What’s What

Out of what I am, what I read, what I know, imagine, and think, come thoughts that I didn’t know, things absorbed which now push up out of my mind’s mantle of thinking and into the novel.

The characters develop sympathies that I didn’t expect. Vulnerabilities and phobias that I’ve never known are introduced. Their attitudes harden. The new attitudes shape their directions and decisions, flexing the story’s direction.

I play catch up with my thinking, but I’m always falling behind. The characters and I go through the story together, seeing what happens and catching our breath.

It’s been a good day of writing like crazy, but it’s left me somber and reflective. After all that’s happened so far, the main character now faces a large metal door. It seems to be brushed steel.

We’re both waiting for it to open.

Even as I contemplate it, the door sneaks open. Whispers of the next conversation float out. “Who are you?”

“I think that’s my line.”

“How’d you get here?”

“That’s also my line.”

So it begins unfolding as doubt and confusion wrestles with truth and expectations, and story forms.

Another day of writing done and gone, at least one more time.


Where Do They Live?

Just as I had to address “What do they wear?”, I’m now addressing, “Where do they live?”

My Travail and other intelligent species have evolved far beyond my initial glances. I can liken it to glancing at a cat and thinking, “Oh, look, a cat.”

What’s the cat’s sex? Male.

Does the cat have a name? Yes, we’re calling him Meep.

What color is Meep? Um…Meep is a ginger, a blotched tabby ginger with broad swirls on his side, white whiskers, amber eyes, pink nose.

Good. What’s Meep doing when we first see him? He’s sitting on the fence. He’s displaced a half foot of snow from the fence top. No other snow is disturbed so he must have jumped up there from the other side of the fence. Flurries swirl around him but he’s not forlorn looking. He looks relaxed and in command. His attention is fixed on something in the pines, something that I can’t see or hear.

Does he get along with the other cats? Meep doesn’t trust other cats and goes on instant alert, ready to warn, fight or flee, when another cat approaches. He prefers to warn them away. If they attack, he will fight back. Fleeing is the third choice. He considers it the smart choice but knows from practice that fleeing is better as a theory because other cats will chase him. So he stands his ground until the situation is dire.

I’m going through this with the Monad, Sabards, Milennial, Humans and Travail, especially the Travail. Part of that is because I already did a great deal of this with the Humans, but also one main character is a Travail, and their part of the story and activity is told through his point of view. This has forced me to delve into the Travail history, social structure, architecture, behavior, agendas, sex…everything known about Humans on Earth is required to be known about the Travail.

They have a complex structure. Their names end up reminding me of Russian naming conventions out of Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn. But I didn’t want to just slap some Human expressions — or cats or other animals — onto my other civilizations. I wanted them to be unique.

They’ve responded to the challenge. I argue with myself about changing the naming convention and simplifying them for the reader.No; the book, the characters and the writer in me all resist this. Screw the readers. I think it was James Tiptree, Jr (Alice Sheldon) who said, “Let them catch up, if they can.” Okay.

Another big challenge was how and why did this species develop the technology to advance into space? Why did they want to go into space? That forced a deep dive into their history, as well as the history and development of other races.

It’s all challenging, daunting, and intriguing. It all builds the novel far beyond my first glimpses of it. That’s how it often goes. When you pursue a destination, details, paths, choices and accidents emerge that you never anticipated. Thinking it through enervates me as brain cells cry for mercy but afterwards, I sit in pleased satisfaction with what’s been developed and written. Each plot arc has its own beauty that touches me.

But now, yeah, my butt’s numbness informs me that time has passed. Mocha remains but it’s cold, cold, cold, with a skim of clotted chocolate like small clouds dotting its surface.

It’s been an excellent day of writing like crazy. Time to chug the mocha, take a walk and prepare for the next session. The words are already bubbling up. Were it not for my numb rear-end, I would pursue them.

But the words will keep until tomorrow, and another day of writing like crazy.

The Pirates

I’m at a point in the novel, Long Summer (sequel to Returnee) where the pirates are about to enter.

Yes, this is science fiction. Yes, these are space pirates (cue dramatic music). Or cue a Monty Python moment.

