Extra: All in one place (sort of)

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Sorry it’s a little out of focus, but there you go:  twenty-plus years’ worth of work, all in one place.  Pretty sure I’m missing a few things here and there due to misfiling, but what you see there is the beginning and the end — and the future — of the Mendaihu Universe.

Of note:

–That pile of folders in the top left corner is all pre-TPE work, including a print out of True Faith and all its notes, character notes, and so on.
–That tattered green notebook is the one I used for writing The Phoenix Effect.  The second notebook with the latter half is underneath it, as well as outtakes, notes, and other things.
–Top row, third over, under the ‘more outtakes’ folders:  the three binders holding the print-out of the trilogy, circa 2005.
–Top row, far right: the sketch book that contains my map of Bridgetown.  Underneath it is a very large binder carrying all the work from the Infamous War Novel (whose only relation to all of this is that I’d originally written Vigil as a sci-fi IWN rewrite).
–Bottom row, far left: extraneous notes from the Belfry years, as well as various pocket calendars marking my daily word counts.
–Next to it, the 3″ disks where I backed up my work during the Belfry years, including outtakes, notes, outlines, and other related things.
–Bottom row, middle: two attempts at sequels to The Phoenix Effect, circa 1999-2000, before I decided to start over with A Division of Souls
Bottom row, yellow notebook:  A VERY rough draft of the possible next story in the Mendaihu Universe, set once more in Bridgetown, but 70 years later.
–And finally, the end result:  galley copies of Books 1 and 2!

In comparison, I’d show you the stuff I have for Meet the Lidwells!, but it would be a picture consisting of a printout of the original rough draft and a pile of index cards. 😉

March 2017: a platinum celebration

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Hi all!  It’s March 2017 and it’s a platinum anniversary.  Of what, you ask?  Well, it’s been twenty years since I started writing The Phoenix Effect out in the food court at Solomon Pond Mall before my day’s shift at the record store. It’s the anniversary of the Bridgetown Trilogy, after so many failed starts and misguided attempts to a solid story that evolved through multiple revisions and rewriting into the self-published e-books that are now available to the world.

It’s been twenty years since I went from okay, I’ll write something when I have the time or I’m in the mood to a much more productive outlook of I’m gonna write something every damn day even if it kills me, and made the decision to become a serious professional writer.

So!  What do I have planned for this auspicious occasion?  Well!  Glad you asked!  I’m going to have a bit of fun this month and provide you with fun behind-the-scenes stuff related to the Mendaihu Universe that I’ve accumulated over the years — outtakes, trivia, origin stories, pictures, music, drawings, and more.  I may even write and post the ‘director’s cut’ ending of A Division of Souls, which has existed only in my head for at least three years!

And to top it off, I’ll also be releasing the trade paperback of Book 3, The Balance of Light!  W00T!

Hope you enjoy the festivities!

 

 

 

HMV:When I Became a Serious Writer

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Not the one I worked at, but very similar in size and shape.

It occurred to me that twenty years ago as of the 23rd of September, it’s been twenty years since I’d started what would be one of my favorite jobs ever.  Never mind that it was a fifty-mile, hour-long commute one way.  Never mind that it didn’t pay enough for me to quickly get caught up on all my bills.

Dude: I was working in a record store.  That’s all that mattered.

But I’m not going to go into detail about the store too much here; I’ll be doing that over at Walk in Silence tomorrow.

No, instead, I’ll talk a little about the food court, which was across the way from my store.

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Solomon Pond Mall food court: where I had my initial interview, where I ate far too much fast food, and where I wrote a novel.

The mall was built around 1995 into 1996, so it was still shiny and new when I started working there. HMV was the first and only music store there at the time –not to mention this was before the file-sharing boom — so in those few years I worked there, we did pretty good business.  We were in a good spot as well, so kids were always stopping in on their way to meet their friends elsewhere.

The last time I was at that mall was ten years ago, when we went to visit a few people in the area and had some time to kill.  It hadn’t changed in the six years since I’d left the job, other than that the store closed up in 2001 and a Hollister was put in its place.  A brief visit to the mall’s website shows that a lot of the original stores are still there.

HMV was the first long-term job I started after I moved back from my ill-fated stay in Boston a year before.  After the short-term stay at the Leominster Sony theater, a six-month stay at WCAT, and a temp job at my mother’s bank downtown, I had to get hired somewhere, most likely out of town.  I loved my hometown, but I’d long grown out of it.  I needed to figure out a way to live in the larger world.

