Plotting a New Novel

June has been crazy, with a series of ups and downs, along with a lot of changes. This week, I started a new job. Things are starting to settle down now, hence this blog post.

Normally, I don’t plot much, and when I did, I often didn’t follow the plot.  Until recently, I have been a panster. But the plot for East of Yesterday remained mostly intact, so I’m trying it again for the sequel. I started out with index cards, but when I realized I could do the exact same thing more effectively with Visio, I transferred the cards to Visio processes (using the Flowchart template), created some swimlanes for the POV characters, and took off.

SOYThreads

South of Yesterday is just a working title, but it works pretty well, because for the most part, the plot takes place even further in the past. Areas that are blocked together will probably end up in the same chapter. This is helping me estimate how long the book might be. I had all these characters converge in a major confrontation in what will probably be the early second half of the novel. I don’t know, however. It is hard to get a feel for the length.

In the past, whenever I outlined, it the act of outlining would sap some of my enthusiasm for the story. The reason for that, I think, was those outlines were too detailed. With this approach, I can only fit about fifteen characters in each of those boxes. This helps keep my outlines in the ideal state of sketchiness. I can’t wait to write these scenes, and that’s how it should be.

I’m finding it difficult to plot much further than that confrontation. I know what the villain is doing, and some of the shades-of-gray characters, but not everyone else. There is a doosey of a betrayal, and an even better rescue involving forgiveness and transformation on the part of both the rescuer and the rescuee. The plots for some of these characters may come to an end, with formerly-secondary characters jumping into starring roles.

This month of change has been good for this plotting process. Because I have been so busy with all this newness and all my obligations, I am forced to just let it sit. I occasionally open it up and add boxes when I have a flash of insight, as I did with my betrayal and subsequent rescue/forgiveness/transformation. But for the most part, it’s just percolating. Which is just what I think it needs.

On to the Next Project

From LOC: Highway intersection near Belle Glade, Florida. Negro bean pickers hitchhiking

Click to enlarge. From LOC: Highway intersection near Belle Glade, Florida. Negro bean pickers hitchhiking. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/fsa1997008184/PP/#about-this-item

So I officially finished East of Yesterday. I made a few changes around this website to reflect that fact, including the front page and the East of Yesterday page, under Fiction. I removed the Petroleum Sunset pages for now, because I don’t have the time to finish those stories at present, and I never really considered them “launched”. When I do launch them, I will probably re-issue them under another name that I decided to write under for East of Yesterday. They are more closely related to East of Yesterday than my fairy tales.

I started plotting the second book in the series. I think there will only be two books unless I start weaving other characters into the story in order to continue their stories in later books. I have not decided yet.

In the last few weeks, I have also been going through my other in-progress novel, Magic by Starlight. I only have a few more chapters to re-read, and then I will have two completed, marketable novels on my hands. I will probably continue to write under Tia Nevitt for that series, since it is so different from East of Yesterday, but not so different from my fairy tales. The problem would be juggling the two series. I would need to be able to write full-time in order to write two series.

How many novels have I written altogether? I consider my first three to be trunk novels. The third book, I think, had potential, but my writing was just not quite there yet, and I had not yet grasped the concept of driving the plot forward with every scene. I sometimes think of doing something with it, but then I always have other ideas.

For now, I am committed to these two stories. And right now, my next writing immediate goal is to come out with a high-level/low detail plot outline for the second story in the time travel series.

Ready to Query East of Yesterday. Almost.

I started a blog post called “Ready to Synopsize East of Yesterday” but I never finished the post and now I am finished with both the synopsis and the query.

Part of the reason I made so many changes to the story in the last few months is that it proved impossible to synopsize. I have learned that the process of writing a synopsis will make evident every point in your story that sucks. Because you will find it impossible to write that part of the synopsis.

So I did some rewriting.

I generally enjoy writing synopses. I wrote a blog post and an infographic on the subject some time ago. Still, it took me two weeks to get a two-page synopsis that worked. I ended up writing three versions–one that was too detailed but had lots of voice, one that was concise but lacked voice, and a combination of the above. When I finished that, I went back to the query, but I only made a few tweaks to it because I liked it already. So I am ready. Now I need to come up with a querying strategy.

