Dissecting A Diversion

I was ready to start a new chapter, and went back to where I’d stopped yesterday.

Main character was on a zeppelin. I decided I needed to get him there, so I moved back in time. Yeah, my process is very non-linear. I’d written what I saw the day before, and that meant he was on a zeppelin, taking a trip. Now I needed to get the hero and team there. I decided to pick up the action where he first encountered the zeppelin. I began visualizing that moment. The zepp is tall. How tall? How big? To the Google!

Wikipedia was a bitcoin mine about zeppelins. A company had built some and had been giving tours, but folded. The company was based at Moffett Field. Well, shoot, used to live there!

I needed technical information on the zeppelin. How many engines did it have? What’s its payload, crew size, etc. Remembering my time on Moffett, I recalled the U.S.S. Akron. Well, let me search and read.

From the Akron, I went to the Macon, and on through the history of German, British, and U.S. military and civilian zeppelins, designs, and disasters. Nevil Shute helped design R100 and R101 for the British military. A side path was followed to a summary about his autobiography, Slide Rule. Clicks uncovered information about hybrid air vehicles (HAV), dynastats, rotastats,  Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV), the Airlander 10, and the Flying Bum.

This novel is set in a future dystopia so I needed to wrap my head around how HAVs may progress from now to then. Then, what limitations would be encountered, and how they would address those.

Hours had elapsed. I’d taken bathroom breaks, replenished fluids, and stretched and walked around. I hadn’t written, although I’d collected a stack of information as building materials. It was almost four by then, so…well, I needed a break. I’d do a Sudoku, and then write. But, by the time I finished the puzzle fifteen minutes later, well…I went on to my jigsaw puzzle in progress.

And that is how a novel doesn’t get written.

Got my coffee. Time to try to write like crazy, at least one more time.

Annual Week in Review

Yes, it’s Sunday, and time again for my recurring segment, the Annual Week in Review.

In politics, shit storms continue around the world. This week, the POTUS tweeted about Obamagate, an expression never heard or seen until the POTUS’ tweets, leaving everyone baffled about WTF he was talking about.

Arguments abound about whether social-distancing, masking up, and sheltering-in-place are worthwhile. A lot of false information is being spread. Vetting everything takes time.

My 401(k) is down about six percent (fifty-five thousand) but my personal brokerage account stayed up, as I have a big chunk of Costco in it that I bought a decade ago. My wife’s 401(k) is down about twenty-five thousand. All those accounts are investments, and aren’t needed right now, so it’s an annoyance more than anything, for which we’re fortunate. I’ve checked with family to ensure they don’t need any financial help, and have given to some charities.

Personally, I’ve been painting the inside of the house. My wife has always complained that the house is too dark. Three years ago, we painted one bathroom and the guest room with Homestead Resort Parlor Taupe. It looks nothing like taupe to me, but ecru, but, you know, marketing. Pleased with the result after three years of study, we (I’m employing the couple we here) are painting more areas.

That paint color had been discontinued, so getting more of it required having the color analyzed and mixed. It worked, though, thanks to modern technology.

I began with the foyer and progressed through one hallway, usually painting three hours a day. Much of the time was spent taping the baseboards and door jambs (which are both brilliant white) to keep it all neat. (There were seven doors in the foyer and hall, including the front door) As it looks great, two more gallons of paint were ordered on Monday and picked up yesterday (which required a masked visit to Lowe’s, known locally as thunderdome). I’ll be continuing with more rooms.

Besides painting, we acquired more plants.  My wife’s initial efforts with arugula, leaf lettuce, and basil went spectacularly well. I’d already weeded, turned and fertilized the raised beds, so last Saturday, we masked up and headed to our local Grange Co-op for more plants. They were well-organized there, and over ninety percent of the people we encountered were socially respectful and distanced themselves. (Somehow, I expected that from gardeners.)