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The western wing of the mall, looking east. There was a Waldenbooks just out of shot to the right.  My store was to the left of that ‘Food Court’ sign in the distance.

Writingwise, I’d kind of dried up a bit.  The process of writing True Faith had stuttered to a halt for personal reasons.  I’d given up trying to rewrite the Infamous War Novel by this point, having finally trunked it.  The songwriting and the poetry were drying up as well.  It definitely wasn’t that I’d given up…it was that I had nothing to write about.

When I started the job at HMV, I wasn’t exactly sure how long it would take me to get there and back (even though I’d timed it during my initial interview in mid-August), so I would make it a point to get there with time to spare.  My hours were from opening to late afternoon: somewhere around 9 to 5.  Eventually I timed it so I’d get there about an hour to a half-hour early.  I’d sit out in the food court with another coffee and relax.  No stress when I started the job proper, then.

It didn’t take long for me to realize this was a perfect time to do some writing.

By late 1996-early 1997 I was out there every morning, working on something.  My usual spot was the table closest to the store.  [In the food court picture above, it would be right in front of that Dunkies at the far right.  I chose that one deliberately so I would see the store’s lights go on when whoever opened got there before me, signalling it was time for me to clock in.]

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Similar tables and chairs to the ones I used to sit at.  I remember that wave pattern well.  The zipper of my jacket would always get caught in those damn chair backs somehow.

I started The Phoenix Effect on 9 March 1997 at that table.  A number of personal and creative events had taken place between the start of my job and that date, and that morning I chose to start a completely new story.  I had no idea where I was going with it at first, other than the fact that it picked up where I’d left off with the spiritual/new age story ideas of True Faith and expanded on them significantly.  It would be less dystopian, that was for sure.

Soon I was writing three to five handwritten pages a day before I started the job.  I timed it so I’d get those words done, skip out for a quick smoke (a bad habit I’d picked up in college a few years previous), and then head off to my job.

After about a month of that, I realized it would probably be for the best that I start transcribing all this new work so I could start editing and revising it.  I’d already moved my computer downstairs to the basement of my parents’ house and was already working on other transcription projects and whatnot.  It seemed like the right thing to do.

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The Belfry, circa 1998, with the hand-me-down Windows 95 computer (my second one).  The writing nook was named so because of a bat problem one evening.  Note the various snacks, notebooks, music, and other distractions nearby.  Not shown: my addiction to playing FreeCell before I started a writing session.

By late 1997 and into early 1998, I was finishing up the handwritten version of The Phoenix Effect and working on a good solid revision, and by the end of that year I was ready to try my hand at submitting it to agents and publishers.  I was also working on a sequel during my morning mall sessions.  And I’d kept up with the publishing field as I went along.  I knew what I was doing, and what I wanted to do.

This was the first novel since the IWN that I’d completed and submitted back in 1987, so I considered all this a pretty damn good milestone.  Even as TPE was rejected left and right (and for good reason), I knew then I had a chance of making this a lifelong career.

I knew I was a writer at that point.

Alas, by early 2000 the job had become unbearable due to the change in management, hierarchy and schedule.  I still made it a point to work on my writing on a daily basis, but it had become close to impossible to keep the same writing habits I’d had just a few years earlier.  The most I could do is head down to the Belfry every night and work on revisions.  I became stubborn about it.  I would not give this up.

By autumn 2000, I’d quit that job and started a new one on the other side of the state.  It was a shorter commute (thirty miles instead of fifty), the pay was better, and the schedule was a hell of a lot more stable.  By early 2001 I’d switched to first shift, which let me out at 2pm.  I had the entire afternoon and evening to write.

And write I did.  And I’ve never stopped since.

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Spare Oom, 25 September 2016 — still writing, still listening to tunage, still snacking, still distracted.

Twenty years later and that novel went through numerous revisions and morphed into a trilogy and an expanded universe.  My music now comes to me from streaming radio stations, ripped cds and downloaded mp3s, and is all stored on two tiny external hard drives each about the size of an index card.  I work from home and my commute is one room over.  I’ve self-published two books of the trilogy, with the third on the way.

I still think about that store from time to time.  I still consider it one of my favorite jobs ever, even if it was retail.  Even near the end, when my manager and I weren’t getting along.  Being surrounded by music all day kept me happy and entertained.

