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Day Two Hundred and Five: The Gumshoe

December 12, 2011 1 comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

I have to admit, I have a love of the gumshoe. The private dick. The detective for hire. With his trenchcoat and a cigarette and a continual problem with money, I like my detectives scruffy and hard-boiled, just like my eggs.

Wait. No. Never mind.

The point is, of the many iterations of “detective,” that is probably my favorite. The Hard-Boiled Detective (HBD) seems much more working-class and human than the hyper-intellectual detectives you find across the pond. He’s not afraid to beat people up and get his hands dirty. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I like the Dresden Files so much – Jim Butcher has taken that HBD trope and really made a wonderful character out of it.

When the HBD is done well, he’s a treasure. Unfortunately, he’s usually not done well, and I’m pretty sure I can include my own HBD, Taylor Petraglia, in that category. I’m not saying that he’s bad – I would never say such a thing. I’m just saying that he’s incomplete. He sounds like a character imitating an HBD, and still needs to find his own voice.

That said, here’s what we know about him from the two stories he’s been in so far:

43: Investigations

  • He’s a private eye, and has a badge of some kind.
  • He investigated the ex-wife of a SmackyBurger manager
  • He may have once been beaten senseless by a naked man, but doesn’t like to talk about it.

127: Last-Ditch

  • He worked with Peter Wach (from day 46, The Big Day)
  • He has a sparsely-furnished office, about twenty minutes from downtown by subway.
  • He doesn’t have a lot of money.
  • His usual business is tracking down “husbands and runaways.”
  • He has a connection to the hacker Speyeder.
  • He also has a connection to Drake McBane (last seen in day 68: Gasconade)

And that’s pretty much all we know about him. It’s hard to write a P.I., really, without all that has come before him just kind of… leaking in. So the questions one must ask when putting his character together have to start at the fundamental: Why did he choose to be a Private Investigator?

I like to think it was because he dropped out of law school. I can see him going to study law and becoming utterly disenchanted with it. Maybe it was his ideals getting in the way, or the really terrible employment prospects, but at some point he just said “screw this” and dropped out. The problem was that he still had his reason for going into law – he thought he could help people. He got in touch with a city P.I. who showed him the ropes and – after a lengthy attempt to persuade him to become anything else – hired him on as an assistant. Taylor worked for him for a while, and then hung out his own shingle. His specialty is finding people.

He’s technically proficient, with a very good mind for technology. He has a network of highly skilled contacts, such as Speyder, a hacker who is the best at what he/she does and consequently is wanted by nearly every major government, and Drake McBane, a man who considers a day wasted if he doesn’t almost get himself killed.

Taylor’s had a couple of high-profile cases, but for the most part he pounds the pavement and looks for husbands who have fled their families, lost kids, people who owe other people money, that kind of thing. He’s not a rich man, and knows he probably never will be, but he’s not too upset about that.

Story ideas:

  • One of the constants in detective stories is that there must be a moral test for the detective. He must be tempted to do the wrong thing, to look the other way or to exploit his customers in order to line his pockets. Inevitably, of course, the detective resists the temptation because he’s the hero and our heroes can’t do that. So the question is: what was Taylor Petraglia’s moral moment? This will probably end up requiring the creation of a lot of new characters.
  • What was his first solo case?
  • How did he get the P.I. he studied with to take him in?
  • A case that he screwed up.
  • A time someone died.

I have a feeling that these stories should shine a light on who Taylor really is, and once I know that I can start writing some serious stories for him.

Day Two Hundred and Four: The Imposter

December 11, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

DAMN YOU MINECRAFT!!

Just had to get that out. Tonight’s character sketch, randomly chosen, is that of Katrina Lansberg, from day 191: Finders Keepers. Let’s see what the story says about her:

  • She is a telepath, and has been for the last fifteen years.
  • She regularly goes to conventions – literary, sci-fi/fantasy.
  • She uses her ability to take story ideas from authors. “The grain of sand that would make a pearl, given time and effort.”
  • Her first novel was titled Groundling Child.
  • She uses the pseudonym Paula Grant.
  • She likes to sign her own books in bookstores.
  • She went to ZeffCon 2011 to meet Roger Tillman, a very successful author.
  • She found out that he was a telepath as well.
  • They had a psychic confrontation wherein he learned what she had been doing.
  • He assured her that it was her work that made her successful, not her ideas.

