Tricking Out the Trade

I’m much better today.  Yesterday I had to come home early from work and get some sleep because a proto-cold was knocking me up, and I wasn’t handling it well.  I had a stuffy nose and soar throat, and I felt as if my energy reserves were below zero.  After sleep, rest, and medication I seem better today, and I’m doing my best to stay warm.

Even though I did some editing last night–and managed to finish a scene and a Part to Kolor Ijo–I pretty much took it easy.  Which means I’m ready to answer another reader question.  And this one comes from Skye Hegyes, who asks:

 

You use many things I’d love to hear more about, but recently the one that has me the most curious is the research involved to find out where everything is (place-wise) in your stories, what the weather is like certain days, and things like that. Sometimes it drives me nuts. I see all your screen shots and I’m like, “How did she find this out?!?” It would be a cool thing to learn.  I am good at research, but nowhere near as good as you. Tips of the trade would be awesome.

 

I’ve been asked about research in the past, and I’ve even written about some of the things I do to bring a story together.  I think the best thing to do here is see how things were put together for The Foundation Chronicles:  A For Advanced, because the world building started right there.

Originally the Salem Institute for Greater Learning and Education, or Sigle, was originally located on the southwest flanks of Mount Katahdin in south-central Maine.  The idea originally was to place it there to keep it away from prying eyes, but as I thought more about this aspect of my world, the whole “Hiding in Plain Sight” idea became stronger and stronger, and I finally decided it could hang out in a populated area because magic and technology would keep it hidden from the outside world.  Which meant all I had to do was find a place close to Salem where I could put a huge, walled-off school . . .

So it was off to Google Maps to look.  And after some looking around I was able to settle on Cape Ann because the center of the island was a forest and nature preserve–

Or is it?

Or is it?

I’m a bit of a map freak:  I love looking for things on maps, and Google Maps is a great place for me to loose time.  When I saw that blank space, I knew my school could go there.  And in doing my research, I discovered that Gloucester was the original location of Salem, but that the first colony failed and they moved to the location of the current city.  Hummm . . . I wonder if someone had a hand in that failure?

As for finding out a lot of things that I use in my research, I tend to Google and then search the hell out of the links.  Sometimes I’ll go several pages deep into a search and see what turns up, but I rarely stick with one site.  And if you look around you’ll find lots of interesting things . . .

I already knew Kerry’s name when I started the story, but that doesn’t stop me from going to my favorite naming places, Baby Center, and looking up his name.  Not only do I like all the information available, but I love using the Related tab, which shows you names that are like the one you’re considering–in case you decide you suddenly like Cary better.

I am not buying Homer, however.  Witches, yes:  Homer . . .

I am not buying Homer, however. Witches, yes: Homer . . .

I’ll also search by certain names as well, such as Persian and Gaelic, which I have done many times in the past.  Sometimes you just have to go that route.

Speaking of maps, I’ve been asked before about how I make some of the routes I have, and that’s done through Daft Logic’s Advanced Google Maps Distance Calculator.  I found this a long time ago–back in late 2012, to be exact–and I’ve used it to lay out several routes that will show up in The Foundation novels as they come out.

It looks like a couple of routes have been removed from your viewing.  I wonder what they were?

It looks like a couple of routes have been removed from your viewing. I wonder what they were?

This comes in handy if you’re trying to figure out distances through flight as well, since Google Maps will tell you the distance if you’re traveling by road.  But for making some of the things I’ve made–or, as you can see, laying out the flight from the school to Pearl Hill State Park–it can’t be beat.

Now, about the weather . . .  Historical weather can be had at Weather Underground, but there are a few things you need to understand.  The National Weather Service tracks weather at airports, so when I’m looking at the weather at the school, I’m really getting it from the airport at Beverly, MA, about thirty miles to the west.  This means that what I’ll have at the school may not be the same, but as far at the story goes, it’s close enough.  And when you’re traveling over a wide area, you may want to check with several airports along the way.

