More on putting my novels on hiatus

Okay, so maybe I’m not torching my work. That’s not my style! No, this is just a follow-up from last week’s mention that I’m putting Theadia and Queen Ophelia on hiatus.

To put it bluntly, these were both Pandemic Novels.

Theadia was my novel about my frustrations with the Former Day Job. I’d started it in the final months of that particular position, when I’d been forced to head back into the office four days a week. The novel, on the whole, was about Terrible Managerial Decisions versus Doing the Right Thing, set as an unconventional space opera. There’s a lot of that job in this novel…trying to squeeze actual answers out of an ineffectual manager (in this case, a colonel), questioning bad decisions and getting a shrug and a what can you do? as an answer, and of course choosing to do the right thing because no one else will, and the list goes on. I also wrote it because I’d become worried that I no longer had any further stories in me to write because the Former Day Job had become that overbearing over time, and I knew I had to write something before I started to believe that. This was my ‘this is now fucking aggravating this job has become’ outlet.

Queen Ophelia, on the other hand, was my novel about going on a personal journey of discovery. I’d started that one in the first couple of months into the pandemic, when I’d left the Former Day Job and chosen to do some long overdue cleaning out of my anxieties, bad habits and personal issues. This novel, on the whole, was about Giving Yourself a Blank Canvas. The main character, literally an artist with nothing important and no projects weighing down his life at the moment, is offered the chance to learn about his mother who’d left him and his father when he was a baby. Come to find out, she is not just a beast from another world but royalty as well. This was my ‘you’re free, you can be and do anything you want now’ outlet.

Thing is, I no longer need these novels as personal outlets. They were my therapy for those two strange years and they served me well, but now I’ve moved past that need for them. That was the problem with The Balance of Light as well, the third Bridgetown Trilogy book; I no longer needed that trilogy as an outlet or as therapy by 2004 and I felt a bit creatively lost because of it. But also like that novel, I plan on returning to them after some time and distance. I still believe in them, I just have to see them as the entities and creations they are.

In the meantime, I and my creations are both a blank canvas once more, ready to discover new things.

How can someone so young sing words so sad?

So the original idea came to me after reading multiple romcoms in a row: what about an older woman who, after a successful career in the late 80s and early 90s as a young pop singer and an adulthood stuck in terrible relationships and bad business decisions, has a meet-cute with an equally jaded John Cusack type of guy who runs a record store in the small town she escapes to?

I bring this up as I’m feeling incredibly burned out from my work on Theadia and Queen Ophelia, both of which probably need complete rewrites. As I said to a friend this morning, there comes a time when it feels more like I’m shoveling mud than actually making a sculpture, y’know? It’s obvious that my writing sessions for both are becoming infrequent enough and hardly any work is being done (cat-sitting aside) that it’s obvious that I’m not happy with the stories at all. Added to that, I do nightly rereads of passages as part of my revision process, and lately it’s felt like I’d rather be reading something else. I don’t hate these projects, they’re just not where I need them to be right now, and I’m not ready to devote even more time and brainspace for it. I need to take a break.

That said…the possibility of me writing a meet-cute romcom filled with 80s and 90s easter eggs, music references and other goofy things is something I think might work. And here I thought Meet the Lidwells was my nerdiest story idea…

(Image courtesy of K-On!, by the way. I really need to start watching that series.)

In Need of Distance…?

I’m at the point in Theadia where I think I’m hyperfocusing too much. I do this at least once with every project I’ve ever worked on: I’ll eventually arrive at a point where I’m not sure if I’m making it better or making it worse. Sometimes it’s because I’ve been working on the same chapter or scene for far too many days and I need to let it go and move on (and fix it properly at a later time). Sometimes it’s because I’m working on a scene that’s full of tension that I’ve become so familiar with that I don’t feel said tension anymore.

There’s also the fact that I’ve been a bit distracted by Real Life Stuff lately, and I just don’t have the spoons to connect with it on an emotional level at the moment.

