Series Are Tricky Beasts

Progress on the new book is going well. I’ve assigned it the somewhat cheeky title, “Take the Bai Road” for now and I’m pleased with what I’ve gotten down so far. It’s a very different book than “Bai Tide,” though, and has so far been a fantastic writing exercise.

“Take the Bai Road” is the second in my Bai Hsu, Asian CIA superspy series. I’ve never written a series before. The benefit to having been a reader my whole life, though, is I’ve read plenty of series and have a pretty good idea of what to do.

For example, back story. Back story is always kind of a tricky beast to work with, what with it’s relevance and tendency to slow down the story, but it’s of particular importance in a series. You as the writer have to assume that some of your readers have read the previous book in the series, but some haven’t yet. It’s a fine line between supplying context and bogging down a story with unnecessary information.

For another example, an overarching character arc that spans multiple books. It’s a larger character arc than I’m used to plotting out, so it’s been a great opportunity to expand my scope of familiarity. I have definite plans for who Bai is and where I want him to end up, but getting him there over many books is easier said than done.

mexican-cool-cactus-152853131I also feel like “Take the Bai Road” is a different story than “Bai Tide” was. “Bai Tide” was easy to write, it practically wrote itself and I didn’t need to do much in the way of rewrites when it was done. “Take the Bai Road” will need some doctoring at the beginning, I think, but it’s too soon to say for sure.

What I know for sure is that I’m 22,000 words into the first draft, which means I’m 1/4 of the way through. I like what it is and where it’s going, and it’s giving me a great chance to practice my Spanish.

Just in case you don’t follow me on Facebook and Twitter (I can forgive you for not paying attention to my every digital move, don’t worry), “Take the Bai Road” is Bai’s next mission after the events of “Bai Tide.” The plot can be summed up in three words: Cartels. Conspiracies. Chaos.

Wes says I’ve been speaking Spanish in my sleep. Does that mean my dreams are the writing equivalent of method acting?

I Don’t Mean to Be Rude, But…

426533I have a confession: I am sometimes rude on purpose. Not rude rude, more like unfriendly rude. And almost always on Saturdays. Let me explain.

Saturday afternoons when I escape from the house and set up shop at my favorite Starbucks, writing to my heart’s content while no one interrupts me by being my small child. As a result, I’m somewhat protective of my writing time on Saturday afternoons. It’s precious, it’s limited, and it’s the one time all week I am guaranteed to write until I feel done, as opposed to having to stop because someone needs something from me.

Invariably, though, there’s someone seated next to me at the Starbucks (sometimes even in my favorite comfy chair. Quel horreur!) who’s lonely and chats me up against my will. I just cannot fathom what about my laptop and refusal to make eye contact encourages these people to keep trying to talk to me, but still it happens. Every freaking Saturday.

I’m normally a very friendly person. I’ve even been called a human Labrador. But on Saturdays? I’m rude. I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t want you to talk to me, and I would appreciate it very much if you would stay the heck out of my favorite comfy chair.

I should feel bad about this. I should. I should want to give comfort and fellowship to these poor lonely people, and yet I find myself with a profound lack of remorse.

Then again, shouldn’t they feel bad for foisting conversation upon someone who so clearly doesn’t want it? Isn’t there a reasonable expectation of leave-me-alone when someone’s parked behind a laptop at a coffee shop?


Once More Unto the Breach!

The twelve pages of fastidious notes I took during my research for this book. They only make me look a teensy tiny bit like a serial killer, no?

The twelve pages of fastidious notes I took during my research for this book. They only make me look a teensy tiny bit like a serial killer, no?

Things might get a little bit quiet around here in the coming weeks. I just started writing a new book a couple days ago and it’s in that fragile brand-new-butterfly-with-wet-wings-all-shaky-and-tottering-around stage, which means it’s consuming most of my waking thoughts (and some of my dreaming ones too).

This one’s tricky. It’s kind of a squirrely plot that even I can’t see clearly yet, which, if you’re familiar with my books, you’ll know is really saying something. If it’s so twisty that even I have no idea what’s going to happen yet, then chances are good it’ll make for some good reading someday.

