Because The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series is set in a real historical period, the first thing I have to do when I start a new book is find some history!
I had some really interesting history in mind for Book 9, Next on the Agenda, but COVID happened and I can't get to the places I need to go in the ways I need to get there. So I looked for something else. We're cruising through the 1870s, the heart of the Meiji Era, the center of the Industrial Revolution worldwide, and an era of phenomenal social change around the world brought on by the shift from an agrarian economy to a manufacturing economy throughout, particularly, the Western world. Since Japan was both eager and determined to position itself in the company of the Western first-world powers rather than among their colonies or puppet states, Japan hurried to quickly exceed anything going on in Europe or North America.
The Tsugaru Shamisen, with both changes in the instrument and the way it is played, dates to 1877. Perfect. That's why I went where I went, with a few little ideas noodling around in my head. I think that I now have an overall story. But so much more is going on in our little corner of Kyushu and in the lives of our characters!
That means I need to think. Every day. All the time. I need to pick up characters where I left them and find out -- I suppose you could say "figure out" -- what happens to them, what their problems are and how they solve them.
When I have enough information swirling around in my head, I will open a file. I will write "CHAPTER ONE."
And I'll be living in the Meiji Era, with my characters' trials, tribulations, joys, failures and successes, chasing the elusive "what comes next" until I can once again write, "THE END." During this time I will be cranky, grumpy and entirely unwilling to return to the twenty-first century unless compelled.
Some people make notes. They have bulletin boards covered with index cards and sticky notes. They have computer versions of those, sometimes more than one. They have storyboards. They have drawings of characters and costumes. They have pages and pages of notes, either on paper or in some electronic format, about people, problems, solutions, issues, factoids -- so much data. There are literally dozens of computer programs that help organize all of this. I've tried some that other writers seem fabulously enthusiastic about.
To me, however, those produce a stilted kind of work, overthought, over-planned, and without the spontaneity that life itself brings to the table. It feels joyless to me, excessively structured and controlled. I prefer to live with it as it happens, difficult though that may be. And it is difficult. Thoughts dash through my brain with the speed of light, and sometimes I don't catch them. Then I can only wait and hope that they return for another pass. I must dig into yet more research as I find there are things I just don't know, but I need to know to make the work as accurate as possible. Working in a real history and with real folklore, I can't just make things up. At least, not all the time.
Japan is different. Even how gardens grow is different, something that is taking me years to figure out. Steam Bath Summer means early crop plants are at the end of their life cycles. My cucumbers and tomatoes have gone. I will look for autumn harvest varieties to plant. Cabbages, broccoli, potatoes and onions -- which have already had one season -- can also be planted for a second, if you have the room. I'll be looking for bush beans, too.
I live, I learn, and I hope to share with my readers this country that never ceases to provide me with new and interesting experiences.