The Slaughter of the Darlings
- 58,816 wds. long
- 123.25 hrs. revised
And what I want to know is, if I refer to several months of a character's memory, whose veracity the character has begun to question, as "nothing more than an occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," will the average reader know what the hell I'm talking about?
I'm guessing not.
But I've killed enough darlings tonight and I'd rather like to keep this one, if only for the sake of economy. I mean, I could say, "a dream in which significant amounts of time seem to pass during the instant you start to lose consciousness in the middle of a traumatic event, like drowning, or being hanged by the neck during the Civil War, or having your bed's headboard fall on your neck." Or I could use a tidy little seven-word phrase and imply on top of that that my protagonist is very well read.
Economy, see? Cleverness! Yes!
(And I will keep telling myself that, thank you.)
- 58,627 wds. long
- 121.25 hrs. revised
This has not been one of my most productive weeks.
Well, not novel-wise, anyway. In other ways, it's been quite fast-paced. For instance, I've got myself all signed up for the World Horror Convention, including the Editor's Workshop (topic: "Professional Help," ha ha ha *groan*). I've gotten initial hold of everyone I want to interview for my latest work-for-hire gig. I have even gotten interviewed for a possible new web development job (no! no! don't wanna! can't make me! ...well, OK) with a follow-up interview next week.
But the novel? Er. Eek?
I've decided on just the first three chapters, since that's a better place, storywise, to break off. The application guidelines say up to 10,000 words, not exactly 10,000 words, after all. And I've only just started on the chapter three line-by-line. If I had to get through Chapter 4, too, I'd never get this dang thing in on time.
Today's headache: Flashbacks.
That's all. No long, drawn-out explanation. Just: Flashbacks. Flashbacks, and the segue between past perfect and simple past. Ew, I say. Ewwwwwww.
Mostly About Train Accomodations
- 58,644 wds. long
- 119.25 hrs. revised
Approaching Omaha, Nebraska. All roads lead there. This track goes there, in any case. I'm going to bed, having finally gotten myself out of chapter two and into Mike's gold corvette at the beginning of chapter three.
One of these days I'll actually get through the whole damn book. And then I shall hobble out to the bus, being too old to safely drive, and limp into the post office, and say, "What new-fangled devices do you have for sending two hundred and fifty page manuscripts to publishers? Back in my day, we used cardboard boxes. Do you have some sort of instantaneous matter transport for this now? Because," and here I shall flip my long white hair most fetchingly, "I didn't get to the age of one hundred and seventy just to keep on using cardboard boxes!" Because that is how old I shall be when this damn book is finally ready for prime time.
Meh. Back on the train. I upgraded to a sleeper because, y'know, I could, and I was curious, and I liked the idea of complimentary dinner in the diner and a room/closet of my own with privacy and a bed.
I got a lot of writing done. There is an outlet in the room (it says "razors only" but I don't think they actually mean that anymore), so I could keep my laptop charged without worrying about the cafe lounge steward asking me, "Did you take the duct tape off that outlet?" all accusatory-like. And since I'm not in the cafe lounge, I am not constantly being asked "So is that schoolwork? What are you studying?" and being told, "Writing, huh? I wrote a few things myself," and being invited to play spades with a trio headed for Greenwood, Mississippi, and being asked where the outlet is, and all. And I've been playing my music without headphones, and singing along, and everything.
On the other hand, all of the above are reasons why riding coach is great for socializing. I had a lot of fun playing spades last night, and I got into all sorts of neat conversations that started with someone asking me what I was studying, and I was able to find Laura at The Corner Bakery because my cell phone conversation with her was overheard by someone with a map. On this leg of the trip, the only socializing I've really done has been over dinner--but whoa, boy, did some socializing get done. (Hi, Jason! You're supposed to be writing, remember? Go on! Meh-heh-heh-heh.) And I've only been in the cafe lounge twice. The first time was to acquire a cup of hot water for my tea (the steward was all like, "No," and "Where did you get that cup?!" and then, "Oh, sleeper? OK," and then he filled it up with hot water finally. Apparently the cups by the coffee machine in sleeper are distinctive and arouse suspicion in the lounge car). The second time was to contiune the conversation begun over dinner when the dining car stewards asked us to leave so they could clean up.
