Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: Masks

And Another New Project

After Nano, my creative mind took me for a brief tour of WOTW, where I did some worldbuilding, mainly working on the conlang for Mukhamutara. I did this in a desultory way for the most part. Also figured out the calendar system and printed out the plot points I’d listed in a Scrivener file with the intent to transfer them to Scapple. I never got around to that, though.

Now, a few weeks ago, Zette and I tried to give Necia Phoenix, another chatter at FM, ideas for a story that ties in to Necia’s real life hobby/obsession of snakekeeping. And, about a week or so ago, I tried to add ideas to that basis—and ended up siccing plotbunnies (as we call them) on myself. I ended up with a main character, his serpentine familiar, and the basics of a new magical system.

I have since then been building this world. Very quickly, I realized this was a science fantasy story, set on an earth about 1k or so years into the future. It is, however, a future unlike we’re taught to expect. Not because of the progress made, but because of the way things have regressed. Cities as we know them have been long abandoned and people have resettled in “primitive” agrarian communities. I’ve got the basics of how this happens down now.

When I mentioned in chat having bunnied myself with this idea and that this was set on a future Earth, and the basics behind the animal familiars which are common in this story, Necia suggested I might write a family saga about the End Of Society as we know it. Which of course caused another character to jump into my mind. I’ll have to flesh her out later. I want to focus on the current story right now.

Well, no, what I’d like to focus on is any of my other WIPs—the ones actually already in progress. Creative mind is having none of that, though. I’ve tried working on WOTW a little more, but only upset myself. I’ve read Masks, but though I want to read it to its end, I don’t want to work on it, ’cause opening it to do so leaves me cold. I don’t even want to look at MOTS1.

I haven’t been able to work on much the past couple days. Appointments which I’ll discuss in future posts have taken up my days. It’s all stressed me out to the point where I’m not interested at all in my writing. I’m worried this may be the beginning of a writing downswing, so I’m mentally lining up movies I’ll watch so I can crochet and books I’ll continue reading while I’m not writing if the writing downswing does happen.

Before these two stressful days, I felt enthusiastic about the new project. I’ve got to do a lot of research for it. I need to figure out animal personalities for the most part, but I also need to figure out just where this new country is, ’cause all I know is that it’s “somewhere in North America” right now. I’m thinking somewhere west, a little inland. Will have to see, but I’m getting vague notions for putting the community somewhere on or near the Columbia River or one of its tributaries.

So, lots of research required. Don’t know when I’ll get to it all, or really where to start. But I’ll get it done!

There are Times I Wish . . .

. . . my creative mind would do what I want it to do, instead of haring off after whatever it wants to.

This is one of those times.

Back around the 9th-18th of May, I came out of a writing downswing with a focus on TPOM3. I spent those 9 days making important breakthroughs on the plot—the kind of breakthroughs that I’ve been waiting for, it seems like forever now. The last time I’d touched TPOM3 had been back at the end of January, when I was forced to give up working on it when I couldn’t force any of the breakthroughs I needed so much to come to the front of my mind.

Then, February 4th, my friend Bryce died. That threw me into a two-month writing downswing. I surfaced briefly in April, fiddled a little with Masks and a couple other projects, then dropped into another writing downswing until May 9th. When I came out of that with TPOM3 on my mind, I was happy, and even more excited when some different chats with friends brought me the breakthroughs I needed on it.

Then another—brief, thankfully—writing downswing hit.

I came out of this one slowly. Someone said something in chat, my mind flashed on a proverb about those who lie with dogs get up with fleas, and I had a brand spanking new character who didn’t seem to fit anywhere I’d already created. When I couldn’t figure out where Mutt fit, I gave up trying to force him into any mold and waited for him to talk to me.

I ended up writing the first scene that came to mind on the 24th. I had little prework done on the project, barely knew Mutt, and had no freaking idea where his story would go. Then, to my surprise, three more scenes followed the same day. I had all of a ten-minute break between the first and second scene before a major character spoke up.

