And So NaNo 2023 Begins

It’s that time of year again. The siren call of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) pulls me away from all other tasks to my favorite part of being an author…telling a story.

National Novel Writing Month -

My last few years have been scattered, and not all successful, but I’ve tried to use the NaNo time for projects that weren’t in the raw beginning state. I tried to rewrite older novels, for example. That isn’t how NaNo works best for me. A solid NaNo starts not in November, but with at least a month of preparation (outlining and world building) on a new idea, so I can leap in on the first day.

I made a promise to myself, after the trials I’ve had in editing Apprentice, never to start writing before I have a complete outline. I thought this would focus my attention on preparing before writing.

It has not.

For the last two NaNos, including my uncelebrated 20th (!) year, I gave in to the scatter and worked on outlines for upwards of twenty different projects. An interesting experiment for sure, and I achieved progress on a bunch of different ideas. Some were brand new and others from ideas I’ve had kicking around in the back of my head for a long while. I can’t call those efforts a complete failure, but none of them reached a final state. This meant I had nothing ready to go this year, and besides, I need to work on one of the series you all have been waiting patiently for.

NaNo used to be my play time. I’d work on the “suppose to”s the rest of the year and leave November for pure creation. I wrote novels I’d shoe-horned into a short story (Shafter) and thought I could quiet the demand, ideas I’d been teased by for years, and even ones that sprang into being in late October. Some years, I’d decide to give NaNo a pass and others I put the work in. Still, come November 1st, whatever decisions I’d made and however much my health tried to keep me down, there I was, writing.

This year, I made decisions and plans that seemed viable, and should have been. I planned to re-read Volume One of The Steamship Chronicles, my steampunk adventure series, to get back into the heads of Sam and Nat. Then, I’d outline the first book of the last volume in time to start NaNo.

It didn’t happen.

I started re-reading around the 20th of October. This still should have been enough time, but even reading has been a struggle of late. It didn’t help that I was sure I’d written the first scene already and spent weeks searching through my hard drives for where it might have ended up. Fruitless weeks, sort of.

This diversion from my plan turned out to be fascinating. I found my initial synopsis for what I’d thought was one, maybe two, books back when Sam existed only as part of a fleeting idea. I had the whole thing planned out (at least Sam and Nat’s part of the story) up to the final scene. While I didn’t find the scene I’m sure I wrote, my initial synopsis has the key elements set out. Thanks to Sam no longer being half catatonic and driven only by her gift, however, only the very broad strokes still belong to the story. Also, when finishing writing Gifts, I completed at least half of the outline for the novel planned for this year, a gift for sure.

Not only was it a lot of fun to see what changed and what stayed true to the original, I now had a jump on the preparation I hadn’t completed. I still need to read all three books in Volume One, because it’s been years since I lived in those characters’ heads, but at least I have avoided blank page syndrome. It meant I could not start writing on November 1st, though, something I very much wanted to do.

Yesterday came up on me far too suddenly, and regret weighed me down until I decided once again to take a shortcut. I jumped ahead and used the read-aloud feature in Word to listen to the outline I’d found and then the last few scenes of Gifts. The final volume starts shortly after the last book in the first volume. (The second volume crosses over the timelines of the first and the last but involves a different cast.) So, I had to make sure things lined up. I’ll need to check again when I’m editing, but I don’t want to start out already broken.

Because of the last, there is a necessary step before I use the gifted outline. I wrote it to be the end of Gifts and the start of the next novel. Not only did Gifts find a perfect ending earlier than expected, but things shifted since I wrote that partial outline. I did start NaNo on day 1, maybe not writing new story text, but at least writing a modified version of the first scene blurb. Even better, since then, my mind has been playing with what other scenes should be in place.

The hardest thing I’ve had to learn with my health issues is flexibility. There’s an old saying that plans for an engagement rarely last past first contact. That’s definitely true for working around health issues, but the trick is not to double-down on a broken plan. Instead, keep what works and blend it with new until you can achieve forward motion.

I’m counting these blog posts, for example, because they are certainly writing and related to the novel if not part of it. That wasn’t in the plan for this year either. [Shrug] Plans change.

So, for day 1, I have written 394 words in a new scene for my outline. For day 2, I’ve written around 1000 words so far in this blog post with hopes of more outlining to come.

Wish me luck! And the same to all of you venturing into the lively waters of NaNo, whatever you are writing to do so.

