Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Music Feature: Within Temptation

Within Temptation: Memories
Album: The Silent Force

I have been listening to this song for years, hearing it as Misa's anthem.  I admit, I had not seen the video up until the moment I wrote this post. I am completed delighted.

About fifteen seconds in, I thought it really resonated with the look and feel of Aurumice. Sharon den Adel has a very similar look to Misa, especially in that feathery extravagant dress.  At 1:31, I pretty much flipped out.  You'll see why.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NaNoWriMo: Writing a Novel

People often ask me how I wrote a novel.  Like all art forms, it has a process.  I developed my method of writing over years of practice.  I'm sure it's not the same for everyone, but it's a process developed through trial and error.

Marked up outline for Return to the Castle


To prevent meandering plot holes, I begin with an outline. My outline is mapped out as an excel document.  I track different elements, like tension resolution and character POV.  I also look for balance between Aurumice and Earth.

2. Planning a Scene

Undeniably, my favorite part of writing never happens at a computer.  I would define myself a kinesthetic writer.  I write best when moving.  I run and walk, listening to music, often to the same track over and over again.  The music and movement activate my brain in such a way that it is easier to imagine and see the scene.  It's a surreal and delightful way to write, sort of like reading a book with no book in front of you.  (If other writers use this method, I would like to hear from you.  I've never read about it in any books on writing.)

3. Capturing the Scene

After I feel the scene is set in my mind,  I begin to type.  Usually dialog is my first priority, then bits of setting.  Every scene has a certain rhythm to it and they're all driven by conflict.  Even the most inane conversation between friends is riddled with arguments and bickering. 

4. Tracking Progress

After the scene is captured, I revisit my spreadsheet and color the corresponding chapter.  My mood dictates which chapter I write.  The spreadsheet satisfies my obsessive compulsive side, the side of me that needs an A+ for accomplishment.  When I feel the story has gone no where, I can look back and see that I have written, and every chapter is a step towards progress.  I know damn well the battle has barely begun, but I need to tell myself that I've done something, otherwise I would lock up from guilt.

5. Editing

I used to edit as I wrote, but then I got bogged down in revisions.  Now I let the story be, trusting my outline, plunging forward.  Once everything is written, I go back and edit.  The result is a delightful story that I have never read before.  It's exciting and sometimes I barely remember that I wrote.  This rediscovery makes editing really joyous.  I go through, filling in setting, and tweaking dialog.

6. Check Lists

The further I edit, the more I become mechanical in my process.  Every scene must have visuals, a taste, a sound, a smell, and the inner feelings of a character.  I check every single chapter for these elements.  I go through and make certain every scene is told from one consistent perspective, if you notice, you will never see Jessi's and Nico's thoughts in the same scene.  The reader follows one character and experiences the world from their eyes only, (unless, of course, that character is Jared and that opens a whole different discussion...).

7. Reading Aloud

Some people are baffled by the fact I read my entire novel aloud.  It's possible one of the easiest and most critical ways to catch mistakes and uncover awkward dialog.  Yes, it's a time consuming process, but a necessary one.

8. The Printed Read-Through

A silly but important step is to actually print the book and edit the physical version.  At this stage, I invite my first proofreaders to the table, first and foremost my husband.  I don't ask my husband to read because he is a kind source of encouragement, quite the opposite.  He is my worst critic.  He is like me, was raised on a steady diet of literary sci-fi and fantasy, and was also a Creative Writing minor in college.  He has a very discerning eye for detail, loves to debate inconsistencies, and will argue plot points.  I need this counterpoint because it forces me to either write in details to justify my character's actions, or change the course of the story, (usually the former).  Most of the time, I follow his guidance.  Sometimes, very rarely, I refuse to change a detail because it so wholly feels right. But even when I refuse to change, I've gained a solid list of reasons as to why I made my decision.

9. The Friendly Proofreaders

I'm cautious who I invite to this table.  They are people from a range of ages, background and genders.  Some focus on the technical side of the writing, some go right at the plot.  Usually they're kinder than my husband, but they have the ability to see things we haven't seen.

10. The Final Editing 

At this stage, the book goes my paid professional editor. She is amazing and catches a plethora of mistakes. The book wouldn't be a book without her.

Closing Thoughts

As I mentioned, it took me years to this point in my writing.  I spent years learning how to write (hands down, my absolute favorite book on writing was How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card...this book is a must read for sci-fi/fantasy writers).  This outlined method works well for me because it is methodical and structured, reining in my scattered way of thinking.  I know my path and I follow through. Most importantly, having a method propels me mentally past the most difficult part of writing: actually writing.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Character Inspiration: Misa

I absolutely love watching horse videos for inspiration.  If you've ever ridden you know it is NOT easy to get a horse to behave.  They're 1200 lbs of free will and can chose to exercise that free will at any time.

The rider in the video reminds me so much of Misa, from her costuming to her long black hair. Her command of her horse is absolutely awe-inspiring.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Journey of Seventeen Years, or Eight Months?

Reblogged from

As I look back at the past year, I find myself asking 'how did I get here?'

I just sold my last copy of the first print run of Return to the Castle.  Just a few short months ago, my dining room table was covered in cases of books. I had a hefty little charge on my credit card and a looming feeling of dread.

I've been working on this strange endeavor since 1997.  Few people know I deliberately built my entire career around it, (which is a story for another day...).

Centernia, circa 1997, back when the story read like a Disney movie
In October 2011, after a series of serendipitous events, I decided to create a webcomic based on the story of Centernia.  I had wanted to release a novel, but after the stress of The Mathmagical Wish, another printed book seemed too daunting.

