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Posts tagged as “The Dresanians”

A 24 Hour Comics Day Timeline Reloaded

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24hcd2012start.png

So another 24 Hour Comics Day has come and gone ... my fourth. I'd love to say it gets easier, and in a sense it does, but churning out 24 pages of a comic in just 24 hours is daunting, even if you've done it before. To help ourselves improve, my buddy Nathan Vargas and I put a lot of thought into what goes in to making the challenge a success and collect that at the site Blitz Comics.

To give a flavor of the experience, here's a timeline of my 24 Hour Comics day this year. Like last year, there are highs, there are lows, there are moments of triumph and despair, of hard work overcoming challenges - and experiences which are simply bizarre. Last year actually was more bizarre than this year ... but there were still a few dark hours near the hour of the wolf.

Before the event

T-minus 1 Year: Finish 24HCD successfully. Attribute success to a combination of the Blitz Comics Survival Kit and more life drawing classes, as I went from 7 pages done in 2010 to 24 pages done handily in 2011. Hooray! Resolve to improve Blitz Comics and take more life drawing practice.

T-minus 6 months: Remember we waited to last minute to prepare for 24HCD. Send message "Blitz Comics Lives" and begin planning to update our kit. Get overly ambitious, then scale it back as Nathan's booked up with work and Anthony's booked up with writing.

T-minus 3 months: Finish point update of Blitz Comics Survival Kit. (As of today, full versions are not posted everywhere due to some miscommunications and site storage issues, but we're working on it). Plan on giving another Blitz Comics tutorial, this time at Mission Comics. Other venues considered, but, man, Mission Comics .

T-minus 2 months: Give Blitz Comics Tutorial. Due to a publicity gaffe on our part, no-one shows up except a couple of friends, who leave before it begins. Decide to hold the tutorial anyway for practice. No-one attends but a beautiful and bizarre looking chicken; chicken's owner says our talk is fascinating. Really, I can't make this stuff up.

I'm not kidding here about the chicken. Photos or it didn't happen?

blitztutorial2012chicken.png

Oh, it happened. After the tutorial, back to preparation...

T-minus 1 month: Hold weekly "just drawing" parties where we mostly chew the fat about life, plan the event, and get in a few minutes' worth of drawing all at the end. Surprisingly, this really works. Get ready fo the event proper, agreeing to bring donuts and art supplies to Mission Comics. Oh, and sign up for space at Mission Comics event!

T-minus 1 week: Buy art supplies, both for ourselves and a large amount of free stuff to give to people at the event. Gather extras of the Survival Kit; make sure I can find all of last year's materials. Coordinate with Leef of Mission Comics to make sure we're confirmed and on the same page with Blitz Comics sponsoring event. Scope out parking garages for the event (fortuitously, I right up the street for a different event) and enter in GPS.

T-minus 3 days: Last "just draw" meeting. Confirm schedule for Saturday morning, which will include breakfast, donuts and helping Leef set up before the actual event. Draw up TODO and shopping lists. Draw some more.

T-minus 2 days: Last trip to the store since Friday will be booked up. Last minute art practice.

T-minus 18 hours: Last minute art practice and reading. Bail early on normal Friday night dinner-coffee-bookstore run in favor of going home to get everything ready.

T-minus 12 hours: Dig through post-novel-writing mess to find art materials. Wonder what I've gotten myself into. Find most of the materials, but decide to crash super early to make sure I'm awake for event.

T-minus 4.5 hours: Up at 5:30 and packing stuff up. I am king of the pile people, and the tote bag is my emblem.

T-minus 3 hours: Depart for event. Pick up Nathan, go for breakfast. My meal is up before Nathan's finished ordering, which is weird. Chill out, discuss what we're doing and why we're doing it, conclude that we're both crazy, but we're doing it anyway.

T-minus 2 hours: Leave breakfast, go pick up donuts for participants. Krispy Kreme FTW! One box regular, one box mixed (with an extra chocolate glazed for me). By the time we're done the time's now 9:30ish. Head to San Francisco, by this point almost an hour drive. Traffic is smooth and we've got lots of buffer.

T-minus 45 minutes: Arrival in San Francisco. Park, gather stuff, head to event. Nathan reroutes us from the shortest path to a nearby street which "has better energy;" this street proves to have a row of beautiful homes rather than backdoors and garbage cans, so, yes, indeed, it had better energy for walking up to the event.

T-minus 30 minutes: Arrive at Mission Comics. Set up. Because we're so early, Nathan and I get primo spots near Leef's desk (and the bathroom) but still in the front room. Chitchat. Notice first page of notebook has some damage on it and draw a "Cover Page" on the presumption that I'm going to adapt the second part of "Stranded". Get ready.

Yes, it is STARTING!

24hcd2012prepage.jpg

That page doesn't count towards my 24. Alright ... ready ... GO!

