Viiictory the Sixteenth

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Hooray! I have now successfully completed National Novel Writing Month sixteen times (out of eighteen tries, counting Camp Nanos and such), finishing the first 50,000 words of Dakota Frost #6, SPIRITUAL GOLD!

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It’s easy to look at the big cliff over the past few days and not realize how far I got behind, between getting sick, wrangling robots at work, and some damn election thing. That’s why I haven’t been posting much this month – I had to knuckle down to overcome this:

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The good news is, the more and more I do this, the better I understand how I’m doing. While I was behind, I wasn’t unsurmountably behind, at least not compared to my yearly averages:

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Over the years, I’ve tackled Nanowrimo many, many times, and this year tracked my average performance pretty closely:

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It is super late, and I’m tired, and I want to go hug my wife, who just woke up after a long winters nap when she finished work for an art show. So I’ll post excerpts later! Oh wait, here’s a little one:

“Mom, so help me, I swear,” said my daughter Cinnamon—her voice a growl, her whiskers aquiver, and one long clawed finger pointing menacingly in my general direction—“if you try to go off half cocked I will ground you until the heat death of the universe!”

How the worm turns. Onward! Or, on to bed.

-the Centaur

The Good News

The good news is, the presentation I had today at work went very well. Yay robots! The bad news?

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Eleven days into Nano, and seven thousand words behind. Argh.

-the Centaur

Nanowrimo 18: Spiritual Gold

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So for the 18th time I’m taking on a National Novel Writing Month challenge (counting Camp Nano), this time starting Dakota Frost Book 6: Spiritual Gold!

Dakota Frost is the best magical tattooist in the Southeast, and is rapidly becoming the best magical investigator … but what about magical medicine? When Dakota’s called on to help with a zombie epidemic, is the solution simply finding a cure for a disease … or stopping an implacable force determined to break down the walls between the living and the dead?

And an excerpt:

Those who live by the sword, die by the sword, or so the saying goes; personally, I like to say that those who acquire a dangerous magical blade ought to learn to use it properly, or they’re likely to die skewered, embarrassingly, by their own faerie lightsaber.

On that note, having the most powerful magical sword in the world sure wasn’t saving my ass today. For that matter, my ass was not well being well served by my martial arts training, my considerable magical expertise, nor even my vast library of magical tattoos.

Because I’m Dakota Frost, the Skeptical Witch, and while I am many things—the best magical tattooist in the Southeast, a Skindancer who can dance her tattoos to life, making me, allegedly, one of the most powerful magicians in the world—one thing I am not is a fencer.

“Ow,” I said, as my instructor whapped my ass, once again, with a springy wooden Japanese practice sword called a shinai. I stumbled away, swinging my own shinai back at her, as she stepped back and laughed. “No fair capitalizing on my … my stupidness.”

“It was your idea to add free form practice,” said Gina Ho, the secondary instructor at the dojo where I dilettanted at Shao Lin. She was an actual Olympic-grade sabreuse who’d agreed to train me after hours. “Pick a style and learn the basics before picking up that … that thing.

She jerked her head at the wall of the dojo, where I had piled my gym bag, my satchel, my folded leather pants, my carefully folded leather vestcoat, and leaning carelessly atop it all, an innocent-looking brown leather case with shoulder-slung strap. One had too look at it closely to realize that the handle poking out of the end meant the leather case … was a scabbard.

“You practicing?” asked Master Ho cheerfully, and Gina and I jumped. Gina’s uncle was a genial, balding Iowan of Chinese descent, whose Midwestern accent belied his deep roots in the Shao Lin tradition he’d received from his father—down to a near-supernatural ability to move around silently on his perpetually unshod feet. “No? Give her her money’s worth.”

“Money?” Gina grumbled. “Uncle Marcus, I’m volunteering to—”

“Remember your proverbs,” Ho said, mock-sternly. “Always listen to your uncle.”

“Fine,” Gina said, stomping off to the lockers. “Alright, Dakota, you get your wish.”

I smiled, bowed politely to Gina’s back, bowed to Master Ho … and then darted back to my things, hefting the long case, feeling its weight. “My precious,” I muttered, though I really wasn’t that attached; still, my eyes gleamed … as I drew the Salzkammergutschwert.

The Salt Chamber Sword was a dark metal sword, strangely angular, like a geometric S. Thirty one inches from tip to guard, tapered triangular, like a cleaver, the Salzkammergutschwert was forged from a strange lustrous metal as dark as hematite—not one blade, but two, back to back, with a hairsbreadth’s distance between them; they never seemed to strike each other, but resonated, like a tuning fork, leading to its other name … the Songblade.