And most importantly, the job helped me create a solid and dependable writing schedule, and it helped me prove to myself that I could balance a Day Job and the Writing Career at the same time with minimal issue.

Without that, I’m not entirely sure where I’d be in my writing career today.

#atozchallenge: W is for Wilderlands

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Gatlinburg, TN – pic courtesy Business Insider

There’s a few passing references to the Wilderlands in the trilogy, though I don’t go into too much detail.  Sometimes Sheila will call Nick a Wilderlander…in other words, calling him a hick.  Other times someone will mention that their family used to go on vacations out that way.  But what is the Wilderlands?

When I was writing True Faith, I knew that this story would take place in a big sprawling city.  I briefly expanded on that in the worldbuilding phase, thinking of how the east coast of North America would have evolved over a good five or six hundred years.  In my world, many of the cities expanded, encompassing nearby communities or creating new ones to become megacity sprawls.  Sort of like Los Angeles or New York City and their surrounding boroughs.  This happens with smaller cities as well, including Boston, Phoenix, San Francisco, and so on; their surrounding cities and towns just became part of the bigger province.

Which left all the small towns in between.  I called these “outpost” towns, basically stopovers between the larger provinces.  Rural living never went away, it just became a little more compact.  Many of the supertiny villages are still out there, of course…they’re just part of the nearby outpost towns now.  In essence, not much has changed too much in terms of livability.  Some choose to live in the outpost towns, such as those doing agricultural work, or have specialized jobs that require a bit of distance from civilization for safety’s sake.  And as mentioned above, most of these towns have a brisk tourism business as well.

Originally in TF, the Wilderlands were thought of as the back of the beyond that no one ever traveled to if they could help it; it was pretty much considered where the outcasts and the criminals hid out.  This changed during TPE, having decided to show it as Earth’s homage of sorts to the wilderness of Trisanda instead.  It’s been that way ever since.

There is of course a bit of New England tied to the idea as well.  Having lived in a small town in central Massachusetts for most of my life, I wanted to include a rural setting in this universe that honestly portrayed what small town life looked like.  It doesn’t show up in the Bridgetown Trilogy, but it will show up in future stories, including the new one I’m working on.

#atozchallenge: V is for Versions

You’ve heard me go on about the various versions of the Mendaihu Universe stories, and how long it’s been since I began it.  And since I have no characters or information that starts with V, I figure I’d post a bit of a timeline of writing the trilogy and its numerous versions, iterations and so on.  I know some of you have read this somewhere before (either my LJ or elsewhere), so I won’t go into too much detail!

 

1993, October: Doing laundry, reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing for inspiration, and trying to make sense of my stagnated writing career.  Contemplating writing/drawing a comic zine, writing a novel, or a screenplay.  The Infamous War Novel still burbling away in the back of my brain.  Having watched the first two Gall Force anime OVAs recently, I decide that maybe writing science fiction is the way to go.

1993, 26 November: Vigil is started.  My first attempt at writing SF is promising, and yet doesn’t get too far.  Possibly focusing too much on trying to maintain the mood and my prose is sadly nowhere near what’s unfolding in my head.  Spend a few months working more on the worldbuilding, timelines and possible plot ideas in between my Day Job (register jockey/shipping clerk for Harvard Coop, Longwood branch).  Also noodling around with a non-genre story, Two Thousand, which is my attempt at writing a coming-of-age novel.  Listening to a lot of music, barely getting by on meager paycheck.

1994, July: Still noodling around with various ideas.  Still juggling writing and Day Job (Brigham’s Ice Cream; I can still make you a killer milkshake frappe if you ask nicely).  Hanging out over at my girlfriend’s apartment on South Russell more than my own because it’s got AC and it’s across the street from my job.  She and I have been semi-seriously playing around with various ideas growing out of Vigil.  One hot and muggy evening I take an as-yet-unused idea of a character popping back in from an alternate reality and decide to use that as an opening.  This sparks more conversation about where the story should go, and True Faith is born.

1995, summer: Girlfriend is spending the season back at home with family.  I’m now living in an apartment out in Allston, still juggling my writing and my Day Job (various positions at a Sony Theater).  Start playing around with an extensive worldbuilding idea connected by multiple novels; the Eden Cycle is born.  Decide that during my copious free time and lack of funds I will use my gf’s computer (Windows 3.1!) and transcribe all my writing thus far, in addition to writing new words for TF.  Due to various unfortunate circumstances, I move back home with parents at the end of the summer.

