Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hold Your Breath and Dive In...

Tonight I started writing Tales of the Blue Jade Book 3, otherwise known as The Jeweller of Rassylon. I've spent the past 6 or 7 weeks nutting out an outline and filling my notebook with ideas and maps, and I've reached the point where I feel it's time to dive in (hence the very witty title of this post) and get started.

It's a funny bitter-sweet feeling when you start writing a new book. Part of me feels scared that I'll discover I've lost my ability to write, another part feels excited to be joining Dillen, Koto and Tajni on yet another adventure. However I feel, I have to push on and hopefully come up with something resembling a decent first draft by the end of the year.

As I mentioned, I've decided this time to completely scrap the "driving without headlights" approach and make a careful outline of what is going to happen in each chapter. I decided to do this when I realised that I wrote about 4 drafts of Mapmaker's Apprentice without any real idea where the story was going, and I could have reached draft 5 in a much shorter time if I had only taken the time to plot and plan and work it out as much as I could beforehand. That way I would have avoided the rather panicky last few months where the deadline started to loom and I ended up having to ask for an extra month to get it finished.

I'm happy with the outline I came up with for book 3, and to be truthful it poured off the pen much more easily than book 2 -- perhaps something to do with "book 2 syndrome", a malady that I am now firmly convinced exists. Let's hope it all works out in the end.

In other breaking news, I have a short story in the latest edition of Andromeda Spaceways.

It's called Zombie Dreams and it's about a zombie who decides all he wants in life (death?) is to become an architect. The idea first came to me when I was staring out the window of the bus on the way to work. That night I wrote a first draft, which I promptly decided was utter rubbish and confined to my hard-drive for all eternity. Then a few months later I happened to give it another read and thought it was actually quite good (amazing how time and distance can give you a new view of things) so I worked to get it up to scratch and sent it in. It's a comical story, obviously, but somehow it's quite special to me. No idea why, but I hope others are able to enjoy it too.

On a side note, my good writing buddy Liz has a story in the same edition, and she managed to have hers illustrated! (No jealousy there whatsover. Not even a hint). Congrats, Liz! It's a wonderful story indeed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On Maps and Mapping

I thought I might do a bit of a post on the process I go through to produce maps for the books. Getting the process to a stage where I'm happy has been long and daunting, and has involved lots of experimentation with different kinds of media, so perhaps it might be in some way helpful if I share a little of what I've learned as I've gone along.

Most of my maps start off like the image below -- a pencil sketch in my moleskine notebook, with lots of crossing out and rubbing out and fairly basic detail. Usually I doodle these at the same time as working out the plot, so I have at least some kind of idea of the world in which the characters are moving.

Sketchy, pencil drawn maps are all very good, but when it came time to provide something more presentable to the publisher I went into a bit of a spin. My first thought was to try and rope someone else into doing it for me, then I realised that the maps were a very important component of the story and something I really needed to own myself. After a bit of experimenting, I bought a set of (extremely expensive) technical drawing pens and used a pad of tracing paper to turn my pencil sketches into something more presentable.

I liked this version, and I considered it good enough to send to the publisher, but somehow I knew it wasn't what I wanted to end up in the book. It looked too much like something from Lord of the Rings, with little trees and bumpy mountains and the like. Since Tales of the Blue Jade is set in a world based on Asian mythology I decided I needed to look at historical Asian maps and get a feel for how these were drawn.

After a visit to the university library and quite a lot of googling, I found the map below.

It's an old (unfortunately I don't know exactly how old) Chinese map showing the Korean Peninsula. It had exactly the kind of feel I was looking for, so I used it as the basis of the map I finally ended up drawing.

The other thing I did is put away those expensive technical pens. Instead I bought a nib and bottle of ink for about $10.00 from the local art shop. Because cartridge paper gave me too much "bleeding", I used some heavy duty paper designed for acrylic paints. Not only did it hold the ink perfectly, but it had that aged parchment look to it, which further accentuated the look I was trying to achieve. Here is the result.

And yes, I did the whole thing by hand. Drawing those waves nearly took away my eyesight and my sanity, and every second I lived in fear of that misplaced drop of ink that would ruin the whole thing. I'm sure I could have done it more easily with photoshop and a tablet, but somehow I felt the urge to use a more traditional medium, something at least vaguely close to the tools used by historical mapmakers. And I think it came out well, if I say so myself.

This version then went, in a very heavily reinforced envelope, to the publisher, who added proper typeset labels for all the features as well as a scale and a compass that fits in with the existing feel of the map. I'd like to post the final version, but I don't have a copy of it yet (other than in the ARC, and that's too small to reproduce).

I guess you'll have to buy the book and see it!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Uba Uba Uber Alles

This came in the post yesterday.

It's a thing of a thousand names -- arc, proof, galley, uba (that last one was a new one to me) but basically it's the book in a pretty well complete form minus the cover. After so many exciting and new experiences with covers, pages and so on it was yet another one to hold the book in my hand and start to read.

And look how thick it is!

Somehow I'd imagined an 80,000 word book being about as thick as a Discworld paperback, so this is a bit of a surprise. Did I really write all that??

Starting to feel more real all the time....

(By the way, I'm hoping to be able to write some more substantial blog posts in the next little while. Time has been at a bit of a premium over the last few months but hopefully things will start to settle down soon. Hopefully.)