Editing: On Research


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.

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!)


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.

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.




Plot Twists and Goals

Progress! I finished chapter 7 yesterday, and the novel even surprised me with a plot twist I wish I were awesome enough to have planned. I mean, if I’m being honest, I was in denial about this plot path. I thought of it early on, but didn’t want to vilify one of the characters.

Turns out, he was a villain all a long. Though, like all good bad guys, he feels justified, even righteous in his decisions. I’m excited to write more in this direction, even though I know I’ll have to add more clues in the editing stage. Right now the clues are very small, and this discovery could come out of left field for the reader. I want satisfaction, not straight out confusion.


Ok, so chapter 7 was long, and I admit I probably spent too much time world-building, and I can already think of a scene that will probably get cut. Of course I enjoyed it enormously, so it must die. Right?

The chapter ended at just over 3,500 words. A monster. But, it makes up for the couple shorter chapters leading into it. I also wrote just over 1,000 words of chapter 8, and I like it so far. We’re hitting the really good stuff. The world’s built, characters are developed, and there are subplots and secrets hinted at. Now it’s time to twist it all up and then unravel it!

I think.

It’s raining. Not unusual for the Willamette Valley, but it’s not the usual soft patter. The weathermen call it thunderstorms, but I’ve heard no such rumblings. But, the rain is angrier. It comes down hard, at an angle as it rides the wind. Which is blowing much harder than necessary.

For the record, I hate wind. It’s stupid. And it does nothing any good, except plants that propagate via spores. Otherwise it’s just a nuisance that blows my hair in my face and scatters pages everywhere.


In… not celebration. Acknowledgment of the weather I’m listening to Placebo today. If you’ve not heard of them, it’s not a surprise. They’re a UK band, and I would describe them as an acquired taste. The lead singer has this nasally, whiney voice, but it’s perfect for their sound. The music is pained and sort of lilting. Very cold feeling, hinting at emotions that don’t quite get the attention they deserve.

Album artwork for Placebo's 'Sleeping with Ghosts'
Album artwork for Placebo’s ‘Sleeping with Ghosts’

Lots of self-loathing and doubt. I couldn’t get enough of them when I was in high school. Trevor hates them. So, I don’t listen to them much, out of respect for his ears, and because too much Placebo leads to depression. At least in me.

So, limited Placebo exposure today in honor of the weather. Spoke with my mother today, which was wonderful. She’s loving ‘Cards’ so far and is asking all kinds of questions, and even brought up something kind of cool which I might steal. She’s also still working on the cryptograms and still can’t figure them out. I am damned proud of those stupid things.

Talked to my dad too. He started his new job this week, so he’s in Pittsburgh until tomorrow afternoon. Apparently it is 15 degrees there right now, and he’s miserable. But, he’ll be back in AZ on Friday, where he can enjoy the near 90 degree weather.

So, the goals for today. Work on Chapter 8, maybe finish it if it goes well. I’ve been saying for days now that I want to edit ‘Vessels’ chapter 2, and while it’s true, it may not happen today. But, I have three more days to get quality work in, so hopefully it will get done this week.

As of this writing, I am making my goal of editing and writing a chapter a week. Not too shabby. Also, I think I know what my next project will be after ‘Cards’, and anticipate the the rough draft will be finished before editing on ‘Vessels’.

Funny, and true.
Funny, and true.

Exciting times in the Write Life, and ready to keep it coming.

Have a great day Blogland!

Mid-Winter Meh’s.

My brain is jumpy today.

One moment I’m considering a trip to the gym, the next I’m munching carrots in my Starbucks lobby, going over the last segment of chapter two.

I like where it’s going, but it still feels incredibly slow. But, this isn’t writing short fiction anymore. Chapters are long. Hell, the chapters I’m writing now are longer than most of my short fiction. So, I can’t tell if the scenes are in fact slow, or if I’m just letting my short story writer show.

This past weekend was gorgeous. Sunshine and blue skies and a temperature hanging in the high 40s. Not bad for January. But this week Oregon is back, reminding all of us just who’s in charge here.

Dense mercury clouds spit rain against my window as a brisk wind tears at the barren trees across the street.

Is it summer yet?

I’m feeling cold and a little stir-crazy. Cooped-up. I want to go tanning, to absorb more than my fair share of UV, but with my new cartilage piercing, it’s just not a good idea. Maybe in a couple of weeks.

I feel like nothing is ever quite enough. I’m never warm enough. The music is never loud enough. I never get enough hours at work, but I never have enough time off. I don’t write enough, and that one’s true. I’m in a constant state of quandary.

But, this seems to be normal for this time of year. It’s just my mid-winter blues. Though I’m not really blue. Not sad at all, just tired and irritable. Frustrated. For no other reason than there isn’t enough sunshine.

