To Map, Perchance to Plot

Let’s met Annie.  Say hi to her–

"Hi, Annie!"

“Hi, Annie!”

When I was working towards understand Kerry’s far, far, better half, I started throwing around what I knew about her, and began format that knowledge into the world I was creating.  This is where Scapple, the mind mapping program created by the same people who make Scrivener, came in handy, because I could make notes and interconnect them to other notes, work them around and get an idea about where I was going with the character.

I’ve seen where others have also used Scapple to work out plots for their stories.  I’ve played with this a little in that area, but I’ve yet to work out a story where my notes and ideas would find themselves interconnected in such a way that a coherent tale springs forth.  Though there are a couple of scenes I’m considering working out this way . . .

On to the current work in progress.  When I prepared to start the novel, I did so–as I usually do–with two things in mind:  I needed a title, and I needed an ending.  The idea of the title I got from Harlan Ellison, who commented on more than a few occasions that he couldn’t write until there was a title on the page.  Now, my titles may change as I get deeper into a story–that happened a few times with The Foundation Chronicles:  A for Advanced–but I always have a title.  And the ending idea comes from Issac Asimov, who was quoted saying that it was necessary to know how his story finished so he’d know how to get there.

I knew how I wanted to start the story.  There would be a prologue with two scenes:  the first would have Annie standing next to a tree near her lake house, and the second would be The Foundation people convincing the parents of a sullen and likely depressed Kerry that he was getting a free ride to a school for special students outside Salem, Massachusetts, and that he should pack his bags because he was leaving for London in a couple of hours if he said yes.

The last two scenes would mirror the intro:  the first scene would show Kerry returning from school, somewhat depressed because he’s parted from someone special to him, and now it’s time to go back to his old, “Normal” life, while the second scenes would show Annie standing next to a tree near her lake house, equally sad from saying goodbye to her “Ginger Haired Boy”, and having to face the summer without him.

With that in mind, it was time to start plotting.

Since I was working in parts, chapters, and scenes, I decided to work in Scrivener through Outline Mode, because as folders and text files were added, and metadata added, it was a simple matter to move things around when and where needed, and lay out dates and times as needed.  As the Prologue and Chapter One were almost all Annie and Kerry there wasn’t much of a need to keep track of other characters, because the one who did walk onto the written stage didn’t require a great deal of attention.

Carefully taking my kids on the trip of their lives, one scene at a time.

Carefully taking my kids on the trip of their lives, one scene at a time.

It was easy to plot things out like this, but keep in mind this is a small section of the story.  There’s a lot more in the next two acts–which were added about half way through writing the first act.  This is something that’s nice about Scrivener:  you need to add or move something around, you do.

Something else I used for the first time were document notes.  These came in handy when I was writing about Annie and Kerry’s day trip around London, which was done almost entirely via tube travel.  Notes stay attached to a scene, so once in place they’re always there inside the Inspector (the area on the right) all the time.

Sure, you could make up how you get around London, but it's easier if you do it with notes.

Sure, you could make up how you get around London, but it’s easier if you do it with notes.

Another thing I did on this novel was layer scenes under a top scene.  I used it extensively for the scene “Over the Pond”, where all the action took place on-board a 747, and point of view switched from my kids to some traveling instructors, and back.  The date and time were already set, so here it was just a matter of knowing who was in each sub-scene aboard the plane, and that information was kept in the metadata for each scene.  The great thing with these layered scenes is when you don’t need to see them, you just collapse them under the top lead-in scene and all is right in the world once more.

There's a party in the sky, and you're all--well, you'll get invited in time.

There’s a party in the sky, and you’re all–well, you’ll get invited in time.

One last thing to mention about this layered scenes is that they were added as I wrote.  I did the lead-in scene, then decided I’d write about Annie and Kerry finding their seats, or the instructors talking about Phee–I know who that is–and I’d add the text file, do a copy and paste on the metadata, set the Label and Status, and away I’d write.  Easily Peasily!

