There’s actually a lot that went on behind the scenes of “Virga Mysteries”, featuring university witch Melissa Virga. Not so much in breadth, but in depth, as far as the writing goes.
So to fully wrap up the Virga Mysteries saga, I thought I’d do one more post about how it all came together. Note: There are spoilers for some plot points. Enjoy!
The story started in 2003, when I was getting my teaching degree. I wrote the introduction paragraphs (James arriving at the apartment) in January (later revised in June). At the time, I was actually doing a lot of moving myself, because my degree was from a University out of Kingston (where I stayed in two places, neither of them residence) but my practicum was in Ottawa.
I had the first story done by May, so after graduation. I’d basically had the idea of an imaginary friend come to life, and wanted an eccentric female detective to deal with it. Sherlock Holmes was likely an influence.
The characters were revisited a year later, in June 2004, when I was in the midst of some confusion surrounding my relationships. That’s why the second story has a romantic undercurrent in it, along with the technological aspect. (The initial note for the story simply states “computer site, evil script”.)
I feel like the writing helped me work through some things. I subsequently changed elements after the first draft, and then modified things even more before putting that second case online here.
I must have been treating the story more seriously then too – I actually had some text files of latin phrases for use in 2004. And a vague third story idea, “Love of a Star”… that never materialized. Instead, the third (and last) case came about in 2008, after a four year gap.
It was my grandmother’s death that prompted me to mess around with what actually became that third story, “Borderline”. I don’t remember if it was a conscious or unconscious decision to bring back Melissa, so that I could work through some personal issues.
I was quite close to my grandmother, and incidentally was pleased she was able to meet my soon-to-be wife before she passed on.
Since this time the afterlife issues were of impact only to me (unlike the second case with relationships) there was less overall editing. In fact, the story was unfinished (lacking concluding paragraphs) until 2010 (when I did the extra edits to that second story). That’s when I decided it would be a trilogy and called it there.
I hadn’t really had any plans to put it online, but I hadn’t had any plans to not do it either. Which could be said of much of my writing.
The characters returned for a JulNoWriMo in 2012. I’d been aware of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) since the mid 2000s, but school is very busy that month, with report cards on top of everything else. So I never participated.
July, by comparison? Relatively quiet. So when I saw the JulNo tag somewhere in June, I decided to try for 50k. But what to write? Well, why not a new Melissa story, incorporating as many weird supernatural things as I could? Including callbacks to the original cases.
Since this was going to be novel-length, I decided it had to be at a pivotal time for the characters, hence James’ graduation years later. I did my own personal tracking (they have websites for this now), reaching 10k on July 6th, 20k on July 17th, 30k on July 21st, and 40k on July 25th.
There were a couple of 0 word days in there (when I NaNo now, I try to avoid this, always having at least something new in the document) including on July 29th. But on the 30th I powered through with almost 4k words to get 50,085. (It wasn’t even the highest day, I had two previously where I exceeded 4k.)
I then wrote the conclusion on July 31st (including Trixie’s “Post Epilogue Thing”) to get 51,382 words in total. This was spread over two files: Events up to the end of Amy’s part, and from Melissa’s parents onwards.
For the record, my writing style tends to be having a particular goal in mind (in this case, Melissa’s ascension) with smaller arcs created along the way. I find I can’t write the goal first, because I’m not sure what the mood or reactions of the characters will be at that time… it will depend on whatever comes before.
So that’s why there was that big time skip after the bit with Melissa’s parents. I realized I was approaching 50k, and so decided I’d fast forwards and wrap up the faction stuff rather than draw things out even longer with cases (which I probably could have done).
I feel like it still made narrative sense, but maybe that’s me?
Once done, I figured the story would need edits… but maybe not too many, since James wouldn’t get to edit this story to match with the plot, right? And Trixie self-described herself as no good at it. 😉
I started running the cases here in January of 2018, having previously considered running them once I got through Time & Tied. (Something needed to fill the void.) That’s why I pulled all the files into their own directory in May 2017, and why I had art of Melissa (see above) commissioned at Anime North 2017 later that month.
The initial cases were easy enough to separate into four parts/acts each, as I’d written all cases to be roughly the same length. I mostly did final edits as I went along, usually in the days right before posting.
