AQATWW: Word Shuffling

I am working my way through Alexandra Quick and the Wizard War, doing my first editing pass. So far I am mostly just going chapter by chapter fixing superficial things and shuffling words around. I'm about 25% of the way through.

"Word shuffling" is actually a very bad habit during early stages of writing. It's always easier to go back through what you've already written and find sentences to tweak than it is to write new sentences, and you can (and I do) easily spend an entire evening just poking around with rewrites. You should not do this! But for some writers (like me) it's an itch that's hard not to scratch.

I wasn't entirely successful in avoiding this trap during the first draft, but I did usually manage to force myself to keep going rather than revising. The downside of that is that now there is a lot of mess to clean up.

Right now I'm still doing "easy" revisions. Questions I never really answered remain unanswered, plot holes I haven't plugged yet are still there. I will have to address those during or after my first pass.

This light editing pass has already reduced the word count to 384,568. That's over 4000 words trimmed so far! Of course when I start doing the "heavy" edits I might end up adding a new chapter.

Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment

My test proof of Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment arrived!

Print copy of Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment

Cover page for Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment

Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment - Innocence

Chapter 12 of Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment

AQ print copies

These are chonky books! The print quality (from Ingram Spark) is not bad, but it's not great either. These books won't stand up to rough handling or being slung around in backpacks, and as you can see, the art could be sharper. But you can print your own copies with the downloadable PDFs I provided here. You will have to provide your own cover (the full-resolution cover is an exclusive I reserve for friends and a few other folks), but anyone can do this with a Print On Demand service like Ingram. The setup cost for me was $49, and the cost of printing and shipping one copy was $19.40.

Alexandra Quick and the AI That's Getting Better At Hands

Stable Diffusion is still too much fun, and still hard to wrangle, but here are a few more sneak previews of AQATWW as SD starts to replace Poser as my digital tool of choice.

Madam Erdglass



Cracks in the world
A "queer Jewish feminist" SF novel makes First Contact a big talky, fetishy, feelingsfest.

A Half-Built Garden

Tor.com, 2022, 340 pages

On a warm March night in 2083, Judy Wallach-Stevens wakes to a warning of unknown pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay. She heads out to check what she expects to be a false alarm—and stumbles upon the first alien visitors to Earth. These aliens have crossed the galaxy to save humanity, convinced that the people of Earth must leave their ecologically-ravaged planet behind and join them among the stars. And if humanity doesn't agree, they may need to be saved by force.

But the watershed networks that rose up to save the planet from corporate devastation aren't ready to give up on Earth. Decades ago, they reorganized humanity around the hope of keeping the world livable. By sharing the burden of decision-making, they've started to heal our wounded planet.

Now corporations, nation-states, and networks all vie to represent humanity to these powerful new beings, and if anyone accepts the aliens' offer, Earth may be lost. With everyone’s eyes turned skyward, the future hinges on Judy's effort to create understanding, both within and beyond her own species.

A half-built story.Collapse )

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Book Review: Atomic Habits, by James Clear

The best-selling self-help book really only has one idea, but it's not a bad one.

Atomic Habits

Avery, 2018, 306 pages

Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results

No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving--every day. James Clear, one of the world's leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

If you're having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn't you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don't want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Here, you'll get a proven system that can take you to new heights.

Clear is known for his ability to distill complex topics into simple behaviors that can be easily applied to daily life and work. Here, he draws on the most proven ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. Along the way, readers will be inspired and entertained with true stories from Olympic gold medalists, award-winning artists, business leaders, life-saving physicians, and star comedians who have used the science of small habits to master their craft and vault to the top of their field.

Learn how to:
- make time for new habits (even when life gets crazy);
- overcome a lack of motivation and willpower;
- design your environment to make success easier;
- get back on track when you fall off course;
...and much more.

Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about progress and success, and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits--whether you are a team looking to win a championship, an organization hoping to redefine an industry, or simply an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, or achieve any other goal.

When an email influencer writes a book based on One Weird Trick.Collapse )

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An Afro-themed Zero to Hero epic fantasy tale of vengeance and dragons.

The Rage of Dragons

Orbit, 2019, 535 pages

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable war for generations. The lucky ones are born gifted: some have the power to call down dragons, others can be magically transformed into bigger, stronger, faster killing machines.

Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Tau Tafari wants more than this, but his plans of escape are destroyed when those closest to him are brutally murdered.

With too few gifted left the Omehi are facing genocide, but Tau cares only for revenge. Following an unthinkable path, he will strive to become the greatest swordsman to ever live, willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill three of his own people.