Either way, this is where I need to make a decision: power through until the issues go away, or step away and work on something else for a little bit. Powering through essentially means getting rid of those Don’t Wanna/Oh Hey A Distraction urges, which works really well for me. Stepping away works too, but I usually reserve that for when I’m truly frustrated or physically/mentally exhausted and need the break.

So yeah, looks like I’ll have to soldier through!

Meanwhile, back in Spare Oom…

Image courtesy of Makoto Shinkai, of course.

What’s been going on, anyway? I’ve been working on the Theadia rewrite when I’m not at the Day Job, mostly. On days off I’ll catch up with some personal projects, or if they line up with A’s we’ll go out for a walk or burn through our British streaming shows. [For those playing along, we’ve been on a Silent Witness kick and it’s exciting but definitely not for the squeamish.] Other than that…? Not much at all.

I’ve been in kind of a rut in terms of actually producing content to self-publish. I mean, I’ve got Diwa & Kaffi ready to go, but I really need to get off my arse and look into commissioning an artist. I’ve got a few ideas that I want to sketch out first, however. If I’m going to work with an artist, I want to work with an artist, meaning that I’m willing to give them as much prep work and rough sketches as I can so they won’t be going in blind. Besides, I know exactly what I want: a simple yet engaging cover similar to what you see on some manga/light novels. Something like Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku, for example. I like the idea of using blank space on purpose here, to evoke the mood that it’s very much a light novel in some respects, as well as the fact that a lot of that novel is about being up in the air. I have a few artists in mind, I’ll just need to contact them and see if they’re interested or have the time.

Speaking of Theadia, I’ve also been thinking a bit about how this novel is not quite the Epic that the Bridgetown Trilogy was, but nor is it the lighter work I published afterwards. It’s a bit of both, really. The project goal is very much typical of me: writing a space opera without the military drama, writing an epic without turning everything up to eleven, writing a political drama without falling into my own navel. I even have the tagline, which is a line that’s quoted by many in the story: If you could…would you do the right thing? The novel isn’t about being a savior, it really is about doing the right thing when given the choice between taking ownership or saying ‘not my problem’. There are no heroes here, only normal people choosing to do the right thing because no one else is, and having that in itself be heroic.

It’s been a bit of a juggle, because I definitely need to have certain characters with certain levels of intelligence, power and experience, but purposely not having them get all infodumpy or technerdy about it. [I half-joke sometimes that I’m writing an anti-Cory Doctorow novel here, because I’m choosing not to go into graphic detail about the worlds of infotech, the dark web, and living off the grid. I give just enough detail for it to make sense, because that’s all it needs. I definitely owe Becky Chambers for the inspiration for wanting to take that route.] It’s been an enjoyable ride, though, and that’s all I ask.

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So. What’s my update schedule going to be here in the days ahead? Glad you asked! I’m going to try to return to the twice-a-week that I’ve had for the last couple of years, though there may be a gap or a late entry here and there, especially when Day Jobbery takes precedence.

Glad you’re sticking around, though! See you soon!

Putting it all together (in my head)

So the trouble chapter in Theadia has been somewhat successfully rewritten — it could still use a bit of tidying up, but for now it’s a lot closer to what I wanted it to be — so I’m onto the next scene, which takes place maybe a few weeks later. Now that particular scene is okay (again, could be better), but the transition between the two scenes could probably be a little more coherent. The current problem is that I need it to hint at a passage of time without it being a ‘Some Time Later…’ placard.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of moving parts that I need to be aware of and ensure they’re in the correct order and make sense. Like most of my novel projects, this isn’t something I ever have copious notes for…it’s all in my head. Sure, I’ll have some notes, but rarely will I ever have the entire thing mapped out somewhere on paper or online.

With Theadia‘s latest go-round, I find that I’m filling in a lot of the gaps with these sorts of things: fixing the transitional scenes, inserting new passages to strengthen the conflict within the overarching plot line, and of course filling in the ‘Fix This Later’ blanks. All of this in my head…getting to a point in the story where I know I need to insert the action from an antagonist’s POV, or better show a character’s development from passive to active status. Things like that.

