Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Up To…

excuse me pardon me comin’ through

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing a lot of juggling of personal events and situations as of late. I still can’t go into too much detail, but right now I’m hoping that I’m coming close to the end of it all. And with that, I’m hoping I’ll be able to get back into my writing and blogging!

One major change – one that wasn’t my own decision and I’ll be honest, one that I’m not entirely happy with – is that as of yesterday, I am no longer working from home for the time being. After… (does math in head) … five or six years?… of full-time remote work, the Day Job has decided to end that particular setup and starting Monday my commute will go from one room to another to thirty-three miles across the Bay. That’s an hour in a car both ways. I’ll just say I’ve made my peace with it for now.

What will this mean for my writing? Good question indeed. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately…certainly I won’t be doing any writing during slow times or during breaks, and I may not even be able to do it every single night once I get home. I’ve thought about going back to longhand, but I’m not about to start that just yet. Too many things are still up in the air. I’ll just say I’ve made my peace with that as well for now.

As for Diwa & Kaffi…? That has been going well, actually! I’m about to start working with a reader to help me nail down a few specific points that need nailing down, and once that’s done, I’ll start shopping it around. I’m doing this at my own speed because I want to do this right. Sorry it’s taking so long, but I promise I’ll get it out there one way or another!

I’m not entirely sure when I’ll be posting next, but I’ll do my best. Thanks for waiting!

Diwa & Kaffi Sketches II

More character sketches for you to enjoy! Here are a few more major characters from the story that are part of Diwa and Kaffi’s life.

Graymar is Kaffi’s paddir (father, in the tintrite language) and the co-landlord of their estate with Diwa’s dad. Everything about him is BIG…he’s enormous, loud, strong and has one hell of an impressive wingspan, making him one of the best fliers in the neighborhood. He often comes across as grouchy, but he’s never shown outright anger or hate towards anyone. He takes his job — and his bond with Samuel — extremely seriously. He doesn’t have a direct Ghibli analogue, though he does have the crankiness of Yubaba from Spirited Away.

Samuel Parkes is Diwa’s dad and the co-landlord of the estate alongside Graymar. He and Gray were childhood friends, just like Diwa and Kaffi, and bonded early on in their lives. Samuel is haunted by his past and has to learn how to overcome his fears. He loves his family very much and does what he can for them, often putting them (and Gray) over his own happiness. He does all he can to ensure Diwa achieves his dreams. He’s your classic Dad character in many Ghibli films (I’m thinking of Koichi from Ponyo); kind-hearted, caring, and dutiful.

Tassh is an aanoupii (a minotaur-like being) who’s soft-spoken and often shy, but is also quite friendly and chatty once he gets to know you. He and his family work in construction, but his real love is horticulture. With Diwa’s help, he acquires a patch of garden on the estate, but soon becomes the estate’s lead gardener, leading to a major job change for him. I’d say he’s got a bit of Totoro in him, to be honest!

Iliah is Kaffi’s older ahmané (sister) and a budding culinary artist. She taught Kaffi many flying styles over the years, and made sure he never forgot his dreams and goals. She’s also good friends with Diwa’s older brother Aldrine and used to hang out with him when she was going to university. She’s very much based on Ursula from Kiki’s Delivery Service.

More to come soon!

Diwa & Kaffi Sketches I

I’ve been having a bit of fun for Inktober this year by drawing sketches of the characters that make up Diwa & Kaffi. I totally admit I’m going against the rules from the start by drawing in pencil and posting them as is (I plan on inking them at some future point), but I really like how they’re coming out! Hope you enjoy them!

First up is Diwa. His background is interesting in that I wanted him to be just a nice kid with an honest goal of taking over his dad’s position as co-landlord at their estate. He’s not looking for fame or glory…he just wants to give back to the community. My way of having him stand out is that he often seems like he’s too good to be true, so his personal moments are always about inner turmoil. I’d say his Ghibli analogue would most likely be Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Next is Kaffi, a tintrite (a dragon-like character) and Diwa’s best friend since childhood. He’s very much someone who doesn’t try to make waves all that much, but once he’s up in the sky he becomes an amazing and breathtaking flier. And he LOVES to fly. He’s always honest with his emotions, sometimes to his own detriment, but he rarely lets anything get the best of him. He’s extremely loyal to Diwa and the first to realize just how deep their connection goes. His Ghibli analogue would be Jiro from The Wind Rises, in that he’s quiet but always driven to achieve his goals.

