Tilting My Horizons

With all the writing I’ve been doing of last–believe it or not, about three thousand words yesterday–I haven’t had a chance to talk about something I’ve started playing with.  But if you have Goggle Earth on your computer–which is something that comes with Maps and requires a newer computer–then you’re in for a treat.  Because now, you can feel like you’re flying over cities, hills, and plains.

I discovered this one day while fooling around with images, and I saw one of the icons in the lower right that, when I hovered over it, said “Tilt the View.”  Being curious I clicked it and saw that, yes, the view did tilt, making the scene look as if I were approaching the area from the air.  I figured I’d return things to the “flat” view and clicked it again . . . and everything flattened out more.  Whereas the first view made it look as if I was pretty much overhead, this new view shows me everything as if I were sitting several hundred feet in the air and seeing everything all the way to the fuzzy horizon.

You know where I started going with this, don’t you?

When I started putting together Emma’s and Kerry’s Scavenger Flight, I started looking at the sights as they may see them.  Now, this kind of viewing isn’t perfect:  the computer is trying to render a stereo-graphic image of a satellite picture, and sometimes the scenes look as if they came right out of The Lawnmower Man.  Other times it looks pretty great, and there are some images that are pretty damn spot on.  But if you’re a writers, and you want to get an idea of what a particular area of the world looks like, and you want to see the area in a way that you can reimage your own way on the printed page, then this is a fun tool to use.

For example, this is what I see when I’m over Cape Ann looking west:

You can't see the school--only I can see it because magical.

You can’t see the school–only I can see it because magical.

Even if there were buildings there, most of what you’d see are trees.  We’re directly over Selena’s Meadow here, and you would see the Areodrome, the west wall, Sunset Tower, maybe a few other things, but that would be here.  That brown section of trees in the middle of the picture?  That’s where Emma and Kerry had to hide out during the Day of the Dead, and where Annie asked Kerry to be her Dark Witch.  Now you know.

Thirty clicks to the east you find the Danvers Apartments, site of the original insane asylum:

Looking just a touch Lovecraftian here--must be the non-Euclidean geometry.

Looking just a touch Lovecraftian here–must be the non-Euclidean geometry.

And way off to the west and southwest, the Connecticut capitol building in Hartford.

Pretty much see at the angle Emma and Kerry would see.

Pretty much see at the angle Emma and Kerry would see, though they would be closer.

You can actually hold down the left mouse button and move the image around a little, but if you hold down the shift and the left mouse button, you and start tilting and rotating the scene to get the best view.  Doing that helps you get things to look as you would like them to look.

South of Hartford we have the Port of New Haven, which Team Myfanwy had to visit–

As it would have looked while they approached from the north on their way to Long Island, just across the sound.

As it would have looked while they approached from the north on their way to Long Island, just across the sound.

And then, finally, their trip into Queens.

Ballpark, World's Fair site, Unisphere . . . and keep an eye out for aircraft landing or taking off.

Ballpark, World’s Fair site, Unisphere . . . and keep an eye out for aircraft landing or taking off.

On their way out of New York they’d head east again, down Long Island, and all the way to Montauk Point and the lighthouse:

Where, if they come in over the south shore, they'll see the cliffs there.

Where, if they come in over the south shore, they’ll see the cliffs there.

Now, that radar dish on the left of the above image:  that’s Camp Hero, a holdover from Cold War better known as the Montauk Air Force Station.  At one time there was a hidden coastal battery here that was kept ready in case the Russians decided to invade New York City, and once they came this way their ships would get blasted.  Or if there were aircraft, that radar would discover them and rat their commie asses out.  The radar is the only one of its kind in the world, and you can actually walk around it, though it’s behind a big fence designed to keep people out.  There are rumors–otherwise known as crazy ass conspiracy theories–that say all sorts of strange stuff happened out here, including mind control, time travel, teleportation, and contact with aliens.  Maybe The Foundation knows something about this . . .

While I was at it I looked up a couple of locations that made it into the last book.  Like a certain pedestrian bridge in Kansas City:

The Deconstructors must be making things look so strange.

