Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

My Writing Process = Chaos!

This post is part of a blog tour series in which writers answer a set of four questions about their writing process, then tag other writers to keep it going the following week.

Many thanks to my good friend and fellow Atlantian MJ Pullen for tagging me! MJ has published three contemporary women’s fiction novels in a series called The Marriage Pact a group of thirty-something friends from Atlanta. You can check out her blog and current projects here, including a women’s fiction novel about what happens when a marriage is on the verge of destruction, and a fun story about a reluctant sleuth who is a single mom.

I also want to thank Gus Sanchez for also tagging me for the blog train. Gus is an eclectic guy and his writing works are equally as broad: a nonfiction book “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run”, multiple short stories, and his current work-in-progress, an upmarket fiction novel about a suicidal woman who embarks on a road trip across 1990′s America with a fictional character. Check out his writing process and other news and notes here.

What are you working on now?


This was originally posted in This Story Needs Your Help and was Freshly Pressed as a collaborative short story project where each week I provided a section of the story, then there were a series of options to vote for where the story goes next. After a couple days to vote, I took a few days writing the next installment of the short story based on the polling data. After some feverish editing, I posted it for everyone to read and vote again. Rinse, repeat.

Also, I want to mention this ended up being a longer short story than I had planned. I had estimated 3500 words total. It is currently at 15,000 words. It will be a bit long for a “short” story, but it was an awesome collaborative project.

by Rebeca Saray

Tesla Spence, an aspiring engineer, drops her supper tin on Edgar Endicott, a young scientist trespassing and doing research on foundry moths. When she goes to check on him on the South Foundry scaffolding, a foundry moth is flushed out, and Edgar knocks Tesla off the ledge. He helps haul her up with the rope, then tries to kiss her like a hero. She punches him, then makes both of them return to ground level.

Supervisor Nielson is Edgar’s uncle, but even than doesn’t stop him from firing Tesla. She returns her gear, leaves the supper tin that started the mess, and goes to the municipal dormitory to pack up her personal things. Tesla has few friends in Cobblecourt, so she decides to return to her parents’ home in Brighthurst. After posting a message to her suitor Merrick, a City Vigilance officer, she walks to the Handsome Corby to drink away her sorrows.

After some drinks, she is approached by the CPC Vice-Chief, who has the ability to get Tesla her dream job and fix the career-ruining debacle with Edgar. The Vice-Chief is very interested in Edgar and quizzes her about whether or not he has a foundry moth chrysalis. More talkative than normal, Tesla tells him everything she knows. Satisfied, the Vice-Chief ominously offers her a ride home, but their departure is halted when Mr. Spence comes to save his daughter. After leaving the alehouse with Tesla, Mr. Spence is shot on the cobbled streets, and Tesla, drugged and drunk, passes out.

by Rebeca Saray

When Tesla awakens in the hospital, she learns that her father does not have long to live unless an expensive operation is performed. Her family does not have the money for the procedure, but Edgar offers to pay for it if she helps him get the chrysalis back. While she is waiting for Edgar to return, her suitor Merrick comes to visit her. As a City Vigilance officer, he says that she needs to come with him, but she learns it is a trick when he takes her to the CPC Vice-Chief.

They return to the South Foundry to get the supper tin, but are interrupted by Edgar and Nielson, who followed them to save Tesla. In the chaos, Tesla grabs the supper tin and climbs the ladders to the top of the Rafters. She is cornered by the Vice-Chief, who tries to shoot her. They struggle, and Tesla knocks him over the railing, where he falls to his death. In the aftermath, Edgar steals the chrysalis and escapes, leaving Tesla to her fate.


When sneak-thief Nissa Rhodes runs into a burning stable and saves High Justicar Stagunner’s prized stallion, the grateful gent offers her employment on his estate. Barely surviving on the cut-throat streets of Cobblecourt district, tall and lanky Nissa accepts the offer, at least through the coming winter.

