Process: Worldslip Book One (Keys & Needles)
First process post! Feel free to let me know what pieces of this you found the most interesting so I can make future process posts closer to what you want. Also, it should go without saying, but massive spoilers ahead for Keys and Needles, so if you haven't read that yet, tread lightly! 

Original inspiration

Like many (many!) of my ideas, Worldslip came to me in a dream - it was years and years ago (seriously probably like 2011-2012?), long enough ago that I don't even remember the full dream. I think there are notes scattered somewhere, but the image that stuck in my head was a city skyline silhouetted against a green glow with something monstrous coming through in the glow. 

Main character name origins

Tania's name origin is stated in text - Titania, queen of the fae in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although, and this is on me (and kind of a running theme in my life, I'm not great with pronunciation...a lot of the time), I didn't realize how Titania is said (tight-tayn-ya) which kind of messes with the pronunciation of Tania (which I always just imagined as "Tanya"), but ehhh sometimes shortened versions do that, right?? 

Logan is my little brother's name, which just so happens to be Welsh, fitting in with the mythological landscape that's in book one. 

Gwyneira, whose name I still cannot accurately spell three years in to actively working on this world (I just tried to put it in as "Gwyneria"), is a Welsh name that means "white snow," which I thought was appropriate. 

Themes/research

One of the funniest things about the writing process of Keys and Needles, especially looking back, was that I wrote it when I was still in the closet and fairly deeply in denial (or rather, in that sort of no-man's-land between denial/the closet/"it doesn't matter anyways I can totes just date guys," to be more exact). What I'm saying is, I didn't intentionally create the Marked to be a metaphor for queerness but boy howdy they sure wound up that way. Once I realized the extent to which I'd already done this on accident ("accident") I'm trying to work on it more consciously and run with it in books two and three; which isn't particularly hard as a lot of it was already there (from the beginning, Tania was planned to be bi and the resistance fighters that come up in book 2 were intended to be heavily queer & trans). 

This is something that I have tried to be conscious about and differentiate from the "discrimination that's obviously just fantasy racism" trope, as I know that white authors often write about racism (fantasy or otherwise) and get lauded for it, whereas authors of color writing about it are told they're being too niche. So I'm trying very hard to make it clear that this is an #ownvoices book which, whether it was intentional to begin with or not, pretty heavily draws off of my own experiences of growing up where and when I did, how I did, and puts them in an urban fantasy world and setting. (I am not sure to what degree I'm succeeding with that, and I suppose I'll find out when I'm done, but I'm trying!) 

The other thing that people might or might not catch depending on their backgrounds is that Birke, the forest witch, is Perchta, a Germanic goddess. ("Birke" is German for "birch," which is a tree I associate with her and comes from the same root word as Perchta.) Perchta has been one of my main deities for years now (since 2009-2010ish) and she very much fits with the themes of the books in that she's a deity of the liminal spaces, the edges and the in-betweens, and the Marked also exist in that spot in the books. And, like the Marked, she serves a very important purpose while existing in that space. 

The belly-slitting scene is based on myths of Perchta and it passing on protective qualities is based on Laxdaela saga, an old Viking saga in which a character experiences a vision where a woman comes to him, cuts him open, and replaces his innards with brushwood. The woman turns out to be his idis (ancestral guardian, usually a woman) and did this as protection; the next day he's mortally wounded in battle and thought to be dead. The next morning, though, he's fine -- he says a woman came to him in the night and put his entrails back. This saga doesn't specifically mention Perchta but has several similar motifs to some of her stories, so I ran with it for the story. 

(You can read more about Perchta here; don't judge me for the several years old digital art or the desperately in need of redesign site. Someday I need to just put that essay on its own site since I never did anything with that project, it was meant to be a glossary of more obscure deities but...I perpetually have too many projects, hah. Someday I want to do a Perchta devotional but I'm not sure how to approach that given that that essay is basically about the most you can write about Her while sticking to research, at least research that was available in English at the time that I wrote it.) 

(SPOILERS AHEAD! They've been pretty light up to this point, but I wanted to give you warning, just in case.) 

.

.

.

The actual writing and editing process

(scan of the original outline, because I am a little wacky about saving my notes sometimes!)

