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!

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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.

All Change

I finished the first round of revisions on the novella I mentioned a couple posts back. Which means, of course, that I am now firmly in the “This is terrible why do I even bother trying to write” stage of things.

Which, in turn, means it’s time to stop thinking about it (this is why I pawn it off onto beta readers, because I cannot be even remotely objective at this point in the game), which means I need to think about something else.

Ah-ha. Time to get back to Magic In Disguise! That’s been stuck at 20,000 words for way too long now. I claimed writer’s block when I first got stuck, decided to work on Wings of Song for a while, and when I hit a wall there (not a huge one: it’s Christmas in that story now, and I can’t bring myself to write winter when it’s so lovely outside and our winter was so long and miserable, so I’m waiting until my memory has faded a bit. I’ll probably get back to it in August when I’ve started to melt from heat) I took a break from writing all together until the novella demanded I write it.

The brick wall on Magic In Disguise hasn’t gotten any less solid, but I think I’m finally ready to bash away at it until it crumbles. (Don’t you like my elegant metaphors?) Plus I miss Maia and Len. And Becket. Every so often I feel guilty for not doing more to promote and market Magic Most Deadly, because I feel like I’m letting my characters down. Then I remind myself that the very best marketing/promotion plan is to just write more about them, and write well, and so I dive back once more into their world and determine to give them another chance to shine.

Come July or August or whenever, when I start to feel lonely for Julie &co. from Wings of Song, I’ll give Magic In Disguise a rest, and change once more.

I’m not sure it’s entirely healthy to be this attached to all my characters, but it certainly is the best motivation in the world.

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?

Getting My Groove On

Not exactly like this. Less leather pants, for one thing.

But I am slowly starting to get back into the groove of writing Wings of Song. It’s been tricky to switch from fantasy to everyday life stories, especially when my previous fantasy was so rooted in the real world. I kind of want to have dryads peeking out from around every corner and fauns popping in for tea with my ten-year-old protagonist. Which would be a lovely story! Just not this one that I’m telling right now.

It’s been tricky shifting my writing style again, too. Wings of Song is written in a very different style from Magic Most Deadly. I liken the type of story it is to LM Montgomery and Maud Hart Lovelace, Susan Coolidge and Miss Read. But it is really, really hard to write a story in that style without turning it treacly or preachy or just plain dull. All those writers? Geniuses. Me? Juuuust starting to really spread my writing wings and fly.

So it’s been hard, but it’s coming. My one character most given to pretentiousness and sententiousness I have made fully aware of his tendencies, and have given him a younger brother always cheerfully ready to wallop him when necessary to keep him from being a prig. I am stashing any fantasy ideas in a different notebook, ready to use in a different story in the future, possibly, but not interfering with this one. I’m trying to read more old-fashioned, “everyday” fiction to get a better feel for writing hopeful, fun stories without them turning soppy.

Above all, I’m just writing.

And in the end, that’s the important part.

(And I’m occasionally watching Kurt Browning in leather pants.)

Bits and Pieces

-I’m working hard to get Magic Most Deadly up and running by the publication date. I’m trying to play it cool (not really), but inside I’m jumping up and down and squealing.

-To celebrate MMD’s launch, I’m running a giveaway on Goodreads. Check it out and enter for a chance to win a paperback copy (US and Canada only, sorry).

-When I planned the date for MMD’s cover reveal, I missed the fact that it was happening the same day as Alex Cavanaugh’s book launch for CassaStorm, the third and final book in his Cassa trilogy. Poor timing on my part! So now I’m a week late, but still – go check it out. Alex is a great guy, and a huge support and encouragement to writers and bloggers online. Wishing you great things with this book, Alex!

-After finishing everything with MMD, I suffered from writer’s ennui for a while. Do any of you experience that? Just kind of drifting about, feeling empty, even if you have another project you’re in the middle of or about to start? It takes a while to dissipate, but the fog is clearing now, and I think I’m ready to dive back into Wings of Song.

-After that (or during, depending on how the muse strikes), I have the next Maia and Len book to write. I’m already excited about that.

-One thing that possibly helped shoo away my ennui was all the fun we had last week. My dad was visiting, and we went to the aquarium, ocean, library, playground, and just generally had a great time. Definitely help fill my creative well.

Ocean

Ocean

-Happy Monday, all! Next Monday will (providing all goes well) be the announcement of Magic Most Deadly’s launch!

Book Covers & Sundry

Quick post today. Our first day of school got pushed back a week because the science curriculum took longer to get in than I anticipated, so TODAY is our first day, instead of last Monday. Starting in 20 minutes, in fact! But I wanted to at least get something up. Trying to get back into some sort of a routine here, even if it’s ragged at first.

A little while back, I contacted an artist friend of mine about doing a painting I could use for a book cover for Wings of Song, the story currently in 2nd draft form. I have learned how long cover art can take, so I wanted to get a head start on it!

She both moved more quickly than I could have imagined, and produced something more beautiful than I could have dreamed. Here it is:

by Valerie Monroe

by Valerie Monroe

(clicking on the photo will take you to her studio’s FB page)

It’s STUNNING. I’m so pleased. The physical painting should be getting to me this week, and I have every intention of hanging it above my desk after I’ve scanned it into my computer to add title and author.

Ironically enough, right around the time Val and I were completing our transaction, the cover designer for Magic Most Deadly and I came to an amicable parting of ways – her life took a few turns which meant that she wouldn’t be able to tackle the cover for another several months, and I just couldn’t bear waiting that long to put my book-baby out there.

So now I’m figuring out my options for MMD. Do it myself from stock illustrations? Simplest, but also liable to make me tear out my hair. Hire someone else to do it? That gets pricey, and I’m also kind of fussy about my covers – standard covers today, with photos of real people gracing them, just don’t fit my writing style. Talk to artists I know and see how they feel about Art Deco? Maybe, but that also gets pricey, and can take a long time.

Plenty of options, I just have to figure out the best one. I find it thoroughly amusing that I have a book cover for the unfinished novel, and nothing for the completed one. Seems a fairly typical pattern for my life!

And now I get to put writing concerns aside for a few hours, and instead focus on teaching my kids. Science, math, and handwriting for the 1st grader today, and letters and numbers with the preschooler. Hurrah for the first day of school!

(By the way, I finished this post with TWO minutes to spare. Go me.)