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Drafting MK2?

Well, I started drafting MK2—maybe? I started writing the first chapter with a clear vision and a pretty good idea on the second chapter, but after that? Who knows? This is similar to how MK1 started. The difference was I had clear vision of the opening sequence in MK1 which ended up being ten chapters and about 30k worth of words, but I wasn’t clear what would happen after that. This time I have a good vision of the first two chapters (probably 4-5k words) and not sure where to go after. This doesn’t seem like a long enough runaway to build momentum and get the story rolling. So, I’m preparing for a jerky start.

That’s the problem with being a discovery writer—figuring out the story as you go can be slow and lead to a lot of false starts and dead ends. It seems like every novel I start I need to relearn this. The hope, of course, is that once I’m in the thick of drafting, the characters come alive and start driving the story themselves—all I need to do is point them in the right direction.

The decision to start drafting came on suddenly (as it normally does for me). I was working out a lot of the antagonist backstory and plans, which was coming together nicely, but I was struggling about where to pick up the story again. A lot of writers like to go for walks when working out problems, and there’s a ton of science to back that up.

Me? I like to lay in the pool in the sun and listen to music. But I always felt guilty about it, like it was too indulgent to work through problems that way. But when I recently read The Good Enough Job by Simone Stolzoff, I felt pretty validated. There’s also research backing up that relaxing and unwinding jump starts the creative brain. I felt like it was telling me the brain science behind my lived experience. It totally works for me! Although, I still can’t shake the feeling it’s too indulgent. I even word-vomited all over my wife about it in an attempt to justify myself. My wife listened and assured me I had no reason to feel guilty about occasionally laying in the pool and she never harbored any ill-ill toward me about it. Typing all this out has made me realize that maybe I don’t have an as healthy work/life balance as I thought I did if I feel guilty for laying around.

Anyway, now I just need to get build up some momentum in drafting. (Writing is fun–most of the time. Editing on the other hand … editing sucks).

June 2023 Update

I have officially transitioned to working on MK2! I’m pretty happy where I tied of MK1 (although we’ll see how I feel about that when I eventually circle back to it). I am currently in the brainstorming phase, which from past experience lasts until I can’t take it any longer and just start writing. I suspect that will probably be around the fall sometime.

At the moment, I am finally having to sit down and map out the antagonist’s plans in great, gory detail. This is more than the general sense I could get away with in MK1 since the first book in a trilogy acts as an Act 1 in a story where things are still vague and the hero is not clear what’s going on and why yet. It’s why writing act 1’s of stories is so much fun, everything is new! Exciting! And you don’t have to worry about how it will fit at all! It’s also why editing sucks for my particular process.

This also happens to be why I opted not to publish book 1 or put it on submission until the others are written. Already, I almost made notes to revamp significant portions of MK1 to fit the detailed antagonist’s plans, but opted against it at this point. A lot of the plans came together pretty quickly, but there are still some issues to work through to create the skeleton of the larger plan. Once that’s done, I can start hanging some meat off it and mapping out where characters are/need to be and start forming chapters/scenes. Act II in a story is where the hero learns what their up against, so it makes sense MK2’s plot will by necessity reveal more of the antagonist’s detailed plans.

On the MS front, I finally buckled to reality to and hired a lawn service. I’m trying to look at as a forced investment in time, but it still feels like a step backward (not mention an unwelcomed expense). I started swimming laps in our pool for exercise. So far, I really like it. It’s a good workout and it doesn’t leave my leg weak and fatigued like the elliptical machine did. So mixed results over the past month on MS.

MS has slowly, but surely, reshaped my life: from finances, to what I’m physically able to do anymore, to reordering my priorities. On that last note, when there’s a real Damocles sword hanging over your mobility, it suddenly moves up all those bucket list trips and experiences you thought you would get to one day (most of us when we retire), but now you’re not sure if you’ll be able to do them twenty years from now. So, when I saw the opportunity to fly in a 1943 biplane as part of beach trip to Port Aransas, I jumped at the experience. It was an awesome experience, and one I am sure will make it’s way into the early 20th century steampunk series I started almost ten years ago now and will one day get back to.

