Still on track, by the skin of my teeth and writing to 2:20am

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On track. A brief excerpt:

“We could always double bunk, if it comes to that,” Leonid said.

Andromeda and Serendipity both looked at him. Then shot daggers at each other.

“Why would you need to double bunk,” Serendipity asked. “This ship was designed for a crew of six hundred and fifty. It seems like you’d have plenty of bunks—”

“It’s the load of the oxygen farm—how large a space it can oxygenate,” Leonid said. “We used to have twelve segments, but we were down to six—before the crash. Now, once we get back to space, we’re going to need to husband things more carefully. For example, adding you and Norylan—”

“Yeah,” Sirius said. “I’ll bet you just chew up oxygen.”

“Not to mention calories,” Andromeda said.

“Hey,” Serendipity said.

“Seriously, both of you eat a lot,” Leonid said. “I’m guessing … six thousand a day?”

Serendipity seemed to weigh that. “I think that’s about right—for him,” she said, nodding at Norylan. “And I was pushing close to eleven thousand leading up to the tournament—”

“Eleven thousand calories a day!” Leonid said. “You eat for four people?

“In training, a human Olympic athlete can consume ten thousand calories a day,” Serendipity said defensively. “A normal centaur requires closer to six or seven, and an athlete like myself pushes closer to nine thousand on a regular basis—”

“Let’s budget nine thousand for starters,” Leonid said. “But Norylan—”

“Is an Andiathar,” Serendipity said. “Their metabolism is very different—”

“No wonder he was starving,” Sirius said.

“Don’t you have fights, tournaments?” Serendipity said. “Toren was huge. He’s got to be pushing four, maybe five thousand calories a day, even if he isn’t in training—”

“Six,” Leonid said. “That’s why I guessed what I guessed for you—”

“I’m a little out of his weight class,” Serendipity smirked. Her face fell slightly. “How did you all get this way? I mean, I know you were attacked by pirates. But there’s more to it than just one attack. You’ve got traditions for fighting, ways of decorating your suits—”

“Don’t you like them?” Leonid asked.

“Oh, I do,” Serendipity said, moving that thread of hair aside. “But … what made you decorate them? Did it develop naturally, or were you trying to intimidate the pirates? Or to impress each other? What are your stories?”

“You’re a historian,” Sirius said. “And this ship has seven centuries of history—”

“Seven and a half,” Serendipity said. “Tell me the stories of your people.”

“We don’t tell stories,” Leonid said, motioning to Beetle, who drew out his strumstick. “We sing them.” Serendipity’s mouth fell open, and Leonid smiled. “Beetle, you’ve got some pipes on you. Sing the Song of Irannon, and remind us why we keep fighting on.”

Onward into the deep…

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Why do we get ahead? So when we slip, we don’t fall behind.

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So my wife returns from a month long business trip, and the day after she gets back, we go hiking. Actually, we went to lunch, went shoe buying, went hiking, and then book buying, shop walking and dinner eating in Santa Cruz.

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So zero writing got done yesterday.

“And that’s why I try to get ahead!” Because I know from experience with Nano that there are days that writing just can’t get done. Work catches up with you, life catches up with you, wife catches up with you. You’re too busy, or having too much fun, or too sick, or whatever.

Even if you do as I do and refuse as many events as possible during Nano, you can’t get life down to zero.

So it’s super important not to stop at 1,666 words a day. If at all possible, try to get a notch more – a few hundred extra words a day. Even if you get just 250-300 extra words a day, by the end of the week you’ll have enough buffer to take a day off. Not that I recommend you take a day off in Nano – but you’ll have the buffer if you need it.

So I’m back on track today – it’s 3 in the afternoon, I’ve finished my daily quota, and thanks to being ahead before, missing a day yesterday has left me merely on track, rather than behind. And I have at least two more writing sessions today, so I may get even further ahead. No excerpts today – writing near the end, all too spoilery.

Onward into the deep!

-the Centaur

MAROONED back on track

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I had brief lull yesterday – a shortened lunch, a shortened dinner, and then no coffee, since I had to pick my wife up at the airport (and then had NO intention of getting back to writing that night, we hadn’t seen each other in a month). I was a day ahead, so technically all I had to do was finish a day, in which case I was still on track.

