Sisters of Chaos book 2 update


I haven’t said anything about the progress of the sequel to Enduring Chaos in a long time. It’s intentional, though I’m not exactly sure why. Some nonsensical, subconscious mix of not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up, feeling like people would just be frustrated with me posting about what I’m doing while still not having the book ready, feeling like I’m making too big a deal of it, still taking blog posts too seriously to just sit down and write one, or perhaps some straight-up pride (or guilt). But, it’s coming up on five years since the first book was released, which makes me groan, and I owe you, the readers, if nothing else, an explanation.

If you’ve been waiting for book two, all I can say is I’m sorry.

I have been working on it. After making a push last year and in late 2016, I finally finished the final first draft last summer. I then spent the next few months doing my preliminary edits before sending it off to beta readers in late fall. My beta readers gave me fantastic feedback, which came back in winter. Unfortunately, they made it clear that the story still needed some significant editing.

The editing has been a slog for the last few months. Just trying to figure out how to portray what I was trying to show instead of the less favourable impression the readers got, on one scene alone, held me up for a month or more. This has proven to be a very challenging book to write, and subsequently edit. There are particularly complex conflicts and character interactions, a whole wealth of new characters with their own cultures and histories to introduce, struggles not to bog down readers with too many characters or too much info in a notably bigger story than the first book*, dealing with all the backstory that a sequel entails (which I have never written before), remnants of earlier drafts that more often than not end up mucking up the works and have to be reworked, even hints of character development that the characters themselves aren’t aware of. Getting everything to align properly has also been tricky, because unlike every other book I’ve written, I wrote consecutively occurring storylines one POV at a time, and balancing timelines and spreading out scenes from different characters when I put it all together has required a lot of tweaking. It’s a lot of work and a lot of aspects that are difficult to handle.

* Spoiler alert: I completely failed at that one. Still working on some scenes there.

However, the beta readers are in agreement that it is a much better book than the first. Even though it’s not where I want it to be yet, I am quite pleased with it so far and have high hopes for it when it’s finished. The manuscript has already been through a lot of changes over the years and it has become a much stronger book for all the work I’ve put into it. I briefly considered trying to push it out for Gen Con this year, but I don’t want to rush it just to get it done. I want this book to be as good as it can be before I release it, particularly because it’s already better than the first book.

I have vowed not to write any other novel until I’ve finished this trilogy. I will, though, have a new short story related to the series in this year’s Missing Pieces volume at Gen Con. (It features a minor character introduced in book 2.) I do have at least a soft goal of having the book ready by next year’s Gen Con, if for no other reason than that the short story I have planned for next year’s Missing Pieces will contain a major spoiler for the book. I will admit that a couple years ago, I wrote a mostly unrelated novella that was intended to be for an earlier volume of Missing Pieces, but after finding that it needed much more editing than I could reasonably accomplish within the time frame for the anthology, it has been entirely back-burnered. Aside from that, and despite my muse occasionally (*cough* since last weekend) giving me a massive burst of inspiration for some other story, I have not written anything else.

I have a working title for the book which might end up being the final title, but I don’t want to share it yet because I’m not 100% satisfied with it.

For those who have been waiting for the book, thank you for your patience and I apologize again for the lengthy wait. If there’s anything you want to know about the book or any hints you’d like to see to hold you over until it’s ready, please don’t hesitate to comment here or send me a message through my contact form.

Meanwhile, I hope to see you at any of the Brain Lag events coming up this summer:

June 17: Brampton ComiCon – Brampton, ON
July 13-15: Ad Astra – Richmond Hill, ON
August 2-5: Gen Con – Indianapolis, IN
September 22: Forest City Comicon – London, ON

Words left behind

It takes a lot of work to write a novel.

All authors say that, but how can a reader understand what that means? Some authors throw out numbers like it took X hours of work, or X months or years. And yet, as a reader, one might look at one author who releases one book every five years, and another who releases a dozen in the same time, and wonder why the first can’t match the second. Especially with series. The world and characters are already established, right? Shouldn’t it be easier?