Secrets (The Steamship Chronicles, Book 1) Free in eBook at most stores
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Things That Make Me Smile No. 251: A Journey of Self-Discovery in a Short Film

It’s been a while since I posted something, but I just watched this little movie and wanted to share.

The stop-motion animation, using wax figures, is talented from a technical standpoint, and the glimpses of his world set the scene well. Still, the story it tells of discovery and acceptance is the best part. It’s a story we need to hear more than ever in these troubling times.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I discovered this film through the Psyche newsletter. They have some more information about it here:

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Escaping the Dashia (The Paraxous Star Cluster, Book 1) by Rebecca Inch-Partridge

Escaping the Dashia Cover Art

The scarcity of comments as I review my notes is a good indication of how caught up in the story I was. This is a teenage adventure full of unrequited love, trauma and disaster, unexpected allies, and most importantly, the main character coming into her own. Set in an alternate timeline matching ours, aliens are hidden among us and most of the population is oblivious. That factor allows for interesting methods the aliens use to stay unnoticed, and hiding is not the only compelling technique or piece of alien equipment I ran into. What makes these elements even better is how they are woven into the story and may have significance later. Some of the alien terms confused me, specifically the difference between kobbi and dashia, but the story intrigued me enough to keep going as I put the pieces together.

The story starts with Twyla as a teenage girl more interested in playing games on her computer than doing her homework. This impression of a happy family lasts barely a page before everything is torn apart. Twyla soon learns the full circumstances that led to her adoption by an Earth couple when before she had only a child’s traumatized recollection. The story loses all pretense of normalcy and goes dark fast as her mother shows exactly how far she’s willing to go to reclaim Twyla. Twyla goes from anticipating all the fun she’s going to have with her friends on her birthday to running for her life in short order. Cassie, her biological mother, is an expert manipulator. No matter how much Twyla believes, if she’d run away, things would have turned out differently, the only difference would have been not witnessing what happens. Whether direct twisting through empathic powers or being a tool in a war Twyla doesn’t agree with, there’s more than circumstance complicating Twyla’s existence. She has a destiny she rejects, but her mother isn’t willing to take no for an answer and has the ability to get her way whatever Twyla wants.

This is not aliens versus humans. The aliens are neither all on the bad or good side but rather as complicated and mixed as the diverse cultures on Earth. Nor are we looking at random malicious acts. It’s not so simple. The reasons can’t make her actions right in my eyes, but I’m able to see what pushed Twyla’s mother and her people to where they are in the story. Actions have consequences, and changes don’t occur in a vacuum, making this a stronger tale even as the aggressors are clear from the choices they make. Still, with some adjustments, the genetically manipulated mercenaries betrayed by their creators could have been the sympathetic side. This makes Cassie understandable even when I didn’t agree with her methods.

Speaking to the complexity, it’s not always apparent where the secondary actors fall. There were many times when I took a side comment as a hint of loyalties less well established. Often the original draw proved strong enough to wipe out any questioning, if there had been any in the first place, but for the characters to gain my sympathy even for a minute speaks to how well-crafted they were. A character must achieve better than two dimensions before they are capable of balking at their intended role.

Escaping the Dashia offers an interesting, complex world revealed bit by bit. There are dark moments–enough to break a person–but the emotional and physical violence never felt gratuitous, and the conflict is grounded in betrayal and cultural war. Twyla’s birth mother is a true nightmare, with aspirations threatening the whole universe. Twyla is not alone, though. She finds allies, sometimes in unexpected places, who are good people willing to risk everything to help.

Twyla faces challenges and difficulties that would have overwhelmed most people. Her concerns for those who join her are not only valid, but a sign of how she cares for others, which made me like her more. A strong cast and the main character evolving before our eyes makes this a moving story. The book ends on a solid, satisfying note, but the world is big enough to leave me wondering what the future holds, a desire soon to be answered when the second novel releases.

P.S. I received this Advanced Reader Copy from the author in hopes of an honest review.

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Dropnauts (Liminal Sky Redemption Book 1) by J. Scott Coatsworth

It may seem odd for a hopepunk novel to begin with an Earth rendered lifeless thanks to a combination of war, politics, and climate change. But that’s exactly the point of Dropnauts. The main characters come from lunar colonies that have survived generations on the hope they could someday repopulate Earth. Nor have they been waiting passively. One aspect I enjoyed was the innovative use of technology. How the survivors assisted in the environmental recovery of the Earth, for example. The above is backstory, though, as everything begins with the first group to return to Earth, hence the title.