1996, April: Somehow despite my sad state of finances, I manage to get a tax return.  I decide to spend it (and a few extra funds from family) to buy myself a used PC.  It runs on Windows 3.1 and has a monochrome CRT monitor, but that’s all I need.  I continue with the transcription project while juggling day job (local radio station!).  By the end of the summer I move the PC from my bedroom down to my parents’ basement, which becomes my writing nook for the next nine years.  Make various attempts at practice words at least a few times a week to get myself used to daily writing.

1997, 9 March:  No longer speaking to now-ex-gf, True Faith having stalled due to same (and having run out of decent plot ideas anyway), decide to start over from scratch.  Some elements of Vigil and True Faith — and very small dregs of the Infamous War Novel — are saved, reimagined and completely repurposed into a new story.  Make a decision to get to Day Job (HMV Records) an hour early to hang out in the mall food court to write longhand.  Writing finally turns into a daily habit that never goes away.  The Phoenix Effect is born, with nearly all new characters, the Vigil team now hiding in the periphery.

1998, August: Now writing during the daytime and transcribing the new words at night when I get home.  TPE is finished by month end.  Begin my first attempts at submitting to various publishing houses, with no luck whatsoever.  That doesn’t bring me down, though…I decide the best thing to do is to keep writing.  Numerous false starts on a sequel longhand while working on more TPE revision.  New novel beginnings, major worldbuilding changes.

2000, summer: So much revision, so little to show for it.  Feeling frustrated, I decide that a major rewrite of TPE is in order.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the prose is extremely weak and thin, that I hadn’t expanded that much from the longhand original.  Instead I decide to completely rewrite the story, expanding on every single scene and discarding a hell of a lot of chaff.  A Division of Souls begins.

2001, April: A switch in shift at Day Job (Yankee Candle) now gives me a truckload of time to work on writing.  Now dedicating two solid hours to new words on a daily basis.  Major expansion on worldbuilding, new characters, and planning out second and third book in trilogy.  My Day Job has a bit of slow time here and there, enough for me to brainstorm a few scenes or chapters ahead on scrap paper so I’m well prepared by the time I head home to write it.

2002, Summer: Finishing up ADoS first draft and starting on a bit of revision to include a recently created conlang for the universe, Anjshé.

2002, November 11: Begin sequel, The Persistence of Memories, and finish the first draft exactly one year later.  The Balance of Light started a day or so later with its original name, The Process of Belief.  It starts off well…

2003, summer: Worried…TBoL has stalled and I’m starting to lose track of where I want to go with it.  Day Job (still YC) starting to lose its luster due to management and work shakeups.  Still, I soldier on.  Start in on Love Like Blood just to keep myself busy.  Work on TBoL is in fits and starts at this point.

2005, March: Move down to New Jersey, and my writing habits start wavering due to a lot of (quite positive!) personal events.  Day Jobs include office temp work, a significant change from years of physical work.  At this point I think I may have lost the plot, literally.  Can’t quite figure out how to finish up the story.

2005, December: Another big move, this time out to San Francisco!  First apartment on Stockton Street, with my desk facing one of the bay windows.  A few years of dithering between projects like LLB and other ideas, while keeping the trilogy in the back of my mind.

2008 into 2009: I decide to share what I have of the trilogy on a friends-locked blog, partly to share it with a few beta readers and also to give it another serious read-through after far too long. By the time I finish the posts in late 2009, we move to our current place and I know exactly how to finish it.  I return to my old YC habit of plotting out a few chapters/scenes ahead of time and working on them.  At this point it feels like forever since I’ve written anything of import, so I’m quite excited!

2010, January 14: The Balance of Light and thus the trilogy is finally FINISHED!  Yay!

2010 – 2015:  A few years of other projects, but many, many months of reading, rereading rerereading, rererereading, etc, the entire trilogy, to become so familiar with the entire story again.  Much revision, rewriting, adding new scenes, getting rid of some old ones, editing, getting some beta reading commentary.  A hell of a lot of background work.  My writing style and quality finally seems to be going in the right direction again.

2015, summer:  Thinking it might be a good idea to self-publish the series.  I’d done a lot of research on it, weighed the pros and cons, and felt it would be the right step to take.  Immediately started an intensive revision/edit of ADoS with the aim of release on 3 September — the date the first scene of the book takes place.

2016, April 15:  The Persistence of Memories self-published!

2016, April 26: …I spend far too long typing this up for a silly but fun blog challenge, but prove to myself once again that it was so worth sticking with the project after all these years.  🙂

Is This the Future?