Anna-Nassi is one of my all-time favorite characters I’ve ever written. She’s so full of life and emotion that it’s hard not to be pulled in by it all! She’s a mandossi (a semi-avian, semi-dragon-like being with clairsentient abilities) and a very loud and extroverted one at that. She’s a big goofball and always ready to give anyone a big bone-crunching hug. She cheers Diwa and Kaffi on all the time. She’s also a sucker for anything cute and kawaii. She’s a mix of several Ghibli characters, from Ponyo to Chihiro (Spirited Away), with maybe even a bit of Porco Rosso in there as well.

Also, I just can’t get over how ridiculously awesome her sketch came out!

And last but not least, we have Cole, a hedraac (a humanoid vampire with clairsentient abilities). He’s often the Straight Man character to Anna-Nassi’s silliness, but he’ll also sneak out a devastating zinger when you least expect it. He can be quiet and nervous, partly due to his disability, but he’s exceptionally smart and is usually the first one in the room to understand the situation. He kind of reminds me of Howl (Howl’s Moving Castle) in that he seems a bit out of joint from everyone else and yet is a vital and integral part of the whole story.

I hope to have more done up soon, so stay tuned!

End of World Party

Just like anyone else here, I too read what’s going on in the world lately. I get frustrated. I get angry. I get riled up. I want to go on a long-winded Twitter rant. I want to start yelling and someone, anyone, about why the world sucks.

And then I step back and exhale. I delete the rant and close the app. I reconnect with what’s going on in front of me; the job search, my health, our upcoming trip to the UK, my pre-submission work for Diwa & Kaffi. I wind myself back down to a calm level and move forward again. I don’t ignore what’s out there; I just do what I can to keep it from consuming me.

I wrote Diwa & Kaffi in part because I wanted to write a story that was positive. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is happy and cheerful and nothing bad happens and everyone’s okay in the end. In fact, the exact opposite of that happens. It’s just that this story could not be told in a dystopian way. This is about characters trying their best to be good people, and all the ups and downs that entails.

I used to read all kinds of dystopian novels, but now they exhaust me. Sure, I might return to them eventually, but right now it’s not the kind of book I want to read or write. I’ve got enough bringing me down; I need something that lifts me up and inspires me instead. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that I’m much more productive, both creatively and in real life, if I use the positive as a goal rather than focusing on all the negatives I have to wade through.

It’s about going into battle knowing that I’ll win in the end.

On Evolution of Influences

Hey, Trashcan, where you goin’, boy?

As I’d mentioned earlier, I’d done a recent reread of the Bridgetown Trilogy for possible future Book 4 ideas. One of the unexpected things I’d noticed was a distinct difference in influences. These three books are definitely different from Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World, and not just in mood and length. I knew that going in of course, given its long and rambling history.

One of its early influences was of course Stephen King. This was my ex’s doing, having suggested I read him to understand how to write a large ensemble piece. I read The Stand (the unedited version, which I actually find more enjoyable than the shorter original release) right about the same time the 1994 tv miniseries had been released. It made sense to read this particular story and study it a bit, because I already knew that my idea was going to be about an event that affects scores of people and not just the main characters. [I was big on the Big Idea plot at the time.]

While the trilogy changed and evolved in numerous ways over the two decades I worked on it, so did the influences. I’d started reading more fantasy and science fiction, starting with Holly Lisle and CJ Cherryh and moving then to Kate Elliott. [This was about the time I’d started making my frequent road trips to Toadstool Bookshop in Keene and Barnes & Noble in Leominster, with my book buying habits growing exponentially.] The rewrites in turn became less action-oriented and more character driven. The end result, so many years later, is a mishmash of all those years of influences.

Reading Meet the Lidwells so soon after, on the other hand, was quite the whiplash. That particular novel has one influence only: rock history books, many of which I’d been reading either for pleasure or for Walk in Silence reference and research. I’d also written it to prove to myself that I could write a book less than 100k words! I haven’t reread In My Blue World yet, but I already know that novel’s influences was the YA fantasy I’d been reading. And as I’ve mentioned many times before, Diwa & Kaffi‘s influence is Studio Ghibli. I knew I’d had to severely change my thought processes once I finished the Bridgetown Trilogy project…but seeing the change now, a few years later, it surprised me at how much it had changed.