The Deconstructors must be making things look so strange.

The Foundation hospital where Annie and Kerry were sent after the Battle of Link Bridge, otherwise known as the Center for Disease Control:

And not a zombie in sight.

And not a zombie in sight.

And, lastly, the take-off point for the Mile High Flight, Mount Katahdin.

That lower "Mt." label is just about in the spot from where they departed.

That lower “Mt.” label is just about in the spot from where they departed.

And, just for laughs, I included this:

Because airports in the middle of the desert are so interesting.

Because airports in the middle of the desert are so interesting.

You may ask, “Cassie, what’s this?” and the answer is, it’s Groom Lake Test Facility, but you know it better as Area 51.  Why would I include this, because it’s not been mentioned.  Could it be because it may get mentioned?

You be the judge of that.

Das Finden der Berliner U-Bahn

Excused the poorly translated title today, but this is where I’m going.  And I need it today, believe me, after getting a bit of sticker shock yesterday from having my car worked on, and then getting into a rather epic editing session where I put away three chapters of Kolor Ijo, tuning up seventy-five hundred words and finishing off Part Two in the process.

But yesterday, my mind was mostly with my kids.

I’m back trying to work out the details of the next novel in my head and on the computer, and it’s usually coming at times when I should be doing other things, but dammit, those kids won’t leave me alone now.  They get that way, because they want to see the light of day again, damned witchy brats.

So I’m running the outline around in my head, and remembering things that came up when I laid out stuff the first time in Aeon Timeline.  Keep in mind that the first time I did a layout of this next novel, I had a bit of an overview:  there wasn’t nearly the same level of detail, so I’m in the process of laying that out.  And one of those areas that I’m laying out is where Annie and Kerry meet up while waiting to fly back to Boston and return to Salem.  It’s going to be a city in Europe, naturally, but where?

Well . . .

Achtung, baby

Achtung, baby.

Right there, in lovely Berlin.  It’s where all the B Levels–who are still pretending to not be witches and act like they’re regular students–and some of the C, D, E, and F Levels hang out before departing for America.  You may say, “Why not just jaunt them over?” and that’s true:  I could do that.  And I will do that when the kids are no longer pretending not to be witches.  But right now the long con is still on, so let’s pretend they’re going to a school for gifted children, one which isn’t in Upstate New York and has a SR-71 hidden under the basketball court.  No, the school they’re going to doesn’t need a Blackbird:  the kids are dangerous enough on their own.

One of the scenes I’m considering takes place near the Brandenburg Gate, which is one of the more well known sights in the city.  Annie and Kerry will visit it the night of 27 August, which, if you’re score at home, is the anniversary of their meeting in public for the first time.  This is also the day they both arrive in Berlin, so much fun and merriment will occur–or at the least they’ll get out for a quite dinner together.

This means I’m looking at public transportation in the city, preferably using their subway/train system.  If you zoom in on the city, you’ll start picking out stations.  And if you click on those stations . . .

You get a station name!

You get a station name!

But notice something else:  you see colored lines on the map.  Those colored lines are the actual underground routes, and this is a feature that Google Maps does for you in nearly every city.  So if I need a quick and dirty map of the city’s rail system, I find a station way out in the middle of nowhere–

Sorry, Hönow, but it had to be you.

Sorry, Hönow, but it had to be you.

–and once this lights up the routes, you have a quick and dirty map.

Which means I now have an interactive way of seeing what's close to what stations I need for my story.

Which means I now have an interactive way of seeing what’s close to what stations I need for my story.

Also, if you get a pop-up for a station, and you click on “More”, you’ll find the schedule for that station–

Which is most helpful only if you know what you're reading.

Which is most helpful only if you know what you’re reading.

Though you can always go off and look at the website and get that information there.

Wow, how first decade 21st Century this is.

Wow, how first decade 21st Century this is.

But this is a start for something that may end up as a paragraph or two in the scene with them outside the gate.  This is all stuff that ran through my head yesterday, and now you see some of the process I use just to get the background I need for setting up a scene.  It may seem just a little crazy–

But, hey:  that’s how my mind works.