This morning I was listening to a compilation I’d made back in January of 1994 called Nocturne.  At that time I’d originally planned on completely rewriting the Infamous War Novel, re-envisioning it as a far-future SF novel, less as a Cold War-inspired story and more as a Future War one.  For inspiration I latched onto a lot of familiar genre tropes at that time –revisiting Blade Runner, reading space operas, picking up a lot of interesting anime, and so on — while at the same time briefly returning to my music collection as well, just as I had with the original.  This little gem from Sigue Sigue Sputnik, found on the back end of their sophomore album Dress for Excess, seemed to fit the post-apocalyptic mood of my story perfectly.

Granted, this too was an unfinished draft, for various reasons.  One was that I’d had trouble fleshing out the idea.  I knew I could do something with it, but I couldn’t quite figure out what.  [The other was that I was not in the best of places emotionally at the time.  Being broke and alone just out of college and working at jobs that had nothing to do with my college studies was probably a worse time for me than high school was, come to think of it.  Writing came to me, but in frustrating fits and starts.  There are a lot of trunked ideas from that era.]  Nonetheless, it sowed the seeds of another story, True Faith, which I started later that summer, and a much more successful writing career was finally born.

The compilation is just shy of 45 minutes long, taking up one side of a cassette — the other side was my 1989 compilation for Belief in Fate, another writing project dating back to high school.  I’m fascinated by the mix, as it’s definitely heavy on the atmospherics.  Starting off with Curve (“Faît Accompli”) and Inspiral Carpets (“Two Worlds Collide”) and ending with the above track, it’s a dark and somber affair.  I think what I was aiming for was a feeling of frustration and uselessness within a larger, less tolerating society, which my characters would fight to transcend through the course of the story.  That theme continued into True Faith to a degree.  In retrospect, it’s probably for the best that I trunked that story as well, because I was emotionally and mentally too close to it at the time.  I would start fresh in 1997 with The Phoenix Effect, and the rest is history.

It’s kind of interesting, comparing the original ideas of the early 90s with the present version of the Mendaihu Universe.  There are a few bits and pieces that have survived throughout the entire process — the Vigil group, for one — but the pessimism of the original is nowhere to be seen.  I see now (and I knew even then) that I was not only teaching myself how to write a novel correctly, but I was also using it as a cathartic release.  I’ve given myself a bunch of different avenues for those sorts of things, leaving the personal out of it for the most part.

Did I know that twenty years later I’d be happily married and living in a much larger city on the opposite coast, self-releasing the first of three novels that came out of all that?  Hell, back in 1994 I had no idea if I was going to make next month’s rent, let alone what my future would be.  Sure, I had dreams and ideas and a hazy optimism that I’d get there one day.  I knew it would be tough, but I was willing to work for it, however long it took. That was where I first fostered that stubborn commitment to keep going, despite it all.

And that’s why I’m content with this future me, why my reaction to seeing my book listed on e-book shopping sites has been one of a deep relief and happiness.  That stubborn will took me to this point, and that made all the difference.

On Worldbuilding: Down the Rabbit Hole Willingly

It’s often said that the downside to worldbuilding is that sometimes we writers get caught up in it, to the detriment of the actual writing.  I’ll freely admit that creating a fictitious world is a never-ending source of fun.  The Mendaihu Universe has grown and evolved over the course of two decades, and even as the Bridgetown trilogy enters Submission Phase this year, I’m still coming up with new avenues, new details for it.  Just yesterday I started playing around with another MU story set on Mannaka, an outpost world mentioned on the periphery in the BTown trilogy.  For the love of my own sanity, why am I doing this?

Short and most obvious reason?  More stories!  Ever since the aborted True Faith novel, I’ve always planned on setting a number of books in the same universe.  Not always in the same fixed spot in the timeline, of course…the timeline for yesterday’s brainstorming is up to question, but it would be a few millennia either before or after the BTown events.  This was partially inspired by Anne McCaffrey’s Pern universe–I liked the idea of writing multiple stories in my own created universe.  Each story would stand on its own, but there would always be a reminder somewhere (either up front or in the periphery) of the spiritual evolution story that’s central to the Mendaihu Universe.

And I spent a lot of time between 1994 and 1997, the years before I started The Phoenix Effect, just playing around with the universe, coming up with various story ideas and plot points in the timeline.  I remember a lot of slow afternoons in the ticket booth at the theater (and later at the radio station) where I’d lay the ground rules for my universe, such as major world events, evolutionary steps, and so on.  Just enough to give me anchors for future projects.