24 Hour Comic Day Begins

11:00AM October 20th Leef says "Go!" and I start reviewing my story ideas. I'm planning on adapting part 2 of "Stranded," picking up where I left off last year, but in the spirit of the event I leave the actual decision to the start of the event - and give myself the opportunity to bail if I'm not feeling it. I read the story over in my mind.

11:05AM (by watch), 11:07AM (by phone): Committed to story, synchronize watches. I skim my story in the print book, figuring out a good chunk that's easy to adapt, and picking out comic-friendly lines of dialog.

11:12AM: Rough story outline done. Comparing lengths to make sure Parts 1, 2, and 3 are roughly the same; they are. Find a great ending point which uses Keith's Johnstone's idea of reincorporation to great and surprising effect. I mean, it was in the story before, but it makes a really great Part 2 ender.

11:15AM: Story review done. Review overall structure to get down the "beats," the ebb and flow of the story.

11:21AM: Donut / bathroom break. Ready to tackle thumbnails.

11:22AM: 23.5 hours remain, 24 pages to go. Start thumbnailing - sketching your comic as a whole, with each page as a tiny square. Many comic artists do this; Jim Lee's Icons book has some great examples done by a master of the genre. There's a the Blitz Comics thumbnail worksheet that I think I came up with but paradoxically that Nathan uses extensively; for me, my style is so sloppy that I need to use a whole page.

11:40AM: Roughs done. I take out some time to set up my laptop so I can blog (ha!) look up reference shots (more realistic) and time my progress.

11:44AM Laptop setup. Switch notebooks Setting up page for drawing.

11:47AM: Take a ~13 minute break.

Total Planning Time: 1 hour. This is comparable to last year's 52 minute planning session, but it can take up to 3 to 4 hours to plan if you don't have a story in mind. As it turns out, another 2 hours planning wouldn't have hurt me.

The outcome: this sheet of thumbnails. My map to my story.

24hcd2012thumbnails.jpg

Alright, back to it. All the preliminaries are out of the way: I've got a story, an outline, thumbnails on one art book and an empty art book next to it, a laptop with Internet, art books, art materials, a soda, and a donut. Now: starting the first page!

12:00 NOON START PAGE ONE: Riffing on the two page spread near the end of the previous book, without being too obvious about it if you read it straight through.

12:05PM: Panel borders penciled.
12:15PM: Panel borders inked. Need to improve this process.
12:26PM: Sketching done.
12:46PM: Panel 1 done. Too slow.
1:06PM: Panels 3-4 done. Getting sloppy, messed up space for dialogue. Whiteout marker broken, decide to come back later and fix. (I never did).
1:22PM: Panel 5 done.
1:24PM: Finish ~2 minute break
Total time for Page One: 1 hour, 24 minutes. Way too slow. Need to be around 45 minutes.

Now I know I'm going to be drawing people I've drawn less often, like Norylan below (note: this is a colored sketch from my notebook, NOT from any 24 Hour Comic Day :-). So it's time to break out the laptop.

Norylan Forest v5 cropped.png
So the laptop setup WAS important after all!

1:24PM START PAGE TWO: The first new page, first appearance of Norylan. I use the laptop to find a "Mug Shots" directory I did for the Serendipity Facebook page, and put up faces of all the characters. My target for this page is 2:15PM.
1:30PM: Finish pencil panel lines.
1:35PM: Finish inked panel lines.
1:49PM: Rough pencils.
2:04PM: Panel 1.
2:17PM: Panel 2.
2:29PM: Panel 3.
2:34PM: ~5 minute break.
Total Time for Page Two: 1 hour, 10 minutes. Still need to streamline. Starting to get worried, even though I know I have two dual page spreads in my layout.

2:34PM START PAGE THREE: Focusing on how to do this easier. Not sure how, but work at it. Target: 3:15pm.
2:38PM: Inked panel borders.
3:00PM: Finish panel 1, after some researching centaur shapes and Norylan poses.
3:15PM: Finish 15 minute interview by reporter for a blog.
3:27PM: Finish page.
Total Time for Page Three: 1 hour, 3 minutes. Things are improving, with the caveat that this is the point I start counting the breaks at the start of the page rather than at the end (because if you get done just before the end and then take a break, who cares?)

3:28PM START PAGE FOUR: Really focusing on how to speed up. Ambition not helping so much.
3:30PM: Finish 2 minute bathroom break.
3:33PM: Finish pencil panel borders. Really wishing I'd made an 8x12 template.
3:38PM: Finish inked panel borders.
3:51PM: Done with Panel 1.
3:55PM: Done with Panel 2. HOW? How did it get done so fast?
4:13PM: Done with Panel 3. WHY? Why did it take so long?
4:25PM: Finished Panel 4.
Total Time for Page Four: 57 minutes. Starting to improve. We might finish if we power through it.

