Viiiictory…

For the second time, I’ve entered and “won” the National Novel Writing Month contest. This challenge is to start a new novel in November and to write 50,000 words of the first draft before the end of the month. And, by becoming a hermit, not responding to email, and writing over Thanksgiving, I did it!

The working title of the novel is Frost Moon (though over on my Nanowrimo profile I was still calling it “Skindancer” before I found out that the full moon that happens during the course of the book is a “frost moon”).

And now, the beginning of Frost Moon. Enjoy.

Frost Moon

I first started wearing a Mohawk to repel low-lifes — barflies, vampires, Republicans, and so on — but when I found my true profession it turned into an ad. People’s eyes are drawn by my hair — no longer a true Mohawk, but a big, unruly “deathhawk,” a stripe of feathered black, purple and white streaks climbing down the center of my head — but they linger on the tattoos, which start as tribalesque vines in the shaved spaces on either side of the ’hawk and then cascade down my throat to my shoulders, flowering into roses and jewels and butterflies.

Their colors are so vivid, their details so sharp many people mistake them for body paint, or assume that they can’t have been done in the States. Yes, they’re real; no, they’re not Japanese — they’re all, with a few exceptions, done by my own hand, right here in Atlanta at the Rogue Unicorn in Little Five Points. Drop by — I’ll ink you. Ask for Dakota Frost.

To retain the more … perceptive … eye, I started wearing an ankle-length leather vest that shows off the intricate designs on my arms, and a cutoff top and lowrider jeans that that show off a tribal yin-yang on my midriff. Throughout it all you can see the curving black tail of some thing big, beginning on the left side of my neck, looping around the yin-yang on my midriff, and arcing through the leaves on my right shoulder. Most people think it’s a dragon, and they wouldn’t be wrong; in case anyone misses the point, I even have the design sewn into the back of a few of my vests.

But those who live on the edge might see a little more: magical runes woven in the tribal designs, working charms woven into the flowers, and, if you look real close at the tail of the dragon, the slow movement of a symbolic familiar. Yes, it did move; and yes, that’s real magic. Drop by the Rogue Unicorn — you’re still asking for the one and only Dakota Frost, the best magical tattooist in the Southeast.

The downside to being a walking ad, of course, is that some of the folks you want to attract start to see you as a scary low-life. We all know that vampires can turn out to be quite decent folk, but so can cleancut young Republicans looking for their first tattoo to impress their tree-hugger girlfriends. As for barflies, well, they’re still barflies; but unfortunately I find the more tats I show the greater the chance that the cops will throw me into the back of the van too if a barfight breaks out.

So I couldn’t help being nervous as two officers marched me into City Hall East…

-the Centaur

“Aha!” he said, “mine’ll be self-referential!”

Telling a story in six words? Unbelievable, until you see the evidence! Over on Wired:
Very Short Stories. Writers needing exercises, try it out!

-the Centaur
P.S. Technically I realize that the above is an essay told in six-word sentences, not four separate six-word stories, but then many of the “stories” over on Wired are really haiku-like phrases that set a scene. So sue me.

Torturing Our Characters For Your Pleasure

I’ve been a part of the “Dragonwriters” writing group since 2002, when a group of people who attended Ann Crispin’s Dragon*Con writing class decided that they wanted to stay in touch … and did. We eventually came up with a slogan for our group … “Dragonwriters: Torturing Our Characters for Your Pleasure” based on the idea that authors should put their characters through the wringer in order to create interesting stories. Well, now we have a t-shirt based on this idea:

Enjoy!
-the Centaur

The Visual Writer: Always Interesting

A shout out to Scott Cole and his always interesting Visual Writer site, which is more comprehensive than I could possibly describe in a few short paragraphs. If you’re at all interested in improving your writing, the philosophy of words, or the philosophy of the human condition, you should check it out.

Centaurs In Space III

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Part III of Article 30 from December 31, 2003.


Last in the series “Centaurs in Space”, with text drawn from my short story “Death Wish” and images drawn from my sequential adaptation of the same story.

Death Wish
by Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr.

…then the remains of the shuttle slammed into the black surface of the asteroid.

Porsche flinched at the impact, then glared as the sparking hulk of the kyore carrier tumbled past the jagged scarp that had caught the shuttle and impacted the far end.

The edges of the black expanse seemed to shiver, and glowing bits of kyore scattered across the far end of the dumbbell like pretty little fireworks…

Centaurs In Space II

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Part II of Article 30 from December 18, 2003.


Second in the series of “Centaurs in Space”, with text drawn from my short story “Death Wish” and images drawn from my sequential adaptation of the same story.

Death Wish
by Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr.

…The mission started well enough: a thousand light years in a trusty B4 shuttle, charting a star factory trailing the shock wave of the Perseus spiral arm. Two days out, and the routine was starting to settle in: dust clouds curdled here, disks of collapsing gas there, and blue supergiants everywhere, burning the candles at both ends.

It looked to be an uneventful jaunt, and she was already getting an itch to see her husband back on the Dragonfire…

Centaurs In Space I

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Part I of Article 30 from December 10, 2003.


Done Been Gone Too Long. Well, friends, it’s been almost 9 months since I’ve updated the site. In that time, I’ve been through crunch time on a major project, bought a new computer, took a road trip from the Stanford Linear Accelerator, through the Pacific Coast Highway, and ultimately to the Grand Canyon, wrote another 10,000 words on my novel, started a new comic book, and been sick twice (once including a trip to the hospital).