You can get a nice rundown of the daily conditions–

Hey, look:  it's the last day of school.

Hey, look: it’s the last day of school.

Or you can scroll down and see an hour-by-hour recording of the weather:

It's still the last day of school, but now there's a lot more of it.

It’s still the last day of school, but now there’s a lot more of it.

This is how I come up with those “Kerry looked out the window at the thick overcast” scenes.  I’ve not tried a lot of this with overseas locations, but eventually I will–only because I’m like that.

I’ve also written a little about Seat Guru, which I use to see aircraft layouts, but which you can use to get a good seat on a flight.  But if you absolutely, positively need to see the layout of a Air France 777-200 (772) Three Class V2–

dfdf

You know what to do.

And lastly I give you this, because I never know what anyone out there is working on, but as for me the need once arose to see the sort of effect a large blast would have on an area, and in looking about the Internet I found Nuke Map, which is the place to go if you wanna see what nuking a city, any city, looks like.  I’ve played with this before, and if you consider seeing the aftermath of a devastated area after you lob a twenty megaton bomb into the center of said area “playing”, then you’re just like me.

For example, I picked Indianapolis–the capital of Indiana, a place where politicians are working overtime to allow legal discrimination of people like me–and I decided to see what would happen if I exploded a standard 150 kiloton cruise missile above the capitol building, which used to be right across the street from where I worked.  And . . .

My therapist is well outside the blast area, so it's all good.

My therapist is well outside the blast area, so it’s all good.

As with any research, consult several sources.  When I was looking up information on runes I looked at four different sites, and correlated the information between them to get the results you may have saw the Annie’s and Kerry’s dreams.  Don’t assume that the first site you find will have everything you want:  you may need to consider a lot of information before deciding on what you want to use.

And another thing to remember is that most libraries have Internet access these days.  There’s nothing wrong with taking something you found on the Internet and seeing if there’s a hard copy source of that info you can take home–or visa versa.  If you can, use all the information.  It makes for a better story.  And don’t forget to bookmark anything you find that you like.  If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have found these lovely physics calculators that I’ve used over the years.  You never know when you might need math . . .

There you have it, and I hope the information I’ve given you is helpful.  If nothing else, it tells you about how I go about looking for things–

And some of the stuff I’ve found.

Stepping Off to the New

How was everyone’s day?  Good, I hope.  Mine was, well, let’s say pretty good.  I had a huge post yesterday, and it was a good thing I got it out early because in the afternoon it had to compete with the Internet shutting down over escaped llamas and bad dresses that may have been black and blue or gold and white–a question so burning for some that in one group I’m in on Facebook someone actually flounced because they were told they were wrong about the color.

"Now that I've solved the greatest mystery of the Internet, I'm going to tell all these losers wh--Oh, Llamas!"

“Now that I’ve solved the greatest mystery of the Internet, I’m going to tell all these losers wh–Oh, Llamas!”

Me?  Well, I gave my opinion on one (the dress), and we told many times about the other (the llamas), and continued working on something else.  And I made a lot of progress given that I was being told about the most earth-shattering events of the day–while at the same time my mind was on my own dilemmas as well.

Of late I’ve been thinking about a . . . let’s call it “next novel”.  And I think you know what novel I’m talking about, because people have actually asked me when I’m starting on that book.  I was even considering writing a scene from it, because it’s been calling to me a little, and I wanted to do something for that calling–

At the same time, though, I’ll admit:  I’m tired.  I told a friend last night that when you put almost sixteen months of your life into any project, you get tired of said project after a while.  It happens to the best of writers, and I imagine there are days when George R. R. Martin just wants to turn loose the Dragons of Westeros and torch the whole damn thing to the ground because he’s been working on the same stories for twenty years.

There is a real hesitation to get into the project again, to start on a second novel, because I may not have the energy needed to get into plotting everything out and start writing.  The good thing is I don’t need to make up any new characters, because save for a few people, they’re all there.  The bad news is I have no idea how long this sucker will turn out, and it scares me to think it could be huge.  The logical portion of my brain says that won’t be the case, but I won’t know–not until I plot it out.