4:25PM START PAGE FIVE: Switched to inside the ship. Maybe this will speed things up. And add context.
4:28PM: Finish ~3 minute break.
4:40PM: Finished ink boxes.
4:48PM: Finished setting up Excel spreadsheet to track progress and see how fast I need to go to finish. I used it up to about the second dual page spread.
5:26PM: Finished page.
Total Time for Page Five: One hour, 1 minute. Argh. Back to slowness. But people seem to like this page.  

The following graph shows my progress over the day - spoilers, but you should already know I finished.

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The graph is after the fact; I just used it at the time to figure out that I needed to be doing a page in 54 minutes or less. Back to it!

5:26PM: START PAGES SIX AND SEVEN: A dual page spread at last! Target: 6:15PM.
5:45PM: Finish break.
5:50PM: Finish sketch and borders.
6:26PM: Finish page.
Total Time for Pages Six and Seven: 1 hour. Still slow, but I've made up time by the dual page spread.

6:26PM: START PAGE EIGHT: Back to a page, aware I need to pick up the pace. Can I simplify? Target: 7:15PM.
6:36PM: 10 minute break concludes.
6:46PM: Panels done, plus talking.
7:04PM: Panel 1 done.
7:22PM: Panel 6 done. By a happy coincidence, I had three small horses in my box of art props, in positions ranging from standing to trot to gallop, perfect for panels 5-7.
7:26PM: Panel 7 done.
Total Time for Page Eight: 1 hour. Still not speedy. Argh.   

7:26PM: START PAGE NINE: Nuts, poses with people looking up. Argh! Target: 8:15PM.
8:20PM: Done, with a 5 minute break in there.
Total Time for Page Nine: 54 minutes. Still not speedy. Argh. But it's a notch faster than my 56 minute desired time (time has ballooned a bit since I had been falling behind).

Somewhere around this point I really started to flag, to really feel despair and to decide I didn't want to do this, but I pulled out a Panera bread cinnamon roll I'd purchased for just such an occasion and was soon re-energized!

24hcd2012dessert.jpg

Beans and vinegar, sugar high, go!

8:20PM: START PAGE TEN: A complicated pose, but only two panels, easy, right? Target: 9:05PM.
9:05PM: Finish Panel 1. During this, I had to pose several models on top of each other, hold the models at different angles, tweak the stuff ... oh dear.  
9:30PM: Finish Panel 2. Argh! But people seem to really love this shot.
Total Time for Page Ten: 1 hour, 10 minutes. But it's a great page.

9:30PM: START PAGE ELEVEN: An even more complex pose: two characters holding another on a gurney looking down from the top of the ship. Argh! Target: 10:15
9:38PM: Finish break.
9:46PM: Finish panels. Where's that 8x12 template again?
10:20PM: Finish page.
Total Time for Page Eleven: 50 minutes. Getting better.

10:20PM: START PAGE TWELVE: Things going better; I'm on page twelve, I should be on page twelve by my Excel spreadsheet. I decide to skim backgrounds and use silhouettes here to simplify.
10:30PM: Finish ~10min break.
10:51PM: Finish Panel 1. Silhouette of Norylan looks great. Made a slight gaffe overblacking an area, but you can't tell in the finished product.
11:05PM: Finish Panel 2. The blaster design is what I can draw. I'd have done this with 3 panels if I could have.
11:15PM: Finish Panel 3. Norylan!
Total Time for Page Twelve: 55 minutes. Right on time, according to Excel.

11:15PM: START PAGE THIRTEEN: A single page spread, on purpose.
11:54PM: Finish Panel 1. Suprisingly hard to get the design of INDEPENDENCE right, but in the end, the ship looks great and is a great backdrop for the action.
Total time for Page Twelve: 39 minutes. Woo hoo! Getting ahead.

11:54PM: START PAGE FOURTEEN: Even simplified, this will be a bear. 7 panels, one a crowd scene.
12:09AM: Finish ~15 minute break. Isn't it weird that AM and PM designators switch an hour before the clocks roll back from 12 to 1? I guess the easier way to think about it is that since the clock loops around, 12 on the clock really is a funny way of saying 0 (12 mod 12 = 0 :-).
12:15AM: Finish panel boxes.
12:29AM: Finish the surprisingly complex Panel 1 - four characters in a complex pose.
12:32AM: Finish Panel 2.
12:40AM: Finish Panels 3 and 4.
12:59AM: Finish Panel 5 - a night crowd scene around a fire. AAAAA!
1:10AM: Finish Panel 6. Tianyu came out very well as a shadow in the dark.
1:16AM: Finish Panel 7. Ah, done with blacks for now. Next few pages, I cheat.
Total Time for Page Fourteen: One hour, 26 minutes. Argh. Back to the grind.  

