Writing Wednesday

I finally, finally, finally for reals this time, put the final edit to my urban fantasy fairy tale and started to query it to literary agents.

I promise, cross my heart, that I won’t touch it again until I’m asked to by a prospective agent or future editor for a publishing company.

We’ll see how long that lasts considering I was still adding new things to it as late as this past weekend even though I said it was complete over a month ago.

And now I’m starting on a new novel. One I handwrote the first draft for starting back in December of 2014.

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And as I’m transcribing, I’m realizing I have forgotten all the research I did four years ago for this story, so it’s off to the public library to get books on the first transcontinental railroad, specifically the mountain segment known as the Pacific railroad.

The story takes place in the winter of 1869, the first winter after the Intercontinental railroad was finished (although this might change depending on my research).

I have the story written and could just transcribe it as it, but that’s not how I roll. The transcription part pf my editong process where I add a lot of detail to the story, fleshing out the characters, establishing the setting, and all that fun stuff.

The setting in this case, is the train, of course, but the train is traveling to the summit (an area known as Lone Tree Pass when the tracks were being laid), where there is the town of Sherman. Facts are important to me and I’m looking up things like the angle of the track’s grade, distance, type of locomotives used by Union Pacific Rail Road, the towns and other important landmarks along the way.

I’m not sure what genre it is. Fantasy, for sure, but is it a weird western because of the time period? Some of the train passengers are cowboys, sent to maintain a herd of cattle that is being transported on the train to restock a ranch near Omaha. Additionally, there’s an outlaw and a Pinkerton detective.

Except for the people and the time period it isn’t really a western though. They aren’t out riding horses, heading people off at the pass (even though there is a pass), or even Native Americans on the warpath. Maybe it’s a historical fantasy?

Without revealing too much, the story centers around the train getting stuck because of a terrible snow storm. It’s a bad winter and a lot of animals in the mountains are dying off, animals which serve as a food source for … something. Something that hungers and smells the cattle.

Maybe that would be the novel’s cover blurb, “Something hungers in the mountains…” Or even the title, “The Mountains Hunger.”

This, by the by, is a prequel to another novel I wrote featuring the same MC, a newspaper correspondent who is sort of a problem solver, righting social inequities, and battling robber barons sometimes via pen, other times via gun.

There’s nothing wrong with that novel, it’s not trunked, except it’s a zombie tale and I think that market it a little saturated, even if my zombies are of the voodoo-type. It was fun writing it because it takes place in New Orleans (and the swamps around the area) around the time of the first officially sanctioned Mardi Gras and my MC meets a few historic people including Marie Laveau.

OK, I’m back from the library. I was so quick I bet you didn’t even notice.

I picked up four books. Three are on the railroad and one is “The Complete Book of Mustang.”

The novel I finished and said I wouldn’t edit, has the MC driving a 1969 Mustang Mach 1 and I have the book to verify I got the details correct (or to change it to a different year).

Or just for my own self-interest because I love classic Mustangs.

Anyway, it’s time to do that research. I’d say writing is 90% research and 30% actual writing.

I know that’s 120%, but if athletes can claim to give 110%, I think we writers can claim 10% more.

TTFN.

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Writing Wednesday

I’ve been busy writing lately. I guess you could call it “in the zone.” The problem is, I’m scattergunning, which means I’m working on several projects simultaneously.

I’m editing my novel and …

“Wait,” I heard someone say. “Didn’t you finish that and start querying agents?”

Yes. Yes, I did. I sent out a handful of queries several weeks ago. And like any intelligent writer, I should have started another project.

Should jave, but didn’t. On tje contrary, I thought I’d give my novel another read-through, you know, in case I found a plot hole or continuity error.

I didn’t find any errors, however, reading caused several sub-sub-sub plots to pop into my head, plots that will flesh out several of the characters even more. I’ve been adding those and my 98k novel is now a little over 100k.

On another project, I’ve started to transcribe a handwritten first draft from 2014. It’s a fun little adventure with the tentative title, “Cowboys vs. Yeti,” (with the same MC from my other nearly completed “Cowboys vs. Zombies” novel. Both are set in the 1800s, the Yeti one just after they finished the transcontinental express.

The third piece I worked on, and submitted yesterday, is an unusual zombie short story. Unusual in that it’s not a horror story. It’s sort of an odd, heartwarming genre-crossing piece.

And finally, I worked on a short story about the Grim Reaper that I wrote a couple years ago and subbed only twice. The ending was unsatisfying, so I rewrote it and instead of a Happy Ever After like ending, it has a more viscerally interesting ending. We’ll see how it goes as I subbed that one last night as well.

Well, thats all for now. I really should take advantage of this writing energy and go write a new story or rework an old one.

TTFN.

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A belated Writing Wednesday

Yes, I know it’s actually Thursday, but calling this Tachygraphy Thursday or even Teleautography Thursday don’t have the same ring as Writing Wednesday.

