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!

Filling in the gaps

The rewrite/revision on Theadia continues apace, sometimes quickly and sometimes at a snail’s pace. It really depends on what I left out in the first draft.

Theadia is definitely the first novel project where I actively chose to let myself use “I’ll write that bit later” more than just once. In pretty much every other novel I’ve written, I’d tried not to skip scenes and always wrote in order. I did this because I’m conscious of the multiple moving parts of a novel and didn’t want to make any horrific continuity errors. I’d done it once or twice in recent novels: one point in Diwa & Kaffi where I knew I had to expand on one thing but I also knew its importance was only to that specific moment in the story and not anything later on. And in In My Blue World I’d had to rewrite a scene due to a major edit that took out an extraneous character I no longer needed. Other than that, I wrote continually from start to finish.

With Theadia, I knew I’d have to give extra focus on one side of the story being told because it was kind of a new area of expertise (I use that term loosely, heh) for me; I knew what I wanted, and I knew that its scenes would complement whatever the main characters were doing. So instead of spending all that extra time trying to get it right the first time, I made a few vague references of what was happening, as well as a few notes at the start of certain chapters explaining what was going on. I did a bit of research in the background while I wrote the scenes I knew I could write easily.

So right now what I’m doing for this project is filling in those gaps. This is working out well for the most part, as I’m doing two things in tandem here: I’m writing those important scenes, but I’m also thinking of how they’ll affect the ones I’ve already written. It’s taking the same amount of time I’d have taken if I’d written it from start to finish, but without the frustrating gaps of nonwriting that I’d have spent focusing on learning more about that new area of expertise.

I still have a long way to go of course, but I’m further along and that makes me happy enough.

Fly-By: Busy, Distracted and Distressed

As you might have no doubt guessed, I’m a bit distressed by the multiple punches of recent news both national and international. I’m busy writing a new insert chapter for Theadia. I’m also a bit distracted as I have a new part-time Day Job lined up and I’m having one of those waves of overthinking worry because they haven’t yet given me a solid start date and schedule and my brain is telling me they did and I just misunderstood or I never received it. So yeah, I don’t have anything planned here today.

On a lighter note, here’s a picture of some recent daffodils we picked up at the grocery store. The light is natural (kitchen window yesterday afternoon) and I’m using a fun and super cheap macro lens that I can clip onto my phone. [You can find it on Amazon here. Thanks to BBC’s Winterwatch for bringing it to my attention!]

Here’s to hoping my brain is on a bit tighter next week.

It’s Revision Time

Image courtesy of The Garden of Words

So for the most part, Queen Ophelia is done — in fact, I’d called it when I realized I’d been overwriting past the actual end for the last week or so — and I’m putting that one aside to simmer for a few weeks while I shift all my focus towards revising Theadia. That’s coming along quite nicely, by the way, as I’ve just started working on Chapter 13, in which our intrepid titular duo are about to embark on a flight from hell. (You know the kind: the delays, the lack of open gates, and the purgatory of waiting for your stuff at baggage claim. Some things never change.)

While I do love revising my work, especially when I’m working on something that excites me, the one side effect is the lack of new words. Right now I’m not worried because I’m actually inserting new scenes and things into the revision, but further down the line, I’m sure I’ll be itching to write something new. What that’ll be I’m not sure, but I’ll focus on that when its time comes.

Revision, at least for me, is kind of like putting the spackle on the nail holes and the grout between the tiles. I write complete rough first drafts to begin with, or as complete as I can get them at any rate. I’ll do most of the hard cleanup on the first couple of chapters — deleting the broken bits and inserting the information that will tie in with later scenes — but for most of the rest of the novel, I’ll be focusing more on spot-cleaning. That’s where I’ll fix wonky grammar, find/replace any changed names, give a bit more detail, and create smoother links between scenes. As I’d mentioned last month, I’m Filling In the Blanks.

Interestingly enough, it’s not until revision time where I finally question what the real theme of the book is. I mean, I kind of have a general idea while I’m writing it for the first time, but this is when I decide what its focus truly is. In Theadia, for instance, I knew the theme in vaguest terms was about personal and societal responsibility. But the real theme expands on that: it becomes a story about questioning who has this responsibility, and finding the strength and initiative to take it on yourself when it’s failing at every other level. I could go into even more detail here, but I think you get the point.

I do love revising, actually. The toughest part — the initial invention and telling of the story — is already over. It’s already a complete entity. I love revision because I’m familiar with the story now, and that gives me the ability to figure out how to make it even better. That’s where I start painting the walls pretty colors and hanging the artwork!