It's around this time, not sure when precisely, that I had the second incidence of questioning my sanity.

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I'd already had dinner from a nearby cafe, and a donut didn't help, so it wasn't food shortage. My memories are a bit jumbled, but I recall taking a brief nap, about 10 minutes, but panels danced before my eyes and I realized my resistance was that I didn't have a good plan for the next few pages. I scanned the panels in my mind, decided, and got up and went back to work.

1:16AM: START PAGE FIFTEEN: Simplify. Eliminate blacks; pretend the campfire illuminates like day.
1:33AM: Finish ~17 minute break. Needed that.
1:37AM: Finish inking panel borders.
1:40AM: Finish panel 1. Not even sure I penciled this one.
1:50AM: Finish panels 2-3. Almost no penciling again: close characters in foreground.
2:12AM: Finish panel 3. Complex characters in interesting pose, more work.
Total Time for Page Fifteen: 56 minutes. Not bad, counting the break.

2:12AM: START PAGE SIXTEEN: A complex pose atop panel 1: a centaur falling on a person. Argh! I put a horse model atop a superhero model and used that. Sadly, you can sort of tell as the person's pose is too stiff.
2:58AM: Finish Panel 3.
Total Time for Page Sixteen: 46 minutes. Not bad. Getting bolder with the no pencils when I can get away with it.

2:58AM: START PAGE SEVENTEEN: I like this page. Romance, kung fu, and death threats!
3:12AM: Finish ~14 minute break.
3:59AM: Finish Panel 3.
Total Time for Page Seventeen: 1 hour, 1 minute. Slower, but complex.

Again, somewhere around here, it isn't clear, I wanted to just give up - for the third time.

24hcd2012despair.png

This time, it wasn't a sugar low, or a panel problem, or any of those other things. Despite the picture (actually taken earlier in the day; I was too busy to take pictures at this point) I wasn't that tired. I just wanted to quit. I realized there was no external thing I could do to help me. I had to just power through it, just reach in and find the place that said ... continue.

3:59AM: START PAGE EIGHTEEN: Simplify, just keep it going. Took a short break.
4:36AM: Finish Panel 4.
Total Time for Page Eighteen: 37 minutes. How? Amazing.

4:36AM: START PAGE NINETEEN: Simplify, but this is more complex. Avoid pencils?
4:48AM: Break for 12 minutes.
4:55AM: Finish panel borders.
5:02AM: Finish sketch of Panel 1.
5:09AM: Finish Panel 1.
5:36AM: Finish Panel 4.
Total Time for Page Nineteen: 1 hour. Slower, but we're getting close to the end.

5:36AM: START PAGES TWENTY AND TWENTY ONE: A dual page spread, woo woo!
5:37AM: Finish 3 minute break.
6:20AM: Mostly finished.
6:22AM: Finish Panel 1.
Total Time for Pages Twenty and Twenty One: 46 minutes. Not bad for a two page spread!  

Now I am officially way ahead. The dual page spread, finished early, has put me 1 whole page ahead of schedule.

24hcd2012ahead.png

This picture, again taken earlier, represents my now renewed burst of enthusiasm - shoot, still 3 more pages.

6:22AM: START PAGE TWENTY TWO: When I "should" be at page 20. Woot! Goal: 7:10am. This page could be complex, but I'm going to simplify it. Most complex thing: two characters riding a centaur.
7:01AM: Finish Panel 4.
Total Time for Page Twenty-Two: 38 minutes. Woot! Go no pencils, except where hard.

7:01AM: START PAGE TWENTY THREE: When I "should" be at page 21. Woo woo! Simplify even more; drawing a giant door. Yes, I'm ahead, I could get complex, but *F* that at this stage, it's better to be DONE! Hardest part: showing a character falling backwards into water.
7:05AM: Finish inking panel borders.
7:35AM: Finish Panel 3.
Total Time for Page Twenty-Three: 34 minutes. Almost there ... stay on target ...

7:35AM: START PAGE TWENTY FOUR: When I "should" be at page 22. Almost there! One single panel spread!
8:20AM: Finish Panel 1.
Total Time for Page Twenty-Four: 45 minutes? Axually, I don't know. I strongly suspect the 8:20 figure is my "target time" and that I finished slightly early. Still ... it's better to be DONE!

Hey, wait a second ... I FINISHED! Go Team Centaur! Go Blitz Comics! Go Mission Comics! Go 24 Hour Comics Day!

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So ... now what? Well, after chilling out a bit, stretching, I hung out with people at the event. People began to finish up around me; a few people had beat me, some by a little, some by a lot - two people finished way early and went back and watercolored all their pages. While I didn't track times, this is how the rest of the day went, more or less:

8:20AM: START CHILLDOWN. O.M.G. I'm done. Don't panic. Don't gloat. Chill out, stretch your wrists, take a walk.
Mostly, I just walked around, talked to people, started cleaning up. Sooner or later, people started cleaning up.