I can understand when worldbuilding can be a writer’s downfall, of course; spending too much time on the minutiae and not enough on the prose, focusing too much on the history and not enough on the present.  Or worse, giving into the joy of worldbuilding so completely that doing the actual writing becomes less than exciting.  It becomes like Charles Foster Kane, focusing on building the empire and home, changing it and morphing it as time and whim permits, but never quite finishing it.

The trick is to balance it out…I can have a lush background history, but I have to do something with it.  I can create a sprawling city-province like Bridgetown, but I have to have something happen there in particular.  I can create various characters to act out my story, but I have to have them do something inherently them in the process.   And after all of that, while I’m writing the story, I have a background I can work with–I can put these characters through a historical event that will affect them in one way or another, which will in turn cause them to evolve somehow.

I learned this when I realized I could no longer get away with ‘making it up as I go along’.  I learned it with The Phoenix Effect, when I realized that there were way too many divergent plot points and “I’ll revise it later” moments caused by immediate worldbuilding, all of which caused the story to be full of holes and inconsistencies.  When I restarted with A Division of Souls I forced myself to focus on the created history I had, and if new points of reference came up I would make a concerted effort to ensure they made sense in the overall story.  [A great example of this is in Chapter 2, when Assistant Director Dylan Farraway states “…this certainly isn’t a Second Coming…” to which Alec Poe responds with an offhanded “Ninth, sir.”  It was a complete throwaway line at the time I wrote it, but as I continued writing, the Ninth Coming of the One of All Sacred became the most important plot point of the entire trilogy.]

Working with your worldbuilding is definitely a tricky business.  You have to make copious notes.  You have to have a very sharp memory of what you’ve written.  You have to make sure you don’t get lost in it.  But once you’ve found a way to successfully manage it and make your way through it, it’s quite possibly the most enjoyable part of the writing process.

20 years 5 months 18 days (give or take)

Some of the original notes from 1993.
Some of the original notes from 1993.

That’s a hell of a long time to be working on a novel, don’t you think?

At 11:18pm PT last night, I completed what I call the Great Trilogy Revision Project, a major overhaul of all three novels in the Mendaihu Trilogy.  Entire scenes were rewritten, edited mercilessly, tightened up, names changed and characters strengthened.  It took the better part of fourteen months and I kicked my own ass numerous times to avoid laziness and weak prose; I read, reread, re-reread, and re-re-reread (sometimes while at the gym!) until I knew the story, its history and its cast inside and out.  And I read it again to make sure I knew where it worked and where it didn’t.

Today marks the first day in probably a decade or so where I have no plans to work on the existing novels or work on anything related.  [Mind you, I definitely have plans to work on future Mendaihu Universe stories, just not at the moment.]  In my mind, this epic project is DONE.

Notes made while doing laundry, October 1993.
Notes made while doing laundry, October 1993.

In late 1993, I’d just watched the first two Gall Force animes (I’d find the third movie a short time later) and found inspiration to write what I often call my Infamous War Novel, or IWN–my first novel from my high school years–in a completely new style I hadn’t tried before: science fiction.  I wrote a few notes in a steno notebook while waiting for my clothes to dry at the Charles Street Laundry, and came up with a number of ideas that I could work with.  I’m amused by the first line saying “VERY ANIME”, as well as the consistent anime references on that one page.  As if I knew what the hell anime was at that point in time, other than my latest obsession!  All I wanted to do was write something that was totally unlike American SF at the time.

Did I know what the hell I was doing?  Probably not.  I was woefully ignorant of genre fiction other than through movies, comic books and Japanese animation.  But I was willing to learn along the way.  I understood right away that storytelling in Japan is significantly different than storytelling in America, and I wanted to try my hand at writing that way.

Soon after, I did what I normally do when I come up with story ideas: I draw maps.

The original Bridgetown Sprawl as of November 1993
The original Bridgetown Sprawl as of November 1993

I knew I wanted a few things: a sprawling metropolis, a giant tower (hints of the GENOM Tower from Bubblegum Crisis), and a megacity so packed with different places and cultures that I knew I’d be able to use the setting for multiple story arcs.  Bridgetown morphed and grew considerably and exponentially over the years, but there are points here that made it all the way to the finished product in one form or another.  Sachers Island, Branden Hill Park (named Johnson Park here, but pretty much in the same shape), the warehouse district,  and the dirty and dangerous strip of McCleever Street were there from the start.