I think the true measure of what’s involved in writing a novel is in all the work you don’t see. Agonizing for hours over a single word. Dialogue rewritten ten times or more. Entire backstories, enough to write short stories or even other novels, for characters who appear only in one chapter. Characters, scenes, entire plot points that an author loved that had to be scrapped. The way it’s constantly on your mind – on a bus, at a grocery store, at a party, at your day job.

For Enduring Chaos, I wrote over 300,000 words that ended up in the trash before it came to the point it is now. At this point, the tally for the series overall is at least 400,000 deleted words. The first book went through three complete, start-to-finish drafts of which nothing remained in the published book. At least two scenes in the final draft were completely rewritten four or five times.

Hours upon hours of research, probably enough to fill a full-time job for a week at least. Conversations with half a dozen different people just for information on horses – some for no other reason than to determine a particular horse’s size, merely for the sake of a single comparison in the book. Research on weaving and weather patterns and etymology and much more. An hour-long conversation with my resident expert, along with taking over a page of notes, about the behaviour of a character who has exactly one spoken line.

I have pages of notes keeping track of the timeline and the distances characters have crossed. I have my own private wiki for notes on the series – characters, locations, artifacts, and more. I have notes everywhere – on my computer, my tablet, my phone, a notebook by my bedside, the cloud. I have pages of notes written for a single scene – and I’ve done that multiple times. I have pages of notes about the backstories that inform each character’s decisions. I even have pages of notes I never kept – writing down dialogue or actions as I was working it out, only to delete it when that conversation passed, or never even happened on page.

And then there’s the unwritten work. Character sketches and maps. Planning out movement during battle scenes. Those thoughts always on my mind. Hours of conversation with my husband about aspects of the book. Hours spent in so many sessions of staring at the screen, working out in my mind how a scene will go. Determining the impact of a certain event upon a character. Thinking. So much time spent inside my own head.

How do you quantify that?

Well… you don’t. A reader only gets the finished book, and a writer has to accept that that’s all most people will see. Sure, you can discuss the writing process at conventions or meet-and-greets, bemoan the struggles of editing with other writers, friends, family, or other witting or unwitting audiences, or write how-to articles or blog posts about it, but the truth is, no one is really going to appreciate the scope of how much work went into your novel except you.

As an author, it’s just part of the job. Writing means rewriting, and it means a lot of writing that will never be seen, not necessarily because it’s not good enough, but because it’s not necessary. We do this and we suffer through deleting words we adored time and again because it’s part of the process.

Because we love writing.

But don’t mistake that for meaning it isn’t hard work.

You have your entire life to write your first book, and six months to write your second

Someone told me that quote once. I don’t remember to whom it is attributed.  It is undoubtedly a comment on output, as one will quickly lose readers, as well as publishing contracts, if one does not continually produce more books.

To me, however, it is a matter of completion. When you are an unpublished author, you can spend forever editing and tweaking your manuscript. Once you have submitted it and it hits the presses, however, it is final. It cannot be altered any longer.

Any good writer will constantly improve. As a result, likely many look back at their earlier works and see things they would have done differently. That is, if they don’t revisit older work with revulsion.

I recently reread Halcyon, possibly for the first time since publication. While I still enjoy the story and even felt better about my writing after revisiting it, I now see some things that I would change if I had the opportunity. It is inevitable and I am discovering more and more that distance is the key to seeing a work with some measure of objectivity.

Enduring Chaos is very much distant from its origins. It has been fourteen years since I began writing the first draft of this story. Aside from the core concept of the story and some of the main characters – in name and appearance, anyway, and even those have changed somewhat – nothing is the same from that original draft. The current revision is not even very close to the original third draft, which is how I have, increasingly inaccurately, been referring to this revision.

The ultimate result of so much time passed and so many changes to the story is that I am more comfortable with altering this story, even parts of it I like. I might also be maturing as a writer, but I am not crediting myself that much yet.

What I find interesting is that as I start on my final edits to the story, I find myself more willing to accept corrections and make changes after only a couple months of letting it sit while I waited for feedback from beta readers.

It is the distance. Distance is important. Do not be in a hurry to get your fresh new novel out into the world. Take a step back, let it sit for at least a few months, perhaps even a year or more, and it will be easier to look upon the manuscript more like a potential investment than as one’s baby. And you want to be able to do that, because of course, every writer wants to put out the best novel one can create.