But I liked being a day ahead. So I buckled down today, trying to get back to the point of aheadness that I was before yesterday’s slippage. All in all, I got over three thousand words done today, putting me back on track by almost two thousand words. Thirty one percent done, 15,259 added words! Excellent. No excerpt today – it’s all too spoilery.

Onward!

-the Centaur

MAROONED but not under water

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So yet another day of Nano has rolled by and I’m still managing to cough out 1666+ words a day (the lighter blue lines above the red water line). I’ve added 11,795 words to the manuscript, which by my counter is just shy of 25% of Nano – roughly 3.6% ahead of where I need to be, or almost one full day (the surplus is the second, darker blue line in this visualization).

Since my seed was the largest I ever started with – 32,793 words, including the complete novella “Stranded” plus all the story notes I put together over the months since I wrote that story – completing Nano this year will leave me with 82,793 words, which I’m guessing will be very close to a full manuscript. Most of my novels clock in around 150,000 words, but this one feels like 90K.

Oh yeah, an excerpt:

“How do I know,” Toren said, “you won’t send soldiers to evict us once your people come back here, whenever that is—”

“Roughly fifteen months,” Serendipity said, looking at him sidelong. “And no-one can evict you. I am Governor of Halfway, and I’ve offered the crew of Independence oasis, and the ship a permanent berth. Leonid accepted. Halfway is Independence’s home port now.”

Toren rocked on his heels a little. “There is no port, you foolish—”

“That is a port,” Serendipity said, jerking her head at the spaceport. “It’s not a castle, it’s not a mansion, it’s not a secret lab—though I suppose to Norylan’s parents it was all of those things, to me it is the kernel of the civilization I hope to build here—”

“You build,” Toren said. “You mean to build a civilization—”

“It’s why I came here,” Serendipity said. “This port lay fallow for ten thousand years because a war cut off the spacelanes, and I was the first person to recognize that it might be restored, now that traffic has begun moving out here again—”

“Including from the Frontier,” Toren said, staring off at the port, “which didn’t even exist ten thousand years ago.”

“I had to move fast,” Serendipity said. “After all, you got here just when I did.”

Toren stared down at her. “You’re crazy. Crazy, you know that? When the Allies get here, they’re going to ship you off to a nutter’s pod. And I still don’t know whether me and my crew are going to have to flee when they come. And you know which of us is right?”

Serendipity’s eyes tightened. “No,” she admitted.

Toren’s eyes gleamed at her. “Me neither.”

Uh oh! Serendipity once again facing off with Toren? A dangerous development. What’s he figured out she hasn’t?

Onward into the deep!

-the Centaur

Still on track

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MAROONED is still progressing. Taking a break now, but I’m keeping above the curve so far.

“Seren, this is serious,” she said. “We have a spacecraft to rebuild. If we can get this housing running again with a standard cabling software, we have to do it, whether his software is inclined or not. We can’t afford to romanticize your little pet—”

“He is not a pet,” Serendipity said. “He may be my ‘familiar,’ but he’s a full person, with a full person’s rights and responsibilities. This housing isn’t just a piece of equipment we can do what we want with. It’s his body, and we need his permission—”

“If we need the parts—”

“If Leonid needed some biomass to keep the oxygen farm running, would you be happy if he just threw you into the cycler?” Serendipity asked. “No? Wouldn’t that go double if you were in a coma, expected to recover, and they just decided to cycle you anyway, just because?”

Dijo stared at her with those odd contact lenses.

“Let me see him.”

Again she felt reluctant, but Serendipity realized that if she really wanted to be part of this crew, she had to recognize Dijo as her superior. Slowly Serendipity stepped back, reached in her satchel, and carefully brought out Tianyu’s still form.

Filled with mercury batteries, built on a thact frame, the minifox felt unusually heavy in her hands—dead weight, she thought, and cursed herself—and oddly small and sad. Without the millions of tiny motors fluffing his fur, he looked flat and drab, doubly so because of the soot.

Serendipity laid Tianyu down on the worktable between her and Dijo. “This is my best friend,” Serendipity said. “I mean that. More than my cohort, more than my PC’s, in some ways, more than even my parents. He’s always been there for me, when by right he could have chosen to go elsewhere. You will not treat him like a collection of parts.”

