Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 92, June 30, 2010

Today, the weather was so nice it could have been packaged in San Diego and sent overnight express. Yes, that's my way of saying I didn't do my usual number of pages. Tomorrow's supposed to be really nice, too. But I know I'll do at least five pages and maybe more. Usually, I like to write first drafts of novels during the winter, when it's very easy to stay indoors. In fact, working on writing a novel for three-plus months is a good way to make the cold weather seem to go by quickly. But this project got off schedule.

That's life.

I wrote three pages today. The first scene was actually an addition to yesterday's last scene. Not a normal occurrence, but it happens. Now another character is putting his life in jeopardy. (Read yesterday's post if you want to know more.) In the other scene, a supporting character dupes the sexual predator into coming out of his hiding place. He has ill intent for the predator, but who gets the better of whom remains to be seen.

Day 92 of writing my new novel is done.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 91, June 29, 2010

Today marks the three-month point since I began writing the first draft manuscript of my new novel. In that time, I've written 431 pages or 130,579 words. This is a fair bit more than I anticipated when I set out. At that point, I expected the manuscript would come in between 350-400 pages.But these things, obviously, are hard to predict. Without the benefit of reading the entire manuscript, which I won't do until it's finished and I take two weeks off to decompress, I don't think I've done any padding. I'm working in a way that feels right to me, giving the characters the development they deserve but not letting any of them run away with the story.

Even so, things around the home front have reached the point where my wife and daughter ask every day: Are you going to finish soon? And I say: Yes, soon. Which is true. Soon being a relative thing. But I don't think I have more than a week to ten days to go. Really.

I wrote another five pages today. In the first scene, the protagonist, though he hasn't realized it yet, has discovered the means by which the antagonists intend to bring their plan to a conclusion. The question is, will the light dawn in time to prevent large scale mayhem? In the second scene, a major supporting character who has been recruited by the antagonists considers the real possibility he might die as a result of his choice.

Day 91 of writing my new novel is done.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 90, June 28,2010

If it isn't one thing, it's another. The mouse on my Mac decided to lose full functionality today. The scroll ball will no longer scroll up. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but I scroll up and down all the time. It's one way I make sure I haven't fallen into any verbal cul de sacs, i.e. overusing a particular word.Online help says maybe I can fix it by cleaning it. My extended warranty ran out—last week!—or I'd just replace the damn thing.

Anyway, I got another five pages done today. In scene one, the protagonist catches a break, maybe, by learning the cell phone number of the chief antagonist. If she has her phone on, he'll be able to locate her. Sadly, her phone is off, but he maintains hope that she'll turn it on before long. In the second scene, we learn where the chief antagonist is hiding. Pretty clever place, but surrounded by hostiles all the same. In scene three, we hear how people can justify almost anything, including setting up their own paramilitary force.

A potent brew is being mixed.

Day 90 of writing my new novel is done.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 89, June 27, 2010

As promised, I was back at it today, wrote six pages.Good pages, too. Advanced the story, maintained both the narrative and characters' voices. If I sound like I'm patting myself on the back, I am. For me, even a little—needed—time away from the story can make the resumption of writing a bit bumpy. But not today.

In today's first scene, two of the top three antagonists are working on putting on what they call their big show when they get a phone call. The caller informs them not only has the nature of their scheme been uncovered but an unforeseen opponent will be trying to stop them. This is called ratcheting up the tension. In the second scene, an act of treachery occurs between the sexual predator and his increasingly aggressive enabler. The predator fears the enabler is setting him up to take a fall for a crime the enabler is planning to commit. No honor among perverts.

Day 89 of writing my new novel is done.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 88, June 26, 2010

Today turned out to be an unplanned off day. That's okay. After writing 416 pages, I don't feel bad about cutting myself a little slack. A lot of mundane household chores got done, and I still went back and caught up with the last 20 pages of scene breaks—my after the fact outline—and polished the writing on those pages. So I wasn't a complete literary slacker.

