Editing: On Research

Blogland!

It’s been a quiet week spent reading for Book Club. I just finished The Paper Magician last night, but won’t be posting the review until next Thursday, after our meeting. But, at least you have that to look forward to!

What I’ve really been focused on this week is research for The Steel Armada. Now, this is the first time I’ve ever actually done full blown research for a book. I’ve done some quick Googling on the spot to get clarity on an issue or scene, but I’ve never sat down with a text and taken notes and built up details and the world from there.

I had my first study session on Monday. For the first time in a long time, I took the manuscript out into the wild (Governor’s Cup, a local coffee shop downtown) and put in my earbuds to bring the din of espresso machines and conversations down to the comforting bustle of business.

It was a nice hour spent pouring over Sailing Ships. As previously mentioned, that book is a gold mine of info, but it’s actually a little advanced for me. It’s giving me terminology and diagrams, but it doesn’t really explain what the various parts of the ships do. So, I know where the mizzen is a on a ship, but I don’t know what function it serves.

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Dammit, Jim! I’m a writer, not an artist!

So, my research is leading to more research. Which is awesome! I’m taking notes, learning new things, and letting those things further develop the world. And when the world develops so do the characters who live in it.

But, I want to talk a little about research in general, in terms of writing fiction.

Those of us who took any Creative Writing courses have heard the “tried and true” advice spoken with finality: Write What You Know.

…Yeah. About that…

Funny thing for Speculative Fiction authors is that this advice falls flat. I’m writing about a desiccated planet and the small fraction of humanity that survived on a flying armada of steel ships above it. I don’t exactly know what that’s like.

But, I know what it’s like to be a seventeen year old girl falling in love with her best friend. I know what it’s like to lose your father figure. And I know what it’s like to demand more from the people and the world around you.

And anything I don’t know, like the architecture of rigged ships, I can research.

Which is really the most important thing I’ve learned so far. Speculative Fiction authors can still write what they know, they just have to know a lot about a ton of different things. The key to great world building is developing the small details that lend your world credibility. Yes, there’s much in Fantasy and even Science Fiction that is made up of things we can never truly know before we set out to write them. But, I can learn as much as I can about the things that are real, or based on reality.

Do giant sailed ships made of steel fly through the air? No. But, those ships of my creation can follow the look and feel of wooden rigged ships from human history. And the more I know about that, the more realistic I can make the ships of my creation.

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to be an expert of fully rigged ships after this book is finished. And I doubt I’ll ever try my hand at sailing even the smallest of sailed craft. That actually sounds terrifying to me. But, I will be able to name the parts of a ship with clarity and confidence.

Watch out Jeopardy! I’ll wreck that ship category when the time comes!

(See what I did there? Wreck? Ship? Hah!)

 

aeroponics-vs-hydroponics

I have only the slightest idea of what any of this means…

Another big research topic I’ll be doing soon is Aeroponics versus Hydroponics. These people have food, both plant-based and livestock, which means they grow crops. How? What’s their nutrition like? Their livestock’s nutrition? These are questions that need answered.

Not because they’re vital to the plot. They aren’t. At no point does a potentially under-nourished cow play a critical role in freeing this society from its oppressors. But, if I can lay the foundation of my own understanding, I can address any questions that might come up.

For instance, now that I think about it, goats are a far more believable protein source than cows. They’re way more versatile eaters and take up less space, while providing milk, cheese, meat, and hide.

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Who doesn’t love goats? Look at ’em!

But, if you haven’t noticed by now, the research spiral can be a dangerous thing. I think it’s why I’ve avoided it so far. Because questions only lead to more questions, and I have a tendency to want them all answered.

Let me tell you now, that is not necessary. You don’t have to answer every single question. Because ultimately you just need enough truth to wrinkle out any doubt from your manuscript.

Of course, it’s not a bad thing to do too much research. You just have to recognize when to rein it in and bring your focus back to what really matters: the manuscript.