The Rage of Dragons launches an unmissable epic fantasy series about a world caught in an endless war and the young man who will become his people's only hope for survival.

Straightforward male power fantasy.Collapse )

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A pre- and post-apocalyptic time travel story.

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall

Tachyon Publications, 2012, 189 pages

The year is 2035. After ecological disasters nearly destroyed the Earth, 26 survivors—the last of humanity—are trapped by an alien race in a sterile enclosure known as the Shell.

Fifteen-year-old Pete is one of the Six—children who were born deformed or sterile and raised in the Shell. As, one by one, the survivors grow sick and die, Pete and the Six struggle to put aside their anger at the alien Tesslies in order to find the means to rebuild the earth together. Their only hope lies within brief time-portals into the recent past, where they bring back children to replenish their disappearing gene pool.

Meanwhile, in 2013, brilliant mathematician Julie Kahn works with the FBI to solve a series of inexplicable kidnappings. Suddenly her predictive algorithms begin to reveal more than just criminal activity. As she begins to realize her role in the impending catastrophe,simultaneously affecting the Earth and the Shell, Julie closes in on the truth. She and Pete are converging in time upon the future of humanity—a future which might never unfold.

Weaving three consecutive time lines to unravel both the mystery of the Earth's destruction and the key to its salvation, this taut post-apocalyptic thriller offers a topical plot with a satisfying twist.

The Gaia Hypothesis, and a Women Writing Men problem.Collapse )

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A sci-fi horror-thriller with a Final Girl in space.

Tantalus Depths

Inkshares, 2017, 421 pages

An AI cannot lie. An AI must obey human commands. An AI cannot kill. These are the laws SCARAB has broken, and only Mary knows.

The Tantalus 13 survey expedition went off the rails as soon as Mary Ketch and the crew of the Diamelen learned that the thing beneath their feet wasn’t a planet. An impossibly vast and ancient artificial structure lies below, hidden from the universe under a façade of cratered stone.

SCARAB arrived on Tantalus 13 two years ago. An artificially intelligent, self-constructing factory, it was supposed to aid the crew in their mission, to meet their every need. But when erratic behavior in the AI coincides with a series of deadly accidents among the crew, Mary faces the horrifying possibility that SCARAB has gone rogue.

With the AI watching her every move, any attempt to warn the crew could be disastrous. But SCARAB knows far more about the Tantalus 13 enigma than it lets on, and the secrets it’s willing to kill for may have dire implications for all humankind.

Lots of tropey goodness, but also lots of purple dialog and description.Collapse )

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AQATWW: End Year Six

The first draft of Alexandra Quick and the Wizard War is complete. 388,858 words, 66 chapters.

I cannot overstate how messy and bloated and inconsistent this draft is. I know I say this about all my first drafts, but look at those numbers: almost 400K words! Printed as a standard Young Adult trade paperback, it would be over 1500 pages!

Obviously, I have worked more consistently than I did during the seven-year gap before I published AQATWA, but it was a struggle to finish this draft. There was a point in 2021 where I really thought I was going to finish it by the end of the year. I thought that again late last year. Then I thought "Well, at least I will finish it by the end of January." Well, now it's almost the end of February. I have learned I should not even hint at deadlines or being done until it's done.

In order to push through some of my writing blocks and plot holes, there were times when I just... ignored them and kept writing. This was useful in getting more words written, but it's a struggle for me. When I hit a plot hole, or something that I know doesn't make sense, it feels like a brainteaser. I want to solve it, and I spend days (sometimes weeks) trying to figure it out. This is no way to finish a book, but despite not being a true "pantser" I have never been able to outline everything in advance either. When I sit down and write, the words flow, and if I let them, I can get a lot written. It's when I get "stuck" trying to figure out how to resolve a problem that the words stop. So I made an effort to just keep writing as if I were some kind of NaNoWriMo pantser. It is hard to describe how much this bothers me; it feels like driving over a roadblock and continuing down the road in a car with shredded tires.

Writing Style Alignments
Definitely a Lawful Plantser

And of course, there are Big Questions that have to be answered in this book, and if not in this one, then in book seven, and I am running out of space to punt them. I don't want to write myself into too many corners I have to write my way out of in the final volume.

So now the work of rewriting begins. I have subplots that went nowhere, dangling threads unresolved, entire chapters that should be cut (I just am not sure which ones yet), and entire arcs with major plot holes. I have scenes repeated in different chapters because I wasn't sure where the scene should happen. I have chapters that end with no transition to the next one because I wasn't sure how to get there; "Go back and figure it out later," I told myself. Well, now I have to figure it out.

I don't even like the current ending.