 

May 2023 Update

I’m so close to tying off MK1 and moving on to brainstorming MK2. I had in my head that I would make that transition June 1 and I still might make it. The progress on MK1 has been a bit of a rollar coaster since my last blog post. At first, I was absolutely crushing it and making very rapid progress. Then things at work picked up and progress came to crashing halt—silly job.

At any rate, I have mapped out all the timing of the sequences and I am positive future Jeffrey will appreciate and admire all that work when developing the rest of the series. I didn’t quite “map” out the main character arc, but I did create a short-hand summary of all relevant chapters and sections to be able to view the character arc more easily in its totality. I decided when reading through MK1, it would make more sense to tweak the character arc in lights of book 2 and maybe even book 3.

I have two loose ends to tie up before moving on to MK2. I need to read through some sections of the second main protagonist’s arc to make sure their reactions are consistent with some new developments. And then I need to fix some of the main character’s interactions in one section. All in all, these shouldn’t take me too long and if I’ve not moved on to MK2 by June 1st, I will shortly after.

On the MS front, my leg continues to be weaker than last year. This was made clear with the advent of lawn mowing season. Last year, I could mow, edge, and blow in one session. It would suck and I would be struggling by the end of the year, but not sure I could do that now. I have to split the edging to the night before, mow the next morning, and have my kids do the blowing. As much as I hate it, I think it’s only a matter of time before I have to get a lawn service.

My wife also observed that I never used to complain about my leg after standing for a long time doing chores or whatever, but now it definitely gets fatigued the longer I stand on it. Ditto doing cardio exercise. We have an old, rickety elliptical machine, and doing a cardio workout leaves me pretty weak for half a day. I’ve been racking my brain about exercise I could do that doesn’t affect my mobility so much. I’m worried this year over year deterioration doesn’t bode well for next year and that skiing may be over much sooner for me than I hoped.

So, feeling pretty good and optimistic on the novel and pretty crappy and pessimistic on the MS.

Pleasantly Surprised

Well, MK1 edits went a whole lot smoother than I thought. Both in ease and in time. They were not as challenging as I feared and they didn’t take as long. I still have two major pieces to check off before moving to book 2: revisiting the main character arc and building an excel spreadsheet of the timing of certain sequences. Both of which will require printing it all out again and reading it through (barf).

I’m not thrilled about another read through, but the fact that it’s the last step (or close to) before being able to tie things off to book 2 helps the bitter pill go down. I’m hoping I can pivot to brainstorming book 2 by June.

On the MS front, I had another set of MRIs and no new lesions! This is a good thing, but lands me in a bit of purgatory of wait and see. Without new lesions, they can’t officially diagnose MS and start up the gears of an official treatment (which is to suppress your immune system, so you really don’t want to start that unless you have to). But no new lesions also means things haven’t gotten worse! So there’s a lot of uncertainty. I’m pleased things are holding steady, but worry the next attack may cost me more mobility.

Due to the MS and questions around my  future mobility we stretched and went skiing for a third time this year. This time we went to Steamboat, but my youngest daughter on the Friday before we were supposed to leave (on a Tuesday) broke her arm. My wife had to stay home with her and I took my oldest daughter off to Steamboat (it was nonrefundable). It was really special and great to get away just the two of us. I’d love to do something similar again in the future (although probably something not as expensive as skiing).

Pictures of Steamboat. My favorite is tree skiing when my leg holds up and Steamboat had plenty of that. One reason we picked Steamboat was being able to go night skiing. A lot of the skiing I did growing up was in ski club where we’d leave school around 2pm on a Friday, drive to Swain, and ski from 4-10pm. So night skiing is very nostalgic for me. My daughter loved it and she’s learning fast! She’s up to doing blue runs and recently graduated in ski school to using poles. I was a very proud papa watching her go down the blue runs at night.

