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Guest Post on Speculative Chic!

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What makes you hang on the edge of your seat? I call that a favorite, and I talk about some of my current faves over at the Speculative Chic blog!

[embed]http://speculativechic.com/2017/12/18/my-favorite-things-with-anthony-francis/[/embed]

Go check it out!

 

 

My Daily Dragon Interview in Two Words: “Just Write!”

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So at Dragon Con I had a reading this year. Yeah, looks like this is the last year I get to bring all my books - too many, to heavy! I read the two flash fiction pieces in Jagged Fragments, "If Looks Could Kill" and "The Secret of the T-Rex's Arms", as well as reading the first chapter of Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine, a bit of my and Jim Davies' essay on the psychology of Star Trek's artificial intelligences, and even a bit of my very first published story, "Sibling Rivalry". I also gave the presentation I was supposed to give at the SAM Talks before I realized I was double booked; that was "Risk Getting Worse".

But that wasn't recorded, so, oh dang, you'll have to either go to my Amazon page to get my books, or wait until we get "Risk Getting Worse" recorded. But my interview with Nancy Northcott for the Daily Dragon, "Robots, Computers, and Magic", however, IS online, so I can share it with you all. Even more so, I want to share what I think is the most important part of my interview:

DD: Do you have any one bit of advice for aspiring writers?

AF: Write. Just write. Don’t worry about perfection, or getting published, or even about pleasing anyone else: just write. Write to the end of what you start, and only then worry about what to do with it. In fact, don’t even worry about finishing everything—don’t be afraid to try anything. Artists know they need to fill a sketchbook before sitting down to create a masterwork, but writers sometimes get trapped trying to polish their first inspiration into a final product.

Don’t get trapped on the first hill! Whip out your notebook and write. Write morning pages. Write diary at the end of the day. Write a thousand starts to stories, and if one takes flight, run with it with all the abandon you have in you. Accept all writing, especially your own. Just write. Write.

That's it. To read more, check out the interview here, or see all my Daily Dragon mentions at Dragon Con here, or check out my interviewer Nancy Northcott's site here. Onward!

-the Centaur

 

 

“Sibling Rivalry” returning to print

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Wow. After nearly 21 years, my first published short story, “Sibling Rivalry”, is returning to print. Originally an experiment to try out an idea I wanted to use for a longer novel, ALGORITHMIC MURDER, I quickly found that I’d caught a live wire with “Sibling Rivalry”, which was my first sale to The Leading Edge magazine back in 1995.

“Sibling Rivalry” was borne of frustrations I had as a graduate student in artificial intelligence (AI) watching shows like Star Trek which Captain Kirk talks a computer to death. No-one talks anyone to death outside of a Hannibal Lecter movie or a bad comic book, much less in real life, and there’s no reason to believe feeding a paradox to an AI will make it explode.

But there are ways to beat one, depending on how they’re constructed - and the more you know about them, the more potential routes there are for attack. That doesn’t mean you’ll win, of course, but … if you want to know, you’ll have to wait for the story to come out.

“Sibling Rivalry” will be the second book in Thinking Ink Press's Snapbook line, with another awesome cover by my wife Sandi Billingsley, interior design by Betsy Miller and comments by my friends Jim Davies and Kenny Moorman, the latter of whom uses “Sibling Rivalry” to teach AI in his college courses. Wow! I’m honored.

Our preview release will be at the Beyond the Fence launch party next week, with a full release to follow.

Watch this space, fellow adventurers!

-the Centaur

That Sock Drawer

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What to do with the stories in your sock drawer?

For those of you who don’t know, the “sock drawer” is where short stories go to die, named after the place you file manuscripts away after you’ve exhausted your efforts to sell, edit, or burn them. Stories go through a life cycle:

  1. You Get the Idea: Sometimes, this is no more than a title. Most people stop here.
  2. You Start the Draft: You actually start writing! Most people never get here.
  3. You Finish the Draft! Most people who get to Stage 2 never get to Stage 3. Believe it or not, this is the hardest part.
  4. You Edit the Draft! Some people get stuck forever here, or skip this entirely, like bloggers. :-)
  5. You Let Other People See It! I call this the ”beta” stage because I generally don’t let people see stuff until I’ve edited it.
  6. You Send It Out! You send the story or novel out for publication.
  7. It’s Accepted Right Away! Editors ALWAYS accept stories, right?
  8. ???
  9. Profit!