While I was editing, however, I was contacted by other friends and asked if I wanted to get involved in another writing project.  And this sort of got me thinking, because it would be part of a collaborative effort, and that would mean I don’t have to do everything.  Also, it’s a change of pace, one that doesn’t involve throwing your body and soul into and coming out the other end of the wringer beat to hell and gone.

I’m looking forward to this, because it’s a change-up that I can use.  I’ll get back to Annie and Kerry when I’m ready–

After all, I’ll do their story more justice if I’m not exhausted all the time.

In Through the Out Time

Today is post number one thousand, four hundred, and in another hundred I’ll be up to fifteen hundred.  For this event today, I’ve decided to answer another reader’s question, and this is from Joanne Brunetti, another of my buddies in Hodgepodge Crochet on Facebook.  But this isn’t a writing question:  it’s a personal one–some might say an extremely personal one.  And the question is . . .

 

Was there a specific event that led to you making the decision to go ahead and live your true life?

 

That’s certainly an interesting question.  And I answered it, but not in writing.  I decided that it was just too much to write down, so I recorded a video to talk about the moment when–

Well, you’ll have to watch yourself.  It’ll take about twenty minutes, and I promise it won’t bore you.  So enjoy.

Writing at the Speed of Imagination

After a slow start to the day I’ve come back to a point where I am actually thinking straight, almost like a real person.  It’s wonderful that I’m not crashing out right about now.

Today I’m going to answer another reader’s question and this one is from Christy Birmingham, who I’ve followed for sometime as well.  Her question is simple:

 

What are your top three reasons for using Scrivener?

 

That’s an interesting question, because I’m not certain I can answer it sufficiently.  You see, there are so many different reasons why I use it, but let me see if I can break this down to something that makes sense.

 

One:  I can organize everything from the shortest story to the longest novel however I like.

 

Let me show you a few things.  First up is, believe it or not, the only real short story I’ve ever written, The Relocater, which clocks in at fifty-eight hundred words.  I wrote it in September, 2013, over the course of five nights, just to prove to myself that I could write a short story.

Looks kinda cute, doesn't it?

Looks kinda cute, doesn’t it?

There isn’t much to organize here, and Scrivener even has a short story template that allows you to just rip off some quick stories when you’re in the mood.  In this case I wanted quick and dirty, and that’s what I got.

Now, here is the novel I’m currently editing, Kolor Ijo:

Welcome back, 2012 NaNoWriMo story!

Welcome back, my friend, to the show that never ends.

When I laid out this novel I’d used Scrivener for about fifteen months, so I had a better grasp of how I wanted to set up my novel.  You can see that here I’m setting things up in parts, and that each text file is really a chapter.  And since most are short and separated in action from each other, I can get away with having it neatly laid out this way.

Now, maybe you recognize this work . . .

Every time I think I'm finished, you pull me back in.

Every time I think I’m finished, you pull me back in.

This is, right here, the most advanced layout I’ve ever done, which is for, naturally, The Foundation Chronicles:  A For Advanced.  And I should mention that the layout I have today is not the one with which I started.  When I began writing this in October, 2013, there were parts, there were chapters, there were scenes–but there were no acts.  It was only after I was close to finishing what is now Act One that I realized this story was gonna be huge, and trying to release it as one large tome might not be a good idea.  Therefore, I added the acts, began moving Parts into those Acts, and everything followed.  And that’s one of the things I love about the program.  However I want to set up my story, however I want to lay out my research, however I want to link to information from internal and external sources, I can.  It’s all up to you.  It’s even possible-though I haven’t tried it yet–to build your own template so these setups are available when you go to create a new project.  Like I’ll need with I write that B Level novel.

 

Two:  Write in one simple format, compile it into anything.

 

As a word processor Scrivener is simple:  it’s just text files where you can set margins, font styles, and font sizes.  You can so most everything that you can do in, say, MS Word, though for some functions you need to be hooked up to the Internet to get them to work, but who isn’t these days?  (And those functions are really needed to get the story written–I know; I’ve done that.)