So, all in all, things are looking up.

 

Belated New Year Update

Oh, boy, I think this is the longest I’ve gone not updating this space. Life has been exceptionally busy, and I got hit with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis back in the fall that’s thrown a wrench into things. It feels like my life is now full of managing doctors appointments, medications, and dealing with insurance companies. Writing has fallen down the list of what I simply have time for. It’s been a bit frustrating honestly.

Despite all that, I have made progress, but at nowhere near the rate I wanted. Which seems to fit the pattern of my life lately. With the MS diagnosis I’m spending a lot of time coming to terms with what I used to be able to do, to what I am actually capable of doing. I finished the edit of MK1, and only this week finally finished compiling and organizing the series bible.

I still have a butt load of edits to do to get it into shape, and I have a good idea of how to solve some of the more thorny ones, but now it’s a matter of finding the time. Writing is like riding a motorcycle for me, momentum plays a key role and at the moment, I don’t have any. I finished the read through of MK1 probably close to two months ago now. That’s enough time that much as fallen out of my head such that the edits are going to be tough to get back up to speed on. I will continually have this feeling I’m forgetting something in some chapter somewhere.

Which means, I’m looking at another read through when I’m done. Another one! If you can’t tell, I’m kinda sick of that right now. The fun part is writing. I had hoped to start writing MK2 by April 1. There’s no way that’s going to happen now, but I hope to get to it by July now. We’ll see what the next three months have in store.

It hasn’t been all bad though, I did get to go skiing twice this year. Once at Big Sky and once at Revelstoke in Canada. Big Sky was amazing and I loved it, although I had to learn where my limits were the hard way with my MS diagnosis. One of the primary symptoms is a weakness in my left leg the more I use it. So the more I used it, the weaker it got, the more I fell. Took a bit of experimenting to find the right ski/rest rhythm. Revelstoke on the other hand was rougher for my leg. I got lost on the very first run and ended up on more technically challenging run than I wanted to right out of the gate. It destroyed my leg for the rest of the day and into the next. It was a bit of a rough trip mentally with my leg, but was an absolutely beautiful experience.

I’m curious to see how my leg holds up the next time skiing. It’s a bit ridiculous, but with the issues and my leg and MS I decided I was going to try and ski as much as possible before I couldn’t anymore. And with the trip to Revelstoke I worry that might be a lot sooner than I hoped.

Pics from Big Sky. Lone Mountain in the distance. Going down Liberty Bowl from Lone Mountain (hard times on my leg). And night skiing! Easily the coolest experience I had, can’t recommend it enough.

Pics from Revelstoke. The first pic is the long trail I got lost on the first time out. It looks clear, but that second pic is what the top of them mountain looked like before I dropped out of the clouds. It wasn’t the bumps or steepness that did me in, it’s the length of runs. Revelstoke is known for super long runs–which is why I picked it in the first place! I spent much of my skiing youth on small hills in upstate NY so these long runs are the epitome of luxury to me. Unfortunately, I did not know about my leg when I booked it and now long runs really run me down. The rest of the pics are just some gorgeous scenery. It was stunning.

My plan is to move into edits on MK1 and then assess how they’re going in-situ before deciding on how long I think they should take. Hopefully, I’ll have a good handle on when I might actually get to move on to MK2 next. I suspect it will be on the order of months.

November 2022 Update

Well, I’m glad I wrote that it would be unlikely that I would be drafting book 2 by January, because that probability has now officially gone to zero.

I finished rereading “Creating Character Arcs” by K.M. Weiland and replayed “The Last of Us” on PS4 to map out Joel’s character arc. I played the game several years ago and loved the story and fall arc of Joel such that I thought it would be a good candidate to revisit and break down. Plus, I got to play video games—something I love, but rarely get to do anymore.