Actually, MOST of the time markets don’t accept what you send them. From what you see above, it seems like I’ve got a pretty good acceptance rate, but that’s actually counting by stories. If we instead look at how many times I sent them out:

Story Acceptances 2016-01-07.png

Yeah. And even that’s a bit exaggerated, since I get invited to write a lot of stories, so if i was to tease the data apart to look at my cold-call rejection rate, I would get very depressed. So really there are a few more stages which can happen after you send things out:

  • You Keep Circulating Your Work: If first you don’t succeed, try the next magazine or site on the list.
  • You Revise Your Work: A clever editor’s comment, or more insight, leads you to rework your story. Go back to Step 4.
  • You Get Stuck: You don’t know how to fix your work, but aren’t ready to give up yet. You’re essentially at Step 3.
  • You Give Up: You convince yourself the work can’t be fixed … and dump it in your sock drawer.

As you saw from the first diagram, I’ve got a small handful of stories in my sock drawer … not that I’ll never think of going back to them, but if so, it will probably be a ground-up rewrite harvesting the manuscript for whatever good ideas I’ve got. But I also have a larger tranche of stories I haven’t quite given up on yet, ones I think I can salvage, but which aren’t as important as my novels.

But if I’m not working on them, are they in the sock drawer, or not? Some of those stories went out to a dozen or more places and got as many rejections. Others I sent to one or two places, or nowhere. And if I read them again, what would I think? Is it worth going back to them? If it’s a choice between working on Dakota Frost, Cinnamon Frost, Jeremiah Willstone, or Serendipity the Centaur, I’m going to choose one of them over a short story I wrote back in 2001.

So why am I digging back at the boundary of Stalled and the Sock Drawer?

Recently, a friend told me about a short story submission deadline that was closing fast. I looked at my list of stories I’ve sent out to find one to send … but I’ve gotten much better at sending out my work, so, surprisingly, I didn’t have anything to send. So I had a choice: let the deadline pass … or find my best unpublished story and send it out.

I actually do have 2 or 3 stories on my shortlist of “this story is really good, but it never made it” but I want to edit these before I send them out again, so I thought about letting the deadline pass. Then I realized that if I never go back to those stories, I might as well consider them dead. I always mean to revise them - I have a folder of comments and notes on them - but somehow I never get around to it. So I needed to commit: lob the lot into the sock drawer, or take action.

I found the best of these that fit within the word count limits of the magazine. Then I reformatted it according to William Shunn’s manuscript guidelines, to give it the best chance for success. The very act of reformatting it gave me a new eye on the story … and I realized that inside that 10,000 word manuscript was a great 8,000 word story screaming to get out.

I didn’t have time to make those changes before the deadline. I did a quick edit, I fixed a few minor warts … and I sent it out.

If they like it, hopefully by the time they get back to me, I’ll have a great edit ready.

If not … I’ll have a great edit ready for someone else.

In the meantime, I added a tick to the count of Circulating Stories in the following graph...

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… and blogging about it added a tick to this graph:

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Since I’ve seen, and done the alternative … sitting on stories forever ... I think this is was the “write" thing to do.

-the Centaur

And we’re off!

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National Novel Writing Month is here again. For those who are just joining the party, it's a challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November - and it's also the event which finally broke through my creative barriers, helping me at last produce a complete publishable novel. I've done it eight times in the past:

  • 2002: DELIVERANCE (Frontiersmanship series #1, as yet unpublished)
  • 2007: FROST MOON (Dakota Frost series #1, published by Bell Bridge Books 2010)
  • 2008: BLOOD ROCK (Dakota Frost series #2, published by Bell Bridge Books 2011)
  • 2009: LIQUID FIRE (Dakota Frost series #3, forthcoming from Bell Bridge, 2014)
  • 2010: JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE (Jeremiah Willstone series #1, forthcoming from Bell Bridge est. 2014)
  • 2011: HEX CODE (Cinnamon Frost series #1, manuscript in progress)
  • 2012: MAROONED (Serendipity series #1, manuscript in progress)
  • 2013: SPECTRAL IRON (Dakota Frost series #4 manuscript in progress, estimated submission 2014)

and now 2015: PHANTOM SILVER, which will be Dakota Frost #5. I'm planning on focusing on Dakota for a while now, trying to get books 4-6 to Debra (and my fans) so that they have six books in their hands, hopefully enough to tide them over while I get Cinnamon Frost, Jeremiah Willstone and Serendipity out the door.