Three tomato plants (of different varieties), lemon cucumbers, and zucchini were planted in the raised bed, leaving space for us to add more. More lettuce (including our fave, Romaine) was planted in our ‘green beds’ and positioned in the sun on the patio.

I’ve also been doing yard work, trimming the trees and bushes, conducting the annual battle against blackberry brambles, weeding, and cutting the grass.

Haven’t been blogging much, because I’ve been writing a lot. With or without a global pandemic, fiction writing is my escape. I’m having fun writing like crazy each day. I often don’t know WTF I’m doing, other than following the main character’s leads. I often cringe because I don’t know where it’ll all take me, and I’m constantly learning about him. Sometimes he seems like the Hulk to me (without the green skin, and he doesn’t return to being Bruce Banner). His Qiqz addiction informs his thinking and behavior; I’m still understanding Qiqz and his origins.

Meanwhile, other surprising directions include understanding the Plies (who are people who accept a specific role in society) and the egg people (who I’m just starting to explore). Did I mention this is dystopian? Yeah, I’m drawn to dystopian fiction; to me, it offers the same large canvas of mystery and exploration that murder offers crime victims, or love offers romance writers.

I usually write three to four hours a day (although goofing off (to shift into the mood) is included in that time).

My wife cooks dinner for us six out of seven nights. I cook on the other night, and sometimes try to help in the kitchen, depending on what we’re making. I have grilled us plant-based burgers a few times, and grilled chicken for myself (she’s a vegetarian). We’re each responsible for making our own breakfast and lunch. She’s also baked for us a few times.

Exercising has been more challenging. Walking is my primary source of exercise. Before COVID-19 arose in March in our area, I was walking about ten miles a day, with eleven or twelve reached a few times a week.

I now go out walking once or twice a week, going up the southern hills where people are rarely encountered (I have a mask on when I’m doing this), but otherwise run in place in the house, or use the Stairmaster. Inspired by my cats and interested in increasing my pulse each day, I’ll do a few minutes of mad dashes, racing around the house like a crazy cat. I usually pretend that fast zombies are after me or that I’m running football pass routes. Whatever works, right? But I’m only getting about seven and a half miles per day.

I’ve had three beers to date since we began sheltering-in-place nine weeks ago, and no wine or other alcohol. Not a deliberate choice, so much as I’m not interested in drinking.

I do have a cuppa coffee each day, though.

My wife has been Zooming with others. She takes a morning exercise class three times a week and a belly dance class twice a week. She has Zoom tea with friends with one group every other week, does book club once a month with Zoom, and visits with friends catching and giving support to one another via Zoom once a week. Yeah, she’s the social side of our couplehood.

Beyond all that, I kill time. I’m working on another jigsaw puzzle, fifteen hundred pieces, featuring a Corvette. Time is spent on social media and reading blogs. I feed, groom, and play with the cats (and clean their litter box and clean up their gaks), play computer games, read books, and stream television. Streaming is down; we finished “Counterpart”, which I enjoyed, and began “Upload”. I’ve been watching “The Last Kingdom Again”, building back up to the new episodes released this year, and watched the new season of “Bosch”, and a few movies and documentaries. I read a lot of news, though. Of course, I call and chat with Mom and Dad.

We have gone on two shopping expeditions, one day to local stores, and yesterday to Costco and Trader Joe’s. Since we’re over sixty, we could have gone in during the early ‘protected’ hours; we didn’t, because we were advised otherwise. It was bad intel. If we go out again, it will be during the protected time.

Oh, yes, and we voted, by mail. By mail is the Oregon standard; it is the only way that it’s done.

That’s all from my niche of existence. I know this all sounds pretty self-congratulatory. We are damn lucky, in multiple ways that I often take for granted. Hope you’re all doing well out there in cyberland. Stay well.

That is all.

The Typist

I sit down to write each day with little idea of what’s going to happen. This terrifies me.