And that leads to cross-checking what I’d laid out in Scrivener by seeing if the time lines matched up.  There was always the possibility that something was off, and sure enough, once I started plugging things into Aeon Timeline, there were a few things that didn’t make sense.  Now, this didn’t affect the plot, but in terms of when things happened, it was a good idea for me to see if everything worked.  I didn’t actually need to do this for what became the first act, but this was practice for something that was coming in Act Two, and the practice of laying out this first section of the book helped me understand how I was going to lay out an important set of scenes that required things to happen at certain times, within a certain time frame.  And that would be important to the story . . .

Time be time, mon.  And here be the time for Act One.  Looks so different here, doesn't it?

Time be time, mon. And here be the time for Act One. Looks so different here, doesn’t it?

From Demons to the Scoured

The first novel I wrote using Scrivener was Her Demonic Majesty, my 2011 NaNo Novel.  It was really the first thing I ever started from scratch in Scrivener, and it was a great experiment for me, because I was learning the software as well as learning how to lay out a story.

The thing I loved most about Scrivener then was the Corkboard, which was a virtual way of taking note cards that represent the chapters and pinning them up in a sensible order.  This was an easy way to outline a story, to set up metadata to keep track of when things were suppose to happen.  I spent two weeks getting the novel outlined, getting pictures set up for characters, developed small bios on characters, even laid out pictures within the binder of places where chapters took place.

You were a great learning experience, love.  I'll never forget you.

You were a great learning experience, love. I’ll never forget you.

A year and a few hundred thousand words later, I was ready for my 2012 NaNo Novel, Kolor Ijo.  It wasn’t as large as Her Demonic Majesty–it was about seventy-two thousand words, compared to eighty-six thousand for Demonic Majesty–but in a lot of ways it was a far bigger story.  It was one of my Indonesia horror stories, which meant it took place in another country.  There was research on weapons and people and creatures, and I needed to get a good idea about the look of the city of Makassar.  It also covered a much larger time frame:  almost a month of time, where as her Demonic Majesty took place over a three-day period.  The one thing I learned how to use this time around were embedded websites that accessible from inside Scrivener.  I hooked up Google Maps to a text file, and when I needed to look streets in the city of Makassar, I’d do a split screen and start looking about in the other side of the world.

My meta information was getting a bit more detailed:  I was keeping track of time frames within each chapter.  There was more happening, more action and interaction.  In short, there was a lot more story even if it wasn’t as long as my last NaNo Novel.

This is what happens when you start dealing with demons on the other side of the world.

This is what happens when you deal with demons on the other side of the world.

By the end of May, 2013, I’d already decided I was going to write The Foundation Chronicles:  A for Advanced, but there were thinking I knew I’d need to work out before I started working on the story.  It was going to end up a big story, with a large cast of characters.  I was also going to move away from the idea of doing a single card and writing information under it as a chapter; I was going to break up my chapters into different scenes, something I’d done with my novel Transporting.

But Transporting was a retro-fitted novel:  I’d begun writing that in Word about twenty years before, and never tried writing something like that from scratch.  I needed some practice to get my new NaNo Novel in shape without having to learn while writing.  I was going to write something before hand, do it as part of The Foundation Series, and play with characters I already knew.  I could write about a part of school history that was never thought out in detail.

This is where I stepped away from the Corkboard and moved into Outline mode in Scrivener.  One of the advantages of Outline mode is being able to see your story laid out, top to bottom, and that allows for a lot more precision when trying to plot out things.  When I did The Foundation Chronicles:  The Scouring, I wasn’t using time line software:  it had the time line within my outline, laid out on each chapter/scene card.  I was also able to laid out a lot more information on each section and chapter/scene, and see it all at once should I require.

This is what testing looks like when you're writing.

Some call this testing–some call it a bit of insanity.

There is a lot of information there:  dates, times, people, even weather conditions.  When it was all over my Camp story, The Foundation Chronicles:  The Scouring–which was meant to be about twenty thousand words total–ended up a fifty-three thousand, one hundred word lead-in novel.  I love what I wrote, though I had one person tell me I need to cut the first two sections of the story because it didn’t “move fast enough” for her, and she wasn’t interested in hearing that if I cut all the information, the rest of the story wouldn’t make any sense, and another person told me the battle was “too long” and “they’d never read any batter sequence of twenty-five thousand words”.  But those are stories for another time . . .