But, I’m here today, and I’m looking forward to finishing this chapter. Over 1,000 words to go  to make that happen, but I have about three hours to do it. If I’m good, and I focus, it should happen.

Plus, the next scene is where the ball really gets rolling. A new murder to add to the string Whit’s investigating, and this one right under his nose!

Right after I nom on a Spinach Feta Wrap.

Later Blogland,



An Introduction to the New Novel

Trevor’s putting in some overtime today, so I find myself sitting at work on my day off, trying to make up for lost time.

I just typed up the intro to chapter 2. I knew it wasn’t much but it ended at 320 words, bringing the new manuscript up to 3,091 words. It’s crazy to think that I really am doing this all over again. All the time and emotion.

Writing the last novel was a completely new experience, and looking back it’s a complete blur. A haze of days and nights, some lost in the fervor of creation, and others spent staring at blank screens wondering what in the hell I think I’m doing. Playing at little miss author, faking it until I make it.

But, I did it. That manuscript is done. Just over 47,000 words. Short, I know, but for a YA that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And I do intend to add to the story in order to smooth some things out. It’ll probably just break 50k when it’s finally done.

But, enough about ‘Vessels’.

‘Cards’, the working title for the new novel is a different animal. Instead of a teenage girl  I’m writing about a middle-aged Widower, and now single father. Powerless in a world of hidden magic, Whit discovers a string of murders that no one wants to pursue, and while hunting down the killer his three year old daughter is taken for ransom. The climax will push Whit to find out just how much he’s willing to give up to save his daughter.

There. A little synopsis for you.

The major difference with this book so far is that I actually know where it’s going. I have a rough outline with key points, acting as a sort of map. With ‘Vessels’ it was like writing in the dark. I’d turn on the computer and get sucked into a world with so many opportunities for adventure that I was never really sure what would happen on any particular day. But, that was sort of Val’s personality, so it made sense.

‘Cards’ is very direct. At least so far. There’s a main storyline that is determined to be told. And I’m so excited to see how it grows.

As the outline sits right now this novel is the first in a potential series. Not sure how I feel about that. We’ll see when we get there. The book is still entirely stand alone, and who knows, by the end of this journey I might just decide to go big or go home.

When I read the outline I get excited. This book has so many subplots built in to it. Whit’s relationship with his daughter, with his Brother-in-Law, with his live-in nanny/potential love interest.

But, with my current schedule, it’s going to be much slower going. Although I did get to work almost an hour early the other day in order to write the outline. I was supposed to work at 8:30am, and rolled in at 7:30am. If that’s not writing commitment, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, I’m going to stop blathering here, wasting time. I’ve got another novel to write!


Torrid Literature’s Hall of Fame 2014!

As long time readers may know, my short story ‘Fallen Star’ was published by Torrid Literature earlier this summer. It was a very exciting time, and the first time one of my stories was published in print.

Each year Torrid asks its readers to vote for the stories and poems they liked best to be put in their Hall of Fame. How it works is that one poet and one fiction writer are selected from each issue.

There were only 3 short stories in Issue VII: Breakthrough, including mine. So, readers, I need your help. Please click here to head to Torrid’s website and cast your votes.

The other issues should be available to read for free online, so read on and cast your votes! Help the literary community, and help my story find its way into the Torrid Hall of Fame!

Thank you, Blogland!


The Letter of Intent

I think I’m going to postpone Week 10 Summary pt. 2 until Monday. I want to post something a bit more philosophical, and not so regimented.

I read a blog post today, which I probably should post a link to. It’s from a writer I follow. Not anyone big. Not someone you would know if I dropped his name. Just a struggling young writer trying to self-publish his creative dreams.

Usually he has some poetic views and opinions, and then wraps it up by asking for donations. You see, he quit his day job in order to follow his dreams and make them a reality. So, he asks for money from his readers in order to stay afloat.

It’s weird to me.

I would never quit my day job before writing could sustain me. And I would never ask for money from my readers. But, I don’t want to vilify this guy. It’s not my goal. He made his decisions, and people do donate money. I’m just not one of them.

But, today he posted about how you can’t put your dreams off. Can’t keep telling yourself that you’ll have time to make them a reality later. Which, yes I understand. And he said that, he’s not suggesting everyone give up their jobs in order to start writing and painting.

But, that’s how it made me feel.

He made me feel like I don’t take writing as seriously as he does. Obviously, his post wasn’t directed at me personally, and he swears that he doesn’t feel this way. But the tone was different. The tone said, “I am a suffering writer, my cause is better than yours.”

Excuse me, Mr. Writer Man. I work fulltime, and I’m writing about 20 hours week on top of that. I still maintain what small social life I have, and I’m planning a wedding. Add to it a serious consideration of going back to school, and suddenly my suffering seems pretty damn legit.