Current theory was the Songblade wasn’t a sword at all, but a component of a larger faery artifact, some magical resonator which merely happened to be indestructible—and sharp, leading early humans to wrap its “hilt” with dark, oily leather straps enchanted for durability. Maybe that was why the hilt, thirteen inches from guard to pommel, was fashioned in two angled parts that didn’t quite align with the blade, but it gave the weapon a comfortable hand-and-a-half grip. Backing the resonator theory was a circular space in the pommel, showing all signs of being a setting for a magical gem; but that missing component didn’t prevent the Salt Chamber Sword from serving its primary magical function as a negative energy resonator … making it of great interest to a Skeptical Witch who knew a little physics.

But still, it looked like a sword, and was used like one, because it was indestructible.

Time to learn how to wield it.

More soon. I got 1500+ words done tonight! Just 48500 words to go!

Onward!

-the Centaur

Book Reading: 1pm Sunday

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So, Dakota Frost and Jeremiah Willstone fans, come to Dragon Con this Sunday at 1pm and you’ll get to hear me read from both series! I’ll be reading from one of FROST MOON or LIQUID FIRE (depending on how many fans in the audience there are who have read each book) and from THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE. Also, I’ll likely read one or more of my flash fiction pieces, probably “Solomon’s Baby” and possibly a few other short pieces depending on time.

  • Reading: Anthony Francis
    Sunday 1pm, Edgewood – Hyatt
    Anthony Francis reads from the Skindancer series, from THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, from his flash fiction work, and answers your questions!
  • Steampunk/Alternate History Is Here to Stay
    Sunday 8:30pm, Embassy CD – Hyatt
    Is the Steampunk market soft? Writers discuss keeping the genre alive and kicking. How to infuse your Steampunk/Alt History novels and stories with new life.

Later, I’ll be talking more about steampunk at 8:30pm as well. Also, at 10am on Monday, not on the schedule, I’ll be on a panel about starting a small press. Drop on by, and I hope you enjoy!

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Pictured: a cool staircase because it’s cool, and the neat badge schedule things they give us to tell us where to go when.

-the Centaur

Dragon Con! 2016! I’ll be there!

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So, Labor Day is rolling around again, and once again, I’ll be at Dragon Con! I’m actually on a boatload of panels this year, but the most important one is my book reading, Sunday at 1PM at the Hyatt! Come on by and help me make this room:

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look like this room:

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I’ll be reading from THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, from the Dakota Frost series including both the published trilogy and the forthcoming books, and also I’ll likely read some of my flash fiction pieces! Come and enjoy!

If panels are more of your bag, however, I’ve got plenty for you:

  • Friday

    • Avoiding Historical Mistakes
      Friday, 7pm, 204 J Mart 2
      Our panelists will not debate whether science fiction/fantasy, even steampunk fiction, NEEDS to be as historically accurate as possible within the limits of its alternative universe. Our interest in this discussion will be in writing historically convincing fiction and sharing resources.
  • Saturday

    • You’ve Sold the First Book, Now What?
      Saturday 10am, Embassy CD – Hyatt
      What happens next? Publishing professionals offer information about the industry–what they’re going to do, and what you need to do for yourself.
    • Writing a Synopsis That Will Sell Your Book – MODERATOR
      Saturday 2:30pm, Embassy CD – Hyatt
      Writing a great synopsis may be harder than writing a book. These outliners and pantsers will offer suggestions to make the process easier.
    • 101 Fascinating Ways to Kill off a Character
      Saturday 10pm, Embassy CD – Hyatt
      Description: Our favorite writers recount some of the more interesting ways they’ve eliminated characters–or tried to.
  • Sunday

    • Reading: Anthony Francis
      Sunday 1pm, Edgewood – Hyatt
      Anthony Francis reads from the Skindancer series, from THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, from his flash fiction work, and answers your questions!
    • Steampunk/Alternate History Is Here to Stay
      Sunday 8:30pm, Embassy CD – Hyatt
      Is the Steampunk market soft? Writers discuss keeping the genre alive and kicking. How to infuse your Steampunk/Alt History novels and stories with new life.
  • Monday

    • The Good, the Bad, and the Scary: Witches in UF
      Monday 11:30am, Chastain DE – Westin
      Witches in Urban Fantasy run the gamut from helpful to extremely dangerous and self-serving. Our authors discuss their characters as reflections of the category they fall into.
    • Secret History: Bet You Didn’t Know It Happened That Way!
      Monday 1pm, 204 J – Mart2
      Our alternate history authors and experts describe that variety of tales where the public and world at large have no idea what really happened behind the scenes. Many authors have written in the subgenre. Classic short stories and novels will be discussed.

