One of the biggest changes to my writing schedule that I’d been looking forward to once I signed off on the trilogy was being able to multi-task. I love working on a main project, but working on the same one for a long time (especially as long as that one) can definitely be detrimental. I often find myself itching to work on something different now and again, and that certainly comes to the fore when I’m doing major revision work.
When I decided to write outtakes for Meet the Lidwells while working on the trilogy revision, it gave me a much-needed creative outlet to keep my Writer Brain going in a way that my blog entries and other outlets couldn’t. If I hadn’t done that, it would have taken a lot longer for me to start a new project. I’d have had to spend some time thinking about what to write, how to write it, and not really know if I have a viable story or a trunkable one until I’ve invested a lot of time on it. Multi-tasking projects lets me cut out a lot of that possible wasted time. The daily-words outtakes put the story idea to the test to see if I can graduate it to Main Project status.
This process worked so well for me that I’ve kept it going with the newer projects, and I’ll keep it going until it doesn’t work for me anymore.
Granted, it is a process that’s kind of tough to maintain if you’re juggling all this with a Day Job. There are days when I’m amazed I can get anything done when the DJ kicks my ass. The trick is to make it happen. Find slow moments where you can write a few hundred quick words. Use your work breaks and lunch if you can. Worst case scenario, schedule out your writing days; one day for revision, another for new words, and so on.
It’s not a process you need to take if you don’t want to, but it works well if you have a lot of projects you’d like to work on, and you’d like a quick turnaround. YMMV, of course!
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.
–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. 😉
I’ve mentioned this before: I’ve been fascinated by maps since I was a kid. My dad had put up nine US Geodetic Survey maps of the local North Quabbin area on the wall of his downtown office (he used it as reference, as he was a local reporter), and I would stare at the things for ages. The topography lines helped me imagine what the areas I’ve never visited looked like. When I did eventually visit those areas, my visual guesses were rarely far off the mark. My fascination soon expanded to the roads I carved into the dirt in my side yard for my Hot Wheels, and by 9 or 10 I was drawing maps just for the fun of it. They weren’t of anywhere in particular; I’d just make them up as I went along. It became a relaxing way to pass the time for me. And once I went to college, you’d see map doodling all over the margins. I still do it to this day; if you see me in the audience at a con, leaning over and doodling, chances are I’m drawing a map while I’m listening to the panelists.
When I started the Vigil project in the winter of 1993, I knew map drawing would have to be part of the world building. If not for the publication, at least for my own reference. I had certain areas of Bridgetown laid out in my head, but I wanted to have a physical layout I could use.
I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of size and perspective in these early maps, but they at least gave me an idea of what the Sprawl looked like.
This first map to the left was drawn that winter, with a much smaller layout of the city (it’s more like a small city here than a big giant sprawl it ended up being), but certain parts of it remained to the end of the project: the gentle curve of Branden Hill Park (called Johnson Park here), Sachers River and its island (with Vigil’s island location laid out), and the major north-south highway splitting through the middle.
The Vigil project ended up more like a lot of world building than doing much actual prose writing (I think it had more to do with me trying to figure out what story I wanted to tell and how). By the summer of 1995 I expanded the above map by taping the original to my apartment window, covering it with blank newsprint paper, and building it up.
The layout was still a bit wonky, but I was getting there. The big circle in the lower right corner is the first visual suggestion of the Mirades Tower (called the Underwood Tower here — I think I originally wanted Jenn’s family to be tied do it but never expanded on that plot line). I’m kind of fascinated by this one, because by that time I’d watched a lot of anime and wanted something like the GENOM Tower from Bubblegum Crisis. I was well aware of security issues with major driving arteries going underneath this tower, but I thought it was kind of a neat idea anyway.
Come 1998, I was about halfway through writing The Phoenix Effect, and I had a much better idea of what Bridgetown looked like. At first I had an idea to draw certain visuals, such as the one to the left here: a view of the Mirades Tower, lording over the entirety of the Sprawl (the circle of buildings is a reference to the initial awakening process that takes place at the start of the book…ie, the Ring of Fire). I wasn’t too happy with the artwork though (mainly me being a perfectionist and being annoyed at how wonky the Tower looks here), but it did its job. I even got a better idea of how wide the Sachers River needed to be. In fact, looking at this now, I realize this is very similar to the view I have out Spare Oom window, looking across the mouth of the Golden Gate towards the Marin Headlands!