It’s certainly making the story a hell of a lot longer, that’s for sure. But I’m fine with overwriting like this, because when it comes time to edit, I’ll have enough laid out that it will be safe to streamline what needs streamlining. [This is what I did with The Balance of Light, where I excised about sixty thousand words or so. That one’s still a long book, but it reads a lot smoother than it had originally.]

I still haven’t actually finished the book yet — I’d say it’s just shy of the final climax of the story right now — but I’m not too worried about that. I’ll get there soon enough. Once everything else is put together.

Almost there…

Image courtesy of Polar Bear Café

It’s been…a long work week. Six straight days of working noonish-to-midevening shifts at the shop, including both weekend days. Today’s the sixth day and hopefully I will not be walking home feeling like a zombie. I have tomorrow off, and I’d really like to use that day to get caught up on things. Thankfully I’m only there until 7:45 this time, so I won’t be too wiped out. It’s not that they’re overly long shifts — they’re roughly all eight hours long — it’s just that they’re during multiple busy times and that is what’s exhausting me.

Anyhoo. I have now worked out how I need to approach this next scene in Theadia. You could see it as the culmination of Act I, in which our heroes have taken stock in what’s going on in their universe and have chosen to take action. The original version reads a lot like a detailed “STUFF GOES HERE” moment and we can’t have that, can we?

Unfortunately these last few days haven’t given me much time or energy to focus too much on it, so hopefully my day off and the following morning shifts (the ones I love that leave my afternoons and evenings wide open) for the rest of the week will give me a lot more ability to catch up.

Here’s to hoping, anyway…!

Making notes

I don’t make longhand notes on my novel projects as much as I used to, but I’ll still rely on it when it’s needed. For example, this current scene in Theadia that I’m revising has a lot of intricate interweaving of story threads that need to go together in just the right way that I’ve broken out the small legal pad at my desk to work through how it needs to go.

I do still have a small pad in my back pocket after all these years, something I’ve done since high school. These days it’s mostly for shopping lists instead of music release dates or story ideas. It was probably the candle warehouse job where my writing notes graduated from that pad to folded-up pieces of printer paper.

Somedays I think about that: why is it that I need certain kinds or sizes of paper to work on certain projects? Maybe it’s that back-pocket-pad paper is small, cramped and easily torn, while printer paper is stronger and provides a larger ‘canvas’ to work on. I have some of it folded up and in my pocket that I bring to the Current Day Job. [Not that I have the best time to work on that sort of thing there what with the constant interruptions, but one can hope.] But there’s also that small legal pad I just mentioned — which I’ve been using a lot while working in Spare Oom for working things out. It’s almost like my penchant for the specific spiral notebooks I used to buy for my longhand writing: always a three-subject wide-ruled notebook. Because a five-subject notebook is too big and college-ruled gives the appearance that I’ve hardly written a thing. I know, it’s kind of silly, but so it goes.

Anyway — all this is to remind myself that it’s okay not to get any new words or revised words finished, especially when that time is instead spent figuring things out longhand on paper first.

Revising, rewriting, reworking…

Some days it seems I’m never going to finish Theadia. I still think it could be better, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Mind you, I know well enough never to fall prey to overworking it; I’ve always kept a keen eye on when my projects are veering towards that edge and knowing when to reel it back. It’s better than it previously was…but it’s still not at the level I’d like it to be at.

Part of it is that I know there are segments that are still missing. Situations and subplots that need to be beefed up so that our protagonists’ actions make more sense. Small patches of vague world building that need to be clarified to make the story more real. Things that could be improved upon. This is the level I’m at now…going through what I have so far and filling in all those blanks.

Part of it is also that I need it to have more emotion. I’m trying not to talk myself into thinking that I’m merely comparing it to the Bridgetown Trilogy (which had quite a lot of it), only that I know the story could be livelier. Making the characters more personal. Giving them lives that the reader could empathize with. It doesn’t need to be high drama, it just needs to have more of that active spirit that pulls the reader along.

