1920s, editing, goals, publishing, world-building, writing

Writing Update

I chat so much, so casually, about my book projects on Twitter that I forget sometimes to talk more in depth about them here. I thought today might be a good time to give you all an update on what I’m working on.

First: From the Shadows, most often abbreviated to FTS (which I’m sure also stands for a less savory phrase, but whatever. I’m not exactly inclined to Google it to find out).

From the Shadows is a space opera which started out as a novella, and then grew into a novel. When it was still a novella, I was planning on publishing it late August or early September; obviously that date had to be pushed back when the story got expanded. I was stuck on a couple of plot points for a while, but a few emails with one of my betas helped me over that (a thousand thanks, Laura!), and I am ready to move forward with finishing the changes, and beginning (again) the editing process.

I’ve loved space opera ever since I was a kid. Star Wars, movies and novels, had a huge impact on shaping me into the person I am. Star Trek, while not quite as influential, is also special to me. Firefly, Doctor Who (some of it), the Vorkosigan saga … honestly, I don’t read/watch a ton of sci-fi, not compared to fantasy, but I do love it, and it does stir my imagination in a unique way. I’ve found writing sci-fi to be incredibly difficult (that whole “science” aspect of it, not to mention universe-building, something hugely daunting to a dedicated soap-bubble world-builder), but also incredibly rewarding. I’ve allowed myself to get more raw, and more real, in this story, than in any other I’ve written thus far, and I love it. I can’t wait to finish it so I can share it with all of you.

Second is Wings of Song, or WOS. A title which will almost certainly change when the story actually gets published (sigh).

Wings of Song has a complex background. See, about ten years ago, as a newlywed in a strange city, with no job and no friends (and no car), I discovered the sometimes alarming, sometimes marvelous world of fan fiction. I started reading the stories in the LM Montgomery section, and was inspired to write my own, which turned into two, then three, then an entire series. When I finished with that series (five stories in all), I started another. Both featured Anne’s children and grandchildren, and mostly used LMM’s rich world as a jumping-off point for my own original characters and stories.

WOS, originally, was going to be a reworking of some of the stories in that first LMM series, to take away the connectors to Anne &co and make them wholly original. A simple enough edit, I thought. Until I sat down and realized that the characters, taken away from Anne’s world, verged on insipid, and the plots on non-existent. I turned to the second LMM series I wrote, written much later after the first, when I was a stronger writer, and decided to blend the two series together, picking and choosing the best parts of each, to write an entirely new story with its own characters.

What has emerged in something similar in flavor to my fanfics, but its own unique story. Some names and relationships have carried over from the other stories, but personalities and plot and character development are all new. It’s turned into a much more grueling process than I blithely imagined at first, but also rewarding.

Recently, I’ve been looking into ways to self-publish it as a serial – preferably as a newsletter from this blog, if I can get the technical know-how to make that work. I always enjoy playing with new ideas and forms of publishing, and I think this sort of story, a slower, simpler tale of an eleven-year-old growing up along the St. Lawrence River during the 1930s, is perfectly suited to a serial. I just have to figure out how to make it work!

If I do publish it serially, my plan is to have all the chapters written in rough draft form first, and then edit them one at a time before publication. Less of a daunting task that way, and a better chance at getting each one out in a timely fashion.

Third, and finally, Magic in Disguise. (Or MID. Or Book 2 of the Intelligent Magic series. Or “the second Maia & Len book.” Whichever you prefer.)

Second books in a series, so I’ve heard, are hard. I never had any problems with that in my fanfics, but it certainly is proving true with this. It’s been the extremely weird experience for me of for once having a really good plot, and not being able to make the character come to life. Since my problem is usually the opposite, I’ve struggled with how to combat this. I love Len and Maia still, and Becket, and I’m very fond of the new sidekick character I’ve introduced, and the plot has flowed together nicely, and yet overall the story has a lifeless feel to it, and I gleefully take any chance to leave it alone and work on something else. Hence FTS and WOS.