Because once a novel goes out into the world, it is complete, and anything you might notice later is impossible to change.

On pulling teeth

When I told someone recently that I was busy editing my next novel, his response was sympathy, and he said, “I’d rather have my teeth pulled.”

This seems to be a common reaction to editing. Why is that? People who manage to get to the editing stage of a novel don’t seem to take as much issue with writing it, though undoubtedly that’s the more time-consuming part of the process.

A novel is a big project. It takes quite a bit of time to write it. As a result, most people simply can’t keep everything about it together while writing it, and mistakes are bound to happen along the way. I think many people accept this fact while they’re writing, quietly, perhaps even subconsciously agreeing that as long as they continue writing to the end of the book, those things can be fixed in editing later.

Perhaps that’s the reason editing gets such a bad reputation. It forces one to acknowledge one’s mistakes. Perhaps it’s just the snowball effect of realizing that fixing one issue can cause several more through the story based on how that thing affects future events. Perhaps it’s the rigid quality standards of editing, that nitpicky insistence that now everything has to be polished, which means it has to be sanded again and again and again before it attains its luster, as opposed to the freedom of simply writing. And yes, I’ve seen it happen – one can edit all the life out of a story.

Personally, I don’t really feel like editing is all that different a step from writing. It’s still the act of crafting a manuscript, even if that involves tweaking, readjusting, rewriting, and a lot of thoughtful consideration rather than actually writing. Though perhaps my current view of the process is warped, given that most of the editing I’ve been doing on my next novel has been rewriting, which is really just writing.

I’ve always edited my work, at least when I had something I felt like sharing. I’d reread it at least a couple times and polish it up, though usually that happened along the way, not in one fell swoop as I’m doing now. That, of course, leads to problems when one gets late in a story and those things one forgets along the way end up creating inconsistencies. Fortunately for me, I suppose, none of my attempted novels prior to Aurius ever reached completion, so I didn’t have to deal with that level of editing until then.

So how do I edit a novel? With Aurius, perhaps because it was written at the breakneck pace of NaNoWriMo, for the first time in my case, I actually was able to keep even minor details together while I wrote it. The story and characters were also fairly simple. As a result, the book was pretty near to where I wanted it to be by the time I finished the first draft, and it only took minor wording changes – and things like chapter breaks – to clean it up until I considered it done.

Halcyon was my first true taste of novel editing. I had to reevaluate plot points, research some setting concepts used, and improve some characters. Once I identified what needed to be improved and how, however, the process of doing so was a simple matter of writing, that step with which I am quite familiar. Overall, it was hardly a painful process, even if it took me three years to get to the point that I felt I could improve on the story with some fairly simple editing.

Enduring Chaos is, of course, a different beast again, both for reasons that I’ve mentioned in previous posts and for the fact that this story has gone through so many very different drafts already. It’s a very exciting project for me for a number of reasons; part of it is that it has gone through so many iterations already, that after three other full drafts it is finally coming toward completion. Part of it is also that it has become a much larger and more epic story than nearly anything else I’ve tried to write, this being the first book of a trilogy. It’s also very exciting because this is such an old story. Aurius and Halcyon were both relatively new, each written within a year or two of their conception, but Enduring Chaos is something I’ve been trying to write for nearly fourteen years.

Perhaps that’s why editing this particular novel doesn’t seem such a chore to me, because I’ve seen the story and characters change so much already over the years. More than that, though, I’m simply enjoying making the book better. For each scene that I edit, I feel better about the novel in general.

Generally, that’s how I feel when I edit. Because that’s what the point of editing is: to make the book as good as it can be. And even though I’m at the beginning of a plot point that I decided needed to be cut entirely, I’m anticipating the rewriting to come, since it will ultimately end up better than it was before.

How do you feel about editing?

A time for reflection

Interestingly, when it comes to new year celebrations/traditions, I am if anything less cynical than I was when I was younger. No, one shouldn’t need a calendar turning to reflect on one’s behaviors or attitude or resolve to improve oneself, but it does provide a useful milestone for doing so.

There are a number of things I should resolve to do for 2013. The common personal goals of exercising and perhaps losing weight. Trying to do more art, or any of the other hobbies/outlets I enjoy. Trying to be a better mother.