Then I read a sentence or two of what I’ve written the day before, sometimes a little more, and the story takes off. In the space of ninety minutes to two hours, I’ll add two to three thousand more words, then stop and edit a little. Few changes are required; the story is coming to me so fully complete, I’m just the typist.

I know where and how the story started and where it’s supposed to be going. I lack all clues about how to get it there. I just followed the muses. They’ve presented this character that I don’t understand. He’s erratic. I know the reasons he’s erratic, as more of his backstory comes to me after I’ve written about him. After I write, I walk away and think, why did he do that? What’s wrong with him? He’s so inconsistent, I worry about it; I want to fix that, and make him consistent. But I suspect that if I attempt to fix him, he’ll just stop and the muses will walk away.

So…I let it ride, accepting my role as typist. The story sometimes entertains me, but more often baffles me. I’m writing mostly to see what happens next.

It’s a weird, odd role, being the typist. I know some writers insist that what I’m describing is complete bullshit, muses and characters don’t just take over.

Yeah, but here I am, with my coffee, about to do it again. It really is writing like crazy. It’s gotten me to seventy-seven pages so far. Guess I’ll just hang on and try to enjoy the ride.

Onward.

Oh, the Hangover

Bit groggy this morning. The muses paid me a no-notice last night. Yeah, bit of a work out.

I’d been workin’ on something yesterday. Testing the waters, feeling the characters, hunting the story. Nothing really working, though. Interruptions, life, etc. Miss the old routine, and not very good at pivoting, it appears. Yeah, working on it, working on it.

Went to close up the doc last night, elevenish. Sat down to read what I’d written. The muses clambered in in their size fifteens, giving directions. This happened. Here’s the concepts. Story arcs. Main character. Yeah, this is good, this is fun, work with this.

Next thing I know, the numbers have moved into the next day. Twelve forty-seven has arrived. I’m cold, my ass is asleep from sitting in a chair, and my body wants to join my ass in sleep.

Good night of writing like crazy, even it it was without a walk and coffee, even if it left me feelin’ groggy this morning cuz I ended up not getting enough sleep. ‘Cause, yeah, it was twelve forty-seven, but, you know, I had to take my time saying good night to the muses.

Hope they come back today. Feel ready for more writing like crazy. Cheers

Thundering In

They thundered in on loud, glittering machines (Harley motorcyles), ostentatious in their efforts to be cool and tough, shattering me with their numbers and volume.

It was the muses, awakened, returned, and energetic.

Six thirty AM, I’d just finished reviewing my dreams and wasn’t ready to get out of bed. I’d stayed up late watching “Ozark” on Netflix. A cat (Tucker, black and white, long-furred) was nestled against me, warm and purring. Yeah, no need to get up.

I began going through my manuscript in my head. I’d finished reading it. It was okay. Satisfactory.

Yeah, satisfactory and okay weren’t what I was looking for, damn it.

So the muses began riding around, revving their engines and hurling ideas at me. Do this, write this, what about this?

No, that’d be a much different book and not the one that this book is. Ah, but what about doing this? Hmmm…that makes sense. It’s attractive. Appealing.

Time to write (well, edit) like crazy, one more time.

But first, I really need coffee.

The Corner of Concentration

I was just settling into place, unpacking my laptop and stuff at the coffee shop corner community table. (Saint Seata had rewarded me again — thank you, Saint Seata. Now, if the muses will cooperate (yeah, they’re even required when editing and revising.)

A young woman approached. “Are you expecting someone else or saving these seats?”

“No, join me.” I indicate the rest of the table.

“Thank you. I like working at this table.” She’s unpacking her computer as she speaks. “I get a lot of work done here and it has a plug.”

Yeah, people call it a plug, but it’s an outlet, innit? Whatever; she’s young. I reply, “Yes, I notice that people who work in this corner tend to be focused. I call it the corner of concentration.”