I could say more about Nano, or do link salsa to the text above to provide references. But I'm not. I'm going to get back to writing; it's already 10pm on Saturday November 1, and I'm only about 500 words in, when I need almost 1700. Arr, back to work, ye scurvy writer dawgs! It's Nano time!

-the Centaur

Pictured: a creepy Halloween cat at a nearby hardware store, thematic because I'm shooting for a slightly creepier Dakota Frost tale this time around, focusing mostly on ghosts.

And Nanowrimo Draws to a Close Yet Again…

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Well, Nanowrimo has drawn to a close once again. I finished early, and then used the time through Thanksgiving to spend time with friends, family and my wife. Hence the gaps near the end:

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As you can see, the last few days have seen a few words added to the manuscript, but they're mostly the addition of notes and other materials to make sure the story isn't lost. However, the total added words: 52761. Success.

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Now it's back to THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, and when that's off to the editors, I hope that I'll have my betas back for LIQUID FIRE so that too can go to the editors. Then I'll be finishing SPECTRAL IRON. So it may be a while before I return to Serendipity to finish her story; until then, however, I will leave you this:

“But … our last Loremaster died of the plague,” Dijo said. “We’ve saved the data, of course, but all the stories are lost—”

“Then we’d better salvage the ones we can,” Leonid said, staring at Serendipity. She was rapt: she was a historian. And as young as she was, she probably hadn’t had the chance to collect living history. And he’d given her just that. “So, Serendipity … you up to the task?”

“Am I,” she said, flicking an ear, leaning forward. “Tell me the stories of your people.”

“Alright, but we don’t tell stories,” Leonid said, motioning to Beetle, who drew out his strumstick. “We sing them.” Serendipity’s mouth fell open, and Leonid smiled. “Beetle, you’ve got some pipes on you. Sing the Song of Iranon, and remind us why we keep fighting on.”

Beetle smiled, tuned the stick, then began strumming. He sang:

Into Teloth Station wandered a spacer,
The vine cowled, yellow haired Iranon.
His suit was torn
His cloak was frayed
From mining the rocks of the belt Sidrak—

Soon they were all singing, Serendipity more than a bit awkwardly—she had little rhythm, and clapped at odd places, unable to keep time. But she quickly learned the chorus and response, and by the last verse she was singing along with them.

The spacers of Teloth were dark and stern
With frowns they asked his course.

And he said:

I am the spacer Iranon
With a cowl of vines, and myrrhwax in my hair.
I came from the Arkship Aira
A ship I recall only dimly, but seek to find again.
I sing the songs learned in my youth
In that far off paradise
And my course is set to find my way home once again.

And he said:

My trade is making beauty from memories of my childhood
And my wealth is in dreams of the places I have known
And I chart my course by the light of hope inside me
The hope I’ll find again my near forgotten home
On the Arkship Aira
In orbit round the gardens of the Lotus Moon.

Fare well, spacers...

-the Centaur

Viiiictory … in … Spaaaace

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For the 8th time, I have won National Novel Writing Month! This year, I knuckled down early, focusing on getting as much ahead as possible so I could coast early in the month. This really worked because my story soon started turning in unexpected directions as I mined the emotional relationships of the characters, rather than the overarching plot. And I think it worked well! Look at that:

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I was successfully able to stay ahead of the game essentially for the whole month, enabling me to finish several days early. I hope to keep writing, to core dump the ideas I've had about the story, as while it is wonderful to find unexpected elements of the story (including a shout-out to one of my oldest childhood toys and the origin of the Dresanian universe) there's more to write.

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But now I can take a more leisurely pace, read the giant stack of books I've accumulated to help me flesh out the plot ideas, and turn it all into something more interesting. For example, here's an interesting combination of plot and emotional interaction, none of which I ever really expected:

The mammoth city-sized collection of globules drifted by. Some were firm and puffy like gasbags; some soft like pillows, some trailing and drifting like punctured balloons. So many tentacles fell down from it that it looked like it was raining beneath. Slowly, the globules crested a ridge and began to sink.

Leonid’s mouth parted, but he maintained his firm, watchful, captain on deck boots-wide stance on the window, even though his legs had begun to cramp. Then the city slowly settled to the earth in a cloud of dust.

“It is a city,” Serendipity said. “Or something very much like one.”