Katrina is really a stand-in for the beginning writer – which may or may not be me, depending on the day – who doesn’t have faith in her own abilities. As the story alludes, a lot of people who don’t write for a living assume that the hard part is coming up with the ideas, thus the ever-dreaded “Where do you get your ideas?” question. But the authors I’ve read and talked to say that the ideas really aren’t the whole thing. It’s what you do with them – the fleshing out of the idea, bringing it from the realm of the imagination into a real, living and breathing story. That’s the hard part, and that’s what Katrina is really good at. But because she still thinks that Great Ideas are the key to being a writer, she completely under-appreciates her real skill.

And that’s Katrina in a nutshell: she is someone who is talented, but doesn’t believe in her own talent. She has an amazing gift – telepathy – that she uses for a purpose that is ethically dubious at best, but which she convinces herself is for the best. It’s the kind of little moral compromise we all make from time to time, made easier by the knowledge that she can find her books in nearly any bookstore. And at this point, that is her through-line, her primary motivation: the need to prove herself while at the same time convinced that she’s incapable of proving herself. Until she comes through on her own, she will live in the shadow of her secret…

NaNo was a Triumph!

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Let me make a note here, hold on: huge success.

Seriously, folks – not only did I make the 50,000 word mark, but I blew right through it – the official final total was 73,176 words. Which makes me, as they say, a winner!

Before we get into a review of the whole experience, let’s just take a look at the last section, which was broadly based on the aether – a fifth element that, for reasons unknown to me, does not usually appear as a quirky redhead. It was, instead, the substance through which light waves were thought to propagate. A rather clever and simple experiment managed to prove that the aether didn’t exist, however, which makes it perfect for telling stories about other things that don’t exist – ghosts, ESP, spirits of every shape and size.

  • Houseguests is a tale of a haunted house, where fourteen boys were tortured and killed. The house is bought by a pair of dedicated skeptics. Because after all – there’s no such thing as ghosts, right? Except for the ones that really do live there…
  • The Bad News tells more of Carly Siminsky’s story. Carly is a telekinetic girl, held by the Department of National Security for – allegedly – her own safety. She’s doing well in her training, until she hears something that she cannot endure.
  • Spirit Guide, in which a young man is having problems with his date. Mainly because his spirit guide, a floating blue panda bear, is trying to help him get lucky.
  • Finders Keepers, a story that may or may not reflect some writers’ bias, is about a woman, a telepath who uses her powers to steal the seeds of ideas from famous authors to build a writing career of her own. The latest author, however, might be harder to get into than she thought.
  • Hotline is about a psychic, but not a real one. A young woman acting as a telephone psychic to make money for college. Her last call of the night, however, turns out to be one she couldn’t have forseen.
  • Dream Intervention is the monthly revisitation of a story I wrote last month. A man with the power to enter the dreams of others is trying to help a young man with a problem that even he doesn’t understand.

It was a good section, with some fun ideas that popped into my head, and others that actively resisted being drawn out into reality. But I suppose the aether is like that – indefinable, and unreliable. At 12,453 words, it was the second shortest section – probably due to the fact that there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure anymore.

Most important, though, was that I finished NaNoWriMo with plenty of time to spare, and managed to get a very respectable number of words in before the month ended. How did I do it, you might ask? Very simple:

  • I planned. I made sure that I knew what I was going to do for the month, and had keywords set up to give me something to think about while I put the stories together. Aside from providing a seed for the story to grow from (which is pretty much where Finders Keepers is all about), it allowed me to think about the stories during time when I normally wouldn’t write.
  • I was regular in my writing. My regular writing time is at night – usually after eight or so, given my schedule, and I need to finish by eleven. That’s not a whole lot of time, but I made damn sure I used it. If I couldn’t – for example, on Wednesdays, when the podcast is due – I would do as much as I could during the day.
  • I used all the time I had on my hands. The effect of this, of course, what that I didn’t have a lot of time to do anything else. I didn’t read a book all month, or write a review or anything, which seems really out of character and weird for me.

