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Things I make up for a living.

Viiictory … and 1.5 Million Words

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So it's that time of year once again: I've won Nanowrimo, again, by writing 50,000 words in the month of November; by my records, this is 28 straight wins (counting Camp Nano in April and July in the mix) for a total of ... holy cow ... 1.5 million words in successful Nano challenges.

Welp, I'm calling it: Nano is the most successful technique I've ever used to to boost my writing output --- more than morning pages, more than writing workshops, more than the Artist's Way --- with the possible exception of Write to the End, with which Nano is intimately intertwined (for me).

Now I hear my editor calling: How about boosting that editing output, Francis? I hear you. Writing I don't seem to have much trouble with, but between robots and the zombie apocalypse I've found it hard to get the necessary brain juice to edit the 7, no 8 manuscripts I have in the queue.

Come to think of it, why couldn't we have had the zombie apocalypse while I was writing about a zombie apocalypse? Covid would have been really thematically appropriate when I was working on BOT NET (Facebook zombies) or SPIRITUAL GOLD (actual zombie zombies).

But that was not to be. I don't know about you, but I find the whole zombie apocalypse thing wearing, not to mention the whole election thing. Add to that serious realignments at work, which meant basically reinventing everything I'd been doing to come back to the same place, and 2020 has been a full on freight train of suck.

Not that everything's been bad. I finished the bulk of a novel, JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE, back in April, and I'm halfway through Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE. We finished our patio here ...

... and started a grand new vegan cooking adventure together ...

And we even found and bought a new house, a very nice new place (it has turkeys) ...

... with a great space for my library and my wife's art studio, which we're in the middle of a slow motion move to while we renovate the old pad. These have been bright lights in an otherwise bad year. By you know how it's been: so stressful that - well, you've seen how much I've been blogging. I feel like this should be the best time ever in my life, yet 2020 has left me feeling a lot like this:

But, we have traditions which can help us through, like Thanksgiving ... oh, dangit Covid! So, ANYWAY, other traditions that do not involve Covid or Zoom, Nano traditions: the stats, and the excerpt. What did this month look like, Nano-wise?

This wasn't the hardest Nano I've handled ... I think the worst was being over 21,000 words behind in 2016 for PHANTOM SILVER, though briefly LIQUID FIRE in 2009 got almost that bad. Nor was it record-breakingly productive, like the astounding 25,000 words ahead finish on BOT NET 2017. This was a middle-of-the-road Nano, helped by really pouring on 12,000 words last weekend:

That was on purpose, so I could coast into Thanksgiving having finished, and spend a very nice dinner with my wife. (We had vegan muffulletas with authentic olive salad filling shipped direct from Central Grocery in New Orleans, which I highly, highly, highly recommend). That left November's work on SPIRAL NEEDLE comfortably in the middle of my previous efforts:a

And so, now, an excerpt ...

Too late, I realized the thickening arms of the octopus mist echoed the ghostly glow of the streetlights. “Teleporter! We’ve got to find a weakness!” I cried, flicking and snapping my wrist to loose a crossbow bolt, a feather from my origami peacock—an analysis spell.

The feather flitted out, replicating itself in the flood of magic, its unfolding structure revealing an intricate, oh so intricate pattern embedded in the misty galaxy. Unfortunately, Nyissa, far older and faster than me, had fired her own analysis glyph.

Our spells collided in a flash of sparks and feathers.

“Damnit,” I cried, flinching. “Only one of us needed to do that—”

“Sorry, was reacting to your idea, not your action,” Nyissa said. “I—”

A long black shaft lanced out—and with a terrific report, blasted Nyissa in the face.

Nyissa flew back. Her mask shattered. It would have been so romantic to scream her name and lunge my hand toward her—but both of us had been in fights so many times before, and I instinctively swung the Waystaff up, its spine catching bayonet and flipping the long gun upwards. The hooked beak hissed, striped cloak flapping, and I saw the thing whole.

Towering. Raptor-beaked. Cloaked in tattered striped cloth, draped over a flaring dark greatcoat. Black leather straps bound a tortuously lean torso seemingly rippled with twitching muscle. But the clawed arms fighting mine held what looked like a musket, the striped cloak looked like the ruins of a flag, and atop the thing’s plague doctor mask was a tricorn hat.

“What are you?” I yelled, shoving against the musket with the Waystaff.

The thing screamed at me, foul smoke erupting from its beak, and I flinched and gagged. It wailed at me with its musket, alternately clubbing aside the Waystaff and jabbing at me with the bayonet, as sparking smoke roiled into what I assumed was the musket’s flintlock—it was preparing to fire! I leapt backward, spinning through a knight’s move version of the Dance of Five and Two, hastily pulling together a spell: “Spirit of flame, act as my shield!

