A Change in the Wind …

Literally (it has suddenly remembered it’s winter here in New England, and along with the delightful snow we are enduring some not-as-delightful bitter cold. Not to worry, though, it’s supposed to pop back up to the mid-40s on Tuesday), and metaphorically as well.

I hesitate to talk too much about changes to my writing plans, simply because if I talk about them and then change my mind again, people will get confused. These changes, however, I’ve been mulling over for quite some time, so I think it is safe to reveal at least one of them to you all.

Here it is: I’ve been referring to the magical detective stories – Magic Most Deadly, the upcoming Magic in Disguise [working title], and any future books to come – as the “Intelligent Magic” series. It seemed a clever name when I thought of it, tying in Len’s Intelligence work to the magical aspect.

Except … I think now it was a little too clever. So I thought, well, I’ll have Maia say something specifically about it, or Aunt Amelia make a nasty crack about the need for intelligent magic instead of magical intelligence … but it didn’t work. It just never fit.

So, I have scrapped the “Intelligent Magic,” and have gone to what I should have done in the first place: Whitney & Davies. After all, Dorothy L Sayers’ detective novels are simply known as the Lord Peter Wimsey series; Agatha Christie’s works are divided into the Poirot novels, the Miss Marple books, and the Tommy & Tuppence series; we have the Cadfael series, the Inspector Alleyn series, the Mrs. Pollifax series … etc. Naming a cozy mystery (with magic) series after your main protagonists is not only common sense, it is continuing the tradition established by the greats.

So, Magic Most Deadly is now Book 1 in the Whitney & Davies series … and if I ever get through these revisions, we should get Book 2 before too much longer!

And on that note, I should really get back to revising … making some significant changes there, too, but I’m not ready to talk about them until I know for certain they will stick. Au revoir, friends!

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Joyful Work

Those of you who enjoyed Magic Most Deadly will be happy to know that I am currently hard at work on revisions of the sequel (thus far, the working title of Magic in Disguise seems to be sticking). You might remember me posting here a few months back that I had finished the first draft? Now I’m filling it out, deepening it and padding it, putting events in their proper order, inserting clues (now that I know both the point of the crime and the criminal, two things I was clueless on when I started the first draft), creating a few red herrings, all that fun stuff.

I know some writers who dump everything into their first draft, and then spend subsequent drafts pruning, cutting away words and tightening it all up. That is not how I craft my stories. No, my first drafts are always the barest of bones (as a teen, I used to write my first drafts as scripts – just dialogue and a few terse “stage directions”), which then have to get filled out a little more in each draft. Right now my chapters stand at about 2500-3000 words each – I need to get them to 4000-4500 by the final draft. Whew!

It’s fun, though. And it’s fun to challenge myself by seeing if I can include enough background details in each scene to keep my beta readers from saying “more details! We need more details!” (I’ve never yet managed it, but it’s a goal). Today, for example, I spent some time figuring out the layout and general decor of Len’s London flat. While the readers of Magic in Disguise won’t necessarily need to know that the flat has two bedrooms, and the exact location of the cloakroom, or what the color scheme is of the dining room, having all that information at my fingertips will make it easier to sneak in subtle details to fill out the story and make it more vivid.

More vivid! That’s what I hope for with all my stories – that they live. I have a hard time re-reading Magic Most Deadly these days – my fingers itch to start editing, to fix all the flaws I see in it now, to make all these improvements. But one thing that does still satisfy me with it is how alive it is. Flawed though it might be (hey, it’s a debut novel), creaky though it may be in places, it does live, and that gives me great joy.

I hope that Magic in Disguise, when it is finished, not only is an improved book craft-wise from MMD, but is even more alive than its predecessor. A joyous, laughing, living book (as much as a murder mystery can ever be those things!), which brings as much delight to its readers as it did/does to its writer.

And now I’d best stop talking about writing it, and get back to actually writing the thing …

Magic Most Deadly Sequel! (Soon)

Well!

Thanks to Camp NaNoWriMo, I managed to get the entire first draft of Magic Most Deadly’s sequel written in a month. One month! I started at the end of June, and finished right before the end of July. That’s … mind-boggling, really.

Now granted, it’s just the bare bones of the story. It needs about 20,000 more words, not to mention more clues, more suspects, more red herrings, more everything that makes it a mystery. But the skeleton is there, and fleshing it out will be the fun part (is that a gross metaphor? Sorry).

This sequel … I’ve been working on it ever since I published MMD, so … since fall 2013. That’s almost two full years, and it’s taken me this long to get the first draft written. So you can see why I’m pleased.

I like the direction it’s taking Len and Maia – some of the plot twists surprised even me, leaving me scrambling to catch up. I like the character developments, getting to know these people a little more, digging a little deeper into who they are than I did in the first book. And I like the plot, messy as it is right now! I think it’ll be a lot of fun once it gets cleaned up, and I hope will leave readers guessing until the final reveal.

One of the fun things about this book is that I was inspired to break out of my preconceived notions of 1920s England. I did some research, and as a result I get to introduce some new and diverse characters in it. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Julia and Dan and Sgt. Andrews and all the rest from MMD, but it was really exciting for me to broaden my scope and take the notion that magic breaks down class and gender roles, and realize that means that it would also break down racial walls, and then explore what that looks like.

I’ll be doing more posts about the world of MMD and the characters in the upcoming months, as I work on the next draft, so let me know if there are any questions you have or topics you’d like to see me tackle!