The novel starts in a pretty grim place with disaster striking practically on the first page. This isn’t my favorite technique because I don’t have time to bond with the characters and so the ones lost are just names. Despite this bias, I absorbed the intended meaning without realizing it until later. They undertake a dangerous mission with no guarantee of success, but the need is great enough to go anyway.

It’s a powerful start, especially when compared to their history of human-driven disaster. The first hazard is environmental, though the clutter humans left behind is part of it. Beginning in this way also raises the question of what other elements they might have miscalculated or forgotten. Their leader is an AI, but far from all knowing or all powerful. The situation offers an opportunity to set up the history and world without dragging.

The characters came alive to me soon after the beginning, in part because of what they’d suffered. The readers are not alone in learning how dangerous their task is. The dropnauts feel more real because of such a simple mental twist. Until they lose some of those they’d trained beside, befriended, and even loved, the dangers are theoretical–mental not gut. Whether they’ll all return from this mission is now answered, and not in a good way.

There’s a large cast (with a key actors list in the beginning and a more complete one at the end), but the book centers on one team. Most of the others are relevant only in how they affect that team’s situation or emotional state. The cast is also diverse both culturally and in gender, with diversity in their preferences as well.

The dynamics within the team have the potential to be a nightmare with ex-lovers, unrequited love, and oblivion. While I won’t tell you how it all turns out, this aspect gives the characters depth. As I go through my notes, I find them peppered with pure reactions like “crap,” “oh, dear,” or “I like this character.” More than anything else, these show how involved I was with the people and their circumstances.

While the focus stays primarily with one of the dropnaut crews, there are several points of view (POV) added as the story unfolds. These, along with the dropnauts, come from a wide variety of perspectives and enrich the story. The AI POVs offer a humanish and alien perspective in one. This vision of AIs felt different from the ones in the first Liminal Sky series. But then, the path to self-awareness is logically a strong influence on development so they shouldn’t be the same.

The story escalates from small scale, though perilous, dangers to system-wide crises that still involve the key players. I saw the possibilities and rejected paths not because they couldn’t work within the story, but because I didn’t want them to. One of the best aspects of this story is how we see the characters work through situations in live, problem-solving sessions. I enjoyed experiencing the process rather than being handed an answer, no matter how well seeded. It’s also another area where the characters’ diverse backgrounds stand out.

The book offers rich descriptions so we can envision what the characters are seeing and experiencing in a tangible way. The mention of remnants from our period grounds the timeline in relation to the real Earth. How the elements are woven into the events is one of the story’s strengths. Rarely is something a throwaway mention.

I had some early issues with the timeline because flashbacks and the present day blended together. But it settled down soon enough, and the information we learn in those flashbacks is relevant. Something else I can’t give specifics about, but how the surprises weren’t all bad ones is a nice touch, especially with the disasters in the beginning. There’s a general sense of excitement and hope as the dropnauts set out for Earth, and despite everything, the dropnauts hold on to that sense of adventure. This is far from a quiet novel. It’s full of not just physical conflicts but mental ones as assumptions are challenged and firm beliefs overturned. This is a different world from the Liminal Sky series, and what they face both on the moon and Earth is unique to those environments. I enjoyed discovering a new (old?) world in this spin-off from Liminal Sky. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

There is a lot I want to mention, but I keep having to cut words that give away some of what you’ll experience here. The novel explores the psychology of a broken planet as well as an adventure with romantic entanglements. The text has meat on its bones and surprises to offer along the way. While some parts stray close to stereotypical post-apocalyptic dynamics, unique elements kept me reading past any hiccups. The situations were plausible results of human nature.

Nor can I go without applauding the delightful technological and biotech concepts. The author plays with terraforming techniques I haven’t seen before in fiction, for example. And this technology plays a greater role in the story than just an attempt to restart life on the planet below them.

Dropnauts is a lovely story about times of change and the haunting past. Its key themes explore fanaticism and consequences from many viewpoints. I enjoyed the conception of AIs and the relationships between the characters. This is a grand scale story with a bunch of cultures and ideals coming together in a difficult, but necessary, chaos whether a matter of circumstance or design.

Brought to you by Other Worlds Ink
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BayCon 2023: A Night at the Space Opera Is This Weekend!

The banner image for BayCon 2023: A Night at the Space Opera, a California Bay Area science fiction convention running from July 1st to the 4th. The link goes to the convention website.

