Pre-Production Report: The next WIP

I’m currently in “pre-production” on a new-ish project, by which I mean I am engaged in working the kinks out of an idea I’ve been kicking around for some time.

In movies, pre-production is when art, financing, casting, etc. are done.  The script is finished, then broken down into scenes, and storyboards.  Location scouting, costuming, props, all are being worked on.

In writing a novel, pre-production is very similar to film work.  I’ve finalized the cast of characters (with, of course, room for new supporting roles as needed), and I’m working out the plot–or, rather, the plots, because this book has a few of them.

In The Widening Gyre, there are some subplots, but there’s really just the one throughline–as a first-person work, I could only show what Tajen himself was there to see.

In this new story, I’ve got four POV characters, and each one has their own plotline, beginning in vastly different parts of the Boundless Empire, each on their own path.  Now, before the end of the book, some of them will come together, and by the end, they’ll all be pretty interconnected, even if the characters never meet.  But that’s still four major plots, and every POV has at least one minor plotline.  All in all, this story has ten distinct story arcs.

This is even harder than TWG was, because in TWG, if I adjusted something, it might cascade to other things in the novel I had to adjust, but in this book, if I change one plot, it might have ripples that affect every other arc.  For example, I removed a meeting from one character’s plot–I decided having her go off on her own against orders, and have to deal with the ramifications of being something of an “outlaw,” was more interesting that just having her fight a mindless bureaucracy to get things done.   But removing that meeting meant a subplot that affected other plots had to change.  And that subplot’s change led to even more changes, even for storylines that at that point in the story are only tangentially related to the first arc.

It’s teaching me a lot about how to juggle plotlines, and each change forces me to think through elements of the story.  As a result, things that had been part of the story from the beginning are now falling away, discarded because they don’t make as much sense as they once did, but they’re being replaced by better elements that will make the story stronger and much more interesting.

I’ve also been adjusting certain character attributes, figuring out what makes each character tick–what their goals are, their individual psychologies, and even their appearances.  It’s a story far removed from Earth, again, and not part of present-day Earth cultures, but also informed by them.  So it’s very much a multi-ethnic cast, even if they don’t exactly correspond to modern-day ethnicities, and many of the characters are multi-racial.  I’m still working on names, because some of them are a little too modern for my tastes, but so far the cast includes Shin Kincaid, Alua Tan, Jen Tan, Ian Khan, Lavraj “Raj” Patel, Emily Kennedy, and Marian Neves.

Right now I’m mostly focussed on figuring out who the characters are under their skin.  Once that’s done, I’ll focus on their individual plotlines in earnest, and then once those are all nailed down, I’ll break them into scenes, then interweave the scenes so they work as a coherent, cohesive whole.  I figure I’ll be adjusting the whole thing as I go, until it’s time to start work on the composition–and even then I’ll be adjusting until the story is finished.

Writing, man.  It’s hard.

 

Friday Fragment: From WIP

This is from chapter 3 of The Blood-Dimmed Tide, book 2 of the Zhen series (which remains unsold; don’t get your hopes up):

Councilor Siiren rose from her seat in the circle around the outer edge of the room. Like all female Kelvaki, she was slighter than the men, about the same size as a human male. She stepped softly to my side, and her hand rose to rest briefly on my shoulder. “We do understand this, Captain.” She looked at Aljek, and her expression hardened into one of disgust. “What my esteemed colleague is asking, is why that should concern us?” She looked at Aljek. “Yes?”

He glanced at me, then at her, and then at the Ascendant, who was leaning forward, his eyes fixed on Aljek.  Finally he turned back to Siiren. “Yes,” he said grudgingly.  “Though I would not have phrased it quite so ineloquently.” Siiren hissed amusement; she knew damned well he would have.

I glanced at Liam, sitting on the side of the chamber. His wide eyes met mine, and I suddenly realized—I was standing in the middle of a power play that ultimately had nothing whatsoever to do with me or with Earth.  I was being used as a convenient lever to move a difficult piece in the Asendancy’s game of rule. I took a moment to consider my words carefully, then moved to the center of the chamber, turning to face Aljek and the Ascendant both.

More Cats Than is Strictly Necessary

One of the lines in my mini-bio, which I am perhaps inordinately proud of, is that I live in Sacramento, CA with “his wife, daughter, and more cats than is strictly necessary.”

Which is to say, four. And sure, four cats isn’t a terrible number of cats, but do we really need four? No, we do not.  And we didn’t really choose to have four of the little beasts.  Here’s how it happened:

When I was single, I had two cats, Caisha and Shinji.  Caisha was a lovely black cat, and Shinji was an adorable black and white kitty with a Hitler moustache.  They were best friends, though Caisha was twice Shinji’s age.

Then I started dating Elli, who also had two cats, Cleo, a tortie, and Fletcher, an “orange” tabby kitten.  Obviously, once we got married, our two cats each became four.

In late 2006, Shinji suddenly became very ill, and had to be euthanized–one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  He was only five years old.

I couldn’t even think about getting another cat for years.  Eventually, we discussed it, and we decided that a “one cat per person in the household” rule was good.

A couple of years later, we came home to find Caisha, who had been his normal self, catatonic under a cabinet, not responding to us.  We rushed him to the hospital, and to make a long story short, as I’ve written about this before, he, too, had to be put down.  Again, it wrecked me.

Eventually, we adopted Maggie, a one year old ragdoll.  She’s amazing, but we decided after a while that maybe three cats was too many, and so we’d let attrition whittle us down to two cats, and then we’d only have two.

Cleo, the oldest of the household, was failing fast, and at 17 years old, we had to put her down to spare her an increasingly painful decline into death.

We then went on with only two cats for a time, until friends had to give up a cat, and we took her in.  So now we have Celty, an adorable-but-neurotic cat of indeterminate age (at least 13, we think).

And then my sister asked if we could take another one.  He was adorable, and our daughter fell in love with him, so we adopted Loki, who is now two years old and seems to like me best, and then my daughter, and then–if she’s laying in the right place–my wife.

As the guy who does the majority of cat waste disposal, I have put my foot down: NO MORE.  And attrition until two cats is the rule of the house once more.  Four cats aren’t particularly hard to take care of, and they’re not destructive, but it’s a lot of work. I’m trying to get my kid to start helping, but you know kids and pets–dad does most of the work.

How many cats (or dogs, or rabbits, or whatever; we here at the Johnston house don’t discriminate) have you got?

 

 

 

What it’s Really Like, Part 3: The Cover

Yesterday, I received an email from my editor.

Yes, I still love to say “my editor.”

Anyway, I thought it was going to be my edits, but no–it was cover design ideas. He presented me with two, told me his preference, and asked for mine.

I’ve thought about this moment a lot, even before I made the sale, and I’ve always known it would be a stressful thing.  For one thing, I’d been thinking about possible designs for a while.  Most of my ideas were, I knew, unobtainable. Further, while some publishers will ask the author what they think, the final decision is the publisher’s.  More than one author has hated their book cover.  I was prepared to join them, but hoping for better.

So it was with some trepidation that I clicked on the files. And then I smiled, because both designs were fantastic.

I really loved the artwork on one of them, but it doesn’t quite fit this book’s feel or themes as well as it might.  But the other design is thematically perfect, and dynamic.  It’s eye-catching and has a great tagline.

I’m happy. The design may change, in small or even large ways, between now and finalization.  But for now?  I’m totally pleased.