Back at it bright and early tomorrow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 87, June 25, 2010

As a thriller comes to a close, the tension has to build. Otherwise there aren't any thrills. Readers will be disappointed and fling their printed books at hard surfaces. (This is one place where e-readers can't compete. You wouldn't want to fling your Kindle or iPad at a wall unless you have a lot of money and someone to clean up after you.) But when a writer wants to increase the tension he has to keep a few things in mind. He should pick up the pace of the story. Ideally, this will get the reader to zip through the text and turn the pages faster, too. Each scene should be of more consequence: life or death situations are always good but ones that have been done a million times should be avoided. From my point of view, the language used should become more spare and pointed.

But you can't—absolutely cannot—change your character's basic nature or voice. You can exaggerate both because extreme conditions can produce extreme reactions, but Nancy Pelosi will never become Liz Cheney or vice versa. Right? Right.

Today, I wrote five-plus pages. In the first scene, the previously passive sexual voyeur is finding increasing pleasure in taking a more active role. His counterpart, the doer not the watcher of the two, on the other hand, counsels caution and is rebuffed. So, true to his nature, he conceives a way of both getting his thrills and protecting himself the best he can. In scene two, a minor supporting character calls upon the lessons of a historic massacre to try to persuade a major supporting character to get out of Dodge. He fails, leaving the reader with a sense of foreboding. In scene three, two media figures bring a sense of anxious reality to an increasingly surreal gathering of ordinary men who could become very dangerous.

Day 87 of writing my new novel is done.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 86, June 24, 2010

I forgot to mention in the previous post that I've crossed page 400 and the manuscript as of today is nearing 125,000 words. Don't want to let things go too much farther. Publishers have concerns, legitimately, about the cost of paper and ink. It's incredible how fast things like that can add to your expenses. Also, fat books are harder to read while bathing. That thought makes me wonder: Do you think Kindles, iPads and other e-readers are waterproof? If not, there have probably been a costly number oopsy-splashies around the world.

On to today's report. I wrote six-plus pages. This is akin to making a good kick at the end of a marathon. In today's scenes the protagonist's wife decides it wouldn't be a bad idea to take steps to protect herself. The protagonist puts the word out to someone who might be in touch with the chief antagonist that it's not too late for her to call off the climax of her plan and make a clean getaway. And social cohesion breaks down to the point that people feel they have to resort to arming themselves for their own protection—and, no, I'm not talking about the Tea Party here.

Day 86 of writing my new novel is done.

Day 85, June 24, 2010

You've heard of baseball games getting rained out? Last night my blog got rained out. To be more precise, it got T-stormed out. I was writing later than usual. Took a break for dinner. By the time I intended to come back and post yesterday's blog, the storm had moved in, and it stayed until the time I was ready to conk out for the day. As mentioned previously in this blog, when there's heavy lightning in the area, I unplug my computer to keep it from getting fried.

Anyway, I wrote five pages yesterday. In scene one, the protagonist discovers the way the antagonists have been spying on him. Rather than dismantle it, he will try to use it to turn the tables. In scene two, there's a meeting of two disgruntled employees, one current, one former. They form an alliance. They should really know better than to trust one another, but they don't, and alliances of convenience can become anything but convenient in the end.

Day 85 of writing my new novel was done yesterday. (On to today's work.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 84, June 22, 2010

Things are coming together for the protagonist. He tracks down a person who gives him information that will lead to the discovery of how the antagonists seem to have an omniscient awareness of everything that's going on in his town. Meanwhile, the powers that be in that community form an alliance outside the bounds of customary law enforcement, i.e. they form a vigilante group, to protect their interests. The question is raised whether the forces of the law can bring the situation to an orderly conclusion before the hotheads wind up spilling any blood. Not a bad question to keep the reader engaged.

I wrote 5.5 pages today, and I'm a bit tired so I'll keep this post short.