“Well,” Dijo said, leaning down, “he’s an impressive collection of parts—”

Serendipity reached down, putting her fingers under Dijo’s chin and lifting her back up. It was an easy move, an aikido move despite the initiation of force, and despite resistance she easily straightened Dijo back to standing. Dijo stepped back, a bit shocked.

“We have a ship to fix, I owe you help fixing it, and I’ll serve under you if that’s what you think I should do,” Serendipity said. “But this world is mine. It’s my responsibility to protect all the people within half a light year, even the ones you can’t easily see as people yet.”

Dijo raised her hands, licked her lips. She was scared.

“Please don’t hurt me,” she said.

Onward into the deep!

-the Centaur

Word! What are you DOING?

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I love Microsoft Word, but when I cut and pasted that excerpt from MAROONED into Ecto and published, I noticed a huge blank gap at the beginning of the quoted passage. When I looked in Ecto’s raw text editor to see what was the matter, I found 336 lines of gunk injected by Microsoft Word … a massive amount of non printable goop like this:

<!–[if gte mso 9]><xml>

<o:DocumentProperties>

<o:Revision>0</o:Revision>

<o:TotalTime>0</o:TotalTime>

<o:Pages>1</o:Pages>

<o:Words>246</o:Words>

<o:Characters>1183</o:Characters>

<o:Company>Xivagent Scientific Consulting</o:Company>

<o:Lines>18</o:Lines>

<o:Paragraphs>11</o:Paragraphs>

<o:CharactersWithSpaces>1418</o:CharactersWithSpaces>

<o:Version>14.0</o:Version>

</o:DocumentProperties>

</xml><![endif]–>

<!–[if gte mso 9]><xml>

<w:WordDocument>

This is apparently XML text which captures the formatting of the Word document that it came from, somehow pasted into the HTML document. As you may or may not be able to see from the screenshot above, but should definitely be able to see in the bolded parts of what I quoted above, for 1183 bytes of text Word injected 17,961 bytes of formatting. 300+ lines for 200+ words. Oy, vey. All I wanted was an excerpt without having to go manually recreate all my line breaks …

I understand this lets you paste complex formatting between programs, I get that, and actually the problem might be Ecto taking too much rather than Word giving too much. Or perhaps it’s just a mismatch of specifications. But I know HTML, Word, Ecto, and many other blogging platforms like Ecto. What is someone who doesn’t know all that supposed to do? Just suffer when their application programs get all weird on them and they don’t know why?

Sigh. I’m not really complaining here, but it’s just amusing, after a fashion.

-Anthony

MAROONED On Track

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So far, so good. Not really a good excerpt to be had here, first drafty stuff … ok, how’s this:

“It’s interesting,” Dijo said, “that you’re sort of a technological witch.”

Serendipity looked up from her cauldron. The first step in getting the robots back up to speed had been getting Tianyu back up to speed, and to do that she needed components. With her fabricator in Toren’s camp … her next best bet was her nanoseed.

She’d requisitioned a large cooking kettle from Leonid and filled it with biosludge, then heated it to the proper activation temperature. With a droplet from her nanoseed and the right dopants, Serendipity should be able to generate enough nanoplasm to make anything.

“How do you figure,” Serendipity said, stirring the cauldron slowly.

“Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble,” Dijo said, raising a cylinder. “You’re making potions. You’ve got a familiar. You have what seem, to us technological primitives at least, like magic powers. All you need is a witches’ hat and a magic broom—”

“My mom wears the hats,” Serendipity said, “but I do have a farstaff.”

“It can fly?” Dijo said, shocked. “Not just teleport you, but actually fly?

“It can indeed,” Serendipity said, taking the cylinder. “Molybdenum. Excellent.”

“Ammonium tetrathiomolybdate in solution,” Dijo said. “That’s from the hyperdrive, by the way, so don’t go using it medicinally unless you separate it first.”

“Why would I use it—oh, copper toxosis,” Serendipity said.

“Do you really have a ship’s worth of Lore rattling around in your head?”

Now off to see Gravity … which will probably be good inspiration for MAROONED!