“I’m not willing to give it that yet,” Leonid said, as the globules settled and burst, gas streaming up from some, gasbags lifting tentacles up from others, remarkably like towers. “But my mind is open to the possibility. Spores, your grandmother said.”

“Yes,” Serendipity said. “Perhaps the gasbags make the cities, and the spores that they release inhabit the cities. I don’t know—like she said, it appears most of the records of Halfway were sealed after the war. Damnit. And Greatgramma Clarice led me straight into this—”

“Sounds like a dick move,” Leonid said, “but you and your family are all geniuses. Let’s not give up on her just yet. Maybe she thought you were your grandmother’s granddaughter, that you were the right person to deal with Halfway.”

“Maybe,” Serendipity said uncertainly.

“One thing for certain,” Leonid said, smiling down at her, legs still firmly planted on the rail, cutting as heroic a pose as he could, “black sun or no, Halfway is a beautiful world—and we’re going to make the best of it.”

Then something slammed into the ship so hard it knocked him backwards into the soup.

So, my Nanowrimo winner's t-shirt is on it's way, I've "won" … but I've got a lot more to go to get this novel done.

Onward!

-the Centaur

Breaking Horizon

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At some point over the past weekend, I broke 40,000 words on Nano. This is no time to get complacent: even though I'm a few days ahead now - only 6200 words from the end - and I'm supposedly on vacation, I may need to go back to work tomorrow to deal with a minor, well, not crisis, but something that demands my attention.

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So while that mountain above has impressive height and slope, it ends in a plateau, because the month of November is not done. And if you don't retain focus, you can end on that plateau, because the end of November is friends and family and Thanksgiving and Black Friday and the year-end scramble at work, if you have one.

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SO while I have a lead, I'm going to do what I can to keep it. Speaking of which … I wrote 375 words between what I wrote above and the end of this article. Here's an excerpt:

“So, still thinking Halfway was a steal?” Sirius asked. “Was it worth it to spend your inheritance on the hideout of a war criminal, no doubt on her way back here?”

“She’s not a war criminal, and she’s not coming back,” Serendipity said. “She’s a prolific and nurturing mother. She would never have left her grandchild behind, much less her own daughter. Same rules as Norylan’s parents: if she could have come back, she would have—”

“Nurturing mother doesn’t mean,” Sirius said, “she wasn’t a war criminal.”

“A few hard choices don’t a monster make,” Serendipity said. “She led the First Contact mission between Dresan and Murra. For all practical intents and purposes, she founded the Dresan-Murran Alliance, the most harmonious grouping of aliens in the universe—”

“Founded on annihilating everyone who didn’t fit that mold?” Sirius said quietly.

For a moment, Serendipity didn’t say anything.

“I can’t take responsibility for the sins of someone who wasn’t even my ancestor,” Serendipity said, “but I’ll defend the values they bequeathed to me, values they developed trying to learn from their mistakes. When my grandmother came, I could have had her kill you all—”

“Hey!” Sirius said. Then he punched her arm. “Ass!”

“Hey!” Serendipity said back, feeling her arm. “Ow—”

“No, you couldn’t have had her kill us,” Sirius said. “She would have sliced up that blaster, and maybe lopped a few arms, or perhaps just gut checked a few of Toren’s goons with the back end of her scythe blades. Your back was turned. She took the room in an instant—”

“She’s a killer,” Serendipity said. “You don’t know her—”

“She’s a First Contact Engineer and a pregnant mother,” Sirius said. “I saw her face. Yes, she’s scary—I’ve never seen anyone that scary—but I could also see relief when she saw we were children. I refuse to believe she would just windmill through us all, rolling heads.”

Serendipity stared at him.

“I’m not sure I agree with you,” she said, “but I think you’re also making my point.”

Back to work.

-the Centaur

Still on track, by the skin of my teeth and writing to 2:20am

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On track. A brief excerpt:

“We could always double bunk, if it comes to that,” Leonid said.

Andromeda and Serendipity both looked at him. Then shot daggers at each other.

“Why would you need to double bunk,” Serendipity asked. “This ship was designed for a crew of six hundred and fifty. It seems like you’d have plenty of bunks—”

“It’s the load of the oxygen farm—how large a space it can oxygenate,” Leonid said. “We used to have twelve segments, but we were down to six—before the crash. Now, once we get back to space, we’re going to need to husband things more carefully. For example, adding you and Norylan—”

“Yeah,” Sirius said. “I’ll bet you just chew up oxygen.”

