Dragon Con Schedule, 2017 Edition!

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Hail, fellow adventurers! I’ll be back at Dragon Con again this year, with a great set of panels! Sometimes that includes dropping in on the Writing Track, but the ones we have officially scheduled so far are:

  • Androids & Automatons
    Friday 1pm – Sheraton / Augusta
    This presentation will cover the history of artificial life from the ancient Greeks to modern automata artists. Techniques for creating your own automata will also be shared.
  • Practical Time Travel for the Storyteller
    Saturday 4pm – Sheraton / Athens
    This panel discusses the real science behind time travel, as well as how these scientific theories can place both challenging & rewarding demands on the stories we tell. Time dilation, the grandfather paradox, & others will be explained & these theories discussed.
  • The Magic and Technology of Building Alternate Worlds
    Saturday 5:30pm – Sheraton / Augusta
    Be it alchemical spells or industrial revolution, many alternate history and Steampunk worlds feature magic, fantastic technological marvels, or even both. But each choice shapes the worlds these authors build. This roundtable discuss worldbuilding and the balance between fantasy and science.
  • Author Reading: Anthony Francis
    Sunday 2:30pm – Hyatt / University
    SF & Urban Fantasy author of Frost Moon, Blood Rock and Liquid Fire reads from his work, including selections from Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine, from future Dakota Frost novels, and maybe even some Cinnamon Frost stories!

Also, I was scheduled to do a SAM Talk, but it was inadvertently booked over my author reading, and I pretty much have to prioritize my own author reading over a SAM Talk even if there might be more people at the other room. So if you attend my author reading, you may also get to hear what was intended to be my SAM Talk, “Risk Getting Worse”.

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Hope to see you all there – from my end of the table, it kind of looks like this:

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Here’s crossing fingers that we get the double booking all worked out!

-the Centaur

The Climb up the Hill

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Taking on a challenge like writing a novel can seem daunting. A good novel can range from 60,000 words for a young adult novel or a romance up to 360,000 word for a fantasy novel, with a typical length closer to 90,000 to 120,000 words. For perspective, a paragraph in a five-paragraph essay can be 100 words, so a 100,000 word novel like my first novel, FROST MOON, is like a thousand-paragraph essay. To someone who had trouble getting those 500 words down, that’s incredibly daunting.

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Challenges like National Novel Writing Month can, paradoxically, make it easier. 50,000 words in a month seems daunting, but that’s only half a full-length novel, and even more so, it’s not 50,000 words of a finished novel: it’s 50,000 words of unpolished first draft. You can let yourself write drek you’re not proud of if it gets words on the page. If you’re the kind of person daunted by the thought of writing a whole novel, or paralyzed by perfectionism, National Novel Writing Month offers an easier path up the hill.

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Still, it’s a long hill. And it can be daunting, no doubt. Especially if you tend to get behind, like I do, or if you tend to get trapped polishing your words, as I often do. You sometimes need tips and techniques to help yourself get past the stumbling blocks.

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Here are a few of the ones that have worked for me in the past.

