Writing process

Saving the minutiae of someone’s life

Status this week — so tired I created this post on Sunday and didn’t realize until Tuesday that I hadn’t actually taken it out of draft mode. Beware typos, that’s all I can say. I tend to omit words when I’m tired. Especially at work. The last two days some of my emails haven’t made sense. It’s getting embarrassing.

Packing up the after-effects of someone’s life, especially someone you love, is always depressing.  And you can’t keep everything, even if you want to, you don’t have the room.

It’s taken us a long time—nearly eighteen months—to clean out our mother’s house.  The big items are easy to get rid of.  Give it to someone in the family if they want it, pass it on to a local charity if they don’t.

It’s the little things that are harder.  Like letters.  What do you do with them?

Mum was a big letter writer and receiver, and she kept all the letters she received.  We’d find as we went through them we’d lose hours in the letters.  In the end we just kept moving the pile (that kept growing) as we emptied the house.

But finally, there’s nothing left but the letters, and we still have to make a decision as to what to do with them.

We can’t keep them all.  We don’t have the room. We don’t even want to read them all.  They’re her correspondence with her friends and family.  In some ways it feels rude to read them.

In the end, we’ll probably throw many of these letters out.

All over the world, other people are faced with the same decision we are. 

Mum is from the last generation of people who lived most of their lives offline.

From here on people started to live part of their lives online, and in future I imagine we’ll be able to search and find something about them. (Maybe, if we can get through the overload of information.)

But not for Mum.

I can’t help wondering if, in years to come, we’ll wish we’d kept those letters instead of making room for the antique sewing machine.

Writing process

Moving the plot around

Book news

First, some book news. The publication date for Stars Beyond has changed. It’s now January 21, 2020.

The original date we were given was January 20, but that’s the Monday, and Tuesday is normal publication day. I see it’s in all the online bookstores as January 21, so I’m going with that date, rather than the 20th.


While we’re waiting for the edits back from Anne, we’re working on another book. (We’re always working on a book.) We haven’t spoken to our agent about this one—yet—as we’d like to get it into better shape before we do. It’s one we’ve been working on a while. Past first draft, onto its fourth of fifth.

Last time we looked at this story, we thought it was okay. One draft away from sending to our agent.

We reread the story, still laughed at the funny bits, and still liked the characters. This time we saw a few things we could change, though. There were a couple of minor continuity issues, plus some very short chapters. One-or-two-page chapters, in fact.

This is the difference time away from a story makes. Around about now in any story, we do a chapter outline. This is to ensure the story works, to see if there are any big holes, and to check if the timing works. Because we knew there were so many short chapters, this time we summarized each chapter in Post-It notes and put the Post-It notes onto a wall so we could move them around.

This is the first round. If you count, you will see sixty-eight Post-It notes. (Note that you can only see the Post-It notes, not the story, as we don’t want to give away the plot. :-))

The story is currently 105,000 words, and we go roughly 250 words per page. That makes each chapter on average around six pages. That’s short. We try to make them around 20 pages per chapter.

A little bit of reorganising is required.

Note too, that the Post-Its are color-coded for character point-of-view. There are five colors on that wall. Two is good, one is better. Not five.

So, we reorganized.

We got down to forty-five Post-Its. That’s still too many, but it’s getting better. We’ll work on it. We even combined points-of-view in two places (the Post-Its that have two colors). We did a lot of moving around the story to get this far.

Maybe we’re not as finished as we think we are.

Writing process

Evolution of an idea. Maybe.

If dreams are your mind’s subconscious, then my mind is in dire straits right now. Every few weeks I have a dystopian dream. What’s more, I remember it when I wake up.

I find I dream three types of dreams.

Those I remember, those I don’t, and those where I don’t remember dreaming but I go to sleep thinking about something and wake in the morning to find whatever issue I’m thinking about—writing or real life—is solved, and I think I remember dreaming about it, but I’m not really sure.

The dreams I don’t remember are often good story dreams. I wake up and think, “Oh, that’s a brilliant idea. I must write that down.” By the time I have pen and paper in hand I’ve totally forgotten what the dream was about. Yet I know it was a good idea.

Those where my subconscious solves a problem for me may or may not be dreams, but I wake in the morning thinking, “Why is that even a problem, my characters can do this?”.