I suppose in a way this is why I’ve left future possible projects up in the air this year…I’ve caught up with all the ideas I’d been wanting to work on, so once D&K is out and away, it will truly be a clean slate. Which means one thing:

What will influence me next?

One more time for luck

Hopefully this go-round will not be as stressful…

SO! The other night I finally finished the latest revision go-round for Diwa & Kaffi and I think I did a pretty good job. So now what?

Now I read it again.

Yeah, writing a novel and prepping it for submission or publication (self or otherwise) does in fact include multiple rereads of the same damn words you’ve been reading over the last few months. It’s no wonder some of us start questioning if our work is worth anything or just a pile of crap.

The last round was to fix some major prose issues I’d had (and to write that ‘scene goes here’ scene, natch) and anything that stood out that needed work. This current round is going to be the Nitpicky Grammar and Word Choice Round, and I’m hoping it’ll be much smoother and quicker. Things like verb tenses, pronouns, repetitions, and so on. Spot-fixes.

Oh — and I need to see if I can find someone to check my Tagalog. I use it sparingly and there’s about 25 or so phrases or sentences out of two hundred some-odd pages, so it’s more about just making sure I used the best word choice and didn’t just hazard a guess by using Google Translate. [Which, y’know, I actually did as a placeholder until I get someone to help.]

Then I can finally submit it!

Meanwhile…

I have about five more chapters’ worth of revision to go before I can call this second go-round of Diwa & Kaffi done. I’m still on schedule, hitting about one chapter per evening while we watch British gardening shows. [They’re quite soothing after a long day at work, and perfect background noise for my writing sessions…although I do get occasionally distracted!]

I know I’ve talked about what The Next Project will be, but right now I’m not thinking too much about it. All my focus has been on revision, and the next step will be submission research. Right now if feels right for me to dedicated as much time and attention on this project.

In the past this would have bothered me…the fears of running out of ideas and falling out of practice, mainly. Over the years, though, I’ve realized that these fears will only manifest if I let them. I’ve cleared the table of nearly every story I’d put in backburner status, holding onto maybe two or three. They’ll be there when I come back to them. And if they no longer hold my interest, well…I’ll come up with something else eventually. I’m not worried.

Part of this comes with having done a reread of My Work to Date. I’ve reread all three books in the Bridgetown Trilogy as well as Meet the Lidwells over the last few months. It does kind of blow my mind that I’ve already self-published five books and I’m about to submit my sixth to a publisher, all within the space of four years. That’s a hell of a lot more productivity than I ever thought I’d have, to be honest.

So if I have a bit of a dry spell after D&K is out and away, I’m not going to worry too much. As long as I practice.

On Submitting Instead of Self-Publishing

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been contemplating submitting Diwa and Kaffi to agents and/or publishers. I haven’t taken this route since probably 2013, when I submitted A Division of Souls out to a few publishers. I’ve self-published everything since then.

So why go the submission route this time out? Well, my first and most important reason is that I have high expectations for this particular novel. I’m quite proud of how it’s come out; it’s quite possibly my best work since I started self-releasing my work. And to be honest, I really don’t want this one to fall into a void like my other books have tended to do. [That’s partially my own fault, but that’s for another post.] I want Diwa and Kaffi to get the best cover, the best production, the best editing, the best everything. While I could find an artist to commission for a great cover, and while I could do my damnedest to get this book into the hands of as many people as possible, I also know that going the ‘pro’ route would provide me with better chances than I could ever give myself.

Which means I need to start researching for agents and publishers for the first time in ages. I’m aware that the process and the field has changed considerably over the last ten or so years since I last researched it, so I’m going in knowing full well that I may need to relearn it all. I’m totally down with that, considering I’ve been in this writing gig for pretty much my entire life. I’ve read all the Writer’s Digest articles. I’ve read the how-to books. I’ve talked to the panelists at conventions. I know where to look and who to ask.

So what’s different for me this time out? On a personal level, I’m going into the submission process with a bit of context and experience. I’m not mailing these printouts passively into the wind and hoping they graduate past the slush pile. I’m not looking at the process with rose-tinted glasses and getting my feelings hurt when I get rejection letters back. And most importantly: I understand why those past submissions failed as they did. I learned how to read my own work clinically so I could see why they were rejected. I was able to understand that changing my style or my process or whatever had no bearing on me personally; there’s going against the grain and then there’s just using that as an excuse for sloppy work.

