A New System

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I hate that I put five years of work into a book that may never see the light of day. It sits there on my hard drive, lonely and sad. And for awhile I was sad too. However, I learned some things after five years of hard work.

1. Have a plan! Do not just dive in and free-write. Some writers can do that, but I am not one of them. I knew I had a few problems to fix with the Mars book. Instead of figuring them out ahead of time, I just said, “I’ll get there eventually, and the answer will present itself”. No. Bad idea. Next time and forever and forever I will outline a book before I start to write.

2. Characters are my strength, and I need to play to that strength. I love creating characters that feel real and argue with each other in my head. My plots work best when they come from character interplay instead of action. This is a good thing to know because I won’t spend my time trying be to the next Suzanne Collins.

3. Description is my weakness. It was always difficult for me to reach the required page count for assigned essays in high school and college because I am naturally concise. In fiction this translates to a lack of description. When your characters live on Mars or under the ocean, you need scenery and solid world-building. Some writers are spare but vivid. I see that as something to shoot for.

4. My dialogue is a mixed bag. I think my characters have unique voices and sound natural. My problem is grammar. After reading the dialogue section of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, I realized I tend punctuate my dialogue in a way that confuses a reader. I need to work on using beats and description within conversations. I also need to quit being afraid of “said”.

5. I can’t spend too much time researching, or I get bored. And boredom kills my writing. I spent five years studying various aspects of Mars until I never wanted to hear about the red planet again. Or write about it. I need to take a “get-in, get-out” approach to research. What are the most common species of fish in the Gulf of Mexico? Google the answer, write it down, and go back to actually writing the story. I spent far too much time reading the papers and proceedings of  Mars Colonization Conventions thinking it would improve my novel. The reader doesn’t need me to do that. The reader wants a good story and will forgive me if I get the details of aeroponic farming or ocean salinity wrong.

—-EDITED TO ADD—-

6. Writing a novel is a marathon. I’m not exactly a marathon girl. Okay, I don’t run. I google running and watch it on Youtube. Anyway, in order to keep myself energized while writing my novel, I figured out that quitting on my blog was the worst thing I could do. I need to get that finish-line feeling once in awhile so I don’t get mentally exhausted. That’s why I’m blogging more now, and it seems to be working.

—-END EDIT—-

Right now I’m building my characters for my new story and slowly outlining the book from beginning to end. Hopefully these lessons won’t have to be repeated.

Novel Research: AeroGarden Update

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Sad news.

The petunias are now deceased. Despite their initial good health, they were not immune to the evil green slime, and like the twinkle phlox and stock before them, finally succumbed. Below, the beginnings of their death throes.

The poor things turned yellow and withered away. And the green slime consumed their remains.

A pox upon the slime!

I have now replaced the petunias with brachycome, which shouldn’t sprout for a few days.

I have an eagle eye out for any hint of slime.

In happier news, the basil I planted in place of the stock is growing like crazy. Week One:

Week Two:

Beautiful, isn’t it? I’ve already had to take the little cover off because the plants were too big for it. Yay!

I also replaced the twinkle phlox with chives, but they haven’t decided to do anything yet.

But I’m hopeful. No slime so far.

This little research project has been very useful. The evil green slime that has eaten my plants will probably find its way into my novel somewhere. I never would have thought of evil green slime without this foray into gardening. And I’ve discovered I like to grow things, even if I haven’t been especially successful yet.  I’m actually growing attached to my little plants. I will overcome this black thumb!

Novel Research: AeroGarden Update

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The petunias have sprouted!

See? Adorable!

Unfortunately, the stock and twinkle phlox are facing an untimely disposal in my trashcan. They are both covered in a nasty green slime and bits of hairy mold. I’ve done all I can for them (which was nothing), and now it’s time to admit defeat. Oh well. The green slime does not photograph well, but you can definitely see that there are no sprouts whatsoever.

They will be replaced with chives and basil. Or calendula and brachycome. I haven’t decided yet. Chives would be nice to have around because I like to put them on baked potatoes. I know basil is really easy to grow. But the calendula and brachycome would look awfully pretty in my tiny kitchen. I’m torn.

Any thoughts on my flowers vs. herbs conundrum would be appreciated.

Novel Research: AeroGarden

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Remember my soy milk adventure? I have now embarked on a new research adventure.

NASA has already been working on ways to grow food in zero-G for the long trip to Mars. One of their projects involves an inflatable frame for growing food aeroponically. I have have been using aeroponics extensively in my novel. Growing a plant aeroponically means there is no dirt involved. The plant roots are misted with water and nutrients instead. I’ve read enough on the subject to think I could try it myself.

Well, it just happens that my fabulous mother bought me a white 3-pod AeroGarden for Christmas, specifically for my Mars research. Ta-da!

AeroGarden uses technology closely related to aeroponics (it’s more hydroponic. Ask Google about the difference if you’re curious). You fill the base with water, add a nutrient tab, and then “plant” pods in the holes. As they grow, the plants put down roots directly into the water instead of dirt. The garden actually reminds you to refill the water or add nutrients, and the light comes on automatically. Sounds idiot-proof which is good: I have a notorious black thumb. I just set up my first pods on Wednesday, and I’ll be tracking their progress with photos. Here’s what I’m starting with:

I’ve “planted” Twinkle Flox, Mini Pink Petunias, and Stock. I haven’t a clue what those are, but the pictures on the pods are pretty.

As you can sort of see, it’s all pink and purple flowers. The garden also came with herb pods, but flowers are easier. I doubt a black thumb disappears overnight, so I’m not pushing my luck. In any case, this should prove useful for my novel. Hands on experiments motivate me to write more, especially when the results make my kitchen pretty. Wish my little seedlings luck!

Novel Research: Google Earth

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I have done a lot of research for the novel I’m writing, and it is especially difficult since I care about scientific details. That means I’m doing a lot of research about Mars. At the moment I am sorting through a collection of factoids about atmospheric pressure, soil toxicity, static electricity, and calendar systems for a 685-day year.

On top of all that, I’m trying to map the cities and research installations I’ve created.  Designing cities a world away could have been really complicated, but I found a handy tool to make it easy.

In case you didn’t know, Google Earth allows you to look at maps and satellite pictures all over the world. It’s very cool and definitely worth the download. You can even use a flight simulator to fly around the earth if you please.What does this have to do with my novel? Well, Google Earth decided to be even more awesome and added Mars to their maps. That means you can click on an icon and change your screen to a globe of Mars. It’s marked with the main important landmarks, touchdown points for the rovers, and cool pictures taken by the satellite orbiting the planet.

Currently I use it to mark locations for cities and research installations on my fictionalized Mars. It allows me to calculate distance with reasonable accuracy and determine how long it would take to get from say, the capital city to a geological research station in the desert (approximately 3 hours.) I’m also noting locations within the main cities, airports, shuttle points, and favorite hangouts.

You can do this with Earth maps just as easily. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the program. There are so many things Google Earth is capable of. For now I am content to enjoy tagging places where my heroine likes to hang out, her favorite restaurant, and the research installation where she interns. Has anyone else messed around with Google Earth? Let me know what I’m missing!