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Posts published in “Challenges”

National Novel Writing Month, Camp Nano, and similar challenges.

Day 108 and Camp Nano 12

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moore sketch

Quick Sharpie sketch of Roger Moore. Head's a bit squashed, but it's not too bad. I admit, I threw my first drawing away and made myself start over, rather than deal with one messed up line in his right jawline. It's interesting to me how much of the character of even a very young Roger Moore is made up not just by that whale of a jaw, but by the subtle lines all over his face. He was strangely old even when young.

moore picture

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

P.S. Only ~800 words today, which was quite a struggle. Roger Moore came up very tangentially when Dakota was snarking about a vampire looking like a cross between Roger Moore and Leslie Nielsen.

Day 107 and Camp Nano 11

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apsara sketch

Quick Sharpie sketch of an Apsara dancer, a mythical spirit appearing in Southeast Asian cultures. Came up in some tangential research for a scene in Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE, but decided this was too rich a mine of mythology for a throwaway line, so I ended up using something else.

apsara dance

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

Oh, and on Camp Nano: just got ~1000 words so far. Not sure why I got fewer words when I had more to do yesterday than today. Perhaps I need to break more paintings?

Day 106 and Camp Nano 10

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mongkut sketch

Quick Sharpie sketch of King Mongkut of Thailand, the famous king from The King and I, and also, not a bad mathematician and astronomer. Tangentially came up in today's Dakota Frost Camp Nano adventure (2300+ words today, still behind, but catching up). The real guy's head is more egg-shaped, and the left eye has an iris placement mistake: we are near the limit of what I can do with a Sharpie, but it's still the best tool I have to keep myself drawing when it's super late and I'm tired.

mongkut headshot

Drawing. Every. Day.

-the Centaur

Day 105 (and Camp Nano Day 9)

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capaldi sketch

Sharpie sketch of Peter Capaldi from the Doctor Who episode "The Pilot," which is lightweight in tone and stakes but stands up surprisingly well to repeated viewings, especially Capaldi's knockout speech about time in the beginning, the Doctor's amazing office, and the introduction of the TARDIS.

The sketch is ... OK. Slightly squashed, and I'm still doing eyes too big (likely a function of the Sharpie sketches, which put a minimum size on the features I can draw). But it ... kinda looks like him? His head's not turned the right way, and I still have trouble getting the "landscape" of the face right.

capaldi drawing

Still, drawing every day.

-the Centaur

P. S. Only got ~50 words on Camp Nano, but I feel good about those words, as they're stitching parts of a scene together so I can really roll with it tomorrow. 11K words behind, but I've been behind worse.

Day 104 (and Camp Nano Day 8)

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chipman, pruitt, bolton

Quick sketch - much of it, just a dry erase marker, not even a Sharpie - on Strathmore 9x12. Not completely terrible for the first two, but I sure did squeeze Bolton's head. Sorry, man.

chipman-pruitt-bolton reference

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

P.S. Only 250 words with Camp Nano, but then, I still feel that maybe-vaccine headache, so, ugh.

Day 100

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dakota rough sketch

Quick Sharpie sketch of Dakota Frost, based on the model from the BLOOD ROCK / LIQUID FIRE covers. I tried to do this upside down at first, to "see" it better, and OH BOY it did not turn out well - the landscape was all off. So this is an even quicker sketch, because I need to get to bed early.

dakota skull small

Also, Camp Nano only got ~150 added words, but again, I need sleep. Rough draftiness:

“Your voice,” the priest said, taking another step back. “If not a vampire, surely … surely not a werewolf … but your voice … why do I know your voice?”

I spun, rolling my neck, unfurling more vines into a soft green halo that lit my face.

“Do you know me now?” I asked.

“Oh … God,” the priest said. “You were on the news, the mother of that weretiger—”

“That I am, and if she is here,” I said, “you should point the way … then run.”

“She … here?” The priest blinked, then his eyes flicked at the coffin. “But it’s not—”

My heart fell. The prisoner in the coffin was not Cinnamon—but as the priest’ eyes went wide in terror, I realized that in his shock he’d given away there was a prisoner in that coffin. I drew a breath, my face flushing, feeling my blood pounding in my ears.

Hopefully I'll pick up speed now that I'm out of the Lenten "Jesus and Godel" series. I wrote 45,000 words of nonfiction in Lent, which is nowhere near the needed Nano rate, but I think is probably the fastest rate and largest single body of nonfiction writing I've done since perhaps my thesis.

But what I really did today was move boxes into the room that's going to become my wife's art studio.

Drawing, writing, moving every day.

-the Centaur

Camp Nano April 2021, Day 3

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dakota skull small

Day 3, just under 600 words, still behind. A lot of today was spent on planning the scene.

