Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Write Saturday

I don't remember the last time I spent nearly a whole day writing. Well, actually, it was a bit of editing and writing. I'm working on The Long Summer Run and I haven't worked on it in so long that I had to start reading from the beginning just to get my bearings.

I had actually started writing where I left off. I had a couple of what-if questions come up when I was thinking about who could have done the deed and why. I thought I knew but wasn't happy with it. In fact, I came up with two suspects additional suspects with a totally different motive. Bonus! But I realized that I would have to go back and write some sections over to build toward that end.

That's when I started reading from the beginning. I'm about 1/3 through and I'm only trying to find where and how to add what I need to add. I've also found some things that needed fixing and some sections that probably will have to be removed.

I really hate editing and I wanted to wait but the new solution has made it necessary. Still, I've actually realized that a story I originally didn't like at all is actually a fairly good story. I've laughed at some of my own scenes and that usually doesn't happen.

If I can keep the momentum, I could conceivably have a completed draft by the end of September. Wow.

But I won't jinx it. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing. If I can keep my brain working.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Black Box

They say that writers should read a lot. I've always been a prolific reader until the brain fog of fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis slowed me down. My current neck problems of severe pain when my head is in certain positions make it even harder to read now. Still, I usually have several books going at once.

Sanford Quest
Project Gutenberg
Lately I've been reading books from the Project Gutenberg. There's a lot of free ebooks there and I like reading some of the old mysteries from the early 20th century for fun. Sometime you stumble on a really good book and others... not so much.

Today, I'm about halfway through The Black Box, by E. Phillips Oppenheim, written in 1915. When I started it I didn't expect much. I just wanted something simple to read that would entertain me. I'm about halfway through it at the moment and I'm about ready to chuck it. I've read old novels in the past but nothing by Mr. Oppenheim. I can't say I'll read anything else by him but to be fair, this is quite an educational experience.

Let me say first, it is long and seems to get longer but it is easy to read. This particular story is about a criminologist named, rather appropriately, Sanford Quest. He solves crimes. He has an assistant, Laura, and during the course of the first few chapters, gets a second assistant, Lenora, who was involved with a criminal and was initially suspected as a criminal herself. Of course, Mr. Quest just knew she wasn't and since he seems to have a fondness for her, he keeps her as the new assistant.

There are a lot of amazing inventions in this thing. Mr. Quest has a "wireless", which most of you may know was an early type of two-way radio. However, his wireless also has a pocket version and live video capability by means of mirrors. Amazing stuff. And just a bit silly. Well, I am reading from the future and Mr. Oppenheim, while his novel invention is mildly interesting, such technology was only fantasy at that time. He writes about it as if it were quite mystical, and he carries it around in his pocket. Despite it being his own invention, Mr. Quest has supplied the local police with this invention so he can contact them at a moments notice, as well as his assistants.

The story is filled with what was probably excitement in 1915 but which today sounds pretty goofy. Criminals who repeatedly escape, mysterious hands that appear to people and leave things, hidden compartments, cupboards, and alcoves, hidden stairs and tunnels. Mr. Quest is able to break out of jail simply by having his assistant come visit, exchange clothes with him and take his place. Oh... did I mention he can also hypnotize anyone? This comes in handy in his escape as the guard must be hypnotized to allow him escape. Of course, Mr. Quest is then pursued but he manages to get the proof to prove his innocence... but the real criminal still eludes capture.

The criminals seem to be quite adept at this. They escape on their way to jail, from locked garages, when they are surrounded, and other assorted traps. They travel all over New York, managed to get passage to England, where they escape Scotland Yard, travel to a desert country, then to the American west. I haven't got quite there yet. I'm not sure I'll make it. I'm rather exhausted from all this globetrotting.

Let me finish by saying that it was a simpler time. People were far less well traveled and the average reader had little to no scientific knowledge. The criminal element was dealt with quickly and rather summarily. So, I can see the appeal for a very naive population at the turn of the century. Intelligent they may have been but they were lacking all the advances yet to come that would turn society on its head. World war, with all it's advances in medicine and technology was still ahead. They were not exposed yet to the excessive violent criminal element waiting in the wings just a few decades away that would bring criminal activity to the front pages of papers around the world. The horrors of radical islam were no where to be found.

So, campy, corney, goofy.. yes it is and it probably reflects the average male reading material since Mr. O made a fortune writing the stuff. I don't see very many woman of this time reading it but I must say, despite a sexist remarks, Mr. O's heroins are a much more independent than one would expect from this era. They run around doing investigations and operating wireless technology and honestly, they're not swooning all over. Of course, if you read a couple of his online bios you'll see that rumor has it he was quite the ladies man anyway. I suspect he was attracted to the type.

Do I recommend this? As research only. Unless you like this kind of thing. I can't say it hasn't been fun or interesting, but only from an academic perspective.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Hero's Journey From Muddles to Middles

You know those times when you've fiddled with your story so long that you've given up on it, several times, only to keep going back to it with the idea that there's still something there? You spend hours thinking about the problem, lying in bed chewing on the sheets while the story turns in your head like a kaleidoscope constantly changing shape. You look at it from every angle, always thinking the next turn will be perfect. You know what I'm talking about.

I've been doing that with one of my stories for ....well, let's just say a long time. I've gone over my notes, have written over 80K words in Scrivener, and have hashed it out with several friends who're very good at helping me unravel knotty problems. All to no avail. Dream Stealer... Simon Lancaster... MC extraordinaire, has been a pain in the neck from the beginning. He didn't shut up for a couple of years before going into stealth mode, where he remained quiet for another year before coming out once more, demanding attention. The only thing I can say in his defense is that when I've been really sick, he's kept his mouth shut. It would have been nice had he offered to do some cleaning but there you are.