This is what helped me reach the point where I could write my current work in progress.  And by the time I was ready for NaNoWriMo 2013, I had other software I could use as well to get work my story into shape–

Make Believe Faces in Make Believe Places

When I was first designing my Salem Institute of Greater Education and Learning–under a different name, mind you–I had maps drawn and things labeled.  I had a location in the middle of Maine for the school, towns that the students could visit, and interesting things that could be done in and around the area–which, to be honest, was pretty much all wilderness.

During the process of transplanting my Salem school into another world, I started thinking, “Having it in Maine makes no sense.  But where can I put it so it’s close to Salem?”  Fortunately for me Goggle Maps exist, and I found the perfect place:  the middle of Cape Ann, a small island where the town of Gloucester is located.  I could come up with all sorts of interesting ways to keep the school hidden–after all, what’s the point of writing about a huge, world-encompassing organization if they can’t hide a large group of buildings in plain sight?–and, if I set my mind to it, I could make the school bigger.  Much bigger.

That’s where I got into Blender and began doing a little three dimensional modeling.  I came up with a whole new layout for the school, while keeping the central area–The Pentagram, the Coven Towers, and the Great Hall–all right where they belonged.  So I started thinking big–really big.  And a whole new school was created out of the old.

It's real enough--you just have to look hard and think of it that way.

It’s real enough–you just have to look hard and think of it that way.

Constructing a model of the school and the tunnels that run under the school took weeks.  In actuality, I probably tweaked this model for a few months–in fact, the labels you see in the picture above were put there last month, and this included labels I put on one of the cross-country race tracks–the Green Line–so when people say, “He lost it in the Northwest Passage”, I know where it’s at.

How big is the school  The Great Hall is 175 meters from the north end of the library to the main entrance at the south.  That’s 574 feet if you don’t do the whole metric thing.  That means The Pentagram is much larger–each of the walls between the towers are between 220 meters (722 feet) to 240 meters (787 feet).  And yet when you look at this structure, it fits nicely inside the walls.  From the north Polar Tower to the southern wall next the Gloucester Entrance it’s about 5.5 kilometers (or 3.4 miles), and a good part of the school is about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) across.  Like I said, it’s a big place with room to move.

Now that I had a place, I was almost ready to start writing the pre-novel, The Scouring.  I just needed to do a little modifying of some of the characters . . .

All of the characters were developed around a starting 2011 time frame, but a lot of them were teaching back in the year 2000, the time of The Scouring.  Not only there, but a few of the current teachers in the work in progress were students.  So you know what was needed?  Time lines.

Ask and you shall have to make your own.

Ask and you shall have to make your own.

As you can see, I know that Erywin, Jessica, Madeline, and Ramona were teaching in 2000, and that Isis, Deanna, and Wednesday–who work at the school in the current novel–were students then.  I also see that Coraline came in as the school doctor on 30 April, 2000–the day after the time of the Scouring.  This is where a time line comes in handy:  it lets you know what people did went, particularly if you’re working on multiple story arcs.  And you also see just about when all the main characters–and a few side characters–were students.  The nice thing here is that Aeon Timeline allows you to export part or all of a time line as an image, and then you can insert that image into a Scrivener file.  So if you don’t want to have two programs up at the same time, just bring in your time line and view it when you feel it’s needed.

Now, one last thing, and it’s about my characters.  I’m an old role playing gamer and GM, or Game Master.  I love making characters, and I like to make them as real as I can.  When I started putting the characters for these stories together, I not only did a little bit of history on each, but I assigned a “face” to them, something that, when I’m first starting out with the character development, I get an idea of how they looked.  Sometimes–like I did for Her Demonic Majesty–the faces are of people whose pictures I just find.  And then there are times, like with the character in The Foundation Chronicles, that they sort of become celebrities in their own right.

