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Posts published in “Challenges”

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

[twenty twenty-four day one oh five]: going back to victoriana

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Hey folks! I've got just a quick post for you now, because I need to go heads down on Jeremiah Willstone #2, CITADEL OF GLASS, for Camp Nanowrimo. Prepping to be Guest of Honor at Clockwork Alchemy next week - and creating the Kickstarter campaign for The Neurodiversiverse, which we want to go live before CA - has put me behind on my word count for the month ... so I need to make a few changes.

In "normal" circumstances, I have a pretty simple day: take care of food, cats and laundry, work for several hours on the project of the day, and then break - on Mondays and Wednesdays, a late break for dinner where I catch up on reading, on Tuesdays and and some Thursdays, an early dinner break before writing group and the church board meeting, and on Fridays and Saturdays, an early break for coffee and drawing / writing before a late dinner and more reading (with date nites with my wife thrown in). This structure makes sure I'm both making progress on life and work projects during the day, and creative projects at night.

But you can't do that during Camp Nanowrimo or regular National Novel Writing Month - at least, not if you get behind, because if you do, you will fall farther and farther behind. Writing in Nanowrimo actually makes it easier to write more in Nanowrimo - generally, you can raise more questions for yourself than you can answer in a writing session, creating the fuel for future sessions. But once behind, that can jam up - stuck in "writer's block" where you haven't raised enough interesting questions for creative mind to answer, or not thought through the answers enough when you get to the point of writing the outcome of a confrontation.

When I'm behind on Nano, I have to drop my normal "read and eat" strategy in favor of "crack open the laptop at every available opportunity". And I won't limit myself to "write and eat" during meals and "laptop in the coffeehouse" sessions: at the very end of the day I'll set up the laptop in the kitchen , sitting down to bang out the day's wordcount before I let myself crash for the night, where both I and the laptop recharge.

"Autistic inertia" is the way many autistic people describe their inability to start or stop tasks, and some feel it is one of the most disabling aspects of autism. I don't have a formal diagnosis of autism, but informal tests put me on the spectrum - and being aware of your own neurodivergence and the experiences that other people have with the same neurodivergence can help you find strategies that work for you to cope.

For me, I can work on tasks for hours and hours on end - but if I don't have a long enough block to do a task, I tend not to start a task. Now that I understand that I may be struggling with autistic inertia, that helps me understand what may be going on. The feeling that I won't be able to get anything done if I don't have time to get everything done is just that, a feeling. In reality, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step towards it ... and the journey towards 50,000 words in a month begins with one word on the page.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Normally, there should be an open book or sketchbook next to those delicious fish tacos.

DON'T FORGET: Please sign up for our Kickstarter at neurodiversiverse.com - my understanding is that the more people who sign up to be notified when it goes live, the better the campaign will go on launch day! And if you're in the Bay Area, please come see me at Clockwork Alchemy where I'm the Author GOH!

Blog This

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In ATL for the Conference on Robot Learning, very tired after a long day, please enjoy this picture of a Page One from Cafe Intermezzo. Actually, today was a really good example of "being where you need to be" ... I ran into a fair number of colleagues from Google and beyond just by being out on the town at the right time and the right place, and was also able to help out a fellow who seriously needed some food. And when the evening was ending ... three more Google colleagues appeared on the street as I sat down for coffee.

I don't actually believe we live in a simulation, or in the Secret, or whatever ... but if you're doing the right thing, I find that Providence tends to open the doors for you right when you need it.

-the Centaur

P.S. Being in the right place DOESN'T mean you get all your nano wordcount done though. I am making progress on "Blessing of the Prism", my Neurodiversiverse story, but on Dakota Frost #7 I found myself spending most of my writing time sorting chapters in the big manuscript into sections, as I realized that one of the ungainly sections I didn't like was actually a coherent start for Dakota Frost #8.