Between the third and fourth scenes, I named characters, taking a naming “alphabet” from a list of, if I remember correctly, Norse names. I changed a couple aspects of it to give it its own look and started applying the list to everything I needed to. By yesterday, I had a rudimentary magical system, a number of characters named with brief bios, and plans for a number of religious factions—as well as enough plot points to tell me I have two, possibly three, books in this series, which as yet has no title.

And, as happy as I am that my mind is running on this new idea—I try to be grateful that I get creative ideas at all—I still wish I was focused on TPOM3.

What Happened to “Solid First Drafts”?

As some readers will recall, I felt compelled to write about how I typically write solid first drafts back on the 14th of November of last year. I waxed poetic on my writing history and basically boasted about my writing skills.

Masks shot that all to hell.

I wrote the first incomplete draft of Masks in November of 2014—last year, the very same month I wrote that bragging post about solid first drafts. Of course, at the time, I thought I was well on my way to creating that solid first draft I bragged about. Oh, I was aware I’d have to do a bit of work on it—that it wouldn’t be perfect—but I thought I could handle the challenge of writing my first mystery book without too much trouble. Yes, it was a challenge, but it wasn’t beyond my abilities.

Since then, Masks has been cut to a scene I find acceptable twice, then rewritten from that point. I’m pleased to be able to say the second cut happened at a scene that happened later in the manuscript than the first cut did, though not by much. Maybe two or three scenes after the initial cut was made.

The first time I cut Masks, I did what I had before, and started working on the plot cards as I wrote. Since I was doing this rewrite over the course of the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo, I had to meet a specific wordcount goal each day. Since I’d set my total goal at 25k, I had to get only about 834 words a day. If you check my stats, you’ll see how inconsistent I was, and part of that, particularly later on in the month, is because I was struggling with the story again.

Yes, again.

I had a vague notion what the problem was, but since I was on a deadline with words, I tried to push through and continue writing. Unfortunately, the outline wasn’t moving any more, and I ate that up after a few days of writing, so I had to stop and consider things. I was looking at failing Camp Nano if I tried to force things as I had been doing. So, after much thought, I forced myself to cut everything I was dissatisfied with and start from the new cut-point. As is obvious, I did meet the 25k word goal, and that’s because I saved my cut words since I had after all written them over the duration of the writing challenge.

I copied and saved the plot cards I was keeping (those I’d already written out as scenes) and did my 2-plot-cards-per-1-scene-written habit since I was still at the tail end of the Camp Nano challenge and still needed words. This time, I put more thought into my plot cards as I wrote them.

In the first manuscript, I lost track of a number of subplot threads that fed into the red herrings I needed to establish in the mystery. In the second version, I lost track of the conflict Eirni was supposed to keep dragging into his relationship with Yavaniel. Because I want both these elements, I need to take the plotting of Masks slower. I see that now. Rushing through like I do on my standard books won’t serve me well here; I’ve got to spend time on the background work—I actually have to list out all those plot points I usually try to keep in my head! And then I actually have to employ them in the WIP. I’m not used to doing things this way (though I must say since I started this habit with Masks, it’s serving me equally well with my non-mystery stuff).

Masks is on hiatus right now. My creative mind has decided it’s time to work on stuff from Chraest, and I’ve made a number of breakthroughs on TPOM3 the past couple weeks, so I’ve been working on that as time and attention allow (I’ve been rather out of focus since my surgery, but things are starting to settle into place like I want them to). I also seem to be in a bit of a writing downswing; it’s creative, to be sure, but I’m just not writing as much as I’d like, though I’m trying not to push myself.


I’ve been taking it easy with my Camp Nano project, Masks this month. I set the wordcount goal to 25k and haven’t been freaking out if I don’t write on it for a few days. This, I think has been a good thing, because it’s allowed my creative mind to relax. If you look at my Camp Nano stats, you’ll see I’m at the end of a surplus of wordage, though, and part of the reason for that is because I’ve gotten distracted.