You might even say it takes my breath away . . .

Building These Dark Satanic Mills

This has been an interesting morning so far, mostly because I’ve know what I wanted to write about since before crawling out of bed, and with coffee in hand I’ve been getting myself worked up towards said writing of post by tuning into the Brain Salad Surgery, more specifically track one of this recording, which is Jerusalem.  In case you’re not aware of that song, it was originally a poem written by William Blake in 1804, and later turned into a song by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916.  And when you’re recording one of the seminal albums of the 1970s, why not open with your own version of an English hymn?

It’s from this song that the expression “Chariot of Fire” comes, and I’m certain you’ve all heard that one at some point, usually with Vangelis playing in the background.  It’s also where I get the title of today’s post, which has nothing to do with darkness, mills, or even Satan.  No, it has to do with a reader question, and this comes from one of my Facebook Hodgepodge Crochet buddies, Debbie Wisely, who asked the following:


Do you have characters in mind and then build a story around them or do you have a story in mind first and fit your characters to the story? How do you pick what city/state or country they reside in? Do you write or type the original work?


This is sort of a crazy question, and I’m going to answer the last question first, because it’s the easiest.  No, I don’t write by hand:  I type everything,  If I didn’t type I’d still be working on my first novel from over twenty years ago, because my handwriting is Teh Sux.  I can also type a lot faster than I can write by hand, and given I can’t spell worth a damn, or that I’m always making mistake when I’m writing, I’d be lucky to churn out a few hundred handwritten words a day.  So typing it is.  There you have it.

As for the other two–oh, boy.  Those are good.  So let’s talk about one of  my other novels that some of you might remember me writing, but which hasn’t seen the light of day.

I’m talkin’ Suggestive Amusements.

This was written from 31 December, 2012, to 26 March, 2013, while I was in the process of doing something before publishing Her Demonic Majesty.  I blogged about the writing of this novel back in the day, and I remember the finishing of the novel was memorable because of a dream I had when it was all over, a dream I can still remember today–but that’s not why we’re here, yeah?

How did this start?  Well, I had time on my hands because I’d just finished NaNoWriMo 2012, which I’d won by writing Kolor Ijo.  I was thinking of things to do, and if you want to know how I got this story going, it was with a vision of two people, a man and a woman, sitting in a living room.  The man was on a computer writing, and the woman was on a sofa looking at the guy while she was crocheting.  Seriously.  That’s the genesis of Suggestive Amusements:  guy writing, woman crocheting.

But who were they?  They guy writing–that’s pretty simple.  Or is it?  There’s more to his story, sure, there has to be, just like how at that time there was more to my story.  I drew on my own experience as a programmer/writer and sorta made the male character in question the same kind of people, only single, untroubled by gender issues, and a huge-ass slacker.  There you have him:  Keith.

Who’s the woman then?  Ah, well, that’s easy:  she’s there to inspire him.  She’s . . . I know!  She’s a muse, a real muse, like thousands of years old, creature without a real beginning, being that’s there to bring you inspiration muse.  That’s Erin.  Not her real name, of course, just like her sister’s name–Talia, who you get to meet in the story–isn’t her real name.  but do you want to call them by the Greek names by which they’re remembered?  Nope, it’s too much of a mouthful.  So Erin it is.

Something else was needed, however.  I mean, come on, we know what’s needed:  a love triangle!  I need another woman, and she shall be called Elektra, because I like the name.  And since we’re dealing with these ancient muses who are known mostly through Greek Mythology, why not stay with that Grecian naming motif?  So there you are, Elektra.

With this novel–with most of my novels–I have the characters in place first.  I get to know them, who they are, what they need, what they’re looking for, and once I know that I start building the story around them.  I have the basic idea of what’s going on with the characters, so it’s now a matter of building the plot–

But as the second part of the question indicates, how do I know where the story takes place?