Do I know who I want to submit to? I have a few ideas. I look at who’s published my favorite books in the last decade, who the editors were, who their agents are. I’ve met a few of them at cons, or know of them through some of my other writer friends (this is one of the reasons I do enjoy social media).

I know it’ll still be high-stakes. I know the turnaround will be significantly longer. I know it might still get published but not get any promotion whatsoever. I know it might still get rejected. I know it still depends on timing and luck. But I’m willing to try it anyway.

And if all else fails, I can still self-publish it.

More on going through old writings

I’m still going through a lot of my old writings here in Spare Oom when I can carve out an hour or so here and there. It’s much easier for me to go through a small collection of folders than it is to attempt sorting the entire thing; less of a chance for me to feel overwhelmed, and definitely less clutter.

My trick this time out is that I’ve put each project or creation in its own plastic sheet protector, and labeling them with Post-Its noting the assumed dates. That way if I find the occasional misfiled item, I can pull out that plastic and put them in their proper place. Many of these will eventually be bound into report binders once I’m done.

I’m also doing a lot of shredding. Why save school notes from 1991 when all I really want to save is the original artwork or poem I’d written in the margin? Why save printouts of documents I know I still have in .doc files? Why save rejection letters from 1998? I have absolutely no use for any of it, and looking at them only elicits the reaction ‘why do I still have this…?’ so out they go!

And all those spiral notebooks with seven or eight pages (or surprisingly, sixty or seventy) that I haven’t touched in years? Time to tear those pages out, bind them in the plastic folders, and find a new use for the notebooks — or alternately, throw them in recycling. I think I’ve finally shaken off that habit of buying them and rarely using them, thankfully!

Most of my writing has already been sorted sometime back, but there are folders of randomness, most likely created under the guise of ‘I’ll sort it later’ or ‘etc’. Which of course means I’d never remember where it was. This time out, I’m sorting at the micro level. A map that’s actually part of my Murph Universe or the Mendaihu Universe or whatever writing/artwork project will of course go into those writing project binders.

I already know this is going to take a long time, quite possibly a few more months. I’m not rushing it. Keeping each sorting session – and cleaning up after each one – makes it a lot easier to handle. One section, one pile at a time, that’s all I need to do.

All this while working on the revision of Diwa and Kaffi, you ask? Yes! I can still find a few minutes here and there to sort through things. After I log off for the day but before I head out to meet A at the gym. My afternoon break. Slow Sunday afternoons when all my other errands are done. And I’m not doing this out of a sense of wanting to relive the past, or even because I might be looking for old notes and outtakes for a revived project. This is just part of my Tidying Up project.

That said, if I do happen to find some old and useful notes, I’m not going to complain. Something new might come out of it!

Yet More On Editing and Revision

On average, I say I go through about three to five versions of each novel I write before I call it done or ready for submission. I always write chronologically from start to finish, and only rarely do I write a scene ahead of time. I’ll take each completed version and revise the same way. The only difference here is that I’ll also read the entire thing on my e-reader at night, multiple times, during the revision process. I started doing this with my trilogy for a few reasons: one, to connect with the novel as closely as I can, and to become aware of what works, what doesn’t, what’s fine, and what needs adjustment.

However, one of the more interesting things I’ve noticed while editing and revising Diwa and Kaffi is how often I’ve been shifting scenes. It’s rare for me to take a scene from, say, Chapter Twenty-Two and move it back a month earlier in the story chronology to Chapter Seventeen. And I’ve done this at least three times already this time out! This did not happen with Meet the Lidwells and maybe only once with In My Blue World.

This is the magic of editing, same as with filmmaking; a strong scene that’s out of place in one part of the timeline might fit perfectly (with a few minor changes) somewhere else within the story. It’s the part of storytelling where the writer becomes aware of not just the plot but the pace and the flow. Sometimes it’s better to state my point once, strongly, rather than vaguely and repeatedly. I found these misplaced scenes work better as previous scene extensions, primarily because it makes that previous scene stronger and thus more memorable.

And in turn, this gives me the purpose to reread the whole thing again, once the scenes are in their new places. That particular go-round will not just look for any additional issues I may need to fix, but to make sure the flow and the mood are to my liking.

I suppose this could pull me into a never ending cycle of edit-revise-read-etc., but I think I’ve done this long enough to know when it feels finished to me. When it feels less like a project and more like a book I’m enjoying reading, then I’ve done my job correctly.