What this means for the future, of course, is that now I have an excellent month to point to and say, “I did that.” Over 70,000 words, and if I print out the whole month, single-spaced, it’s just over 160 pages.

A triumph indeed.

For December, though, I’m going to ramp things down a little. Do some world-building and exploring, look at some of the people and places I’ve created over the last six months and 279,000 words. It should be an interesting little vacation.

Day One Hundred and Ninety-one: Finders Keepers

November 28, 2011 3 comments

Katrina kept herself amused as she waited for the keynote speaker by reading the minds of the people sitting around her.

ZeffCon 2011 was packed. The Allenhurst Civic Center had been chosen because last year’s con couldn’t fit into the Eldewylde Hotel that had hosted it for the years previous. The con’s organizers were, of course, thrilled, since a bigger place meant more attention, more participants, and of course, bigger guests.

And it didn’t get much bigger than the keynote speaker for the con, the man that Katrina was there to see.

Roger Tillman had grown to be one of the most popular new authors of fantasy and science fiction in the last ten years, and the competition to get tickets for the speech was fierce. If she hadn’t gotten in, Katrina would have had to approach him somewhere else in the con to pick his brains. As it was, she could do it from her fifth-row seat at her leisure. Her talents did come in handy sometimes.

The man next to her had a song running through his head that was beginning to get on her nerves. She carefully blocked him out and focused on the large woman sitting next to her, who seemed desperately trying to think of an alternative to the only question she could think of to ask Tillman when he did his signing. Katrina dug a little deeper – “Where do you get your ideas?” She sighed and pulled out of the woman’s head.

Katrina had no idea where other writers got their ideas, but she knew where she got hers: from them.

The first time she’d done it was at a convention in San Diego fifteen years ago. She met a middling mystery author there, whose sales were slumping. While Katrina poured on the praise for the woman’s books, she took her first peek into the depths of an author’s mind.

She’d always been a “peeker,” as she called herself, ever since she started to hear what people were thinking back when she was a little girl. She couldn’t help herself back then – she was curious, and people were just loud. But as she got older, she got better at going in and finding what she wanted. She found it really useful for remembering names, for one, and it made her sales job at the time a lot easier to do.

What she really wanted to do, though, was write. Ever since high school, she’d tried writing short stories and novels, and what she came up with were stories that she ended up hiding in a drawer and forgetting about. Her ideas, she thought, weren’t any good. What she needed, then, were good ideas. And what better place to find them than in the heads of people who’d proven they could write?

In the end, though, she found it much less exotic than she’d thought. This author had her ideas cluttered about like a musty basement. Dull plots and half-formed characters, a title or a first line or two. Things she was probably working on but wasn’t ready to publish yet. Works in progress and works that would probably never get finished. This woman’s mind was a mess.

Katrina looked a little deeper, into the shadows of the woman’s mind, and it was there that she found what she would look for in every writer’s mind afterward. She found the seed of an idea. The grain of sand that would make a pearl, given time and effort. Katrina turned the idea over in her hands and examined it. There was something there about a house where a child was kept in the basement… a father who pretended she wasn’t his… a boy next door?

It would do. Katrina took the idea back with her and retreated back into her own mind. She thanked the author for her time and her signature and headed back to her hotel room. A few hours later and she had the book plotted out in her head. Just the rough outline, with a few important steps to it, but it was there. A few months of work and she’d produced her first novel, Groundling Child, which was published a year to the day after her meeting at the convention.

She’d published it under a pseudonym – Paula Grant – just in case the original author came looking for her. But she never did. As far as Katrina could tell, she never knew that the idea had been stolen at all.

Emboldened, Katrina started visiting more cons and meeting more authors. Each time, she found a seed, a germ of a story idea and took it back with her. Before she knew it, she was writing every day, and selling one or two books a year, in addition to short stories. The critics didn’t rave, but people bought them and within a few years she could go to any airport bookstore and see some Paula Grant novels on the shelves. If she had time, and the clerk was busy, she would stealth-sign them. They usually showed up on internet auction sites and got a good price, since the elusive author had never appeared publicly to promote her books.