The plague knight screeched and dropped a grimy black ball into its musket—just as my Dragon tattoo uncoiled from my skin and looped around me in a helix of Technicolor scales and feathers. The plague knight fired with a clap of thunder—met by a gout of flame.

Wow! Excitement! Adventure! Tattoo magic versus magical monsters! And while we didn't get to see that much of the costumes in this excerpt, we've got cute vampires wearing sexy clothes fighting alongside our heroine in her long black vest / trenchcoat. What's not to like?

That is all for now. Until next time, please enjoy this picture of a cat.

-the Centaur

My Dragon Con Virtual Mentoring Schedule

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I know it might be hard to believe, but I am not dead, despite 2020's best efforts! In fact, I am going to be at Virtual Dragon Con, participating in the Virtual Mentoring sessions!

2020 Dragon Con Writer's Track Virtual Mentoring Guests

We have 30 established authors and other publishing pros who've generously donated their time and expertise to host 15-minute, one-on-one mentoring sessions with aspiring authors. If you're signing up for an acquiring editor or publisher, you are welcome to pitch your completed book!

If you are meeting with an established author, the door is pretty wide open. You can ask about craft. If you're struggling with something specific, you can ask them about it. We have a number of indie authors, so if you're interested in self-publishing, you can pick their brains. Think about what you want to get out of this dedicated one-on-one session and choose your mentor accordingly.

So, who am I in all of this, if you're just encountering this link and haven't read my books or this blog?

Anthony Francis - Thinking Ink Press & Author

Session schedule: Friday - 4:30, 4:50, 5:10, 5:30

Secret origin: By day, Anthony Francis teaches robots to learn; by night, he writes the Dakota Frost urban fantasy series (FROST MOON, BLOOD ROCK and LIQUID FIRE) and the steampunk Jeremiah Willstone series (THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE). He's also an editor, and co-founded Thinking Ink Press.

Genres & expertise: I'm a science fiction, urban fantasy and steampunk author with experience in space travel, general physics, artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive science, fictional magic and myth, and real and fictional military systems.

Acquisition wishlist: we're looking for fresh voices in science fiction accessible to new audiences. We've recently published YA military science fiction and humorous cyberpunk novels featuring LGBTQIA characters, and have also published a series of steampunk anthologies.

If you're interested in talking with me about writing science fiction, urban fantasy, or steampunk, or would like to talk about a new book proposal of interest to Thinking Ink Press, the signup sheet for sessions is here: https://form.jotform.com/202435857025050.

This is the first time we've done this virtually, but I've participated before in the live events (on the mentee end, rather than mentor :-D) and found it very valuable. So come on board, ask your questions, and help us make Virtual Dragon Con a success!

Virtual Dragon Con is already running - and I've been on two recorded panels already for the Writer's Track, though I don't know when they'll air yet, just figuring that out myself - but please go check it out and help the world have fun in the face of the zombie apocalypse!

-the Centaur

 

Viiictory, A to Z … Plus One

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two hangry cats

Wow, um, pandemics. SO, short story, I've been having a rough one, which is why you haven't seen me on this blog. Perhaps the story of my suffering is a story for another time, because I just found this Camp Nano post back from APRIL which was never published because, wow, um pandemics. Congratulations to you, zombie apocalypse, for throwing me off my game! Yay for you, Miss Rita, I guess?

SO ANYWAY, what I'd like to announce, what I planned to announce at the end of April but forgot to post, and now what I have to doubly announce at the end of July, is that I have completed the Camp Nanowrimo challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of April!

And, um, then, I did it again in July.

Camp Nano Victory Banner

For those who don't know (how long have you been reading this blog?) National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November, and Camp Nanowrimo is a pair of choose-your-own goal sister challenges in April and July. I do 50,000 words each time, for 150,000 words a year. So far, I've done this (successfully) 27 times ... so my April Post was going to be "Viiiictory, A to Z" and there would have been some dang title for July, Plus One. But whatever, here's a graph of Nanos for you; from the dark line, it looks like my output this month (the dark line) was a bit more ahead of the game than normal (the average is the dotted line):

27 National Novel Writing Months

What was I working on?

This April, I mostly finished JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE, a "novel" made from a collected set of short stories set in an alternate Victorian era filled with strong women, rayguns, and aliens . The first of these stories, "A Choir of Demons," was published in Aurora Wolf magazine, and collectively, they tell the tale of how Jeremiah grows from a wet-behind-the-ears Lieutenant to the leader we see in THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE. My friend Tony Sarrecchia, creator of the Harry Strange Audio Drama, is helping me adapt these to audio.