Over the past week or so, I’ve taken a tour of most of my incomplete fantasy works, mainly because I got hit with a desire to read them. As is sometimes the case when I make a tour of my wips, I had a desire to read only those which were incomplete. Over the duration of this tour, I came up with ideas for some of my wips, and I felt a vague desire to write on one or two of them, primarily Unwritten Letters.

So that’s what I’ve been doing the past few days. I had about 27 plot cards outlined ahead on UL, so I’ve been taking it slowly and doing a scene every two or three days. I intend to write on Masks tonight, but it’s been good to get a break from it. I’m thinking Maybe, if my mind still wants to play with UL when the next month of Camp Nano comes up, and I’m able to make progress on plot cards for it, I’ll write on UL for that month.

It’s felt good to get back into Merolén’s head. It’s a story that makes me glad I’ve started outlining my stories, even if I don’t do complete outlines for them all at first. Because of the outline, I’ve been able to bring romantic subplots into the story, and I don’t think I’d have been able to do so if I were writing it without the outline. Basically, what I’ve been doing with Merolén is my best to surround him with romances, because, from the first, I’ve seen Unwritten Letters as a kind of romance in absentia. The reader knows things that Merolén is unaware of, and that’s been fun too. I like giving the reader tidbits the MCs either had no knowledge of whatsoever, or have only partial or faulty knowledge of. It’s supposed to heighten the tension—and that’s another thing that the outline helps with.

As for Masks, part of the reason why I’m not writing as much on it is because I’ve left behind a major subplot that I can’t seem to resurrect. I want Eirni to to be a lot more resistant to working with Yavaniel, and it’s just not working out that way this time around. After this month’s Camp Nano, I think I’m going to go through and do some heavy editing, because if I try to continue with things as they are much longer, I’m not going to be able to make any progress on it at all. It should be easy to fix. I just need to read through the wip and pinpoint places where Eirni can be an ass, to put it bluntly. I’ve always seen Masks as mostly Eirni’s story than Yavaniel’s, primarily because Eirni has a lot of growing and changing to do over the course of the investigation. I’ve also been toying with the idea of including the pov of one or more of the conspirators, and I need to figure out how the ringleader is going to make the conspiracy an act of vengeance on someone who she believes ruined her happiness when that red herring has little to do with what they’re actually doing. I may have to change things a great deal. It’s going to take some thought, and I’ll probably have to cut the story back to the point I cut it before in order to make all these plot points work like I want them to.

I don’t really mind all this work on Masks. It’s a totally new genre/subgenre for me. Fantasy, yes, but also a mystery, and I’m enjoying all the work on it. This is part of the reason why I’ve always wanted to write a mystery story. It’s been fun, and that, to me, is what counts most. It’s always been my view that if I don’t have fun writing these stories, my readers won’t have fun reading them.

Masks and Music

I’ve said before in previous posts that I typically work up a pretty extensive playlist for my stories. Usually, I’ll find these just listening to my computer randomly play songs. Once, I went through the entire list of music on my computer and created a list—for Unwritten Letters, if I remember right—by picking the songs deliberately, andI at first hated the list, but was driven to listen to it in order to make progress, which was a weird experience.

Masks has proven very, very different, though. I’ve been able to find only two songs which work for it when I want the boost music gives me for writing. I had them listed on my Nano page last November. One, which I don’t listen to much, to be honest, when working on Masks is “Time Space” by Chang Jing; I don’t know why it works, but if the other song just isn’t working or I can’t stand to listen to it, “Time Space” does the job—it’s an adequate patch.

The song I listen to most for writing on this project is “Heavy In Your Arms” by Florence + the Machine. This song has a mood and a feeling that just resonates with me and the story in such a way that I find myself able to do my little hyperfocus thing and get things done on Masks. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to work past the “I can sing along to this song!” enthusiasm I occasionally have when I first turn this song on, but once I do, I’m able to come up with plot cards and write to it. I’ll even take myself to my bedroom and really focus on the Masks by having “Heavy In Your Arms” playing on my mp3 player while I lay with my eyes closed.