“The corner of concentration, I like that,” she says with laughter. “You have a good vibe. I like it.” Before I can do anything more than smile, she says, “I’m a writer.”

“What are you writing?” I ask.

“A cookbook.”

“Oh, cool.”

“It’s for women and will have recipes for women to help them manage their energy for different situations.”

“Sounds like an interesting idea. Good luck.”

“Thanks. What’re you doing in the corner of concentration?”

“I’m a writer, too.”

“Oh, what do you write?”

“I’m working on a novel.”

“Is it fiction?”

Isn’t a novel by definition a work of fiction, I don’t say, because I’m non-confrontational and I don’t want to spoil my good vibe. “Yes.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s a speculative novel about life and memories.”

“Interesting. I think I want to write a novel someday.”

She goes off to get her coffee. I sit down, take my first sip, and settle in.

Time to write like crazy, one more time.

A Storm of Words

A storm of words struck. Three thousand, thirty-one hundred more were added when I’d finished after typing and revising, but that was it. The muses said, “It’s done. Type, the end.”

Really? It’s done?

Well, no. Writers know that more remains after typing the end on a draft. Like having a baby, delivery is just another step in the process. There’s the afterbirth and then, life.

(And yeah, writing a novel isn’t as painful as childbirth. I know it’s a weak simile. The point isn’t about pain, but process.)

There’s uncertainty, finishing a novel, for me. Officially, this is the fourth draft. Unofficially, many parts of it were written multiple times, worked and reworked, trying to mold it into something that follows the three c’s: comprehensible, compelling, and coherent. I don’t know if I succeeded. I’m flush with the emptiness of finishing and the uncertainty of what I’ve finished. I’ll need to re-work all of this tomorrow that was done today; that’s my practice. Then I’ll go back to the start and begin again, reading, reviewing, revising, looking for holes, confusion, and weaknesses. Many likely abound.

I like the characters. They’ve been good to me. I’ll miss them, if this is done. I’ll miss their voices saying, “And then I say this and think that and did this, and then that happened to me.”

Looking back on a couple posts that I wrote about the process, it’s fun to note how cracking some aspect of it seemed more satisfying than finishing writing it. It sort of makes sense, as writing a novel, for me, is a puzzle to be solved. Working on it is the challenge. Finishing it means that the challenge is done.

As always, writing a novel has been an entertaining experience. I want others to read and enjoy it. I want it to challenge their thinking as it challenged mine, and to provide them an escape as it has provided me. That’s a whole other process, getting it out there where others can enjoy it. That’s a more daunting challenge.

Final counts. Time – started November 1st, 2019, finished March 1st, 2020. Wrote almost every day, as I was forced to take time off for holidays and illness. One hundred eighteen thousand words, three hundred ninety pages, and uncounted hours of thought.

Yes, and final working title (who knows if it’ll hold?): Other Moments, Different Times, a speculative novel about life and memory, with science fiction nuances.

The coffee cup is empty but the coffee shop has become noisy with socializing and music. It’s cold outside, despite the sunshine, but it’s time to walk and reflect, time to stop another day of writing like crazy, at least one more time.

Tension

Have found a better working title that I’m using on the novel in progress. It pleases me and hopefully fits. I’ve checked, and it’s available.

Meanwhile, I deleted a large chunk of previously written chapters, including the original ending. That ending no longer fit as first, my understanding of the concept evolved, and then my understanding of the characters and the story expanded.

Looking back, I see how involved I became in understanding the concept during the first draft. Understanding it consumed me to the detriment of the story. The characters evolved, but the story stalled.

In the second draft, I attempted multiple ways to clarify and sharpen the story. First was to expand some roles. When that didn’t work, I took all of that away. That worked better. Encouraged, I chopped more of that aspect away. That completely worked. The story came into much sharper focus.

I invested a great deal of thinking about the story and tehe concept at that point, and came to realize that what I’d learned from the concept was being misapplied in the story. In other words, the story wasn’t about what I originally thought.