This July, I started Dakota Frost Book 7, SPIRAL NEEDLE. Dakota, the best magical tattooist in the Southeast, faces a new challenge when her weretiger daughter Cinnamon gets mixed up in a lycanthrope attack, and Dakota will move Heaven and Earth to make sure Cinnamon is safe ... if she can just figure out who's trying to hurt her, and why? This book actually excites me about writing Dakota Frost again - vampire-werekin medicine, Colonial American plague doctors, and secret societies - even if it is perhaps is distracting me from finishing the editing of DF #4-#6 and Cinnamon #1-#3.

But the pandemic, and all the other business going on in my life, has drained my energy for the very difficult task of editing --- and drained my energy for many other things. (Hence no blog posts since my cats came back from the hospital, though they got sick again; they're fine now). In this crisis, some people have died, some are sick, some have lost loved ones, some have lost jobs, and many just feel like they've lost their minds. Fortunately, I'm on the good end of the spectrum: I have my wife, I have my cats, I have my job, and I'm still able to write. For all of that, I count myself blessed.

As for the rest ... well, I'm picking up the pieces and getting back on an even keel, step by step.

Please bear with me while I am beating off the bears.

-the Centaur

Pictured: two hangry cats. They were both sick, just prior to the pandemic, and that was rough enough that I thought I had real problems. Ha! I guess the coronavirus showed me. At least I'm getting to eat some tasty and delicious vegan food.

Vegan dinner, wife, and cat

Viiictory to the Twenty-Fifth Power!

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SO! After yet another National Novel Writing Month, I have added yet another 50,000 words of rough draft to my writing output - making this the fourteenth time I have won Nano, and the twenty-fifth time I have won one of the Nanowrimo or CampNanowrimo challenges! Woohoo!

This month wasn't so bad, though there was a bit of a dip around the time I was writing report cards for our robot learning systems ("Little Johnny 5 tries very hard, but needs to work on his cornering!"). But, as usual, the week I took off for Thanksgiving "vacation" put me back on track:

Yes, one day I did indeed get 6000+ words written, which was a record for the 25th of the month, but nowhere near my record of 9074 words - written on the 30th(!) of November 2016, in what I recall was a delerious mad dash sitting on my sofa wracking my brain to produce enough words to make my goal for PHANTOM SILVER. Frankly speaking, that sucked, and since then I have redoubled my efforts to ensure that I'm never THAT far behind.

So this month looks typical. It's interesting to me how much Nano has become a part of my life. First tried in 2002, first made into a yearly habit in 2007, and first made into a thrice-yearly habit (Camp April, Camp July and November Nano) in 2014-2015 ... now I've done Nano 27 times, with 25 successes, for 1.36 million words of rough draft ... it's a heavy feeling.

Do I want to keep doing this? Absolutely. I wish I had more time to, like, edit my books, so I didn't have a backlog of 6 finished novels, 2 novellas, and 5 partially finished novels. (Gulp!) But I like having a roof more, and the time and money to pay for my laptop, my nice dinners, and my late nite teas and mochas, so, teaching robots to learn by day it is, for the time being.

One of the most interesting things for me is how Nano breaks through your creative barriers. When I started on MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE, then titled TWO YEARS OF HELL, I had the idea of writing an action-adventure steampunk hard science fiction story around computer science concepts, and conceived it as a connected tale made of 16 short stories  --- two to the fourth power, a number beloved of many computer scientists.

But as I've written, the story has sprawled out from my original design, and there are at least two, perhaps three set pieces which may demand their own stories. Or perhaps existing stories will have to be cut or deleted. I don't know; I just create the worlds, but once they exist, they follow the laws of physics (plot and character physics). Here's an excerpt from one of those diversions, which may or may not make it into the final design:

The dark doorway loomed before her like a maw. Jeremiah steeled herself: she had been her at best a handful of times, but she felt like she knew every rivet of the damned hatch, felt like she was right back to waiting on the damn Keepers while they prepared themselves.

Oh, she did not, did not, did not want to be back here.

Yet she was, not a child, but a Major. She straightened, nodded.

“Major?” asked Thompson, looking back at her. “You look a bit green.”

Jeremiah smiled, to give herself a moment to speak. What would a cracker-jack young major say? Or … wasn’t that putting on airs? What would General Weiss have said? Perhaps she should just be … honest?

“Good eye, sir, but I don’t just look it: I feel it too,” Jeremiah said, forcing a grin—was that fake, or did she just want to take this in the best humor possible? “Every time I’m here, it takes me right back to my childhood.”