The outline for book one spans one page, front and back, broken down into chapters with about three beats per chapter. By the time I was preparing to write Keys and Needles, in fall of 2014, I had had the story in my head and mostly formed for at least a year, and possibly longer (see above re: note on when the idea started to hang around), so it was pretty easy to nail it down to an outline. That, and the first story is a relatively simple narrative - it follows Tania and just her, as she works towards one objective. (The writing process has definitely been a little different with book two so far, due to a more complex story structure and an additional POV character, but we can talk about that in a future post.) 

Once I had the outline, it was just a matter of ass-in-chair writing time. I used NaNoWriMo as a way to springboard it and wrote roughly 70,000 words that month. I would write for an hour or so first thing in the morning, and then often for another hour at the end of the day, and then wrote pretty close to every weekend. When I know where I'm going with a story, I can write like the wind (even recently, I did ~3,300 words in about 90 minutes, so I haven't completely lost this over the years, though it feels like that sometimes!). 

Sometimes I feel like the odd one out because writers often talk about how hard writing is, and it can be, but as long as I have at least some idea of where I'm going (or the story is showing me where I'm going), it's generally a really enjoyable process for me, with the exception being trying to write through low-grade depression (which was the case for Unplaced, which was VERY HARD to write - probably a combination of the depression, a new medium, and fairly personal subject matter). 

Anyways. I handily finished the first draft and then let it sit for a few weeks, before I started going through and doing line edits to get it in better-than-first-draft shape before I took it to a real editor. I found it really hard to edit that much text on the computer, so even though I felt HELLA WASTEFUL, I printed it all out and did line edits by hand, then typed them up later. There was a lot of reading out loud involved. Also a lot of "okay you can just do that for 30 minutes that's fine." (Where I love writing, I hate editing - I've got a bit more used to it and started to find the fun it in over the years, but it is still definitely the most excruciating part of the process for me.) 

I was finished with first-pass edits by February-ish and started having a friend of a friend do Actualfax Edits and man, it was a nightmare. I wound up paying a fair amount of money (not quite going rates for edits, which I did not know or I probably would have taken that as a red flag, but around $1,000) for edits that I didn't even use - somewhere around the midpoint of the book I gave up, threw his edits out, and started working from my last draft. One of the lines he added, which I will never forget, included "and I stared out the window with my mind full of an aching disquietude." Yeah dude, because that's how people talk! (Lesson learned: never go with a friend of a friend for a big project without asking to see an extensive amount of samples. I mean, he did a sample chapter of edits, and that was fine, so maybe there was no way I could have avoided this, but eesh.) 

It's now somewhere around May, and editing has become a nightmare timesuck. I started working off my last draft because his edits were so bad that every time I sat down to do it I wound up literally getting an eye twitch from irritating about 15 minutes in. And then I got super sick (which is another long story) and also got pretty brutally dumped at the same time, and then decided to run the Freelancer Planner Kickstarter (because if I didn't have a project to focus on, where I could see results very quickly, I was going to lose my mind), so edits got mostly shelved for a few months and then picked up around September, I think. 

Somewhere in there, Kamila Forson reached out to me, and she was amaaazing. She did edits that were actually helpful, and for the most part, we just did line edits - there were two small scenes that I added in after the second round of revisions (the scene where Tania more explicitly discusses her feelings of guilt re: her mother's death, and how that ties into her feelings of guilt about Logan being kidnapped, with Birke, and the scene with Birke at the very end), but nothing major was changed. Then, of course, once I got the edits back from Kamila, I had to go over them all, which was another month or two or review.

And basically, as soon as I had a final draft (July-ish of 2016), I put it up in the Kindle store without doing a lot of launch prep or anything - I knew it was going to be the first in a trilogy (and it ends on a cliffhanger), so I didn't necessarily see the sense in doing a huge launch and I thought it'd probably make me feel super pressured to get the next two books out. Which is good, but on the other hand, it also set up this dynamic where I felt super weird marketing or talking about it ever, since I hadn't been doing that from the start. 

Total timeline: ~30 days to draft, ~1.5-1.75 years in edits

This next book is looking like it'll take a little bit longer to get to a zero draft (and then a workable rough draft that I can send to an editor) but, since I should have the money to pay an editor from the get-go and actually know several good, reputable editors, the edits will hopefully be much faster. (I'm going to aim for six months or less, which should give us a launch of sometime in the summer to fall of 2018.) But that's all fodder for a future process post! 

Okay, I think that's it. If you have any questions about Keys and Needles, or want me to elaborate on any of this, let me know. And as always, thanks for reading & for being here! 


Michelle nickolaisen released this post 45 days early for patrons.   Become a patron