Vigil, Take One.  Started 26 November 1993, 8:51pm ET in my shoebox apartment.
Vigil, Take One. Started 26 November 1993, 8:51pm ET in my shoebox apartment.

Where to start, indeed.

My primary aim when I first started this novel was to write something totally unlike anything I’d written before.  I wanted everything about this project to be completely new for me–an untried style, a setting I’d never ventured through, a plot that challenged me to work it through to the best of my ability.

Granted, I was far from perfecting that, but I was going to try anyway.  Vigil–so named after this band of rebellious misfits bent on saving the world from corruption–was started on the Friday after Thanksgiving 1993, after getting off work.  I’d had a few ideas written out here and there, but this was where it all started.

True Faith–the aborted rewrite from summer 1994–would grow out of this, introducing the spiritual background.  The Phoenix Effect, the project from 1997-1998, grew out of TF and introduced the alien races. TPE in turn became the trilogy after a complete restart from scratch.

So for all intents and purposes, Vigil was the version that started it all.  And now it’s done.

Any author will tell you that they have a hard time letting go of their projects, even once they’re completely finished and on their way to publication, and I am no different.  I’m sure I’ll want to pick these three books up again and tinker with them some more.  I’ve already got Book 1 out to a publisher, and am ready to take the next steps to shop it around and even get an agent if need be.  I’ve also debated self-publication as an alternative.   It’s a wide world out there, and I’d like to introduce you all to the Mendaihu Universe someday.  On this evening, I’m finally that much closer to doing so.

But for now?  I think I’ll do what I haven’t done since I started writing the trilogy proper, way back in 2000:  I think I’ll let it sit awhile, and let it age gracefully.

[Request] On Writing: The Long Haul

From Amy, a friend and fellow writer in Houston:

[Talk to me about] developing a writing practice that lets you complete a large work.

The short answers? Give up watching TV and hole yourself up at your writing nook for a few hours every night. Immerse yourself into the created world as often as you can–this includes thinking about it while you’re at work, and writing down notes on scraps of paper during down times. Stay up way too late on the weekends so you can write for hours at a time. And above all, write EVERY NIGHT for at least two hours. In other words, dedicate way too much of your time to it. It’ll drive you nuts, you’ll want to give up and erase the damn thing from your memory, but if you persevere, the payoff will trump all that. Oh–and don’t think too seriously about publication until it’s done and revised. [I made an error in that last part and sent it out well before it was ready a few times.]

But more seriously…

The Bridgetown Trilogy was started around 2000 or so, after a number of months trying to rewrite and revise its predecessor, The Phoenix Effect. That novel was to be the first in a trilogy as well, and about thirty or so pages were started on its sequel, before I realized I was going in the wrong direction and would need to seriously revise and rewrite the whole thing. There were just too many problems with it: too many holes in the plot, too many tropes that wouldn’t age well, and background that was shoehorned in where it didn’t belong. And worst of all, the prose was weak. Really weak. I’m talking barebones description, hokey dialogue, and subplots that led nowhere. Frustrated and annoyed but full of New Englander stubbornness, I chose to start from the beginning again. Yes–start the whole damn thing over from scratch.

I say this, because this is when I created the writing practice that I still employ today.

I was incredibly lucky in that I could create time for this…one of the most irritating parts of dedicating time for writing is finding that time, which can be incredibly tough when one is working eight hours a day, even more so when a commute is involved. I was lucky in that my warehouse job was purely physical with very little need for heavy duty problem solving, so I could actually think about my writing while I stacked boxes on pallets. I was also lucky in that I had super early hours, 6am to 2pm, which gave me the entire afternoon and evening to do what I wanted. Once I restarted the trilogy, I chose to set up a strict writing time of 7pm to 9pm every night, no exceptions (this included weekends as well) and would do nothing except working on the trilogy project. As my family had dinner around 5pm, more often than not I’d start at 6 instead, giving me a good three-hour block. [Okay, I would often spend twenty minutes at the start goofing off, deciding what music I’d listen to (often the new releases I’d bought that week), and playing a few rounds of FreeCell, but I’d get there soon enough.] Things have obviously changed since then, but I still try to utilize my time the best I can. I can’t stress enough how important it is to dedicate time solely to your writing projects.