But where Paula was something of a mystery, Katrina had become a familiar face at conventions around the country. Anywhere a famous author would show up, Katrina would be there. If she could, she’d even volunteer so that she’d have an even better chance at getting a face-to-face meeting.

This time, though, she’d had to settle for just being a member of the audience. The lights dimmed, and one of the con’s organizers came out to say how honored they were to have the world famous fantasy/science fiction giant speak at their convention. “Ladies and Gentlemen: Roger Tillman!”

The audience went crazy, of course. Some people already had copies of his latest book in hardcover and were waving them in the air as he came to the stage and waited out the applause. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you.” He said it a few more times before the crowd calmed down.

“Wow,” he said. “I never expected such a reception. They told me that ZeffCon crowds were the best, and I guess they were right.”

More applause.

Katrina screened out everyone around her. The fat woman was just thinking, Ohmygod Ohmygod Ohmygod over and over again. Shutting her out was like pressing against a wind-blown door, but Katrina managed to do it. She wanted peace and quiet in her head before she went into his. The speech would give her more than enough time to look around, poke into the dark corners and see what she could find. Nobody ever seemed to notice her rifling through their mind, and time seemed to go differently in there as it was.

He was telling some story about how he got started, but Katrina just let it wash over her. She concentrated on a point just between his eyebrows, past the steel-rimmed glasses he was wearing. And she pushed.

On the stage, Tillman stumbled over his words and looked directly at her.

In her head, she heard him ask, WHO ARE YOU?

She recoiled back into her own mind and looked up at him with wide eyes. He seemed to have recovered from his verbal stumble and was back to talking about his high school English teacher, but she knew – she knew that he had felt her go in. And she was pretty sure he knew who she was.

Katrina picked up her jacket and whispered, “Excuse me” as she moved past the other convention-goers. The looks they gave her were anywhere from shocked to annoyed, and if she was listening she would have heard them think some very nasty thoughts. But she’d closed all the doors and windows, as it were, and got out of the main hall as fast as she could.

The rest of the con was sparsely attended during the keynote. She made her way to the art room before she found a place to sit down and gather her thoughts and figure out her options. It had been dark in that hall. He probably didn’t get a good look at her face, and so he probably wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a crowd by sight. But if he was anything like her, he might not need to see her. He might be able to find her no matter where she went. She started going through her bag to find her hotel key when she felt a certain… pressure coming towards her.

It was like a noise, but not a noise. Like a wave that was coming in from far away when you went to the beach, but not quite that either. It was the way the wind changed before a storm or a song started to build before it reached a crescendo. By the time she realized what it was, it was too late.

Roger Tillman came running around the corner, his mind blazing like a beacon to hers.

When he saw her, he grinned, and that beacon switched off instantly. The feeling of pressure vanished, and Katrina put a hand to her head. He stopped a few steps away. “Wow,” he said. He was smiling madly and couldn’t seem to keep still. “Just… wow.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I had to say that I wasn’t feeling well and cut the speech short, but I assured them they loved what they’d heard.” He tapped his temple and winked. “It’s just that…” His voice dropped to a whisper, and this handsome man looked like a kid for a moment. “It’s just that I’ve never met anyone like me before. I couldn’t let you get away.” He reached out for her, but she shrank back.

“Thank you,” she said. “But I really didn’t mean to… do that. I just wanted to…” She couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Wanted to what?” he asked. He glanced around. “Are there more of us here or something?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “No, I’ve never met anyone either.” She didn’t dare look him in the eye, for fear that she’d reveal what she was trying to do. She’d read his books and loved them, and idea-borrowing aside, she looked up to him as a fellow writer.

No. As a writer. There was no “fellow” about it, of that she was sure. She was pretty certain that he didn’t pluck ideas out of people’s heads, and that would make all the difference.

“Listen,” he said. “I know there’s something you want to say. I can feel it. If you’ll just -“

“I have to go,” she said. She picked up her bag and tried to smile. “It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Tillman. I… I have to go.” She turned to leave, and that’s when she felt his hand on her shoulder.