There are several agents who have read my full manuscripts in the past, and who might like this book, even though it is significantly different from anything else I have written. So they are my top choices. But the question is, do I query them first? The reason I ask this, is after one round of querying, I inevitably think of better ways to query/synopsize, and I revise everything and end up with a better query and synopsis.

On the other hand, one hears all the time that one should not put all one’s eggs in one’s basket. Plus, I think the query is damned good as it is. Any improvement I make, at this point, probably won’t be groundbreaking. Besides, none of the so-called improved queries and synopses ever ended up in a sale.

It has been a very long time since I have sent out a query. I have not queried anyone since before I sold The Sevenfold Spell. I really want an agent for this book, so I’ve been going through the old tools I used to use. AAR, AgentQuery and Publisher’s Marketplace still appear prominently in my Google query. AgentQuery used to be my preferred agent search tool, but the data is looking a bit stale, and I don’t see a good way to check how old each entry is. I

Then I thought of QueryTracker–I remember when the guy first launched it because he emailed me. It has a slew of awards, so I created a account (a new one–the old one seems to have been purged). I just spent the last three hours going through 125 agents who accept science fiction, looking for agents who also accept Historical, and giving each of them a closer look. There’s no category for time travel, so science fiction/historical is the next best thing. I whittled it down to 27 agents.

I found quite a few agents who appear to accept all genres, and QueryTracker’s reports tool was especially helpful here. If said agent have not actually requested any fulls or partials for SF or Historical submissions, I passed them over, for now. I think this set of 27 will give me a good place to start. If I go through them without any success, then I’ll look at the rest of the SF lovers.

I forgot how much work this is!

How I Lost Twenty Pounds

A few weeks ago, I hit the twenty-pound mark in my weight-loss efforts. I had been trying to lose weight for a number of years, but I have only been successful in the last six months. The weight-loss method I am using is traditional calorie counting.

Here’s what I did that was different.

1. Enlist a partner. My husband had some bad news from his doctor, and we knew it was time for him to lose weight. I have been on high blood pressure medicine for about five years, so we decided to do this together. It has been SO much easier–especially since we are both committed. I was unable to stick to a plan until my husband and I started this together.

2. Find a calorie counting app with reminders. I’ve had MyFitnessPal on my iPhone for a couple of years now. I selected it because it was the only one that enabled me to set food tracking reminders throughout the day. This is important when you are establishing the food-tracking habit, because it really does take 21 days to establish a habit. Now, we both use it.

3. Find a daily goal I could stick with for month after month. This is important. You need to be able to cut enough calories to lose weight, but you don’t want it to be so difficult that it is discouraging. It took me six months to lose twenty pounds. I’m good with that. It took years for me to pack on this weight, after all. If I lose a total of forty pounds after one year, I will be totally thrilled.

MyFitnessPal suggests a goal for you based on your activity level. Because I know I have a somewhat active metabolism–I can’t blame my weight on my glands–I chose Lightly Active as my activity level. This is even though I am probably not that active. Because I chose Lightly Active, I don’t carry around my iPhone with me so it can track steps. I only let it track steps when I have my purse with me. If I happen to be more active than usual, it will count those steps. If not, the few steps I take won’t have much of an impact. My husband chose Sedentary even though he probably is Lightly Active. But he carries around his cell-phone, and it records every step he takes.

Important take-away here–I have managed to lose 20 pounds even though I have not stepped up my activity level.

4. I Track every day–even when I go over my calorie goal. Face it–you will go over your calorie count from time to time. I find that I need to eat more when I have a bad headache, or when I have lost more than 1 pound in a week. But the important thing is to track the calories anyway. If you stop, it will just make it harder to start up again. So I don’t care about blowing it on the days that I go over–I just make sure I track everything.

MyFitnessPal has this wonderful Complete Entry feature, which tells me what I will weigh in five weeks if I eat that many calories every day. It is motivating both ways–when I go over, I see that I will gain if I keep eating that much, and it puts me back on-track. When I am under or on-target, I see how much more I will lose, and I am motivated.

BTW, the predictions have been fairly accurate. It now predicts that I can lose 4 pounds in a month, which is pretty much the rate at which I have been losing, excepting for a plateau or two.