Here are the people I picked for each of my characters for The Scouring, and I’ll show you were I altered them.

Instructors:

Jessica Kishna, Mistress of Transformation.  She came from a picture I found of an African-American runway model, with a big helping of the wonderful Angela Basset.

Ramona Chai, Self Defense and Weapons.  Ziyi Zhang.

Matthias Ellison, Music and Arts Director.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Madeline Palmescoff, History.  Mary-Louise Parker.

Erywin Sladen, Formulistic Magic.  Joanna Lumley.

Students:

Isis Mossman.  Chloë Sevigny, but with changes.  Since it was stated in The Scouring that her mother was Egyptian, that meant altering her features and complexion slightly.

Deanna Arrakis.  Deanna was difficult because she’s Iraqi, and it took some time to find good pictures of women from Iraq.  Eventually I settled on a combination so that she has a slightly large nose, a strong chin, large brown eyes, black hair, and a slightly tanned complexion.

Wednesday Douglas.  Here I went totally meta, because I literally came up with the actress first.  That actress is . . . Christina Ricci.  And who is Christina known for playing?

"Why am I dressed like someone's going to die?"  "Wait."

“Why am I dressed like someone’s going to die?”  “Wait.”

There you have it:  Wednesday Douglas, who will have a daughter named Tuesday and a granddaughter named Friday.  And who is one of the best little witches to come out of Salem in a long time.  She doesn’t have pigtails, though.  She hates them.  Now you know why.

And lastly, Supporting Characters:

Helena Lovecraft.  She’s a Kiwi, so I wanted a Kiwi as her “face”, which means I picked Lucy Lawless.  she’s gone through a lot of changes, however:  I kept the body and her intense look, made her half-Māori, darkened her hair and complexion, and gave her “black shark’s eyes”.  All and all, I have always loved Helana, and I have her back story with Erywin, her partner and companion, thought out and down pat.  One day Erywin will even tell Kerry about how she met her “pretty girl”.

Coraline Gallagher, the new School “Nurse”.  Coraline is modeled after Christina Hendricks, thought the young character that Wednesday meets is more like Yo-Saf-Bridge from Firefly (with red hair, naturally) and not Joan Holloway from Mad Men, the person Annie and Kerry meet.  This is also why when “Red” meets Coraline–as she likes to call him–for the first time he doesn’t know how to describe her except as “curvy”, which is his way of being polite.  Coraline is a huge romantic and a hell of a fighter–I still have to publish that except of her and Madam Chai going at it–and Kerry doesn’t know it yet, but he and Nurse Coraline share a birthday.  There is a reason for that . . .

Now that we have all that out of the way, tomorrow I can get into outlining a small novel.

The big one comes after that.

Back to the Beginning of the Beginning

How did I start writing my current work in progress, The Foundation Chronicles?  It started with designing buildings.

The main characters in the story, Kerry and Annie, were originally created for an online role play.  I made Kerry, and a good friend of mine created Annie.  We played these characters for a few months, but with most good things the role play came to an end and the characters were shelved.  In the process of building the game there was a great deal of material the two of us developed, both characters and world-wise–

However, I was always pushed to show the buildings, to show the grounds, the show the towers.  My partner in crime kept after me to make maps and building layouts, and being that I was the sort of person who loved doing that kind of thing, I obliged.

It was from there that the Salem Institute of Greater Learning and Education was built.  It was from there that we named our covens, and the buildings, and figured out where everything went.  It was a great learning experience for that fantastic summer of 2011.

Over the next two years I thought a great deal about writing about these character’s adventures.  Even while working on other projects, the story of Annie and Kerry was never far from my mind.  Kerry I knew, but Annie was always a problem for me, because I wanted to get her right, and she wasn’t my creation, at least not at the beginning.  So it took a lot of thinking to get where I wanted to be with her, and I probably tortured myself for a year thinking about her motivations, her feelings, what she wanted the most.

