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Posts published in “Real Life”

It’s what happens when we’re not working or playing or thinking or doing. That thing we do that doesn’t fit into all the other categories.

Sometimes we call it 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

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

Never Give Up

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So, 2019. What a mess. More on that later; as for me, I've had neither the time nor even the capability to blog for a while. But one thing I've noticed is, at least for me, the point at which I want to give up is usually just prior to the point where I could have my big breakthrough.

For example: Scrivener.

I had just about given up on Scrivener, an otherwise great program for writers that helps with organizing notes, writing screenplays, and even for comic book scripts. But I'd become used to Google Docs and its keyboard shortcuts for hierarchical bulleted lists, not entirely different from my prior life using hierarchical notebook programs like GoldenSection Notes. But Scrivener's keyboard shortcuts were all different, and the menus didn't seem to support what I needed, so I had started trying alternatives. Then I gave on more shot at going through the manual, which had earlier got me nothing.At first this looked like a lost cause: Scrivener depended on Mac OS X's text widgets, which themselves implement a nonstandard text interface (fanboys, shut up, sit down: you're overruled. case in point: Home and End. I rest my case), and worse, depend on the OS even for the keyboard shortcuts, which require the exact menu item. But the menu item for list bullets actually was literally a bullet, which normally isn't a text character in most programs; you can't access it. But as it turns out, in Scrivener, you can. I was able to insert a bullet, find the bullet character, and even create a keyboard shortcut for it. And it did what it was supposed to!

Soon I found the other items I needed to fill out the interface that I'd come to know and love in Google Docs for increasing/decreasing the list bullet indention on the fly while organizing a list:

Eventually I was able to recreate the whole interface and was so happy I wrote a list describing it in the middle of the deep learning Scrivener notebook that I had been working on when I hit the snag that made me go down this rabbit hole (namely, wanting to create a bullet list):

Writing this paragraph itself required figuring out how to insert symbols for control characters in Mac OS X, but whatever: a solution was possible, even ready to be found, just when I was ready to give up.

I found the same thing with so many things recently: stuck photo uploads on Google Photos, configuration problems on various publishing programs, even solving an issue with the math for a paper submission at work.

I suspect this is everywhere. It's a known thing in mathematics that when you feel close to a solution you may be far from it; I often find myself that the solution is to be found just after the point you want to give up.

I've written about a related phenomenon called this "working a little bit harder than you want to" but this is slightly different: it's the idea that your judgment that you've exhausted your options is just that, a judgment.

It may be true.

Try looking just a bit harder for that answer.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a photo of the Greenville airport over Christmas, which finally uploaded today when I went back through the archives of Google Photos on my phone and manually stopped a stuck upload from December 19th.

Renovation in Process

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So you may have noticed the blog theme and settings changing recently; that's because I'm trying to get some kind of slider or visual image above the fold. I love the look of the blog with the big banner image, but I'm concerned that people just won't scroll down to see what's in the blog if there's nothing on the first page which says what I do.

So I'll be experimenting. Stay tuned!

-the Centaur

Pictured: Yeah, this isn't the only renovation going on.

June: “You thought March was bad? Hold my beer.”

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Me in the airport, on my emergency flight out.

So, March was pretty bad: I had to fly back East because Mom ended up in the hospital, we had a mad rush to finish a paper which both screwed up my time at GDC and Clockwork Alchemy AND failed to get in on time, and I found out I was suffering from chronic sinusitis.

Not to be outdone, however, June decided to throw me a bigger one.

What was left on Mom's breakfast room table.

So, Mom's gone. She passed after what sounds like a beautiful week with friends and family - I spoke to her the day before she died, and she went to visit the neighbors and swing on their back porch until almost nine - and then collapsed while changing the bed linens in her own bedroom in the house she'd lived in for forty years. Of ways to go, that's a good one.

Regularly scheduled blogging will resume ... sometime.

Goodbye, Mom.

The forest sky of the Atlanta airport.

-the Centaur

Tiny Lion

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Gabby the cat, guarding the front porch.

In the words attributed to Trevor Noah, "Why do you invite a tiny lion into your house to pee in your box of sand?" Well, he's small, cute, and furry, and emits calming noises. Kind of like an animate stuffed animal. After years of exile during his Yellow Years, Gabby is once again an inside cat, and this morning he crawled atop the bed and fell asleep atop me.

Here's hoping he keeps up his good behavior. I need a little something that takes the edge off the stress. Not that I have existential worries to stress about; humans adjust to set-points, so my main stress is figuring out how to make my very good job become a slightly better job, or how to prevent it from becoming a slightly worse job, all while still having time to write.

Not that I have enough time to do that either, but at least I can blog again.

-the Centaur

Friggin’ March, Man

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Gabby and Loki the Cats sitting on the Centaur's Lap

Wow, it's been February since I posted. I mean, I knew February was busy working on robots, and that slowed me down some, but March, man. I found out my long-running cold was actually chronic sinusitis, my Mom ended up in the hospital and I had to fly back to see her, and then we had another big robot push, right in the middle of the back-to-back Game Developer's Conference and Clockwork Alchemy steampunk convention. The robot push didn't work, necessitating another solid month of work.