  • Commit to Writing Every Day. This is really hard to do, so you need to make sure you do it. You’ll fail, of course, but if you’re constantly writing every day, then missing a day won’t hurt you. If you’re not writing every day, however, soon, you’ll be a week behind, with no way to come back.
  • Track Your Progress. If you don’t track your progress, you can find yourself far off the path. I use a spreadsheet which tells me how far ahead (or, more often, behind) I am and how many words I need to write each day to stay on track for the end of the month. Other people use the National Novel Writing Month site to track this.
  • Put Writing First. Turn off your Internet until you’ve written. Put off that computer game. Defer going to see that movie until the end of the month. For me, since I read and write over lunch, dinner, and coffee, I have to shut off my internet and defer reading the next scientific paper in my stack until I’ve gotten my word count for the day (with the exception of when my food actually is hot on the plate; I’ll read then as it’s hard to write and eat at the same time).
  • Don’t Edit – Just Write. Editing can come later. It’s not adding words to your document. Get your first draft down, then edit it, or you won’t get your 50,000 words in the month, and if you can’t get through 50,000 words without getting bogged down in edits, you’ll never get your 100,000 word novel done.
  • Don’t Delete – Use Strikethrough. Don’t cut words during Nano, that’s just shooting yourself in the foot. The point is to get through your whole story. If you don’t like something you wrote, strike it out, put it in italics, whatever, just mark it for future revision and write what you want instead as the next paragraph. Trust me, your inner editor can turn on your new idea just as easily as it can turn on your old – so get them both down and move on. I use a special style in Word called “Summary” for this purpose – italics surrounded by dotted lines.
  • Don’t Research – Use Angle Brackets. My writing group uses <angle brackets> to indicate something that must be filled in later. Other people use the copyediting term TK – to come (sic). The point is, use something unique and searchable. Turn off your Internet, resist the desire to chase links in Wikipedia or TV Tropes, and write <TK: for that thing you wanted to fill in here but couldn’t think of at the time> so you can come back to it later.
  • ALTERNATELY. In addition to angle brackets, I use the word “ALTERNATELY” when I realize a scene’s gone the wrong way. Rather than rewriting or creating new connective material, I say ALTERNATELY, or perhaps “ALTERNATELY: Dakota realizes something is wrong” and then pick up where I left off. On the next pass, this is easily fixable.
  • Remember, at some point, you may hate it. Sooner or later, every writer falls out of love with their manuscript. That’s OK. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The point is not to cater to your emotions, but to get through your emotions to the end of your project. Let the hate flow through you! And move on to the next bit. Sooner or later, every writer falls in love with their manuscript – and the sooner you write more words, the sooner you’ll get there.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but these tips helped me.

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Writing 50,000 words of rough draft is not writing a novel. You’ve got a lot more to go – between 10,000 and 310,000 words depending on whether you’re aiming at Goosebumps or George R. R. Martin. But if you can get 50,000 words under your belt, you’ll have the pleasure of looking back and realizing you can accomplish quite a climb.

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20 Goes at Nano

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Above you see a big pile of all the words I’ve written in National Novel Writing Month and related challenges, laid out horizontally by day of month and laid down vertically by the challenge in which I wrote them, creating an interesting strata effect, like words deposited by a geological process. This month marks my 20th attempt at Nano, 18 of which were successful:

Deliverance 2002 Nanowrimo WINNER
Frost Moon 2007 Nanowrimo WINNER
Blood Rock 2008 Nanowrimo WINNER
Liquid Fire 2009 Nanowrimo WINNER
Clockwork 2010 Nanowrimo WINNER
Clockwork 2010 December Nano FAILED
Hex Code 2011 Nanowrimo WINNER
Clockwork 2012 Script Frenzy WINNER
Spectral Iron 2012 Nanowrimo WINNER
Marooned 2013 Nanowrimo WINNER
Spectral Iron 2014 Camp Nanowrimo WINNER
Spectral Iron 2014 August Nano FAILED
Phantom Silver 2014 Nanowrimo WINNER
Spectral Iron 2015 Camp Nanowrimo WINNER
Hex Code 2015 Nanowrimo WINNER
Phantom Silver 2016 Camp Nanowrimo WINNER
Phantom Silver 2016 Camp Nanowrimo WINNER
Spiritual Gold 2016 Nanowrimo WINNER
Spiritual Gold 2017 Camp Nanowrimo WINNER
Spiritual Gold 2017 Camp Nanowrimo WINNER

As I’ve noted before, the two in which I failed were “off months” where I tried to tackle Nanowrimo on my own. For me, it’s much harder without the external benefit of the contest, and on the two times I tried it I bombed out after a few days. You can see that in this graph, which shows the number of words I’m ahead or behind at each part of the month:

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This graph means the most to me, because I was involved in the creation of it, and so intuitively understand it; if I see my monthly progress (the darkest line above) below the dotted line of the average, I know to worry; if I see it below my worst track for any part of the month, I know to really get cracking. Looks like the farthest behind I ever got (and succeeded) was 20,00 words behind, on LIQUID FIRE in 2009, and in PHANTOM SILVER in 2016.

But for people not intimately involved in laying down those tracks, the average amount ahead / behind per day is perhaps more useful:

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This shows that a successful Nanowrimo participant can be very far ahead, or very far behind, and still win in the month. Do what works for you! There’s a lot of wiggle room in there.