I was encouraged by my artist friend Jackie, who convinced me to join her selling art at conventions. I created a pile of art for established fandoms while quietly working on my own universe.  After over a year of prep work, I launched the webcomic in December of 2012, and ran a consistent weekly schedule until January of 2014. Angry and frustrated, no matter how much work I put in, the story was being told too slowly. By my calculations, it would take me seven years to tell the same story in Return to the Castle, and that was if I could produce a page a week.  So I quit the webcomic cold turkey, and promised my readers I would return soon.

What were the life circumstances?  I had been given a new job opportunity that came with a tiny pay boost.  That extra income became the budget for Centernia.

I refocused.  I threw away everything I had written (metaphorically....I still have every rejected piece of Centernia dating back to 1997).  For two weeks, I spent all my free time narrowing down the most comprehensive outline I had ever created.  I pared it down into two books, focusing on the life of Jessica, my main character, and her life from age 14 to 19.

I love me my spreadsheets

Once the story was outlined, I started writing.  From March through June, my free time belonged to Centernia.  There wasn't a lot of hours to spare, I was working 50 hour work weeks teaching, graphic designing, and planning a technology summer camp. 

People often ask me how I found the time to write. It's a combination of discipline, devotion, and a great deal of completely anti-social behavior.  My life consisted of no video games, limited television, and many sinks full of dirty dishes. I stopped baking, gardening, and only allowed myself the luxury of one weekly horseback ride. That last bit I wrote off as research.

I moved along at a happy pace until June when I got a surprising text from my friend Sonia.  She had a friend who had scored a booth at New York Comic Con, but they were looking to form a studio to split the booth costs.  She knew I had a webcomic and invited me to join their team.  After my struggles with the webcomic, I knew there was no way in hell I would have a good comic ready for a con four months away.  However, the first novel was nearing completion.  I decided to cease work on the second book and throw all work into editing the first.  I also began the process of hiring a professional editor. The Mathmagical Wish had taught me not to trust my own grammatical skills.

In late July, life threw me an emotional curveball. Muse, my brilliant feline charmer, was struck with renal failure caused by deadly FIP.  It sucks to watch a super loving creature waste away to nothing in the course of a month.  Muse became a chilling reminder that death is always on the horizon.  He was a two year old indoor cat, had the best health care, was only fed organic cat food in a household sworn off all toxic cleansers.  Statistically he should have lived until at least fourteen.  It wasn't fair, and my frustration and sadness poured into the last edits of Return to the Castle.  

Several weeks after we buried Muse, I attended my first fall con of the year, Roc-Con in my hometown of Rochester, NY.  Again, Jackie had a brilliant idea and told me to take pre-orders.   I practiced my sales pitch and honed my marketing materials.  To my surprise, 17 people ordered a copy.

Six heavy cases of books arrived a week later, covering my dining room table and filling my heart with dread. I was scared to look at a single copy for fear I would see a glaring mistake on the first page.

On October 7th, we packed up my little Jeep and hauled the books to the massive insanity of pop culture, comics, sci-fi and fantasy that is New York Comic Con.  I had a tiny two foot sliver of space in a room where I was competing with twenty foot dragon displays.  

Wednesday setup in the Javitts Center. The attendance of NYCC 2014 would be 156,000,
making it the largest con in all of North America.
I started selling on Thursday.  By Sunday, I received a message from a ravenous reader who had already finished the book, and loved it. That message, and several others that followed that day, were complete and total validation that I wasn't crazy.  

As a professional artist, people assume what I do is emotional.  It usually isn't.  Art school teaches you to separate yourself from your creations.  Centernia isn't like that for me.  It is the most emotionally invested work of art I have ever created. I printed my soul for the world to see and I was, (and still am), terrified of being called a fool.

In the following weeks, I started getting messages through different social networks, more messages than I thought possible, and more encouraging than I imagined. My friends can lie to me, but complete strangers have no obligation to be nice.  It is a ridiculous feeling of accomplishment to have someone spend hours of their life with something you created and be happy to have given their time. Even greater euphoria is to have that stranger tell you that you made them cry, and they still want to hear more of the story.

Halloween weekend, Youmacon, Detroit
Two weeks after NYCC, I brought Centernia to Youmacon in Detroit.  Again, Jackie was an instrumental force. I had never planned to attend this con, but she had a spare table and wanted a travel buddy. To my surprise, I sold every book I brought.  This past evening was my last con of the year, Minicon in Buffalo. I sold the last book of my first print run.  My house no longer is a book warehouse.

Now I sit, planning the road ahead.  I'm not arrogant to think the first edition of Return to the Castle was perfect. A few technical errors snuck through and I have a second edition nearly ready for print. Simultaneously, the sequel, though completely outlined, needs to be finished.  There are people asking me about cosplaying and I realize I don't a complete set of fully-detailed character designs.

Tonight, however, I'm not drawing, nor working through new dialog, or editing old text.  Tonight I'm just thinking about this little journey, whether you want to look at it as seventeen years or eight months. I'm really happy to have the opportunity to share Centernia with the world, I'm looking forward to hearing what else readers have to say.  I'm really, really exhausted but I feel like my career is starting to look as I had imagined when I was twelve years old.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Music Feature: Dream Theatre

Dream Theatre: Lifting the Shadows off a Dream
Album: Awake

For me, this song has always echoed the restoration of Aurumice and the relationship between Nico and Jessi.

Amazon Download Link:
Lifting Shadows Off A Dream