9:00AM: SHOW ME YOURS, I'LL SHOW YOU MINE: People start noticing that others have finished, or people begin announcing it. Some people pass around their comics. At least three of them were watercolored. All were interesting, all were different, and a few had really genuine scares and laughs.

10:00AM: INTERVIEW: The reporter returns and begins interviewing everyone. Each one takes about 10 minutes. It's fun and great to unpack your thoughts.

10:30AM: TEARDOWN: I and Nathan begin packing up. I vow not to take so much next time; I have a good grip on how much I can use in one trip now. Basically, if it doesn't fit in one bag that you can sit next to the desk while you work, you are not going to pull it out.

11:00AM: FAREWELLS: Nathan and I are invited to have breakfast with Doc and Leef, but Nathan's too worn out for this and needs to crash. We decide to bail, say our farewells, and leave Mission Comics to wind our way back the street of trees and dreams.

T-plus 1 hour: THE VOYAGE HOME. Nathan and I are surprisingly alert enough to start a postmortem. We come up with a list of ideas about 24 Hour Comics Day which we're going to turn into a series of blogposts. I'm fading fast, and feel microbursts of sleep as I drive. Not safe. Drop Nathan off, then get breakfast.

T-plus 2 hours: BREAKFAST AND POSTMORTEM. I go to my favorite restaurant, Aqui's in Blossom Valley, and get a spectacular French toast breakfast while I unpack my ideas. I email them to Nathan, capturing our conversation on the drive, then hastily bang together a trip report. A friend is having a baby shower, but I'm simply too exhausted and go home to sleep.

Yes, French toast. That is my reward for a hard day's work. That, and blissful unconsciousness.

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But that's not the end of 24 Hour Comics Day, oh no. We need ... the POSTMORTEM! This postmortem, axually.

T-plus 3 hours: NAP Yes, sleep. But not much. I'm too wound up, and wake up.

T-plus 5 hours: UNWIND. I unpack the car, kick around the house, chat with Sandi, and unwind.

T-plus 11 hours: CRASH: After doing as much damage as I can, I crash, hard.

T-plus 23 hours: AWAKEN: Yes, I do indeed wake up at almost 10 the next day. What can I say, I love my job, which cares more about how much work you do than when you get there. I got in to work around 11am, 24 hours after 24 Hour Comic Day ended.

T-plus 2 days: BACK TO SPEED: The first day was rough, but by Tuesday I was back at it and had started writing this postmortem. It took me two whole days.

T-plus 3 days: POSTMORTEM COMPLETE. Complete as of me writing this paragraph. I've got back to speed with my other writing projects (DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME and SPECTRAL IRON, *ahem*), scheduled a meeting with Nathan for next Wednesday to plan out the next year of Blitz Comics ... and finished this postmortem.

And that, my friends, is a 24 Hour Comics Day.

-the Centaur

Blitzing 24 Hour Comics Day 2012

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24 Hour Comics Day is a challenge to create 24 pages of a new comic in 24 Hours. The challenge was originally conceived by comics whiz Scott McCloud in 1990, and the challenge was organized into a formal day by Nat Gertler in 2004. Now, eight years later, 24HCD is a global event in which thousands of people participate.

My first two tries at 24 Hour Comics Day were miserable failures in 2009 and 2010. My good friend Nathan Vargas also failed, and we started putting our heads together about how to succeed. For me, pulling a Jim Lee and taking a year off to massively cram at being a great artist might merit an angry note from my mortgage service provider, so we needed other options.

We analyzed how we failed, developed strategies and tutorial materials, and ultimately produced the Blitz Comics Survival Kit --- not called 24 Hour Comics Survival Kit because we didn't want to look like we were providing "official" materials; the Survival Kit was just our take on how to succeed, and we didn't even know whether it would work, because we hadn't done it yet.

As it turns out, the techniques in the Kit did work in 2011, not just for Nathan and me but also for a wide variety of other people as well. Nathan has worked hard to promote the ideas and concepts in the Kit while I've been a slack ass lazy bum writing novels, so since he works hard now Comics PRO distributes our materials as Participant Resources. But was our success a fluke?

Well, to test the theory, we tried it again. A few months before we reviewed our exercises and updated the Survival Kit, though website problems prevented us from updating the materials everywhere in time for the 24HCD event. We re-ran the tutorial we'd done before, and practiced a month or so in advance, cracking the knuckles so to speak, to get ready ...

Because yesterday was 24 Hour Comics Day.

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We both succeeded, of course; me around 8:20am and Nathan an hour and a half so later. It was great to participate at the always wonderful Mission Comics, but unlike previous years where we were too zonked to think at all, this year we had an interesting and lively conversation about what we did, why we did it, why we're doing this, and how to make it better in the future.