Which is still no excuse for not posting. I’m going to try to rectify that soon … until then, let me tide you over with some art. With no further ado or departure from my sterotypical subject matter, I present “Centaurs in Space” … first of a series of 3 sketches for the upcoming comic “Death Wish”.

Death Wish
by Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr.

Ten seconds to impact, the centauress leapt out an airlock without a spacesuit…

Starving Art

It amuses me that the last article on this site was on “Dedication”… posted immediately prior to a two-month hiatus in the production of this site.

In that article I challenged David Mamet’s view that only the starving can create art – that the comfortable have crutches to lean on which prevent them from taking the steps to excel. No, I argued, the key to creating art is dedication to the task – achieving a level of focus that enables one to put other tasks aside and complete what really matters.

But it has become clear to me in the intervening months the wisdom in Mamet’s words. I have seen all too many people fail at things they cherished because they were too comfortable. With a nourishing job at hand, I have seen myself and others drawn off by sparkling distractions, curling up with our comfortable movies and plays and dances and parties while the things that we can achieve – and tell each other and ourselves that we want to achieve we want to achieve – fritter away further and further into the distance.

It is as true for professionals as it is for amateurs. Case in point: the world of comics. Three of my favorite comic books – Albedo AnthropomorphicsThe Authority and Planetarywere canceled, or hang on the edge of being canceled, because their creators could keep a schedule. Now, I know some of the reasons behind the delays; and sometimes they are good ones. But in the end, delay after delay in any enterprise leaves fans feeling lost, participants feeling betrayed, and ultimately all concerned must move on to new devices when their interest finally dies.

So perhaps it is true that it is not necessary to be starving to produce great art. But if the author or artist is not so hungry for their art that they are willing to put it above all else, their art will starve, and we are all left poorer by it.

– The Centaur

Dedication

Can only the starving create art?

To David Mamet, a truly accomplished actor must have nothing to fall back upon. In his book on acting True and False, Mamet argues that a career alternative or a convenient inheritance acts as an emotional crutch, without which an actor must stand to face the rigors of their art with the courage necessary to excel at it. This view is not new. Sun Tzu argued centuries earlier in the Art of War that a general should burn the bridges behind his army once they have crossed the river into enemy territory, for there is nothing they cannot accomplish when standing upon death ground.

But is it truly necessary to cut off all your options to be a success? This “death ground” philosophy recognizes the power of commitment: great achievement is almost impossible without it.The philosophy breaks down when it argues that it is necessary to face death to achieve true commitment. Certainly it is not necessary for obsessive-compulsives, who throw themselves into absurd tasks in the face of their survival rather than in service of it.

Archimedes, a man who claimed that, given a long enough lever and a place to stand, he could move the world, is perhaps more famous for running naked down the street after having discovered the principle of displaced volume, and was so obsessed with his work that he was ultimately run through by an invading soldier who became incensed when the scientist ignored him to work on a diagram.

A gruesome end for a committed man, but perhaps these obsessive traits survive because in a more balanced degree they can motivate someone to great achievement. Science fiction writer Larry Niven had inherited money — and thus the luxury to expend ten years of his life perfecting his craft. For Niven, an inheritance was not a crutch but a lever, enabling him to ultimately producing Hugo-award winning stories.

Niven is not alone in dedicating himself to his work to achieve greatness. The director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy quoted a local New Zealand saying that summed up his work ethic: “One job at a time, every job a success.” Victor Hugo had this attitude, sentencing himself to “terms” in his study … years of isolation that produced masterworks like Les Miserables.

This kind of focus is not practical for everyone. Some have lives to fall back upon, and others have lives they cannot abandon. I do not think David Mamet would suggest that someone with an inheritance must give it up to become a great actor — and clearly Victor Hugo did not need to abandon his wife to become a great writer. However, commitment is not just necessary for artists trying to achieve masterworks or soldiers trying to vanquish their enemies; instead, it is necessary for everyone.

For a time, the graduate student must put aside his social life— or fail to finish his thesis. For a time, the programmer must put in the extra hour to root out the last bug — or be drawn into a treadmill of endless maintenance. For a time, the part-time deejay must tune out the requests of his friends — or find that that the club goes dead because the right tracks are not cued to play.

Everyone comes to a point in their lives when the goals that really matter become truly difficult, and where achieving these goals requires focus upon them to the exclusion of all other distractions and enjoyments which arise before them.  No matter how skilled or strong we are, each of us will face a stone too heavy to lift unless we put our other baggage down.

This strength — not the strength to carry the stone, but to put other baggage aside — is dedication, and it is the key to achievement.  Dedication is not a mystic elixir, available only available to the impoverished or the imperiled. It is a fundamental attitude towards life, and it is available to everyone — great and small, rich and poor, facing death or living life.  Some accept this burden, and are rewarded with the things they most truly desire; others turn away, and leave the sour grapes to others.

Not everyone can be a great writer, or a great actor, or even a great plumber — each person must find their own stone to lift . But it is possible for each and every person to face their personal challenge, to stand up to the breach with courage, and to step across the chasm to their own death ground — to that place to stand where they can, with the right lever, move the world.

– The Centaur