Winter solstice blessings brought a bounty of beautiful beginnings on the development front. It looks as though 2024 might be like gunning for a merge window onto a crowded, speeding freeway. I’m down for it! Okeydokey.
Settle coffee mug in the holster.
Tighten seat belt.
Check blind spot.
Mash the gas.
The last week of December has been a mad dash of pushing out emails and swiping everything off my desk to reset the flow for upcoming volume. Yes, I had hoped to have a nice quiet winter of reboot and novel writing, but timing being what it is, Tangle of Mermaids might have to take the back burner for a minute or two. That’s the speed up or slow down process of merging.
Thankfully, the last few months of 2023 have been relatively tame so I’ve been able to get real sleep, and reorient to priorities.
You heard it here first… I am coming out of the woods. It’s a long story. It’s all good. Good reasons. Happy reasons. Healthy reasons. It’s time. More details on all that to come. Don’t worry—I’m quite happy to start making steps back out into the real world, towing a wagon full of work created over the seven years I’ve been sitting out here in the wilderness.
Seven years of building and stashing writing, ideas, concepts and planning models. Now it’s time to put it in the chute.
I’m always charmed by folks who are curious about my last seven years alone in the wild. When I say, “I needed to be alone to able to hear myself think, so I could get work done uninterrupted.” Most creatives immediately understand. Then there are those extroverts in the room who visibly shudder.
It’s equally amusing when I explain my corporate background, or work history which runs parallel to my writing life. Are you a business developer? Or a creative?
Who says they aren’t the same thing?
Molecular genetics. Regulatory and Compliance. Director of Finance. R&D. Project Management. Commercial loan auditor. Document Control and Database Management. And finally, owner and operator of a small business development firm, and a publishing label. (and waiting tables in between as needed)
All of my former corporate jobs have run on the same creative matrices as my writing and art—yes, even the jobs in finance and molecular genetics. Which means, thankfully, I happen to be one of those lucky artists who can build a budget, read a balance sheet, manage a team, run my own PMP, and build a contract from scratch.
Do I enjoy it? Actually, yes. I adore performing those functions. I still think pivot tables are the playthings of Satan, but I handle them just fine. Business development and Storyverse Construction are actually VERY similar. They run on a hierarchy of constructs, with gears and levers. Business functions such as auditing commercial loan files for internal cohesion and consistency for clients gives my left brain something to chew on while my right brain takes a break from writing and story craft. When people ask me how I relax in the evening, I honestly tell them, “I perform internal reviews on multi-million-dollar conglomerate loan packages and file indexing reports while listening to my favorite popcorn astrology podcasts… What do you do to relax in the evening?”
Everyone needs a hobby… preferably one that pays well, and only requires a few hours at a time.
Then I save my artistic mind, the build energy for story craft and world building—and because there is no pressure to make my art pay me what I want to be comfortable, I’m able to make creative decisions that are uncompromising, riskier, and which produce higher yield--at least for me--in the emotional fulfillment department.
Thus, my HOBBY life as consultant PAYS FOR MY REAL JOB as a creator. All if which I do from the middle of nowhere in the backwater woods of Oregon.
I hope that makes sense. It seems to be confusing at meetings. People seem to be flummoxed by my background on the regular.
A young exec in a meeting said, “The target margin for a cost-plus model is on the budget sheet. You just stick to the writing. Artists can’t really handle the numbers anyway.…”
My old financial aid boss would be laughing her ass off at this right now.
I was legitimately taken aback. My brain was processing quickly trying to decide if he’d intended to be so careless, or if he was young and possibly embarrassed to not know the answer to the question, or if he was trying to obfuscate and hide figures because he wanted to end the meeting early.”
“I dunno… I guess you could just try me on the budget sheet. I might surprise you.”
“Budget sheets take years to understand.” He said curtly.
Oh, pookey. It’s about to get really uncomfortable for you.
“Maybe not years, but with a little focus, they make sense. I’ve seen a show budget and schedule before. Every industry has different terms, but money is ALWAYS money—every industry still answers to the SUM. Whether you’re in banking, or entertainment—everything runs on the bottom line. Is your budget exportable? I have Excel or I can do a Google doc, whichever you prefer. Or do you just want to share your screen?”
I could tell he felt like I had somehow betrayed him. I wasn’t just a novelist from under a bridge somewhere in the hinterlands—it showed on his face that I’d been the asshole tricking HIM this whole time. How dare I?
“I thought you were an artist.”
“Worse. I’m an artist who understands the business side of making a creative living. There’s no shame in ethical profit—so I make money. Then when I want my art to make money, I ask for it to do that, too.”
Anywhoo, it is what it is. When you look like a dumpy gnome that just crawled out of a hole, all mossy-haired and yellow toothed, and step into a room to sell a script--assumptions will be made. It’s the nature of humans to quantify or judge quickly in order to navigate social expectations.
So, I guess some smile brightener, hair dye and a freshen up on the wardrobe will help a little in this regard. I mean, it’s been a minute since I’ve had to be presentable. Like, seven years kinda minute.