Rough draftiness, with Dakota infiltrating a church using her magic tattoos:

My eyelids flickered as the orchid petals infiltrated the lock, a jumble of images and feelings flooding back to me as the interlocking parts of the stamen column felt the tumblers. It was hard to see and “see” at the same time, much less guide the—

Click.

I drew a careful breath, then turned my hand. The petals and sepals closed on the knob and turned it, softly, and I gingerly opened the doors. My vines and their floating leaves shifted as the heavy wood parted, but did not otherwise react: no security system had been triggered.

The church was spacious, almost cavernous … but not wholly dark. An eerie blue glow filtered in from the twin rows of stained glass, but the white light glinting off the rows of pews came from a pool of spotlights, pinioning before the altar a gleaming silver coffin.

“My friend,” came a quiet Asian voice. “You should not have come here.”

Instantly I whirled 270, twisting mana up in my body, murmuring shield just as I came face to face with … a priest? A typical, nay, stereotypical long-cassocked priest, stepping from a confessional, bearing an ornate pectoral cross and carrying a gun … no … a water pistol?

“Let this be a warning to you,” he said, and fired. “Begone!”

Writing every day.

-the Centaur

 

Camp Nano April 2021, Day 2

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Just added roughly 250 words today. An excerpt, all first-drafty stuff:

I strode up to the silver coffin, the parallel blades of the Salt Chamber Sword singing hungry in my hand. The closer I got, the more it vibrated, testing my grip and rattling my teeth. The coils of my Dragon looped out around me in a spiral, pushing the guards back; her wings covered me protectively, but none of them were fool enough to try shooting again.

“Alright, alright,” I murmured to my sword. “I’ll give you what you want.”

I drew the Salzkammergutschwert down the length of the silver coffin.

The black tuning-fork blade squealed through the thick metal case as easily as drawing a pen across paper, except the line left by this writing instrument was a hot metal gash. The ancient faerie blade jerked and popped in my hand, and I struggled to control it so I didn’t harm the occupant—oh, that precious occupant!—as the screeching Salt Chamber Sword popped clamps and cut hinges alike, bits of hardware clattering to the floor in glowing showers of sparks.

My arm completed its motion. The Salzkammergutschwert quit singing. Something thudded against the lid, which shuddered, jumped, then flipped aside, the thin hands of the occupant clawing for the air. A slender child rose from the prison, screaming, fanged, eyes glowing, and for the briefest snap-second I imagined it might have been Cinnamon.

Then the starved vampire child’s gaze fell on me—and he lunged.

Onward.

-the Centaur

Camp Nano, April 2021: SPIRAL NEEDLE

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camp nano april 2021, day 1

Taking on Dakota Frost, Book 7. Added 305 words. A raw unedited excerpt (including some prior text from Tuesday for context):

Agent Grant, commander of the MIRTH unit—if I remember my DEI alphabet soup, that stands for something twee like Magical Incident Response Transportable Headquarters—turned towards us, turned off his earpiece, and turned completely serious.

“She’s right, this is an operation,” he said evenly but firmly, his full beard making him look grimmer and sterner than he already sounded. “It doesn’t matter if you two are the only ones on deck. If you’re not ready, I am not sending you in.”

“I fought in the Great War, you ridiculous pup!” But Nyissa’s voice quavered. I knew she was not particularly brave; but what was up? More than just anger at being awakened before the crack of sunset, I think. “But I’ll not be going in at all, I think—”

My hand fell on her knee. “And no-one thinks less of you for it,” I said.

Nyissa sagged a bit. Grant raised his eyebrows at me.

“So we have one operative,” he said.

“We have one operative,” Philip said.

“And it’s Red Sonja here,” Grant said.

“Hey!” I said. “Just because I have a metal bikini and a sword—”

“Outclassed by my own supposed sub,” Nyissa said. “Some bodyguard I am.”

“Different kind of discipline,” Grant said, looking between us. “Frost, you ready?”

“As much as I ever am,” I grumbled, squinting at the church. “What can you tell me?”

That is all. Zzzzz...

-the Centaur

Viiictory … and 1.5 Million Words

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So it's that time of year once again: I've won Nanowrimo, again, by writing 50,000 words in the month of November; by my records, this is 28 straight wins (counting Camp Nano in April and July in the mix) for a total of ... holy cow ... 1.5 million words in successful Nano challenges.

Welp, I'm calling it: Nano is the most successful technique I've ever used to to boost my writing output --- more than morning pages, more than writing workshops, more than the Artist's Way --- with the possible exception of Write to the End, with which Nano is intimately intertwined (for me).