Encouraged again, I kept on, but had to keep reminding myself of what the story was about vice what the concept was about. That caused a certain duality of thought and approach.

Fortunately, when I entered into a character’s skin and wrote in their voice, they had a deeper understanding of how the story was to advance versus what the concept is about.

As I’ve entered writing the final chapters, I’ve needed to draw up to think deeply about how it all ties together. Then I began writing at a furious gallop. Because this is the climax of so many story lines and arcs, it all began hugely tense. Typing in deep concentration, I had to stop and rock (and, weirdly, wring my hands together), or get up and walk around to release tension, or stop, close my eyes, and breath deeply. I found I could rarely type in more than ten minute bursts. The bursts left me feeling exhausted, forcing me to pause, regroup, and then press on. Meanwhile, my muscles and nerves strum with tension.

Closed to finishing then? Doubtful. I’ll get this raw stuff out of me. Then the holes will leap up, along with continuity and logic issues. Once they’re fixed, there will probably be pacing matters to attend.

In many ways, this final process reminds me of practicing and practicing, preparing for something. Then, finally, the moment arrives when it’s time to put the practice aside, take the stage, and make it happen. Writing this final piece of novel has that same sort of butterflies as acting (did that in high school plays), making a speech, playing in a big sports game, or making a major presentation. The tension just feels immense.

I don’t have all the answers. A lot of work remains. Days sometimes feel fantastic and exciting; other times, I despair. Many times, I’m reminded of the loneliness of this fiction writing business. It’s like being in a dinghy out on the vast ocean.

But overall, yeah, there’s exciting progress.

Butt is sore from sitting (yes, I have writer’s butt, once again), and the coffee is gone. Time to stop writing like crazy, tear myself out of that state of mind, and go back into the world and fulfill life’s mundane expectations.

Onward.

Three Months

It’s taken me three months to figure out this story.

Three months, four hundred manuscript pages, and one hundred fifty thousand damn words.

Now I think I have a handle on it. Of course that excites me.

(I also pause to think about the writing process and volume. Is four hundred pages and one hundred K words normal or standard? Is there such a thing? I started on 1 November last year, and here I am, a few days after 1 Feb of the next year (with time off for illness, holidays and good behavior). It’s odd, because it doesn’t seem like I’ve been doing much writing, just a few hours each day of vacuous sitting at the keyboard, but here I am.)

It’s the novel-writing rhythm, innit? Think, burst into flame with the brilliance of a new idea (or insight, aspect, whatev), jump to the medium (notebook and pen, notebook ‘puter, laptop, crayons on construction paper, again, whatever), and write with excitement and intensity until you flounder like a man on the can without any toilet paper (yeah, oh, no). Then think long, hard, and deeply (often while sipping tea or coffee) (or taking walks or doing dishes) until boom, the mini-process begins afresh.

In this case, I had a handle on eight of the ten main characters (after wrestling with one and getting thrown to the mat by them several times), but the other two continued vexing me. Those damn muses — that’s right, I cursed them, I’m not afraid of no muse — weren’t helping. (They seemed, in fact, to be hiding and not answering their phones.)

But once again, after editing and revising (and deeply pondering the distant mountains while draining the last dregs of cold coffee, and watching people walking by, people who seemed happier and more carefree than me) (well, some of them did) (like, that guy doesn’t, and that one), and then walking, driving, shopping, sleeping, reading, and thinking, thinking, thinking, when I took up the writing again, aha, there it is. 

Joy! Eureka! Etc. Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t writing fun?

I did my thing and did my writing, revising, writing, editing, etc., and it all seemed so terrific. I still don’t have it all fully figured out, and proceed cautiously (and hopefully). (But then again, that’s today.) But, yeah, good day of writing like crazy.

Time to turn it off and do something else before it makes me crazy, ya’ know?

 

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