P.P.S. On my blogroll, I saw someone say, "no writing is wasted", and in a sense the chapters I just saved are not wasted. In another, and I say this as a bloviating maximalist, a big part of writing is selection, and sometimes having too many versions of a thing can make it hard to pick the right one and move on.

Okay, really going to crash this time, peace out.

Two at once

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So! National Novel Writing Month is here again, but I haven't finished my story for the Neurodiversiverse. So I'm working on two stories at once. Hopefully this will not become confusing.

But, if you see something from me in which space centaurs fight werewolves, or Dakota Frost goes to space, you know why - hang on, wait a minute, I already had those storylines going.

Hmm ... this might be trickier to debug than I thought...

-the Centaur

Viiictory, Thirty-Five Times

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the Camp Nano victory badge for 2023

Woohoo! After being just about as behind on a Nano challenge as I have ever been and still won, I managed not only to complete 50,000 words in the month of April, but to blow past it to 53,266 words! Hooray!

progress chart for PLAGUE OF GEARS this April

To be frank, that steep slope over the top there feels really good, and I'm quite proud of the effort that I put in to make sure I made it this Nano. But, to be equally frank, the steep slope there PRIOR to going over the top really su-u-u-cked, and I pulled two almost-all-nighters (and one actual all-nighter) to finish.

what, me eating breakfast before noon? it's less likely than you think, though I do like it

Early in the month, I prioritized Clockwork Alchemy, and the Social Navigation paper, and getting work done in our old house in California that we're trying to renovate. But once I was back in the East Coast, I really had to knuckle down, writing up to 6,000 words a day near the end.

deficits and progress on April's nano

But, by the end, I was so far ahead that the "velocity required" to stay on track actually went negative (as you can see at the very end of the graph). I broke 50,000 words yesterday, but I still had a scene in mind involving the Big Bad of the Jeremiah Willstone stories, the dreaded Black Queen, Victoria. I didn't want to lose that inspiration, so I wrote it today, and the next scene, which is starting to roll back together with other parts I've written already. So now will be a good time to take a break and take stock of my life, to resume editing Dakota Frost #4 SPECTRAL IRON, and to get my new consulting business, Logical Robotics, rolling.

twenty-one years of nano challenges

According to my records, I've attempted Nanowrimo challenges (Nanowrimo, Camp Nano, and Script Frenzy) 37 times, with 35 successes, producing over 1.85 million words in successful months. If I'm lucky, and I can keep up the pace, I may crack two million words next year - wish me luck. But I think it's more pressing to get the editing of the existing books done - so wish me even more luck with that.

Oh, one more thing, the excerpt:

“Alive, but deposed,” Jeremiah said, as the proboscis of the thing behind her touched the back of her head—then bit in with a sickening CRACK. “Aaah! Deposed in 1865—or enslaved by the Plague today,” she moaned, as it dug in. “It’s y-your … choice … your … Majesty—”

The Queen raised the pistol. “I am no-one’s slave,” she said, and pulled the—

Falconer Cadet Specialist Jeremiah Willstone awoke with a start. Staring at the ceiling, she tried to hold on to the dream … no. She knew better than that. It felt like a fading dream … but they were echoes of memories, the last remnants of some disruption in time.

The jumbled recollections were slipping away, the tangled thoughts dissipating: canaries and scarabs and plagues and queens. But she remembered at least three key things: there was a war on, in time; her memories would be out of date; and she had to rise to the occasion.

Jeremiah glanced at the clock: 4:45AM on a radium dial that did not look familiar—no, did not look like her style at all, a frilly elegant thing more French than Austrian. She looked over, found what she expected from seeing the clock, and considered. It was late enough.

“Oi, roommate,” Jeremiah sat up, feet off her cot. “Name, rank, year. No joke.”

The human computer on the cot opposite her groaned. “Wha—” the woman muttered, a dark-skinned woman with impressive curls and chest, who managed to make waking up seem elegant. Then one of the vacuum tubes in her head sparked, and she sat bolt upright, blinking.