And the answer there is whatever strikes my fancy.  In this case I wanted a place that I knew something about, but not a great deal.  And that place was Las Vegas, because what hit me was, “I’ve never written about the desert area, and just about all the stories of Vegas revolve around casinos, gamblers, the mob, and Nic Cage drinking himself to death with help from a friendly whore.  Why not build a fantasy there?”

That’s how Las Vegas and the areas surrounding the city became the setting for the novel.  But wait!  While writing the story, I started to think about Elektra’s backstory, and realized she was like a lot of people in the city, she came from somewhere else, and she blew into town with a lot of baggage.  After a lot of thought and consultation with Google Maps, I decided that Elektra was a New Mexican woman from the Alamogordo, a place known as “The Friendliest Place On Earth” and the home of a whole lot of giant ants.  And in that process of knowing where she was from–and trust me, I knew–I set up an adventure for her, traveling from one end of New Mexico to another, before eventually heading into Arizona and onward into Nevada and my main setting.

I came about all these places because I just felt it was right.  I knew, because by that point I knew my characters, that this is where they were from, and why they were here.  I do this with everything:  when I’m setting up places for my characters I start looking at maps and I wonder, “Where would these people live?  Where would they work?  Why are they here?”  And little by little I start putting it together until my thoughts reach a critical mass and it becomes real.  Just like I did with my current story:  why did the Salem Institute for Greater Education and Learning end up where it did?  Because it is supposed to be there.  I know this because I know this.

And now you know how I usually start putting my stories together.  Maybe not the same way every time, but close enough that if you wanted to know how I get the writing party started, you now know.

And I leave you with sunlight breaking through to the dark Satanic mills, because the alternative was giant ants, and no one wants that.

And I leave you with sunlight breaking through to the dark Satanic mills, because the alternative was giant ants, and no one wants that.

One last thing, however:  while I was working on Suggestive Amusements, a slight break in the action occurred in the 1 March, 2013 post titled The Sofa by the Hearth.  And there you’ll find mention that I was missing a couple of characters from my life, and I was thinking about an event that happened to them every weekend, and, well, maybe it was time I started writing about them–something I’d start doing in earnest eight months later.

That was truly the moment, almost two years ago, that I’d decided to begin work on their story.

If I’d only known then how that was going to turn out . . .

Done Ready

Since yesterday was a day to stay off my feet after spending a huge part of Saturday walking, it was time to work on the novel.  Yes, NaNo is only a week and a half away, and a certain amount of panic can be felt oozing through my laptop screen, but as the song goes, that’s the way of the world.  To paraphrase Dieter, “This is the part of the show where we panic,” and everyone starts flailing about like extras on The Walking Dead.  It has happened before, and it will happen again.

Since I look pretty strange flailing about, I thought I’d better do something about it, so once I got back from breakfast and shopping, I loaded up the novel.  I’d done a few chapters Saturday–more than a few, actually–but I was at a point where I needed to get in and work out some detail.  So up comes Aeon and I start time lining a situation.  That took some time because I had to look for schools, malls, and hotels in another city, and there was a bit of eyeballing Google Maps to get the local set in my head.  I should get a screen shot of the area for the project–I’ll do that tonight.

With that in mind I fixed out the time line, figuring out an important plot point in my mind for the part in question.  These will snap into place, and I should write them down in the Document Notes in Scrivener.  Just in case they start to slip my mind, like the one that popped up last night which I figured out almost two months ago when I started plotting this sucker out.  Got a place for notes?  Better us them.

Then it was back to Scrivener, and the finishing of the story.  I checked on the sky for a certain moment in the story, then looked up a flight time for another moment . . . and discovered I’d calculated wrong.  So time to look up schedules, time to check time zone differences, and to put that into the mix.  The last thing I checked were trains out of Paddington Station, London, because I’m a glutton for punishment, and with that . . .

With that I Final To Dofinished up the plotting.

Fifteen parts and forty-four chapters–don’t let that “Chapter Forty-Three” fool you, there’s a Prologue–and did I count them?  No . . . one hundred sixty-four scenes.  Figuring a word count of five hundred to seven-hundred and fifty words a scene, I could be looking at eighty-two to one hundred and twenty-three thousand words written before “The End” goes down.  Or it could be longer or shorter.  I’ll see once I start writing.