Probably within a month or so after that above drawing, I drew what would end up being one of the official reference maps for Bridgetown, complete with the district boundaries. I would refer to this one page constantly during the TPE revision and the major rewrite as the trilogy. Very little has changed in Bridgetown since then. A few street names have changed, and I still hadn’t quite gotten Sachers Island drawn correctly, but for the most part this can still be considered a semi-accurate reference map for all the stories that take place in this city.
Note: Also seen on this map are the rough points of the hrrah-sehdhyn attack that takes place in A Division of Souls. I’d added these a few years after the original map was drawn and just before I wrote that scene so I could get the layout correct.
But wait, there’s more!
During the years I wrote the trilogy, I would often flesh out ideas during the slow hours at my Day Job at the candle warehouse. My buddy Bruce would often make fun of me when I did this. I’d snag a piece of scrap paper (or more to the point, the blank forms we used for the pallets we built) and commence with that day’s outlining for whatever I’d be writing later that evening. Or I’d draw detailed maps, sometimes even working on certain sections of Bridgetown.
Here’s a great example of that: My favorite section of town Branden Hill Park, which had been a point of interest since the Vigil days (the original Vigil story starts at the northeast corner of the park). This is probably the best example of what Bridgetown truly looks like in my head. I even went so far as to draw subway lines, considering that subway kiosk in the park shows up multiple times in the trilogy.
Note: You can even see where I put Nehalé’s apartment (the HB in the top left corner, referring to his old name of Halley Brown).
I do like the idea that even though the trilogy takes place at least 300 years in the future, there really hasn’t been too much of a change in terms of street layout or architecture for that matter. I used the reasoning that Europe still has some of its original medieval roads, not to mention architecture that’s been around for a few centuries. Besides, I really wasn’t all that keen on using the SF trope of multi-level cities and mountains of detritus. The Meraladians helped us get past that economical and ecological snag sometime ago.
And lastly, I wanted a general layout of what Mirades Tower Park looked like — it would be used as a major setting throughout the trilogy, and numerous scenes take place there in The Balance of Light, so I had to make sure I got it right. I think this one definitely gets the dimensions correct, as the Tower really is that huge. I also deliberately left the surrounding neighborhood empty…since this is the financial and governmental center of the city, the entire area would be filled with skyscrapers and business towers, so the map would really end up looking like a bunch of large squares inside a square grid of streets.
I’m sure I have more maps and building drawings lying around. I know I’d made a rough sketch of what the Branden Hill ARU headquarters looked like (hint: one of those arty curvy buildings, but without all the bizarre useless angles). I’ll have to scan more of them when I have the time.
All these drawings definitely helped me visualize Bridgetown as I was writing the stories that take place there. Without them I’m sure I’d have gotten a lot of the directions and distances incorrect. It also helped me narrow down the images I wanted for my book covers; I knew that they would have to be busy metropolises, though not necessarily with the dark cyberpunk attitude of Bladerunner. Both A Division of Souls and The Balance of Light use Shutterstock pictures of Singapore, which is just about the right level of sprawling city I was looking for.
I’ve been watching the miniseries documentary Soundbreaking the last few days, and it’s given me a lot to think about. It’s a wonderful series, focusing more on what it is to create recorded music than it is about telling lurid stories about fame or who knows who.
I knew they were Doing It Right when they decided to dedicate the first episode not to the band or to the music or the industry, but the producer. Often overlooked unless you’re well known like George Martin or Linda Perry, the producer is an extremely vital part of the production…and yet their job is to make their own work on the finished product as invisible as possible. Their job, ultimately, is to make the song be as true as possible.
What do I mean by that? Well, here’s the thing: they’re not aiming for perfection. They might want the musicians and singers to hit all the right notes, but that’s not the main goal. Nor are they solely aiming for the perfect pop hit that will reach number one on all the charts and make everyone involved hell of a lot of money.
What they’re doing is taking the creativity and the ideas of the musicians and the songwriters, as well as the emotional drive behind the song, and maybe even the happy accidents that happen to resonate with the track, and pull it all together. They’re also doing their best to make sure the song reflects the emotions of its creator and not their own.
Sure, there are some producers with signature sounds. Phil Spector, of course, is known for his Wall of Sound (i.e., let’s have forty musicians in the room playing the same thing and drench it reverb until it drowns). Nigel Godrich is known for giving bands a rich and resonant sound. Jeff Lynne likes his drums front and center in the mix. And there are musicians who produce their own work. But the point still remains: they’re aiming for something specific, something that will make the song ring true.