“The Lady Westenhoq,” the woman whispered icily, then swiveled to look at Jeremiah. “Liberation Academy Cadet. And, like you, Cadet Willstone, I’m a first year.”

“Thank you, Lady Westenhoq,” Jeremiah said quietly, “but I meant the date.”

Westenhoq looked at her, then swiveled her own feet of the cot to face her.

“Eighteen-ninety five,” Westenhoq whispered. “Out drinking again, Mya?”

“No, and I … think I’m going to start going by Jeremiah.” She rubbed her face. “Sounds more professional, and pet names remind me of my uncle anyway. But, since you knew my nickname and used it freely, I … take it we’ve worked together before.”

Oh, have they. Prevail, Victoriana!

-the Centaur

Pictured: Breakfast at Stax Omega, lots of graphs, and the Camp Nano winner's badge.

[sixty-six] minus fifty-three: i made it

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I finished Camp Nano. It's late, I'm tired, I have church in the morning enjoy a random picture, victory post tomorrow.

-the Centaur

Well, I did it …

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... I finished Nano for the umpteenth time. But it's just shy of 3am, so I am going to hit the hay and do my usual "Viiiictory N times" post tomorrow.

-the Centaur

P.S. (It will be "Viiictory, 34 times", for 1.8 million words written in Nano).

Viiictory, Thirty-Two Times

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Well, after a long hard month and many ups and downs, I have successfully completed Camp Nanowrimo, one of the three yearly National Novel Writing Month challenges to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month - and this is my 32nd time claiming viiictory!

This was one of the more challenging Nanos for me, as April is our quarterly planning month, and on top of that we decided to switch managers within our team and to switch to semester planning in our org. So that led to a dip in the beginning, where it was hard for me to get my groove.

The blood on the deck continued almost to the end of Camp Nano. This month's project was my third go at JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE FLYING GARDENS OF VENUS, and I found it particularly difficult to get momentum as the story is more complicated than normal, with a new protagonist Puck taking center stage in addition to Jeremiah. You can see the dip compared to past Nanos:

I felt like I was struggling and stumbling with the story, writing and rewriting scenes, trying out different alternates (I count these as words written; editing can come later). However, as I rolled into the end of the month, these struggles started to pay off, as I understood better what was up with Puck, why so many weird things happened around her, and what role they played in the story.

Over the years of doing Nano, I've reached this particular point of the enterprise many times - a point which I sometimes call "going off the rails". This is the point where the story seems to gel, and I think it happens when I go from exploring the logical consequences of a set of characters in a situation - which is where I start almost all of my writing - to creatively injecting things into the story that could not be predicted from its beginnings. These still need to be grounded in the plot and consistent with the characters, but there's a difference between the things you typically expect to happen in a scenario and truly creative innovations which cannot be predicted from the setting alone - what the Mythcreants writing team calls Novelty in their ANTS framework (Attachment, Novelty, Tension and Satisfaction).

Over almost 20 years, I've had this creative spark, this "going off the rails" many, many times, and stories always seem better for it. I have tackled 16 Nanowrimos so far out of 34 monthly challenges (also counting Camp Nano and Script Frenzy) and have successfully completed it 32 times.

Each time for me, it's facing those middling slumps, facing the places where I've fallen out of love with my own story, that ultimately kickstart my creativity into high gear and make me fall in love with my work again.

That happened this time, even though I wanted to give up. I know Nano doesn't work for everyone, so your mileage may vary, but for me, as I've often found in other arenas of my life, you sometimes have to work just a little bit harder than you want to to reach an outcome which is far better than you have any right to expect. That was true with Cinnamon, originally a side character in the first Dakota Frost about whom I have now drafted three novels, and it is turning out to be true here with Puck as well, the Girl Who Could Wish, now turning into a truly interesting twist.

Oh, an excerpt. Let me see if I have some rough draftiness lying around here ...