Day 84 of writing my new novel is done.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 83, June 21, 2010

Doing a bit of rough calculation today, I estimated that I've spent approximately 400 hours so far on writing this first draft of my new novel. That would be 16.66 days writing around the clock or ten forty-hour weeks. Does anybody actually work forty hours per week anymore? Seems like a lot of people can't find full-time work and others get a fixed salary and are required to put in many more than forty hours per week.

Anyway, it's been a lot of time to work on one story, but I still feel good about it. My daughter asked me today, "Do you know where you're going?" Meaning do I know how the story ends. I told her I do, and the path to getting there is becoming clearer all the time. That's a very good sign. It's a big problem when you write almost 400 pages and you know neither what your ending will be nor how to reach it.

I wrote 4.5 pages today. In the first scene I wrote, I laid down a plot development courtesy of a secondary character that will pay dividends for the protagonist. In the second scene, the protagonist experiences two revelations after admitting he's the guy responsible for a screwup—rather than try to pass the buck to someone else.

Day 83 of writing my new novel is done.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 82, June 20, 2010

Today was a getting back to business day. That means I had to pick up the threads of the various story lines. That required going back and reading the last 30-40 pages I wrote. (Getting back to business is much easier to do when you're early in the story; you have far less material to remember. Now, being near the end, there's a heckuva lot of detail to keep in mind.) As I go through the pages I'm rereading, I inevitably find typos or come up with a new word or turn of phrase I like better than what was there before.

So after doing all that, I got three new pages written, a fair day's work when plunging back into the deep end. Momentum has been reestablished. I also clearly outlined what the first two scenes I'll write tomorrow will be. That means at some subconscious level I'm working on them right now.

In today's scene a supporting character's health takes a turn for the worse. Seen in isolation, the scene is almost trivial. Seen in context it's reminiscent of the "For Want of a Nail" proverb. Small actions can have large consequences.

Day 82 of writing my new novel is done.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 81, June 19, 2010

Today I wrote zero pages and I spent six hours collecting bruises. All in the name of writing. In my most recent novel, The President's Henchman, the protagonist, James J. McGill, becomes the first private eye to live in the White House by virtue of being married to the woman who becomes the first female president. Among McGill's talents is his mastery of a martial art called Dark Alley which was devised by his uncle. Dark Alley is described as organized street fighting: anything goes.

When I was looking for a self-defense course for my daughter before she went off to college, I happened to meet an interesting fellow by the name of Jim Sullivan. He taught what he called a practical self-defense course. You'd learn something in the very first lesson that could be of help to you the moment you walked out of the class. Through Jim, I came to hear of Kelly Worden, who if he doesn't know every martial art in the world certainly knows most of them. Not only knows them but has mastered them. He's taught close quarters combat techniques to U.S. special forces soldiers. He is the real life version of what I'm writing about with Jim McGill.

Yesterday, Kelly Worden came to town. I signed up for his two-day seminar, figuring anything I learned would only make my fictional hero more believable. Oh, man, did I get an education: instruction in tactical knife fighting, modern arnis, jeet kun do and other martial disciplines. Along the way, I picked up that assortment of bruises I mentioned.

So right now I'd like to offer an unsolicited testimonial. If there are any other writers out there who'd like to get an up close and personal introduction to just about any style of fighting imaginable—to help their literary efforts, mind you—take a look at See if he's coming to a town near you. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 80, June 18, 2010

Five pages written today, written in somewhat of a hurry, but still good stuff. Time at the keyboard had to accommodate other obligations. Stuff happens. You internalize everyday activities and then you can use them for verisimilitude in your writing. Life is recyclable.

In today's scene, a principal character comes to the unsettling realization that the leader of the antagonists has been operating under her very nose, but comes up with an idea to turn the tables. Meanwhile, the core of the antagonists displays the flexibility to change their tactics to their circumstances. Doubtless, new realities and reactions will be introduced as the story races to a conclusion. This is a good thing. Keeps the reader guessing—and reading.