That’s what’s odd about this story. I can’t seem to find any other songs to make this story go. It’s either one or the other, and I much prefer “Heavy In Your Arms,” to the point where if I can’t stand to listen to it, I don’t work on Masks at all.

I suspect I’ll have a similar issue with other books in the JID series. I’m hoping I’ll be able to find a different song to push me along in each book, though, instead of being stuck listening to “Heavy In Your Arms” for them all. That would soooo suck.

And I thought it sucked being stuck with the same list of songs I have for the Discordant Harmonies series. At least that’s a variety!

Camp Nano Masks Going Well

Well, my rewrite of Masks is progressing quite nicely. I’m doing two plot cards per scene written, and taking my time writing. This generally means I spend a day or two writing scenes, then a day or two conceiving plot cards. The Plot Points list I made is helping, and I color-coded it in highlight colors to make it easier for me to pick things out, since sometimes huge blocks of text can overwhelm me to the point of anxiety.

What this basically means is that I have a list of main plotpoints and a series of subpoints that derive from each of the main points. Some plot points and their subpoints are all one block of color, usually because they’re main plot thread info. Other plot points are in different colors, or have subpoints in different colors, to indicate whether the information in question is ongoing info (for the series), tied to the main plot thread in this book, a subplot in this book, related to something my sleuths uncover in the pursuit of info regarding the various victims, or a red-herring.

In the scene I wrote a few days ago, I introduced the main red herring and one of the culprits, which was fun. Also threw my sleuths a curveball in the form of a cooperative anti-Maireadi Chancellor who doesn’t want to ruin his reputation as someone who abides by the law and is more than happy to cooperate with investigations. This is the same Chancellor who wooed his way into close (but not romantic) friendship with a previous Chancellor who was subsequently rightfully convicted for skimming public funds for his private use. Yavaniel thinks the anti-Maireadi chancellor has the funds still missing from that investigation, and doesn’t realize one of the others he meets is the one who actually received the funds—and is now using them to pay the other two conspirators.

I’m having a lot of fun.

In my original version of this WIP, I had a lot more conflict and animosity between Eirni and Yavaniel, most of it coming from Eirni. There hasn’t been quite so much this time around, but I’ve been working on what of the outline I have to insert more, which is part of the reason why I’m going so slowly with things and why my CampNano goal is for only 25,000 words. I’m not going to let Yavaniel complain about Eirni to their superiors, because Yavaniel needs Eirni too much for their investigations. What I’m going to do is probably save Eirni’s eventual suspension for another book, for a time when it’ll be even more difficult for Yavaniel to function without him. Well, it may happen in this book, but I’m not sure I can make it reasonable. The thing is, I want both my sleuths to forget about that suspension hanging over Eirni’s head until Eirni does something to induce someone besides Yavaniel to write him up the third time, and right now, it’s still very fresh in Eirni’s mind and one of the few things inducing him to cooperate at all with someone whom he’d far rather not have to associate with at all. As much as it would drive him nuts to be suspended, it would also be a relief to him, and I don’t want to make things too easy for him. And, as I said, there’s the possibility of making things more difficult for Yavaniel later on—or having Eirni disobey the restriction and risk getting in trouble to investigate when he’s not on payroll. Depends on what the story requires.

And, as if to prove I’m on the right track with this version of Masks, I’m plotting a lot of scenes I look forward to writing and writing a lot of favorite scenes. That’s always a good sign that a story is going the right direction for me.

As I said, much fun.

Return of the Creative Mind

Since hearing in the first week of February about Bryce entering the hospital and his subsequent death, I’ve completely lacked any creative urges. It’s been all I can do to keep up with my blog posts as well as I have. But earlier this week, the dam broke.

