I’m planning on doing a “Twenty Years On” of 2003 soon over at Walk in Silence as it dawned on me that I haven’t done one yet, and I got to thinking about how that time between 2003 and 2005 had become somewhat of a transitional year for me, creatively and personally.
I’d been working at Yankee Candle since late 2000 and had The Best Day Job Schedule Ever since early 2001. The Persistence of Memories was a few chapters in by early 2003, and by the year’s end I’d be starting in on The Balance of Light. I was about to buy myself a brand new PC with a lot more memory and power that would not only help my writing but take the next step in mixtape making, burning cds. I was listening to a lot of great music, even playing it with my friend Bruce. My creative output was at the highest peak to date. I was out of debt for the most part and paying only the student loan and car insurance at this point. I hadn’t been in a relationship in years, and I was okay with that. I had a strong circle of friends that were just a drive away now.
Life was pretty good at the time. Not perfect, but a damn sight better than ten years previous.
This is the era that I’m trying to emulate these days. Not ‘copy’ mind you, because I’m really not one of those people to relive the past to make up for present unhappiness. Not anymore, anyway. This is about emulating that same mental and emotional balance that had become my foundation. And I’ve been given a chance to make it happen again.
I think it helps that I’m no longer at a Day Job that so often threatened to disrupt that balance, now at one where I’m consistently happy and connected and not just another number. But you work in retail now!, I hear you say. Isn’t that more stressful than crunching numbers? Far from it. For me it’s a lot less stressful than banking.
But I digress. I’m in a good place in my life again, the road is clear, and I’m able to reach those same great heights again. And I’m going to make it last for as long as I can.
Brand new characters are always an intriguing exercise, because I don’t always know where I’m going to be taking them. Some of them, like Caren in the Bridgetown Trilogy, are sort of based on tropes (she was originally a mix of Agent Scully in X-Files with a touch of Captain Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell but became something altogether different). Others, like Zuze in In My Blue World, are characters I already know inside and out before I even start.
While writing MU4, I’ve been introducing a few new characters into the Mendaihu Universe and it’s true, I’m still working out where they’ll end up by the end. I have an entirely new character, Lizzie Kapranos, whose drive is decidedly not like Caren’s; she knows who she is and where she fits in, so her conflict is the refusal to give in so easily to conformity. [Tuckerization time: she’s named after Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice and singer Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand. A fierce free-thinker and a bit of an oddball but not without a sense of humor.] Like Miss Bennett, Lizzie is all about staying true to what she believes in. Also like her, Lizzie will (eventually) admit to being wrong when she makes errors in judgement or action.
This might be partly why my word count has been so glacial these last few weeks, as I work out the scene with all that in mind, but to be honest that’s part of the appeal of writing new characters. I get to learn something new about them, and about the story. Their actions will influence what comes next, whether it’s positive or negative. Another new character, Eika, embodies this to the extreme: she’s the id escaping highly restrictive boundaries and set free. Eika is a chaos element in a way, while Lizzie is the stability element. And both characters are completely aware of that role. In the process, Eika and Lizzie are polar opposites but also the key to Balance. And Balance has always been a big part of the Mendaihu Universe.
Do I know where these two will go, and if they’ll ever meet? Maybe? I’m not sure? But it’s in my mind and it’s a vague signpost further into the story that I’m heading towards. And that’s all I really need.
In writing something elsewhere, it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve been using MS Word exclusively for twenty years now. I believe it was sometime in March or April of 2003 that I bought my first completely new PC off the Dell website. With my own money and everything! I’d been using the previous writing programs that came with Windows 3.1 and 98 — MS Write and WordPad — and I realized this would be an excellent upgrade. This was one of those ‘customize your own personal computer’ specials Dell had and I spent the slightly extra money to have that added along with a decent media player that could play cds and dvds. I wasn’t (and still am not) a PC gamer so all that processing power and speed went to those two apps.
Over the years I’ve heard many pros and cons of Word from the writing community. Some swear by it, others swear at it. I’ve heard many writers suggest other programs and refuse to touch this one. Me? I’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences with it. I don’t think it’s ever crashed once on me (not including when it was actually the PC doing the crashing). As long as I keep up my habit of frequently saving my work (thanks, Dropbox!), all is well. Even now that it’s part of the Office 365 umbrella, It’s worked a peach.