But if you’re more interested in brass tacks, here’s the maximum and average amount I wrote in each day:

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This shows that typically at the start of Nano I’m writing a little bit less than the needed word count per day, and at the end of Nano I’m writing a little bit more – but that the maximum I have to do each day is radically more than that – once almost 10,000 words (and that was a hell of a push, I can tell you – that was PHANTOM SILVER in July of 2016, and I was down to the wire, writing 7000 words in the last day – and finding the Camp Nano counter was 2000 words off of Microsoft Word’s count, so I had to generate 2,000 more words in the last couple of hours).

I will probably dig a bit more into SPIRITUAL over the last two days of the 30 day challenge (I know July has an extra day, but I can use the break). I’m not quite done – the manuscript is at 171,330 words, but maybe 20,000 to 30,000 words of that are in-manuscript notes that need to be turned into text, and then I have a lot I want to cut. During Nano, if I change my mind about how a scene is going, I don’t cut it and rewrite it, because that defeats the purpose of generating words; I write the word ALTERNATELY on its own line and rewrite the scene. After Nano, all that needs to get edited, merged and/or cut.

Often, I find that I’m not satisfied with the first rough draft text I produce in Nano. There are amazing gems in there, but also drek. But at the same time, I find that I am almost always very satisfied at having a text that flows through all the scenes I wanted to write. The idea of a scene in your head is just that – an idea. It’s not real until you write it. If you don’t write it, you can’t improve it – you’ll either long for it to be written, or you’ll elaborate on your idea of it in your head endlessly, or, worst of all, get caught up in the smug satisfaction of your own unfinished work, admiring the creation of something awesome that doesn’t actually exist.

But once you write it, you can see whether the idea works or not. You can decide to keep it, or refine it, or discard it. Even better, it springboards you – into new alternates for the same scene, or new ideas for what happens next, or new insights into your character, their plot, and the themes of your story.

Don’t just dream your story – write it down. Only by writing dreams down can you turn them into reality.

And Nanowrimo is a great place to get started with that. The 50,000 word challenge may seem impossible. It may not even seem like the kind of thing you want to do. No one is making you, after all: you don’t have to. But if your head is filling with ideas and you can’t get them out, why not take on an impossible seeming challenge to write 50,000 words of them down.

Believe me, it’s possible.

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-the Centaur

Viiictory^18

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So, for the eighteenth time, I have won a National Novel Writing Month challenge … this time, the 50,000 word challenge for Camp Nano of July 2017!

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The cafe I’m in is about to close, but I’m proud to say I (a) finished the 50,000 words a few days early so I can relax this weekend and (b) solved some problems in my manuscript, making it easier for me to reach that final finish line for Dakota Frost #6, SPIRITUAL GOLD!

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More tomorrow when I have more time to reflect on getting this much closer to the end …

Onward!

-the Centaur

Mining that SPIRITUAL GOLD

Well, we’re getting ahead of the curve at last on SPIRITUAL GOLD … two days ahead.

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My writing retreat this weekend has paid off. I spent some time hanging out with the Treehouse Writers at the Linde Lane Tea Room in Dixon, California, then holed up in a hotel in downtown Davis, hanging out in bookstores and coffeehouses in an attempt to make some progress on SPIRITUAL GOLD. The actual day of the drive was a wash, but after that, I managed to get more than two days worth of words done in each day, and almost that today.

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Now at last I’m ahead of the curve, and if I can stay there for a few more days, I’ll win Camp Nano. More importantly, however, I’ve marched forward in the manuscript so I’m around Chapter 37 out of roughly 50, with much of the text of the remainder partially written and merely needing some ironing out. With luck, I’ll finish SPIRITUAL GOLD at the end of the month, and shortly thereafter, and then can begin editing Dakota Frosts #4-#6 together as one big trilogy.

Onward!

-the Centaur

Getting Momentum on SPIRITUAL GOLD

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As usual, it takes me some time to get back into a book, especially if I’ve spent the first few days of the month distracted by something like, uh, I dunno, scouting locations for the book.

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But, now, after about a week of concerted work, I’m getting my legs under me. Blood remains in the water, but it is receding.

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Should I include an excerpt? Ah, sure. Raw stuff, still needs more research, but, here you go:

“Hey, hey, hey,” I said. “Why would you want me to use the isolation tank?”