And unlike last year, we're planning to meet next week, rather than a few months in advance. Hopefully there will be some great stuff to show you - such as our comics, which we finally may have a strategy to get online without fixing the server error that's been a pain in the patootie to fix. Next up: a 24 Hour Comics Day Timeline, like last year's. Stay tuned.

Now, home to bed, because at this point I've been up 32 and a half hours straight!

-the Centaur

Pictured: the last page of my 2012 24 Hour Comic, "Stranded Part 2", my adaptation of my own story "Stranded," published in the book STRANDED. Got that? Also pictured is a bunch of writers at Mission Comics and Art. Thanks Leef!

First review of STRANDED in…

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... and it's pretty great! From http://thereadingcafe.com/stranded-an-anthology-with-anne-bishop-a-review/ :

This turned out to be a very good story also, even though the first few pages had me somewhat confused as to what was happening. It begins with a ship that is beginning to fail, a group of young boys and girls, who cannot get along running that ship, and also about a wonderful Centauress from an advanced planet. How do they meet? It’s a long story, but worth to read. The ship crashes, the Centauress was traveling on an adventure of her own, came to that planet where they were just crashing. All hell brakes loose, and the sides are chosen. Serependity is the Centauress, and she is great. It becomes a fight of what is right and wrong; of good vs bad; a chance to build and do it right. I enjoyed this short story by Anthony Francis.

Fantastic news. However, full disclosure, since that review appeared, the first review on Amazon popped up and was less positive, but it really didn't sound like the reader's cup of tea, which is fine: you can't satisfy everyone. :-)

-the Centaur

For Sale: Garden Planet. Barely Used.

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Stranded - print.jpg

It's been on preorder for a while, but STRANDED, the anthology featuring stories by me, James Alan Gardner, and headlined by Anne Bishop, is finally out in print and Kindle on Amazon and both print and Nook on Barnes and Noble. Three authors, three stories - one theme: young adults making their own way in space. An excerpt from my story, "Stranded":

“It’s called Halfway Point," Serendipity said, "because they wanted to do what I want to do: set up a port between those two bubbles, which have grown so they almost touch. Shipping routes are still rerouted, but they won’t stay that way. Halfway Point’s even got a black hole—”

“Oh, wonderful,” Tianyu said. “Sounds like a big KEEP OFF sign to me.”

“Hush, love,” Serendipity said. “The orbit’s far enough that the inner planets are stable, but close enough to power heavy industry someday. In all the galaxy, Halfway Point is unique. I have no idea why it was overlooked, but I’m not about to let someone else step up and claim it.”

They stared at the little blue-green moon, that forgotten jewel, curling around the rainbow pastels of its mammoth mother planet.

“I looked up headstrong in the dictionary,” Tianyu said at last, curling up in a huff. “Your name was all over it: synonym, hyponym, see also, properly capitalized and everything.”

“Be a good sport,” Serendipity said, ruffling behind his ears. "Double-check my kit, would you?"

Ah, Serendipity. Best of luck on that new planet. You can check out more of Serendipity the Centaur at her Facebook page, or here, where I'll be filling in details on "Stranded's" sequel, "Conflicted," as I get the story done. The current plan is to collect the first three novellas in the Serendipity story into a single novel titled MAROONED.

-the Centaur

STRANDED is on Amazon!

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Stranded - print.jpg

STRANDED, the new science fiction anthology featuring stories by Anne Bishop, James Alan Gardner, and myself, is now available for preorder on Amazon! From the back cover:

Three Great Authors - Three Great Science Fiction Stories

A Strand In The Web

New York Times Bestselling Fantasy Author Anne Bishop makes her U.S. debut in Science Fiction with this engaging futuristic novella. The Restorers travel the universe fulfilling a purpose handed down through the generations. They live and die aboard city-ships, never knowing the worlds they create and save. What begins as a disastrous training exercise in creating and balancing ecosystems becomes an unexpected fight for survival. The only hope may be the secret project of an untried creation team.

A Host Of Leeches

Award winning author James Alan Gardner pens a wonderfully imaginative tale, in which a young woman wakes to find herself the sole human on an orbiting, mechanical moon. To find a way home, she must navigate the dangerous politics of war between opposing robot leaders.

Stranded

Popular urban fantasy writer Anthony Francis (Dakota Frost, Skindancer series) explores the clash of ethics and survival when a young, genetically engineered centauress from the super-advanced Alliance lays claim to a rare, strategic garden planet, only to find herself captured by a band of rag-tag Frontier refugees who’ve crashed their vintage ship on her unexpectedly hostile world.

An excerpt of the story:

Serendipity crested a ridge overlooking the wreck—and froze, bewitched.