In book speak: they’re your editor. They are not there to put their stamp on it. They are there to make sure this is all your work. Sure, part of their job is to point out grievous spelling and grammar errors, and maybe suggesting that the plot take a gentle curve instead of a neckbreaking hairpin turn. But their job, really, is to figure out what the writer is trying to convey, and help them get there the best way possible.
As a self-published author who’s decided to do the job of the editor as well, I had to keep this in mind when I started the major revision work of the Bridgetown Trilogy a few years back. I knew it was more than just about fixing grammar and cleaning up the prose. I had to connect with the trilogy on a level where I understood what I was aiming for on a deeper level. But I also had to view it on several levels as well: I had to figure out how it flowed, what I was trying to say with it, and how I was saying it. Even as the cover creator I had to keep these things in mind — how was this initial image going to tie in with not just the book but the other two as well? And to top it off: how to produce the end result without making it obvious that I’d done all the work myself?
A lot of moving parts. It’s a hard job, but with time, practice and dedication, it can be done.
So! Yes. I am currently going through my galley copy of The Persistence of Memories and will be uploading the finished version to CreateSpace to release the official physical version. [I will also be checking the e-book version as well to make any fixes there as well.]
I think I lucked out this time, as there weren’t as many formatting errors I had to fix, nor were there as many grammar or plot issues as there were in the first book. I’m sure I’ve missed one or two things, maybe a misused phrase or missing punctuation, but for now I’m happy with what I’ve done with it. The plus side is that I’m already about halfway through that book already, so this one may even be out before Christmas!
And then starts Book 3. That may take a bit longer, but we shall see. If I remain dedicated to editing and formatting this last book, I should remain on schedule for early 2017. This one’s worth the wait, folks! I know I ended TPoM on a cliffhanger, but to be honest, it was more like the end of Bladerunner (the version where it cuts to black as Deckard closes the elevator door).
The Balance of Light is the culmination of everything that’s happened so far in the previous two books. I did my best to tie up as many loose ends as was needed. I ended it maybe not on a very high note, but an optimistic one. That was one of the main points of the trilogy: doing the right thing, despite outside influence. I hope you enjoy that one too…it was by far the hardest book I’ve ever written, but I’m quite proud of how it turned out.
So. What’s my next writing project?
Good question. I’m still not sure! I’ll let you know when I have a more solid idea!! 🙂
Oof. Note to self: as much as I’m happy that I’ve FINALLY finished galley editing The Balance of Light, in hindsight I probably should not have stormed through the last six (albeit short) chapters in one marathon session last night. I climbed into bed and passed out around 11 last night. Exhausted, but happy.
That said…one MAJOR hurdle has finally been overcome! TBoL was a beast in need of taming, and over the last few months I did my best to do exactly that. Most of the prose that got the axe contained a lot of chaff to begin with — a lot of lengthy phrases that were culled down to much shorter sentences, a lot of visual cues that were cut, a lot of filler words that weren’t needed. As this edit took place purely on paper, I have no idea how many words I cut, but I’m sure I cut a lot of them.
So what’s next?
Well, next is the physical printing of The Persistence of Memories. I have a galley copy here that’s been marked up and everything, I just need to clean up the e-book and prepare the physical copy for release.
Then, one more time with TBoL: create the e-book and physical copy for release.
And that’s it? No more work on the Bridgetown Trilogy? I can put it to bed?
Well, not quite. I have something special that I’d like to prepare for a March 2017 release; something to celebrate it being twenty long years since that first writing session that started it all. A special e-book release, maybe with some fun extras? And maybe shiny collector’s edition versions of the physical releases with extra stuff? Who knows. But it’s gonna be fun!
And then I’ll have to think of what to work on next!
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
So tonight I decided to play around a bit with the cover for The Balance of Light, even though it’s still quite some time before it’s going to see ebook or print. This one was tough, because I had an idea of what I wanted, but looking for the right picture was going to be a tough one. I wanted something to balance out the blue/yellow night view of A Division of Souls, so I knew it would have to be yellow/blue and morning. I had the color scheme down, but the picture was the tough part.
I’ve said before that I really love this part of the self-publishing process; I mean, really love it. Like, to the point that I may possibly do this as a side-job in the future. I love looking for that perfect shot. Trying to get the perfect crop balance. Figuring out whether to adjust the color or give it a bit of an effect. Playing around with fonts and text placement.
I’ll be honest, it’s like I’m making fake album covers. It’s something I used to do as a teenager with my mixtapes and the Flying Bohemians tapes.
