Opera Magique Alternate Earth News

Researching my way Across a Jade Sea

The fact that I do research seemed to be very important to my reviewer/interviewer for Across a Jade Sea over at Underground Book Reviews who asked about it both in the interview and earlier when informing me that they would be posting a review.

I wasn’t sure how to reply exactly. A reading list* didn’t seem too appropriate. Besides, compared to many historical authors I don’t do that much research. Perhaps more to the point: I do research differently. I’m not usually trying to re-create anything specific, I’m just trying to learn, to understand — I figure the better I am at understanding this world, the more real my own worlds will feel.

So, for instance, in the interest of understanding I currently have this big thick book on the 30 Year’s War out of the library. Which is almost ironic, because it’s a war that wracked the Holy Roman Empire, several decades after the Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist in the alternate history world the story I’m “researching” is set in. But it was a book about roughly the right time-period and the right part of the world for a story that’s only a handful of titles away in the queue, and so I’m reading it to try and gain a better understanding of that time and place. I don’t care about who fought who where, and who died, or any of those nity-gritty details. But I do care about the reasons why they were fighting, the social pressures, the culture, the economic factors… that kind of stuff. (Plus: a war that started with some people getting thrown out a window, so all throughout the war people kept making references to throwing people out of windows. Lovely! It’ll probably be some other book entirely, but I’m certain I can get some story mileage out of that tidbit somwhere.)


Anyway, my daughters look at this big, thick, undoubtedly dry history book about a war, of all things, and then stare at me like “Mom, we always knew you were nuts”, but my oldest son goes “Oh, cool! I might want to look at that one when you’re done with it.” Chacun a son gout!

Similarly, I just scored as a library discard for 25 cents an entire book on the construction and architecture of the Hagia Sophia with lots of pictures and diagrams and such. My most writerly daughter sees me pick it up and says “You know Mom, I look at these books you get and they just look so boring. I’d rather just google stuff.” I use google too. But IMHO its best for getting a very basic overview, or for finding a specific fact. For gaining an understanding of a topic there’s nothing to beat finding a good book on the subject and reading it.

Not that I know why I need to understand the architecture of the Hagia Sophia… but I’m sure I’ll find a use for it eventually. Besides, only 25 cents! 🙂

* According to LibraryThing where I have been attempting to track my reading for the past five years or so, I read the following books specifically as research for Across a Jade Sea. (This list is probably incomplete, and does not include related fiction, internet research, or movies/documentaries watched):

Diesel’s Engine: From Conception to 1918 by C. Lyle Cummins Jr.
The Complete Titanic: From the Ship’s Earliest Blueprints to the Epic Film by Stephen J. Spignesi
SS Leviathan: America’s First Superliner by Brent Holt
Picture History of the Normandie: With 190 Illustrations by Frank O. Braynard
The Small-Engine Handbook by Peter Hunn
Ancient Chinese Warfare by Ralph D. Sawyer
A Concise History of China, J. A. G. Roberts
A Thousand Pieces of Gold by Adeline Yen Mah
Old outboard motor service manual. Vol.1
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain**


Why did I read these particular books? Because they were what I could find at my library. As I said, I don’t do historical research like someone who is trying to re-create history –it’s not worth it to me to spend money hunting down rare primary sources or obscure facts. I’m going to be making up everything. So I just need to understand. How does a diesel engine work, what did the integration of diesel technology look like and how did it compare to the existing steam tech? What were its advantages and disadvantages compared to the gas-burning engines that were also being invented and introduced at the same time? What did a marine diesel engine of the era look like? What did the big passenger-liners look like? Who travelled on them, and why? Who worked on them, and how were they operated? The Chinese history, of course, was for inspiration in creating Chunru’s country–which definitely isn’t China, but it’s probably more like China than anywhere else on Earth. Small motors and outboard motors… well, if you’ve read the book you’ll know why. 🙂

There’s also everything I’ve ever read that was useful BEFORE I got the idea for this story (and which predated me recording my reading on LibraryThing). For example, I’ve also read a book on medieval clockwork, one about a journey across the ocean on a balsa raft, several books on pirates, a bunch more on particular aspects of various Asian cultures (there were five or six of those from when I was “researching” for Cantata and Pavane), on European history (an area of ongoing importance, I can list some of the more recent of those if anyone cares), on Language and Linguistics (another ongoing interest) etc, etc.

