Bookshelf Adventure (+ A Look Back)

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have tuned in last weekend as I worked on replacing my old bookshelf with a new one. Actually, I've gotten to where I call it my Scary Hoarder Nest Book Storage Area™, because let's face it—it really wasn't a real bookshelf. It was one of those metal cubby-style shelves with the plastic connectors that allow you to arrange it in whatever shape you want. I'd had the thing for years; we'd used epoxy on the connectors initially so it all stayed together way longer than it should have. It served as my primary bookshelf, but it also became my go-to spot for...stacking stuff...when I didn't know what else to do with it. I'm not really sure when those plastic connectors got brittle and started breaking, but they did. I'm reasonably sure the only reason the whole structure was still standing was because the stuff in the bottom cubbies was tall enough to support the shelves above it. Needless to say, it was all quite precarious.

So I decided it was high time I invested in something new. I had that short black shelf in the pictures but the vast majority of my books were too tall to fit anywhere except the bottom shelf, which of course had somewhat limited space. Aside from these two shelves, I also had a row of books on top of my dresser across the room, held up with bookends that were practically hanging over the edges. Then I had a few oversized books (space encyclopedia, The Art of Mass Effect, etc.) and magazines on a shelf in the hallway. My goal was to be able to consolidate everything to a single, real bookshelf. I even got rid of a few things I knew I'd realistically never read in order to make space (and then almost bought something new while I was dropping them off at the book trader).

I went out and purchased a simple, 5-tier matching black shelf and spent Saturday afternoon assembling it. Then Sunday I cracked my knuckles and got down to business.

Pro-tip: compressed air is a very effective way to clean off dusty books...of which I had many.


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My to-do list was as follows:

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  1. Clean and remove everything from both the metal shelf and the small bookshelf
  2. Try not to get distracted by the writing notebooks the metal shelf had contained (hint: I totally got distracted by the writing notebooks, and we'll get to those in a minute)
  3. Dismantle the metal shelf and cast its remains into a vat of lava
  4. Find cool stuff that had fallen down behind it
  5. Clean the floor, shift the short shelf to the left, and move the new one to where that one had been
  6. Find homes for all the non-book knick knacks and mementos the metal shelf had contained (I had purchased additional storage apparatus in anticipation of this)
  7. Put everything back

I did find some pretty neat stuff on that shelf though. It had honestly been a while since I'd really even taken note of what it contained because I was half afraid touching anything would cause the whole thing to collapse. I found my old PC disc copies of the KotOR games! And Chloe and Craig supervised the whole process, examining each item as I removed it, knocking things down, and generally being SO much help. 

One of the perks of the new shelf is that, since the short one isn't as wide as the metal one, I can move it a little further into the room and can now open the door 80% of the way instead of 50% of the way. Carrying laundry baskets in and out used to be the biggest pain (literally, because it never failed that I'd bash my knuckles on the doorframe).

But perhaps the greatest thing, aside from the obvious improvements in organization, is that I can now alphabetize all my books by author, which is something I've never been able to do with everything spread out between four different shelves of varying sizes. The only problem is that there are a couple of places where I'm on the verge of having to split series between shelves and my inner OCD freak is having a meltdown about it.

Lo and behold, I ended up almost not having enough space for everything on this shelf either and had to return a few things to the short shelf. I ended up moving all my oversized books back to the top of the dresser with the bookends so I'd have a little space over here when I need it. It's nice because it opens up some room on the dresser for more dresser-type things, and now my cats can walk around up there (because they do...) without knocking stuff down every time.

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Everything is still a little cluttered just because I have limited space to work with in general, but the sense of organization is such a relief. The trick now will be to maintain it. The bookshelf itself shouldn't be a problem, but I'll need to break the habit of stacking stuff on the shorter shelf or I'll end up right back where I started.

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A Look Back

(Note: this section contains spoilers for the Ziva Payvan trilogy. If you have not completed the series, proceed at your own risk. More major spoilers will be marked accordingly.)

So I mentioned getting distracted by all the old writing notebooks. It's always a lot of fun to look back through them, even if I'm cringing like crazy at half the pages. Last time I looked through them all—whenever that was—I had the presence of mind to take a marker to the back of them and write down what each one contained for future reference. I still have the notebooks I hand-wrote Dakiti and Nexus in, although it was back before I'd ever planned on publishing so I just called them "Ziva vs. [antagonistic entity]" (in this case, Ziva vs. Dakiti and Ziva vs. Dasaro, respectively). They also contain a lot of Mass Effect and KotOR fanfiction, including the original drafts of Mass Effect: Sole Survivor and KotOR: Scoundrel that I've shared here on my blog in the past. I also found a brand new blank notebook I'd forgotten I'd bought at some point, and that's always a win.

