Wow! 2023. What the hell? Seems like Blade Runner was just yesterday. But it was actually pre-pandemic! But in the real world, it's a "new year", as most Americans mark it, so it's time for New Year's Resolutions.
Or is it? As far as I recall, the science of New Year's Resolutions - whether it works or not to set new goals at the start of the new year - is decidedly mixed, and a brief check seems to confirm that.
But New Year's Aspirations, yes, I have those. For one, I'd like to start blogging every day. For another, it would be great to resume drawing every day. And Wednesday, my wife and I are going to buy bicycles.
For this year, though, I plan to edit my fourth Dakota Frost novel, SPECTRAL IRON, in the hope it breaks the logjam of the eight (8!) unedited novel drafts sitting on my hard drive, and to make progress on several other creative projects, at work and in life. To get started on that ... I'm now going to get back to work.
Pictured: an aspiration made real: the hand-me-down "comfy chair" from Francis Produce, which I have kept for 25+ years, now turned into a reading nook in my new library. That nook is filled with artwork and standees and books and novels and comic books, and in that comfy space there I have actually, like, started to read books again and stuff after years of and years of stunted fiction reading, post-grad-school.
So I dropped in to Cafe Intermezzo near Perimeter Mall to get a little editing in on SPECTRAL IRON and realized that THIS was where I and my wife went for our first date, almost exactly twenty years ago! (I think we were sitting just out of view, not far from the chair you can see at the left of frame.)
I wasn't taking pictures as regularly then and selfies certainly weren't a thing, so the closest pictures I have of Sandi were from a photo shoot we did almost a year later when she needed reference images for some paintings she was doing. Many of those are just Sandi striking odd poses that corresponded to something that she needed to draw, but I think the one above turned out quite well.
Cafe Intermezzo will always hold a place in my heart as it's one of my best late-night thinking and writing places, but the one at Perimeter has an even more special place, as it's where Sandi and I, who had met at the Chamber a few weeks before, shared our first date and our second kiss.
Well, it's that time of year again ... 65,000 of my closest friends have gotten together in five hotels and two convention halls in Atlanta to celebrate all things science fiction!
My schedule is below. I worked right up to the start of the con, so am just now posting this two days later, but for the benefit of the time travelers in my audience, I'll include the first two panels:
8:30pm - Start Now, Research! - Hyatt Embassy EF How much research is enough? How much is too much? When do you stop doing research and start writing?
7:00pm - The People Who Live in Your Book - Hyatt Embassy EF Characters rise off the page and become people--if they're well-crafted. Discover ways to make this happen in your fiction.
10:00pm - Stories Needed: Get Yourself Invited into an Anthology - Hyatt Embassy EF There's an anthology being published that might just work for a story you have in mind. Or, when you hear about an anthology and KNOW you have a story for it, what do you do? Get some professional help from our pros.
10:00am - Writing About Star Trek - Hilton Galleria 2-3 There are thousands of worlds within Star Trek, and thousands of topics to talk about. Where do we start? Join a panel of published writers to discuss what's worth discussing in Trek books, articles and more
1:00pm - Where Do You Get Your Ideas? - Hyatt Embassy EF This is a question that every writer gets asked by everyone they know. What is the answer to that question?
2:30pm - Predicting the Future - Hyatt Embassy EF Where in the world is fiction headed? Do the old tropes still work? What's fresh and new for the future?
At each panel, I'll be giving away signed copies of the writing inspiration book Your Writing Matters by my friend Keiko O'Leary. This is the latest release from Thinking Ink Press, and we're very proud of it! No matter where you are on your writing journey, I think this book can probably help you, so come on by!
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.
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!
Well, we're back at a con at last! And as usual, I'm posting my schedule at the last minute. At least I got the chance to see some people I haven't seen in person for two full years!