I also answered the questions at the end of every chapter for “Creating Character Arcs” for the two main protagonists. It was time well spent and resulted in a major revelation for me on one of the arcs. The major revelation was that I was trying to fit the whole character arc within one book, but really the way its structured it will be over multiple books. Once I hit on that, it’s much easier to structure and pace their arc.

At the same of all of this, I still have that series bible problem. I had worked out a rough structure for the series bible but was waiting to do a read through before starting to populate it. I reached the point with the character arcs that I thought it was time to sit down and do another read through armed with my new insights and questions filled out to flush out the character arcs. And since I was doing a read through, I figured I would kill two birds with one stone and highlight all the things for the series bible (different colors of course).

Good plan. Tedious in execution. It’s taken me an hour or two to get through the first ten pages or so. It was brutal. At that rate, it’s going to take me months. I expect it to get faster as I go, but I’m buckling in for a long process. My new nebulous target is to be able to pivot to outlining/brainstorming book 2 by April of 2023. That’d only be 3 months behind my original target. My hope is that all this work will make planning/drafting book 2 faster such that I’ll make up the 3 months and still have book 2 drafted by Jan. 2025. We’ll see!

A Well-Deserved Break?

The Sunken City Capers series is now complete! I published The Cleaners’ War Book 5 last month and was planning on taking a well-deserved break until the new year before picking up my next project. Except, that’s not how writer brains work.

I opted instead to reread MK1 with an eye toward outlining book 2 and beginning to draft before the new year. I figured it would be a low effort to refamiliarize myself with that world and figure out where to go next. Boy was I wrong.

Three things were immediately apparent. The first was that the writing was choppy and in desperate need of a smoothing pass. The second was that I really needed a series bible before being able to sit down and brainstorm book 2. And finally, the third thing was that the character arcs were not hitting on all cylinders as they needed to be to make the book work.

I smoothed out the worst offending sentences as I went, but didn’t spend too much time here as the text is likely to change several times before publication. The actual smoothing pass will come once all three books are complete and will be an absolute nightmare to complete—but that’s a future problem.

I’ve known for awhile I need a series bible and even looked into it once before, but taking a step away to finish Sunken City Capers and coming back to this world brought the need into sharp relief. This is a sprawling multi-POV space opera. There’s a lot going on, a lot of different technologies with their own rules, artifacts, societies, characters, etc. I’ve spent some time on how to organize the budding series bible and even printed out a copy of the novel to reread again with multi-colored highlighters to help pull what I need, but I haven’t started that effort yet.

Instead, I’m focused on mapping out the character arcs for the two main characters. I’m rereading “Creating Character Arcs” by K.M. Weiland and taking the time after every chapter to answer all the questions and really think about it. I’m only one chapter into the book and the first set of questions, but it’s already helped a lot, so I’m convinced this is the right path.

With all this work to get MK1 into shape, it seems unlikely that I’ll be drafting book 2 by the new year. But I was supposed to be off anyway, right?

SCC5 is live!

The gears of publishing were not as rusty as I feared! It was kinda like riding a bike, you’ve never really forgot even if the start is a little wobbly. So here it is, the last and final book in the Sunken City Capers series: The Cleaners’ War, Sunken City Capers Book 5. And since it’s been five years (!) between book 4 & 5, book 5 includes a “What you need to know” section that summarizes the key details in the series before the start of book 5. I hope you enjoy it!

Her father executed. A gun to Charlie’s head. One week.

Tick Tock.

After witnessing her father’s execution, Isa finds herself stripped of her tools, her allies, and alone in a foreign country’s custody. When an orchestrated escape opportunity presents itself, she leaps without looking.

Now free and hunted on all sides, she’s forced into an unexpected alliance with her enemies: disgraced Cleaners. And, if that weren’t enough, the path to redemption leads straight through that oily snake Ham—desperation makes for strange bedfellows.