So after I’d finished publishing Her Demonic Majesty in May of 2013, I decided it was time to tackle the tales of Salem.  I didn’t want to start right in on Annie and Kerry, but rather I wanted to do something else that would help build The Foundation World, but at the same time introduce a number of characters that would end up in their world.  I decided that for Camp NaNo, July 2013, I’d write The Foundation Chronicles:  The Scouring, a story of a traumatic event that occurred just before the end of the Twentieth Century.

While speaking to Annie’s creator about the upcoming story, we started talking about Annie’s Lake House.  This is an important location, a place that plays in a lot of scenes not only in my current book, but will have a place in the hearts of both children in their future.  And I wanted to see what it looked like, inside and out.

So it was time to get into the software and design.  I used a program that would allow me to make floor layouts and then show the building in three dimensions.  I could even place furniture inside and imagine the scenes that hadn’t been written yet.

The building that launched a couple of hundred thousand words.

The house that launched a couple of hundred thousand words.

And there it all was, the house that little spoiled Annie pestered her father to build.  With living room and dining table and kitchen, a library and a private bedroom, and the loft guest area overlooking the ground floor below.  And the wall of windows facing to the south, keeping the house illuminated from morning to nightfall.

I showed it to Annie’s creator and she loved it, even going so far as to say it was perfect.  To hear those words made me feel wonderful, and empowered me to prepare to get my world ready–

Because if I was going to write the story I wanted to work, I needed to build something else:  my Great Hall.  I knew it in my mind, I saw it in my imagination, so it became necessary to lay out with floor plans that would display it as I’d displayed Annie’s Lake House.

I wasn’t able to created it fully, because my computer couldn’t handle all the rendering needed.  But I did most of it, and . . . it was so worth while.

Because if you're going for "Great", you best go all the way.

Because if you’re going for “Great”, you best go all the way.

I had building all created:  I had my Atrium and Rotunda, the Library, the Security Center and the Instructor’s and Headmistress’ Offices.  There was the Clock Tower and the Transepts, the Hospital and the Dining Hall.  It took me about a week of work, but when I looked at this building, I saw my Great Hall.

I was just about ready to write.  Except–

I needed a school.

Tools for the Making

I’ve been around software a large part of my life.  I started taking classes in computer programming in 1979, and began writing code for real in 1982.  Most of what I’ve written has ended up on IBM boxes, though I have dabbled in web based applications, including one that took the better part of a year to write because I ended up slinging about fifteen thousand lines of code before it was all over.

Even today I’m coding.  That’s my day job:  playing code monkey for the State of Pennsylvania.  As it is said, it pays the bills, though after thirty years of it I’m ready for something else.  That’s one of the reasons why I write, because I’d like to be able to work on my projects full-time and not have to spend nine to ten hours a day engaged in endeavors that hold very little interest for me.  I also write because I love to tell tales, but I would love it were it to become my full-time job.

Because I’ve found myself so connected to software for so long, I find dealing with it to be somewhat intuitive.  Most writing software seems to follow a pattern for me, and once I get the basics down the more difficult stuff tends to come once I’ve had time to play with things.  I’ll find something that looks interesting and mess around, get a feel for what I can do, and if it works for me I’ll keep it.  If not, I file the information away just in case it is something I can use later.  Most of what’s in a program really falls under a 40/60 rule:  about forty percent of the stuff in a program is gonna be your go-to stuff, and the other sixty percent is there if you find a reason to use it.

Yesterday’s post received a lot of attention.  Probably because of the pretty picture I included with all kinds of time lines and talk of history, but I have received a bit of feedback about the things I’ve done and what I’ve used to get there.  I’ve written about software a bit in the past, and most of the time the responses I’ve gotten are great.  Sure, I’ve gotten a few, “I never plan anything, ur a hack,” comments, but I tend to laugh at those these days, because who needs that negative energy?

"No, I don't need negitivity in my life:  that's what my job is for."

“No, I don’t need negativity about my writing: that’s what my job is for.”