Long story short, too late, this is to say that coming out of the woods and back to society means bringing ALL previous experiences to the high-speed merge. I mean, lesson learned, I’ll clean up a bit first to assist with the being presentable and believable. I also provided my new agent with my corporate resume to help alleviate any confusion about my work experience running alongside my creative world building and writing experience when she’s making introductions or connections. Hopefully that will help some.
There’s not a lot that can be done about taking meetings in an industry where folks seem to be eager to be seen, but not to see. Eager to be heard, but not to listen. Desperate to reach, but not to be touched.
Hopefully, this next part of housing the IPs will be quick and easy and we’ll be on to assembling the teams in no time at all. Because I WOULD LOVE to see people, talent, builders and creators in their most authentic and creative selves. I would dearly love to hear them, learn them, discover who they are and how they work—then invite them to come play in these amazing sandboxes being built for The Pillars of Dawn and The Life Erotic. I can’t think of anything right now that would bring me more joy than to be able to see, hear, learn and reach for those creative geniuses who want to build.
So, I can’t even be mad at the kid about the budget. He knows what he knows. He’d been conditioned how he’s been conditioned. Though my crinkly Grinch heart felt for him. Being disabused of one’s illusions can be a rough kind of day.
It just makes me more determined, I guess, to find those unicorns in the Hollywild that want to see, hear, and be welcomed. But first things first.
Settle coffee mug in the holster.
Tighten seat belt.
Check blind spot.
May your 2024 be filled with all the joy and magic of your wildest dreams. See you on the other side.
Holy moly, I had no idea I was going to have such a great time explaining Storyverse construction! I could do this all day long and still never run out of breath. World builders unite! Yes, please sign me up for more workshops!
The joy of working in storyverse modeling is the ability to blow out huge section of lore, lay timelines, and stack constructs to up to the eyeballs—then watch a well-developed character ping around the universe like a pinball activating more stories and off-shoots as they go.
The key is in the stackable constructs. Layering hierarchy is a laborious process in the beginning, because a fictional hierarchy of constructs is not always the same as our human/real world hierarchy.
However, sometimes the most common constructs of our current world are pulled laterally into the storyverse build… we can’t help it. I do it all the time. Good examples of this are all the isms. If it’s an ism in this world, think twice, maybe even three times, before it becomes a copy & paste construct into your storyverse.
For sure, some is good. It helps keep things relatable and “recognizable” to a majority audience, but too many duplicate or pull-through constructs and you’re not in genre fiction anymore.
In the end, as I’m explaining, diagraming, and building out POD for others to follow along— we get to drift through layers of constructs, activate gears and levels, toggle timelines and kick the tires. It’s been a blast!
Ideally, a well-built storyverse is a playground, a park full of instruments, tools, toys, and playground equipment that has a solid fence (guardrail) and a chaperone. Then, when that area is mapped, and all the exploratory creative equipment has been laid out, it’s a handoff to the next teams who will be developing scripts (streaming and film), graphic novels, games and more. The trans-media side of the development plans cannot happen if we’re not all working with the same core engines, storyverse laws, and guardrails. But once they get all that, and can speak the language comfortably—I get to pop off and have a margarita and let the kids play. Okay, two margaritas.
Anywhoo, testing out the workbook pages, and the diagrams on people has been a wonderful experience. It’s not lost on me how lucky I am to be able to build out these worlds for others to play in.
As 2023 wraps and 2024 looms, I’m just sitting in my feels that others are able to get in and play in the universes for POD and TLE and that these imaginary realms will not be alone with me any longer.
Finally… they are going home to audiences where they belong.
Winter is my usual writing season. The last few years of adaptation work to move my books into a streaming formats for shopping have happened mostly over the winter months, which means I didn’t have my usual snuggle-into-novel-writing-time. Crossing my fingers I get some good novel writing time in this winter. I’m hungry for it. Aching, actually. Anyone in my company too long can probably pick up on the twitchy desire to get back to my desk.
Don’t get me wrong, the adaptation stuff is fun. A blast, actually, but it’s a different set of building tools and an alternate set of muscles. A collaboration stretch is needed to bridge the gap between my brainpan and the team—and because most of the worlds for The Pillars of Dawn and The Life Erotic are still lodged in my noggin, it can feel like people (even people I like) crawling around in my mental space, dusting things up, and refiling my system that I had just the way I liked it so it will all still fit in my gray matter. It can be intrusive and exhausting some days. It’s unavoidable. The people in my skull pulling out the materials for world build are all very polite, courteous, and patient with me—but it feels like the kindest strangers re-organizing my mental underwear drawer and very kindly not looking at my ratty period panties.
It’s a very intimate process. More so as I’ve been solo and isolated for so many years. It can sometimes feel abrasive, vulnerable and itchy.
I need a lot of naps or quiet time to refresh from having other people in thoughts.
If I could give any piece of advice to my younger self, or to any other world builders out there—don’t keep the bulk of your world-building data in your brainpan. A head cold, or a round of sneezes sets off all kinds of re-org issues. Plus, when it comes time to collaborate, then you’re pulling brain data and importing it into computer systems for others to understand, and they don’t have your mental shorthand notes for reference.
Use an exterior, or alternate backup space for your build. There are a dozen great programs to help sort and store your world builds.