“Because Carrington got infected after a spirit journey she took here,” Heinz said. “A journey which just might have taken her into faerie, given our current theory. And since I have the magical affinity of a wet noodle, and wouldn’t know a faerie from a star on Broadway—”

“Troglodyte,” I muttered, glaring at him. “Fine, fine, fine, I’m the best suited for this … this suicide mission—”

“No!” Wilz said. “If you really think this will hurt you, no go. I don’t need the liability.”

I sighed, then stared at Heinz.

“In my professional judgment,” Heinz said, “if this was a normal infection, one of the hundreds of people who’ve used this isolation tank would already have been infected. If this was a magical infection, you would already have been infected by your prior exposure. And if there’s magic here at all … you’re the most likely one to find it.”

“Fine.” I said. “Fine—”

“I … will show you to the showers,” Wilz said.

Ten minutes later, I returned from a quick splashdown, holding tight to my body a big, warm, white fuzzy robe provided by Wilz, as Heinz looked at me with quite the smirk. I glared at him, then turned the glare on Wilz, who recoiled in a mix of surprise and curiosity.

“No commentary!” I said, peeling off the robe quickly, bare to my metal bikini. “Zipit!”

Wilz took the robe, then drew his hand across his mouth, glancing at Heinz.

“Okay,” Wilz said. “We’d rather not have to flush this water after each use, so—”

“Don’t say don’t pee in it,” I said, pointing at him. “I know that already! I’m an adult!”

“Yeah, well,” Heinz began.

“And you’re not!” I shot back.

“I didn’t personally put Doctor Orleans in the tank,” Wilz said. “I don’t know what was said, so I don’t know how to recreate the conditions that she, er, he, experienced while in there. All I can tell you is to lie down, to relax … and to keep your head above water.”

“I hope there’s a headrest,” I muttered.

“There is,” Wilz said. “Let me help you in—”

The Epsom salt laden water of the tank was warm, thick, almost tacky as I went in. The tank made soft booming noises as I moved, strangely muffled by the outer padding. Wilz helped me straighten out to level, then guided my head down to a horseshoe-shaped rest.

The door of the tank closed … and I was left in darkness.

Onward!

-the Centaur

SPIRITUAL GOLD in Progress

So this is NOT the cover for Dakota Frost #6, SPIRITUAL GOLD …

… but it is what I’m using as a cover for my Camp Nanowrimo page for July.

For those not in the know, much of the Dakota Frost series is written during National Novel Writing Month and the related Camp Nanowrimo challenges. For each of these, I take on the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month. This month, I’m working on Dakota Frost #6, SPIRITUAL GOLD.

Now, this may seem far away, as the latest Dakota Frost out is, #3, LIQUID FIRE, available wherever fine books are sold. But, to reduce the gap between books – and to increase the coherence between books, I’m writing the next three Dakota Frost books and the first three Cinnamon Frost books together, as one, giant, loosely-connected, six-part novel.

Dakota Frost’s next adventures have the working titles SPECTRAL IRON, PHANTOM SILVER, and SPIRITUAL GOLD. Running just behind each of these will be Cinnamon Frost’s first solo adventures, HEX CODE, BOT NET and ROOT USER. I’ve finished rough drafts of SPECTRAL IRON, PHANTOM SILVER, and HEX CODE, and hope to finish the rough draft of SPIRITUAL GOLD this month.

At that point, I’ll start trying to get the Dakota Frost trilogy beaten into shape, even though it will take me two more Nano pushes (at least) to finish up the slightly shorter Cinnamon Frost novels.

Regardless, hope to get these in your hands soon. Wish me luck!

-the Centaur

Viiictory the Seventeenth

Huzzah! I have once again completed Camp Nano, the little sister to National Novel Writing Month! This marks the seventeenth time I’ve written 50,000 words in a month!

This month was pretty rough between the recent book launches of THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE and the reprint of TWELVE HOURS LATER, not to mention the upcoming release of SOME TIME LATER – plus a whole bunch of work at work-work teaching robots to learn when the darn things just want to not learn.