All of my novels from A Division of Souls forwards were written, edited and revised using Word, and it’s even used to do the formatting for their Smashwords editions. I’m using it now for MU4. I’ve learned how to use more of its fiddly editing and formatting functions and they’ve pretty much become part of the tool bar at the top header.
I’ll use a Word-like app for reading on my tablet and e-reader, but I don’t plan on switching to anything else at this point.
One of the things in the back of my mind while writing MU4 has been that as much as I enjoy a nod to a previous story, the last thing I want to do is open this novel the same way A Division of Souls did. This is partly why it’s taken me a good couple of tries to nail the landing in these first few chapters. The stakes are just as high, but they’re different stakes this time.
I’ve also been reminding myself that this is a universe that is in constant motion. Sure, there are moments of quietness and contemplation in these stories, but that’s when the mind is in motion. This is how I remember writing the previous novels: every session has to have at least one scene where something moves. It can be incremental, or it can be the steadfast refusal to do so, or it can be a rash unthinking decision.
The Mendaihu Universe always had a theme of Balance In Motion; there are a few scenes in the original trilogy where someone says that life is always changing and never static (or something close to it), and it’s up to ourselves whether to move with the changes or stay in one place. Denni’s decision in this case was the one that changed fate: she chose the former, to adjust her role as the One of All Sacred when and where necessary. No former Ones had done ever done that.
So what about MU4, then? Well, without giving too much detail, let’s just say there’s a schism going on: the ones who have adjusted their fates and those who have refused. One of MU4‘s themes is about how far people will follow those paths. There’s dedication, and then there’s extremism. There’s response and then there’s reaction.
I’m just as curious as you are to where all this movement will take us.
OKAY! So it’s been a bit of a weird week, what with the Day Job schedule and all the PC issues I’ve been having of late. On Wednesday night I chose the nuclear option and did a factory reset of my computer, and spent my day off reinstalling several apps I use the most. [I should add that in doing the reset, it finally let me upgrade to Windows 11 as well. I’m still getting used to the changes, though there don’t seem to be too many that are all that significant.] The PC is now behaving quite nicely again, other than the continuing Bluetooth keyboard stickiness (which I’m yet to figure out how fix).
The good news is that everything is back to normal and I can get started on writing again! Even better news is that this gave me the time at work to think about the next chapter. I knew who was going to feature in it, but it had to be different from my original outtake from a month or so ago. And the amusing thing is that this new approach was influenced by…the original 1993 opening of Vigil! Heh. See, this is why I’m a packrat when it comes to my writing!
Anyway, now that I’m back on track (FINALLY), I’m hoping I can get a headstart soon!
I’m usually pretty good at being patient. If I have to wait for a certain length of time, I’m not all that bothered by it because I’m good at keeping myself occupied in the meantime. [This is especially helpful when I’m working a very busy eight hour shift at the day job. The trick is that I break it up into two-hour increments, and take my lunch or my ten-minute breaks in between.]
Writing a novel, on the other hand, can sometimes be a lesson in just how long I’m able to wait. It’s a different kind of time management, based on the pacing of the story and the time I’m able to spend working on it. In this case, working on MU4 has definitely been a case of patience-testing. I’m purposely not distracting myself with other more compact story ideas, which has happened in the past. I’m determined to see this one through. I do have distraction issues of another sort, however, which I’ve mentioned plenty of times: the Don’t Wanna’s. It’s not that I don’t want to write the story, I just don’t wanna do the work.
Once I get past that, however, I’m good to go. Power up the Word document and get stuck in. And once I’m there, patience is the last thing I worry about: I rely solely on what I need to write at that point in time. Whether it’s a lot of words or just a few, I give the best I can, and that’s when I enjoy it the most. That’s when I realize I could do this all damn day if I wanted. [And have, though rarely.]
It’s after I finish the session when that patience-testing comes in, of course. It’s when I’ve written just a few hundred words and the scene has moved ever so slowly and I’m far from finishing it, that’s when I want to surge ahead and get to the next scene! It’s not that the scene is glacial; it’s just that I’m moving slowly and deliberately.