However! I am not giving up. Right now, the plan is to finish FTS without any more dawdling, and then to finish the rough draft of WOS so I can begin serialling (so not a word) that, and THEN to devote my full attention to figuring out what the heck is going wrong with MID, and either fixing it or starting over from scratch. Len and Maia mean too much to me to either abandon them or let them settle for a half-rate book!

I have plenty of other story ideas swirling around in my backbrain right now – a possible sequel to FTS, as well as some short stories set in that universe; an Intelligent Magic prequel set during the 1830s; a sequel to WOS; editing and polishing up that fantasy I speed-wrote earlier this year … but if I have learned anything from having three full-size book projects going on at once, it is to pace myself, and never attempt more than two at a time.

So there you have it, a probably-more detailed update than you even knew you wanted!

editing, world-building, writing

Concept Art

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m more of an audible reader/writer – I don’t tend to visualize stories as I read them/write them. I hear them in my head, instead (one reason why I rarely bother to read to stories aloud when I’m editing them. Since I hear it as I write it, reading aloud is redundant).

This means that I tend to write my characters all in “white space.” I’ve had to train myself to write in background details for scenes, so that my characters aren’t all talking heads.

This also means that when I placed my sci-fi novella-turned-novel From the Shadows on a futuristic spaceship, I didn’t bother visualizing how the spaceship would look, its design, or anything beyond a vague “sleek and shiny.”

I knew I would need to get more detailed at some point, but when Amanda and I were discussing elements for the cover and decided that it needed an image of the ship on it somewhere, I had to buckle down and figure out exactly what it looked like.

This led to figuring out logistics as well, what parts of the ship did what, and a rough sketch of the outline to send to Amanda so she could see what I had imagined.

I never claimed to be a great artist
I never claimed to be a great artist

Somewhat to my surprise, it was fun, sketching it and plotting it and detailing it. (I have a rough plan of the inside layout of the ship, too, but that isn’t even close to fit for other people to see – I need to polish it up.) And it has helped with the writing, as well – knowing what the setting looks like in my mind helps me to unconsciously write more natural details into the scenes and keep the characters from being the talking heads I veer toward so naturally.

I’ve been toying with the idea of once in a while sketching out scenes from my books now, in hopes that it strengthens my ability to be a visual as well as auditory writer, and that it makes for more detailed writing and a fuller experience for the readers.

(Also, it makes me wicked excited to see how Amanda incorporates the ship into the cover art.)

Books, characters, fantasy, favorites, fiction, influences, research, world-building

Lloyd Alexander and Diversity

An incomplete (but pertinent) bibliography of Lloyd Alexander’s works for young people:

Time Cat, 1963. Takes place in ancient Egypt, Rome, Britain, Ireland, Japan, Italy, Peru, Isle of Man, Germany, and America, all extensively researched and handled with great respect and affection.

The First Two Lives of Lukas Kasha, 1978. Takes place in fantasy Persia, extensively researched.

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, 1991. Takes place in fantasy China, patterned after Chinese folklore and fairy tales, extensively researched.

The Arkadians, 1995. Takes place in fantasy Greece and neighboring islands, patterned after Greek myths with very obvious affection.

The Iron Ring, 1997. Takes place in fantasy India. Patterned after Indian myths, incorporates traditional Indian caste systems and the importance of honor and karma, extensively researched. (Also the first Lloyd Alexander book I ever bought with my own money.)

Gypsy Rizka, 1999. Features a Romany heroine.

The Rope Trick, 2002. Takes place in fantasy Italy, pre-unification.

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, 2007. Takes place in Arabia.

In all the calls for the need for more culturally diverse books, I have not seen anyone mention Alexander’s works, and that’s a shame. Because I grew up enthralled with fairy tales and folklore of many different lands, and infused with the desire to immerse myself in and explore all sorts of “other” cultures in my writing, and I never considered that an odd way of thinking, and that is due almost entirely to Lloyd. To me, respectfully, excitedly, and lovingly exploring different cultures through fantasy was normal, and sticking with basic European traditions was weird.