Day 80 of writing my new novel is done.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 79, June 17, 2010

One of my favorite old time rock 'n' roll songs is the late, great Warren Zevon's "Poor,Poor Pitiful Me," as covered by Linda Ronstadt. The singer/narrator recounts a litany of woe in which even doing herself in is an effort that turns out to be futile. I'd recount the lyrics here except I wouldn't want to give any impressionable soul the wrong idea. One of the reasons I like the song, besides having a good beat you can dance to, is its value for self-mockery when I feel put upon.

The upper respiratory bug I mentioned yesterday is on its way out, but I'm still coughing a little and to complicate matters I had a dental checkup today. So I was lying supine in a dental chair for the better part of an hour, mouth wide open, trying not to cough while the hygienist scraped away the stuff I missed despite flossing twice a day. Not a big deal, but annoying enough to make the minutes drag like I was back in elementary school waiting for three o'clock.

So it was a good thing I got up reasonably early and got three-plus pages in, good stuff, too. In today's scene, I showed that just like evil, all that's necessary for stupidity to triumph is for good men to take a powder. You can't blame the characters in the scene for getting out of harm's way because there's just no talking sense to some people, but you sure wish the people who won't listen to sense were…maybe out of commission with a cold or tied up at the dentist's office. Something.

And like me they just didn't have it in them to get on with their plans later in the day.

Day 79 of writing my new novel is done.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 78, June 16, 2010

Fortunately for me, I rarely get sick. But last night my throat got scratchy, usually the first symptom of getting a cold for me. I don't suffer even minor infections passively. I counterattacked with Zicam lozenges and iced green tea. Felt a little low energy for a while. But I hewed to discipline and got an early start and wrote four pages. Pushed through a workout and a two-mile walk. Then took it easy for a while. Came back to the keyboard this evening and wrote two more pages.

All six pages were nice work. The two scenes I wrote advanced both the plot and the development of character. When you can get a two-fer in a scene you're doing well.

But I'm kinda running out of gas now. So that's it for this post.

Day 78 of writing my new novel is done.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 77, June 15, 2010

Today I got back into my customary pace; I wrote just over five pages. After the past two days of doing seven pages and three pages, doing five felt good. By now I've reached page 373 of the manuscript. I've structured the story, excluding prologue and epilogue, to be one week long, and I'm now into the final full day. It's clear to me at this point that the story will exceed the 400-page length I'd originally envisioned. Might be as long as 440 pages.

But that's okay. It's much better to be a little long, or even a lot long, than to be too short. It's easier to cut than to fill. When I wrote the first draft of my novel Digger, it was over 700 hundred pages. Working with an editor at Bantam, I cut more than 200 pages. Some things I hated to lose, but there was a lot that I cut which only made the story better, a faster more intense read.

So, I'm not concerned about exceeding my anticipated page count.

In today's scenes, the antagonists strike in the wee, dark hours of the morning to scare the hell out of as many people as they can, and they succeed in including the protagonist's wife among that number. So things are getting personal. The sexual predator is foiled by circumstance from striking out at another victim. Far from discouraging him, it only makes him more determined.

The tension keeps ratcheting up.

Day 77 of writing my new novel is done.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 76, June 14, 2010

Have you ever read a book the really grabbed you, one so compelling you just raced through it? But as you approached, say, the last 30-50 pages you slowed down to make the pleasure last longer? I know I have, and the same sort of thing can happen to me when I write a book. I can see the end in sight and my daily production drops to a slower pace.

But that's not what happened today. Today, I made up for a slow Saturday and a slow Sunday. I wrote seven-plus pages. The work just flowed so that was what I enjoyed. Find your happiness where ye may.

Today's three scenes all advanced their plot lines: the sexual predator focuses on a new target, but also contemplates striking out at someone outside of his usual parameters; a supporting character looking to move up in the world might be undone by mundane circumstances, and thereby endanger the life of another; the chief antagonist strikes a bargain with a major supporting character to reach her goal.