But for now I’m giving myself a break.  I’ll tweak a couple of things here and there, and set up more notes, and maybe get a screen capture or two into the project, but beyond that The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced is at the end of the plotting and development stage.  I’ve done about as much to this sucker as I can, and if it isn’t ready to go now, it never will.

The new goal for me?  31 December, 2013.  That’s when I finish this.

That’s when this novel finally becomes a reality.

The Unhidden World

Now that I have gotten a few days of rest–and watched my share of TV for a couple of days–I can get back to the business of plotting out my novel and beginning the task of writing.  This week has been one of distractions, but they’re good distractions.  And tomorrow I’m thinking of taking a train ride . . . whee!  I probably won’t know if I’m going or not until sometime tonight, but it looks like I may be on the road early in the morning.

Yesterday I had another distraction, which was hunting down a railway.  Now, there are a lot of railroads out there, but this one I’d found a few months before when I was doing research on something and stumbled across the information.  I finally found it:  fifty miles of track stretching from The Salton Sea to Eagle Mountain Mine known as, you’ll be surprised, the Eagle Mountain Railroad.  If you want to follow it on Google Maps, start here and proceed in a northeasterly way.  There are a few sections washed out from floods ten years ago, but the rest of the route is visible.

I do this a lot.  All the time I’ve finding places through Google Maps, and then I keep hunting around to see what they are and where they go.  That’s how I found the Abandoned Turnpike, because I was planing my trip to The Burg, noticed the deviations on the maps, and started looking around.  While doing research for my current novel I spent a lot of time looking over the Russian Space Center at Baikonur, and many of the oil and gas fields far to the north.  I’ve found gigantic mines in northern Canada, observatories in Chile and New Mexico, even the location of the first atomic detonation–which, incidentally, is near two space ports, neither of which is near a huge crater made by another atomic detonation.

I go everywhere looking for things.  Sometimes this is research for a novel or story or whatever, and I’m checking out a location so I can create images in my mind.  Other times I do this for fun, because I’m curious, and I know I’ll never go to these places in my lifetime, so seeing them this way is the next best thing.

I’ve always been good with maps, going back to when I used to figure out where my family was going on vacation when I was seven or eight.  I’m a natural navigator, and I love seeing what I can find next.  I grew up in a time when there were still parts of the world that weren’t well know, but today, I can hop on the Internet and in a matter of minutes I can visit a dozen remote places.  Sometimes I even find cities that are pretty much abandoned . . .

If you’re a writer, you should be curious.  You should want to see those things that are unseen.  And once you see them, you make them a reality.

It’s so nice of the world to open itself up for us, don’t you think?

Name Away

It was time to get my A Game up.  Or should I say, my A Level Game?

One of the things I’ve sat on for my upcoming novel has been the incoming class of new students, of which my two main characters will join.  I knew how many kid from around the world will be in this level–thirty-three–and I knew pretty much how many would come from each continent.  The names and locations of five of these students were known to me, which meant I needed twenty-eight more.  So . . . what’s a girl to do?

You get to looking and naming.

First off, I set up a grid:  Name, City, Continent.  Nothing fancy, just the facts.  Just enough so when someone asks, “What’s you’re name and where are you from?” I have the answer at my fingertips.  When putting this together, I worked backwards.  I decides to get my continent count up first, so I’ll know where to look for places to live.  The only change I had when putting this together was taking one spot from Europe and giving it to North America.  Because I wanted that.

Then it was time for city naming, and for that I needed Google Maps.  I’m in Europe, so I start looking around areas, finding something that looks good, and zooming down.  Find a city or town or whatever, get the name, and write it down.  Again, I knew the locations of five of my characters, but doing them all from around the world . . . it’s a lot of zoom and write.

Then comes the names.  First, I set up the characters I already knew.  After that, it was time to work.  For that, I used Scrivener’s Name Generator.