So I suppose the summary is, riding coach is like staying in a mobile youth hostel, while riding sleeper is like being on a cruise ship. The lack of privacy in coach leads to meeting a lot of people, unless it leads to covering your face with your jacket and your ears with your headphones, which it does for just about everyone at night because the aisle lighting and general movement about the car can lead to insomnia. The availability of privacy in the sleepers leads to much enjoyment of said privacy, which includes the ability to turn off all the lights and sleep in whatever state of undress you please. And, y'know, I'm OK with that. Once in a while. When I have the extra $$ to spend on it.
Tomorrow: Breakfast, another hour or two of novel revision (that would be Brian's abortive road trip and much flashback of his conversation with Todd the night before), and arrival in Denver. And finally getting to post these blog posts I haven't been able to yet. Beware Of Backdating.
- 58,387 wds. long
- 117.75 hrs. revised
Still slogging along with the mother-son phone call. Stupid phone call. Amtrak's City of New Orleans is just getting into Chicago. It's running an hour late because we have a freight train crawling along ahead of us. Stupid freight train. The two girls behind me are having a conversation that alternates between teenage-style boy gossip and five-year-old-style whining about what a waste of time this trip is and how they'll never take the train again and they want their money back. Stupid whiny boy-crazy girls.
Will have about a four-hour layover at Union Station before catching the California Zephyr for Denver at 1:50 PM. Will probably find some wi-fi there to post this, after finding links to spruce things up with. Meanwhile I'm meeting an old friend for lunch at the Corner Bakery. That means I probably won't be hoofing it to the public library, since that's about a mile and a half in the opposite direction. It's to the southwest of Union Station, I think; the Corner Bakery is to the northeast. That's OK. I like seeing a different bit of Chicago each time I come through.
Once on the westbound train, I shall continue the slog. Wish me luck.
P.S. The attached picture is the part of Chicago's Union Station that actually looks like a train station ought. You have to come in from the correct entrance to see it, though. Either end of the Canal Street side of the building will do; the central entrance, though, will send you right down into the bit that resembles a modern airport and is therefore boring.
P.P.S. Did not manage to find myself wi-fi in Chicago. Just lots of pay-per-use wi-fi: tmobile courtesy of Starbucks, and SurfAndSip courtesy of Cosi. Stupid pay-per-use wi-fi. This post will have to wait until Denver and get backdated accordingly.
The Making Of A Monster, Redux
- 57,923 wds. long
- 116.00 hrs. revised
If fictional people were as psychotic as real people, readers would refuse to believe in them. At the very least, their psychoses have to make some sort of sense before they look like more than contrived conveniences for the sake of the plot. Thus, having Mrs. Windlow refer to Amy as "Mike's widow" when Amy has clearly engaged herself to Brian is just a wee little bit over the top. For all that Mrs. Windlow might actually have say this sort of thing as a real live person, as a fictional character she looks cartoonish saying it.
Cartoonish. Like little Lisa Rental in Sheep In The Big City, convinced that Sheep is a "doggie." Or the appallingly two-dimensional villain in Dean Koontz's From The Corner Of His Eye, convinced on the flimsiest of evidence that his female victims are actually in love with him. Delusions on that scale do happen in real life, but in fiction, in general, they're amusing at best and annoying at worst. They're rarely done well enough to be taken seriously. They scream "plot device" and "author's excuse." They don't inspire the creepishness that Koontz probably wanted and that Mo Willems probably couldn't care less about. (Lisa Rental is supposed to be both amusing and annoying. Koontz's villain probably wasn't.)
Now, having Mrs. Windlow aware of Amy's stated devotions but convinced that they're just little white lies meant to disguise pity for the pathetic baby brother--that's more plausible. A sane person might actually come to that conclusion, too. Except a sane person would dismiss that conclusion the first time he saw Amy and Brian together, whereas a psychotic person prone to seeing ulterior motives would dismiss exactly the evidence that would cause a sane person to dismiss the evidence for the ulterior motive.
