Progress on the Maple Valley Short Line

My last model railroading post was in September. I was elbows-deep in plaster powder and working hard to move my layout project toward some kind of coherency. Now, after almost 80 pounds of plaster, trials and failures with various mixtures of acrylic paint, I am really pleased with the Maple Valley Short Line. It’s almost time to begin laying track.

Placing and painting the plaster rocks I made using Woodland Scenics molds was a challenge. I watched several videos for inspiration but it finally came down to just doing it. I immediately discovered how quickly liquid plaster hardens when it contacts the plaster rocks. I took a few missteps before getting it right.

I decided exactly where the rocks, large and small, were going to go before I mixed plaster. I had all my tools close by, paper towels handy, then prepared the plaster. After attaching the rocks to the plaster surface I let them dry completely before starting the process of filling the spaces behind the rocks and blending with the surrounding area.

I was again faced with preparing exactly the right consistency of plaster to allow for working with it before it solidified. The best option for me was to mix only enough plaster to work on a couple of rocks then starting over again. Using painting tools I worked the plaster into the background until I was pleased with the appearance.

Some modelers paint rocks before placing them into the layout. I decided to fasten the rocks and then paint. It was much easier to blend the rocks into the surrounding area by painting last. If I made a mistake, it was easy to mix up a little more plaster and do a repair. My paper-towel-plaster-saturated-squares worked nicely for creating a realistic-looking rocky background.

Applying plaster to the insides of my short tunnels, three of them, was another learning experience. I scooped up some plaster in my hand and reached into the tunnel, smearing the mix on the walls and roof. After each application I waited a few minutes before inspecting to see whether I needed more. When the inside was finished, I applied the plaster portals to the tunnel face then painted the inside with a gray wash.

I was faced with the task of painting the pink extruded foam base of the layout, which meant deciding on the perfect color. I chose a sandy-dirt color which I bought at Home Depot. Just a quart was plenty for covering the entire exposed pink foam. The flat paint mixture resulted in a pleasing base color for applying ground cover during the scenery process. I used some grass-dirt-foliage remains from a previous layout to begin spreading over the wet paint.

When the plastering was finished, it was time to begin painting. I started with a yellow wash using a quart-size dollop of acrylic mixed with water. I sloppily covered the rocks and surroundings. I then applied light tan, using the same mixture ratio. I splashed the paint on, not trying to completely cover the yellow but just enough to let some show through. I allowed the yellow and tan to try.

I then applied a mixture of grey, blue, a drop of black, brown, and green, diluted well, to the area. I allowed the paint to flow down the rock face, again without trying to cover it. I dabbed the paint mixture here and there until I was satisfied with the result.

I spent a couple months trying to decide how to seat my scratch-built trestle on the river bed. I considered several possibilities and decided none would work well. I finally realized the best option was to do as real bridge builders do, go down to bedrock. I positioned the trestle, marked the river bed, then cut out the plaster and foam all the way to the plywood base. I then replaced the trestle and used basswood pieces to build up the foundation to the bottom of the bridge pilings.

Obviously, the most important point about placing a trestle is that the bridge deck is perfectly level with the approaching cork roadbed. To accomplish it, I used two small modeling clamps to attach a twenty-four inch piece of yardstick to the bridge deck and laid it on the roadbed approaches to the river.

My bridge near the town of Maple Valley wasn’t as difficult to deal with. It’s a deck supported by three wood structures so leveling everything was much easier. Preparing the area under the bridge with some ground cover and weeds before gluing it in place makes the scenery task a snap.

It’s time now to begin placing turnouts and thinking about wiring. I use DC cabs and have depended on common-rail for past layouts. For the Maple Valley Short Line I’m going to run buss feeds for the entire layout. I have scratch-built signals for blocks I will wire with Atlas Relays. I’m going to use a separate power source for all accessories. I am also going to use a separate cab to operate trains on the various spurs including the line running to Maple Valley.

I have been working on my layout over two years but recently I’ve been making exciting progress. I like to have several projects going at the same time and this year has been no exception. When I work on my layout, I have quiet jazz playing on my phone, a hot cup of coffee within reach, and try not to get distracted.

Believe it or not, laying flex-track is easy compared to everything I’ve already done. This is the most detailed layout I have ever built. The biggest challenge remaining is painting the backdrop. The paper visible in some of the photos is just to protect the white walls from plaster and paint splash. I was going to use a paintable material on the wall as a canvass but my daughter, who is an art teacher and accomplished artist, recommends painting directly on the wall. She has even volunteered to paint the backdrop for me. I might want to do it myself. We’ll see.

A Weird Thing Happened on the Way to Publishing a Novel

My middle grade novel, Smivey Stepward, is a coming-of-age, first love, mystery, ghost story with an unexpected twist at the end I really love.

The start and stop process I used while seeking a literary agent to represent my work to publishers obviously didn’t work. Obvious, because start and stop never works with anything. The only way things happen is through perseverance. Someone said, “If one tooteth not his own horn, the same doth not get tooted.” Wise.

Early on, a question from agents I kept seeing was, “What is your social media presence?” I didn’t have a social media presence.

I immediately began working on my new project. Trying, very uncomfortably, to create a social media presence that went beyond clicking on Facebook once in a while, wondering what Twitter was, and marveling at my kids’ Instagram pictures. The problem is I spent two years working on all this and completely stopped pursuing representation.

Now you know why I haven’t written any blog posts for over a month.

Writing a synopsis of a fifty-seven thousand word novel is excruciating. It involves summarizing every chapter in a paragraph, all twenty-two of them. Then condensing the paragraphs, weeding, editing, shortening, clipping, editing some more, crossing off, rethinking, changing my mind, and finally, looking online for advice on how to write a good synopsis and discovering mine was crap. Rewrite.

Query letters are almost as painful as synopses but not quite. A query letter has to have a killer hook, just enough information, and not sound like the back flap blurb all books have.

When everything is ready, it’s time to research which agents who rep middle grade novels are accepting submissions. That doesn’t mean creating a list and sending out a huge stack of the same things to everyone. Ohhh, no. Some agents want a query letter, synopsis, and ten pages. Some want three chapters, some two. Some want just a query letter and one chapter. All use some form of email, no one is using snail-mail anymore. They make it very clear paper submissions will quickly find their place in the trash.

Some agents use a platform called, “Query Manager” which is an online submission form and those are not all the same, either. Some ask for a biography, a pitch, a target audience, and one required the name of an actor who would play the main character if the novel became a movie.

Then the wait, and the inevitable “thank-you but no thank-you” replies.

It definitely is worth the work. Having a finished novel I’m very proud of and being able to present it to the publishing world is an exciting experience.

So there you have it. I haven’t disappeared. I didn’t stop writing. In fact, I’m writing more. Just not blog posts right now. I’m writing to agents, many of them, asking them to represent me in my quest for a publisher who will release Smivey Stepward to a waiting world.