Thrown into a tangle of vipers, Isa must navigate hidden agendas, false identities, and a vortex of prima-donna personalities, least of which is Puo’s, all while making sure she steers the ship straight into the heart of the National Syndicate.

The National Syndicate murdered her father. They kidnapped Charlie. They will never stop coming for her. She needs to deal with them once and for all.

Gears of Publishing Revving Up for SCC5

SCC5 is done! It took a bit longer than I thought, but all that’s left is final proofing and then churning it through the gears of publishing to make the ebook and print layouts. It’s been four years (!) since I did this last, so there’s a bit of trepidation in remembering how to do everything. Plus, since it’s been four years, I have no idea what’s changed since then (and things will have changed). I hope to have everything published by September or October.

The final readthrough after the cool down took longer than I thought. I thought that readthrough would’ve been small word choice or wordsmithing, but I was making (minor) content edits right up until the end. But it’s done now (whew). I was hoping to have it wrapped up before mid-June before I went on vacation, but the novel got to come on vacation with me which turned out to have coming-full-circle feeling.

I finished the very first Sunken City Capers novel when I was on vacation in Bath, England accompanying my wife to a conference she had. I was fortunate enough to once again accompany my wife to one of her conferences to Southampton, England where I finished SCC5. I don’t travel to the UK a lot, so it’s strange to bookend the series in the same place as I finished the first in the series.

We spent two full days in Amsterdam before the conference. It’s such a beautiful city.

Two days was not enough time. There wasn’t time to do half the things I wanted, but still managed to fill both those days full of stuff. One of the activities was a bike ride through the city, which was intense. I think there’s more bikes in Amsterdam than people. Everyone bikes everywhere over there, and there seem to be a lot of unwritten rules. We did a bike tour and moving as a group made it harder since we had to go slower going single file. I also have some unexplained leg weakness that makes things harder for me and affects my balance. But I got through it! (And it was worth it!)

We then flew to London and took a bus to Southampton (after dealing with multiple canceled flights). We had a day before the conference started and went to New Forest National Park west of Southampton for another bike ride! The word “bucolic” kept passing through my mind on the ride. I could see Tolkien’s love the shire in the country side. The fancy house is the Osborne house on the Isle of Wight, that I went to see when my wife was conferencing. And the conference dinner was on the HMS Warrior which was a neat ship to look around on.

SCC5 on Track!

I finished the tightening pass on May 2nd, a few days past when I targeted, but honestly, I’m so relieved it’s over I can’t help but smile. Ye gads that was tedious. Like insanely tedious. I had a headache for most of the last two weeks of April.

I came across the 10% Solution by Ken Rand a year or two ago. I found it a useful little book that doesn’t really tell you anything you don’t already know, but presents it in a logical, straightforward manner that forces you to think about the things you already know. The premise is to be able to take any writing and be able to trim it by 10% by tightening up the prose.

This is done by going over piece 10-15 times looking at each and every instance of specific words like “of” or “was” and really deciding if they need to be there or if there’s a shorter, clearer way to communicate something. I had tried it on some short stories and flash fiction and found it useful, if it a bit tedious.

Applied to a novel, tedious doesn’t quite capture the experience. But it’s hard to argue with the results. I only trimmed about 3% of the novel, but that was close to 3000 words of fluff. The prose is a lot tighter and reads much smoother.

The novel is in the cooling off phase. I’ll pick it back up later this month or in June for a final proofing pass and then start to spin up the gears of publishing. As for the rest of the month, I’ve already dusted off and finished two flash fiction pieces. I have another flash fiction piece I’m going to expand to a short story. There are also an alarming number of weeds in the yard, and there’s a work conference later this month that’s sucking up an inordinate amount of my time. Once those are past though, there are some video games I’ve been eying and some naps to catch up on. Then I’ll figure out what the next project should be, which my writing brain has already started to chew over despite me telling it take a break.

Oh, well. It feels great to have SCC5 in the bag and almost (almost!) ready to share.