Since I have time, I thought I’d spend a few days talking about my process:  how I set things up, how I get things plotted out, how I try to tie things together to make my story coherent, what I do with the software I use.  I’ve done a little of this from time-to-time, but this would be with a little, or lot, more detail.  And since I’m intimately tied into my current work in progress, it’ll make a good test bed for discussion.

The hope is that someone will see something that I do, and imagine how it might work for them.  As I told someone last night–someone who was like, “Most writers say they just write”–what I do works for me; what you do will work for you.  That doesn’t mean you might not see something that looks like it might work for you and use it, however, so why not throw that out there?

It’s always worth throwing things out there and seeing what happens.

The Time of Their Lines

Though I’ve been good and I haven’t started writing or editing, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been, you know, doing writing things.  I can’t help it:  when you start this writing thing for sure, you find yourself thinking about things related to fictional worlds and characters that, for a while, only mean things to you.

One of the things I’ve meant to do for a while is work out all the time lines for my Foundation World characters.  This includes going back in time and figuring out when my school was constructed, when different parts of the place went up, and when my Five Founders shucked this mortal coil and headed Beyond the Veil.  I do this because I love to know:  I love to have my world make sense.  I’ve had people tell me that it sometimes feels like I get too caught up in trying to make my worlds “real”, but hey, they are my worlds, right?  If I want them to feel real, then they will.

I like to think ahead.  For a story that I’ve started writing–if you’ll call one hundred forty thousand words “started”–I have things planed–you know, stuff.  (Rick, go pass out on the sofa, will ya?)  My kids have six regular years of school, and I have things worked out for them during that time.  They’re also gonna get a little extra education, and then they’ll get into the Normal World, and then . . . well, that’s the thing.  I needed to know what sort of things where gonna happen when, because I have these ideas in my head, but should my head explode, it’d be damn near impossible to get those ideas told.

That means it was time to bring up Aeon Timeline and get to work.

Those are some pretty good time lines there--be a shame if something happened to them.

Those are some pretty good time lines you got there–be a shame if something happened to them.

As you can see I have little lines showing when every instructor and staff member in my story went to school, and when some of my kids are currently going to school.  You can also see two big lines at the top of the page for Annie and Kerry:  these are their full life lines, starting when they were born, and going until the moment they die.  Sharp eyes will see that part of their time line was erased, and that because I’m the only one who gets to know when they walk on from this world.  Everyone else can just hang back and give their best guess.

This is a small part of the history I have worked out:  the whole setup is pretty big.  I know when people are born and when they die, when they went to school and when they worked there.  I have a whole lot of other things figured out as well, important events that happen during the lives of my kids.  It’s there for people to see eventually; I just gotta write it out.

Which reminds me . . . last night I sat down and figured out the themes of the books that cover their time in school.  But of course there are books–did you think there would be only one story?  Annie and Kerry’s A Level story is about discovery:  what they can do, what their new world is like, and learning things about themselves.  Their B Level story is about fear of the unknown, because now they’re getting pushed to learn, to expand their powers, and Kerry knows that at the end of the year, when he goes home, his parents learn all about the education he’s received for the last two years.  (In the world I’ve created, if you come from families that have no idea what The Foundation is, or that there’s such a thing as magic and powers and super science, the parents are kept in the dark until you’ve finished your B Levels.  Then The Foundation tells the parents the truth and gets ready to step in and yank kids out of freaked out homes if the need exists.)

Their C Level story is about loneliness, about being apart from each other because of school commitments, because of distance (this happens during Yule and for three days during a little event I like to call The Polar Express), and because of personal changes that they both know are coming.  There’s going to be a bit of fear of the unknown here as well, and a little touch of paranoia will start to grip my kids.

The D Level story, however, is exactly the opposite:  it’s all about being together and inseparable.  After the roughest of years a couple of things happen that make these kids throw up their hands, scream “Fuck it!”, and decide they’re tired of being separated and they’re not gonna take it any more.  They do get some help in the beginning, but after that they’re the ones beginning to call the shots, and they get additional help at school from something that almost no one saw coming.  But this opens the door to togetherness, and after that point in time there’s no keeping them apart as a couple.