One of the things in that foremost notebook—"Ziva 1st mission attempt/notes"—was a short story I started drafting at some point. I actually found the draft itself fairly recently, read through it, and thought "Where on earth was I going with this?" But after looking back through what I'd written in the notebook, I had some good ideas and I think I want to try to resurrect the story. Rather than her first mission, it would just be a pre-Dakiti mission starring the original Alpha team. It might be something I could offer to people who subscribe to my newsletter, because I currently don't have anything like that and probably should.

What I found most interesting was just looking at the sequence of events and seeing when I came up with certain ideas. These two white-backed notebooks in the front were my on-the-go notebooks, while the big 5-subject ones were for the actual composition. Ergo, the small ones contain scene drafts and notes for things that eventually ended up in the main stories. Notable examples are "Ziva Shot Fragment" (the scene from the end of Nexus where Dasaro shoots Ziva in Argall) and "Kat Hunting Fragment" (the scene from Nexus where Ziva and Aroska are searching for Kat on Chaiavis). 

So here's a look at some of the juicy things I found in these notebooks.  It's fun to compare them to the story we know today. Click each image for a larger view.

pro-tip #2: dropbox's save-as-scan feature comes in really handy when taking pictures of old handwritten notes

(especially because lots of this was written in an obnoxious pink pen)

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"End Scene Fragment" is from the end of Nexus as well, when Aroska stays behind to speak to Ziva in the med center and she asks him to join the team in her absence. What I noticed immediately upon reading back through this was that Aroska doesn't respond to "You're not so bad, Tarbic" with "I'm going to quote you on that sometime," a line that ended up playing a pivotal role in their goodbye scene in Ronan. I'm glad I ended up adding it.

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"Confession Fragment Draft" was part of the chapter from Nexus where Ziva and Aroska speak on Kat's balcony and some of Aroska's problems are brought to light. This was one of those scenes I probably wrote five different drafts of because I was so determined to get it right, and the finished product ended up featuring bits and pieces of each draft. Some of the dialogue got cut entirely and ended up elsewhere in the story or even put on hold until Ronan. I was reading through this cringing at how on-the-nose the dialogue seemed, but I often wrote it that way on purpose in order to make sure I got all of my points across and didn't forget anything. Then I could go back during the revising stage and refine it. What we see here bears a few similarities to what's actually in the book, but for the most part, it's pretty different. 

I like the little chart at the top where I wrote out the structure of the conversation. I end up doing that a lot.

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And speaking of confessions, I've mentioned a couple of times in passing that I had originally wanted Ziva to tell Aroska the truth about Soren in Nexus, but when I got to the place I wanted to put the scene, I realized the characters just weren't ready. It actually would have taken place just after the scene above, and looking back now, I cringe because it would have made that section of the book so cluttered. The setup was going to be something like this: unbeknownst to Aroska, Ziva and her team had been responsible for taking out some drug dealer a couple of years earlier, which had in turn helped him immeasurably with a case. This would have been the mission she left for immediately after killing Soren, so she was going to use the memory as kind of a soft open in hopes of getting him to relax a little. Looking back on it now, that doesn't make much sense, especially because it didn't include the fact that the whole thing had been a major miscommunication and, essentially, an accident. In fact, I can't really remember what I was even going for here. Regardless, I'm really glad I ended up saving it all until Ronan. It had so much more impact that way.

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And speaking of killing Soren, I found bits and pieces of the scene that would become the flashback in Ronan detailing his death. I actually began drafting that scene way back in 2012, almost two years before publishing Dakiti, just for my own benefit, and at the time I hadn't planned on actually including it (as its own scene, anyway) in the story. Now I can't even remember how I was originally planning on conveying the information; using the scene to explain what happened ended up working so much better than just having Ziva describe it. Showing vs. telling and all.