Anyway, I just wanted to share something that will demonstrate what a dope I can be while writing.

I’m closing in on the final edits. I’m down to the last 50 pages. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m finally nearing the finish line.

And then this happens:

If you recall, this is my urban fantasy fairy tale novel, so it has magic, gods, demons, faeries …

Oh! Speaking of faeries, the characters in the know — the ones familiar with the supernatural and cryotozoology — always call them faeries, spelled with the E. On the other hand, when mere mortals talk about them, with a smirk because they know they don’t exist, they say, fairies, with an I.

Will changing the spelling back and forth like that confuse the reader? Should I go with one common spelling?

OK, tangent over. The novel is filled with mythological beings and references to ancient historical sorcerers and philosophers, blah blah blah.

I’m at a point where my MC is being attacked by an Egyptian mythological creature and he has to remember a passage from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to save himself. As I’m editing, it suddenly occurs to me that the scene could use a humorous reference to why the MC would remember said passage in the first place. Therefore, I’m creating a short anecdote about how and why a certain ancient Egyptian magician/philosopher taught it to him.

But I don’t know the names of any ancient Egyptian magicians!

Now, instead of completing my edits so I can send it out to beta readers, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of research.

(A gasp can be heard in the audience.)

Yes. Research!

And it looks like finishing edits today isn’t going to happen.

Tomorrow doesn’t look so promising either.

Anyone have any names of ancient Egyptian philosophers/sorcerers/priests they could throw my way?

Otherwise, I’ll be making a run to the library on my lunch hour.

Thanks.

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Writing Wednesday

I think I’m just procrastinating now.

I heard someone say, “What? You, procrastinate?”

I know, right? It may come as a shock to you, but if you look up “procrastinator” in the Dictionary, they have my picture. It’s a recent addition. Merriam-Webster sent me a concent form asking permission decades ago, but I kept putting off signing it.

Where was I?

Oh, regarding my current WIP, I think I’m at the procrastination stage.

For me, that’s the stage that comes after the editing stage has been more than satisfied. It’s where everything I look for on my editing list to correct has been fixed and I’m reading and rereading the story and just changing words to change words.

For example, take the sentence, “We appeared in the middle of the street to the sounds of horns honking and drivers swearing.”

In one pass I’ll change street to road. In the next pass I’ll change road to boulevard. And on and on, ad infinitum.

It means I’m done but I’m putting off the next step, which is either sending it to some beta readers or writing the cover letter and synopsis and sending it all to literary agents.

Wait. Maybe avenue works better.

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Writing Wednesday

This weekend that just passed, Decades TV had their weekend binge, where they show an old television show all weekend long. This time around they showed whatever it is — 40 hours? — of Lost in Space, one of the great sci-fi television programs of all time.

OF ALL TIME!

There is no argument about that.

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But seriously, if you grew up in the 60s, the first sci-fi space adventure television program that aired was Lost in Space. I was at the perfect age where I was mesmerized by lasers, force fields, the Jupiter 2, and of course, the greatest robot ever created, the Robot, or B9 as some of us call him.

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And because I had fallen in love with the concept — a family of space pioneers setting off to colonize Alpha Centauri, who were unfortunately sent astray by a saboteur, who they then welcomed into their family with open arms — I was able to simply accept the fanciful silliness .

It’s been many years since I’ve watched it. I caught an episode now and then when MeTV was airing it several years ago, but not since they changed their lineup. When Decades aired it this past weekend, we had our television tuned to it for the duration.

And you know what? I still love that show. Even with all the pseudoscience and over-the-top fantasy elements of pirates, knights in shining armor, hillbillies, and a talking carrot, I still found the show very enjoyable to watch.

In fact, something strange happened while watching it.

I started to get the itch to write about it. I mean, if you’re a fan of Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars, for example, there are tons of authorized novels out there to satisfy even the most voracious reader.

But Lost in Space? Nothing.

Well, OK, there was one book, published back in 1967 or so, which I read when I was 10.

Novel

But that’s it.

And without even consciously thinking about it, a story, a novel of Lost in Space has begun to formulate in my imagination.

Personally? I’d rather it just go away because what could I do with it? Who would buy a novel about a television show that only aired 83 episodes and went off the air in 1968?

I’d rather write something marketable.

I’d rather start the final polish on my own urban fantasy fairie tale.

Or start working on the sequel to my urban fantasy fairie tale.

Or even finish up my two weird westerns.

Anything!

But so far, all I can think about is Lost in Space, and the story keeps growing and growing and at this rate, it won’t be denied.

Maybe I should write it just to make it go away.

Lost in Space is suited to my writing style, however, because it is as much fantasy as science fiction and it’s science is often somewhat fudged. In that way, Lost in Space is more akin to Star Wars than Star Trek.