Wait. That was convoluted and made no sense. What I mean is, there are enough red herrings in the characters' back story that Mrs. Windlow's opinion would make sense to a third party, if that third party didn't actually know Amy and Brian and had instead only heard Mrs. Windlow talk about them. She's being choosy about the evidence presented her; she's not making evidence up of thin air.
That may have made more sense.
People are subtle. They get broken, and their broken bits express themselves in all sorts of interesting ways. If you go far enough back with an omniscient enough eye, you can find the decision point at which the broken person, through his or her particular psychosis, began the spiral into paranoia and unreal expectations. And that decision point makes sense. And it provides that single premise that leads the broken person to come to a lifetime of mistaken conclusions: "All women are evil," maybe, or "my younger son never does anything without meaning me harm." There's always that one point in time where the choice seem reasonable, where the thought processes seem inevitable, and after which everything is chaos.
Pretty scary, if you think about it. Are you at one of those decision points now? Am I?
The Making Of A Monster
- 57,772 wds. long
- 115.00 hrs. revised
...is darn difficult.
Remember all that crap about the banality of evil? Human villains that aren't actually evil, per se, but aren't acting out of any sort of good intent for anyone but themselves? Useful stuff. Damn useful stuff. But still... I'm having trouble.
Rewriting the conversation between Brian Windlow and his mother. *shudder*
The previous version, which I thought was pretty good at the time, is a ham-handed mess. On the one hand, Brian's half of the convo isn't so bad. He reacts the way you'd probably expect, given the crap she's throwing at him. But the crap she's throwing at him isn't consistent with the philosophy that "No one wakes up in the morning, cracks their knuckles, rubs their hands together, and says, 'What eeeeevil shall I perpetrate today? Mwa-ha-ha-haaaaa!'" Well, it isn't.
So. Reevaluating how the evil got perpetrated now. Reevaluating, y'know, motives. Why is she such an unmitigated bitch to this poor boy? Is she convinced that everything he does is with her disadvantage in mind? Does she therefore view everything he does with suspicion, as a possible plot against her? Does she resent that he lived while her favorite son died? (Yes, yes, and yes.) And how the hell did she get this way? Most people don't start out with such a default distrust of their fellow humans. How bad, exactly, was that divorce, and why did her relationship with Brian get so saddled with it?
(And exactly how much remembered abuse is she actually guilty of, that Brian is now ambiguously traumatized by?)
I keep suspecting I've bitten off more than I can chew. There's a sort of highwire tension line between these two characters, and if I teeter off it even a little bit I plunge this portion of the novel into irredeemable hokeyness. Which is bad. Which is also a terribly strained metaphor, but, y'know. It's a blog. I'm allowed.
Anyway, that's about where I am at the moment. Now I'd better clear out of here--I can tell you with certainty that the New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Company on Vets in Metairie (er. there are two. I'm at the one by the end of the parade route, near Oaklawn) has very decent wi-fi (unlike Puccino's, where I couldn't even connect, not once, and where there are signs telling students on no uncertain terms that they may not study there), but on a parade night they're pretty darn busy, and I bet they'll appreciate my freeing up a table.
Closure Is A Good Thing
- 3,000 wds. long
Got some email today. It appears that the She's Such A Geek anthology will not be including anything written by me.
But a rejection letter is always better than no letter at all. I'd been a little concerned when no response had shown up by the 15th, which I think had been the date they'd set as the latest followup time.
I'm not entirely sure that this essay really has any other market, since I sort of wrote it to order. But I don't throw anything away. So the slush piles of the publishing world may yet see this thing once more. 'Til then... ta!
We Don't Need Another Sequel
No one needs this. I mean, really. No one actually needs me starting on the sequel to The Drowning Boy at this point. But that's what my brain was doing last night as I tried to get me to sleep. And since the coach car of an Amtrak train isn't nearly as easy to get to sleep in at night after two cups of coffee and one of tea as it is in the late morning after being up since six, my brain had a lot of time to write Chapter One.
Well, and of course it's to do with Brian Windlow's children. Why else would there be a sequel?
But... and this is the part where I beat myself about the head and shoulders with a broomstick... but my brain also decided last night that Brian isn't dead.
