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

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…


-the Centaur

Camp Nano 2017: SPIRITUAL GOLD

Yes, that’s right! National Novel Writing Month’s kid sister, Camp Nano, is back, and I’m once again taking on the challenge of writing 50,000 words in the month on Dakota Frost Book 6 … SPIRITUAL GOLD!

(No, that ain’t the real cover, that’s 10 minutes in Photoshop working over a Christmas Tree Topper and a Hopi Plaque.)

For those a bit surprised that I’m working on Book 6 when Book 3, LIQUID FIRE, is the most recent published one, I want to make sure that when the next Dakota Frost book goes live there’s no big hiatus to the following ones! So I’m working on the next three Dakota Frost books (and the first three Cinnamon Frost books together).

As for this one, I’ll let the Camp Nano summary and excerpt speak for themselves:


Dakota Frost just wants to ink magic tattoos and raise her weretiger daughter – but it’s getting increasingly hard to do either as she gets drawn deeper and deeper into the magical world of the fae and the superspooks of the DEI. But when they bring a new problem to her door, she can’t turn away – because she herself may be under attack … from the world of her dreams.


As we drew closer, it got harder to get a good look from the angle of the passenger window. I leaned back, then winced—the scabbard over my back had shifted to just the wrong position. I squirmed until the Salzkammergutschwert was off the center of my torso.

“Wait a minute,” Heinz said incredulously. “Is that what I think it is?”

“I don’t know,” I said pleasantly. “What do you think it is, Heinz?”

“You … packing a sword?” Heinz said incredulously.

I glanced over at him. “Sort of, yeah.”

“What the hell for?”

“You’re packing,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, but a gun,” he said. “That’s useful in a fight—”

“Most of the people I get in fights with,” I said, “won’t be impressed by a peashooter.”

“Ah, very sensible,” said Warstein from the front seat.

“You pack an anti-fae weapon.”

“Sort of, yeah,” I leaned up again, watching through the window as the MIRU shot over the I-64 bridge and through the giant hovering ring. Mr. “Seen it already” Warstein turned away from it with a condescending tone that made Heinz roll his eyes and glance at me for relief.

“You see,” Warstein said, even as one of the greatest wonders of the Western World slid stainless and gleaming past the glass behind him, “if Frost deals with the fae, she must face the fact that many fae are bulletproof, but highly vulnerable to cold iron, or enchanted swords—”

“What the fuck?” Heinz said, looking at me. “You’re telling me that’s Glamdring?”

“Another hat tip,” I said, mouth quirking. “You, ah, can view it as a magic sword—”

“So,” Heinz said, incredulous, “that fucking thing glow when orcs come around?”

“Not that I know of,” I laughed. “Not that I’ve ever met an actual orc—”

“Most magic swords don’t do anything we’d call special,” Warstein said archly. “Like the legendary vorpal blade, their primary capability is that they’re sharp, and made of metal that hurts the fae. A very few, like the, uh, the Saltgammerswort, are specifically anti-fae—”

“Salzkammergutschwert,” I corrected automatically.

“Gesundheit,” said Heinz.

“Excuse me?” Warstein asked.

“It’s called the Salzkammergutschwert,” I said. “It means the Salt Chamber Sword.”

“Which is where it was found,” Warstein said, “very good, very good. The Salz—ah—I can never pronounce it—the Salt Chamber Sword is one of the rarest of blades, a long, black sword of cold iron specifically forged to fight the faerie—”

“Not exactly,” I said. “Technically, it’s a magical radiator, not a sword, though you can use it as one because it’s nearly indestructible. The hilt wrappings are human work, but the blade itself is a faery artifact, repurposed—not a weapon, just something that happens to hurt them.”

Heinz looked at me strangely, then at the scabbard over my back.

“You’re wearing this Gesundheit thing now?”

I shrugged and smirked. “Sort of, yeah—”

“What are you talking about—oh my God,” Warstein said, excited and aghast. I reached up a long arm and popped the blade out of its scabbard briefly, and Warstein keened and wailed, more intense than a fanboy meeting Shatner. “Oh-my-God and aaaa! You’re wearing the literal Salt Chamber Sword? Oh my God. Oh my God! That’s a four million dollar blade—”

“Jesus,” Heinz said, tweaking his ear. “Shout it louder, why don’t—”

“I don’t need you advertising the value of my blade,” I said. “I really don’t.”


And so, Dakota’s slow slide towards Gandalf continues … never fear, she’s never going to say “Fly you fools,” nor is she going to come back from the dead with a snazzy white wardrobe. Damnit Francis you have to do that now ….

-the Centaur

Viiictory the Sixteenth


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


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!


-the Centaur

Viiictory the Fifteenth


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.


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

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.

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.


-the Centaur

Viiictory the Fourteenth


Viiictory! I successfully completed Nanowrimo for the fourteenth time – adding 50,000 words to PHANTOM SILVER, Dakota Frost #5. And, by working hard, I did it!

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Because of work, life, and other writing, I got behind early this month, and had to press hard to really make it. But I successfully got it off my plate one day early. Because Nano’s site counts words differently than Microsoft Word, I had to push a bit past my Word word count, and so saw something I rarely see on this graph: a negative velocity debt, meaning I could write backwards and still end up finishing the count (at least the Word count) exactly on time.

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For a bit late in the month, especially around the 26th, it was as bad as I’ve ever gotten it: 6000+ words behind only 5 days from the end of the month. But somehow I managed to pull it out, setting a couple of daily records on writing … though I never even came close to my absolute max writing rate of 7,000 words a day.

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Strangely, even though Camp Nano doesn’t have November’s holidays, it still works out that most of the writing gets done near the end of the month. Go figure.

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Alright, late, tired, going to bed, more commentary later.

-the Centaur