She was running through a forest. It was deep and dark, and the bundle in her arms was moving. “Hush,” she said to it. She leaped with long, strong legs over fallen trees, and the wind rushed through her hair. There was no other sound but her footsteps and her breathing.

And the thing behind her.

She couldn’t see him, but she knew he was chasing. He was a force unto himself, tearing the great trees out by the roots as he pursued her. Great vines spiraled down from the trees, and she had to slice through them with her dagger before they could grab hold. She held the bundle tightly to her chest as she jumped across a chasm that opened up in front of her, curled up in a ball to fly through a wall of flame, and rolled back to her feet on the sand-swept desert floor.

Spikes of stone and brick shot up around her, blocking her path. A great whirlwind dropped from the swirling clouds overhead and moved as she moved. From behind, she could hear him.

“It is over,” he growled. “Give it to me.”

“Never!” she screamed, and she held the squirming bundle close. “You can’t have it!” Iron chains erupted from the ground, wrapping around her legs, her arms, her shoulders, and dragging her down. She held on as tightly as she could, but when he came close, it was a matter of only a moment before her treasure was revealed to him.

It was wrapped in rotting cloth, stained and fouled from years of use. Inside was the dried, rotted corpse of an infant, long dead. Its skin was gray and flaking away, its eyes dark hollows in a fragile skull. Beetles crawled across it and onto her fingers. She screamed and dropped the dead thing to the ground, where it exploded in a puff of dust. Her heart full of rage, she looked up at the man silhouetted by a giant and angry sun and -

Roger took his hand away and looked shocked when she spun on him. She glared through tear-filled eyes and then looked away. There was a small crowd gathering.

“Wait,” he said quietly. “That’s it?” He started to smile, but the tears running down her face were enough to set him straight again. “Katrina – Paula, that’s your big secret?”

She nodded. “I hope you’re happy,” she hissed. “You’ve ruined me.”

He took a step back, and this time he did smile. “Katrina, I bought two of your books in the airport to read on my trip.” She glanced up at him. “Seriously – they’re in my bag right now.” He took her hand in his, and she flinched. Nothing else happened, though. “They’re really good, Katrina.”

She shook her head. “They’re not mine,” she said.

“Of course they are.”

“No!” She pulled her hands away and dropped her voice to a whisper. “I found those ideas in other people’s heads. I went in and I took them and I wrote some books.” She wiped her eyes. “But they’re not really mine.”

Roger turned around and leaned against the wall. “Katrina,” he said. “Ideas are…” He wave a hand in the air. “Ideas are a dime a dozen. People have ideas all the time, and they ignore them or throw them away or let them fade. Any schmuck can have an idea.” He stood up straight and looked her in the eyes. “What makes you a writer is what you do with the ideas. You did the hard work. You put in the time and the energy to write them. You figured out the characters and papered over the plot holes and wrote and re-wrote.” He chuckled. “Believe me, I know what it takes to put a book out, and I know you did the grunt work.”

Katrina didn’t say anything. She looked away.

“Look,” he said. “I get ideas from all over the place. A word on the street, a phrase in a song, a weird sign or a guy in a restaurant or just some bizarre combination of thoughts. That doesn’t mean they aren’t mine, and it doesn’t mean the stories I write aren’t mine either.” He shrugged. “Okay, so what you’re doing might not be the most ethical thing in the world, true. But I’ll tell you this: the woman who wrote those books can get her ideas from anywhere she wants, as far as I’m concerned.”

She sniffed, and finally looked at him. “You’re not going to tell anyone?” she asked.

He laughed. “Who would believe me? However,” he said after a pause, “it might make a good short story.” He winked. She smiled, despite herself.

See you around, he thought to her.

She lifted a hand to wave. See you. The crowd followed him out of the art room, a few people lingering to see who this woman might be that had caught his interest. Katrina smiled at them and took up her bag.

He was right. It would make a good short story.

But this time, it wouldn’t be hers.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-six: Character Work

October 24, 2011 1 comment

Sean slammed the door and started piling furniture in front of it. The pumping station was quiet, except for his breathing and the scraping of  steel desks against the concrete floor. He had blocked the main entrance, but the zombies would get through that pretty quickly. All he had to do was keep them out, and he’d stay alive.