Oh! Hey! I’m moderating one of them panels. Good to know! (Seriously, a year or two back I found out I was moderating a panel when I sat down, and I’d only found out about the panel ten minutes before). Regardless, come on down to Dragon Con and have fun!

-Anthony

Finished a rough draft of PHANTOM SILVER

I just finished a rough draft of Book 5 in the Dakota Frost, Skindancer series. I’d love to sit back and reflect on all the novels I’ve finished (3 published, one at the editor, 3 more drafts finished, 3 more beyond that partially finished, one in the sock drawer, and one half-finished novel that got away from me) but I have contracts to edit. So, for now, I’ll just leave this here…

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Viiictory the Fifteenth

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Once again, I’ve completed the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenges – this time, the July 2016 Camp Nanowrimo, and the next 50,000 words of Dakota Frost #5, PHANTOM SILVER!

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This is the reason that I’ve been so far behind on posting on my blog – I simultaneously was working on four projects: edits on THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, writing PHANTOM SILVER, doing publishing work for Thinking Ink Press, and doing my part at work-work to help bring about the robot apocalypse (it’s busy work, let me tell you). So busy that I didn’t even blog successfully getting TCTM back to the editor. Add to that a much needed old-friends recharge trip to Tahoe kicking off the month, and I ended up more behind than I’ve ever been … at least, as far as I’ve been behind, and still won:

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What did I learn this time? Well, I can write over 9,000 words a day, though the text often contains more outline than story; I will frequently stop and do GMC (Goal Motivation Conflict) breakdowns of all the characters in the scene and just leave it in the document as paragraphs of italicized notes, because Nano – I can take it out later, its word count now now now! That’s how you get five times a normal word count in a day, or 500+ times the least productive day in which I actually wrote something.

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Also, I get really really really sloppy – normally I wordsmith what I write as I write, even in Nano – but that’s when I have the luxury of writing 1000-2000 words a day. When I have to write 9000, I write things like “I want someoent bo elive this whnen ai Mideone” and just keep going, knowing that I can correct the text later to “I want someone to believe this when I am done,” and, more importantly, can use the idea behind that text to craft a better scene on the next draft (in this case, Dakota’s cameraman Ron is filming a bizarre event in which someone’s life is at stake, and when challenged by a bystander he challenges back, saying that he doesn’t have any useful role to fill, but he can at least document what’s happening so they’ll all be believed later).

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The other thing is, what I am starting to call The Process actually seems to work. I put characters in situations. I think through how they would react, using Goal Motivation Conflict to pull out what they want, why they want it, and why they can’t get it (a method recommended by my editor Debra Dixon in her GMC book). But the critical part of my Process is, when I have to go write something that I don’t know, I look it up – in a lot of detail. Yes, Virginia, even when I was writing 9,000+ words a day, I still went on Wikipedia – and I don’t regret it. Why? Because when I’m spewing around trying to make characters react like they’re in a play, the characters are just emoting, and the beats, no matter how well motivated, could get replaced by something else.

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But when it strikes me that the place my characters area about visit looks like a basilica, I can do more than just write “basilica.” I can ask myself why I chose that word. I can look up the word “basilica” on Apple’s Dictionary app. I can drill through to famous basilicas like the Basilica of Saint Peter. I can think about how this place will be different from that, and start pulling out telling details. I can start to craft a space, to create staging, to create an environment that my characters can react to. Because emotions aren’t just inside us, or between us; they’re for something, for navigating this complex world with other humans at our side. If a group of people argues, no matter how charged, it’s just a soap opera. Put them in their own Germanic/Appalachian heritage family kitchen in the Dark Corner of South Carolina, on on the meditation path near an onsen run continuously by the same family for 42 generations, and the same argument can have a completely different ambiance – and completely different reactions.

The text I wrote using my characters reacting to the past plot, or even with GMC, may likely need a lot of tweaking: the point was to get them to a particular emotional, conceptual or plot space. The text I wrote with the characters reacting to things that were real, even if it needs tweaking, often crackles off the page, even in very rough form. It’s material I won’t want to lose – more importantly, material I wouldn’t have produced, if I hadn’t pushed myself to do National Novel Writing Month.

Up next, finishing a few notes and ideas – the book is very close to done – and then diving into contracts for Thinking Ink Press, and reinforcement learning policy gradients for the robot apocalypse, all while waiting for the shoe to drop on TCTM. Keep your fingers crossed that the book is indeed on its way out!

-the Centaur

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

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

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

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Back to work. Comic-Con, next year.

-the Centaur

Hashtag #stormofghosts

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

-the Centaur

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

Camp Nano July 2016: PHANTOM SILVER

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

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

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

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

Onward!

-the Centaur