And here is my schedule:
Title: Star Trek Essays Description: There are thousands of worlds within Star Trek, & thousands of topics to talk about. Where do we start? Join a panel of published writers & producers to discuss what's worth discussing in Trek essays, articles, & videos. Time: Fri 11:30 am Location: Galleria 2-3 - Hilton (Length: 1 Hour) (Tentative Panelists: Kyle Mackenzie Sullivan, R Alan Siler, Anthony Francis)
------------------- Title: Teaching Robots to Learn Description: When you tell a machine to learn, all bets are off on what it will learn to do. In this panel, we'll discuss techniques used today to teach robots to recognize objects, to grasp them, to navigate autonomously around people, & even to imagine the future. Time: Fri 04:00 pm Location: Atlanta - Sheraton (Length: 1 Hour) (Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis)
------------------- Title: To Series or to Stand-Alone? Description: Fantasy readers fall in love with the characters & worlds we build. How do you sustain the interest in a series--or would this idea work better as a stand-alone? Time: Sat 10:00 am Location: Embassy EF - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour) (Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis, Moderator: Nancy Knight, A. J. Hartley, J. Gregory Keyes, Seressia Glass, Dakota Krout)
------------------- Title: Author Signings: Time: Sun 01:00 pm Location: International Hall South 1-3 - Marriott (Length: 1 Hour) (Tentative Panelists: Clay Gilbert, Patricia L. Briggs, Anthony Francis) ------------------- Title: Dead at the Keyboard Description: Panelists discuss strategies to combat writers' block, stress, fatigue, boredom, insecurity, & deadline anxiety. Time: Mon 11:30 am Location: Embassy EF - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour) (Tentative Panelists:Moderator: Nancy Knight, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Anthony Francis, Peter David, Trisha J. Wooldridge)
------------------- Title: My Favorite Author, Book, Series, Character... Description: Authors discuss their favorites among their own works & offer insights into their favorites in other authors' writing. Time: Mon 01:00 pm Location: Embassy EF - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour) (Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis, Moderator: Bill Fawcett, Trisha J. Wooldridge, James R. Tuck)
Hope to see you there!
P.S. I have been drawing more or less every day, but I have also been moving, so you get a drawing another time.
Not sure if I mentioned this or not, but there's an ongoing round-robin story going on at the Clockwork Alchemy website, The Codex of Quills! My episode is the current one up, #4. Here's a summary so far:
A steampunk serial adventure with a new author every episode!
by Dover Whitecliff
Hot. Smoky. Irritating. Any or all of which could pertain to the wildfire-permeated valley air, or the mélange of personalities on the bus. Or the perfect description of Kilpatrick’s commute from the cubicle farm to the coffee house off the freeway.
Cold Brew. That’s all I need. Thirty ounces of caffeinated goodness with just a pirouette of cream will erase Monday and make everything better.
... read more ...
by Katherine L. Morse
“Super Mondo chai, please. Two raw sugars.”
Please just get your drink. I have a date with destiny…or insanity…and I really need a cold brew. “Super Mondo cold brew, um, please.”
The woman who had just ordered rocked back on the heel of her ankle boot and commented, “Super Mondo is a good choice. You’re going to need the caffeine for what lies ahead.”
... read more ...
By Shelli Frew
Kip tentatively opened his eyes and peered around the shop. Only, it wasn’t the bookstore. Instead of the marine cryptobiology section, the shelves displayed rows and rows of lace, some slightly singed at the edges. A large quantity of star charts and compasses replaced the teen romance. Strangest of all, by far, was the old person giving Kip a pointedly annoyed look. The eyes peering out from behind their shiny spectacles looked like goat eyes. Small antlers sprouted from their head and when they opened their mouth to speak, Kip spied sharp teeth like a cat.
“Young creature, I do say! I did not request any messengers this day. And your friend has damaged some of my lace!”
... read more ...
By Anthony Francis
“This the right grave?” Kip eyed the blockish monument; most of Highgate Cemetery was a gothic tour through Victorian willies, weeded to ruins and taking his calm with it, but this imposing rectangle and dour, bearded bust were clean, had fresh flowers, and bore the improbable name KARL MARX. “Seems … I dunno, too high school econ—”
Lieneye the pony snorted, as if to neigh, Are you doubting me? Extrapolating from the rules for talking animals—don’t piss them off—Kip thanked the diminutive steed and dismounted. He barely had to lean before his foot hit flowered gravel.
... read more ...
Only four episodes are up, but I can't wait to see where it goes next, for I have NO idea where that is. :-)
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.
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.
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—
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.
Drawing every day.
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.