But, that’s not why I write this blog.

I write this blog to empty my brain of any excess writerly thoughts. I write this blog for a small sense of community. I write this blog to keep myself, and other suffering writers upbeat.

I don’t need your Woe-Is-Me schtick. I have only once ever considered giving up writing. That was 2 years into college, when I realized that I would probably never make a living off of it. I panicked. I grasped for any major that could lead to a lucrative career. Two months into those classes, I panicked again.

My creative mind felt stagnant. It was begging for something to do, to focus on. And I realized that, when I don’t write, I slowly lose my mind.

I applied for the Creative Writing Certificate Program the day after that. My Letter of Intent was probably one the best, and most honest things I’ve ever written. I keep it, and consider it every now and then. It helps me remember the rushing clarity of that moment. In that panic induced moment, suddenly everything was startlingly clear.

I Am A Writer. No matter where that takes me, for better or for worse.

And nothing some blogger, or the Jimmy John’s Delivery Guy, or some uneducated customer who is compelled to share their opinion, can convince me otherwise.

I tried to give up writing once; I almost lost my mind. Since I’ve had this realization, I’ve never looked back.



In Response to the Jimmy John’s Delivery Guy

I’m about to take y’all on a trip. Follow along, if you dare!

So, I’m working on a horror piece about a portrait that moves and takes on a consciousness of its own. I don’t read a lot of Horror. At least, not since I started reading fiction with a writer’s eye. In high school I read Anne Rice with fervor, and I’ve always loved King’s shorter works, though I’ve yet to read a full-length novel from the man.

So yesterday, I’m sitting in my Starbucks with my nose stuck in King’s ‘Everything’s Eventual’ after a losing battle with the free WiFi. So, I’m reading and underlining, and taking all sorts of mental notes because the story I was reading was ‘The Road Virus Heads North’, which is a story about a painting that moves.

One of my regulars comes in, a nice guy who I know due to his job at my local gourmet sub delivery joint. They happen to have Freaky Fast Delivery, and I order from them far too often.

Anyway, he sees me underlining and taking notes and asks, “Book report time?”

On a side note, I find it irritating that just because I read a lot and type away on a computer I must be a college student. It’s frustrating to keep answering the same questions over and over. Anyway.

I tell him that I’m doing a different kind of study for a horror piece I’m writing. To which he responds:

“Why write Horror? Isn’t the world dark enough?”

This rocked me. Not because I thought it was rude, or unwelcome, but because it’s a valid question. It immediately sent my mind spinning. I could tell that, somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I had an answer. But I needed time to research and compose myself.

I think he noticed my sudden pensiveness, and he felt bad. He looked at me, “I’m sorry, Brittany. I didn’t mean to be discouraging.”

I laughed. I laughed and told him that he wasn’t discouraging at all. “I’m a writer,” I said. “I’m a special brand of discouragement, all my own.”

But, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t shake the question. And not just in terms of myself, but on a much larger scale. Why do we write horror? Why do we like being scared?

So, Mr. Delivery Man, I’ve thought up a response. It’s not quite Horror Lit & Film Essay worthy, but there are some nuggets of truth in it.

So, let’s start with the idea that Art Imitates Life. Some people might have a hard time agreeing with this sentiment when it comes to genre fiction, but think about it. Ultimately, you like a story because you can relate to characters and scenarios. A mixture of the familiar and the strange, to quote Brandon Sanderson. So, we like horror because it hints at what we’re capable of, and we write horror for the same reason. An idea has struck us, and we want to illicit a physical response in people, whether our characters or our readers.

But, this is the weakest argument I have for writing Horror.

“Isn’t the world dark enough?”

Yes, it is. And honestly, it’s too dark. So many atrocious things happen on a daily basis. Things that, if you let yourself stop and think about it, shake you to your core. The Sandy Hook shooting did this to me. I felt physically ill if I thought about it too long. Outraged. Heartbroken.

I think Horror fiction helps us cope. We can read about how other people react to horrible things that happen around them. And it allows us to experience fear and pain from the safety of a book.

There will always be Horror junkies. The kids who read Lovecraft and Moorcock, with their long hair and Megadeath shirts, who worship the Evil Dead. But, horror, just like any other literature, is a reaction to the world around us. A side effect of the internalization of the things we see, eat, breathe, and understand in our daily lives.

So, why write horror?

Because, a long time ago, I read stories that scared me. I had physical reactions, and my imagination knew no bounds. Anything is possible in a King story. Anything at all. And one day, a few years ago, I had an idea for a story that startled me. Shook me. And I’ve been waiting to write it all these years.

For more great insight into this topic, check out Author Sarah Langan’s essay on HarperCollin’s website.

Thanks for reading, Blogland.