The hell? I said. After the penultimate chapter in Drowning Boy, you tell me he's not dead? What is this, a bad gothic romance?
Well, says my brain, it's not like we saw the body. And yes, if you want to know, this is a gothic romance. After a fashion, anyway. Whether it's bad remains to be seen.
But... but... not dead? Sharks, man! There were all sharks in the water!
It's hard to imagine a brain smiling smugly and quietly to itself while twiddling its thumbs, but at this point, mine managed it.
So I woke up this morning and I wrote the first 1500 or so words, which begin this way:
Three weeks into the swim season, my son came home with news that just about stopped my heart.I do know that, before very long, Amy's surprisingly amphibious son will get to meet his mermaid half-sister. That's been in my head since the point at which I realized that if Amy and Brian didn't get to "do it," not even once, then it wouldn't be fair to anyone. But I don't know much of anything else that's going to happen. I don't even know why I've given it the title I have, other than it being a likely folk tale to draw from. I don't think I want to follow it to the letter, though. That would be too sad. I don't want any proud young gunners shooting this kid.
When I could breathe again, I said, "They don't like it, huh?" and congratulated myself on keeping my cool.
"And it's not like I do it that much," he said, nodding. He was eight years old and already a super-serious kid. "The chlorine hurts my nose. But it makes them so mad when I do it. They say I'm cheating."
"Well, you are, honey." Was I calm? I was calm like a Valium bouquet. I was calm like a three-toed sloth. "I mean, when they say 'underwater contest,' they're competing to see who can hold their breath the longest. If you're not holding your breath, that's cheating, right?" See how calm I was.
So this'll go on the shelf until I figure that out. Meanwhile, I've got a couple of novels to revise. I mean, it's not like I don't have enough to do here. Look, two more hours on Drowning Boy still hasn't got me to the end of Chapter Two, and revising that phone call with Mrs. Windlow is going to be unmitigated hell. So what do I need with starting brand new novels at this time, huh? I ask you.
Maybe It Wasn't Ready For Prime Time After All
- 57,284 wds. long
- 112.00 hrs. revised
So I've finally cracked open The Drowning Boy, determined how many chapters fits in 10,000 words (four, if you want to know), and applied two hours of unflinching scrutiny to the prose therein.
I have come to this conclusion:
Sending the first three chapters as they stand now to Wizards of the Coast? What was I thinking?
[shakes head, facepalms, loads fountain pen with fresh ink]
Somewhere East of Osceola, Iowa
- 51,704 wds. long
- 17.75 hrs. revised
Woke up this morning on a train. The earbuds from my husband's broken iPod were piping music into my ears. Breakfast was out of a lunch sack rather than my kitchen. My writing studio was a table at the back of the snack/lounge car. Otherwise, the routine was about the same: Wake up at 6:00 AM when the computer starts playing the Blue Man Group: Audio CD; snooze through until the playlist switches into Exchange: More Than Words; dawdle over breakfast; acquire caffeine; and finally, once I get around to it, write.
This morning we finish up in the approximate location mentioned in this blog entry's title. We have our first transformation scene. Hurrah! Diane has discovered the magical properties of Babba's talisman by way of getting turned into a unicorn. Yay! Mystical wondrous magic girl scene!
That means it's time for Purple Prose Avoidance 101.
Not, you understand, that I'm qualified to give a lesson in Purple Prose Avoidance. But since the hope is that the second draft will be less maudlin than the first, I can at least list some of the worst offenders that got nixed this time around. And here they are, in no particular order:
- Single-sentence paragraphs.
- Single-sentence paragraphs that aren't complete sentences.
- Single-sentence paragraphs that start with "And then."
- Overuse of words such as "forth," "very," and "wonder."
- Overuse of parallel structures.
- Overuse of, well, words.
All better now? Maybe. Some better now, for sure. Meanwhile, it's now 3:30 PM CST and I'm at a deli in Chicago around the corner from Union Station. Angelo's, at the corner of Jefferson and Adams. They gots the wi-fi. My train out of Chicago leaves at 8:00, so I may be here awhile.