But for how long? With the door blocked, he lit a flare and propped it in the corner, filling the station with red, flickering light. The great machines cast terrible shadows against the high ceiling, and those shadows made him nervous. Too many places to hide. He wanted to check his watch, but there was no point to that anymore. He’d locked them out, yes, but unless they decided to go off and hunt someone else, he’d also locked himself in. 

He took a deep breath and reviewed what he had. A handgun, with no ammunition. A shotgun. Also, with nothing to fire. No more grenades, only a couple more flares. He still had his knife, though. The one he’d gotten when he finished SEAL training. It had never left his side, and he hoped that he’d be brave enough to use it on himself if the zombies did manage to break through. No food. No water. Soon, he’d be able to hear the ungodly gurgle and howl of the zombies outside the door.

Sean gripped his knife and took a few deep breaths. One way or another, he was dying in this room tonight.

Wes practically slammed the enter key when he finished that line and fell back in his chair. He took a deep breath and let it out, and then rubbed his eyes for a few moments before saving the document. He had been writing that sequence for days, and when he finally got his teeth in it, he blasted the whole thing out in a couple of hours. He did a quick check of the word count – a hair under seven thousand, which wasn’t bad at all. Great, actually, considering the story had been coming in drips and drabs for the last few weeks, barely shuffling along any faster than the zombies that were supposed to be the driving force.

“Why did I choose zombies?” he asked himself as he saved the file again and set it to print. This book had been sitting on his hard drive for ages, taunting him. He’d have an inspiration, spend a weekend pounding out the pages, and then it would all go away again, and he had no idea why. He liked his characters – even the ones he’d killed in gruesome ways. And Sean Danfield was a good character. You can’t go wrong with a Navy SEAL in this kind of story, and what with the abandonment by his father when he was a kid, Wes figured he could have the poor guy searching for some kind of psychological closure all the way up to the end of act three.

It was just getting him to act three that was the problem. “How the hell am I going to get you out of there?” he muttered.

“Wait just one goddamn minute,” a voice said. A man stepped out of his hallway, bloody and exhausted. He probably would have been handsome in a normal setting, if he wasn’t covered in gore and looking like he was about to snap and kill someone. And holding a giant knife. He had glossy black hair and deep brown eyes that Wes knew drove the women nuts. Or at least, they had done in the first chapter, before the zombies showed up. He strode towards the desk, the knife clutched in his hand. “What the hell do you mean you don’t know how to get me out of there?”

“Now isn’t a good time, Sean,” Wes said.

“The hell it isn’t!” He slammed the knife, point-first, into Wes’ desk and the wood nearly split.

Wes looked up at him. “Please, Sean. This is IKEA. It can barely withstand the tremendous pressure of just being a desk.” He put on what he thought was a kindly smile. “Don’t worry, Sean. I’ll find a way out of there for you.”

The big man was trembling as he stood there, and then he walked to Wes’ big overstuffed chair and slumped into it, his head in his hands. He didn’t cry – Wes was absolutely sure that Sean Danfield didn’t cry – but he was as close as he’d get to it. His voice was thick and quiet. “When?” he asked. “When are you getting me out of there?”

Wes levered himself up. “I don’t know, Sean. Eventually.”

“Eventually?” Sean looked up and his eyes were rimmed with red. “No no no no.” He stood up and rand his fingers through his short-cropped hair. “I can’t do eventually. Not like the time you left me in that police station for – what was it, six months?”

“A year,” Wes said. He almost felt ashamed.

“A year,” Sean whispered. “Jesus.”

Wes watched him for a moment, and then went into the kitchen to make coffee. It usually did a good job of calming Sean down. The first time Sean had shown up in his living room, Wes was terrified. That would, of course, be the only rational reaction to having a complete stranger, armed to the teeth and scared out of his wits, show up out of nowhere in your apartment in the middle of the afternoon. But once it became apparent what was going on, the relationship between the two men turned… different. Sean was well aware of the fact that Wes technically controlled his destiny, but Wes was equally aware of the fact that he needed Sean if he was going to finish the book. And so an uneasy detente was formed. Sean agreed to spend as much time as possible in the story, or wherever it was that he spent his time, and Wes agreed to write the story to the best of his ability.