The other goal I had was that I would write at least a thousand new words every night. Sometimes I did more, sometimes less, but that was the goal I aimed for. This did a few things for me…first, it forced me to be more detailed in my prose. My previous works tended to be rather thin, lacking in detail and oomph; this goal forced me to look at how I described things, and how to make the scene glow. Second, it forced me to be prepared–I started sketching out quick outlines and notes a few scenes and chapters ahead that would come to me while I was at work, which I would use later on as a guide. Third, the more I hit this goal, the easier it felt. It may not have been perfect prose, but it was good, beefy prose that I could work with and revise later on. By the third or fourth month, I was consistently going over the word count, hitting 1200 to 1500 a day. I still kept the goal at a thousand words, however–as long as I hit that thousand, everything else was gravy.

All this writing time was focused solely on the trilogy, and this is one of the most important parts of the process: I’d fully immersed myself into the world on purpose. I continually expanded the created world, studying the lives of the characters and their actions and thoughts, and putting a sharp focus on how each plot arc unfolded. I thought of events that might not show up in the finished product. I did short writing exercises of writing from a character’s POV so I could understand them better. I drew maps of Bridgetown and various neighborhoods, and made notes about the surrounding megacities, and even touched a little on future sociology. I created backgrounds for the characters that had little to do with the trilogy (though in a few cases, I used the information as off-the-cuff description just to give them more life). In short: this was going to be an epic story, so I’d better be a supernerd about its background so I wouldn’t leave anything out or go in the wrong direction!

I did this for four years straight, almost without fail. I did have the occasional sick day or prior plans, of course. I felt a brief pang of guilt when I missed a day, but it wasn’t the end of the world. My writing nook was down in my parents’ basement at the time, and sometimes I’d have to work upstairs instead when it was too cold downstairs in the winter (that didn’t always stop me, however). And there were some days when I just wanted to be lazy or needed to give my brain a rest. It was exhausting at times, but it was also a hell of a lot of fun, and it made me enjoy the writing craft all that much more. I stopped around 2004 for a few reasons, both personal and writing-related. I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say, it was a great run, and I wrote two and three-quarters novels–the first two in the trilogy, and most of the third–during that time.

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So…that was my previous writing practice. How is it now?

After a few dry years, I finally returned to the nightly work, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s changed a bit, obviously: instead of writing new words, I’ve been focusing on the completion and revision of the trilogy. I’ve had some professional critiquing done on it, which has helped immensely. For now, I merely focus at least an hour or so in the evening to work on my projects, and if I can squeeze in extra work here and there during the day, I will of course do so. I’ve also expanded on my writing environs: I work in the back room of our apartment, but I also work on the laptop in the living room, and have been known to work on a tablet on vacation, especially when flying cross country. I’ve always been able to write anywhere, given time and space and minimal interruption, and it’s a good habit to get away from your home base now and again to get used to different environments. The focus here is not where you write, but that you write.

Am I ever going to go back to the previous schedule? I sure hope so…it was hard and exhausting work, but it was fun and fulfilling as well. Once I’m caught up with this revision, I hope to start on new projects again. It won’t be exactly the same, considering I have a different work schedule and other personal non-writing things going on, but I do plan on ramping up the volume this year once the major revision project is done. I find I work best and enjoy writing the most when I’m running at top speed, losing myself in the craft (so to speak), even if it’s only for a few hours a day. And if I can expand that even more in the future, maybe to the point of paying full-time writing, so much the better. That’s a far goal, though…but one I’d like to eventually reach.

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All that said…in answer to your question? There’s no ultimate answer, but the above is what worked for me. Find out what systems and habits work best, and continually improve and upgrade them as necessary. If you’re working on a large work, be prepared to go the distance with it, because it’ll certainly show either way. Immerse yourself in the world as much as possible (but don’t get hopelessly lost in it!). Pay attention to your world’s restrictions, but figure out how to break them when you need to. And keep tabs on everything, even the small stuff, because it may come in handy later on. Be a compulsive note-taker.

Treat writing as a guilty pleasure, like you’re getting away with it. Have fun with it, because if it ceases being fun, it’ll show. And if it gets that far, it’s not the end of the world–take some time off, distance yourself from it (even if that means working on something completely unrelated), and come back to it when you’re good and ready. You will, of course, need to look at it professionally for revision and submission purposes, and it’s fine to think about that, but don’t let that get in the way of creating the story in the first place.

And repeat and adjust as necessary. 🙂