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I also found the original draft of "Let Me Show You Something," which is what I was calling the scene where Aroska takes Ziva up to the hill outside Salex to see the aeromids in Ronan. But back then, none of that was actually happening. I'd just gotten this image in my head of the two of them standing in a forested area looking up at some sort of blue light source (no clue what it was supposed to be) and I wanted to write a little one-shot about what they were doing and how they'd gotten there. I wrote that scene way back before I even finished the first draft of Nexus, and never in my life did I imagine being able to actually incorporate it into the story. It ended up being a perfect lead-in to the confession about Soren, and it ended up almost being the reverse of how I'd originally wanted to do it. Now Aroska was softening Ziva up in order to extract the truth from her instead of Ziva softening Aroska up in hopes of making the truth hurt less (nope, still makes no sense).

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So far the majority of these scenes had something to do with Nexus (or were supposed to have to do with Nexus) so I'm guessing this particular notebook was mostly used throughout late 2012, all of 2013 (Nexus was originally completed in the spring of '13), and then even into 2014 (there are a few notes I recognize from when I was trying to fix logistical issues in Dakiti and get it ready for publication). I'd dabbled a little in Ronan outlines by that point, but I didn't even start messing with the story until late summer 2014. So I was VERY surprised to find this in this same notebook. This is the scene that would eventually become the emotional #Ariva moment in Chapter 49 of Ronan. Come to think of it, I do remember finding a quiet place on campus and scribbling it out over the course of several days when I was waiting for my sister to get out of class. I knew some not-so-great stuff was going to happen to the characters in the book, though I didn't know what yet. This was one of those scenes I just had stuck in my head, and even though I didn't know when/why/how I'd work it into the story, I just had to write it.

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Then the same could be said about this scene. You may recognize it as what's now the first chapter of Fracture. I'm pretty sure I audibly said "Whoa" when I came across this. I went through a phase at some point of wanting to somehow portray Ziva as an antagonist since, as an assassin, that's exactly what she is to the opposing party. I pictured her being manipulative and getting inside her targets' heads the way she does during everyday interactions with people. So this was originally just going to be a little one-shot, but I don't think I ever even finished writing it until I resurrected it and used it for Fracture. The scenario in the scene has changed a smidgen since I first wrote it, and we're obviously dealing with Matia Moryi now instead of Ziva, but I'd forgotten just how long ago I came up with this concept. It's cool that I was able to find a use for it.

final spoiler warning

Now we're getting into some major stuff. You have been warned.

And then I found some really interesting things. See, back when I wrote Ziva vs. Dakiti, Ziva vs. Dasaro, and started plotting Ziva vs. Ronan, I never ever planned on publishing, so I didn't feel the need to bring things full-circle the way they are now (this, in my opinion, is what makes Ronan so good today). I imagined myself and maybe a couple of friends being the only people who ever read them. Sure, there were some overlapping plot threads—as there still are—but all three books had pretty separate plots, kind of like Dakiti and Nexus do today. The behind-the-scenes battle between the Federation and Resistance was still a thing, Ziva had still been exposed to nostium as a child and had killed her trainer, etc. but none of that had anything to do with Ziva vs. Ronan the way it does now. It was simply information that had been introduced in Ziva vs. Dakiti and then just "existed" in the background for the remainder of the series.

In early outlines, Tav Ronan was just some third-party entity with a sizable military force at his (yes, his) disposal. He had a chemistry background and was bent on galactic domination, or at least just domination of certain galactic sectors that affected the rest of the characters. So he was going around testing versions of this slow-acting neurotoxin-type substance on people, with the end goal of mass distribution that would wipe out entire systems and allow him to take control. I often described him as some sort of "mad scientist" in my notes.

(Fun fact: way back when I was still working on developing my characters, I made them in The Sims (what author hasn't made their characters in Sims?) and then populated their town with other minor characters from the story. After a while I just wanted to build cool houses, so I'd throw together random characters with weird sci fi names and make them live there. One was a guy named Tav Ronan, and I thought "Wow, this would be a good name for a villain someday.")

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So there are definitely some parallels between my original ideas and what we see today. The most notable difference is of course that the "disease" that affected Kat Reilly in Ziva vs. Dasaro turned out to be an actual disease, which in turn meant Ziva also ended up with it as well. I can't remember if I had the same distribution method in mind back then (the sabotaged fighter crashing at the base on Na) but Ziva getting exposed was definitely a plot point. And with it being a real disease with neurological symptoms that actually affected her, original plan was that she was going to die at the end of the story. I used to joke about how the only way I'd ever stop writing these characters was if they all died (still accurate, really) and so I told myself that the only way I could bring the series to a close was to kill Ziva off. It would have been a good death, and I had all of these grand plans to highlight all the ways she and Aroska had changed each others' lives during the relatively short amount of time they'd actually been on good terms. She wouldn't have actually died from the disease the way Kat's friend Corey did (and his name was apparently Casey in early notes), but its symptoms would have kind of expedited the process because she wouldn't have been able to heal correctly after being severely injured. I even wrote out the majority of the scene I would have used at the end of the book.