Eventually, when I think I have wrestled this disaster into a "final" draft, I will call upon my trusty beta-readers who have been with me for many years. I am not even going to ask them to look at this first draft, because nobody should inflict a horse-choking manuscript like this on someone for multiple rereads. Then the next round of revisions will begin.

I will leave you with a few pictures. I am not completely abandoning Poser, but I have been playing with Stable Diffusion a lot, and I am getting better at prompting, and after multiple attempts, I've created an AlexandraQuick model that usually generates a consistent picture of Alexandra. (Usually. It still only gets her eye color right half the time, and occasionally adds extra arms or randomly turns her blonde.)

Alexandra wishes she looked this cool
Alexandra wishes she looked this cool.

Anime girl version of Alexandra
Alexandra wishes she looked this hot.

Alexandra starting fires
Alexandra burning things down
Alexandra with a Charlie t-shirt
Alexandra striking a pose
Alexandra in Larkin Mills
Alexandra casting a spell

Still Photobashing with Poser

Poll #2122966 AQATWW Cover Poll

Which picture looks better?

AQATWW cover (dark blue)
AQATWW cover 2

Spoiler (Sneak Peek at the Prologue)

AQATWW prologue, by Stable Diffusion
Why you should ditch your smartphone and delete Twitter (jk but not really).

Digital Minimalism

Portfolio, 2019, 284 pages

The key to living well in a high tech world is to spend much less time using technology.

Georgetown computer scientist Cal Newport's Deep Work sparked a movement around the idea that unbroken concentration produces far more value than the electronic busyness that defines the modern work day. But his readers had an urgent follow-up question: What about technology in our personal lives?

In recent years, our culture's relationship with personal technology has transformed from something exciting into something darker. Innovations like smartphones and social media are useful, but many of us are increasingly troubled by how much control these tools seem to exert over our daily experiences--including how we spend our free time and how we feel about ourselves.

In Digital Minimalism, Newport proposes a bold solution: a minimalist approach to technology use in which you radically reduce the time you spend online, focusing on a small set of carefully-selected activities while happily ignoring the rest.

He mounts a vigorous defense for this less-is-more approach, combining historical examples with case studies of modern digital minimalists to argue that this philosophy isn't a rejection of technology, but instead a necessary realignment to ensure that these tools serve us, not the other way around.

To make these principles practical, he takes us inside the growing subculture of digital minimalists who have built rich lives on a foundation of intentional technology use, and details a decluttering process that thousands have already used to simplify their online lives. He also stresses the importance of never clicking "like," explores the under-appreciated value of analog hobbies, and draws lessons from the "attention underground"--a resistance movement fighting the tech companies' attempts to turn us into gadget addicts.

Digital Minimalism is an indispensable guide for anyone looking to reclaim their life from the alluring diversions of the digital world.

Compelling arguments, unfortunately padded out to book length.Collapse )

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Book Review: Big Bad, by Christian Galacar

Damaged FBI agent with daddy issues, sister issues, and drug issues investigates her sister's murder.

Big Bad

Rude Human Press, 2019, 488 pages

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets the small-town atmosphere of Stephen King...

From the twisted imagination of best-selling author Christian Galacar comes a dark mystery thriller about the difference between living the stories we’re given and living the stories we dare to make for ourselves.

At the height of a blizzard, Molly Rifkin goes missing in her small New England community of Rockcliffe Island. But when she is found dead of an apparent suicide, the story doesn’t add up. There are more questions than answers. And there are those who would like to see the whole thing just go away.

But it won’t be that easy...

Molly’s sister is FBI agent Emma Shane, who has been hanging on to her career by a thread. But when her sister turns up dead under suspicious circumstances, she is forced to confront the horrific past they once shared in order to discover the truth of her death - and the course of her own future.

As Emma digs deeper into the mystery on Rockcliffe Island, she finds herself coming face-to-face with corruption, murder, and two of the island's most powerful and dangerous families.

An overwritten novel with decent twists but too many flashbacks.Collapse )

My complete list of book reviews.
The ebook and the print-ready PDF of Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment has been updated, now fully illustrated with chapter illustrations by Sam Gabriel. You can download them from the link in the sidebar.

I greatly appreciate any proofreading efforts. Anyone who finds a typo or even the smallest error in the layout or typesetting can request by email the full-size cover image and/or print-ready PDF that goes with the book:

Print cover for Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment

I will soon be ordering my own print copies. I only print a very small number, for a select few folks. However, you can use these files to print your own from a POD service. (Previously I printed using Lulu and Barnes & Noble, but the only POD service that seems able to handle a paperback book over 700 pages long is IngramSpark.)

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