Hey all, sorry for the lack of updates both here and at Walk in Silence….I’ll be off my normal schedule for a bit while I continue focusing on the Theadia rewrite and the final act of Queen Ophelia. Once I’ve got things under control again I’ll have more to provide.
When I started writing Theadia, there were certain names for places and destinations that I knew were important, but didn’t exactly want to spend a long amount of time obsessing over. There were also a few character names I felt were too similar so a few of them needed to be changed. For the place names there were a lot of “(NAME)” inserted. I know what I’m referring to from the context of the scene, so I didn’t bother focusing on that until I needed to.
As it happens, since I’m starting in on the New and Improved draft, I knew it was a perfect time to start filling in the blanks. The name changes are easy, just a quick Find/Replace with each chapter I work on. [Amusingly, I had a Dani, an Andy and a Dina in the rough draft, so two of them obviously needed to be changed right away.] And while I’m at it, I’m making a longhand list of these names — as well as certain points of reference, such as the color-coded flight teams some of them happen to be in — so I can work on the continuity while I’m at it.
This was something I taught myself when I was working on the Bridgetown Trilogy, and it’s worked wonders for me since: whenever I do rewrite/revision work, that’s the perfect time for me to work on the fiddly-bit details as well. Whether it’s a specific spelling of a name or their Space Force pilot ranking, it’s important to keep all of this consistent. I used to make notes of it during the very first rough draft, but over the years I realized that was kind of limiting me. What if kicking their piloting proficiency level up a notch makes a certain plot point later on more believable?
So essentially, the reason my rough drafts are always a mess isn’t always because of story issues; it’s primarily because I’m very fast and loose with them these days. I find I work a lot faster when I keep a consistent flow and focus on the story, and not worry too much about the details. By the time that version is done (or close to done), I’ll have a much better understanding of them and can just ‘fix them in post’ instead.
The great thing about doing this is that when I decided to start another draft reread after all this fiddly-bit fixing, is how unexpectedly great the updated version reads! It’s a pleasant surprise that I always look forward to, especially during scenes I’m fond or proud of. This is part of why I truly enjoy the revision process of novel writing!
On this day in 2020, I had my 750Words page up on my work laptop (the one way I could get any writing done now that I’d been dragged kicking and screaming back to the office) and I was listening to Fuzzbox’s Big Bang for the second time that day. I was frustrated because I’d hit a serious slump: I needed to come up with a new project, but I’d dried up creatively for a while by then. Most of my 750Words entries at the time were ending up as repetitive personal journal entries and I was really getting sick of writing them.
Listening to that boppy, bubblegummy guilty pleasure of an album and deciding once and for all to stop limiting myself, I free-associated for a bit. And that was much harder to do than I’d remembered because I hadn’t done it properly in ages. But eventually, I came up with this partial later that morning.
I really should come up with an anime-inspired story. I mean, like along the lines of Carole & Tuesday or Dragon Pilots, maybe even with a bit of Tenchi Muyo thrown in. Light and fun and goofy with a darker subtext and long-game arc going on. I’ve been going on about how much I love that style, so why not? Various thoughts: — The high school manga: a group of boys and girls and the various shenanigans and dramas they go through. SFF spin..? Perhaps it’s set on a generation ship (another one of my favorite ideas I haven’t used yet), or perhaps a space waystation. Darker subtext/long-game plot? I’m thinking maybe it’s a twist on the ‘we’re all going our separate ways when we graduate’ theme in which some of them will become pilots, either for transports or for space force, which might make connections that much harder. Darker subtext? Hmm. Will have to think about it more.
So, Theadia was originally going to be a coming of age story between five or six young adults as they figure out their future plans. It would start out as a light-hearted story that grew progressively darker as the long-game arc became clearer. I didn’t even have a name for it yet…that came a short time later when I’d come up with the names Althea and Claudia. [Althea, as well as her relationship with Claudia, is after a character in Hannah Blumenriech’s Full Court Crush. Claudia is named after someone I knew in college who was highly intelligent yet very reserved. Theadia — Thea and Dia — came to me when I realized the story was really about these two goofballs.]
The first few grains of Theadia were sown a month or so later when I pared down the original group to the titular duo when I realized there was a story about them somewhere in there that I was subconsciously avoiding. But what was it?
I was going through a tough time and not getting anywhere creatively. It was a perfect storm of frustration towards the Day Job, fury and disgust at the then-current US President* (a term I use very loosely here, and only for clarity), and a feeling of desperation on several levels. This was the worst block I’d had in years. The last time I’d used that inner turmoil in my writing had to have been the trilogy, and I’d been actively avoiding using it since then. Okay, that’s not entirely true…that turmoil spilled into my personal journal entries and 750Words sessions and that was frustrating me as well, because I’d repeated myself so much I’d gotten sick of hearing myself complain. I was avoiding something. A lot of somethings.
