Summit

Four writing projects—that’s all I’ve ever finished. Self-imposed major projects with self-imposed deadlines for the sake of the right to call myself A WRITER.  The fourth being my first attempt at a novel. I finished.

In all honesty, I finished the major points of the story necessary to build the novel I had in mind. There are still line edits, plot polishing, and lord only knows what else to be done to actually make it THE NOVEL (it’s away with first readers right now). But the point in all this is to say, I finished what I set out to do. I am done with a lowercase d in a satisfactory amount of time. Not by the first self-imposed deadline, but within a time frame that I can live with.

If it sounds like I’m giving myself a lot of leeway here, it’s because I am. This is my eleventh draft of a story whose main character whispered her name to me 9 1/2 years ago. My first earnest attempt to turn a three-segment short story into a book started four years ago almost to this day. But frustrations pushed it back in a drawer. If I were to list those frustrations in a single post, I’d sound like a crazy person. So, I’ll spare us all that for now.

The image of that mountain with all the blue mist and mystery was taken by Stuart Bennett and shared on Unsplash. I nabbed it about two years ago and put it in a collection of images to stare at when thinking about the novel I was going to write … someday. If I ever figured out a title, and if I figured out what the main character really wanted, and if I was ever able to articulate what the story is about.

 … a story of grief, friendship, horror, love, home, and badassery, all told in Holly’s southern voice.

That’s a sentence I came up with yesterday. YESTERDAY. In an attempt to make a one-line pitch if ever asked what my story is about. People have asked—when I make mention that I’m writing a NOVEL, hey what’s it about—then I go on and embarrass myself by talking and waving my hands until those unfortunate people’s eyes glaze over.

In my collection of images I have one of an old mountain cabin that looks like it emerged from the land covered in age and ivy rather than being man made. There is also a big white Jeep Rubicon with fog lights and a wench and a lift kit. There is a man with broody brows, and the photograph of a Memphis office building with a mile-long view of the river.

There are maps of narrowing roads stretching across the state of Tennessee, of mountain passes in Afghanistan, and enough gun searches on Google to put me  on the ATF’s watch list. Not to mention a copper tipped brass cased forty-caliber S&W bullet in  my makeup bag—I’ve been carrying that around for a year now. Tangibles are important.

Writing a novel that contains people you adore is difficult. Like, spine crushingly heart wrenching, cold sweating difficult. And guess what I’ve discovered?

That’s not even the hard part.

 

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Day Eight Has Arrived

Finally.

Many days wrestling RL responsibilities into submission have passed and now I can get back to spending hours at the desk. All that was actually taken care of Friday, but I gave myself a “free” day to celebrate. I explored Downtown yesterday and succeeded in coloring in a mental map vital to this story.

It’s gorgeous Downtown, even beneath murky skies and naked trees.

Afterwards I dosed up my sore knee, ate a metric ton of Chinese food, and reclined in front of the TV to watch Serenity. Saturday was made of awesome.

And now I am ready to start over.

Yeah, you read that right. First person present is being tossed. It’s just too limited, and has the tendency to stiffen up. I felt for a long time after recognizing all the problems with first person that I couldn’t deviate from it, that somehow a different POV would bury the emotional impact of the protagonist. In the end though, I had to make the change. This story cannot be allowed to stiffen up.

So, now I have a title, a storyboard, 800 fresh words, and a lot of leftover Chinese food. Sunday is made of awesome, too.

What are y’all writing?

Status Interruptus

The past five days have involved everything but writing. While frustration overload threatened many times, a lot of good has come from Life stomping on the pause button without my permission.

Day Eight will happen. Eventually.

Meanwhile, I am toying with a few ideas that might help me organize and propel this story forward. A visual tool of some sort might be best… a storyboard, maybe. The more I think about employing such a tool, the more I like the idea. Especially after a particular breakthrough that came while on the phone with a friend Thursday night. Something she said made me realize that a huge hangup I have with the story is that I keep trying to justify Holly’s actions.