For now, I’m taking a little break to let the story settle, and working more on From the Shadows, which I hope to be able to publish late fall or early winter. And I haven’t forgotten about Rivers Wide, either! That’s due to begin serialization also this winter. It’s going to be a busy season, but a fun one!

Summer Doings

From the Shadows is on its last round of betas before being sent to my editor.

Rivers Wide is a complete first draft, and is simmering before I tackle the second.

I am 5 1/2 chapters in to Magic Most Deadly’s sequel, and the plot just clicked into place while I was preparing supper tonight, leading to a frantic scramble to jot down the outline and how everything connects together while simultaneously not letting the food burn. (The glamorous life of a writer!)

I also discovered Azalea’s Dolls the other day, and have been happily procrastinating whenever I hit a stone wall in my writing by creating dolls of my characters. The options are limited for creating outfits that look even remotely 1920s-ish, but …

Maia Whitney, practicing magic

Maia Whitney, practicing magic

Maia Whitney, dressed up for the Magicians' Ball

Maia Whitney, dressed up for the Magicians’ Ball

Maia's magician friend Helen Radcliffe, also ready for the Magicians' Ball

Maia’s magician friend Helen Radcliffe, also ready for the Magicians’ Ball

 

As you can see, I’m making do.

In other news, we recently spent two weeks visiting family, and one week recovering (i.e, sleeping), are doing our best to keep from melting in the heat, and are planning a fun getaway for next weekend, when Carl and I celebrate our 11th—11th!—anniversary. The kids will go to Grandma’s and pick raspberries and swim in her pool, and he and I shall go to a B&B in the White Mountains, and everybody will be happy, including Grandma. This will be Carl’s and my first time getting away without the kids since having kids. I think it’s time!

I’ve been doing Camp NaNoWriMo again this July, and while I really sputtered with getting started, I’m picking up steam now. I would love so much to get the first draft to MMD’s sequel completed this summer! But we’ll see. Of slightly more importance is making sure this summer is a time of rest for all of us, so that we can face the fall routine gladly when it comes.

Or if not gladly, at least without being so exhausted it makes us want to cry. (Which is what happened to me last year, and which I would really like to not repeat …)

How is your summer going, friends?

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!

Three is Just One Too Many

I’ve talked before about how good it is for me to work on two writing projects at a time. The mental gymnastics involved in switching back and forth keep my mind limber, and when I hit a wall on one story I can work on the other one without losing momentum.

Three at a time?

To quote from Charade, “That was a dumb move, Herman.”

I could plead, “But I didn’t mean to! It wasn’t supposed to happen! The third story snuck up behind me and lammed me over the head, then tied me up and refused to let me go until I wrote it! And I thought, OK, it’s just a novella, but now it’s demanding to be a full-length novel, and I still haven’t finished the other two, and it’s not my fault!”

Alas, excuses. True though they may be, they aren’t very helpful.

My goal at the start of the year was to have Wings of Song published sometime in the summer. It currently sits at 26,000 words out of an estimated 40,000-ish. I also planned to publish Magic in Disguise, the sequel to Magic Most Deadly, in late September or early October, right around the one-year mark of MMD’s publish date. That story currently sits at around 36,000 words out of an estimated 60,000.

My plans have gone, as they say, out the window.

Granted, if the turning-novella-into-novel for my space opera From the Shadows continues as it has gone so far, that should easily be published by late September or early October. So it’s not all bad news.

But I will do my utter best to keep from getting swamped with three projects at once again (says the woman who currently has three Halloween costume dresses in various stages of sewing scattered across her living room). That’s just too much disorganization even for this scatterbrain writer.

Awesome First Drafts

I understood last week one of the main reasons why I dislike the insistence many people put upon the notion that “the first draft is crap,” and that one must always just get everything down first, and polish it later. Especially the firmness with which those people insist one must never, ever go back and edit in one’s first draft, that once one does that one will never finish.

One of the reasons, of course, that I dislike those statements is that I’m not a huge fan of dogmatism about a process that is deeply personal and individualistic. No two people write the same way, so why would you insist that everybody’s first drafts must all look alike?

The other, more personal, reason is that I am actually more likely to leave a story unfinished if I have a terrible first draft than if I’ve been tweaking it and polishing it as I go.

I had realized, while working on Magic in Disguise, that I was going to need to come up with another plot twist, that the story as it stood was both too straightforward (i.e. boring) and would not be long enough. Now, conventional wisdom would tell me to keep writing the first draft, and add in the plot twist/extra scenes in the second draft. But the more I kept trying to work on it that way, the more frustrated I got.

Why? Because every time I looked at how much I had already written, I grew discouraged. “Why get excited about hitting 30,000 words?” I muttered to myself (while sitting on a lawn chair outside the tent set up at my mother-in-law’s house, while we were camping there – I know, I lead a really rough life). “Even once I get to the end, there’s still going to be so much work to be done on this to get it in decent shape.” And then I started to get overwhelmed about how much still needed to be done on the book that I didn’t want to work on it at all.

Then an idea for the needed plot twist came to me, and first I started just writing it, then when I saw that it was working I took a quick break from the writing to adapt my outline to it, just to make sure it would fit, and then I went back to adapting my first draft, and suddenly feeling much more cheerful about the whole thing. Because now the second draft was looking like much less work, and so whatever progress I made on the first draft counted.

More work first, less work later. That’s my writing process, and I’m owning it. My first drafts are as close to the finished product as I can get them, and subsequent drafts just polish them and polish them until they’re ready. That’s how my brain works, and I don’t care if anyone tells me it’s the “wrong” way to craft a story.

It’s the right way for me.