So, I’m spending a lot of time doing research this round of edits. But, I still feel hopeful about an August finish. I think this round of edits will go by faster because there’s a lot of content creation happening. That’s way more interesting than going through line for line and reworking things.

But, all this content creation means I’ll probably have to do a fourth draft, to clean up the lines I’ve added in order to flesh everything out. Bummer. I still want to have all of that done by August.

I’m going to need an endless supply of coffee and snacks.

 

BZ

 

Goals Summary wk 7

Hi Blogland!

Today is a new day. A day full of possibility, and it’s off to a wonderful start. A stomach full of some egg frittata concoction my husband made, and the bolstering aroma of percolating coffee hangs in the air.

I’m normally off on Mondays (for the time being) but the husband is also off thanks to its being President’s Day. I’m not letting that stop me from sequestering myself in the office and getting work done, however.

In my last post I told you all how sick we were last week, and I’m pleased to say that we’re both back to feeling relatively normal. There’s still the occasional sneeze and stuffy noses in need of tissue, but otherwise we’re well again.

So, how did last week stack up goals-wise? Not as badly as I thought.

Last week I wanted to:

  • Write chapter 13 of From the Quorumarcanum-unbounded
    • That did not happen. I didn’t even open Scrivener until last night. I considered writing for a tiny moment, but we had company and dinner in the works, so I decided against it.
  • Finish Arcanum Unbounded
    • Done. I don’t think I’ll do a review on this one, mainly because it would either be overly simplistic, glossing over the stories, or far too in depth as I gave each story its own review. Just know that, if you’re a Sanderson fan, you should read it.
  • Publish two blog posts
    • Barely. Last night’s little update counts, so I got to put this one into the black.
  • Continue The Steel Armada edits
    • Yep. Edited about three chapters last night. This is still technically a read through, but I’m taking a lot of notes, both on the pages and in a designated notebook. So, none of these chapters are ready to be called “Draft #3”, but the feedback I’m getting and the notes I’m taking or forcing me to do a lot of thinking and world building. I’m very excited about this editing round!

So, not too bad. Considering the week we had, and how awful I felt, I still managed to get most of my goals done. That feels damn good, and keeps the momentum going forward into this week.Print

What’s on the agenda for the next seven days?

  • Write chapter 13 of From the Quorum
  • Finish reading The Paper Magician
  • Publish two blog posts
  • Continue The Steel Armada edits/read through/research
    • A note on this one: As I’ve mentioned before, world building and character development are my two main focuses for this round of editing. I’ve done a lot of great work already in answering reader questions and addressing where there’s too many blanks. But, I don’t have enough knowledge about ships in general to describe them and let my characters discuss them in a convincing way. So, I’m doing research. I’ve loaned a book from the library called Sailing Ships by Björn Landström and it is full of diagrams and terminology for all kinds of rigged ships! I’m really looking forward to delving into it and learning more about the world of The Steel Armada.sailing-ships

Book club meets next week to discuss The Paper Magician, so I need to hurry up and get that done. I’m only on chapter 2, but according to fellow Clubbers, it goes pretty quick. After that I’ll need to read and write as much as possible in the two following weeks, because Mass Effect Andromeda releases on March 21st, and I will be useless for a long time after that.

In other news, I’m meeting with the creator/editor/producer of The Audient Void this evening to “discuss some things regarding books”. He and his wife operate a local indie bookstore, and since I work at a library I guess they want to meet up and chat. I’m not really sure about what, and I’m always a little nervous about vague social meetings, so I’m trying not to over-think it too much. I really like them both, so I’m sure it’ll be a fun and interesting conversation.

I’m forcing myself to look forward to it. Anxiety aside, I know I’ll enjoy myself. I’m just not good with unknowns…

Anyway, coffee is done brewing, music is playing, and there’s fiction to write and edit. I’ll talk at you all soon Blogland.

