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L. Shelby - Cultivator Universe

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Creating a Galactic History

I guess I’m in a talkative mood, so I’m going to explain the steps I have been using to make a history for my Cultivator Universe.

1) I started by drawing myself a galaxy, and then I gridded it off into squares. (Fortunately for me, spiral galaxies are relatively flat, so it wasn’t too huge of a stretch to use a 2D map for this exercise.)

2) I then mostly randomly created 200 dots representing the worlds on which my civilizations started. (I randomize by rolling dice. I married an avid board-gamer and there are always dice around.)

3) I randomly assigned a Civilization Level to each of those dots. These levels told me which of those planets started developing technology the soonest, and therefore who had a “head start” when it came to spreading out among the stars.

4) I made an arbitrary guestimate of how fast the “reach” civilization would expand once its ships had achieved near light-speed capabilities, and based on how much “coverage” I hoped to achieve, decided how long ago my oldest civilizations started expanding.

5) I created a technological advancement chart that would give me a rough estimate of how long it would take each Civilization Level to achieve various technological benchmarks.

6) I split my total timespan into segments, and created map overlays that showed the “reach” of each civilization at the end of each segment in the form of transparent colored circles.

7) And then, checking each overlay one at a time, I have been figuring out which civilization encountered which other civilization in what order, and writing a quick one sentence explanation of what happened when they did.

First Week on the New Schedule

So I’ve tried it for a week.
In order to make the switch from work to music, I set my husband’s alarm-clock to turn on the radio. This worked fine for stopping me from editing, but on Friday when I was coding, I just ignored it. ::rueful::

Still I not only got a better balance of stuff accomplished, I also got more total accomplished. Stopping working before I hit brain-dead apparently has fringe benefits.

(I used to know that. Once upon a time my wordcount goals were actually there to tell me “Time to stop,” not to push me to write more. But I guess I sort of forgot that in all the excitement of doing the publication thing?)

Anyway, here’s what I got done last week…

  • Writing: I fixed many errors in Eyes of Infistar, installed a copy on our tablet for my husband to read, got back several chapters worth of notes, made more fixes, and put a new copy on the tablet.

    I also ebook-ified a book written by my daughter, put it on the tablet, and did a read-through.

  • Art: Compiled 19 pages of ink scans for Scent of Spring.
  • Music: Practiced 5 times (inc. 3 “vocal workout” sessions). Worked on scoring Scent of Spring. (Yes, the song has the same title as the graphic novel… There’s a reason for that.)
  • Coding: Started work on an image carousel for inserting on the bottom of certain webpages. In the process, discovered that the ‘$’ jquery shortcut doesn’t work consistently when used on a page that is integrating wordpress content. The discovery process involved a certain amount of hair-pulling. ::rueful::
  • Tatting: Worked on a design that still isn’t right. (I do a lot of that.)

Plus, I did 11 holes of disc golf, played the Eldritch Horror Boardgame with my family 3 times (we just got a new expansion, so we were eager to try out all the new stuff), helped one daughter build a website and helped another make bead lizards* to give away to friends. All in all, a good week.

*My design from over 15 years ago. They were actually the body of a dragon, but the wings were futzy and delicate and the older kids and I ended up making a bunch of dragons without the wings, back when. Examples were still inhabiting my bedroom, and she wanted to make a couple. Her first one is pictured below.

More itty-bitty images

So last week I finished working on the sewing project I was doing for my friend Yoon Ha Lee, and this week I was supposed to be working on Lioness, a story set in the same world as Cantata and Pavane, but on the other side of the continent, (and with a more adventurous plot — also, a heroine who weaves and makes lace: and it is very challenging to weave and make lace while simultaneously being the protagonist of an adventure story, let me tell you!) I started it five years ago, but it got sidelined by Across a Jade Sea.

Anyway, I haven’t managed to get Lioness going again yet. What happened instead, was that I made twelve new sprites for that video game that’s based on my world. (Okay, so it’s a user-made-content expansion to an open-source computer game. Close enough.) My programmer is ecstatic. He’s been being very patient over this business with me publishing books and therefore needing covers for them, and how that was absorbing all my artistic oomph. But, we had almost finished replacing all the placeholder art, and now it looks like we’ll finally get there! (If I counted correctly, only 9 sprites left to go.)

So, here are some (very tiny) “Westlanders” (mentioned very, very briefly in Cantata and Pavane):

Another thing I did this week was make an ebook version of my pulp sf “romp” Eyes of Infistar, for my publisher to look over and decide if that’s going to be our next release. It’s got strange planets, a mysterious alien artifact, primitive temples, space pirates, plus an empath, an intelligent blue ape, and a political/economic entity that calls itself a galactic empire. And lots of action scenes. I even have a sequel written, although not edited. (Editing the sequel was another project that got pushed aside when Across a Jade Sea attacked me.)

But I have said very decidedly that I am NOT doing any more covers right now, so if he wants to release it this year, he’ll need to find a different cover artist.