All of these storylines examine aspects of character in down-to-earth ways: How can you fulfill an important responsibility that calls for you to be in a specific place when your bladder is about to burst; how can you share a moment of glee with someone you've just thought you might have to do in; how can you trust someone you just met to help you fulfill your greatest ambition?

Asking questions like that and answering them is part of what makes writing so much fun.

Day 76 of writing my new novel is done.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 75, June 13, 2010

Some days can get away from you. But this one didn't, not entirely. I managed to write three pages today. I got up later than I intended. My energy level wasn't the best. The weather went from hot and sticky to serial thunderstorms. Had to shut down and unplug the computer twice, lost momentum. Bah, humbug.

Regarding the possibility of having my computer fried: There are standard warnings that this can happen in a thunderstorm, and it did in fact happen to a woman with whom my wife works. Actually melted her machine. Of course, this same person also had a tornado hit her home, so maybe she's just unlucky. But why take chances?

In the scene I wrote today, the protagonist makes another discovery about the leader of the antagonists. His perception of what's going on is changing by the hour. Making for a difficult situation for someone who's expected to save the day. I'm not sure I like the way the scene is written, but I'm not going back to check it until tomorrow.

Mama said there'd be days like this.

Day 75 of writing my new novel is done.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 74, June 12, 2010

If you want to be good at anything, you have to be dedicated. Do it day in and day out. It has to go beyond simple discipline, but it should be something less than mania. In between these poles is where you find the term love of the game. That's the way I feel about writing. And if you think all this is leading up to my telling you I didn't do any writing today, you're wrong.

I wrote 3.5 very nice pages.

But before I got around to that I felt like being a regular guy and did some Saturday morning summer chores just like most other people around the country. My wife and I took my father's dog for a walk in the park. Dad just turned 90 and though he can still push his lawn mower or snow blower around for an hour, he leaves the dog-walking to us. After that, I mowed the grass, front, back and side. Then I had a talk with my daughter who recently received notice that she's made the dean's list again, after receiving the 1,000th straight 'A' of her academic career, and I told her this was a pretty good sign she should be self-confident.

Then I got down to writing, and it went like silk. Today's scene was revelatory. Two of the antagonists, brilliant though they are, learn that their every move has been observed. More than that, they may be about to receive a big job offer. This is the kind of twist I love in a story. It was unexpected, but it makes sense, and it can thwart a criticism of the story that might have been made before the scene happened.

I might have written more pages, but I pitched in to help get some laundry done.

Day 74 of writing my new novel is done.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 73, June 11, 2010

Today was a good day. Not a whole lot of pages, only four. But four really good pages. They didn't flow smoothly off the keyboard. I had to put some effort into both the writing and the rewriting. But the end product was very satisfying and more important than that the scene advanced the story in terms of both character and plot.

Things are getting tense enough now to allow allusions to hell. The protagonist understands that his own situation is about to change profoundly, but he's still out looking for solutions to the problems that confront his town. But adversity, as it likes to do, only mounts. Two new dangerous characters appear—but this is allowed only because a precedent had been established earlier. You can't just spring things out of the blue without foreshadowing. That's bad writing. But the new threat sparks an insight; the protagonist begins to look at the situation in a whole new light. As a result, the way he approaches solving his problems will have to change.

Good, good day.

Day 73 of writing my new novel is done.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 72, June 10,2010

Ah, what a difference a day makes. My narrative voice is back, my muse is with me, and the work flowed. I wrote five-plus pages, expending only half the effort it took me to do three pages yesterday. But I was able to get to this happy situation only because I gutted through the work yesterday.

In today's scenes, the problem with the sexual predator becomes worse by a factor of two. An ambitious woman gets the feeling there may be a higher risk to achieving her goal than she ever imagined. And a secondary character decides it's time for him to leave, but wants to go out with a bang. Story lines are becoming much more tightly woven creating greater pressure on each strand.