Also, never being afraid of stuff that looks old, I have read many fictional works that were written in the time period that Across a Jade Sea is set in. That might have been the biggest help of all.

** Yeah, okay, it’s the wrong time period, but still… non-fiction, journey by steamboat around Europe and the Holy Lands. Plus: Mark Twain. So I figured, why not?

Now playing…

In My Head Theatre had been running scenes from the “Spy Guy” story from my Opera Magique world, but now that I seem to have got a reasonably complete plot put together, it’s been switching things up a bit. Today it was the Across a Jade Sea sequel featuring Batiya’s oldest brother. (Don’t get excited, anyone. I won’t be writing it any time soon. It isn’t even in the queue yet.)

Working out plot points for the “Spy Guy” story in advance seems reasonably benign — with the flex of a totally rewritten history to work in, I don’t think further research into Germany circa 1700 is going to destroy a plot about a bunch of smallish political entities vying for control of a magical item.

But do I really know enough about the technical challenges facing an Army Engineer in WWI/WWII to be able to put that kind of a plot together at this point?

Storyteller Angst

I spent hours last night and this morning telling the story of Compelled to my family. It was the first time I had told the story since I had written the script, so although many of the kids were familiar with the basic concept, this was the first time they had heard the story in full detail. Telling the story to an interested audience was very, very fun for me. But, at the same time, I kept forgetting exactly where all the little conversations went, and I kept having to back up and fill in important bits that I missed, and I never remember all the really good lines, and, and…

So I feel a bit wistful about how I didn’t really do it justice, and can’t help wishing that someday that story will get told the way it’s supposed to be told… as a graphic novel with really awesome artwork. Or maybe a movie. It would make a really good movie.

Rough Draft completed

I have finished a rough draft script of Compelled. At 35649 words it is by far the longest graphic novel script I have written. I maybe should count it as a trilogy of graphic novels. But if I do, the second book has a serious bad case of middle-book syndrome. I would also have to come up with three more titles.

I think I’m going to say it’s just one looong graphic novel for now. 🙂

I’ve been working on a comic script.

It’s the story I was calling “Mark of the Beast” but my husband said that was a terrible title because it would make people think “apocalypse” and “satanism”, and my story isn’t about either of those things. It’s an alternate history fantasy with action and romance and magic and musketeers and an uber-powerful main character who looks like Annubis.

(And my husband said, “So why does he like this girl, anyway?” and I explain that he doesn’t get along with people because almost everyone is afraid of him, and he can smell that, and has really bad associations with the smell of fear. But she isn’t afraid of him, and that is what first intrigues him– and my husband interupts to say “So he likes her because she smells nice?” AAAUUGGGH! I’m writing a story with a super-powered guy who likes a girl because she smells nice. Someone shoot me now!)

Anyway, I’ve sort of switched the working title to “Compelled”, but I didn’t tell my database that, so it isn’t showing up in my wordcounts. (I haven’t been recording the wordcounts for it regularly anyway.) But I’ve been writing it very quickly (for me, anyway) and I’ve done nearly 20K words in about two weeks. Just at the moment, however, I’m stuck trying to figure out the next scene, (my internal pace-setter is insisting that it needs another action scene NOW!) so today I set it aside to work on Scent of Spring.

I thought I was done with story revisions for Scent of Spring, and I was just putting a current draft version together before starting in or art tweaks, but it seems that some of my revisions are… well, lets just say that their seams are showing. I didn’t notice while working on it in pieces, but now that I’m trying to put everything together I can tell that some of the joins don’t fit together quite right. One of those I just can’t smooth over without new art, but I’ve got this second one that I think I might be able to get away with the existing art, if I can just come up with the right words to go with it. Only I haven’t yet.

So, now I’m stuck on that too.

Hopefully I’ll be unstuck on one or the other by tomorrow.