The biggest issue with the original manuscript of Masks was that it meandered. In reading through it a few weeks ago, I realized I had no idea what I was doing with it. What I mean is, that while I had an idea of the overall story, I had no conception of how to get the story I intended to write, so I was questing around, via prose, for the point of the story. Taken on its own, the original manuscript reads fairly well; it’s strong, technically speaking, and it has voice and is interesting, but it’s bloated. It’s clear, to me, in that manuscript I had little idea just what I was doing with the story.

Unfortunately, my creative mind’s hiatus began about the time I realized this, so I couldn’t do anything to fix it. In any case, I think it was too “soon” to fix things anyway; my mind would have needed time to consider how best to fix the bloating issue, come up with better ideas for plotting, and, generally, give me a much better line to follow on the whole thing.

In Masks, I have the main plot thread of them solving the murders of the Maireadi people working on the Jodalur side of the wall, and several subplots. The first, and most important subplot to this particular novel, is Eirni’s reaction to having to work with a Mairead himself; he holds certain prejudices and will be the character doing the most changing throughout the story, so I began the book in his pov and consider it mostly his story overall. There are a number of other subplots going on in this book, also, and I intend them to span one or more other books in the series: Yavaniel and Arua beginning the adoption process to form a family; setting up Eirni’s relationship with the Temple of Eolith for a couple later novels and to merge in part with another subplot when trouble strikes Yavaniel’s home life; I’ll be setting up some worldbuilding facts, such as the one regarding Kaatje-Kalamren resistance to magic for a later novel (though I’m not sure just which book I’ll need that information for; all I know is that I will need it); Eirni’s continuing close friendship/brotherhood with his very first partner, Famir, who retired from the Constabulary Force when he lost a limb. So, lots of stuff going on in this first book, and I haven’t mentioned all of the subplots and future main plot threads I’ll be establishing in this book.

Last week (not the week this Friday is in, but the week previous), ended hard. First my firstgen Nook developed issues, and I had to replace it, then, on Wednesday, my desktop computer crashed and had to be taken in for repair, which I did this past Sunday. I spent most of last Friday huddled in bed because I couldn’t deal with the stress of facing the computer problems on top of the rest of the week.

This week, I had a breakthrough on Masks. It was fantastic. I finally have all the conspirators in line, a massive list of plot points and their subpoints I want to make sure to hit in the outline and wip, and I solved a major plot hole that developed with all the reworking I’ve done so now my Fantasy Sleuthing Duo will be even more challenged to solve the crimes. I’m really looking forward to writing this in April Camp Nano, which I’ve joined since they fixed my only real complaint with the event from randomly selected writing buddies to having “cabins” where we can join friends.

Learning Something New

So, I’m working on Masks. Finally got around to checking the thread I started on FM asking for good books to read to help me write mysteries. Got plenty of responses: fiction to study to see how other writers have done it; how-to books; and Zette gave me links to Vision articles to help me on my way.

Currently, I’m reading The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow to see how magic is used in a fantasy mystery, though her book is Steampunk. While I like the two MCs, I must say she’s handling the mystery much differently than I’ve been in my own work, but that’s understandable. I’m a different writer. My book, though set on a secondary “fantasy” world, is also much more along the line of Police Procedural mysteries. At any rate, Lilith Saintcrow’s book has been an enjoyable read, and I look forward to getting into the next one in the series.

I also have, for an example of sleuthing without modern forensic techniques, an omnibus edition of the first two Brother Cadfael books. It appears Brother Cadfael is an herbalist, so I’m anxious to see how the author uses her sleuth’s herbal skills to solve the murders in these books.