“It’s an ecosystem,” Puck murmured. “There’s a whole ecosystem in the floatbergs—”

One of the jellyfloats wandered under one of the falls, and screamed, terrifyingly human-like, as it steamed and melted—and then Puck realized what the liquid was: sulfuric acid. This was an upper-atmosphere floatberg, its engineered bacteria designed to harvest sulfuric acid from the air—and as the floatberg disintegrated, the collected sulfuric acid which had not been processed was now spilling out in uncontrolled streams, destroying whatever had inhabited this cavern.

“I’m sorry,” Puck said to her little audience. “I … I think it’s too late.”

One of the bigger parakeys, with a crest, hopped up on her knee.

“Is that a vest?” she said, touching a bit of what looked like cloth. “You … you can’t be intelligent creatures, now can you? How could you start a whole civilization up here? Floatbergs only go back a few hundred years, and they don’t last for more than months, maybe weeks—”

The parakey chieftain, if that’s what it was, cheeped at her.

Puck drew a breath.

“I wish this cave could be saved,” she said carefully. The crowd of parakeys cheeped and beeped, and the chieftain pawed at her and cheeped even louder, like a little screech, and she relented. “Alright, a proper, non-conditional wish this time. I wish this cave would be—”

The bottom dropped out from beneath them.

Poor Puck! She can't seem to cut a break. But at least I know who and what she is now, and how she's related to Jeremiah, and can therefore move forward with this story with confidence.

Prevail, Victoriana!

-the Centaur

Transitional Updates

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mocha from alexander's

Out with October, in with November, and with it, a bunch of updates. Dragon*Con came and went and was a success. Our Kickstarter for Beyond Boots 'n' Bars was funded; thanks to everyone who participated! But most importantly, the move from California to the East Coast is mostly done.

That last I blame for my lack of posting (and drawing - sheesh, I am ~80+ drawings behind) but, ultimately, that was the most important thing that I and my wife needed to be working on for quite a while. Now, she's got a functioning art studio again, and my library is ... getting there.

But, now it's time to get back to it. I'll be doing Nanowrimo again - JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE FLYING GARDENS OF VENUS, something-like-book 2.75 on my original outline. Since Nano has been so great to me, I'm sponsoring it this year, which in turn, means you can find FROST MOON there!

Welp, back to it. Onward, fellow adventurers!

-the Centaur

Days 189-192

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Well, something weird happened with my blog which interfered with updates, so, boo, but nevertheless, it cleared up on its own despite my best debugging efforts, so ... yay? #nervous_laughter  And updates. First, here's a quick concept sketch from JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE FLYING GARDENS OF VENUS of the antagonist character "the Parasolite" ... or, more properly, one of her bodies:

the parasolite concept sketch

The Parasolite prime interrogating Puck in her throne room. Looking at both of these, I'm not getting the length of the human leg correct; I need to work on body proportions as much as faces.

parasolite and puck

After a long day of writing Camp Nano (oh, I'm doing FLYING GARDENS OF VENUS for Camp Nano) I gave up and did this quick sketch of Brainyon, the brain-jar spider-boy shown earlier, drafted as a mercenary by our "Robert De Niro in Casino"-styled protagonist / antagonist:

brainyon again

Concept sketch for the Parasolite Prime.

parasolite prime

Drawing every day, even if I can't always post.