Climbing from the ship were the most beautiful people she’d ever seen.

They wore armored spacesuits, patched in a thousand places, and painted to look like animals. Helmets folded back revealed inner pressure suits decorated too: one girl in a leopard outersuit had a snakeskin helm, adorned with feathers, over skin painted a pale blue.

Serendipity gasped. These were adventurers. The gravity was clearly punishing their slender frames, but they kept going, crawling out of the smoking ship from every hatch, rappelling down on spacelines, tools jangling on their belts when their boots touched the broken earth. Not one of them looked a day over sixteen.

That should have meant nothing—her grandmother didn’t look a day over sixteen—but as fractured shale dislodged by her slogs crackled down the slope, they turned and stared at her with youthful shock. They had none of the smug poise of ancient souls newly young.

What Serendipity saw instead, and felt keenly, was fear. Her gut churned.

The boys were armed with projectile automatics.

Serendipity now has her own Facebook page over at http://www.facebook.com/serendipitythecentaur . Please check it out!

“Stranded” back from the editor!

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"Stranded," my young adult space pirates story set in the Library of Dresan universe, has been provisionally accepted by Bell Bridge Books and I'm responding to the edits now. It's set in a distant future where humanity has spread through the galaxy in two groups - one, the Dresanians, citizens of the grand and sparkling intergalactic civilization known as the Dresan-Murran Alliance, a mammoth polyglot alien culture of which humanity is the tiniest part, and the other, the Frontiersmen, humans who fled the Allied takeover of Earth to found their own civilization at the edge of the deeps --- but at least it's human.

What happens when these two groups collide?

Serendipity snapped her fingers. The map of the Alliance collapsed into the tiny glowing sphere, which leapt from the tree and flew into her hand. Tianyu scampered up onto her shoulder and rubbed her cheek, and Serendipity rubbed him back as the farstaff chimed.

“Let’s go on an adventure,” Serendipity said—and in a twinkle of light, they disappeared.

An adventure she wants? An adventure she'll get.

If the editor and I can beat the story into shape, it will come out later this year in an anthology called STRANDED, and later my space pirate sequence of stories will be collected into a novel called MAROONED. The alien child pictured above, Norylan, is actually from the sequel to "Stranded", "Conflicted", which will form part 2 of MAROONED. Got that? Good.

All coming Real Soon Now to a bookstore or ereader near you!

-the Centaur

Pictured: Norylan, a child (sort of) of the Andiathar, the dominant species of the Alliance, drawn by yours truly while working through story notes, photographed by my phone (you can even see the shadow of my hand in the original shot below), and colored (also by me) in Photoshop as an experiment for doing "quick" (ha) art for a blog post. There's a lot I'd like to do to fix this piece of art, but then that would fail my intent of making this a quick experiment.

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I have to fall in love with a story

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My fundamental philosophy about writing is very simple: I want to have fun, I want my readers to have fun, and I hope, if we're both lucky, that they learn something.

I've long understood that the third part of this troika, the learning, is both a product and a cause of the mammoth amount of research I do for even the simplest pieces. (And yes, I did look up Fat Albert on Wikipedia just to write the first sentence of this supposedly throwaway blogpost).

I've also understood that the second part, my readers having fun, is why I need to constantly work to hone my craft. That's why I don't self-publish, but work with a publisher with a strong editor who serves as a gatekeeper and holds my work to a high standard. That's why I attend a writing group; that's why I work with beta readers; and that's why I'm writing a monthly column on writing called The Centaur's Pen over at the Write to the End blog.

But only tonight did I realize the first part is why I need to fall in love with my own stories. When I'm writing a story, I can power through it if I have to, daydreaming sequences inspired by music, character and knowledge, weaving those scattered fragments together with the rules of plot and conflict, and winnowing the chaff until what's left is a cohesive whole.

But I'm better off if I fall in love with a story. I need characters to spring to life in my books and derail them, like Cinnamon in FROST MOON or Beneficenitor in HEX CODE (in progress). I need settings l fall in love with, like the Werehouse in FROST MOON and BLOOD ROCK or the Werehold in HEX CODE. I need vehicles on which I want to lavish detail, like the doomed Abadulon in DELIVERANCE (unreleased) or Independence in MAROONED (forthcoming). And I need scenes that I desperately want to write, like Dakota's challenging encounter with Transomnia in FROST MOON or her somewhat different encounter with the Streetscribe at the end of BLOOD ROCK.

I realized this need for love of my own work when I caught myself daydreaming about the first encounter of the Freemanship Independence with a mammoth Dresanian starship near the end of BESIEGED, the third book I have planned in the Seren series. A clip of "The Planet Krypton" shuffled through my iPod, I realized how the aftermath of the climactic battle could be shot in the movie ... and then began daydreaming how all the characters would react to what's happening.