Would that it were that easy. Wes’ poor habits made it hard to keep Sean’s story moving, or even necessarily making sense. More than once he’d had to backtrack and start a section again, just so he could get Sean out of a bind that had no exit. And it looked like he might have to do that again now. The problem was that they further he got in the book, the harder it would be to unmake the plot without starting over.

He carried two cups of coffee out to the living room and set the black in front of Sean. The man had his head back, and was staring at the ceiling. Wes sat across from him and sipped in the silence.

“Did you know that Leah was going to die?” Sean asked. He bent forward and cradled the mug in his hands.

The silence lingered for a minute. “No,” Wes replied quietly. “Not until it happened.”

Sean put the mug down. “How could you not know?” He put his head in his hands. “How could you not know something like that?”

All Wes could do was shrug. “Sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes the story surprises you. The characters surprise you.” He picked up his own cup. “I mean, it was something she would do, of course. Saving your life like that.”

“I didn’t want her to save my life,” Sean said. “Not if it meant losing her.”

There was really nothing to say to that, so Wes didn’t say anything. He just let his coffee cool on the table for a while. Sean sat, immobile, staring at the floor.

Finally, Wes stood up. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get to work.” He held out a hand and waited for Sean to take it.

The other man didn’t move. Wes offered it again, but still Sean sat still. Finally the man said, “What if I don’t want to?”

Wes’ hand fell. “What?”

Sean took a deep breath. “What if I don’t want to go on like this?” He looked up, and his eyes were full of despair. “I can’t do this anymore, Wes,” he said. “Losing my friends? Running just a half-step ahead of certain death all the time? Watching the world I knew just…” He spread his fingers and stared at his empty hands. “Just fall apart?”

He shook his head. “I can’t do this anymore, Wes. Let them in.” He stood up and walked slowly over to the computer, caressing the screen. “Let them break down the door. The blockade I made isn’t that great, after all. They’ll get in eventually.” He tugged the knife from the desk. “Give me a moment to use this, and it’ll all be over. For both of us.”

He stared at the knife, turning it to catch the light, and Wes felt for the first time like he was in some real trouble. “Sean,” he said, carefully putting an arm around the man’s shoulders. “You know I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” Sean whispered.

That was a tough question. Wes had an answer for it, of course, and any good writer would have had the same answer. He just didn’t think that Sean would believe him. He took a deep breath and let Sean go. “Because that’s not the kind of character you are, Sean Danfield. And you know it.”

Sean crumpled to his knees and – to Wes’ shock – started to weep quietly. The moment was terrible, but there was a part of his writer’s mind that was absorbing the whole thing, thrilled by the revelation that there was a place Sean could go that he hadn’t forced him to yet. That there was still another layer that could be stripped away. Wes could use that, and he felt like a monster even to acknowledge it. He got down beside his character and helped him stand up. “Come on,” Wes said. “Let’s get you out of there.”

He pulled over another chair, sat Sean down in it, and then settled down in front of the computer. He jiggled the mouse to turn off the screen saver and went back to where he had left off. “Okay,” he said. “You’re in the pumping station, the zombies are right outside. What do you do?” He looked over at Sean, who was still staring at the floor. “Come on,” he said. “Is this what they taught you in SEAL training? To give up?”

That got his attention. Sean looked up, and his face finally had some life in it. “No,” he said.

“Okay then!” Wes cracked his knuckles and waggled his fingers over the keyboard. “So. What do you do?”

Sean stood up and retrieved his coffee before answering. “It’s a pumping station, right?” He nodded. “Okay. So there’s probably, what… Maintenance tunnels or something?”

Wes grinned. “There are now,” he said, and started typing furiously. Sean sat down next to him and watched the words pour onto the page and offered ideas where he could. They worked that way long into the night.

When the chapter was finished, and Sean was safe – for the moment – Wes sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. When he opened them, the chair next to him was empty. The other coffee cup was cold. He stretched, saved the chapter and then shut down the computer. Four in the morning, another five thousand words.