-the Centaur

Viiictory, Twenty-Nine Times

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camp nano april 2021 SO! Once again, I have written more than 50,000 words in a month - this time, on Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE, which is close to being finished. (Yes, yes, YES, I know, Dakota Frost #4-#6 and Cinnamon Frost #1-#3 are not edited yet, editing is harder than writing, and pays less than teaching robots to learn. I'll get to them, I'll get to them, I promise). I can't figure out the new Camp Nano interface to make it cough up the usual winner banner, so you'll just get that screenshot instead. camp nano april 2021 b This is my twenty-ninth victorious Nano challenge and thirty-first attempt overall. That's great stick-to-it-ness, but I was behind for much of the month, not getting my feet under me until the 10th, but I managed a big pushes two weekends a go and a huge push last weekend, leading to me briefly getting ahead of the game right around the 28th, making today an easy coast (1500 words finished me off, though I wrote through to a notch over 1,667 words just for completeness). According to my records, that 8,154 word push on the 25th was the second most I've ever written in a day, topped only by my 9,074 word mad push to finish PHANTOM SILVER, Dakota Frost #5, on July 30th, 2016. camp nano april 2021 c Overall, a bit behind this month, which was pretty rough OKR (Objective / Key Result) planning at work. I love the IDEA of OKRs - say what you want to do (Objective, for example, write roughly 1/3 of a novel) and how to measure it (Key Result, for example, 50,000 words in the month of April), but this time it took us until almost the 20th. 3 weeks is way too long to spend on planning for a quarter's worth of effort. OH, almost forgot, an excerpt:
The questing metal fingers of the Plague Witch's "broom" branched and lunged at me. The Salzkammergutschwert’s black blade swept through the metal spikes, as cleanly as a Larry Niven variable sword through tissue paper. The Plague Witch recoiled, whirling the broom-thing, striking its black kettle end on my overextended sword hand. The Salt Chamber Sword sang out across the street, slamming into a fire hydrant in a hiss of water. But that movement naturally carried me forward, as I thought it would, and the moment the Plague Witch raised her head, I shoved my free hand at her, jamming onto her pointed beak a magical silencing wreath made of glowing vines and Technicolor feathers. “Oh, shaddap,” I said, drawing the wreath tight just as she tried to scream. The Plague Witch squeaked—she had a mask, not a beak, so the wreath couldn’t actually shut her mouth, but it could effectively gag her, and as she flailed her head, I kicked her. “And siddown!” And as she stumbled back, for a moment, I thought it was going to work. The Plague Witch writhed. I seized the Waystaff. Nyissa seized my arm. “I suggest retreat!” she cried. “No argument!” I yelled back—but retreat was not so easy. The silencing wreath wasn’t a free design, like my bluebirds or butterflies, but was an ad-hoc construct made from—and attached to—my vine and peacock tattoos, which tugged at me. “Some difficulty!” “Dakota!” Nyissa cried, pulling me away. “Let go!” “She’s got me,” I said, my feet slipping on the street. Oh, this had been a bad idea: as the Plague Witch struggled, the wreath self-replicated, drawing more and more silencing power from her own strength—but the design was imperfect, and was reeling me in towards her. “Nyissa!” Then things happened very, very quickly. Nyissa—my bodyguard, my bride-to-be, my love—darted forward, seized the Salt Chamber Sword in a burst of spray, and swung wildly at the tattoo vine connecting us. But the Plague Witch, flailing, swung her damaged broom at Nyissa—impacting her stomach. Nyissa didn’t even scream: she just doubled over in a splash of blood. The broom swept through her as the Plague Witch stumbled away, her body taken through a forward tumble, the lethally sharp sword falling from her hand—and severing the magic-tight tattoo connection. My vine snapped back to me, hurling me to the pavement. My wind went out. The Plague Witch tore off her disintegrating crown of vines, and screamed—
-the Centaur

Day 119

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vincent sketch Vincent van Gogh from "Vincent and the Doctor". Roughed in non-repro blue on Strathmore 9x12, outlined in Sakura Pigma Graphic 1 and rendered in that and Sakura Micron 08, 03, and 005, plus Sakura Pigma Brush. I erased part of the non-repro blue to try to clean it up, which ended up being a mistake as it destroyed some lines, leaving white marks through the drawing; however, using Photoshop's Black and White feature with cyans almost taken to black and blue taken to white, it dropped out the blue while adding a nice warm shading to it. Overall, not bad, though I am still squashing heads even when I am explicitly trying not to squash heads, and ending up with slight asymmetries, particularly in the left side of the beard, when I am explicitly trying to avoid that. But at least the eyes are not totally oversized this time. vincent headshot Drawing every day. -the Centaur And just ~600 words too, though much of today was cats, taxes and work. Taxes are submitted to the accountant, the cat is home from the vet after a nasty gastrointestinal scare, work is progressing (RL is hard!), and Dakota Frost is having a great time doing SPOILERS with SPOILER, so, no excerpt for you.