Let’s take a quick look at the three covers I’ve made so far:
The cover for A Division of Souls was meant to invoke a few things: the setting (a metropolis, teeming with people), the time (at night), and mood (tense and mysterious). It’s also to serve as a tie-in to the very first scene. In short, my aim was to say: this is what the book’s going to make you feel.
The cover was also supposed to tie in with the other two books, which means that I also had to think ahead: what were the other two going to look like? I knew I’d have to keep a few visual motifs going…a city would have to be involved in all three, somehow; the images would need to evolve, just like the story itself. In this case, I created multiple ‘lightboxes’ in my Shutterstock account and started looking for pictures that would do exactly what I needed them to do.
The time it took to throw this one together was surprisingly quick, to be honest. Looking at it now, I can see a few things I should fix, but for the most part it went smoothly, once I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
The cover for The Persistence of Memories was a bit trickier, and I think it looks better as an e-book cover than it does as a trade paperback cover, but I do like how it came out. The same rules applied here…in this case the setting was twofold: it takes place both on Earth and on Trisanda, so I chose to do a ‘satellite’ point of view that shows both the city below and the stars above. Time seems to be fluid in this shot. It seems to be late night in the city below, blanketed by the similar blue (not exactly the same but close) of the first book, but in the heavens, time is irrelevant; it’s all light and dark at the same time. It also creates a dreamlike mood, where you’re not entirely sure what’s reality and what isn’t.
The placement of the title was purely serendipity, to be honest; I did not expect the top two words to be in space and the bottom two to be in the planet’s atmosphere. It just turned out that way and worked out quite nicely. Funnily enough, once I’d noticed that, I was torn on exactly where I should place it…the other outtake had the title dropped a tiny bit lower, so the “of” is resting right on top of the gray cloud line instead of hovering over it like it is.
I haven’t made a solid decision yet on what the Book 3 cover will look like but this is what I came up with tonight:
I’m still playing around with the font color for the title, as well as the placement of the text. The picture hints at the metropolis of ADoS, but the mood and the time is different: we’ve gotten through the late night of Book 1 and the witching hours of Book 2, and now we’ve come to the morning after of Book 3. The yellow of the sunlight is supposed to hint at the yellow font of Book 1, and I’m still trying to figure out which bluish hue would be good for the title (to hint at the blue cityscape of ADoS).
True, it does kind of hint at new-agey books, but that’s kind of the point…the characters and the planet itself has gone through a spiritual awakening of sorts. And like Book 2, it serves a dual purpose: the physical awakening from that dreamlike state, and the spiritual awakening.
One thing I learned early during this process was that I shouldn’t merely look for something that ‘looks cool’, no matter how tempting it may be. The last thing I needed was to look for something shiny, because I didn’t want the casual viewer to say ‘wow, what a flashy cover’ but not completely connect with it or remember it. I wanted something unique. Something that stood out from other covers, not because it was the flashiest, but because it was different. Something to catch their attention because it stood out just enough.
These first three are my first attempts at doing book covers, and as you’ve probably noticed, there are no actual people on the cover. This was a conscious choice; not only is it because of the large cast, but because I also wanted to invoke the idea that it wasn’t just my characters being affected by the story, but planet itself.
My next couple of projects do involve a much smaller cast, so there’s a very good chance I may use people (or silhouettes) on their covers. I did a brief Shutterstock search for those and found a few ideas to work with, and I’m looking forward to these when I get to that point. The main drafts of these stories haven’t even been written yet, or at least not completely, so again this was a bit like creating fake album covers! In the process it’s giving me something fun to look forward to.
Book II in the Bridgetown Trilogy, The Persistence of Memories, is part of a month-long promotion at Smashwords — all you need do is insert the coupon code ‘SFREE’ when you purchase this book and it’s all yours! https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/625392
Not too much to report on this slightly cloudy Friday afternoon here in Spare Oom. Just waiting for the Day Job to end and for the weekend to start! I’ve been all kinds of busy the last few days. I’m still neck deep in the edit for The Balance of Light; the Walk in Silence entries are coming along at a good clip, and will be hitting a multi-entry ‘interlude’ before continuing with the story; I’ve been hitting my daily practice words almost without fail; and I’ve been making slow but consistent plans for the next non-MU project I’ll be writing.
I will say, however, that I have a few fun announcements to make pretty soon, regarding the Bridgetown Trilogy, as well as with the business end of my writing projects!
Let’s just say that it’s going to be an interesting ‘release’.