 Then I have these crazy dreams, roughly one a month, where an idea pops up that’s so horrible and I don’t want to write it.

Like last night’s dream, which was set in a future Earth where sea levels had risen with global warming. The action was all contained in a massive, high-rise former resort that had been built on an island. The lower levels were now flooded, of course, and everyone lived in the upper levels. The lifts didn’t work—of course—so they had to use the stairs, which were well-protected, or the lift wells, which were risky. The island it had been on (all underwater now) was isolated enough that the inhabitants seldom received visitors. There were dangerous storms at various times of the year.

The dream included political machinations, a visitor from beyond, war between the levels. All-in-all, your standard dystopic, closed system that you can read about in any of a hundred (probably thousands of) books right now.


I told Sherylyn my dream. “If you want it, you can have it,” I said. Because sometimes an idea that one person doesn’t like appeals to the other, and they can turn it into a story both of us like.

“It sounds awful,” she said.

I walk around all morning with the idea still sitting in my mind. And eventually I realise … the dystopia has gone. I can’t remember the politics or the fights, or the visitor. Or not clear enough to describe any more. What I can remember is this massive building—big enough to hold 5,000 people—jutting up out of the ocean. Now that’s something I can use in a story.

Writing process

Celebrating book milestones

January 31 was a writing deadline for us. The rewrite of Stars Beyond was due to our editor.

There was the usual ‘do not press send’ moment where you open the email attachment—to check if you had sent the right document, and that it was formatted properly—only to see a really clunky, wince-making phrase on the first page, plus two clumsy transition sentences and another clunky turn of phrase on page two.  It’s not as if we haven’t spent months working on the thing, or that we haven’t read that page plenty of times before, but there’s something about that final email that makes poor writing stand out.  I wish my email had recall and resend.

Afterwards we ate dinner. We may have had a glass of wine (three days ago is a long time now), but I don’t recall. Work-wise, I was super busy and had something I needed to finish afterwards.

It got me thinking about how we celebrate book milestones, and what we do celebrate.

It seems to consist mostly of eating out and drinking a lot. 😊

Getting an agent

This was a celebratory dinner and a bottle of wine.

I have to say that so far this has been the most euphoric (as in, so happy) of all the celebrations, because it was the first.

In the twelve months before that our writing had also levelled up, we were writing fast.  We knew we were writing better and getting an agent was proof of that.

On getting the offer

We had a celebratory dinner out when Caitlin’s mail with the offer came through, along with her recommendation we accept.

The actual signing of the contract didn’t happen for months. That was close to the time we had to hand the book in to the editor, so it was much later. We had a nice wine to go with dinner for that.

On delivering the manuscript on the deadline due date

This is the date you are contracted to provide the manuscript to the editor.  We work hard in that month prior (especially Sherylyn) to polish the story. We’re exhausted by the end.

A glass of wine with dinner for that.

Receiving our first ARCs

Advanced reader copies are the pre-final proof versions of the book, sent out for publicity purposes. Until this time, you only ever handle the book electronically. This is the first time you have a physical book in your hand. Because of that, it’s almost a bigger buzz than publication day.

Publication date

Release day for Linesman was Sherylyn’s birthday. Plus, it was our first book, so we combined the two into a weekend shopping tour/overnight stay/celebration in the city.

For other books we’ve celebrated publication day with a home cooked dinner and wine.

We don’t do book launches. Our books are available for sale in the US. They’re difficult to get here in Australia except in specialty bookstores. Regular bookstores have to order them in. Thus publication date is a celebration just between us.

Selling Japanese rights for Linesman

Our first foreign rights. You guessed it. Wine and a nice dinner.

Contract for the two Stars Uncharted books

This time we celebrated when we had the contract in our hands to sign. We went to the Pancake Parlor for breakfast. No wine, because it was breakfast.

Neither of us likes pancakes, but we love the ambience of the restaurant. It is so easy to work on stories in there. It’s our go-to place to work out particularly knotty problems in a manuscript.

As you can see, we eat and drink our milestones. The best dinners, we’ve found, are simple. Nothing too fancy, just basics we love, like homemade pasta (literally, since we bought a pasta machine and love what’s coming out of it) with a simple sauce. Okay wine. Good company. Shared experience. We’ve been through the journey to produce the books, we celebrate the highs together.