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Visualizing the Independence docking against the backdrop of a giant door like a Michael Whelan painting, a scenario I can visualize so strongly I was inspired to scribble it down on the spot, the question occurred to me: "Would the hero Serendipity finally secure sanctuary for her people ... or would the war criminal Seren finally be called to account for her crimes?" And how would the crew of Independence react if someone else came to claim someone they'd chosen to claim as their own?

That's falling in love with your story: when you think about it so much that random clips of music inspire you to write scenes, but you don't just visualize them, you are forced to think through how all the characters will react to what happened, how it fits their own personalities, the setting, the story.

That's what you should strive for in your writing: a love for your story that goes all the way down to its bones.

-the Centaur

“Stranded” Away

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"Stranded", the novelette which is the first third of the first book of my new young adult space pirates trilogy, is away to the editor! It came in somewhat over the desired length, so I hope she doesn't hurt me, but it is the first third of the first book of a planned trilogy, so some of that length is unavoidable. (My awesome beta and gamma readers liked it. :-)

"Stranded" tells the story of Serendipity, a young centauress explorer who must come to the aid of a shipload of children who've crashlanded on a world she wanted to claim as her own. It's got aliens and fungi, spaceships and rayguns, and plush robots and kung fu, but it's really about how people should be treated and learning to stand up for what's right.

Here's a teaser, illustrated thanks to my work on 24 Hour Comics Day:

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Sirius flinched as sizzling grey bullets tumbled around him in zero-gee. The grey dented veligen pellets rattled through the cramped innards of Independence’s life support plant, stinging his nose with the scent of bitter almonds as his hands strained at the yellow-striped master fuse. The girls shouted, their guns fired, more bullets twanged around him, ricocheting off the ancient, battered equipment, striking closer with every shot—but Sirius just gripped the hot, humming tube harder, braced both booted feet, and pulled.

Andromeda and Artemyst screamed for him to stop. Dijo, the engineer, screamed for the shooting to stop. Even the air screamed, out a bullet hole in a vacuum duct near his feet. But with every second, Independence shot a half million clicks farther into the deep, flying away from the Beacon that was their only hope of survival, so Sirius didn’t stop: he just screamed too, pulling, pulling, jerking—until the master fuse popped out and he shot free, bursting the hatch open.

Sirius flew out of the life support service chamber into Independence’s cavernous cargo hold. His head clanged off a handrail, knocking him into a dizzy spin in zero-gee. He smacked into the tumbling brassfiber grille of the hatch he’d knocked free, halving his spin—and leaving him right in the crosshairs of Dijo, Artemyst and Andromeda, all clipped to orange handrails far out of his reach. All had their guns on him, red laser sights on, green safety lights off.

Then the ship’s lighting flickered, and the whine of the air cycler slowly spun down.

“Halfway Boy!” Andromeda said, staring at the yellow and black striped master fuse in Sirius’s hands, her eyes as wild as the spray of feathers sticking out of her snakeskin cowl. She motioned to Dijo, who kicked off towards the life support plant. “What have you done?

“Saved all our lives,” Sirius said, still dizzy, still spinning. “You can thank me later.”

Assuming the editor doesn't put me in the hospital over the length issue, we hope the story will be out in an anthology later this year. "Stranded's" parent novel, MAROONED, will hopefully be out mid 2012. So I guess the above is really a teaser. Sorry about that. Well, not really. I hope you enjoy!

-the Centaur

(No) More Procrastination

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Finally finished my "From Nano to Novel" pep talk for the National Novel Writing Month site ... should be coming out later this month to the donors list. (What? You're not a Nanowrimo donor? You can fix that here: https://store.lettersandlight.org/donations).

But I've posted that to Facebook and to Google+. Posting it again here is, I think, a good idea to make sure people know what I'm up to, but in another way it's just procrastination ... I've got the gamma comments on "Stranded" to work on and this is not that.

Back to work!

-the Centaur

Last gamma comments for STRANDED in…

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Alright, the last gamma reader comments for "Stranded" are in. (Gamma, because this is actually the second round of beta readers. :-)

"Stranded" is the first novelette of three in a planned YA space adventure novel with the working title MAROONED. This will be part of a trilogy including MAROONED, PURSUED, BESIEGED, SHANGIAIED, COMMANDEERED ... oh damnit I've done it again, haven't I?

"Stranded" is also the novelette I adapted for 24 Hour Comics Day. Don't know if I'll get back to that as I have already 3 books plotted out in this series and parts of the next two outlined.

Hope to get "Stranded" the novelette out to the editor in the next two weeks for inclusion in an anthology maybe later this year (with MAROONED coming out next year we hope). When "Stranded" is away, then it's back to LIQUID FIRE (finishing the draft) and THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE (polishing the draft to send to beta readers).

-the Centaur