Even though Black Flag is on hiatus…

I have come up with some changes I am considering making to Flag in Flames (aka Black Flag 1). Given their scope I think they must have been simmering in my backbrain for a while, possibly due to the revisions I was doing to Scent of Spring? But the thing that actually triggered the realization that I could “punch up” the climax a bit, was my daughter getting happy feet over a facial expression in a graphic novel she was reading, (Calamity Jack), and squealing joyfully “He’s sooo jealous!” And I, being the obsessed person that I am, immediately thought of Silver and Blood, and wondered if there couldn’t be a moment when a reader could gleefully squeal “he’s sooo jealous!” and the next thing I knew one of the scenes coming up shortly (at least it would be shortly if I were able to be working on Black Flag at all) was rewriting itself. If I do make this change it will involve the addition of an entire new scene, and that new scene will require some earlier set up. But if it makes the story better, it’s worth it. Right?

And, since I’m a bit behind on these, last week (or maybe it was the week before) In My Head Theater was running scenes from the Black Flag story about G’s younger son. (I think he must be a third son, actually.) Mostly it was about him using a religious fesitval as an excuse to check every student in his school for tracking devices or spy bugs, but there was some other stuff too. I also was running scenes from the story I’ve been thinking of as “The Osabine Romance”, with a lot of new material showing up there, and I’ve been doing a scene from a later point in Smoke and Mirrors (the spy story from the Opera Magique historical fantasy world) than I’ve ever gotten to before.

But the one that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the inside of my head is a very scarey place is the complete and total rewrite of Black Flag my backbrain has come up with, after having watched a few episodes of an anime series called “Wedding Peach”. (Be warned, that show provides seriously brain warping sugar overdoses as the following plot summary proves).

The new version of Black Flag starts with ordinary first-year high schooler Bonnie Anne heading off to school. She sees a bully harassing a student from the middle school and charges to the rescue (even though the middle school boy is bigger than she is) — coming out of the encounter a little worse for wear, and very late for school. Little does Bonnie Anne know, but she is about to be visited by a phantasm from the distant future — her father, Captain Talon, who placed his infant daughter in this ordinary environment because he didn’t want her growing up in the piratical environment of the Black Flag. But his plans to only have her learn of her futuristic heritage on her eighteenth birthday, when at last she is old enough to inherit command of his pirate ship the Penzance, have been foiled by the discovery that creatures from another layer of space are threatening her world. She must use the dagger earring he is giving her to transform into her true space pirate form so that she can battle these alien invaders. Later Captain Talon admits to the other pirate captains that he’s a bit worried about his daughter taking on the aliens all by herself. Captain Blood, clearly interested in Bonnie Anne, volunteers to help her out — as does Captain Marquis. This just makes Captain Talon look even more worried, and he is vastly relieved when Brand and Hawke, from the Penzance offer their services as well. At this point everyone looks over at the last remaining captain, Captain Silver, and he too agrees to help.

Bonnie Anne now has five mystic pirate warriors that she can summon to her defense. But will she be able to master the (mysteriously skimpy and not apparently vacuum resistant) space armor that materializes out of n-space when she yells the secret key phrase in time to save her world? Will she fall prey to Marquis’ flattery, or Blood’s animal magnetism? Will she be able to uncover the traitor who schemes to destroy the Brotherhood of the Black Flag, and with it, her entire world? Tune in again for the next exciting episode of Pirate Princess of the Black Flag!

That world I’m not working on…

For over a year now, whenever something came up that made me mention the Opera Magique world, I claimed that I was not working on it. Well, I think I’m going to have to stop trying to fool myself… several weeks ago I started collecting reading materials, and I spent this morning starting a rewrite of the history of Europe from about 1400 onward.

I think that qualifies as ‘working on it’. 🙂

Dreaming is dangerous.

I dreamed up something new the night before last. It’s set in my “Opera Magique” alternate history fantasy world that I’ve been refusing to work on.It didn’t start out there, but it didn’t start out much of anywhere — dreams are often kind of wishy-washy. When I woke up I told myself jokingly that I should shove this particular dream snippet into Opera just to keep things tidy, which was clearly ludicrous because there had been no magic in the dream at all… and then I realized that having none of my protagonists have magical powers in a world where a number of other people did made their situation a whole lot more interesting, and provided a really good explanation as to why they were sneaking around and pretending to be people that they weren’t and their lives were in danger, etc, etc, etc.

Suddenly there was story.

(With a hero that tells the truth less often than Kide from Pavane does. That’s going to be… interesting.)