“Balancing Act”, which began its run on this blog in late January of 2019, required rather more effort.
I initially split the story into Four Acts (as I had the previous cases). I did edits on Act 1 as posting began. By March 2019, I realized that the second act was going to be 8 parts, more than the initial 6 parts of Act 1.
It had made sense to put the split in when Amy fell asleep, separating by event, rather than by length. But I wasn’t sure I liked that, and suspected similar issues would come up with the remaining two acts.
It was after March Break (with my wife and daughter still in France) that I revised “Balancing Act” to Six Acts. But they still weren’t equal size, the third act was only two parts (splintered off of Act Two) and the fourth was four parts.
Tweaking occurred, putting the last (now sixth) part of Act Two into Act Three as well, giving part lengths of 6-5-3-4-??. By the end of March, I’d even decided to go with 6-5-5-???, splitting Act 3 in the middle of the dinner with Melissa’s parents. Perhaps a bit awkward, but I think it worked?
By early April I had edited things as far as June. I don’t upload right away in such cases, to give me time for a final pass, but that seemed to create a lot of inertia. Act Five took a lot longer to mess around with, editing-wise. I blame parenting, and so forth.
It wasn’t until near the end of JULY that I got Act Five done. Seriously, I look at my edited files and there’s a jump from “Mar 21” (Act 4c) to “Jul 22” (Act 4d, possibly just a renumbering).
In the interim, I got an art of Trixie in May at Anime North 2019, just so that it wouldn’t be Melissa all the time as the image for the posts.
In terms of actual posting, we were at 3C by July 28th, marking what might have been the “end” of an act, given the initial four-act plan. (You might notice a bit of a “finishing” vibe there.) Except it wasn’t, because of how I’d extended Act Three to five parts.
Around this same time, I was completing the equivalent of an entirely new part (to fill in the time skip gap a little better). That’s when I realized the parts could be 6-5-5-5-?? and most of the acts would become five parts.
This new work in late July, by the way, also let me flesh out Trixie’s backstory a little more. A process I’d started earlier, as in the initial writing, she had been interested in bothering Melissa by trying to hook up with James.
I nixed that early on. (Hello past me, we really don’t need two women with a thing for the narrator.) It morphed into more of her annoying Melissa in other ways, and not taking relationships seriously.
So the discussion between Trixie and James (in 4D) after their dinner (and just before the time skip) was all new – originally just a two paragraph summary.
I frankly like Trixie much better this way. The original writing had her drop her interest in James after the illusion spell making her look like Melissa went nowhere (the bit with Zamboni). This now morphed into her questioning her desire for a perfect relationship (as a counterpoint to Zamboni).
I’m still not sure if it works, but it definitely works better than what was there before.
At any rate, to keep the 5-part structure, I decided to put the Wrap-Up of the Zombies in the start of Act Six (as 6a)… and it just so worked out that Trixie’s addendum in Act Six worked well as it’s own part, extending what would otherwise have been another five part pattern.
Meaning an overall structure of six acts, the parts being 6-5-5,5-5-6. Almost like I planned it from the start, or something.
I do like how it kind of foreshadows Trixie’s extra “Post Epilogue”, if you remember that Act One seemed to have that extra part to it.
The entire editing process was done on Tuesday, July 30th. There were some minor updates in October 2019 as I uploaded to the blog, and again in mid to late February 2020. I had toyed with the idea of splitting “Balancing Act” into two (a bit like I did with Time & Tied’s four books), but September 2019 promised to be busy, so I nixed that.
This post was written the week of April 20th, after spending the previous week on the Epsilon Summaries, and there you have it.
Did the process go at all like you thought it did? Do you have any thoughts about the characters, either the three mains (including Trixie) or the individuals? What about bringing back information from the other case files, bad plan? I’d be interested in your thoughts, as always.
If you liked the story, perhaps vote for it at TopWebFiction, so more people see it? (By clicking on that link?) It took a while to clear their queue, and then I never remembered to suggest that link until now. My marketing fu is weak.
Next week, we’ll see how Story 6 of “Epsilon” goes. You still have about a day to vote, if you want input on the genre and characters. Thanks for reading!