This is a ridiculous, time-consuming, wasteful, distracting endeavor. Her motivations and the end results don’t require justification — I just need to tell her story and get over my personal inclination to interject reasoning. If I do this storytelling thing right, her motivations should be clear enough to keep readers interested.

Day Seven

The Second Project’s z-fic now boasts an 8k word count… that would be better news if I hadn’t skipped working out a large chunk of Chapter Two. Chapter Two will be ridiculously long — this said by a person who is satisfied with a Prologue and Chapter One that, combined, total 5k and change.

Apparently I am compiling a collection of novella-length fictions, not short stories.

So far this morning I’ve just been reworking dialogue between Holly and Stephan. As I mentioned before, it’s necessary to keep a close eye, and ear, on Holly. My dangerous protag can cram more clichés in a paragraph than the worst of the best old hard boiled detectives. Ugh.

I can put one more daylight hour into writing today, after that, it’s a full day of real life adulting — paying bills, buying food, job hunting, making doctors’ appointments for MIL, etc. Another thousand words should be possible later tonight, then some research. There is a brand new shiny notebook just waiting for all that research.

What are y’all writing?

Day Six

The writing positively flowed yesterday. Which is good news. I was beginning to fear that this herky-jerky two hundred words per day was the best I could hope for until my head exploded and ended everything. Good news! I put about twelve hundred brand new words down and cleaned up dialogue from a previous session.

I love days like that, because when everything is flowing a new little tidbit of information usually pops out. In the initial episodic pieces of Holly’s story (written in 2009) I only gained a vague sense of her true nature. The writings were brief and rushed back then, and that vagueness was a delicious tease. Yesterday, late into one huge chunk of dialogue, her best friend revealed what I always wanted someone to say out loud — Holly is a born killer. Her best friend, Stephan, has known it for years. As far as he’s concerned, it’s one of her best qualities.

I like Stephan.

Stephan’s true nature was even more vague than Holly’s until yesterday. And though I learned a lot about him, his back story isn’t vital to the progression of the overall story, it won’t be discussed. That’s kind of a shame, really.

Day Five

According to that tidy little schedule for The Second Project, I am now three thousand words behind and lacking at least one day of necessary research. Not bad.

Yesterday was all about the dialogue. This project has a LOT of dialogue, which wouldn’t be a problem if not for Holly’s propensity for cliché. I have to keep a close eye, and ear, on her. So far, so good. I think.

Well against the advice of many writing bloggers, I have jumped into this project without a clear plan for what is to be done with it, exactly, when it’s finished. Initially I planned to research publishers of speculative short fiction collections and practice query letters in my free time — I have since realized such places might not exist. The only similar collections I have read were penned by well-knowns who already had publishers firmly in hand before they ventured into speculative short fiction.

I am not well-known.

Sorry. That was a bit Captain Obvious.

Also, there has been the toying with the idea of e-publishing. I have the title of the collection in place, an inkling of what the cover art should look like. However,the last time I researched e-publication formatting issues alone were enough to make me run away screaming. Maybe options have improved in the last three years?

I can’t think about that right now. The dialogue is calling.

Today’s portion of the project includes a lot more dialogue, some intense gun and ammo info, and a few exploding cars.

Day … Two?

Writers often advise other writers to just get the words on the page—hammer it all out, don’t worry about format, grammar, whatever. Hammer it all out, and don’t bother reading until the story is done. I am incapable of this.

Regardless of the type of project, be it an academic assignment, a poem, an email, I mentally compose a few lines,write a few lines then read them back, then edit/revise, then write a few more. My writing is a task of fits and starts.

The index cards have been shredded. At least two notebooks are full of messy strike-throughs and scribbles, and I have added all of one thousand words to the word document begun on Day One. Now I’m rewriting half of what was written on Day One.