Artwork by H.L. Fatnassi

Artwork by H.L. Fatnassi

In the Dreamless City of Rivenloss, Nissa is a dreamer and considered extremely dangerous. Dreamers are executed by Justicars to prevent the overflow of aether power when they dream, causing chaotic events such as animating corpses and manifesting phantasms. Nissa has remained hidden, but her discovery becomes more likely each time she falls asleep.

The Stagunner Estate in Hightown district is a world apart from cobblestone streets clogged with hackneys, steam carriages, and all manner of men looking to make a dishonest frankel. Nissa soon discovers that the grand estates are no safer than the crowded streets as she becomes an unwilling pawn in the power games between the Stagunners and the rival Rommanocs.

Artwork by H.L. Fatnassi

Artwork by H.L. Fatnassi

When Ellesande Merueste, heiress to the richest family in Rivenloss, announces a series of gentlemen’s events to decide who will escort her to the Primavera Gala, all of Hightown takes notice. It is rumored that whomever escorts Ellesande will be able to ask for her hand in marriage. Winning the games means winning a chance at a fabulous fortune, which could save the Stagunners from financial ruin.

Daschel Stagunner, the horse-crazy and impulsive third son of the High Justicar, is a likely candidate to win the three horse races Ellesande has planned for her amusement. When a suspicious accident with a tampered saddle leaves Daschel with a broken arm, he begs Nissa, who is his match in frame and stature, to take his place in the first race. Disguised with a hat and scarf, Nissa pulls off impersonating the Hightown lad and wins the race.

Artwork by H.L. Fatnassi

Artwork by H.L. Fatnassi

When Nissa is not training for her next race on Daschel’s behalf, she is mucking out stalls and getting on head groom Reynard Triannon’s nerves. Tall, pale, and serious, Reynard does not appreciate Nissa’s sarcasm, but in the quiet moments cleaning bridles, Nissa thinks he might be a decent lad after all. Together, Reynard and Nissa help Daschel to win Ellesande’s favor.

After his eldest brother’s murder, Daschel asks Nissa to impersonate him again so they can sneak into the rival Rommanoc estate during a masquerade ball and find proof of the murder. Nissa, growing fond of the impulsive lad, does not reveal that she has been dreaming while awake and will likely be more of a hindrance than help.

When Nissa’s secret is discovered by the rival Rommanoc family, will she stay loyal to the Stagunners, or betray them to save her life?

THE DREAMLESS CITY is a steampunk urban fantasy work-in-progress, currently totaling 50,000 words. The goal is 90,000 words upon completion.

How does your work differ from others of the genre?

Well, I don’t have any pirates or airships, and the romance is PG13 at best. Steampunk seems to come in two flavors right now: heroic adventure where a small group fights against the mad scientist or evil skypirates, or Victorian romance + fancy gadgets. (There’s nothing wrong with these types; I frequently enjoy reading them, but my story is different… I hope) I suppose a third type could be alternate history set in London, usually around the Whitechapel days of Jack the Ripper. (Weird West is often included in this, but I see it so infrequently, which is a shame.) Steampunk often combines with other genres, such as horror, and is usually considered a subgenre rather than a larger category like SF or Fantasy.

LIFE OF A FOUNDRY MOTH is fairly basic steampunk in that the main characters are engineers and scientists. The difference would be the world that it is set in. Aether often shows up in other stories, so having it be a part of Rivenloss isn’t remarkable. That aether is connected to ghosts, zombies, and other necromantic elements is probably more unique. THE DREAMLESS CITY is aiming to be YA steampunk, which I haven’t seen much of outside of one popular series. (There could be more, and if so, please let me know. I admittedly read more genre fiction than I do YA fiction.)

Why do I write what I do?

There’s a lot of room in the steampunk universe. In high fantasy, for example, I feel like it is very crowded with wizards and elves and orcs and dragons. I wouldn’t know what to write that would feel fresh and new while staying true to the genre. In steampunk, however, there are only two elements that need to be adhered to: the steam aspect where alternative technologies are explored, and the punk element promoting individual freedom and challenging the Industrial Age and Victorian values.