The wiki builds for The Pillars of Dawn and The Life Erotic are both designed in Mandalic Storyverse Structure.
What does that mean?
Let’s be honest, I just made it up. It’s not a real thing—UNLESS you believe, like I do, that story as medium, as a wave of creation energy never actually ends. It is limitless potential until given a new shape. Story is energy that persists, regenerates.
We’re taught that story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Tada! Complete. Now you may go about your day and live your best life.
But really, if you go about your day, and live your best life, you are in fact—continuing the story. A well-told story now lives in you as a reader, or viewer or participant. You cannot be what you were before.
This is why fearful people ban books.
Mandalic Storyverse is the creation of story universes, interlocking, supportive, interdependent filaments of ideas that inform patterns and build ever-expanding spaces in which to house star clusters and galaxies of stories all of which are expressed through a library of mediums. Stories within stories within stories—forever.
We’re conditioned to this with the MCU or DCU and other franchises that have “Universe” in the description.
The difference being that their CORE structure never solidified and their builds are so flexible and changeable that they slide all over the place. Audience timeline sickness, and story waffling makes for loss of trust and eventual sameness in the build. As audience, we are watching as those universes fold back in on themselves and go through re-boot after re-boot, despite the reality that audiences are already bored of it, and have lost faith in the core.
The CORE in a Mandalic Storyverse is the hard construct (the heart, bones, brain), the pieces that cannot and should not be broken. Often this is considered to be the timeline, but I disagree. The core is always the frame/soul of your build—the mandala forms around that core and the storyverse populates and shoots out from those primary points of soul matter. Without it, the storyverse will eventually hit a tipping point under its own weight and fold inward. A Mandalic Storyverse built around a heart will die when that core truth is compromised.
Mandalic Storyverse structure allows for perpetual expansion and growth with the framework established. GENERATIONAL STORYTELLING and BUILDING. Thus as the audience grows and evolves socially, spiritually, and the collective pool of knowledge, education, and global ideas SHIFT, the storyverse can shift and grow WITH the audience without needing to constantly be rebooted to catch up to new audience trends, needs, desires or pace of understanding— because it is built in advance to be able to grow and stretch to those needs without compromising the core.
A Mandalic Storyverse BREATHES. It learns. It imagines. It anticipates. It is a narrative form of intelligence that creates active bridges to new forms of creativity, energy, and the human adventure through our shared experience and evolving consciousness. It is not AI, because it has a soul, and it is fostered, nurtured and protected by human creatives for other human creatives. (We can argue about AI souls and singularity on another thread with some bourbon, yeah?)
And when a branch, or a galaxy of stories within the Mandalic Storyverse has bloomed, shone, and it is time for it to spread its seeds and winter—those seeds germinate new galaxies with the core heart, and carry the new tales forward. Just as in real life, right?
Mandalic Storyverse is the most closely related structure I know to life and how we live. In terms of a gendering, I often refer to this structure as “feminine” because of its natural mothering and birthing capacity to expand. It is the story that keeps generating, keeps nurturing, keeps sheltering, keeps homing and so on.
Whereas the standard three-act structure we’re most familiar with in the Western world is typically a one and done. A rinse repeat. It can begin to feel formulaic and linear, a driving force that loses its momentum at the infamous “dark night of the soul” mid-second act, only to rally and finish. (then light a cigarette, or take a nap)
We could go down a rabbit hole here of Joseph Campbell’s work and the hero’s journey, but that would be forty pages of rant. Love him. Love the work, but it’s missing 50% of the story.
That other 50% is found in a mandalic pattern, a generational build—not just generational “telling” but the build itself. I would argue even that those “hearts” of three act structures, of those single shot stories are seeds from a larger Mandalic Storyverse, and we have been taught only to see, hear, and believe in one seed at a time. *I’ll spare the longer version of this*
Anywhoo, that’s a very long way of saying, one of the greatest challenges of building in a Mandalic Storyverse Structure and then trying to adapt for television is converting that SCOPE, SCALE, CAPACITY, and POTENTIAL down into a single shot story so others can grasp it and convert it into usable material for an audience that’s conditioned to three-act, and is expecting a three-act. (Though I would argue, the streaming capacity to develop and house larger Storyverses and world-builds is feeding an audience with a new hunger for those bigger builds—people/ audiences want to live in these Storyverses and it’s showing in the data.)
My storyverse has been living and developing alone in my brain space for over twenty-years. Moving it to a more digestible format for audiences has been tricky. Mark Heidelberger has been a gift from the heavens for helping me focus on one point at a time rather than trying to download all my mental files at once. Dude has the freakin’ patience of a saint.
Note to self: Send Mark a fruit basket.
There’s really no wrong way to do a world build. Each one is specific to the work, to the idea or the story that will be housed or carried by the build. I like to think that the more diverse our world-building methods as artists, the more eclectic and magnificently grand our human experience will be.
So as I tuck in for some winter writing and world-building with mulled wine by the fire. I wish you all a happy holiday season, and all the adventures of your most courageous world-building plans.
Athena lives and writes in the Siuslaw Forest, Oregon.