BayCon 2023: A Night at the Space Opera begins this Saturday and runs until Tuesday evening (July 1st-4th). This is what I consider my “home” convention, despite having moved to Reno, Nevada, over ten years before. I no longer remember what was my first year at BayCon, but I’ve been going regularly since early 2000. I came first as a fan and a writer, then as a panelist, something equally exhilarating and terrifying. You know a panel went well if the discussion continues as we spill out the door on the way to whatever catches our attention next. I look forward to seeing the reactions to my panels this year, both in the questions and afterwards.

I want to call out the welcoming committee on Saturday afternoon. This one-hour time slot is the brainchild of Susie Rodriguez, Head of Programming, in response to the isolation many of us feel thanks to the pandemic. We’ll be there to chat with those who are new to the convention, or feeling a little lost or overwhelmed. The idea is to provide some familiar faces as you wander the convention this weekend, and we hope, to make everyone more comfortable.

It’s a new hotel, and whether or not you came last year, the pandemic has made everything different. But BayCon has many folks happy to help a person out. I’ve taken advantage of the supportive environment a time or two. If any of this sounds like you, please join us after the opening ceremonies. We’d love to have you..

My official schedule is as follows:

Ooh, What’s That?

12:00 PM, Saturday 1 Jul 2023 (1 hour), Sedona Room

Feeling friendly but don’t quite know how to reach out to friends old and new? Come join like minded individuals and break the ice. Bring your favorite conversation starter- a project, a game, a piece of art- anything you’d be happy to chat about, and have a seat at a table or, if you’re not sure what to bring, just bring yourself and the confidence that the folks in the room are looking forward to chatting. Know that you’re not a bother, you’re not a disruption, we’re all here together for a reason and we all want to connect or reconnect. Long time BayCon guests will also be on hand to chat with newcomers and those new to being guests. If you have questions, they have answers. **This event may start early, depending on the length of opening ceremonies. Please feel free to drop in whenever convenient, or better yet, join us for opening ceremonies!

Capitalism in Space: Do We Want to Do Space Colonialism?

1 Jul 2023, Saturday 13:00 (1:00pm) – 14:30, CA Ballroom 4 and 5 (Santa Clara Marriott)

Media cited: The Expanse, Elysium, Logic of Empire, Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate.

Panelists: Catherynne Valente, L.M. Kate, Peter N. Glaskowsky, Margaret McGaffey Fisk (TTO Publishing) (M), Charon Dunn (CHARON DUNN)

Hopepunk: What Is It, and Why Should We Be Writing More of It?

1 Jul 2023, Saturday 16:00 (4:00pm) – 17:30, Santa Barbara (Santa Clara Marriott)

Panelists: Colin Fisk (M), J. Scott Coatsworth (Other Worlds Ink), Margaret McGaffey Fisk (TTO Publishing), John Blaker

AI Cover Art: A Violation or A Predictable Progression?

2 Jul 2023, Sunday 16:00 (4:00pm) – 17:30, CA Ballroom 8 (Santa Clara Marriott)

Cover art trends have been moving to more generic forms that primarily establish genre for a while…not that it wasn’t true in the earliest spec fic covers already. Hanging a cover art shingle requires at minimum the ability to blend stock photos and analyze cover art trends. AI art programs do exactly this. Is there a place for both cheap covers and those produced with a more creative eye? And if so, should algorithms be allowed?

 Panelists: Tehani Farr, H. Emiko Ogasawara, Christopher Ambler, Margaret McGaffey Fisk (TTO Publishing) (M)

Recovering Creativity out of Pandemic Apathy

3 Jul 2023, Monday 10:00 (am) – 11:30, Santa Barbara (Santa Clara Marriott)

As the pandemic drags on, many creatives are struggling to hold on to the part of them that draws inspiration and motivates action. Panelists will talk about their struggles and some of the ways they have found to overcome the creative drain.

Panelists: Tehani Farr, Jeremy Erman, Laser Webber, Margaret McGaffey Fisk (TTO Publishing) (M)

Explore the full schedule here:

That’s where I’ll be for sure during the weekend, as well as my stints at the Liminal Fiction table in the Dealers Room. I’m bringing copies of all my science fiction and steampunk novels. You can purchase them at the table, or bring ones you already own, and I’ll happily sign either for you.

I’m expecting a fun convention full of interesting discussions, performances, and hanging out with friends old and new. Hope to see you there.

My Appearances calendar, below, has when I will be in the Dealers Room along with listing all my panels, in case you want to catch me.

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