I always like ‘fly in the ointment’ tales. That’s the pirates’ role in Long Summer. They’re naturally a plot trigger to cause the stories to bank sharply into another direction, bringing the three disparate story lines into contact with one another at last, thirty-five thousand words into the novel. Creating  the pirates enabled me to embark on my favorite fiction writing activity: making things up. In this case, I was given permission to make up the pirate ship and crew. Who are they, why are the pirates, where did they come from and how did they come to have this ship?

The ship is the CSC Narwhal. CSC is Castle Corp Security, a spin-off from the original Castle Corporation that dominates the Returnee series as one a major part of the setting. (The corporation is constantly restructuring, re-organizing, acquiring and divesting.) As Castle Corporation was originally an Anglo-American effort when they first formed on Earth (with roots in 3D printing, with specific focus on home security devices…from there to space), the company sometimes invokes its heritage when naming ships. This was strongly evidenced in the naming of the security ships (the preferred nomenclature over warship). I’d remembered Narwhal from my history lessons, so I looked up Narwhal and confirmed its role in England’s maritime history, confirming it was part of the Arctic Fleet. Two Brit submarines were then named the same, along with a US sub. So, sweet, that worked out.

(I had to refer back to my Returnee notes a little as I worked out that naming, confirming corporations and financial consortiums led the way into space. Governments had little to do with it.)

I then needed to further define my new vessel’s manning, which is complementary to its role. As a security vessel, Narwhal is small, with three squadrons of droid fighters. Why droid fighters? I started with manned weaponry and realized that robots dominate my future. It would be weird to have manned fighters. But humans maintain control….

Essentially, I evolved the Droid Commander. Droid Commanders remotely oversee the flying of four droid fighters simultaneously from pods on the Narwhal. Yes, we have the sophisticated technology to do that in my future. Likewise, Droid Techs remotely manage maintenance/software/hardware, keeping the fighters armed and flying, repairing them via nano-bots, droids and automation.

Each Narwhal squadron has three Droid Commanders, each flying four droid fighters. So each squadron is twelve fighters. Three squadrons, thirty-six fighters, nine each Droid Commanders and techs. A squadron commander coordinates their activities with the ship and mission briefs.

Narwhal is structured to run silent, fast, launching quick strikes and then bailing. Their defensive systems are lightweight and automated. They’re not going to bombard a planet or take on a battleship. They’re more likely to run escort and interdiction missions.

Once I had those things in place, what did I need for manning for the actual ship, the Narwhal? Well, again, it’s automated, and lightly manned. I ended up with three defensive coordinators. Commander, DO, pilots to fly it (in the event of worst case situations), navigator (overseeing the droids and systems), intel officer, techs to treat it.

Shuttles? Escape pods? Logistics? Medical? All done by droids, except I decided the three shuttles would have human pilots. Ten techs oversee droids that do the repairs.

So there it was, forty-seven humans crewing the Narwhal and its squadrons.

Since it’s going head to head with River Styx, the stasis pod ship, I went through the  same exercise for the Styx (which has only light defensive systems). Then I mentally plotted the sequence of events as I walked over here to write today. The twists arose on their own, pleasing and exciting me, further evolving my sketchy plot.

(Quite deliberately, because the pirates are out to disrupt corporate domination of space and human activities, Castle Corporation also owns the River Styx. The pirates love the irony of a ship they appropriated from the Castle Corporation, stretching the truth, as the Castle Corp had spun off the division that owns and operates Narwhal,  attacking another Castle Corp vessel.)

This summarizes my basic writing approach. I begin with a concept or a character. In this case, three ideas came together. That gives me a bare structure. As an analogy, if my novel is a car trip, I’m getting in and pointing the vehicle in the general direction of a horizon I see, with the vaguest idea of what’s over that horizon, and what’s between here and there. That works for each chapter, story line and character arc.

Reflecting on all of this today, I recognize how much my writing approach parallels my other methodologies. As a senior NCO in the USAF, I was always imposing and maintaining order and discipline, but also loved instilling vision in my people about how to improve ourselves and our operations. To do that, I’d simply seize a direction and go for it, correcting as I went. Likewise, in my last position as a data scientist with IBM, when given a challenge, I mentally played with it until something formed, and then I launched myself into it. And in my youth, when I was taking art classes, painting and drawing, sudden inspirations would seize and carry me.

The confrontation between River Styx and Narwhal awaits. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

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