5. Weigh-in over a three-day period, and record the lowest weight. I started weighing myself on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I record the lowest weight. Why? Because your weight fluctuates so much over the course of a few days. This way, you don’t have to record a discouraging gain on a day when you may be constipated or retaining water. This goes with number 6 …

6. Only record losses. This will probably fly in the face of most advice. I found that when I plateau or have a slight gain, if I record it, it is demotivating. Sometimes, I now reason, it takes me two weeks to lose a pound, instead of just one. So if after a week of faithful calorie counting, if I am at the same weight or slightly over, I wait another week and try again. This gives me another week to lose that pound, and keeps me motivated.

Now if you go two or three weeks without losing any weight at all, or if you gain, you may have to re-evaluate your daily calorie goal, or perhaps stop indulging in so many over-limit days. However–important point, here–this has not happened to me yet. The most I have ever had to go without recording a loss is 2 weeks.

And so, that is what has worked for me.

As ever, if you have health issues, please discuss any potential diet with your doctor before starting. As for me, my doctor told me to lose 20 pounds when he first put me on these blood pressure meds. So I am just about 5 years late in following his advice.

Better late than never?

Series Review – Star Trek Continues

StarTrekContinuesThis will be an unusual post for me. I don’t remember the last time I reviewed a TV series. I may have done a post about Firefly years ago. I don’t watch a lot of TV, after all.

Star Trek Continues, however, is not on TV. They are fan-made webisodes. So this is a first. I watched these webisodes by hooking my computer to the TV by means of an hdmi cable. That way, we were all able to enjoy it.

Star Trek Continues is the brainchild of Vic Mignogna, who alsoSTCKirkMcCoy plays Kirk. It is unabashed fan fiction. It seeks to continue Star Trek: the Original Series (TOS) as if it were never cancelled. That means being faithful to the original set, equipment, make-up and costumes. This means heavily made-up men and styles reminiscent of the 60s. Don’t expect amateur performances. These episodes are engaging and highly polished.

It has attracted a lot of attention. Christopher Doohan–the son of the original Scotty–plays, well, Scotty.  The guest starts include Lou Ferrigno (who plays a green-skinned Orion!), Michael Dorn, and former Star Trek guest stars Michael Forest and Asia DeMarcos (who, I swear, has not aged. A day). Two of the STCMcKennahSpockepisodes, the first and the third, continue (and conclude) stories that began in the original series. For those, I recommend watching the original TOS episodes first.

The series features the same iconic characters–Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Uhuru, Sulu and Chekov. It adds a new cast member, McKennah, the ships counselor, pictured with Spock, at the left.

The first episode, Pilgrim of Eternity, continues the Apollo episode, Who Mourns for Adonais? In it, Apollo is now an old STCEp3man, played by the original actor. This is the only one that I think looks just a little rough. The makeup and the costumes improve greatly from this episode, so don’t let it put you off. The set, however, looks terrific, and the story is very faithful to the original. Including a godly wreaking of havoc.

The second episode, Lolani, is, as far as I can tell, is an original story. It is about an Orion slave girl who wants to be free. Except there’s this problem of other sovereign states with their own laws, and a little thing called the Prime Directive. This is the Lou Ferrigno episode, and he doesn’t play a good guy.

The third episode, Fairest of them All, is my favorite. It continues Mirror, Mirror from the last two minutes of the original story. In that story, Kirk–in one of those numerous transporter malfunctions–switched places with an evil Kirk from an STCUhurualternate universe. This story follows Spock in that original story, as he attempts to effect change in the the Empire.

And the fourth episode will be making its debut at the Phoenix Comicon.

Star Trek Continues has been funded by Kickstarter campaigns. The current Kickstarter is in a Fully Funded status. I expect there will be future Kickstarters, as well.

I really enjoyed the first three episodes, and am looking forward to the ones that are coming next. Michael Dorn is shown among the list of guest stars, so he must be coming up soon.

To watch, go to the webside, www.startrekcontinues.com. Before you dive in, I recommend you play around a bit. There are a lot of short videos, including comparisons showing scenes that took place in both TOS and Star Trek Continues.