Day 118

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lovecraft sketch Quick sketch of H.P. Lovecraft. Not ... terrible ... per se, but I squashed his head, and there's something about the face that's wrong that also bothers me about the faces drawn by Steve Dillon in Preacher. Don't get me wrong - I love Preacher and Steve Dillon's art, but something has always struck me as slightly off about the faces in Preacher, and the same thing is going on here. If I knew what it was, I could probably fix it. But I don't, so I guess I just have to keep practicing. lovecraft headshot Drawing every day. -the Centaur P.S. 1800 words. Getting back on track on Nano.

Day 114

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serling sketch Imagine a man, who comes up tangentially during a writing session, and ends up having his mug featured in a quick Sharpie sketch on 9x12 Strathmore with no roughs whatsoever, capturing his likeness forever ... in the Twilight Zone. Meh, something's off, but I can't figure out what, with my drawing of Mr. Serling. serling headshot Drawing every day. -the Centaur P.S. Wrote 3600 words too.

Day 113

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zeit poster v2 Technically not a drawing, but the outcome of some Photoshop experimentation to see if I could turn the Tangerine Dream Zeit album cover into an image suitable for a wall poster. I think it came out well, but the above version #2 - combining the original cover, back cover, and part of an alternate cover - seems a little more jumbled than my next try, version #3, just expanding the original cover a bit: zeit poster v3 I like this simple version better, but I'm not committing to either right now; it was just an experimental idea to see if it was feasible, and also to practice some Photoshop. A final version would need a little more work on the blend of the cover, which is a quick hack right now. Drawing, designing, Photoshopping every day. -the Centaur P.S. 1800 words. Starting to get a little more rhythm in the story. Rough draftiness:
Nyissa stood in the doorway, thin as a ghost, pale as paper, blood raining down her chin and spilling over her hospital gown like something out of a horror movie. A nurse stood behind her in fear, and for the briefest instant, I thought she’d awakened in the surgery and slain her doctors in a blood rage. But she held a dripping transfusion bag clenched in one hand, no doubt ripped from the IV stand she held for support.
Actually, the Zeit album inspired this scene, as the moody first track matched Dakota's mood, and Nyissa awakens from her injuries when she hears Dakota distraught in the next room.

Day 112

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dita sketch Quick Sharpie sketch of Dita von Teese. Not bad overall, but I ended up badly screwing up the proportions and made her face so tall I had to shrink it vertically about 10%, which ... actually, wasn't so bad, compared to the original: dita headshot Ran across a more fetish-themed image of her as I was trying to design a waitress for a scene in SPIRAL NEEDLE; I judged said picture was too steamy for this drawing series, and the waitress ended up in a different outfit anyway, so you get a sketch of a glamour shot instead. Drawing every day. -the Centaur P.S. 1700+ words on SPIRAL NEEDLE. Ahead of the wordcount, behind on how much I need to do to catch up, but at least, catching up is happening now.    

Day 111

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troughton sketch Super quick sketch of Patrick Troughton. Drawing every day. And wrote 1100 words. -the Centaur

Day 110

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nielsen sketch Sharpie sketch of Leslie Nielsen, another actor who has played a vampire (came up with Dakota mocking (in her head) a vampire she met). Roughed in non-repro blue, which was surprisingly easy to remove in Photoshop, but actually made it a little bit hard to tweak the roughs to get the landscape right (hence the tilted smile) and Sharpies, while forcing me to work quickly and helping me learn the role of blacks and whites in composition, are still doing no favors on the rendering. nielsen headshot Drawing every day. -the Centaur P.S. 1900+ words on SPIRAL NEEDLE. Onward.

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