That left blood in the water for most of the month, but I really, really, really wanted to be able to take Sunday off and spend time at church, with my wife and cats, and getting caught up on stuff, so I powered through it, trying to make sure I didn’t just finish the 50,000 by my count, but also finished the extra ~1500 or so words caused by the discrepancy between the Camp Nano word counter and the one on Microsoft Word, which I use every day.

I was really struggling until I remembered working on my first Nano project, FROST MOON, in which I had to take my characters to the “werehouse” … which I had no idea how to write … but just dove in, creating some wonderful ideas that fleshed out the story wonderfully, including Cinnamon Frost. Well, this time I had Dakota and one of her friends heading to a Hopi kiva, and I had no idea how to write that either … so I just dove in:

The road dipped and weaved out of the green plains and into low foothills. We stopped at … shudder … a McDonalds-cum-gas station for fuel for us and the car, and I took over driving, as the roads got windier and the hills got higher and drier.

“Here,” Heinz said, pointing, as he checked the map we picked up at the gas station. We weren’t using our phones—what the DEI could scramble, it could likely unscramble—but he had his laptop out, WiFi off, and was crossreferencing Carrington’s notes. “Seventeen more miles.”

The off-ramp led us to an increasingly narrow series of roads connected at T-junctions, with houses and civilization fewer and fewer at each series of turns. Then we crested a hill and were confronted by a valley … the seat of the lone peak called Crown Mountain.

“Fuuck,” Heinz said. “This is important. This means something.”

“Hat tip, Agent Heinz,” I said, leaning forward. “Damn …”

Crown ‘Mountain’ was, technically, a mesa, set on a flat plain of mixed dirt and scrub like a medieval castle. An imposing shaft of rock, solid and red-gold in the afternoon light, rose nineteen hundred feet above the floor of the valley, surrounded by a cone of tumbled rock like slanted ramparts. Atop the shaft, erosion had cut notches like parapets, leading to the crown appearance that gave the crag its name. But our eyes were drawn to the notches cut in it by humans: the largest collection of cave dwellings this side of Mesa Verde … and the only cave dwellings in North America that had been continually inhabited for the last thousand years.

“Holy fuck,” Heinz said, as we drove closer and closer to that jumble of deep gashes, ancient caves, ruined mounds, decaying huts, old houses and new construction that was the town of … “Tuukviela,” Heinz said, reading. “Variously, Crown Village or Mesa Village.”

“Speak of the devil,” I said: an oversized sign read TUUKVIELA: POP 373.

Forgive the rough-draftiness of the passage, but I have the feeling that Crown Mountain, Tuukivela, the Padilla family kiva and nearby Montañacorona will perhaps recur in a later Dakota Frost book … but who knows? I had enough fun to write 7030 words today.

I’ll go into a bit more about why this was a significant milestone in my writing life tomorrow, because it’s 4:16AM and I need some fricking sleep. Till then …

Best of luck, fellow Camp Nano campers!

-the Centaur

LIQUID FIRE on Sale!

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Good news, friends of the Edgeworld! If you’ve caught up on the first two Dakota Frost books and want to try the third, you’re in luck – the Kindle edition of LIQUID FIRE is on sale for $1.99 through the end of the month! Will our lonely tattooed heroine finally find a girlfriend? Will her daughter finally get recognition for her mathematical skill? And will the ancient cadre of wizards out to rule the world let them have a free minute to enjoy a frappe at their favorite bookstore … or will they find themselves fighting fire ninjas to the death in a struggle for control of the spirit of a hatching dragon? Read LIQUID FIRE and you’ll find out!

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-the Centaur

Struggling to Get Started

Ugh. Once again, struggling to get started on Nanowrimo. It isn’t like I have one project struggling to survive at work and three others struggling to get off the ground, or two books to launch, or promotion on two books already out! Excuses, excuses, if I showed my normal graph it would just be blood in the water – I’m doing hundreds of words a day on Camp Nano when I need thousands.

But I also freely admit I’m cheating here. The events of Dakota Frost Book 6 are going to come back later – possibly much later, most likely somewhere in books 10-12 – and I got inspired to write that scene, which I write in the rough draft manuscript for SPIRITUAL GOLD until I decide into which book that scene will land. That inflates the word count of SG a bit … but it also gives me a very clear outcome to drive towards when I work on the scenes in this book that set up the scenes for that book in the far future…

Onward!

-the Centaur