Lost in Space can best be described as pulp fiction style space opera. More ray guns and monsters than quarks and string theory.

So in that regard, Lost in Space is almost a perfect venture for me.

Let me mull it over some more.

Stay tuned. Same time! Same channel!

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Writing Wednesday

In rereading my urban fantasy fairy tale, I came across a scene that I had pulled from the trunk novel I was using for donor parts.

The scene features the MC and another character, the MC’s friend who is also the Homicide Police Captain.

My MC is called in to look at what turns out to be a magic circle, used to summon demons, because he’s an expert on the esoteric. He is often called in by the Police to identify occultish symbols or objects. Not because anyone believes in the occult, but in the hopes that by giving the item a historical context they will have a better chance of assigning motives and tracking down suspects.

Now as I said, this is an old scene, one of the original scenes from my trunk novel that I had started 15 years ago.

In the scene, my MC meets the Police Captain in a corn field and together they head toward the murder scene.

On the way, they pass the Medical Examiner, who is leaving the scene, heading back to his car. He quips a few morbid jokes and is gone. Never to appear in the story again.

At the time, I thought nothing of that meeting with the ME, nor did any of my beta readers mention it. I knew nothing about writing crime scene fiction nor had I read many police procedurals.

But this week, I started thinking about it. Something nagged at me that the scene was inadequate. But what?

It occurred to me that the ME just leaving the scene, the bodies, without so much as a “How do you do?” was a little odd.

If you’ve ever watched the television show NCIS (or any of the hyper-graphic crime shows), you know that Ducky never just leaves the scene. He and his assistant are there investigating and providing Gibbs with a running inventory of findings. Then, after they’ve done all they can at the scene, Ducky tags and bags the bodies and ensures they get to his lab for the autopsy.

My ME, on the other hand, tells a few jokes and is gone.

Because I now have a better understanding of how (fictional) MEs work, I’m going to revise the scene.

The ME will still leave, still make some jokes, but now I’ll add some more dialog. The Captain will ask a few questions, including something like “Leaving already?” And the ME can respond, “I know how to deligate.”

At the crime scene I’ll add a few ME assistants and forensic techs, even giving some pertinent dialog about the bodies to one of them.

Why did I start thinking about this scene this week? My oldest son just started interning with the local Medical Examiner’s office and I guess that made me more conscious of what was going on in this story.

A writer’s job is never done. That’s because writers are always expanding their knowledge and always applying that knowledge to improve their writing.

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Writing Wednesday with Chekhov’s gun

“One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” — Anton Chekhov, from an 1889 letter to playwright Aleksandr Semenovich

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” — from Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on a wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” — Anton Chekhov, quoted by S. Shchukin, Memoirs

Anton Chekhov’s oft-quoted piece of writing advice, often referred to simply as “Chekhov’s gun,” is a literary concept that means every element introduced in a story must be necessary to the plot or it is superfluous and should be removed.

In other words, you should remove all false guns from your writing. This applies not just to physical objects and characters, but irrelevant scenes that don’t advance the story, as well.

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I bring up Chekhov’s gun because as I was reading through my own manuscript, I found one. I missed it my first read-through, however, it must have made an impression upon my subconscious because while I was sitting enjoying a cup of coffee (Sumatra from CoffeeIcon. Yum!)j Saturday morning while watching an episode of Star Trek on BBC America, it popped into my head.

“The knife!”

I immediately wrote knife on a notepad and placed it on my computer to remind me.

“Well? What about the knife?” I hear you ask.

I’m getting to that. Patience, young grasshopper.

I have a scene in my manuscript where my MC, an expert in things occult, and his friend, who happens to be a captain with homicide of the local police department, are together investigating a recent gruesome murder scene when one of the investigating officers discovers an ancient obsidian knife.

The knife turns out to be evidence from an earlier murder that the MC believes was a human sacrifice in a ritual to summon a demon.

The MC takes a picture of the knife and sends it to an expert in early Mesoamerican civilizations, who is aiding the MC in the hunt for the demon, in the hopes that he can identify the artifact.

When I had introduced the knife, I had fully intended to have it serve as a significant clue and later my MC and his Mesoamerican expert would get together to discuss where the knife had originally come from.

One thought I had was the knife was an actual museum piece stolen from an Aztec museum somewhere Central or South America and it would help the police to finally identify the killer.

The thing is I never mentioned the knife again!

That’s right. I placed the knife there for the reader to see and then I completely forgot about it.

Now, however, all sorts of new scenarios are presenting themselves on how to make use of the knife, including, but not limited to, adding needed information to not only identify where the killer came from, but also to help develop the relationship between the MC and his police captain friend.

I did a quick Google search just now and found a cool Aztec ceremonial knife that would work, but unfortunately, that knife is held in the British Museum nor is it ancient enough, which means it won’t work in my story. Shame.

aztec ceremonial knife

I’ve got more research to do. Down the rabbit hole I go!

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