We do need diverse books. So let’s not forget the man who was writing them long before any campaign for such notion began, the man who wrote diverse books solely because he loved the richness of them.

I would also like to note that all of the female characters in Alexander’s works are strong, no-nonsense (except for the ones who like nonsense), independent, intelligent, witty characters, at least if not more so as well-rounded as the male characters. And most of them are capable of physical fighting as well, though they tend to be clever enough that they avoid the need to fight much of the time.

(Lloyd Alexander has also written a few picture books which are beautifully illustrated and also culturally rich. The Fortune-Tellers, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, is set in Cameroon, and is witty and charming. Dream-of-Jade: The Emperor’s Cat I (sadly) have not yet read, but it is illustrated by D Brent Burkett and set in Ancient China and looks just as marvelous as all Alexander’s other works. The King’s Fountain, another I’ve not yet read, is illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats and set in the Middle East.)

TL;DR

Lloyd Alexander was awesome.

1920s, editing, world-building, writing

Make Mistakes Great

I’ve mentioned here before that I’m working on Magic Most Deadly‘s sequel, right? (I know, I could look it up, but … who has the time?) I’ve hit a couple of snags with it, coming up against errors or “oops” moments from the previous book. One little thing was when I wanted to use Sophie and Owen from If This Be Magic, but I realized that I’d given Owen the same last name (Maddox) as Maia’s friend Constable Maddox from Magic Most Deadly. Uh-oh!

I came across a more egregious error when I remembered that I’d let Len use magic to dispel a hangover in Magic Most Deadly, but according to the rules of magic I laid out more clearly, any direct use of magic on a person, whether yourself or someone else, is evil and against the law. These rules play an enormous role in this current book, whereas in the first one they were only a side note, so I didn’t notice the mistake until I came to this one.

That was a big oops.

What to do? I couldn’t go back and change it – the book is already published. I could ignore it and hope that no readers picked up on, but that felt like cheating. Besides, even if nobody else ever caught the mistake, I would know about it, and it would bother me. Forever.

I wrestled with it on and off for a couple of weeks. Then, this morning, the answer came to me, laid out as a beautiful scene. Not only can I use that to add another layer of nuance to magic, laws, and Magical Intelligence work, but I can also use it to add further depth to Len’s character.

Even though I’m not at the point in this story where I can work the point in, I sat down and wrote the scene out as soon as it came together in my mind, so that now it’s ready to insert when I get to that part.

As a bonus? At the end of that scene, a little bit of romance snuck in! (I know some of you out there are Len/Maia ‘shippers!)

And that’s the story of how a mistake turned into something that made the characters, and the world, even better than they were before.

I hope all my human errors in these books turn out as well!

TV, Watch, world-building

Not So Original

Last night, I half woke up from a dream, thinking it would be the perfect idea for a story someday … it featured a married couple in a medieval-fantasy world, where the woman was the warrior and the man was not, and he was always cracking jokes, and they were quite happy together …

I was horribly, terribly sad this morning when I woke up fully and realized that it was not, in fact, a brilliantly original idea which I could use for a fabulous story.

I had just taken Zoe and Wash from Firefly and inserted them into the Middle Ages.

Darn you, subconscious!

characters, children, favorites, heroines, world-building

Names and Naming

I realized, a few years back, that every single story I was writing had a main-ish character with some version of the name Katherine. Every one. The funny thing is, that name was never even on my list of favorite names, certainly not one I considered for either Joy or Grace (although if I had a third daughter …), and yet it kept cropping up in every one of my stories, until I had to consciously edit it out. Magic Most Deadly’s Julia was a Kate first, for example. As were the main protagonists in the two other stories I was writing/plotting at the same time as that. I kept one as was, changed MMD’s Kate to Julia, and abandoned the other story entirely, at least for a time.