Making It Work

Image courtesey of Digimon

Okay, I’ll be honest — I’m at a crossroads. Over the last few weeks I’d been contemplating whether or not I should let one or both of the blogs go on an indefinite hiatus, or to go in the opposite direction: to Make It Work. And right now I’m leaning towards the latter, because writing has been a lifelong endeavor. I mean, the last time I went on blogging hiatus was because I needed the mental and emotional vacation, especially after I’d left the Former Day Job. Now? Now it just feels like I’m just avoiding it for no reason.

One of the reasons this came to mind is because of my recent revision/rewrite work on Theadia, and the fact that working on it has felt so similar to working on the Bridgetown Trilogy back in my Belfry days. When the resonance to a project is this strong, I’m not going to dismiss it. Every day I look forward to working on it for a few hours! And I don’t think I’ve felt that in quite some time, probably not since those days, when I would come home from the Day Job and head downstairs every evening, eager to get writing.

It didn’t occur to me how much I’d missed that. That drive and excitement. Don’t get me wrong, I loved writing my last few novels both released and unreleased. But in hindsight I think some of those might have been written more out of necessity than enjoyment. I loved writing them and I’m proud of them, but they didn’t excite me quite like working on the trilogy did. Mind you, I forced myself not to think of it that way at the time because I knew that they were different projects. Theadia feels different. It could be that it’s a much larger epic-sized project (like the trilogy) and those are the ones I love writing the most. It could also just simply be about it being the right time for it. I’m not going to question it, though. I’m just going to enjoy it.

Back to blogging: what I believe I’ve been missing is that same drive. I enjoy posting, and god knows I can talk your ears off about music and writing when given the chance. So why have I been avoiding it off and on over the last couple of years? I’m pretty sure it’s the same as above: I’ve been writing about things I’m not as enthused about as I used to be. [Or alternately, that I’ve talked about things I do obsess over for so long that I’ve been repeating myself and getting frustrated by that. There is a very strong chance that could be the other culprit.]

So how make my blogging work for me again? Well, one of the obvious things is to post about new subjects that I’ve avoided in the past, either for personal reasons or because I’d been too distracted by other subjects. Let’s do an ongoing theme about my obsession with music in the 90s. Let’s post some microfiction I’ve piled up over the years. It’s about that resonance with the subject I want to talk about and share. And it’s also about being fine with writing things that aren’t always of high importance. Have fun with it. Enjoy it. Look forward to writing it, especially when it’s about things that resonate with me.

Sometimes it’s like being the conductor

Image courtesy of Sound! Euphonium

Sometimes when I’m writing a novel, especially when it’s a larger one like Theadia where there’s a lot going on and the cast is extensive, it feels like I’m keeping my eye on several different things at once, and it’s up to me to make sure it sounds like a Tchaikovsky symphony rather than a discordant mess.

For instance, right now I’m writing a brand new chapter that I’m inserting near the beginning that introduces not just a main character (from her own POV) but her own subplot that helps underscore one of the major themes. And to choose where to insert it, I focused on how it would fit musically.

Musically? Well, here’s the thing: I see the writing of my novels like I’m writing a symphony. I’ve got all these themes and motifs and melody repetitions (and even the occasional variation on the theme) that I have to put in a specific order that not only makes sense, but is also brings pleasure in its execution. Which means my brain isn’t just thinking about how this current scene I’m writing will play out…I’m also thinking about how it will affect other scenes further along, how I can use the motif (and the melody, and even the pace) further along in the story as a nod to its original appearance.

So in this new chapter, I couldn’t just insert it at the end of a plot arc, I had to find the best spot for it. In this case, a point where all the main characters I’ve introduced so far have had their initial introduction on the stage and established what their initial roles are going to be. The smaller rise-and-fall arcs of the plot so far have all temporarily settled. This gives the reader a moment to breathe, and a moment for me to bring in some new information that isn’t exactly part of the main plot arc — yet.

All this focus on the right pacing and flow are what makes my stories the way they are. I’ve always said that music is deeply influential in my creativity — there’s a reason I always have some playing when I write — and over the years I’ve learned that writing and music have quite a few similarities in how they come together to form a larger cohesive piece of work.

Filling in the blanks

Kaede Azusagawa from Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

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!

Theadia: Two Years On

Azusa and Naho from Orange

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!

On Expansion

Image courtesy of K-On!

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.

(Image courtesy of Gall Force 2: Destruction)