its own right. But this isn’t about that part of the process; it’s about the feeling.

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One thing I’ve learned is that no-one knows that you write unless you actually tell them about it, and no-one buys what you write unless they know it can be bought. SO I have to do at least the first stab at this all by myself (not counting help from cats). I have to try to summarize my work, to bite the bullet and actually sell it, and to package that sales language up in ways that get it out to people – starting with a series of postcards to put on my table. And oh, yes, to blog it: to finally lift my head far enough above the waters to shout, yes, world, I am here, and no, I don’t need a life preserver: I need you to buy some of my books.

It still feels weird saying that.

I guess I’ll have to get over it.

-the Centaur

Pictured: the back of the postcards I printed for my table, featuring my own art; me, in a potential author publicity picture; and Gabby, helping me organize my book files and promotional materials.

Victory again, my friends

May 2nd, 2014

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SO yet again I’ve completed a challenge to finish 50,000 words in a month … this time the April Camp Nanowrimo challenge. My goal was to write 50,000 new words in the 4th Dakota Frost book, SPECTRAL IRON … and as of April 30th, I did it:

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Normally I write a lot about how this happened, bla bla bla. But the big thing that happened with this month is that it has gotten me ahead of the game for a change. I’ve had breaks, of course, in the past year and a half, but no matter how easily I breathed, I always had two almost-finished novels hanging over me (LIQUID FIRE and CLOCKWORK), and chunks of several more half-finished novels waiting in the wings (HEX CODE, SPECTRAL IRON, and MAROONED).

Now both of those books are at the publisher, my editor and I aren’t going to talk until after Memorial Day … and I, for once, feel like I’m starting to get caught up.

If you see me wielding a stick, it’s to beat off new projects with.

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The last thing I learned is that I can basically write 50,000 words of rough draft material in approximately 20 days, and that’s with having serious work responsibilities and personal responsibilities I have to put first. It’s a push, but it isn’t an impossible push, and that means I can seriously start looking at other projects and start figuring out where to wield that hammer.

First up, the frontispiece for LIQUID FIRE. Then, my upcoming talks at Clockwork Alchemy. Oh, and the next version of Blitz Comic’s Survival Guide. Lots of projects … but all were on the plate before. Now I just no longer have a giant sword of Damocles hanging over them; I instead have Thor’s hammer, ready to strike.

-the Centaur

UPDATE: actually, first up, was an image for Blitz Comic’s Free Comic Book Day Creator’s Kit. But that’s still Blitz. So it’s OK.

A 2 meter exhaust port just beneath the main port

April 27th, 2014

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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.

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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.

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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!

-Anthony

Getting Some Traction on SPECTRAL IRON

April 21st, 2014

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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

April 17th, 2014

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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

April 13th, 2014

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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.

-Anthony

SPECTRAL IRON gathering steam

April 12th, 2014

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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…

-Anthony

SPECTRAL IRON slowly leaving the station

April 10th, 2014

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Having trouble getting up to speed … after all, didn’t finish LIQUID FIRE until several days into the month … but made some conceptual progress tonight. That is all.

-the Centaur

From my labors, I rested

April 6th, 2014

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

Phew.

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

by
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.

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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!

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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!