 

BZ

 

Just So You Know…

Hi Blogland,

I just wanted to stop in and let you know where I’ve been. I came down with a pretty nasty cold on Wednesday, and by the time I felt moderately better on Friday, I had a full blown migraine.

So, I’ve been down for the count all week. Hooray!

But, I’m feeling really well today, and it’s been a productive one as far as household chores go. My husband was also sick through the last half of the week, and when two people in the house aren’t well it’s amazing how much mess they can make.

But, the good news is that my friend Patty got her edits back to me for The Steel Armada, and they’re amazing! She went completely above and beyond by tracking changes on the manuscript document and posing lots of really critical and thoughtful questions.

I can’t wait to dig into all of it and really flesh out this book!

Book club meets in just over a week, and I have a lot of reading to do. But, I did get a lot of audiobook time in so check out the What I’m Reading page for an update.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know where I’ve been, and I’ll see you all tomorrow!

 

BZ

Goals Summary wk. 6

Well, Blogland, can you believe it? We’re six weeks into the year already! I hope everyone is working hard and achieving all the things they wanted to this year!

I’m waiting for the coffee to finish brewing. It smells great, and I can tell it’s just about time I grabbed a cup. I’m hoping sitting today and taking it easy will help a persistent ache in my lower back, but we’ll see.

So, goals. What did I want to do last week?

  • Write the Interlude for From the Quorum
    • This was planned as a short, 1k word snippet. Turned out to be a full blown chapter, wrapping up at 3,508 words.
  • Read both William Ritter novels
    • Success, with each of their reviews posted. Here, and here.
  • Publish two blog posts
    • Yeah, blew this one out of the water. Published 4 posts this past week. Not normal, but damn nice.
  • Read, plan, and start The Steel Armada edits
    • YES! I’m still reading through, and am currently on chapter 9. But, there aren’t any big plots gaps like last time, it seems I’ve fixed those. I found some areas that are weaker and fixed those, or added some small notes. But right now, things are looking pretty good!

So, that means…. I am in the black this Monday! All goals were achieved. All that red marker was erased and replaced with black. That feels really good.

What also feels good is a multiple tweet long conversation with Mike Brooks, the author of the Keiko series, thanking me for my review (you can read it here) and then discussing books we’re looking forward to this year.

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How did he find me?!

Talk about a great morning! And now I’m on my second cup of coffee. The sun’s out, the dog did some sunbathing, and suddenly I am all smiles despite the back pain.

So, what’s the plan for this week?

  • Write chapter 13 of From the Quorum
  • Finish Arcanum Unbounded
  • Publish two blog posts
  • Continue The Steel Armada edits

I’m not 100% sure that chapter 13 will get finished this week. It could. Thursday could be very productive. I don’t know. But, right now it feels like a tall order.

I only have a few more stories in Arcanum Unbounded until that’s done. I’ve read a majority of them already, so I’m skipping around and reading the content that’s new to me. That includes the notes from Brandon at the end of each story, and the notes from the character Khriss at the introduction of each world. There’s a bit of new content, and it’s been a joy getting some more illumination on the Cosmere.

I’ve been consistent with my post publishing, and I doubt this week will see a change in that.

As for edits, I’m feeling really good about my progress there still. I sent the manuscript to a couple more friends to get some more varied feedback, and I think I have an email from my best friend who did a very detailed read and review. So, I have some new and forthcoming feedback to help me along.

My plan for now is to finish my read through, and then go back and flesh things out chapter by chapter, and address any concerns brought up by Beta readers. For the first time this project seems doable, and not so terrifying.

We’ll see how long that lasts!

I’ll see you later this week Blogland!

 

BZ

 

Book Review – Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter

Hello again Blogland!

Yesterday ended up being very productive. I wrote the Interlude for From the Quorum from start to finish, wrapping it at 3,508 words. For the time I sat writing, that was extremely productive. This book is writing itself!