But where the program really shines is in the area of how your final product look.  The Compile function is the formatting system of the program, and it makes it possible to just write lines of information in each text box, and by setting definitions in the Compile pop-up box, you can make the output look any way that makes you happy.

So many options, so little time to play with this stuff.

So many options, so little time to play with this stuff.

Most of the time I’ll compile into PDF format to look for errors and to send to beta readers, because you can’t change the stuff in that format–well, you can, but I have to trust my beta readers.  When I’m ready to send something up for self-publishing, I’ll compile the document to a Word .doc and run it through various checks as it’s converted into an epublishing format–

Which Scrivener will actually do for you.  .Epub and .Mobi are the two epiblishing formats supported by Scrivener, and if I remember correctly, Amazon will allow you to upload .mobi to Kindle Direct.  And those options on the left of the popup window?  Those are you selection and formatting options.  It’s actually possible to take plain, unaltered text an set your margins, fonts, and sizes in there, and have a ball getting your final product ready for whatever you like.  I haven’t explored all that because, well, it would take away from my writing.

And speaking of writing, the most important reason I use Scrivener:

 

Three:  It keeps everything I need for the story right in front of me.

 

Scrivener is not a word processing program:  it’s a project management program.  That’s why, when you go to create something new, you’re not creating a story or a short or a novel, you’re creating a project.  And into that project goes–

Everything.

Here’s something I’ve not shown much:  the research section for A For Advanced.

I seem to have an interest in aircraft . . .

I seem to have an interest in aircraft . . .

All that stuff on the left are things I slipped into the binder almost a year and a half ago, and some of the information I’ve kept updated, or even changed, as I went along with the story.  After all, the Spell List was being updated and added to constantly, because I’d come up with new things as I wrote.  But all the world building I did in October, 2013–it’s there.  Everything.  And up above I have information on students and who’s in every coven, and the levels and . . . you get the idea.

Now, in the picture above, there are four entries that look like little globes.  Those are interactive webpages that you can set up inside the project–you know, some of those functions that you need an Internet connection for?  Here’s what that looks like:

I seem to recall looking for these schedules back in 2013--

I seem to recall looking for these schedules back in 2013–

And the website is completely functional, so while I’m working on a scene, if I really needed to know the time for the train from Rockport–which, if you remember, is the end of the train line on Cape Ann and not that far from the school’s main gate–to Salem, it’s right here.  That was why I set this page up:  so I would have access to these schedules if they were needed.  And they will be–maybe.

The great thing is when it comes time to set up a project for B For Bewitching, I have an option to import another Scrivener project, so I’ll just zip all of this into that new project, delete what I don’t need, and keep the rest.  There you have it:  all my research is available for the new novel, with a little fuss as possible.

That’s pretty much it:  three main reasons why I use Scrivener.  There are a lot more, but those three are the biggest reasons.

And with reasons like those, I don’t really need any others.

Beyond the Obvious Reasons

Today feels like a day of rest.  I woke up early, cried several times in bed before the alarm went off, and have been desperately trying to find something about which to write.

And . . . I’m coming up zeros.

"You want me to be brilliant again?  Um . . . can it wait until tomorrow?"

“You want me to be brilliant again? Um . . . can it wait until tomorrow?”

What I wanted to write about it going to take some time, and right now I don’t have that time.  In fact, I’m sort of running out of time to get anything done this morning, what with feeling like my brain is in a lock-down and everything needs to be forced to the surface with a cattle prod.

Not a good time of things, let me tell you.

So I think I’ll wait until tonight to get out the post I wanted to do today, mainly because working on it will keep me awake and give me something to do.  And when it starts getting dark outside, and I start getting sleepy, having something to do is usually a good thing.

So, for the first time in like, um, maybe three years, I’m not going to make my five hundred word blog post count.  A couple of hundred, sure, but not a lot beyond that.  You’re on your own today, so enjoy the weather while I get ready to walk across town in something closer to ten below zero wind chills.