“Not to mention calories,” Andromeda said.

“Hey,” Serendipity said.

“Seriously, both of you eat a lot,” Leonid said. “I’m guessing … six thousand a day?”

Serendipity seemed to weigh that. “I think that’s about right—for him,” she said, nodding at Norylan. “And I was pushing close to eleven thousand leading up to the tournament—”

“Eleven thousand calories a day!” Leonid said. “You eat for four people?

“In training, a human Olympic athlete can consume ten thousand calories a day,” Serendipity said defensively. “A normal centaur requires closer to six or seven, and an athlete like myself pushes closer to nine thousand on a regular basis—”

“Let’s budget nine thousand for starters,” Leonid said. “But Norylan—”

“Is an Andiathar,” Serendipity said. “Their metabolism is very different—”

“No wonder he was starving,” Sirius said.

“Don’t you have fights, tournaments?” Serendipity said. “Toren was huge. He’s got to be pushing four, maybe five thousand calories a day, even if he isn’t in training—”

“Six,” Leonid said. “That’s why I guessed what I guessed for you—”

“I’m a little out of his weight class,” Serendipity smirked. Her face fell slightly. “How did you all get this way? I mean, I know you were attacked by pirates. But there’s more to it than just one attack. You’ve got traditions for fighting, ways of decorating your suits—”

“Don’t you like them?” Leonid asked.

“Oh, I do,” Serendipity said, moving that thread of hair aside. “But … what made you decorate them? Did it develop naturally, or were you trying to intimidate the pirates? Or to impress each other? What are your stories?”

“You’re a historian,” Sirius said. “And this ship has seven centuries of history—”

“Seven and a half,” Serendipity said. “Tell me the stories of your people.”

“We don’t tell stories,” Leonid said, motioning to Beetle, who drew out his strumstick. “We sing them.” Serendipity’s mouth fell open, and Leonid smiled. “Beetle, you’ve got some pipes on you. Sing the Song of Irannon, and remind us why we keep fighting on.”

Onward into the deep…

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MAROONED but not under water

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So yet another day of Nano has rolled by and I'm still managing to cough out 1666+ words a day (the lighter blue lines above the red water line). I've added 11,795 words to the manuscript, which by my counter is just shy of 25% of Nano - roughly 3.6% ahead of where I need to be, or almost one full day (the surplus is the second, darker blue line in this visualization).

Since my seed was the largest I ever started with - 32,793 words, including the complete novella "Stranded" plus all the story notes I put together over the months since I wrote that story - completing Nano this year will leave me with 82,793 words, which I'm guessing will be very close to a full manuscript. Most of my novels clock in around 150,000 words, but this one feels like 90K.

Oh yeah, an excerpt:

“How do I know,” Toren said, “you won’t send soldiers to evict us once your people come back here, whenever that is—”

“Roughly fifteen months,” Serendipity said, looking at him sidelong. “And no-one can evict you. I am Governor of Halfway, and I’ve offered the crew of Independence oasis, and the ship a permanent berth. Leonid accepted. Halfway is Independence’s home port now.”

Toren rocked on his heels a little. “There is no port, you foolish—”

“That is a port,” Serendipity said, jerking her head at the spaceport. “It’s not a castle, it’s not a mansion, it’s not a secret lab—though I suppose to Norylan’s parents it was all of those things, to me it is the kernel of the civilization I hope to build here—”

“You build,” Toren said. “You mean to build a civilization—”

“It’s why I came here,” Serendipity said. “This port lay fallow for ten thousand years because a war cut off the spacelanes, and I was the first person to recognize that it might be restored, now that traffic has begun moving out here again—”

“Including from the Frontier,” Toren said, staring off at the port, “which didn’t even exist ten thousand years ago.”

“I had to move fast,” Serendipity said. “After all, you got here just when I did.”

Toren stared down at her. “You’re crazy. Crazy, you know that? When the Allies get here, they’re going to ship you off to a nutter’s pod. And I still don’t know whether me and my crew are going to have to flee when they come. And you know which of us is right?”

Serendipity’s eyes tightened. “No,” she admitted.

Toren’s eyes gleamed at her. “Me neither.”

Uh oh! Serendipity once again facing off with Toren? A dangerous development. What's he figured out she hasn't?

Onward into the deep!

-the Centaur