Wordcount

When I finished working on Sails of Everwind today, I hit the wordcount function, and it told me I had 111666 words.

I hope there isn’t anything significant about that.

It was only ever an estimate, after all.

Sails of Everwind just passed the 100K words mark, and so is at an estimated 100+%, which breaks my progress bar.

I guess now would be a good time to remove the 8K or so words right at the beginning that I have decided I don’t want… that’ll give me a little more working room before I break my progress bar all over again.
(I’m close to the end, but not that close to the end. I’m guessing the first draft will run… 115K? Something like that.)

Close enough to count

I passed the 50K word mark on Sails of Everwind today. As I’m not sure how long the story will actually be, I can’t know where halfway point will be. But 50K is half of my target wordcount, so I’m going to celebrate that, whether the story itself is halfway done, or not. :)

Maybe I should claim that the characters held me at swordpoint…

Because of something said on my lj “friends list”, I spent a good chunk of yesterday rereading the rough draft of Dicing With Flames (Song of Asolde, Book Two). Nobody else has ever read it, because I’m waiting to do revisions until I’ve finished writing the first draft of Sails of Everwind (Ice Wolf, Book Two — but I’m trying to write it so that it can stand on its own if need be), and in the meantime some of the places and many of the minor characters are still called ????.

Song of Asolde is a standard fantasy quest epic. It’s got elves. It’s got prophesies. It’s even got plot coupons. You wouldn’t believe how many times I have been told how awful it must therefore be, by people who have never read it. I was even told, on one notable occasion, that I shouldn’t hang out with the real writers, I should stick with the Dragonlance fanfic writers, where I belonged.

Clearly Song of Asolde does not appear to be designed to win the hearts of agents, please the critics, advance my reputation as a writer, and all that jazz. But I like it. And although the world in general may mock, most of the people who actually read book one seem to be looking forward to the second installment.

…So I guess I ought to stop whinging, and get busy drafting Sails of Everwind, so that I can get back to it. (37 620 words of Sails so far… it may be going slowly, but it is going. Real Life may be able to get in my way, but it can’t hold me back completely!)

Situation normal.

I finished the script to Black Flag 3 last week.

Afterward I spent several days happily re-reading it and going, ‘look… squee! — dashing young pirate getting mugged by a bunch of fusty lawyers — dashing young pirate removing his shirt in court so he can present his muscles as evidence — dashing young pirate getting told he’s ‘too domestic’ while he is in the middle of shooting down armed invaders — bwahahahah!’ and then going back and reading the Black Flag 2 script so I could compare. The script for 2 is only half as long as the script for 3… “there must be something wrong with one or the other of them. Lets check…. aahhh, 2… now here is a man who knows how to get things done. Ooh, yeah! I love this story. Oh. Um…. Better check over 3 again. Yay, dashing young pirate telling off evil spy-chick, woot! But, still twice as long. Hmm… better go check 2 again…”

But now my brain seems to have decided that I should be working on Black Flag 4.

Unfortunately, I only have 2/3rds of the art for Black Flag 1 done. Scripting 2 makes some sort of sense, but scripting 3 was, without a doubt, jumping the gun a little — scripting 4 would just be ridiculous.  Obviously I need to hurry up and get some more spaceships built so I can get back to doing actual artwork, or I’m going to drive myself bonkers.  But it’s hard concentrating on spaceships, when the theater in my head is trying to play romantic scenes between a space-pirate genius inventor chick and the slave-owning ruler of an iron age nation who has been told since birth that he is a god.

The next Ice Wolf story has gotten a thousand words or so further along too. As usual, Bambi is about to get in a fight: If she doesn’t win, she’s in big trouble; she’s not at all sure that she can win, and…
…even if she actually does win, she’s still in big trouble. >:)

Meanwhile Serena has discovered that it is possible to for someone to sidetrack her empathic abilities by the completely innocent means of having a crush on her.  Whenever he’s with her any other emotions he might feel get drowned out by the “isn’t she wonderful… and she even said she’d go out with me, whee!” euphoria.  And if that wasn’t distracting enough, he’s also really cute, and almost as big as she is.  Too bad he’s the opposition.

Author's Note on the Cultivator Universe

I had created two fantasy worlds, and wanted to do a science fictional one. But I kept having problems. I could build a science fictional universe around a story (see Black Flag for an example of a universe built around a specific story) but to just build one that stood on it's own was for some reason giving me trouble. I finally realized that it was because I was tripping over the fact that science fiction universes are often seen as a continuation of ours: a possible future. My imagination was choking over my conviction that I was incapable of guessing what the future would be.

So instead of creating a possible future, I created an impossible one.

As soon as I had detached the universe I was building from the real world and real life, by centering it on a concept that was scientificly impossible, I was free to be as scientificly rigorous as I wanted to be in everything else. At the same time I remained free to ignore scientific realities when I thought they were getting in the way of a good yarn. The best aspects of both worlds were mine to play with.


 
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