Magic in Disguise: Progress

I have passed the halfway point on Magic in Disguise!

This book has been more exhausting than any I’ve ever worked on, published or unpublished. I started it immediately after publishing Magic Most Deadly, which was released September 2013. Since then, the plot has changed about five times, and I took a long break to work on From the Shadows instead, as well as starting Rivers Wide (which is currently in the beta-reading stage), and have discarded many, many drafts.

This one, though … this is the one that’s going to stick. The last draft was close, gave the skeleton of the story, and this one is making sense of it and filling it in. I think I had a couple femurs in place of humeri before and was missing a patella or two, but I’m getting them all sorted now.

How’s THAT for a metaphor of story-writing?

This book takes place in London 1925, when Maia has been apprenticed to Aunt Amelia for a little over three years. The London setting means we won’t see the return of certain characters such as Merry and Ellie or Julia and Dan (though we might get a cameo for one of them …), but never fear, Maia and Len and Becket are all present, as is the indomitable Aunt Amelia (for at least part of it). There will also be some new characters introduced, such as Helen Radcliffe, a young lady magician who has become good friends with Maia and gets caught up with great enthusiasm in their current investigation. The threat this time is more personal, with danger entering Aunt Amelia’s house and attacking Len, but the stakes are no less high for that. This book also delves a little bit deeper into the magic system itself, giving more spells, potions, and other ways of practicing magic while Maia learns how to control her ability and attempts to not blow too many things up in the process. And, of course, we get to see the relationship between Len and Maia grow and develop, but whether or not that includes romance I’m not telling!

It’s fun to write, even while it is exhausting, and I am getting to that point where I am eager to finish it so as to find if others will find it as enjoyable to read as it has been to create. We’ve got a long way to go still, but little by little, slowly but surely, it is coming.

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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!

Switching Mental Gears

I have been working exclusively on Rivers Wide (my 1930s Thousand Islands novel) for quite a while now, trying to get it to the point where I can start serializing it (I have to at least have it in a coherent draft form, and then I can edit/polish each installment as I go). So it took a wrench today to set it aside and immerse myself back in From the Shadows just for a day. My editor’s schedule has cleared, and she is ready for me to send it to her for line edits, and I had just a few issues I wanted to fix before mailing it off to her.

A wrench, yes, but exciting. Because – line edits! That’s a big step closer to publication. And as much as my head is full of Julie (of Rivers Wide) and her cousins and siblings, and their world of dairy farms along the St. Lawrence River in 1935, it was fun to revisit Riss and the crew of Caledonia and polish them up to meet my editor.

September was an exhausting month, with school starting back up (for Carl, for the kids, and our brand-new Classical Conversations homeschool group), the kids’ extra-curricular activities starting, Carl and I going through church membership classes, weekly Bible Studies, and a lovely whirlwind visit from family in the midst of it all. Not much time for writing at all, frankly.

But I knew that was going to happen, which is why I pushed so hard to get so many first drafts done this summer. Because, for me, second drafts/editing/polishing/et cetera, require much less intensive effort than the initial story creation. So I can pick a story up and do a little at a time without it taking me an hour just to get back into my characters’ heads and figure out where the plot is going. It’s still slow going, but it is progress.

And seeing that progress advance another entire step for From the Shadows is tremendously exciting, and I really can’t wait to hear what my editor has to say about it! Only another couple months before publication, guys!

New Year, New-ish Goals

Friends, it is 2015, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t be more pleased.

Not that 2014 was a bad year. Not at all. We did a lot of learning and growing and stretching in it, and also took plenty of trips to the beach. Can’t really complain.

But a new year is here, and I am ready to put into action the results of all that learning and growing and stretching. And some more beach trips.

I signed Joy up for violin lessons with someone here on campus who teaches (EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS) and realized that this means she will be taking ballet lessons, art lessons, piano lessons, and violin lessons this semester; Gracie will be taking art and ballet (possibly starting piano in the fall, we’ll see); and of course we’ll be continuing with our Friday homeschool group. Guess there’s no question but that I’m a mom of kids instead of littles now, with all these activities. How am I supposed to be a proper hermit with all this running them around hither and yon?

I have a few goals for 2015. Learn and practice more self-discipline is the big one. I’m way too prone to flutter frantically around, getting overwhelmed by life and all that I need/want to do, and not get any of it done. This is an old tale, I’m sung it before here and elsewhere, and I am well aware that the kind of self-discipline I am after will likely take me the rest of my life to master. That’s okay. I’ll just keep plugging away at it.

Another familiar goal: read less, savor more, get deeper into what I read instead of charging through books so quickly that I can’t even remember them two months later without checking Goodreads. I’m working on this one already. I started Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her (I tried reading it once a few years back and never made it all the way through) and am stopping to jot down notes whenever something strikes me, re-reading certain passages if I feel the need or desire, trying to consciously slow myself down to enjoy the book instead of plowing through it like a bull in a china shop.

I’ve specifically set the goal of reading 12 non-fiction books this year. I find non-fiction incredibly rewarding, and yet incredibly hard to get through, so I figure if I plan to read one per month, by December, I might find it’s a bit easier to do.

For writing: I’m learning to slow down there, too (noticing a pattern, anyone? I told you 2014 was a year of growing). Not push, push, push to GET PUBLISHED GET OUT THERE OR ELSE YOU ARE DOOMED, DOOMED I TELL YOU. Enjoy writing. Dig deeper into it. Be more honest. Polish it up again, even after I think it’s perfect (because six months later, I’ll realize that it’s not). Explore new genres, new ways of sharing stories, new ways even of writing. Don’t be afraid of going off the path.