There isn’t much I want to or will resolve to do this year, however. For one thing, my daughter’s growth has me constantly reevaluating my free time and my priorities, so it’s difficult to plan for very large or general self-improvements. That also means that I have been modifying my free time and how to use it, particularly in the last few months.

A consistent problem with me is procrastination. Not necessarily that I don’t want to do something, but working myself up to doing it is often more difficult than necessary. I recently rediscovered a quote that sums up both my problem and the solution for it: “To think too much about doing something is often its undoing.” This is usually what causes me to put off what I should be doing, such as editing my next novel.

I’ve tried to reduce distractions in an attempt to help me focus on what needs to be done, like blocking time-wasting websites from my computer. But there are always other distractions to be had, which is something I’ve discovered with the latest attempt.

And so, in the past couple weeks, I’ve come to the realization that it’s not about reducing one’s distractions, but to just force myself to sit down and work on what needs to be done. It’s not easy to do, especially with a task as subjective and full of potential failure as editing. Ultimately, however, it’s not as difficult as I make it out to be in my mind when I just sit down and do it. So, I’ve made some pretty good progress in just the last week or so of December, compared to the rest of the month, and it’s momentum I intend to build on.

Truthfully, I’ve gotten a number of aspects of my life where I want them to be right now. I’ve started getting back into the convention circuit and put more work into my business. I’m getting better – at intervals – at handling being a stay-at-home mom. I don’t watch TV anymore and often don’t even spend evenings watching DVDs or Netflix. I am able to make myself get work done on my own projects.

Certainly, there are things that could stand to be improved upon. I would like to be able to devote at least some time to my other hobbies, and the number of books I read last year was dismal. But overall, I am pretty content with where my life is right now. I don’t see the new year as a time to make changes so much as an opportunity to reflect on the past and keep myself on track. And at the moment, I’m feeling pretty hopeful about it.

Happy new year, everyone.

Polishing the words

Editing is a journey just as long if not longer than writing.

I’ve tried to write a lot of novels over the years. I wouldn’t be surprised if one went through all my old files, including ones I can no longer access, and found 30 if not 50 attempted novels. Some have been well planned, some have started writing spur of the moment, many fall somewhere in between, and a number are different attempts at writing the same book. Yet I have only managed to write five to completion.

I don’t know how most people go about writing novels, at least those that can finish them. For me, while the first book I wrote to its end was before I gave it an earnest effort, NaNoWriMo has been a transformative experience. Speed, in fact, seems to be the key. What has mainly bogged down and ultimately destroyed those many attempted novels – aside from those thoroughly unplanned ones in which I didn’t even know where it was going – was dissatisfaction with what I wrote, which made it too difficult to continue writing rather than wanting to go back and improve what I wrote already.

NaNoWriMo’s philosophy of quantity over quality, however, changed the way I wrote. Momentum built on itself and I learned to ignore the editing I know I would need to do even if I wrote a really good first draft. In fact, all of the novels I have written to completion since I started participating in NaNoWriMo have been started during the challenge, in one form or another.

Now as I sit with a new completed draft of my latest book, that other vital part of writing looms before me: editing.

It is perhaps a drawback of this style of writing, that forcing oneself to continue even when one has issues with parts of the manuscript results in a rougher work than if one takes more time to create the initial draft. I still prefer it, as I still get it written that way, but it does make editing a bigger task.

In any case, I’m not certain more time taken to craft this draft would have improved this particular book, as I’ve only recently accepted a fairly significant – though quite fixable – issue this story has. My opinion of this work is somewhat interesting; usually I either love a story and get admittedly rigid if not defensive in the face of criticism – true as it might be – or I recognize that the book needs so much work that I hardly even want to touch it afterward.

With Enduring Chaos, I do believe I have a strong story, largely pretty strong characters, and overall fairly good writing. However, I have realized an issue that was pointed out even in the previous draft of the book, that the star is somewhat weak. On the bright side, this should be fairly easy to fix without affecting any of those parts I thought did come out well.

I went over the comments from my husband, my first reader and collaborator, which is always a lesson in humility. I’ll admit it; even when I feel iffy about a story it’s hard for me to accept criticism, to draw the line between criticism on a story and criticism on me. (Fortunately, he understands this and inserted some positive comments as well to soften the blow.)