Or, you know, maybe not. Maybe I’ll get a ways into the sucker and it’ll be terrible and I’ll drop it. It’s too early to say at this stage. What I CAN say is that Bai Hsu, Azzam’s CIA handler from Blood Money, is the main character, it takes place after the events of Bai Tide (which is unpublished and thus, this will mean very little to you), and it centers around the Mexican drug war. For now, the working title is Take the Bai Road.

From here, I can see a lot of cool stuff in the plot. Deserts, cartels, maybe an assassination, and definitely a plot twist (or two {or three}). Now we’ll just have to see if I can keep all the threads together in my increasingly spacey head.

Wish me luck. I’m going back in!

I Knew Them When…

SYWCI got to do something fun last night. A few months ago, I got an email out of the blue from a local high school junior asking me to come lead a workshop on creating realistic fiction for writing club. Giddy just to be asked, I accepted and promptly spent the next few months alternately fretting about it and researching what to talk about.

To my amazement, December came and went and before I knew it, January was here. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, January had arrived and brought with it my workshop date. Thankfully, I’d spent so much time thinking about it beforehand that I was quite prepared when the big day arrived.

I normally get nervous and shaky before public speaking, but it wasn’t so bad this time. I think it’s because I was speaking about writing, which is mostly all I ever think about, and also because it was a great group of kids. I think a receptive, enthusiastic audience can make all the difference in a speaker’s level of nervousness.

We had a lot of fun, actually. More fun than you’d think talking about character arcs and inciting incidents can be. I brought along a few writing exercises, we discussed the pros and cons of North Korean tourism, and I managed to not get led down too many rabbit trails (which, if you know me, you know is pretty impressive considering I’ve never met a rabbit trail I didn’t like).

It was fun to see what the creative young minds did with these concepts. When we were discussing protagonist motivations, I urged them to go deeper than just “Save the world” and, to their credit, they did. I was impressed with their grasp of realistic motivations and enjoyed hearing how they came up with fresh ways to tell old stories.

One of the kids even asked for my autograph after the workshop, and that made me feel like a rock star. I have no idea what the kids will do with the information. For all I know, I talked way too fast (as is my wont) or used words that were way too big (as I am perpetually predisposed to doing) and most of it washed right over them, but given the way they participated in the discussion I think the information got in there just fine.

What will be really cool is if some of them end up being bestselling authors someday. They’ll be sitting down on a talk show someday and say, “A pivotal moment in my writing career was a workshop with this author named Erika Mitchell.”  I’ll be able to say I knew them when they were just green little authors helping me make up stories about milk runs gone wrong.

I’ve Got a Ticket to (Hurl?)

80967594Over the weekend, my family and I took a little jaunt over to Seattle. The waterfront has a relatively new addition, the Seattle Big Wheel. Last year, we watched cranes erect a gigantic white Ferris Wheel right on the boardwalk, and have watched tourists and locals riding it around and around ever since.

The minute our car entered Seattle, my son insisted that the Ferris Wheel had to be ridden. Immediately. Sooner, if possible.

We bought tickets and then I watched my family file into one of the little cars, content to wait out the ride from the ground. The safe, not-likely-to-collapse-and-kill-me-ground, where there was absolutely no possibility of me getting motion sick.

My husband and kids had a marvelous time; Wes was considerate enough to record a short video for me to watch so I’d get part of the experience. The whole thing made me wonder, though: What exactly is my obligation to my kids vis a vis riding amusement park rides?

I used to be quite the thrill seeker, riding roller coasters with impunity. At some point, however, my vestibular system sought revenge in the form of crippling motion sickness that assails me viciously and often in cars, boats, planes, 3D movies, and sometimes plain old regular movies as well. (Sidenote: Dear Movie Directors, Camera shots that spin around or revolve around something are not cool. They are nauseating. Sincerely, Erika The Party Pooper)

I’m going to assume my kids will not have my motion sickness hang-ups, which leads me to wonder whether I’m obliged to just power through and do amusement park stuff with them anyway, or whether it’s acceptable to just let that be something their daddy does with them while I take pictures.

What did your parents do? Did it irreparably scar you to ride roller coasters without one of your parents?