My writer brain occasionally reminds me of the possible idea of doing a complete rewrite to make it more vibrant creatively and emotionally, just like the Trilogy, and though that is of course tempting, I’m not sure if that’s something this story needs. Then again…my creative instincts tell me that this is precisely what Theadia needs right now, and I’ve since relearned that following my creative instincts have rarely steered me wrong when it comes to projects I believe in. And if I choose to follow through, then I will need to dedicate as much time to it as I possibly can.

[That, of course, brings up my long-standing creative foe, Distraction. If I’m going to do a total rewrite, I’m going to need to manage my time a hell of a lot better than I have. But that’s another post entirely.]

I can see this with the last several projects I’ve been working on: MU4, Diwa & Kaffi, Queen Ophelia and Theadia. They’re all stories that I want to tell, and stories I believe in…but my instincts are telling me they’re not quite told to my satisfaction just yet. I can do better. I can write them better. I can give them more of my spirit to make them work the way they should.

Will this mean several more years of not releasing anything? I don’t think so…I’m hoping I’ll have something out later this year, though I’m not sure which one it will be. Maybe it’ll be something utterly different. Maybe it won’t be any of them. Who knows…?

Still. Whatever I do next, I’m going to need to start working on it, and very soon.

There’s a World Outside

Image courtesy of Your Name

I’ve been spending a lot of time at work noticing there’s a world outside Spare Oom’s one window.

I mean, I know there’s a world out there, and I’m not talking about the unseen lands past the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. I’m talking about people in my neighborhood. The teens attending the nearby schools. The families in the neighboring houses and apartments in the Richmond District. The dog walkers, the late-shifters stopping in the store at 10pm to buy tomorrow’s lunch, the retirees stocking up for the week or buying that one ingredient they’re out of.

I’ve known they’re out there, but I’d kept them at a very long distance over the years. Part of it was the need to figure myself out without all the outside distraction and influence. And with the Former Day Job, my connection with others was mostly Other Businesses where there’s always that bit of enforced professional distance. I got along with my coworkers there but was never a close friend. But somewhere along the line that became the norm: I just didn’t people all that much.

When I started this retail job, I went in thinking one thing: If I’m going to deal with people, I’m not going to think of them as faceless Clients or Customers. That was a Former Day Job thing. I’m going to think of them as my neighbors and people I could get to know. Same with my coworkers; I may be old enough to be some of my coworkers’ parent (and young enough to be a whippersnapper to the older coworkers), but that shouldn’t keep me from getting to know them, learning a bit about who they are.

This, interestingly enough, has made me rethink how I approach creating new characters for my stories. I think that’s partly why I feel like Theadia is a bit more like the Bridgetown Trilogy than the last couple of novels I’ve written, because I’m giving these characters lives that are inspired or influenced by real life people I’m meeting. And in the process, learning a bit more about myself at a deeper level. Catching myself being who I am in a public setting without defaulting to a malleable People Pleaser every time. And it’s not just eye-opening but incredibly freeing.

Maybe the world outside isn’t as frustrating or stressful as I’d remembered it being.

Getting there

The downside to rewriting and revising is that after working easily through multiple passages and making minor corrections and fixes, I’ll hit a scene that’ll take forever to get through. I’m at one of them right now as I work on Theadia.

The scene is an important point in Act I where several of the main characters finally meet in the same room and choices are made that send the main plot off in its intended direction. This is a scene that I’d purposely skipped because the scenes leading up to it were driving me crazy and I really wanted to move on. [At first I felt the buildup was taking too long, but upon rereading it, it was totally fine and I was just being impatient. So it goes.]

There’s a lot of interweaving of characters-and-plot-so-far going on here, and in trying to do it right without causing more problems, I’m taking my own time with it. I’ve been working on it for at least a week now (and of course I’m getting impatient again), but I know I’m getting close to finishing it. I just need to keep it up.

The good thing is that once this particular trial is done, then I can get back to working on a few more light-and-easy passages again!