Thinking about a story all the while, too.

The Path to Knowing is In the Missing

Here is an interesting quandary:  I was supposed to work on Kolor Ijo last night, because when you’re in the editing, you should edit, right?  And editing doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, because the novel is only (I would put that in quotes but then it feels like I’m showing off if I do) twenty-four chapters long, with a prologue and a code that stretches it out to twenty-six chapters, the whole novel is sixty-eight thousand, eight hundred words total.  And nearly all of the chapters are short:  in Part One the longest chapter is just under three thousand words, and that was a standard with my last novel.

See?  Just little bitty chapters.  The good ol' days when you could rip off something like this in a month.

See? Just little bitty chapters. The good ol’ days when you could rip off something like this in a month.

The nice thing that comes from editing a work like this is that you can take your time reading the tome and see what needs to be changed, and what has to be changed.  I found a lot of interesting but messed-up sections in the chapters I’ve read, and without a careful re-reading, that crap would have slipped through.  That’s one of the hazards of NaNoWriMo:  you’re writing so quickly at times that words just flying into the page, and there are sentences where those words make no damn sense.  I found about a dozen of them so far, and it’s a scary thing, let me tell you.

But at the same time I’m editing this–and I should mention I’m taking my time editing, because I’m reading this once for the first time in over two years, and it’s taking me time to get to know the characters once again–I’m thinking about another couple–and you know who they are.  Over the weekend I began thinking about something that happens to the kids–here it comes–after they leave Salem, because they do have a life outside the reinforced walls of that environment, and the things that happened to them when the Real Annie and I started thinking about their lives at school have changed slightly.  Meaning their future has changed slightly as well.  This is a perfect example of Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey stuff going on, and one must adjust.

There are things that happen to them both that need to be adjusted, because what happened before was, frankly, a little strange.  Also, life is a little different in The World of the Foundation, and it’s pretty obvious that Annie has her sights set on doing something that she wants to make her own, and it seems likely that Kerry may follow in her footsteps.  They’re gonna be busy kids from their F Levels on for a couple of years, and later on into their lives.

In fact, one of the things I was time lining out was . . . hum, should I do this? Naw, better to keep you guessing and wondering.

I don’t need to wonder:  I know what’s coming.  In both the future and the past.

I just gotta get their on my own power.

 

Into the End at the Beginning

Yesterday was a busy day for me, as some of you may have noticed.  Two posts, a few videos–I did one that I posed in a group of the snowfall here in Harrisburg that was freaking everyone out–and then the late night videos I did on makeup.  I did a lot of editing.  I watched movies.  I listened to music.  I even started working on a segment of Annie’s an Kerr’s life that, in retrospect, needs to be changed, because given things that have happened to them in their A Levels, and things that will happen to them in the future, there are incidents in their lives that make no sense.

Today is Science Fiction Sunday on TCM, with Forbidden Planet starting at eleven, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind finishing up at eight, with a 2001 and 2010 interlude in-between, so I expect to spend most of the day watching that.  Three of those four movies are among my favorites, and these days I don’t get to see 2001 as much as I would like.  I have, however, watched the trailer the British Film Institute put out last year when they did a special release of 2001 on 28 November, 2014, and it’s a thing of beauty that always brings a tear to my eye.  Seeing it on a computer does not do it justice:  it needs to be seen on a huge screen with the sound system cranked all the way up.  And having seen this movie in theaters three times, I know what that’s like.

Today I answer another reader question, and this time it’s from Kim Jameson, another of my HodgePodge Crochet friends who knows the difference between a hook and a needle.  Her questions are a little like the one I answered yesterday, but at the same time they’re much different.

 

Do you plan your story and build a world ahead of time? Do you know the ending before you begin? How do you pick character names?