After I’d left the Day Job and given myself some time to heal a bit, I knew I was ready to start Theadia again. And this time I wouldn’t avoid what was bothering me. I’d let it spill out onto the page. I based characters and settings and situations on certain aggravating things going on in my life up to that point. It was therapeutic writing that I didn’t realize I’d long needed.
Theadia, on the whole, is about doing the right thing when no one else steps up. More to the point, it’s about taking action when everyone else is saying it can’t be done Because Reasons. And those reasons would be rigid protocol, hateful bigotry, lack of imagination, fear of responsibility, whatever it is that keeps people from doing what needs doing, or else we’re all going to be sitting here for years, stuck in this same damn cycle of inactivity.
All that Althea and Claudia want to do is make things work. Not just for themselves or their jobs, but for anyone else in their lives. The twist here, however, is that they’re not activists. They’re not mavericks, spies, loose cannons or even encyclopedic tech nerds and social justice heroes of the Cory Doctorow variety. They’re just blue-collar workers with a sense of community and a drive to make things possible. This is the kind of outlaw they are: the ones you least expect, because they don’t attract attention to themselves while they’re undoing all the bullshit they’re wading through.
The trick, then, was to figure out who — or what — the enemy was. That took a bit longer to work out, but once I had a rough outline, it became clearer to me: it wasn’t just one conflict, but many. It was the former galactic owners of the waystation and its planet reneging on their promise to leave them alone. It was the waystation’s political and military leaders in constant disagreement with each other and hindering progress. It was upper management refusing to make important choices Because Reasons. It was constant disagreement between those in charge and those they represented.
In other words, a lot like real life over the last couple of years.
And yes, there would be a bit of humor and lightheartedness, to balance it out. The appearance of one comically large and chatty Maine coon cat named Grizelda. The distraction of having large extended families. The deep trust between best friends and the smooth workings of a well-oiled and well-trained team. The silliness of Althea’s shenanigans and the wiliness of Claudia’s not-entirely-legal tech kludges, and their incredibly strong and loving relationship.
Funny, then, that it took me almost a year and a half to realize that this was going to be a Big Story, just like the Bridgetown trilogy! But that realization only helped me refocus on Theadia so I could make it even better. It’s been a super fun story to write and I love working on it. And I hope you enjoy it once I release it out into the world!
I do so love the feeling of coming up with a completely new story out of nowhere.
That happened to me last March when a half-coherent waking dream grew into a surge of ideas, which in turn grew into a complete outline later that morning, which eventually grew into Queen Ophelia. It happened yet again Sunday morning when I woke up with an idea for a meet-cute romcom. I’m not entirely sure when I’ll write it, but I’ll at least give myself time to write an outline to see if it’s a workable story.
I suppose it might surprise you to read that I’ve taken a turn into romance, but hell, why not? It’s the same thing I did in ’93 when I pivoted into science fiction. It’s a genre I’ve been fascinated by but rarely gotten around to reading, writing or even understanding until much later in my years. And as it happens, the genre is in a really good place right now, even as it continues to be one of the strongest selling genres ever. Head to that section of your local book store and you’ll see quite a lot of different styles within the genre. In particular there’s been a fresh wave of romcoms with fun titles and colorful cartoony covers. As a self-publisher that does their own covers, I really love the looks of those; they’re eye-catching and they’re great at letting you know they’re going to be an enjoyable and funny read.
I also suppose one might be worried that I have no idea what I’m getting into. I mean, that’s par for the course for most writers anyway, but that’s part of the fun of being a writer. There’s a lot of resonance going on; I’ve always taken notice when a story just hits me the right way and inspires me to write something similar. And with the books that I’ve been reading lately, I can definitely feel that. Again, writing Diwa & Kaffi is partly to blame when I learned that not every conflict in my stories need to be high stakes. And I do love to write different kinds of relationships…it’s one thing I realize I can do really well, especially if it’s important to the overall plot.
You could probably say I’m writing out of my depth here, but I’m willing to take the challenge. After all, Theadia is a space opera and I’ve never written one of those before, either. All of these new projects are telling me one thing: writing in a new genre isn’t just an exercise for me, it’s something I need to do to break out of my safety net. I’m always willing to challenge myself on a story, especially if it resonates with me as much as these have. Part of the adventure here is figuring out how to work past the obstacles and make it work.
The other part is proving to myself that I can do it in the first place. That’s always been a major part of my writing career, and I’m not about to rest on my laurels now.
The other day while I was working on Theadia, it occurred to me that though this novel has already hit 130k words, it’s still missing numerous important parts. While it’s strong in some respects, I’d completely ignored other characters and events that need to be there in order to make this work. I kind of did that on purpose, as I’d started this in a very just run with it and see where it goes style, albeit with a vague-ish fourteen-page rough outline. I wanted to focus on just getting the words down instead of fretting about making them perfect right away. Besides, this is my first space opera, and I’ve got a bit of a steep learning curve going on.
But now that I’ve gotten this far — almost to the important climactic moments of the entire story — I feel like I left a hell of a lot out. Passages where I’d just written a three-paragraph ‘this is what happens in the ensuing three months’ to get to another scene…or worse, scenes of character conflict where I barely touched on the antagonist’s reasons for their actions. Again, I did that on purpose in a ‘we’ll fix it in post’ sort of way.