How does your writing process work?

During the genesis stage, I usually pair up two unrelated ideas and see what interesting aspects I can develop. For example, with THE DREAMLESS CITY I was thinking about books I loved to read when I was younger, especially in my horse-crazy phase. I decided that I wanted to combine “a girl and her horse” + “imaginary friend” + “voted most likely to die” + “love triangle” + “steampunk setting.”

The other key factor for me is conflict. What is the conflict and how does it relate to the main character? In this example, Nissa has been living in the hard world of the Cobblecourt and is a scrappy survivor. Her Aether powers make her dangerous, and she will be executed if discovered. When Nissa finds herself in the midst of a Hightown war between two rival families and someone learns her secret, she has to make the decision that will best lead to her survival… then live with the consequences.

I then write some of the key scenes, the ones that I think of as the high points of the story. “Burning Barn,” “First Horse Race,” “The Masquerade,” and “Raising Horses from the Dead” were all big scenes in my mind. I know it doesn’t mean anything to you yet, but these were scenes that I could see with movie-like clarity in my imagination.

Once I have the Big Five Plot points decided, which usually coincide with some or all of the highlights above, I go get my Excel spreadsheet. I put my chapter columns across the top, usually around twenty, then chart out my storylines in the rows across. I have a separate row for each one, such as “Romantic Interest” or “Antagonist’s Plans.” This helps me see that I am hitting each of these plots at a minimum of every other chapter. I want to have each of my chapters (and the scenes within) to do at least double duty and progress multiple storylines. It also seems to keep the scenes fresh and more dynamic.

Along with the storylines, I start my list of characters, usually in another spreadsheet or word document. I jot down the important details (left-handed, hates horses, love interest’s ex-girlfriend) and try to not get hung up on the small stuff. Then I review the storylines for any other characters I need to create to get from A to Z, such as the lamplighter who tells the heroes to run out the back door.

And then it is time to write! Since I have read Rachel Aaron’s book, I begin with what should happen in three lines or less: Nissa finds Daschel’s gloves and takes them to the main house. She is tricked by malicious upstairs maid into entering Daschel’s room. She opportunistically steals some loose money, is walked in on by Daschel, and manages to leave without the theft being discovered. Now I have a roadmap.

Now it is just the blank page and me. Since I have my roadmap, I can piece things together. If I get stuck on something, like dialogue for the malicious maid, I just summarize it and move it. This has helped me complete scenes, which is a big challenge for me since I am a chronic starter.


Now let me show some love for a couple of my fellow Dragon*Con writers.

Barbara Evers 2 FINALrt2
Barbara V. Evers loves books, whether reading or writing them. She works as a professional trainer and public speaker, and in her spare time, pursues her passion for books. With an MA in Professional Communication, Barbara contributes her knowledge of writing as an editor\proofreader for other writers. Her short stories and essays have appeared in the best-selling anthology, Child of My Child: Poems and Stories for Grandparents, The Petigru Review, moonShine review, and Stupefying Stories. Her essay, Home Is Where The Heart Is, won First Place in the 2013 Carrie McCray contest. In addition, Barbara is a “Fearless First Reader” and editor for the digital SciFi\Fantasy journal, Stupefying Stories.


Doug Dandridge was born in Venice Florida in 1957, the son of a Florida native and a Mother of French Canadian descent. An avid reader from an early age, Doug has read most of the classic novels and shorts of Science Fiction and Fantasy, as well as multiple hundreds of historical works. Doug has military experience including Marine Corps JROTC, Active Duty Army, and the Florida National Guard. He attended Florida State University, studying Biology, Geology, Physics, and Chemistry, and receiving a BS in Psychology. Doug then studied Clinical Psychology at the University of Alabama, with specific interests in Neuropsychology and Child Psychology, completing a Masters and all course work required for a PhD. He has worked in Psychiatric Hospitals, Mental Health Centers, a Prison, a Juvenile Residential Facility, and for the past five years for the Florida Department of Children and Families. Doug has been writing on and off for fifteen years. He concentrates on intelligent science fiction and fantasy in which there is always hope, no matter how hard the situation. No area of the fantastic is outside his scope, as he has completed works in near and far future Science Fiction, Urban and High Fantasy, Horror, and Alternate History. His Exodus: Empires at War series has sold 65,000 books over six volumes to date, with over 800 reviews with a 4.4 star average, and the series will continue through further volumes.