“Nice work,” he said. “Thanks for your help.” His jaw cracked in a yawn and he plodded off to bed for a long sleep.

The results for July!

July 31, 2011 2 comments

Because I know y’all have been waiting for it. And by y’all, I mean Me.

Anyway, this month I wrote 45,115 words, which is an improvement of 6,783 words over June, so HUZZAH! It’s still not the magic 50,000 word mark, but it’s getting there. The total number of words written for this project so far clocks in at 94,559 words, to which I say…

Wow.

That comes to about 1,332 words per day, on average. Again, below the NaNoWriMo limit of 1,667 and a fair bit below the number that Stephen King recommends, 2,000 words per day.

But you know what? I’m pretty damned pleased with it. I know that word count is not the end-all be-all of writing – the quality of what you write should trump the quantity of words. But that’s really the only measurable thing I have to work with, so it’s what I use. I think the quality is generally good, perhaps better than I expected, but I am biased. The comments I’m getting so far are positive, too.

I had only one story that was unfinished, and that was mostly because I was sick. Unlike June’s unfinished piece, I actually want to pick up on this one and try it again sometime, so we’ll see.

Some other things I’ve discovered: my writing time is generally after 8:00 PM, unless I have nothing else to do. I bring my iPad with me to work, and try to get some writing done then, but it’s very hard to split my attention from all the things I’m supposed to be doing as a teacher and the things I want to be doing as a writer. So the best I can do is jot down ideas, and by the time I get settled down to write it’s after 8, and most of the time this is no problem. I do have a very teacherly 11:00 bedtime, though, so if I can find a way to give myself more time, I will. This is especially important on Wednesdays, because I record the podcast Wednesday nights, and on days when I actually want to do something in the evening.

What’s also fun is trying to explain the stories to The Boyfriend. He really wants me to do stories with happy endings, perhaps something light and humorous, so when I say, “Tonight’s story is about two kittens who turn into ZOMBIES!!” he just throws up his hands and says, “Okay, have fun.”

This month was also interesting in that I did my first fan fiction, which I’m pretty sure I’ll do again. And a week of stories based on obscure words that I found over on Luciferous Logolepsy, a great place if you’re interested in words that don’t get a lot of exposure anymore.

All in all, things are going well. August should be interesting, as I’m taking a trip for a couple of weeks, so we’ll see how that goes. I don’t plan on missing any days of writing, though posting might be a bit sproadic. More on that later.

For now, thanks for stopping by and reading!

Here’s what I’ve done so far….

Well, June is over, so I figured I’d take a look at how I’m doing. After all, it is said that one way to make sure you stick to an ongoing project is to keep track of how it’s going. And since I have a natural love of organizing information, here’s what I’ve got so far:

I started this on May 22nd – my birthday – because it seemed like a good enough time to start. So, for those ten days I wrote 11,112 words, for an average of 1,111 per entry. Not too shabby, but not quite where I want to be just yet.

For June, I wrote 38,332 words, for an average of 1,278 words per entry. Getting better, as we can see. Of these entries, only one qualified as unfinished – an untitled piece on June 9th that just veered off the rails, rolled down the hill and caught fire. After hitting a busload of nuns.

Sometimes you have to know when to take your hands off the keyboard and back away slowly.

My goal is the NaNoWriMo Limit – 50,000 words per month, which means an average of 1,613-1,724 words per day, depending on the month. I’m not sure what I’ll do when NaNoWriMo actually rolls around, but we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

I’ve also hit on a few interesting things to look forward to on a regular basis. FridayFlash is one, a way to get more readers in to look at what I’m doing. Another is the character mash-up, wherein I take two randomly selected characters and put them together to see what happens. I’ve got over ninety to choose from, and that number will increase steadily, so it should be fun. It seems I’ve started one serial tale – Road Trip – and there’s nothing to stop me from doing another. I’ve discovered that going to TVTropes and picking two random entries is a fun way to get ideas. And then there’s the end-of-month revamp entry.

So, long story short (too late), I think I’m off to a good start. I don’t know what this project will become when all is said and done, but I have to say that I’m glad to be playing God writing fiction again.

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