With Chaos, however, I found that his initial comments on the story were very insightful and accurate, and there was little he commented on that I’m reluctant to change. Perhaps it’s simply the state of mind I was in when I read them – I never know what’s going on in there – but it was a lot easier to accept his critiques and suggestions this time. Actually, I find them almost nothing but helpful in getting the story to what I want it to be.

Maybe I’m maturing as a writer, or maybe I’m just lucky this time. And I still have a big task ahead of me in editing this book. And, of course, I need to turn my focus to book 2, which I will start writing Thursday.

But overall, I’m feeling optimistic about the next step for this book.

Halcyon, version 0.9

Writing has not tapered off since the end of NaNoWriMo.  Far from it.  Since December began, I have been hard at work on Halcyon, and as of last night, I have completed version 0.9 of the novel.  What does this mean, precisely?  In short, I’ve completed my major edits to the story.

In long, unlike Aurius, my NaNoWriMo novel of 2007, Halcyon was pretty well planned out when I started writing it.  I knew who the characters were, the background/setting of the story was well developed, and I even had an outline of how the story was going to go.  I had a road map for it, the only thing I had to do was see what the sights were outside the windows along the way.

As I actually wrote the novel, however, I realized that I passed by some of those sights too quickly, that some sights that seemed simple were more complex the closer I looked at them, and some turns in the road that should have been breakneck, hairpin corners turned out to be slight grades, and it was not perhaps the most interesting ride it could have been.

But enough of the metaphors.  The point was that there were a few significant changes I wanted to make, more exploration of a much larger cast of characters than I tend to deal with, and generally more to add to the story that really added something to it.  Plus, there was one fairly important flashback that I never got to writing in the original draft.  So, since I initially concluded the story, I have been going through the story and making all the major changes I have wanted or needed to make, and I have now done just that.

The edits I have made to the text have been more or less minor.  The majority of the writing has remained roughly the same and the same things happen in the story, just some of them now happen in a different way.  There is also a significant amount of more material, adding about 23,000 words mostly in the first half of the story.

The reason it is version 0.9 is because I haven’t had a chance to go through and reread it since I’ve done all my major edits to it yet.  Although, I did spend some time doing just that today, cleaning up and making far less significant changes to over half the story.  I’ve gotten some excellent feedback on the first version of the story, concluded on December 1st, primarily from a coworker who has done a number of wonderful sketches of characters and locales within the story.  I’ll have to see if I can share some sometime; I’m really quite blown away by his enthusiasm.

So, I’ve updated Halcyon‘s status on the novels page linked above.  After this thorough start-t0-finish readthrough, and possibly – hopefully – any further comment from coworkers with whom I have also shared the story, the novel will be considered complete.  I must thank one of the writers whom I met on WordPress during NaNoWriMo, who shared information about the Breakthrough Novel Award on their blog last month, and whose name I have unfortunately forgotten since.  Submissions for the contest are open during the first week of February, and it has provided an excellent goal for me to complete my edits on the story, and it would likely not be nearly so far along now if I had not heard about it.  So, cheers to whoever it was that mentioned the contest.

Now that Halcyon is starting to wind down, I’ve started thinking about what I’m going to be writing next.  I have two novels on the go: Eyes of a Dragon and The Fire Within (working title).  I began writing Eyes successfully for the first time in fifteen years of off-and-on planning last spring, and I am decidedly farther along in the story than I have ever been.  It is my pet project and I am simply thrilled that it finally seems to be working this time.  On the other hand, some brainstorming and idea-bouncing I’ve done tonight has me thinking again about TFW, which was the first novel I wrote to completion, but is in the process of being more or less rewritten as I try to improve upon it.

We shall see.  As much as I would absolutely love to finish Eyes – though it will need somewhat significant editing of its own before it’s ready for the public – I think I would be perfectly content to let my muse take me where it will.

As long as I’m writing, I don’t think it really matters.

On the editing process, and NaNoWriMo

I don’t have a lot of experience writing novels.