“Childhood?” Thompson asked. The white hairs in his saltpepper eyebrows sparkled as his brow beetled. “Why were you here as a child?”

“I, foolishly perhaps, asked to see the thing that killed my mother,” Jeremiah said. “And … foolishly perhaps, the powers that be let the granddaughter of Benjamin Willstone get what she asked for.”

Thompson stared at her strangely, then turned away.

“I would have let you,” he said at last. “Seems to have been the first step into forming a fine soldier who doesn’t flinch.”

“Oh, I assure you, I flinch,” Jeremiah said. “Just not from duty.”

“That’s the Major Willstone of my reports,” Thompson said. He leaned over and said a bit cheekily. “I hear you scream like a girl even when you’re firing both blasters at point-blank range—”

“Why, I never—” Jeremiah colored. “Well, that does speak to character—”

“Yes, yes, it does,” Thompson said, “and to good sense. Alright, in fairness: the report just said ‘cried out in shock before blasting the thing,’ but one could imagine the girlish scream—”

“Oi!” Jeremiah said. “Wait, what thing was this?”

“Er,” Thompson said, as the hatch opened. “I … don’t recall. Frankly, Major, with your record, the monsters start to blur—”

“Not all of them,” Jeremiah said, striding forward with a projected confidence she absolutely did not feel. “Have a look at that.”

Enjoy. Back to writing!

-the Centaur

My Novels and Nano

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SO! I love to write, and four of my novels are published - FROST MOON, BLOOD ROCK, LIQUID FIRE, about magical tattoo artist Dakota Frost, and JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, about steampunk heroine Jeremiah Willstone.

You can read about the published ones at my Novels page, but even though life got a bit away from me this year, I haven't stopped writing - I have six more finished novels in the editing queue, not to mention half a dozen more in process.

And every single one of these novels, published or not, was largely written in National Novel Writing Month in November (or its sister challenge Camp Nanowrimo in April and July).

Nanowrimo is a 501(c)(3)that helps people find their creative voices - and certainly helped me transition from mostly not-writing to writing over a million words of fiction! (Way over, now).

Every year, I donate to the Nanowrimo foundation to help them not just keep the lights on but to support young writers everywhere with their Young Writers Program. This year, consider helping them bring literacy and creativity to more people all around the world!

-the Centaur

Viiictory #23

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Wow, I just won {Nanowrimo|Camp Nanowrimo} for the twenty-third time!

For readers of this blog who have missed, like, 75% of my posts over the years, National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November, and Camp Nanowrimo is its sister challenge in April and July. I adapt this to write 50,000 words on top of whatever I'm currently working on, and have been doing it since 2002.

This is my 25th Nano or Nano-like attempt, and my 23rd victory. (Interestingly, my two failures were times that I tried Nano on my own, without the motivation of the Nano "Validate your Project" button).

This month, because of friggin' March, man, I started out pretty far behind, compounded by my robot work and the fact that I was working on JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE. This is less a novel than a series of loosely connected novellas, each slightly different in setting and tone, and has been my most research-heavy project to date. But, nevertheless, I got back on track and climbed the mountain.

Interestingly, a couple of the days in there were my most productive writing days ever - 7,000 and 8,000 word days, right up with the 9,014 word day that I did once on the last day of Nano. I didn't want to do that again - I wanted to take today off - so I powered through 8000 words on Saturday, finished with 2,600 words on Sunday, and leisurely wrote 2,000 words today unpacking a few of the ideas I had that were still fresh.

And now, the traditional excerpt:

“So,” General Weiss said, sitting down. “You desire to become one of my acolytes?”

Jeremiah glanced over at him, trying to contain her glare. “I desire to learn, sir.”

“What I have to teach is not easy to learn,” Weiss said, patting her leg. “It requires long-term commitment, supreme dedication, self-sacrifice—”

“Are …” Jeremiah felt her brow furrow, tried to control it. “Are you aware of—”

“The nature of your injuries?” Weiss said. “Yes, I heard you were reckless.”

No, sir,” Jeremiah said. She hit the switch to raise her bed until she could look the man more closely in the eye. “I have been injured, repeatedly, because I have been sent into the line of fire without adequate support, repeatedly, and I did my duty, repeatedly.”

“The story goes is that you tried to leap across a city street, four stories up.”