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The idea here was that some final battle between the Haphezians and Ronan's forces had just taken place, only instead a space battle, the conflict had been on the ground and even inside HSP Headquarters (resulting in a large part of Noro being destroyed). And then instead of the Durutians and Niiosians, the Haphezians had allied with another group that was hunting Ronan and was based on some characters one of my friends had created back when we were still writing Star Wars fanfiction together (this is what CZS is referring to in the image). Ziva would have already had her seizure at this point, marking the beginning of her downward spiral, and was suffering from other symptoms like dizziness, numbness, and fatigue. Therefore she had removed herself from the heart of the combat and had taken up a position in Emeri's office at Headquarters, sniping enemy soldiers and providing cover for the rest of the team as they fought. When it was all over, Aroska returned to the office to meet her and found her bleeding out; "Some grenadier got lucky," she tells him on the following page. With all the numbness, she hadn't even realized how severe her injuries were and knew she was a goner by this point. So the two of them would have sat there together watching the sunrise in silence while As It Fades by VNV Nation played in the background, and eventually she would have passed with her head resting against Aroska's shoulder. MISERABLE, right? I'm so glad I never ended up having to write that. You're welcome. I'm also glad I quit calling it a "commlink."

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Once I decided to publish, I of course needed to figure out ways to tie everything together a little better. That's why this particular page out of the notebook is my absolute favorite, because I can look at it and physically see my thought processes. At this point I'd created Taran Reddic (he has turned out to be one of my favorite secondary characters in the series), though I'd forgotten I'd toyed with the idea of confusion over the initials "TR" (Taran Reddic vs. Tav Ronan). And I'd forgotten I thought about trying to make Reddic and Ronan the same person! Again, I'm super glad I didn't go that route.

And then the idea for how to tie everything together hit me like a freight train. It's funny because I look back at how inevitably everything fit together and I think about how not so very long before that, nothing fit together. The answer seemed so obvious, and yet it took me so long to figure it out. I can almost feel that same excitement all over again just while looking at this page, because even today, I know there's no better feeling than having a single epiphany that solves a number of problems with a story. 

I'm also glad I was able to make Taran his own character and flesh him out as an individual. I thought he and Mae really ended up adding to the story, and they were just plain fun to write.

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And then there was this fun little tidbit I stumbled across in one of my small on-the-go notebooks not too long back. 

I don't remember when precisely I decided Ronan would turn out to be a woman—in fact, I'm reasonably sure I'd already made a decent dent in the story and maybe even already written the first scene where Sadey talks to her before I decided. Regardless, I decided to keep it a secret and I pictured this crazy plot twist where her true identity was revealed, followed by a grand showdown between her and Ziva. 

But I feel like that's how every final battle in every story ever goes. The plot twist and showdown did of course happen, but it was the conclusion of that scene that ended up being different. It's not that Ziva didn't deserve to kill her, but at some point during one of Aroska's reflective scenes, it suddenly struck me that he should do the honor. A) it might take readers by surprise, and B) he'd just been through so much during this book (and the whole trilogy, really) that it simply seemed like the right thing to do.

One of my beta readers left a comment during Ziva and Ronan's final exchange:

"You came all the way up here," the woman spat. "Did you really think you were going to just kill me?"
More movement. An idea.
"Nah," Ziva replied. "I figured he would."

Love it! No, seriously. LOVE IT. It says a thousand things about her, and him, and them, in this simple little statement. Also, it’s awesome.

And I'd have to agree :)

And so this has been another lesson in why you should never get rid of any of your old writing. Not only is it incredibly fun to look back and see where your ideas came from or how your thought processes went, but you can also learn a lot about yourself. I also look back at everything and realize that if all of this came out of my head, surely I'll be able to come up with more interesting things for you all as time goes on. One of these days I will have to stop writing these characters (although now I do promise I won't kill everyone) and create something new. And I'll be sure to keep all of my notes then too.

fellow writers, have you come across any interesting notes from your stories? how much changed between the original outline and the story itself?