That is, I don’t have much experience finishing them.  While I have begun writing possibly as much as twenty novels over the years and have ideas for several I have not yet begun to write, there are only two that I have written to their end, The Fire Within and Aurius.  Aside from those, the only time I have managed to get even halfway through a novel was the previous incarnation of The Fire Within, which I wrote to within a few chapters of completion before finally giving up on a story I had already come to realize was pretty weak and inconsistent.

As such, I haven’t dealt with large-scale editing much.  A few months ago, I began reworking The Fire Within, but I didn’t get long before I became held up with fundamental problems with the story that needed to be resolved before I could continue, and it went on the back burner since then.

Aurius was a stroke of luck, pure and simple.  I had some fairly solid ideas for the characters and story, especially the star, going into last year’s NaNoWriMo, and the last quarter of the book was fairly well planned out.  Aside from that, however, I didn’t have much of a plan.  I needed one brainstorming session late in the month to determine, after nearly 50,000 words already, where the rest of the story was going and how I was going to get to the ending I had figured out long ago.  As it happened, all the pieces fell into place far better than I expected, with even small details thrown in early for the heck of it ending up to have relevance later in the story, sometimes major.  I had to do very minor editing after I was finished with the story to complete it to my satisfaction, and I could not be happier with it.  This is why I am not and will not be discouraged by rejections from publishers; I know I wrote something good here.

The Fire Within is another matter.  The first time I gave up on the story was in 2001 or 2002.  For several years off and on I tried to make something else of the characters or story, and it was in 2006 that I decided to take the original story, rework the characters and put them in a new world.  I wasn’t even finished writing the novel before I knew that it would need some serious editing to clean it up.  Not enough foreshadowing is laid in early in the book for what comes later, making it seem somewhat contrived when it occurs.  One of the characters was a little too angsty – though I did work very hard to avoid that, and considering the character’s background, I think I did a fairly good job of it.  The events of the second half of the book seem a little rushed.

The more I looked at the story, however, the more fundamental, and more bothersome, the problems became.  I didn’t like the conflict in the second half of the story.  This connected to many aspects of the story that simply didn’t work so well.  I think I was in the midst of my initial reworking when inspiration hit me to begin writing Eyes of a Dragon, and given the problems I had with TFW, it wasn’t a hard decision to let it sit.  Don’t get me wrong – I liked what I wrote for TFW, or at least the way I wrote it.  I just don’t think what I wrote makes the best story.

I also like what I wrote for the next revision.

In a sudden fit of inspiration this week, I broke out the reworked story and reread what I’d written, only 36 pages of it so far.  I’m very pleased with it.  I show a lot more of what I simply told in the last version and I like the characters’ actions and reactions so far.  It’s a strong opening, and with the brainstorming I did in recent weeks to clean up the major issues I had with the first version, I’m feeling optimistic about the progression of the story from here.

I’ve never really worked with different drafts of a story before.  I’ve tried to write Eyes of a Dragon six times over the years, but each time, I got to a point at which I realized it simply wasn’t working and started over, and as such, it didn’t really seem to me like they were different drafts of the story.  With The Fire Within, each of the first two drafts I’ve written so far have worked on their own, but each time, it’s been improved upon.  And I’m hopeful that this draft will be the final one.

Granted, being two weeks away from November, I don’t have a lot of time to work on this before my creative energies must be poured into Halcyon.  Still, if I have a solid foundation set before I start on that novel, hopefully I can get back into The Fire Within afterward, and continue at the heady pace set by NaNoWriMo.  I know both where the story’s going and what I need to improve on from the last revision.  I’m doing a bit more rewriting than I had thought I would, but I’m okay with that.  This is going to be the best TFW yet.

Incidentally, it occurs to me that I never actually mentioned here that I registered for NaNoWriMo this year.  With all the novels I have ready to write and especially with the resounding success with Aurius last year, there was no way I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  If you’re also going to be in on the madness, feel free to add my profile to your writing buddies list.  I always enjoy meeting new people, I’m just bad at it.

For those who don’t know NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, this is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.  It encourages you to throw standards out the window and just write, something that I think all us writers, and those who don’t normally write, need.  Nothing is at stake here other than the ability to say you wrote a novel, which makes it both relaxed and hectic at once.  The results can be a jumbled mess, which can only be expected when you force-write so much in so little time – or it can be the best thing you’ve ever written.  The only way to find out is to write.