It’s a simple enough thing to use, and pretty much makes the $40 cost of the program Find Generatorworth it.  One can find it here:  Tools>Writing Tools>Name Generator.  Just like in the picture to the right.  Go there, and you get the next window, which is the generator.

The great thing about this is you have the ability to search by gender and nationality.  I need a boy with a Dutch first name and a Japanese family name?  I can do that.  I need a girl from France with a Persian given name?  Easy.  Or, like I’m doing here, I Generator Workingneed someone with a Peruvian family name, and give me ten example to choose from.  Then you copy them to your short list area below and look a little more if you feel like it, or copy the short list to your clip board and start applying.  You also have the ability to append the names in the short list to a text card in Scrivener, so you can just dump what’s there into whatever you’re working on, then move it to where it’s needed in your story.

What if you need strange names for a science fiction or fantasy story?  The name generator has an import function that allows you to pull in documents with your own first and last names.  You can even reset the generator back to its default status after you’ve used those names, just in case you’re working on a story somewhere down the road and you don’t want to run across the suggested name of Judiquil Bloodanvil.

So, into the names.  Most of the time I figured out where my characters were from based upon their location in the world.  A few times I’d jump into the Wiki to figure out what language was used in a particular country, and I found it necessary to hunt down a name for a student in Kazakhstan, because Borat doesn’t let you have nice things, you know?

And what was the end result?  After about two and a half hours of work, I had my kids.  Behold:

A Levels 2011


There they are, nice and neat, and with a little gender marker next to their names just in case I get confused at some point.  You will notice most of them are female, and there’s a reason for that . . . but I won’t go into it now.  Needless to say, it’s there.

And now, time to join the real world . . .

Around the World Through a Dream

The weekend is over, the week begins, and there are things to do.  I did a lot yesterday:  I ate, I walked, I edited, I did my research.  And I watched meth makers go on the lam.

All in all, pretty normal.

I started in on my research yesterday, bringing up The Foundation Chronicles and setting up a location folder for the different areas I have to name.  There were four that I knew off the top of my head, and the locations of a couple of others that I knew existed, but I needed to come up with names and nicknames, and that takes a little bit of brain work.  Not that I don’t have the later, but when you’re roaming the world in Google Maps, looking for interesting places to set up your world, you find places that make you go, “Hummm.”

I found my location in Australia because there was an airfield one hundred and eight kilometers from the nearest big place, and the railroad used to stop there once a week and help out the miners who lived there–at least until 1996, when the train stopped and people got the hell out.  I found my location in Japan because I found a lovely spot on a mountain pass, and found a road tunneling under that pass, then found another road that was nothing but tunnels and curves, and I had to follow it, see where it went.  In Russia I found an open pit mine, then another, then another, then the oil and gas fields in Siberia, and the city that I used was placed close by because it would make sense that my Foundation would have helped exploit those fields without the Soviets knowing they were being helped.

It went that way most of the night:  think, look, imagine.  I discovered earlier that I’m only an hour from the town that more or less was the inspiration for movie portion of Silent Hill, and I’m thinking of heading up there next weekend.  I start thinking about locations in the far north, and I start seeing roads and I want to follow them.  It’s the distraction from curiosity that gets me going, and it’s not a bad distraction, because anything that has you thinking and wondering is good.  I’m about half way through my list–I need twenty names for training facilities–and then it’s on to headquarters before going after a few research and development locations.

Then it was off to sleep, where the strangeness happens.

I had a very long, unpleasant dream.  It wasn’t a nightmare:  it was more a “Why are you torturing me so?” kind of dreams.  I was at the wedding of a person I know, a person I like–a lot.  She also knows this, but was getting married to some guy because–well, because.  There were a few moments in the dream where we talked, but we always talked around the thing that was between us, though you could tell it was there in the way looks were exchanged, word were said, even body language.

There was no Hollywood ending in the dream:  it just stopped at some point without resolution.  That woke me up and allowed me to lay in bed for maybe twenty minutes before falling back asleep and having another dream–

One that shouldn’t ever be mentioned again.  Oi.