Beyond that, I also finished reading all the installments of Locke & Key, as well as Low, vol. 1. That’s all the graphic novels I had checked out, so I get to return a bunch of items to the library today and move on to reading Arcanum Unbounded, which I’ve put off for far too long.

But, before I get too wrapped up in that, let’s talk about Ghostly Echoes. Beware the spoilers!ghostly-echoes

This was the largest of the three Jackaby books so far. The other two were under 300 pages, but this one had 352. And that’s because there’s a lot happening.

The book opens with Jenny and Abigail experimenting with possession. Yep. You read that right. Now, most of us sane folk would say, “that’s a terrible idea.” And it is. But, Abigail adores Jenny and wants to help her anyway she can. Even if that means subjecting herself to the disorienting and painful process of letting her friend take over her body.

But, the catch is, that when Jenny is in Abigail’s body, Abigail has access to Jenny’s memories. That’s really useful since Jenny can’t actually remember the circumstances of her death.

That’s the case they’re working on, by the way. Jenny’s murder.

Well, as they investigate they learn that Jenny’s murder is tied into the string of murders from the last book, and it’s all one big case. Add in some political ties, and this book gets interesting fast!

Charlie arrives out of concern for Abigail’s safety as she tackles this enormous case with Jackaby, much to her delight. I was a little bummed because he’s not very critical to the story. I mean, he plays an important role, but he doesn’t get as much screen time as I’d like.

So, all kinds of crazy things happen in this book. Possession, Abigail throws a brick in a vampire’s face, forcefully pushing him from their home, they cross into the Anwynn, a place between life and death, and Abigail is the one chosen to cross the river Styx to try and find a particular spirit that could help them solve the case.

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Except, she doesn’t find who she expects, but Jenny’s fiancé.

Yeah, this book is all over the place. But, when you’re reading it everything makes sense. It’s only in this summation that I see how wild some of these events are, but I ain’t even mad. This book was fast-paced fun!

Anyway, they learn that a group known as The Dire Council is behind all these deaths, and that they’re trying to create some sort of enormous scientific device, that has something to do with energies. And while Jackaby and Co., catch the main murderer, a henchman for the Council, they are no closer to actually thwarting their dastardly plan.

And that’s where the book leaves off. The next (and final) book is titled The Dire King, and I am ready for it now! I don’t want to wait until August!

Now, my favorite aspects of this book are Abigail’s newfound confidence. She loves these people she’s met and built a new life with, and she feels empowered by them to do anything for them. It’s a good look on her.

I also really loved the tender moments where Jackaby opens up about himself. There’s a lot of Jackaby’s history in this book, because The Dire Council needs him to complete their device. And so the history of how he acquired the Sight and how he coped with that gets fleshed out a bit. I loved it! He’s also more vulnerable in this book than in the others, because of his concern for Jenny. He’s hesitant to solve her case because he doesn’t want her business to be finished. He doesn’t want her to leave.

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Two of Jackaby’s companions

It’s not like Jackaby has a lot of friends.

There was a moment in the book that, while not critical to the plot, was really powerful for me. Early in the novel Abigail and Jackaby come across a transgender woman being attacked. They stave off her attackers and get her home, Jackaby never faltering in calling her ‘her’ and treating her with respect. Abigail does her best, but she’s a little bewildered by the encounter.

When she asks Jackaby if Miss Lee was, in fact, a man, Jackaby’s response is perfect.

“‘Underneath she was herself- as are we all. Lydia Lee is as much a lady as you or Jenny or anyone. I imagine a midwife or attending doctor probably had another opinion on the matter, but it only goes to show what doctors really know’

‘Shouldn’t a doctor be able to tell at least that much?’

Jackaby’s expression clouded darkly. ‘I have great respect for the medical profession, Miss Rook,’ he said soberly, ‘but it is not for doctors to tell us who we are.'”

It struck me as immensely profound, coming from this man who most doctors would label insane. And a true representation of his character that he would stand up for Lydia Lee and defend her in a manner less defensive and more educational, even to Abigail.