In addition to these other fiction books for study, I have Dead Beat by Jim Butcher. This, I think, may come closest to what I’m writing. If I remember the cover flap synopsis, the sleuth is a detective set in an urban fantasy world. I can’t recall if he’s a police detective, or a PI, though. Could pick the book up and read it, but I’m feeling too lazy. LOL

For my fourth and final initial check-out of books relating to the mystery genre, I got How to Write a Damn Good Mystery by James N. Frey. This book has already helped me a great deal. It’s put things in easy to understand instructions which are helping instead of hindering me. Usually when I read a how-to book, I get so hooked up in following the instructions given that I forget the rest of what I’m doing and focus on what “should” be done only. I’m maybe four or five chapters into this book, and so far all the “shoulds” are actually what I consider to be good advice. Also, in one of the chapters of this book, Frey lists a few writers whose books I’m going to look for at the library and as ebooks to buy for more ideas on how to handle different aspects of my own mystery books—and also simply because the books interest me somehow. I plan on buying an ebook of this how-to so I can use it on the rest of my JID series.

So that’s what I’m doing so far in my quest to write at least one Fantasy Mystery novel. Thus far, it’s been great fun, and I’m really enjoying the process.

Jodalur Investigative Division Series

I finally got around to adding Elindu and my Nano ’14 project to my Projects list. Not only did it pass 10k, but I also won Nano with Masks.

Over the course of November and December, I came up with a whole list of other projects for the Jodalur Investigative Division series. I’ll be honest though: in a lot of cases, all I know about the particular stories behind the titles listed on the JID page is that little teaser line. Due to this fact, I have a suspicion the JID books will be written rather more slowly than average, though I’d like to have three or four by the time I get to publishing any of them.

One thing I don’t want is for my stories to have my sleuths operating in a vacuum. I want them to grow and change and for their lives to have ups and downs. I know some mystery writers do this, but I can’t recall any I’ve read who did. In a way, it would be easier for them to exist in a kind of timelessness, where they don’t change, but I enjoy showing the characters’ non-working lives. I need to show just enough to provide hints to character and push plot forward whenever possible, and there’s a lot of plot to push forward, though some of it won’t come into play right away. I have to foreshadow things a bit, because there’s a subtle subplot that’s going to arc through the first 4 or so books of the series.

Since December, I’ve been stalled on Masks. I couldn’t figure out why at first, but I had a recent epiphany on the project. Apparently, my creative mind stopped working on it because it hadn’t had a chance to come up with some vital things. Masks previously stood at 58,611 words. It was bloated, and I’ve cut over 46k words on it. Now that I know who all the suspects are—both those who are the actual perpetrators as well as those who are the diversions—I’ve decided to write from a particular point about 12k or so words in. I feel very good about the cut, and about my prospects for streamlining the story from this point on, though, if I find I need to, I will cut to a manageable point again.

National Novel Writing Month 2014

Every year since 2011, I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo, as it is affectionately known. Last year—yes, even in the midst of cancer stuff—I worked on two novels for the duration of November. This year, I’m working on only one.

I was originally going to write the first book of Autocrat’s Rise, which is set on Chraest. Unfortunately, I got about four plot cards on this story, and the characters all shut up. I haven’t been able to think of a way past this block.


Instead, I’m working on a totally new concept set in a resurrected world. This story is a fantasy mystery: Jodalur Investigative Division: Case Journal One: Masks. If this story makes it to the end of November with any sort of word count above 10k, I’ll be adding it, and the world its on, to my Projects page here on the site. If it doesn’t get more than 10-15k, I’ll set it aside and let it percolate for a bit longer before taking it up again—and in the meantime concentrate on one of my listed projects.

In part, I’m using this Nano as an opportunity to try out a new genre. Writing a mystery has been on my Writing Bucket List for a while now, so I’m glad to have the chance to do it now. I expect, if it makes it to 50k by the end of November, I’ll be setting it aside once I’ve validated the word count. I’ll also likely be taking a brief hiatus from writing, if Nano does to me like it usually does and makes me sick of my work. For this, I’m kind of glad I’m working on something so different from my other stuff; it’s my hope that instead of not writing for a couple-few weeks after this November, I’ll simply set aside Masks and go to work on something else.

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