twitter @BrotherofCats

15 comments on “My Writing Process = Chaos!

  1. Gus Sanchez
    June 9, 2014

    Glad you could take part. Great answers all around!

    • tracycembor
      June 10, 2014

      Thanks! I might have been just a little long-winded. This post is five times more verbose than my average post. NOW WITH 500% MORE WORDS!!! xD

      Hope everyone checks out your witty blog and always entertaining insights! ;)

  2. Hannah
    June 10, 2014

    I really enjoyed reading The Foundry Moth and look forward to Rivenloss! You said you read a lot of genre fiction and not much YA–what are some of your favorite novels?

    • tracycembor
      June 10, 2014

      I’m glad you enjoyed it and wow, that is a great question. I’ve been reading a few different things lately (just scrolling back through my Kindle list):

      The Final Formula by Becca Andre
      Skin Game by Jim Butcher (I don’t think I’m alone in that category)
      Cyador’s Heirs by L.E. Modesitt
      Indexing by Seanan McGuire
      The One by Kiera Cass (see, there’s a bit of YA in there)
      All Is Fair by Emma Newman
      The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison

      And that pretty much covers the last couple of months. Looks like I’m averaging about a book per week.

      • Hannah
        June 11, 2014

        Thanks, Tracy!! I have a bad habit of reading the same books over and over so I’m always looking for suggestions. I’ll be sure to check these out!

  3. Barbara V Evers
    June 10, 2014

    Tracy, thanks for tagging me. I look forward to answering these questions next week. I can’t wait to read The Foundry Moth. Sounds like a fun read. I’m glad to finally be able to see some of your work.

    • tracycembor
      June 12, 2014

      I can’t wait to read your responses. You are so much more organized than I am, and rocking out at so many awesome conventions too! Dittos on seeing more of you work. ;)

  4. ericjbaker
    June 10, 2014

    That sounds like organized chaos to me. I think it’s cool how you embrace elements of the genre but put your definitive stamp on it and remain focused on the characters.

    • tracycembor
      June 12, 2014

      Organized chaos? You are much more optimistic about my process than I am. I don’t have a fully completed draft of my novel to polish up like you do. xD Glad you’ve been enjoying the little pieces I’ve been posting hither and yon. I want to organize them all into one place and call it a book someday. :P

      • ericjbaker
        June 12, 2014

        I employ the Blitzspaz technique. That is, I go on a spastic writing blitz until I end up with enough words to call it a novel.


  5. mjpullen
    June 11, 2014

    Reblogged this on Front Matter and commented:
    My awesome friend and writer Tracy’s writing process blog. Enjoy!

    • tracycembor
      June 12, 2014

      Thanks for sharing this around. One day I plan to have a book for people to discover too. THE DREAMLESS CITY is still very much a work in progress.

  6. mjpullen
    June 11, 2014

    Terrific post! I totally got my tag’s worth out of you. :)


    • tracycembor
      June 12, 2014

      The thanks should go to all the awesome individuals who have taken their time to follow my blog over the years. They didn’t have to “like” or “follow” me, swing by to check out my blog, or scroll through on their reader apps… but all of these cool kids did!!!

      Here’s a shout out to all the readers who stopped by my website!! YOU GUYS ROCK!!! xD

  7. Pingback: Listen to Your Friends | tracycembor

Comments are closed.

Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

Weekends are reserved for my Music Playlist.

Writers of the Future Honorable Mention

About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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