Now I hear my editor calling: How about boosting that editing output, Francis? I hear you. Writing I don't seem to have much trouble with, but between robots and the zombie apocalypse I've found it hard to get the necessary brain juice to edit the 7, no 8 manuscripts I have in the queue.

Come to think of it, why couldn't we have had the zombie apocalypse while I was writing about a zombie apocalypse? Covid would have been really thematically appropriate when I was working on BOT NET (Facebook zombies) or SPIRITUAL GOLD (actual zombie zombies).

But that was not to be. I don't know about you, but I find the whole zombie apocalypse thing wearing, not to mention the whole election thing. Add to that serious realignments at work, which meant basically reinventing everything I'd been doing to come back to the same place, and 2020 has been a full on freight train of suck.

Not that everything's been bad. I finished the bulk of a novel, JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE, back in April, and I'm halfway through Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE. We finished our patio here ...

... and started a grand new vegan cooking adventure together ...

And we even found and bought a new house, a very nice new place (it has turkeys) ...

... with a great space for my library and my wife's art studio, which we're in the middle of a slow motion move to while we renovate the old pad. These have been bright lights in an otherwise bad year. By you know how it's been: so stressful that - well, you've seen how much I've been blogging. I feel like this should be the best time ever in my life, yet 2020 has left me feeling a lot like this:

But, we have traditions which can help us through, like Thanksgiving ... oh, dangit Covid! So, ANYWAY, other traditions that do not involve Covid or Zoom, Nano traditions: the stats, and the excerpt. What did this month look like, Nano-wise?

This wasn't the hardest Nano I've handled ... I think the worst was being over 21,000 words behind in 2016 for PHANTOM SILVER, though briefly LIQUID FIRE in 2009 got almost that bad. Nor was it record-breakingly productive, like the astounding 25,000 words ahead finish on BOT NET 2017. This was a middle-of-the-road Nano, helped by really pouring on 12,000 words last weekend:

That was on purpose, so I could coast into Thanksgiving having finished, and spend a very nice dinner with my wife. (We had vegan muffulletas with authentic olive salad filling shipped direct from Central Grocery in New Orleans, which I highly, highly, highly recommend). That left November's work on SPIRAL NEEDLE comfortably in the middle of my previous efforts:a

And so, now, an excerpt ...

Too late, I realized the thickening arms of the octopus mist echoed the ghostly glow of the streetlights. “Teleporter! We’ve got to find a weakness!” I cried, flicking and snapping my wrist to loose a crossbow bolt, a feather from my origami peacock—an analysis spell.

The feather flitted out, replicating itself in the flood of magic, its unfolding structure revealing an intricate, oh so intricate pattern embedded in the misty galaxy. Unfortunately, Nyissa, far older and faster than me, had fired her own analysis glyph.

Our spells collided in a flash of sparks and feathers.

“Damnit,” I cried, flinching. “Only one of us needed to do that—”

“Sorry, was reacting to your idea, not your action,” Nyissa said. “I—”

A long black shaft lanced out—and with a terrific report, blasted Nyissa in the face.

Nyissa flew back. Her mask shattered. It would have been so romantic to scream her name and lunge my hand toward her—but both of us had been in fights so many times before, and I instinctively swung the Waystaff up, its spine catching bayonet and flipping the long gun upwards. The hooked beak hissed, striped cloak flapping, and I saw the thing whole.

Towering. Raptor-beaked. Cloaked in tattered striped cloth, draped over a flaring dark greatcoat. Black leather straps bound a tortuously lean torso seemingly rippled with twitching muscle. But the clawed arms fighting mine held what looked like a musket, the striped cloak looked like the ruins of a flag, and atop the thing’s plague doctor mask was a tricorn hat.

“What are you?” I yelled, shoving against the musket with the Waystaff.

The thing screamed at me, foul smoke erupting from its beak, and I flinched and gagged. It wailed at me with its musket, alternately clubbing aside the Waystaff and jabbing at me with the bayonet, as sparking smoke roiled into what I assumed was the musket’s flintlock—it was preparing to fire! I leapt backward, spinning through a knight’s move version of the Dance of Five and Two, hastily pulling together a spell: “Spirit of flame, act as my shield!

The plague knight screeched and dropped a grimy black ball into its musket—just as my Dragon tattoo uncoiled from my skin and looped around me in a helix of Technicolor scales and feathers. The plague knight fired with a clap of thunder—met by a gout of flame.

Wow! Excitement! Adventure! Tattoo magic versus magical monsters! And while we didn't get to see that much of the costumes in this excerpt, we've got cute vampires wearing sexy clothes fighting alongside our heroine in her long black vest / trenchcoat. What's not to like?

That is all for now. Until next time, please enjoy this picture of a cat.

-the Centaur