-the Centaur

National Novel Writing Month 2013: MAROONED

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Well, it’s that time again: National Novel Writing Month! This year, I’m working on MAROONED, the continuation of my short story “Stranded” from the anthology of the same name. A brief excerpt from Part 2, “Conflicted”:

Serendipity stirred. She was cramped and folded. Her hooves caught on rough ballistic tarp. Her back hurt, her rump hurt … then she heard sparks and smelled smoke. She unfolded with a start—and klonked her head on a support beam, tumbling off the cot onto the grille.

Disoriented, she stared up at a dim line of light. The tilted walkway she lay in was barely wide enough for her; the cot she’d fallen off of had definitely not been long enough for a centaur. Beside her was a half-locker with her satchel; above, the wall of a bunk jutted in.

This was insane. They had the entire run of Independence’s cargo bay. She’d sleep on the floor if she had to. She winced at a spark of pain at the join of her backs—then heard real sparks and smelled fresh smoke, and sprawled and stumbled, trying to get up before she died.

Her hand hit the hatch in panic and found it firm, and she beat at it with her palm in the dark, fumbling for the latch as she brought her nightvision and filaments online. There was another spark, and Serendipity pounded the door again. “Dashpat!”

“Sorry!” cried a voice beyond the door—one Serendipity recognized as Andromeda, Independence’s chief engineer. “Leonid’s prepping breakfast, I came to wake you, but you were snoring, and the lights, they’re out, so I … I started to work with this panel, but then I—”

Andromeda sounded completely rattled. From the other spacers, Serendipity gathered that Andromeda had been de facto master of the ship … until a couple of days ago, when the boy Sirius pulled the fuse on the life support system and forced an emergency crash landing.

The voice on the other side of the door didn’t sound like someone who’d been a captain for three years. She sounded like a little girl, a scared little girl who’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar … or maybe a refugee who’d had her whole world pulled out from under her.

Serendipity knew that feeling.

A hundred white computer filaments slid out of the shock of hair on Serendipity’s right forearm, probing the air, lighting the doorframe with a fiber optic glow, revealing the handle. Microscopic cameras fed images to her eyes: T7 LOCK HDL / FLM INDEPENDENCE.

Almost instantaneously, recognition rattled through weave of computers built into her: a Type 7 Lock Handle, from the Faster-than-Light Module Independence. Yes, that was right: the NCE class “ships” were originally modules, built to fly the arkships away from “dying” Earth—

Serendipity seized the handle, hiding the image beneath her hand. She drew a breath. As cramped as this space was, it was just a bunk. As long as she didn’t open the door, she could imagine she was at summer space camp, and not on a seven hundred fifty year old starship.

Not stranded halfway across the galaxy, utterly cut off from her people.

Serendipity opened the door.

People who read this blog may have noticed an extended hiatus. There’s been a good reason for that: I had too many writing projects stacked up, and couldn’t tackle them all at once. I had to start putting things on hold.

So I had to buckle down, focusing first on editing DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME (now out to the world) and finishing a draft of LIQUID FIRE (now out to betas). One of the first things to go was this blog. Another was social media: the Serendipity pages on Facebook and Google+ got short shrift; only what I had to for 24 Hour Comics Day and Dakota Frost got any attention.

I’m working to change that, but I’m going to continue to follow the same procedure. National Novel Writing Month comes first, and the first book I’m working on for Nano, MAROONED, comes first. Then life. Then blogging and social media, just enough to keep it going. After that, I’ll be writing notes for a story called QUARRY, just so I don’t lose them – it’s a brand new idea.

The consequence is, there won’t be that much blogging this month, unless Nano and life are both taken care of. But hopefully more than there has been over the past few months while DOORWAYS and LIQUID FIRE were the primary focus of my attention. Now that those are out of the way, I feel like I can breathe easier.

At least, as long as Serendipity and Leonid can keep the oxygen farm running…

Onward, to MAROONED!

-the Centaur

P.S. Yes, I did make sure I did my daily quota before blogging this:

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National Novel Writing Month – Spectral Iron

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“Everyone’s favorite skeptical witch is back for her fourth foray in SPECTRAL IRON!”

Sheesh. I do find it hard to write marketing copy. I just had to stop, right there.