I’m not going to add it to the queue yet, but I have no real hope that I’ll be able to forget about it. Eventually I’m going to give up, and give in, and actually start developing that world on purpose instead of by accident. And then I’ll want stories in the world to write about, and there it will be.

Hero Archtypes

I was reading Romancing the Blog (because I can't find the oompha to do anything) and happened on this discussion of romantic hero archetypes listed as being: Chief, Bad Boy, Best Friend, Lost Soul, Charmer, Professor, Swashbuckler and Warrior.

And I found myself thinking: “Is Silver a Lost Soul? I hope not, because Heathcliff is the listed example, and I couldn't stand Heathcliff. And yet, Silver is a Lost Soul. Phooey! And Blood is a Bad Boy, another archtype I despise. Grumble. That isn't all they are, though… they are both Chiefs. And, both Professors…”

Bad Boy Professor. Lost Soul Chief.
Okay, realizing that you have put together some unusual combinations is sort of fun…

…but mostly I don't get the attraction of classifying one's heroes this way. If, say, Darcy from _Pride and Prejudice_ is a Chief and my Ikhsior from Cantata is a Chief, where does that get me? Trying to equate the two in my head just makes me go :glurk!: Other than that they both have a commanding presence (as they would say at the Coral Palace) what have they got in common, and why should I care? (Actually, I think Silver has a lot more in common with Darcy, although I would not classify Darcy as a Lost Soul.)

But, for the record, as close as I can figure, my hero's archetypes
Ikhsior: Chief (That seems so inadequate, but what else fits?)
Asond: Chief (Those two are the *same* archetype? Pardon me while I glurk again.) Professor
Algernon: Swashbuckler
Kide: Charmer
Silver: Lost Soul, Chief, Professor
Blood: Bad Boy, Professor, Chief
Talon: Charmer, Chief, Swashbuckler
Turner: Swashbuckler, er… Turner's reflexes are so fast and deadly that he tends to kill people without really meaning to. Does that make him a Warrior, a Bad Boy, or a Lost Soul?
Harchung: Chief
Cabal: Lost Soul, Professor, Warrior

I'm a bit short on Best Friends. Maybe because I married one?

I think the overabundance of Chiefs is not a romantic issue but something else entirely. It goes back to the question “Why are the main characters in fantasies almost always royalty?” If I take that one on it probably ought to be a different post.

Second Snow-day in a Row

The kids were home yesterday, and they are home again today. There isn't much in the way of snow, but the temperatures are worrying people, and there's a wind-chill advisory in effect. I think they are all wimps — but better warm wimps than frostbitten ones, I guess.

I'm having a hard time concentrating on doing revisions today though. (Yesterday I managed to insert the vital stuff taken out of the rewritten chapter two into chapter three, and then did some seam patching. Go me!)

Today I tried putting together an agent query letter instead, but I'm feeling too cowardly to send it out without having someone (probably my husband) tell me “Yes it's fine, no you didn't say anything stupid or offensive, will you just mail the thing already?”

I dreamed up another graphic novel yesterday. (Why do I do that.) I'm not going to write anything down about it in the hopes that it will go away again, but the setting was kind of interesting — magicians as costumed superheroes in a post medieval and pre-industrial environment. And it looked like an alternate earth too. I haven't really done any much in the way of alternate earths yet…

…Ack! No! Won't touch it… will NOT do any worldbuilding on it…
:glares at sparkly new idea:

I also got some more work on Tortuga Station done yesterday, and its time to pull it into Poser and see how it renders. Maybe I can get that done today. Finishing another Black Flag page would feel really good.

Author's Note on Opera Magique

This is almost a historical fantasy world, except that it's history diverges from that of our own shortly after the black death hits Europe. Suddenly magic and magicians became much more common, and the wars and political maneuverings of the period were influenced by this new factor.

Playing with history, trying to decide what would change, and how, is rather fun -- but I really invented this world because there was a story that was set in it, that I dreamed up and that wouldn't go away. And as soon as I started working on the principals of the magic, and the changes in history, more story ideas showed up.

Quote from Compelled
'You worked forbidden magic and dammned your eternal soul just to get your rooms cleaned?'
-- Kate Miller to Cabal
Copyright © Michelle Bottorff

Email mbottorff at lshelby period com