But at the same time, while holding this loosely, I have set myself a few goals, because how can you go off the path if you haven’t established what the path is? So, I would like to finish the first draft of of the serial story, with the goal of polishing and publishing through a newsletter one chapter a month. I would like to get From the Shadows polished and ready to publish. And I would like to start over again with Magic in Disguise – I am almost finished outlining the new version, so that’s exciting.

I’ve got a few more personal goals/hopes for this year – but I’m holding those close to me for right now. They’re fragile; I don’t want to expose them too much or they might disintegrate.

And speaking of self-discipline … I just remembered that I need to pack today for our almost-week-long jaunt to visit family which starts tomorrow, so I guess I’d better sign off from here and get to that.

After I finish my tea, naturally. Priorities.

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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!

Restored and Ready

We have safely returned from our camping extravaganza! And now my morning coffee isn’t half as good without my uncle brewing it for me in his french press over his little camp stove, and I find myself turning around to make a joke to my cousins only to remember they aren’t here way too often.

On the other hand … sleeping in a real bed is glorious. Having my clothing and hair not stink of campfire smoke is bliss. Reading books on my Kindle via a bedside lamp instead of a flashlight is lovely.

Camping was fun, and returning to civilization was sweet.

I didn’t do any writing, and very little reading, while we were away. I hadn’t planned to, knowing that our time was going to be taken up with camping stuff and family stuff, so it’s not like I was surprised or disappointed. In fact, I think it was good for me, because when I saw the email from Amanda of Fly Casual on our drive back home, with a rough mock up for the cover of the sci-fi novella I wrote, all kinds of creative juices bubbled up fresh in me.

Of course, those all went toward Ooh, we should really take Laura’s advice and turn the novella into a novel, which wasn’t exactly in the plan – I was supposed to come back and be inspired to finish Magic in Disguise and Wings of Song. Oh well.

Be that as it may, I am working on ways to expand the novella (titled From the Shadows), Amanda and I are talking about the cover, and yet with all this, I’m still thinking about MID and WOS. And while thinking isn’t writing, it does make the writing go much better.

So yes, a good vacation all the way around.

I came home to a letter approving our education plan from the school district, and we are going to start school again next week, and while the kids are less than excited, I am pumped over our plans for homeschool this year. Lego and Art club at the library, a new homeschool group meeting weekly, lots more of Mummy reading aloud and the kids being creative, a simplified schedule, field trips to explore nature at many of the local estates and farms … I know that plans go by the wayside as soon as real life starts, but I also know that the better the plans are, the better things go even when chaos hits.

It’s been a wonderful summer, and I am so looking forward to the fall.20140816_104637 20140816_105152 20140816_113302

(Pictures not from camping – I barely turned my camera on while we were there – but from a recent trip to a local estate whose gardens and forest trails are open to the public. This is one of the top spots on my “field trip” list.)

Secret Project, Secret No More

You remember that post I wrote back in February, about the need to finish the first draft I was working on so I could get started on the first draft of the book I was supposed to be writing?

Well, I finished it. The first draft of a story that jumped into my mind sometime in … either November or December, I really don’t remember now … and I knew that I had to start writing it then and there. If all I did was outline it, I knew I wouldn’t come back to it later. The outline would just sit, and languish, and collect metaphoric dust in my documents.

It wasn’t supposed to be very long, only around 30,000 words, a short, fun, MG. Of course, me being me, that turned into 51,000 words, closer to YA than MG, and with some surprisingly deep themes woven in amidst the lighter-hearted bits. In fact, I need to make sure the light-hearted bits are as prominent as I want them to be when I go back for the second draft.

I couldn’t talk about it at all, to anyone, for fear of losing the momentum. I didn’t even tell anyone I was writing it until I was halfway through, and then I finally broke down and told Carl what I was writing – but I wouldn’t tell him what it was about. Only that it wasn’t what I “should” be writing. A few weeks ago a friend asked me on Twitter what I was writing currently, and all I could say was “A secret project.” It didn’t need to be secret for any outside reasons – but I was afraid talking about it would have the same effect as outlining it. Death to the story itself.

So. It’s the messiest first draft I’ve ever had the privilege of finishing, because most of my first drafts are more like third drafts by the time I’m done with them. I break The Rule, you see, of first drafts. I am a compulsive go-back-er. I can be three chapter ahead, realize a way to make that past chapter better, and if I don’t go back and fix it right then and there, it eats away at me until I get it right. If I introduce a character that later on doesn’t fit, I have to go back and take that character out immediately, instead of just dropping the character from then on and removing it entirely later. I write a few chapters, go back and fix a few chapters, write a few, go back and fix a few … which is why I always cringe when I hear someone declare that all first drafts, every time, are junk. Because mine aren’t. Usually.

This one is, though. I just needed to get it written. So I skipped the edit-as-I-go this time (and yes, it drove me nuts, but I did it, and I’m kind of proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone. And I don’t plan to ever do that again) and just got it all done. I’m not going back and immediately fixing anything now that it’s written, either.

I’m going to pretend it doesn’t exist for a while. Go back to working on Wings of Song and Magic in Disguise, the second Maia and Len book (it’s been six months since Magic Most Deadly published, and I think I’m finally ready to get back to their world). And then, once I’ve finished the initial drafts of both of those, I can drag this one back to life, tear it apart, and put it back together again better.

It’s been a fun interlude. And it was what I needed when the stories I was supposed to be writing (see previous paragraph) were not working, and I was feeling a considerable amount on ennui about my writing in general. Sure, it took me almost four months to write a draft I thought I would have done in six weeks, but hey. It’s there. It’s done. And it put the zest back in writing for me.

And now, it’s back to work.