I’ll be interested in your comments–did you watch them, or do you not care to see it? If not, why? If you watched them, what did you think?

Eight Things I Edited For. So far.

Over the last few weeks, I have been going back and forth over my manuscript, tightening up the language. Here are the things that I can recall looking for in particular:

  • Adverbs. This is always the first step, accomplished by looking for “ly “, “ly.” and “ly,” It has the added benefit of letting you see other word use problems, of which I seemed to have an abundance for this book.
  • “Going to”. Man, did I ever overuse this phrase. I noticed it when I did my adverb hunt.
  • “Well” to start a sentence. It took three nights to sweep the manuscript for this word. This was a problem in Magic Mirror, as well.
  • “As well.” Yeah, I overuse this one, too. See above sentence. I saw it so often that I paused my “well” search to look for this in particular.
  • Contractions in speech. I don’t tend to use contractions as frequently as I should when writing dialog. Everyone sounds terribly proper as they enunciate their words perfectly. So I have to go back and add a few. I also added contractions in stream-of-consciousness episodes, when you’re basically reading my character’s thoughts.
  • Colloquialisms. I also don’t use these enough. I believe this comes from avoiding colloquialisms with every other book I have written, which have all taken place in a medieval setting, where colloquialisms are inappropriate. They are appropriate in this story, where the main characters are from the present day, and are in their 20s. So I salted in some gonnas, gottas, ain’ts and similar words.
  • “Basically”, “Actually”, “Quite”, “Rather”. Depending on the decade or century of my characters’ origins, they tended to overuse these words. I purged them.
  • Grammar and Style Check. As Microsoft Word has matured, the grammar and style tool has improved. Even though I still often disagree with the problem or the suggested fix, it usually succeeds in highlighting sentences that need some kind of attention.

When I finished with all these sweeps, I found that I purged 1000 words from the manuscript. I now stand at 114,533 words.

My overall impression is that I have gotten sloppy. The grammar and style check uncovered more passive voice than I can recall ever having let slip through before. Once, I had the habit of questioning every use of a “to-be” verb, not just passive voice. It made my voice so much richer. I need to get back into that habit.

Recent Research – 80s Jewelry and Old Highways

Silver Hoop EarringsAt left are a pair of earrings from the 80s. I remember these, but I never wore any, myself. I tried pierced ears when I was thirteen, but I always had ear-aches and I eventually decided it wasn’t worth the constant pain. So I let them close up and never re-pierced them.

I’ve known some women who wore earrings like these, and they no longer had holes in their earlobes–they had vertical dashes. {wince}

I had to research this just now because my character in 1915 needed an item from the future.

“What are you looking for?” Adele asked.

“A suitable anachronism to take you to the future,” Abe replied. He pulled out a pair of silver earrings. They were giant hoops—Adele thought she could wear them as bracelets. “I take it your ears are pierced?”

She lifted her brows at them. “Yeah, but I don’t think they can take that kind of weight.”

“Nonsense. Women from the ‘80s wore them all the time. And these will take you all the way there, if you ever need to go.”

Adele took out her tiny studs, and fastened in the earrings. She could almost feel her earlobes getting longer.

Sometimes, I research things only to figure out that I don’t really need to go into all that detail in my story. Here are some things I decided to leave out:

  • Inheritance laws regarding children in the foster system in South Carolina, in the 80s and 90s. Eventually, I decided that the story would not be enhanced by adding this detail.
  • Classifications of gemstones. Too much info, not enough relevance.
  • The interior configuration of a certain make and model of obscure older car. yes, a few collectors might still have one of these cars. But are they likely to be in my target readership? And if they are, are they likely to care about the nit-picky plot point that I was worried about?

US-1 in the 50s One thing I did research was which decade US-1 was widened from 2 lanes to 4. Yes, this information really was out there, and I was even able to confirm it from more than one source. This enabled me to write a nice, atmospheric little sub-scene.

Back when I first started writing this book, I researched the entire original route of US-1. Various parts of the road have been rerouted from that time, so US-1 now travels through towns that it did not travel through back then. I’m going to need to refind that bit of research; hopefully I kept it bookmarked, somewhere. Next book, I’m going to include a bibliography in my gazetteer.