Day 72 of writing my new novel is done.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 71, June 9, 2010

For me, the written word is the way I hear with my eyes. That might sound strange, but people often talk about an author having a "voice." As a reader, I find that to be almost literally true. When I'm caught up in a good story, the experience is very much like listening to someone tell me that story aloud.

When I write, I don't talk to myself, but I can still hear my words as they appear on the computer monitor. Today, I was having a hard time with both what I saw and what I heard. My voice was off key, my tone was flat. It wasn't much fun.

The only thing to do when that happens is to shrug it off. I imagine Sinatra, Elvis and even Meat Loaf all had days when their pipes weren't quite pitch perfect. When that happens, you just have to put it behind you.

Today's scenes were about characters getting jittery as the pressure on them builds. Perfectly okay for the characters. Not so good for the writer. I got three pages written today and on a day like this, that was enough.

Day 71 of writing my new novel is done.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 70, June 8, 2010

Some days come easier than others. When there's a thunder storm, and you're watching your dad's dog, and the dog's afraid of thunder, and the lightning starts flashing, and you decide it's a good idea to shut down and unplug your computer so it doesn't get fried, that kind of stuff can impede your productivity.

And when you write in fits and starts instead of nice big peaceful chunks of time, the quality can suffer.

But so what? If you're a writer, you write. And you don't worry too much about the writing because you're going to rewrite it anyway. And it's just the first draft. The whole thing is subject to revision, polishing, buffing, making it as close to perfect as you can.

All that being the case, I managed to write five-plus pages today, and with the rewrite I did, it turned out pretty well. In today's scene, the protagonist was sitting at his desk occupied with analysis and decision making. Doesn't sound too riveting, I know. But the character is at the center of the story and he has to figure things out as much as the reader does. I think he handles this task quite nicely.

I've always admired this type of scene when it's artfully done, and every writer from Arthur Conan Doyle to John D. MacDonald has done it. I'm happy to be following in a worthy tradition here.

Day 70 of writing my new novel is done.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 69, June 7, 2010

I'm back to writing at home following my research trip and a weekend off to celebrate a landmark birthday in my family. The time away was good but it's very reassuring to be back in familiar surroundings as I bring the first draft of my new novel to a close.

I got off to a good start today, writing five and a half pages. In today's scenes the leader of the antagonists has to go outside her group to recruit an outsider to help her forces pull off their final caper. Thing is, while the recruited character has the technical ability to step right in, will he be agreeable to what he's being asked to do? Also, he's an older guy used to running his own show. Will he be able to subordinate his ego to go along with the wishes of a younger woman? In today's second scene, the spouse of the protagonist loses her job. She didn't do anything wrong. It's a matter of sending a message to the protagonist. Get in line and do what you've been told, and fast, or you could be next.

Day 69 of writing my new novel is done.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Days 61-68, May 29-June 4, 2010

Being without a home Internet connection is so 20th century, and not even a 1990s dial-up connection either. It's also a reminder to me that I was born and raised in a technologically quaint time. Unlike some writers who persist in using a typewriter or even a pen to make words visible, I love using a computer that is hooked into a boundless source of information and communication.

Okay, be that as it may, the important thing is with a few interruptions I've been able to continue to crank out some pages most if not all days over the past two weeks. I did another 3.5 today and the grand total has reached 331 pages and 100,000+ plus words.

The story continues to pick up speed and energy. The protagonist is getting closer to pinning down at least the lead antagonist, but now he's having a big problem with someone who should be an ally. Newly discovered information has revealed that person might just be a bad guy, too. The social structure that forms the context of the story is also becoming more volatile.

This is one of those situations where things will never be the same again.

So part of the fun will be to guess and then find out what the new shapes of things will be.

Days 61-68 of writing my new novel are done.

(Daily posting should resume on June 7, 2010)