After I retired earlier this month I promised myself I was going to do nothing that required a lot of mental calisthenics for several weeks. The first week I was away and sick most of that time. Since my return I've spent a lot of time trying to recover and relax, mostly reading and posting blogs and on Netflix watching Poirot, Numbers, and a couple of other mystery shows. My only thought was to let my body heal and to get my mental and emotional state to calm down after all the stress the last several years. Only over the last week have I begun to get my some of my brain back. It's a nice feeling, having your brain, even small portions. There are side effects.

Simon has shown up again. He was dressed nice, I must say. Spoke very prettily and said all the right things. Except what I needed him to say. We argued over this. Again. Several times. I'm very frustrated and ready to just toss this in the box with all the others. Never have I had such an insufferable character.

Last weekend we had our local writer's meeting at the Mall Cafe Court. One of my friends, Amanda Niehaus-Hard was listening to me discuss this story problem. She offered advice. "You've got a plot problem." I agreed. She told me about what she'd done when she has a similar problem. She suggested the book 21 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias and a couple of exercise I should try. I actually own that book so that's no problem. She wrote the exercise down. Then, with her lovely smile she said, "You're going to have to figure it out. The characters are not going to tell you." She's so nice, really. And our group is very proud of her because she just sold two short stories. So, with that thought in mind, I took her observation and advice seriously.

I decided it was time to do some review work. So, I pulled the Tobias' book from my bookshelf but I also remembered one that I wanted to read by James Scott Bell, that also dealt with plot. I've read a couple of Bell's books and liked them. The one I had my eye on was Plot and Structure. My local library has it so I checked it out.

Today, I started reading it and taking notes. Amanda had written Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. In the first two chapters of Bell's book he has something very similar. He calls it the LOCK method. The letters stand for Lead, Objective, Confrontation, and Knockout.  After reading it, I began to get a clearer idea of what Amanda told me on Saturday.

In the second chapter, Bell discusses the three act structure and the mythic structure. I've read about the mythic structure. There is a book called The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell that details this. I've never read that book but I've read numerous writing books that discuss it in various ways. Today, reading Bell's view of it, something clicked. I remembered some notes I ran across when I was straightening up a few weeks ago. It was in a small notebook I used to carry around. There were only a dozen or so pages used and some were notes about the back-story for  Dream Stealer. I sat down and read over them again.

Until now, the problem was that I had a beginning and an ending. The middle was, as Bell said, a muddle. I had a vague idea of what the objective was but it just wouldn't come together. We're often resistant to change where our stories are concerned and this story had blossomed in my brain long ago and had continued to grown in a far different direction than I had originally intended. At least, I thought so. Despite all my searching, racking my brain, moving the pieces around to get a new view of it, I couldn't find the central motivation for Simon doing what he was doing. I tried demanding Simon divulge his secrets and well, he can be difficult. As Amanda said, he wasn't going to tell me.

I took the mythic structure laid out by Bell and walked myself through Dream Stealer step by step. Then, in the middle of the muddle, something jumped out at me. It was a single line of notes in that little book. It was a note about part of the back story I'd written long, long ago. One sentence. And, mon ami, the little grey cells, they exploded.

My living room reverberated with my shout. "YES! YES! THAT'S IT! THAT'S IT!" I threw my hands up, clutched my head. I got up and paced around and started talking out loud. I live alone. Who will care? I went over and over it. And it fit. It fit perfectly. Well, as near as I can tell. I think it will work.

And wonder of wonders, Simon is sitting across the room, watching.

I glared. You know, you could have just told me.

"I did. A long time ago. It was in your notes."

I can't believe it was there all the time!

Oh, I can.

Some things are better left unsaid.

You do know that it means rewriting some bits."

Yes, yes, I know but not that many. I think I can make them work.

"You may have to eliminate some POVs."

"Yes, yes. I know but that's not a bad thing. Believe me, one voice, even if it is yours, is easier to deal with than four."

"Ah. So, you're going to kill someone?"

Don't tempt me.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Paving Stones

I retired from my job Friday and already I'm getting notices from my friends saying that now I have no excuse for not getting one of my stories finished. While it is true that my job is no longer an issue, I don't think I've had very good excuses before for not writing. I always feel I'm being cheated of something important when I can't work on the novels and short stories I've got in piles on my computer. You would think I'd do something about that. Pain is a great leveler.

I do blog a lot, quite regularly in fact. Virtually every day I'm posting something on one of multiple blogs.  Each one has a different function but that wasn't always the case. Blogging, for me, is and has always been to relieve my stress and get all the stuff that is chaotic inside me outside. That's actually not blogging, it is journaling and although it is cathartic for me, I'm pretty certain that the public is not interested in my therapy.

I set this blog up to ensure I spent some time focusing on THE WRITING and to keep those posts from my therapy in the journal. One hopes, with the elimination of one source of stress, that there will be fewer depressing journal posts and more positive writing ones. It would be really nice if there were more actual writing on stories and about my processes and less about the the negative aspects of pain.

The first thing I have to do is start planning my days to include real writing rather than blogging. I have to organize what blogging I do so it has a bit more focus and is more pertinent. That's my intention. Most good intentions end up as paving stones on the path to a cook out where we're the main course.

Monday I'll be on the road to Arkansas to pick up my granddaughter and visit my son. I'll return on Friday. There is limited internet (think none) at his house. So, I should be able to sit down and do some real writing. Maybe by the time I get back, the routine will be set up and I'll have no problem sticking to it. Right?

Hand me the next paving stone, please.

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