 

I’ll tackle the first one first, because it’s–first?  Actually it’s an easy one to answer, because I pretty much sorta answered it yesterday–

I am what is known in the writing business as a plotter, which means I figure out the story ahead of time before one word goes into the story.  I do that for a novel that’s gonna run a couple of hundred thousand words, and a story that will run ten thousand.  I do that so I don’t get lost about a third of the way in, thinking, “What do I do now?” and start thinking about the next story I could screw up the same way.  (Trust me, I’ve encountered this phenomenon more than a few times from other writers.)

And for really big stories, like A For Advanced, when you’re dealing with incredible events happening to a couple of kids who aren’t expecting anything out of the ordinary–beyond the extra-ordinary that’s already happening to them–one wants to make sure that you aren’t setting yourself up with unnecessary plot holes to fall through by winging the damn thing as you go along.  The entirety of the recollection of the dreams between Annie and Kerry, and getting Kerry to remember them, could have been screwed up completely if I didn’t know where they had been, and where they were going, story-wise, with the matter being further complicated by stretching the story out over a quarter of a million words.  Write that on the fly?  Not a chance.

And building a world ahead of time?  With A For Advanced I had to know as much about the World of The Foundation before I started writing about the events at Salem.  I knew the cities where The Foundation ran their business, the headquarter locations of the Protectors and Marshals and Guardians, and where every school The Foundation ran was placed and what they were named.  During the Day of the Dead attack, when Isis starts talking about schools she can no longer contact, though the names were mentioned that one time, they exist in a file, ready to be pulled up if I need that school, or another like it, in a future story.  When we are discussing a world-spanning organization that spends all its time hiding in plain sight, you better know where those hiding places are.

Do they all come to me at once?  No, not really.  I had the world built in October, 2013, before I started writing, but bits and pieces came to me as I went along.  The CDC as a Foundation location didn’t come to me until probably March or April of 2014, and that happened because I was thinking of using it in one of the future novels.  But it seemed perfect, and so it was used.  Now to see if any of the real underground bunkers I mentioned get used.  The show The 100 use Mount Weather as a location, so it’s not like it’s something new.

Do I know the ending before I begin a story?  Yes, pretty much.  Maybe I don’t have it locked down one hundred percent, but I know how a story will end before one word goes down.  That actually comes from something Issac Asimov once said:

 

Know your ending, I say, or the river of your story may finally sink into the desert sands and never reach the sea.

 

Since Issac wrote about everything and anything with fascinating clarity and intelligence, and did it hundreds of times throughout his life, I tend to believe he knew what he was doing when it came to the written word.  And I’ve seen this one happen many times before as well, where a writer who’s just pantsing the hell along (“Pantsing” is the term for a writer not knowing the story, but rather writing as it comes to them, like “I’m writing by the seat of my pants”) when, suddenly, they’re like, “Where the hell did my story go?  How the hell am I gonna finish this sucker?”  It’s fin and dandy to be a character in a Bob Seger song and just roll me away, but there exists the real possibility that because you have no real destination in mind your ass is gonna end up stranded in the middle of nowhere ’cause you ran outta gas, and then where you gonna be, bitch?

"This is as good a place as any to get lost and end up having buzzards stripping the drying flesh from my dead ass."

“This is as good a place as any to get lost and end up with buzzards stripping the drying flesh from my dead ass.”

And that last question:  how do I pick my character names?  That’s easy:  I just roll names around until I come up with something I like.  I might find a first name and think about last names to plug in, or a last and then look for a first, but that’s sort of it right there.  I may latch onto a famous name–Lovecraft was one that I used in A For Advanced, which I used for both a Founder of Salem and for Helena’s family name.  It was the same with Erywin’s family name, which was taken from the then recently deceased actress Elizabeth Sladen–or I may just pull out one that sounds good–Kerry’s family name is like that; it simply sounded right to me–but there’s nothing elaborate in the selection process.  Once I know it’s right, then it’s right.

There you are, a little more of that which makes me a writer unveiled for you.  And if you have any questions you want me to answer, have a go and post one.  You never know what I might say if I pick yours.