The E Level story is about exploration, and Annie and Kerry get to trip down the rabbit hole and see the world the way The Foundation sees it–which is to say, they encounter some pretty strange shit.  Tough life for fifteen and sixteen year old kids, but my world is pretty funky when you pull back the curtain.  That leaves their F Level story, and that’s about the finish, the finale, the final chapters of this part of their story coming to an end, while all the new chapters are waiting to be written.

But is it really an end?  I’ve a hundred years of events time lined out–what do you think?

I’m not writing, but even when you’re not writing, you’re prepping for writing.  This sort of thing is pretty normal for me, and having the tools to make these things real help a great deal.

You know what would help more?

Getting it written.

To Ride the Residency

There are a few things I’d like to do while I’m out here in The Burg.  I have my eyes on a place I want to visit once the weather starts to agree with normal people, and there’s another location that I think I could visit under the guise of collecting resource material for a story.  (Hint:  it would have something to do with space.)  But now something else has appeared on my radar, and for the first time in a long while I’m excited by the possibly that the event in question could be one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I’m talking about Riding the Residency.

Okay, so what am I taking about?  It appears that Amtrak, the organization in this country that handles rail travel, has given to residencies to writers to ride the rails.  One writer has already taken the New York City to Chicago run, and another is setting up for a cross-country sprint in mid-May to travel from New York City to Portland, Oregon.  And by residency I mean they’re letting them ride for free so they can work on their writing and talk about the experience.  The woman who did the NYC to Chiberia (as we were calling the city during the January polar vortex attack) run spent fifty-five hours relaxing and writing and generally having a good time, and who isn’t about a good time when they’re writing?

So, Amtrak, allow me to explain why putting me on a residency run would be a great idea:

1.  I love riding trains.  I’ve commuted by train for years.  I’ve ridden from Chicago to Florida by train.  I’ve taken them to work.  I’ve even ran the European network and spent a few hours on the French TGV, which I consider one of the best experiences ever, and one of the reasons I feel we need high speed rail in the U.S. like yesterday.  I like other people doing my driving while I sit back and enjoy the view, so a long trip that involves getting some writing done in the process is a big win for me.

2.  I am Ms. Social Media.  You want Tweets of the trip?  How about I up that ante and start posting my adventure to Facebook with pictures?  How about getting two or three blog posts out of the adventure, which will go out world wide in case you’re interested.  I could even put this adventure together in an ebook and offer it up for free on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

3.  I have friends in a lot of different cities, and many of them are creative as well.  I know an independent film writer/director down in the Big Easy; maybe she could take a return trip with me and work on a screenplay?  I have a writer friend in New York City who would like to run to Atlanta; we could do a run together and Chatty Cathy the adventure–or kill each other along the way, which would also be entertaining.  I’ve friends in Seattle and Portland who I could meet, and on the way to both those locations I could stop in Denver and make fun of the Hell Pony who apparently couldn’t bring any mojo to their local sports teams.  I could visit my Magical Girl Katie in Minneapolis and I could get pictures of my Twilight Sparkle plush kissing one of her mecha models.

4.  I am a writer.  Okay, so I’m not a big-time Stephen King-style writer who could probably buy a train for this sort of thing, but I have sold one story and self published two more, and I’ve always working and writing and trying to get my work out there.  That means I’m just like Rick Grimes in that I have stuff I’m working on–you know, things.  During a long trip I could probably do a great edit on a novel and prep it for publication.  Or start on Act Two of my current work in process.  Or write something completely new during the trip.  I’m open, you know?

It’s simple, really:  I need a seat, a place to put my computer and a plug for power, and a wifi connection to allow me access to the Internet, and I’m ready to roll outta Harrisburg for points unknown.  Oh, and I live within walking distance of the station, so I just throw my stuff in an overnight bag, get my computer into my backpack, and ten minutes later I’m ready to pick up my tickets.

I’ll be in touch.

My bags are packed and I'm ready to go . . .

My bags are packed and I’m ready to go . . .