SO ANYWAY, National Novel Writing Month, 2012. My one, two, three, four, five, six … seventh, SEVENTH time writing 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November. It’s quite the challenge, but it’s the second best thing I’ve ever done for my writing other than join the Write to the End group – more writing comes out of Nano than (almost) anything else.

How much writing, you ask? (Or maybe you don’t, but hey, it’s my blog post). Nano itself six times would be only three hundred thousand words, but it was the seed for seven hundred thousand words of text and four completed novels. The Nano’s I’ve done so far were:

  • DELIVERANCE – 2002 – 150K words – IN PROGRESS
    Seven hundred years after the Fall of Humanity, a rag-tag crew of a human spacecraft at the Frontier of space encounters a distress call from a ship owned by the aliens that took the Earth – and encounters one of the humans they left behind, who doesn’t seem to think Humanity fell after all … even though she barely looks human.
    Didn’t finish this one, even though I eventually got 150,000 words into it. Hope to get back to it someday. My story “Stranded” in the anthology of the same name is set in the same universe, with a YA version of the same setup – the protagonist of “Stranded” is actually the granddaughter of one of the protagonists of DELIVERANCE.
  • FROST MOON – 2007 – 100K words – DONE
    Dakota Frost, a magical tattoo artist who can bring her tattoos to life, is asked by the police to track a serial killer preying on the magically tattooed around the time of the full moon – and then she encounters a werewolf who wants a tattoo done before the full moon to control his impulses. Has she found the killer … or the next victim?
    Finished this one in 2009, published in 2010.
  • BLOOD ROCK – 2008 – 150K words – DONE
    Magical tattoo artist Dakota Frost returns, now fighting a plague of killer graffiti that is attacking vampires, werewolves and humans alike. As Dakota struggles with this new plague, she finds that fighting it threatens her relationship with her friends, custody over her new daughter—and ultimately, her life.
    Finished this one in 2010, published in 2011.
  • LIQUID FIRE – 2009 – 120K words – DONE
    Magical tattoo artist Dakota Frost returns, now struggling to keep her head above water in a magical world which threatens to consume her. A chance meeting on a plane leads her to befriend the beautiful fireweaver Jewel Graceling – but as Jewel increasingly comes under attack, can even Dakota save her?
    Finished this one in 2012, hope it to come out in 2013.
  • JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE – 2010 – 100K words – DONE
    There’s no better defender of the Liberated Territories of Victoriana than Jeremiah Willstone, and she’ll tell you that herself! But when her rich and powerful uncle calls down a monster from another world and escapes with it in a time machine, is even the stoutest defender of Liberation up to the challenge?
    Finished this one in 2012, hope it to come out in 2013.
  • HEX CODE – 2011 – 55K words – IN PROGRESS
    Cinnamon Frost is a street cat turned domestic – where by cat, we mean weretiger, and by domestic, we mean adopted. But can someone who grew up running the streets really learn to settle down in class? Even if they have her favorite thing in the world, math, there’s always English class – and if that’s not enough, someone may be trying to kill her.
    Still working on this one. Hope to finish it in 2013, have it come out in 2014.

Now it’s on to SPECTRAL IRON, book 4 in the Dakota Frost series. Pictured above are some of the books I’m reading to “feed my head” for the plot of the book, which involves magical tattoos, piercing, the fae, ghosts, three kinds of zombies, television, and the appropriate relationship of science to skepticism. From the site, here’s my blurb:

Dakota Frost is the best magical tattooist in the Southeast – but she’s not in the South anymore. Her new role on the Magical Security Council has taken her to the underbelly of San Francisco, and she’s got a camera crew dogging her every step as she’s trying to map the magical Edgeworld. But when she runs foul of the fae, and is forced to do them a favor, even one of the world’s most skilled skindancer may be in trouble.

Because if you don’t know how to kill a ghost, how can you track down his murderer?

You need to write 1666 words a day to succeed at Nano, and so far, so good. Halfway through my day, and more than halfway through today’s progress. I should easily catch up to where I should be (missed ~300 words yesterday because me and my wife decided to take a long walk and then crash after that, rather than me getting my late night writing run in).

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But most of the day is ahead of me. Alright, enough procrastinating. Back to work!

-the Centaur