And then there are the multiple minor characters I introduced, had them stick around for a few moments, and then kind of disappear. There’s one I’d created a few days ago — I’d completely forgotten to give a major character a co-pilot, which is important — which made me realize two things. One, that major character hardly has any scenes except a few supporting parts and one important front-stage scene. Two, I hardly gave her that much character development other than being related to one of the primary titular characters, Claudia.
Which made me think: am I stretching this story out far too long and stuffing it with inconsequential chaff…or is this another case of story expansion?
I’ve told you before about how I’d expanded a story in the past, when I started revising The Phoenix Effect and ended up writing a trilogy instead. And though I can’t say for sure just yet, I think the same thing is happening for Theadia. I love the story, but there’s so much missing. And furthermore, it’s the same exact feeling I felt when I started writing A Division of Souls oh so long ago. I knew I had a good story, but I wasn’t giving it nearly as much breathing room as it desperately needed. It needed expansion.
At this point I’m still debating how to handle this. I have a few options here:
–Continue with the story as is and complete it, then reshape it during revision. Pare down any extraneous subplots and tighten up any weak spots. –Continue with the story as is, just to finish it so I have something to work on when I expand it. Or… –Start the major revision now with the plan of turning it into a duology or a trilogy.
Option 1 is not what I want to do, however. I don’t want it to be a single self-contained volume because the story would be too cramped and incomplete. Option 2 makes sense to me, but it also feels like I’d be wasting much-needed time, knowing full well that I’d be rewriting it anyway. (And besides, I know exactly how it’s going to end.)
Option 3, to start the major rewrite/revision now, makes the most sense. Just like the trilogy, this process would give me an even deeper immersion in the world, to further understand all of its weblike connections, and give the characters and events the breathing space they truly need.
I mean, sure, part of this is my brain thinking hey, this is a year ending in 2, which means there’s gonna be some awesome writing music coming out, and I’ve always wanted to relive the best parts of writing a trilogy…it’s gonna be great! [Granted, the more sedate adult part of my brain, while it does have those high hopes, knows that it won’t be exactly the same.] I knew I’d be returning to writing plus-sized stories again, sooner or later. I love writing them, and I love everything about the process of writing them.
I had a good run of writing four publishable standalones after the trilogy, just to prove to myself that I could write in that size and style…but I really want to return to the Big Stuff again. The physical world of Theadia is vast, as is its cast. Like the Bridgetown trilogy, it starts of with a single person’s focus and grows to become something affecting everyone. It’s a story about connections, community, and responsibility. Its recurring theme is about the often mundane yet absolutely critical points in any event that need to happen in order for everything else to go right. [I admit there may be a bit of influence from my Former Day Job in there.]
So if this unfolds the way I think it is, this is going to keep me busy for the next several months, no doubt. Not that I’m complaining, just good to know ahead of time.
More as this unfolds, dear reader. And yes, there will most likely be more writing soundtracks involved.
There, I said it. Back when I self-released A Division of Souls, I had the vaguest of ideas of what I was doing and mostly trusting my own instincts and relying on my own interpretations of how self-publishing works. I loved the idea of releasing my own books like I was selling my new punk single in Maximumrocknroll. I loved the idea of self-producing it — the editing, the cover art selection and layout — and trusting that I was doing a pretty good job of it. I loved creating and ordering those freebie cards that I could give out during local conventions. I may not have made any significant amounts of money, but I’m okay with that.
Why did it fall by the wayside? Well, a lot of personal stuff happened. The Former Day Job’s killing off of working remotely severely damaged whatever writing time I had. There was the idea of sending Diwa & Kaffi out to agents and publishers that got put on hold because of the pandemic that went on for far too long. Then I took a lot of time off to make some seriously overdue personal changes in my life.
I kept writing, though.
And because of that, I have multiple books waiting to see the light of day: Diwa & Kaffi is completed and ready to be seen by the big bad world. Queen Ophelia and Theadia are almost done. And I’m already thinking of what to work on next.
Which is all fine, but how to re-approach that avenue? I could keep up with what I’m doing, but there’s only so far I can go by just putting it out there. I need to relearn how to promote myself, what I can afford and what I can do on my own. I need to find more avenues to get my stories out there. I still want to aim for the goal of at least one title released per year, so that’s not the problem I need to focus on most. It’s bringing attention to the title. And I’ve read so many different things about how to do it that I’ve come to a temporary conclusion: no one really knows the One True Way towards self-publishing success, because there isn’t one. It’s not so much about following someone else’s directions as it is finding the version that works for you. I’m yet to find that version myself, but I’m still willing to take the time to search for it. Eventually I’ll find that version that fits me best.
In the meantime, I’m going to stick with what’s worked with me so far as a stable platform, and what I’ve enjoyed the most about it: writing the novels, doing the post-production, and putting it out there in the world for everyone to enjoy.