I love this eccentric, fictional man. A shame I have to wait all summer to see what happens…

You probably won’t hear from me again this weekend, but I’ll see you all on Monday!

 

BZ

Book Review – Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Hello, Blogland.

I’ve been a busy little reader these last few days, and have completed both Jackaby novels, as well as a few installments of Locke & Key. Pop over to the “What I’m Reading” page to get a full update.

Today we’re here to discuss the second novel in the Jackaby series, Beastly Bones. If you’ve not read my review of Jackaby, now would be the time.

beastly-bonesIn this installment, Abigail and Jackaby find themselves on a case in Gad’s Valley, which is lovely since that’s where Charlie Barker, formerly Charlie Cane, now resides. There’s been a string of murders, seemingly unrelated save for a peculiar wound to the neck: a single puncture surrounded by bruising.

Along the way they catch up with an old friend of Jackaby’s, Hank Hudson. He’s a hunter and trapper, with a focus on unusual creatures. He’s also huge. I pictured him like a frontiersman Hagrid, but less approachable.

On this adventure, Abigail is torn. The official reason they’re sent to Gad’s Valley is to track down a stolen fossil, and her paleontology roots call to her. It was really great to see Abigail in her element, and she had several occasions to one up the male experts who were quick to disregard her. Jackaby was proud of her, but her interest and aptitude meant that he spent a bit of his time on his own, hunting the unseen forces behind the theft.

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I’m still waiting for a moment like this…

As the story goes on, things remain relatively light. The two paleontologists bicker and argue over all sorts of minutia, there’s a femme fatale reporter who befriends Abigail, and Abigail has a few delightfully awkward encounters with Charlie, who is even more endearing in this book.

 

But, when it appears that an actual dragon, thought extinct for a few thousand years, is terrorizing the valley, things get dark quick. Houses are razed, a nearby couple are killed, and in the final battle the reporter, Nellie Fuller, sacrifices herself to give Jackaby and Abigail time to figure something out.

And, Abigail does. That was my favorite part of this story. Abigail saves the day, and Jackaby’s life. She’s the hero, finally the strong female character, even if she refuses to see herself that way. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. Abigail even kisses Charlie by the very end! Very bold indeed.

But, the events of Gad’s Valley also trouble her immensely, giving Jackaby the opportunity to wax philosophical, as he often does, and it’s always a treat. But, the events also set the stage for the next book, and help establish a larger arc for the series.

I would say that this book is very much Abigail’s. Though she’s the main character of the series, the first book had to introduce us to Jackaby and his unique place and function in the world. Now, with all that established, Abigail had the opportunity to really grow and shine.

Ritter did a good job of making his likeable narrator even more so, and keeping things fun while he did.

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William Ritter

That would be my number one selling point of these books. They’re fun. The characters are endearing and well-developed, and the city of New Fiddleham feels like home. I want to spend time in this world, with these people. I’m happy to report that the third book is probably the best of them all, and the next book is due out this summer!

There’s no shortage of time with Abigail and Co., just yet.

Unrelated to the actual plot or books, I found out that William Ritter is a local author. He lives in Springfield, Oregon, about an hour south of Salem, near Eugene. He’s an educator, and I look forward to catching him during his promotion of the next book, The Dire King.

Aaaand, I just read that it’s the conclusion of the series. I am not OK with that. Not in the least. How can that be the end? There’s too many possibilities! You can’t just wrapghostly-echoes everything up in one book, right?

Now I’m sad. Damn it. Well, I’ll see you all tomorrow when I return with the book review for Ghostly Echoes.

Until then, Blogland…

 

BZ

Editing: What I’ve Learned

Blogland,

Today marks the start of the second round of edits for my first novel, The Steel Armada. It was supposed to be yesterday, but I spent over four hours on the phone catching up with my grandma. Sorry, not sorry. I love that lady, and I relish our time spent gabbing.