SO, yeah, March, man. 

Now, at last, things seem to be chilling out. Let's see if we can get to that blog backlog ...

tupperware avalanching out of a cabinet

-the Centaur

Pictured: Gabby and Loki, mortal enemies, chilling with me on my lap on my front porch. They got up there by themselves, I swear.

He Say You Plane Runnah

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So my latest adventure was a true comedy of errors - but turned into an unexpected visit to Atlanta with an old friend. As the years pass and I get busier I have less and less time to take anything short of a redeye back to the East Coast, yet my tolerance for them has dropped. So, on the principle that a luxury once enjoyed is a necessity, I've started flying First Class.

Not that I really want to - I mean, I enjoy it, but it's expensive. First Class on some recent flights overseas, which I did NOT get, was in the range of ten thousand dollars. But if I can find a reasonable ticket back to my hometown, I'll take it. (Rarely, I've even found cheaper First Class than normal flights).

One of the perks, apparently, of First Class is that they will call you if your flight connection is delayed. Because of fog, rain and mechanical issues, my plane to Atlanta was delayed, so Delta called me up and alerted me that if I headed to the airport RIGHT NOW, they'd get me on an earlier flight so I could make my connection. Mom and I were already on the way to the airport, so we asked for the check and motored.

I waved to one of my high school buddies in the airport bar - we'd originally been on the same flight - and made my new connection with moments to spare. We pulled back from the gate aaaaand ... sat there. And sat there. And sat there, as the minutes ticked down. Finally, the pilot told us that the plane was off balance because it was underweight, the computer was confused, and they were having to reset everything manually. Finally, at the time the plane was originally supposed to have departed, we taxied out.

But then stopped on the runway. I and my buddy texted from two different planes that each was in trouble - ours had no gate to land, his, my original plane, had mechanical trouble and had rolled back to the gate, no mechanic in sight. I said, "screw it", and in moments had reservations for the spectacular Atlanta Marriott Marquis hotel for only $50 bucks using Expedia points. I almost made reservations for my favorite restaurant, then rethought and texted my buddy: "Hey, you've missed your connection too, right?"

Yep. He sure had.

When he landed, I already a car, had upgraded the room for free to get an extra bed, and had a list of places to eat that were still open. We hit Manuel's Tavern, one of our old favorites from back in the day, and then crashlanded in the hotel bar for an hour before calling it a night.

The view from Gordon Biersch in the Atlanta Airport.

The next day, we were out and rolling at the ungodly hour of 6:50am - what is that, I mean, is that even a thing? - and having breakfast at Gordon Biersch. Now it was his turn to wave to make his LA connection, and an hour later I followed on my own flight, with Danny Devito sitting in seat 1B only a few rows away from me during my LA connection. By 4pm, I was hugging my wife and heading back home to hug some cats.

I guess the point, and I do have one, is that I could have had a miserable time with a delayed flight. Instead I got to have a great mini-trip to Atlanta, caught up with an old friend, and had a great story to tell.

I guess attitude is everything.

-the Centaur

Happy New Year!

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Blueberry pineapple margarita and iced tea at Chili's.

Happy New Year, y'all! And here's a productivity tip for all my fellow adventurers: a holiday or vacation is a great time to catch up on that illness you've been putting off.

Seriously, I've gotten sick something like three or four times in the last month: first a cold which canceled my trip to the WAFR conference in New Mexico, where I was a fricking invited speaker and couldn't go. That turned into a lingering sinus infection which just about went away by the time I returned to my home town of Greenville - but which then reared its ugly head again. Since my mother, my buddy Derek, and at least one other person fell ill to the same bug within a day or so (stuffiness, a 1-2 day period of severe lethargy, followed by lingering sniffles) I'm guessing this was an entirely new bug that I picked up at the airport. Again this disappeared, but after my return flight back, an adventure in and of itself because of weather delays, I got what appears to be a different bug, this one a slight sniffle plus lingering gastrointestinal distress. Fun! All clearing up in time for work.

So, what can I say? Computing continues its usability slide - I had to switch from Feedly to Innoreader, the Microsoft Word broke all my keystrokes, and the new WordPress editor sucks, making all common operations that much more difficult in favor of something "new" and "cool" that just adds a bunch of junk to what was a clean, simple and easy to use interface. WHAT? Oh, I was going to say something about taking care of yourself in winter colds, but WordPress's new editor decided to turn a carriage return into some strange modal event that absorbed all my keystrokes and threatened to post the page before I was ready. Where was I?

Oh! So! What can I say? To prevent propagation of infecftion, elbow bump or fist bump rather than shaking hands, don't touch the "T" - your eyes nose or mouth - and if you have to cough or sneeze, do so into your shirt, not into your hand or even a handkerchief (those spread infection to your hands). If you get infected, get plenty of rest, plenty of fluids, look up the appropriate treatment for your symptoms, and take your placebo of choice, because while placebos don't work, the placebo effect definitely does. No, it doesn't have to make sense; it's just the evidence. Suck it up, Chester.

So! All that stuff I wanted to blog over the holidays. <looks at list> Sigh.

Guess it will have to wait. Back to work!

Back to Aqui and my usual work pile.

-the Centaur

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