Other names, or name-sounds, crop up with frequency, too. I adore Lloyd Alexander’s Princess Eilonwy (I think the E and the I look ugly next to each other, especially with that W showing up so soon after (W is just an ugly-looking letter anyway), which is one reason why I never considered Eilonwy as a name for Joy or Grace, but the sound of the name – Aye-LON-Wee – is pure music). I love JRR Tolkien’s Eowyn as well (though the E-O-W is even uglier to look at than E-I…W), and have found myself using very similar names in many of my stories. I have an Eilwen in one, her daughter Eirlys in another (plotted but not written). I’ve used Owen, Will, Gwen, in several of my non-fantasy stories. And I have yet to write this character, but I love the name Telyn and am eagerly waiting for the right story to put her in.

I sat down and analyzed Wings of Song the other day and realized it pretty much needed to be torn apart and begun again. Part of that tearing apart meant changing my main protagonist’s name. So much of her character was bound up in her name. If she needed a different personality, she needed a different name. I wanted this new heroine to be a combination of two previously-written protags: one named Meggie, one Gwen. At first I thought I wanted a name that preserved that middle “eh” sound, but in the end (and it was surprisingly difficult), I went with something entirely different.

And it’s working.

Poor Carl – I used to scare him half to death when we’d be driving along in the car, talking of something completely different, and I’d suddenly fire off: “What do you think of ___ for a name?” “Are you pregnant?” he’d howl.

He’s since learned to just roll with it. He married a person with an endless fascination for names, how they look, how they sound, what sort of associations they conjure up in people’s minds, all that. When I did get pregnant, and we finally did start talking names for real, I couldn’t settle down to think about anything in the pregnancy seriously until we had decided on names. (Joy and Grace, for newer readers, are not their real names. I decided when Joy was a baby that I could use photos OR real names, but not both, and at that point I went with photos. As they’re getting older and their faces are getting more recognizable, I’m starting to rethink even that policy. We’ll see.) And even though we didn’t use the boy name we had chosen for Joy, I couldn’t consider that name (Evan, by the way) for Grace. That was Joy’s-boy-name. Grace (of course, at the time we were discussing names, we didn’t know she was a girl) needed her own unique boy-name (she would have been Tristan, if you’re curious).

What about you? Are names something that fascinate you, or are they just convenient handles for keeping people and characters from getting confused? Do you find yourself drawn to similar-sounding names without even realizing it, or re-using one name across many different stories? And which is more important to you, a name that looks beautiful written, or sounds beautiful spoken?

1920s, characters, families, research, world-building

Welcome to Stanbury

Hello! Welcome to Stanbury, ancestral home of the Whitney family. Come right in! Let’s use the side entrance; it seems more friendly, doesn’t it?

Maia used to swing on the gate when she was a child. It drove her mother mad, of course, but she loved the freedom of swinging combined with the ability to see the world passing by on the road. Even if “the world” were usually only a few stray escaped sheep.

Mind your step here. You wouldn’t want to trip on these stairs. Ouch!

Shall we pop into the kitchen a moment? Mrs Humphrey won’t mind. If we’re lucky, she’ll even give us a cup of tea (and possibly a slice of fresh-baked bread).

The sitting room gets marvelous light, wouldn’t you agree?

Mrs Whitney says it’s terribly draughty, though.

Yes, the bathroom is rather small. But so elegantly decorated! Ellie insisted on that.

The Whitneys are so very proud of this room, an addition the current Mr Whitney had built after he was married (but before the War, naturally. One doesn’t indulge in unnecessary expenditures in this day and age. Have you heard that they had to sell the London house? Terrible shame, but one can one do? Mr Whitney was only thankful to be able to hold onto Stanbury).

And here we are back onto the grounds! Sorry we couldn’t take more of a detailed tour, but really, it is terribly gauche to peek into people’s lives too much, don’t you agree? Besides, you wouldn’t have wanted to see Ellie or Merry’s bedrooms, believe me. They are a terrible mess, especially since Merry keeps chasing away all the maids with her Socialistic notions.

I hope you enjoyed the tour! Stanbury might not be the grandest showplace of the county, but the local folk are proud of it all the same. After all, as Maia says, it has character, and that’s even better than impressiveness.

All pictures are, in reality, of the Old Vicarage in Croxton Kerrial, Leicestershire. I love real estate websites for finding house inspirations.