So, today then. This is something I’ve been working toward for a long time, in fits and starts. I started editing the rough draft on March 8th, 2014. I know because I always write the date at the top of each chapter when I dive in. I was six months into school then, and a few days into my new job at the library. I was working 60 hour work weeks.

So, understandably, I didn’t complete the edits on the final chapter until December 8th, 2015. It took almost two years to finish editing the rough draft. I wasn’t very committed to getting the thing done. It was something I did when I felt overwhelmed by school and life, and needed a quick escape.

This time around, I’ll be much more diligent and disciplined. I have a timeline, and the time to stick to it.

So, what’s my plan of attack? I’m not one hundred percent sure just yet. What I need to consider is what I learned from editing the first draft.

  1.  Editing is so much more than grammar and punctuation. I mean, these things are important, and I spent a lot of my editing time cleaning up lines by honing in on weak sentences and strengthening them. But, all the cleaning up and tightening doesn’t do much to help gaps in the plot, or under-developed worlds and characters.

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    Page 1, Rough Draft and Second Draft

  2.  Rewriting is inevitable. It doesn’t matter how much I love a scene, if it doesn’t work, it does not work. In that case, things get cut and possibly replaced. There were some scenes that I had to try from a different character’s perspective. Sometimes that worked; more often than not it gave me clarity to re-approach the scene from the original point of view in a way that was more effective.
  3.  New content comes along. When there are gaps in the story, or characters who need fleshing out, new material is the answer. The rough draft is not the end of writing. It’s writing your novel within the structure you’ve already created, which I found fun and challenging. It’s like your novel is offering you writing prompts!
  4.  Have a support group! No matter how much time I spend away from this book, I can’t seem to get quite enough distance to diagnose the draft one hundred percent. And I think that’s normal. This is something I made. 181 printed pages of my imagination. It is a part of me, no matter how long I try and ignore it. These characters are part of me, this world is part of me, and these happenings are mine. Having outside opinions helps me peer through all that unavoidable bias, and give me an ego boost when I’m swimming in writerly loathing.
  5.  There’s always more work to be done. This is the hardest one, for me. It’s hard to want to keep editing, to keep plowing on, when I keep finding things that aren’t perfect. When I called the rough draft complete, and officially started referring to it as “Draft #2”, it was bittersweet. I was proud of the work I’d accomplished, and the changes between drafts were pretty dramatic, but I knew that there were mountains yet left to climb. And deep down, I don’t know if I’ll ever cease discovering new peaks. I don’t know when to call it “done”. I’m hoping I’ll just magically know when the time comes.
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Final page, Rough Draft and Second Draft

There’s always more work to be done… That is the truth. So, what are my goals for Draft #2?

  • World building. This world has all the potential to be something great. But, The Steel Armada was my first attempt at Fantasy, and it shows. Since writing this book, I’ve written another Fantasy manuscript, am half way through another, and wrote four Fantasy short stories for publication. Not to mention the mountains of reading I’ve done. My ability to build worlds is growing every day, and it’s time to flex that muscle in Val’s world.
  • Character development. These characters aren’t bad. A couple of them are even well-drawn and fleshed out. But there are quite a few that fall flat for me. There’s more to them, and I need to give them the time they deserve. It will only help.
  • Tone. I know what this story is about. I know where the plot leads and that there’s a pretty political overtone. But that’s not consistent through the novel. That needs fixed.
  • Completion. I want to get this novel to a place where I am content to let it rest. I want to feel good about this book. Confident. Proud that I can call it my first book. Willing to query an agent with it. That’s the real goal of this round of edits.

That’s where I am, heading back into editing. These are the things I’ve learned, and the things I want to accomplish. I’m nervous, and excited. Getting The Steel Armada into a “final draft” means I’ll be free to start editing Cards, and I am dying to do that. But, I’ve been stalwart this entire time. I refuse to start editing the next manuscript until this one’s done. I won’t break now.

No. Now the real work begins. Again.

 

BZ