That first person present is still nagging. I’ve worked out a tentative plan to soften the worst of that, but there’s still the problem with lack of setting and those sweet little details that flesh out a character. Holly doesn’t like those, and I am so set in my ways that I can’t stop rereading and worrying over the flow.

Thank God I have this place to come to, where I can whine, bitch and moan in print, because no living person wants to listen to me. Even Oliver, my trusty pup and bff is hiding under the bed with his paws over his ears. I probably over did it with the apologies to him after writing a brief but gruesome, heartbreaking scene in which Holly discovers a child has been gnawing on the family pet. Oliver doesn’t want to listen to me prattle on about my writing projects anymore.

Tense and Tension

That first five hours of magic and stunning word count production is a thing of the distant past. The Second Project was rudely interrupted by LIFE, and now I am having a difficult time getting back into it. I sat down late Saturday evening, once supper had put the rest of the household into a nice quiet coma, and tried to ease back into the z-fic rewrite. It was then that I was brought face to face with one of the problematic issues of this story that nagged at me way back when: First person, present tense.

This is one of three stories that “came to me”, in the main character’s voice. I am not pretending to be clairvoyant, nor am I attempting to convince anyone of mumbling creative guru nonsense when I say such things. I am speaking with plain honesty, regardless of how ridiculous it might sound to experienced writers out there—I literally heard, “My name is Holly, and I have a bizarre story to tell”.

Okay. Enough of defending that. It is what it is.

Holly is not real big on descriptive details. I like descriptive details. I like texture, nuance. I am fond of the waxing poetic. I want to know about the guy who calls her Holly Girl. Who is that, he seems so dedicated and sweet while she treats him like a thorn in the side so I ask who what where and why, and Holly says shut up and keep moving. I want to know more about the raspy, lyrical voice of her grandmother, and Holly says listen to the words, shut up and keep moving. I want to explore the origin of her killer instinct and correct her on some the cliches she’s prone to spout and Holly says we’re all going to die, shut the fuck up already.

I’m stubborn, and after all, I’m the one writing this stuff, so I explore anyway. I discover some amazing things which I believe are vital to the tale and I begin interjecting. But Holly’s first person present tense isn’t really flexible enough to do all the things I want to do. Reading back passages of the story, I hear clanging noises.

Dammit.

So, I am awake at 4 a.m., wondering how to fix all this. Let’s ask Google. Google points me to a Writer’s Digest article entitled “The Pros and Cons of Writing in Present Tense”. I expect to find solutions to these problems in this article written by knowledgeable writing writers. What I find is the declaration that only the immature writer insists upon first person. First person is somewhat faux pas. And one of the few ‘pros’ to writing in first person is that it simplifies the handling of the twelve tenses. Twelve?

How many English courses did I take? About twenty thousand dollars worth. I do not have any memory of twelve. No one is going to give me a refund. How disappointing.

I guess I’ll go do what Holly tells me.

Day One

The rewrite of the prologue to that yet untitled z-fic is complete, and I think Chapter One is pretty solid. Not bad for five hours work. The gruesome monsters won’t make an appearance until toward the end of Chapter Two, so I’ve still got time to relax a little before loading up the high-powered rifles.

I might workshop the story by bits and pieces over at Brigit’s Flame, haven’t decided yet. That would definitely be more fun, and perhaps more motivational, if there were a few more writers willing to do the same with their works in progress. Meanwhile, a reading friend has put me in contact with another who is willing to beta. I am hoping to have five more chapters ready for perusal by tomorrow afternoon.

I started out yesterday with every intention to proofread the original version of this story, then break up scenes on index cards that could be placed on the office wall in order. The idea of working with such a visual was tantalizing at first, but just planning the task made my fingers itch for the keyboard. Those index cards sit in a nice undisturbed pile on my desk.

Do y’all find certain tools helpful in fleshing out scenes? Do you prefer to write the entire story by hand, or do your fingers prefer the click click click of the keyboard?