“No, sir,” Jeremiah said. “A monster that had killed dozens was about to make its escape, and I leapt for it, sir, dragging it down to the street, possibly saving hundreds more lives—well, that’s debatable, but I definitively stopped it, at least that is not in dispute—”

“No, no, you’re quite right about the outcome of the operation.” Weiss rubbed his hands together. “And whether I think you’re reckless in the large, I would never dispute the actions of a operative in the clinch. But do you know why the enemy exposed itself to you?”

“I …” Jeremiah said. “But it didn’t. We caught it, and tracked it—”

“Yes, yes, and let’s not dispute that either,” Weiss said, leaning forward. “A hypothetical. Imagine you had two operations running, physically separated, one large and important, one … less so. To protect them, you can run recon missions looking for the enemy, but the enemy might find them. You can run ten recces in the operation period. Where do you put them?”

“Er, well,” Jeremiah said. “Proportionally on the more important—”

“No,” Weiss said. “You run five. All around the least important one. Why?”

“Er …” What clues had he given? “The larger force, is well, larger. It can defend itself.”

“Yes. And?”

Jeremiah’s eyes narrowed. “You want the recces caught?”

“No, not really, but I do, yes.”

“But the smaller force, exposed—”

“And overwhelmed,” Weiss said, “by a mass mobilization of the enemy. Away from my primary force. Now the other five recces probe ahead of the main op, clearing the way while the decoy fights for its life. If done properly—if the decoy force is given both a true objective and the best chance of success, their fight for their lives will only attract more enemy forces. If they win, you have a true two-front victory. If they fail, you don’t even need to send reinforcements—the moment the main force engages the enemy, the enemy will naturally pull back.”

Jeremiah’s brow furrowed.

“Yes, yes, there are many specifics which would make this kind of plan succeed or fail,” Weiss said. “To truly instruct you, we’d need to work through many more patterns, then make them concrete for the kind of forces you will end up commanding—”

“All of them,” Jeremiah said.

“What?”

“I’m going to command all of them,” Jeremiah said. “My aim is to be Minister of War.”

“Oho,” the general said. “Then we have a lot of work to do. Tell me why the thing exposed itself to you. Quick, now.”

"They're—" Jeremiah's mouth fell open. "The things are wearing us down."

Sounds like they have a lot of problems on that boat. The first of the stories in THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE is already out: A Choir of Demons, at Aurora Wolf. For the rest ... well, you'll have to wait a bit. Enjoy!

-the Centaur

FROST MOON on sale 1 more day!

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Get it while supplies last! Well, it's an ebook, so the supplies will last, but the discount won't!

Go check it out on AmazonKoboNook or wherever fine ebooks are sold!

-the Centaur

FROST MOON eBook on Sale

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Good news, Edgeworlders! FROST MOON is on sale through the 15th!

The Cover to FROST MOON

FROST MOON is my first novel, the tale of Dakota Frost, a woman who can bring her tattoos to life, and her very first encounter with the sharp edges of the Edgeworld she's been dancing around all her adult life. She meets vampires and werewolves, weretigers and faerie, and soon is on the ride of her life when the police warn her about a serial killer attacking the magically tattooed near the full moon ... right when a werewolf asks her to tattoo a design on him. Is he the killer ... or the next victim?

Go check it out on Amazon, Kobo, Nook or wherever fine ebooks are sold!

-the Centaur

Jeremiah Willstone on Sale

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Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine is on sale!

Hail fellow adventurers! My first steampunk novel, Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine, is on sale through the end of the month! The Ebook is only $0.99, so now's a great time to instantly gift yourself with a trip to Victoriana! You can find it at Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Apple, Google Books, or wherever fine books are sold. If you like action, adventure, corsets, rayguns, or a peek at an alternate history where women's liberation happened a century early, check it out!

Surfacing

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An interpretation of the rocket equation.

Wow. It's been a long time. Or perhaps not as long as I thought, but I've definitely not been able to post as much as I wanted over the last six months or so. But it's been for good reasons: I've been working on a lot of writing projects. The Dakota Frost / Cinnamon Frost "Hexology", which was a six book series; the moment I finished those rough drafts, it seemed, I rolled into National Novel Writing Month and worked on JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE. Meanwhile, at work, I've been snowed under following up on our PRM-RL paper.

Thor's Hammer space station.

But I've been having fun! The MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE is (at least possibly) spaaaace steampunk, which has led me to learn all sorts of things about space travel and rockets and angular momentum which I somehow didn't learn when I was writing pure hard science fiction. I've learned so much about creating artificial languages as part of the HEXOLOGY.

The Modanaqa Abugida.

So, hopefully I will have some time to start sharing this information again, assuming that no disasters befall me in the middle of the night.

Gabby in the emergency room.

Oh dag nabbit! (He's going to be fine).

-the Centaur