The Way of the Word

26. July 2011

Rory Williams is Badass

Within a short time, Doctor Who companion Rory Williams (otherwise known as Mr. Amy Pond) has shown himself to be the most badass character of the 21st century. Or any other century. I’m sure even the Doctor is at least a little bit afraid of him.

1. June 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

It’s funny how some things develop sometimes. How the real world needs of the writer can influence a story, and actually make it better.

Case in point: Die Young. I’m writing without an outline. I know the crime, I know who did it, and I know why they did it. As I write it, I uncover the story just as the investigator, Shaw, does. And sometimes it surprises me.

Case in point: I recently had a scene where I needed someone to leave a building. If I’d ended the scene with that character leaving, it would have been glaringly obvious, a couple of pages later, why he left. At least to me, but I’m writing this assuming that the readers are at least as astute as I am. So I needed to extend the scene beyond that, but without forcing it, or at least making it seemed forced.

What happened was that the scene ended on a completely different major development, a development that I hadn’t planned, that I hadn’t foreseen, but that made complete and total sense.

Another thing was that I didn’t feel good yesterday. I was tired, distracted, preoccupied all day long. I decided to put that into the story: by giving Shaw some sleep-withdrawal, then have something happen, and let him wonder if he missed anything because he was too tired. The obvious answer is yes. 🙂

I also realized that I have accidentally created an extra viable suspect. I’ll have to nurture that character, just to see where it will take me.

Lastly, I realized that I overlooked something obvious. Because the case originally ties into the adult entertainment industry, I had Shaw begin his search for the endangered Amy Mason there. He hasn’t found her yet, nobody knows her. The obvious thing I overlooked: just because the bad guys work in the adult entertainment industry doesn’t mean that Amy has to work there. However, I’m not sure that this logic error is something that needs fixing. For one thing, the case is only two days old, story time. Shaw spent the first day looking for Diana Young’s killer, and the second day looking for Amy Mason. In the story, he has just woken up to day 3. Now, I could go back and add a line or two where he considers the possibility that Amy Mason might not be connected to the adult entertainment industry, or I could have him realize that over breakfast on the third day. I’m not sure yet which is better, but I’ll need to decide before continuing.

Frankly, I lean towards the latter, having him realize it. Shaw’s human, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t overlook the obvious. “I missed the obvious, but at least I only wasted a day looking in all the wrong places — places that I probably would have searched anyway, even if I had thought of it.” Something like that.

24. May 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

I was rewatching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service yesterday evening, and I wonder: in both the novels and the movies, Marc-Ange Draco never shows up again. But he should. For those who don’t know the story: in OHMSS, Bond marries a woman named Tracy. Tracy is the daughter of Draco, who happens to be a major figure in international organized crime. At the end of the story, Bond marries Tracy, who is just afterwards murdered by Bond’s arch enemy Blofeld.

Yet neither in the novels or in the movies does Draco become involved in hunting down Blofeld to avenge the death of his beloved daughter. Sure, it’s Bond’s stories and Bond’s enemies, but I find it very much out of character of this kind of person (who earlier in the story staged a major assault on Blofeld’s fortress to rescue his captured daughter) that he just, well, seems to shrug it off.

Right now, you probably wonder why I talk about that instead of my progress on Die Young, which is what the NiP posts are about. Oh, it’s simply: it made me realize that I need to kill Amy Mason.

What, huh? Or rather, what, who? Isn’t this novel about who killed Diana Young, Teh SexKitteh?

Yeah, sure. The problem was that I needed a stronger hook for Shaw to remain involved after the first 20 pages, so I added a missing person quest.

Now, some pages later, I’m stuck. I didn’t know how to advance the story. Which is why I started to watch movies instead of working on Die Young. Distract myself, let my subconscious work on the problem. I was getting so desperate that I was considering doing a Hammett. You see, there is something that Dashiell Hammett does in his stories that I don’t like: he relies too much on coincidence to move the story forward. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie The Maltese Falcon, with Humphrey Bogart. One thing that happens over and over again in the story (the novel too) is that Sam Spade’s investigation gets stuck, and then someone comes in out of nowhere, drops a clue and vanishes again. Without Spade having to do anything for it. I hate that. But I was starting to think that perhaps I needed to do something like it as well.

Then I remembered that I had already set up a solution to it. Shaw had already talked with a contact at the NYPD’s vice squad. That one could come up with something, which meant that the information wouldn’t come out of nowhere.

But that raised another problem: once Shaw has Amy, he doesn’t have to continue to work the case. Problem solved, case close. I’d be back to square one.

That’s the problem with a MacGuffin: once the hero has acquired it, end of story.

The solution came over breakfast this morning. I was re-reading Maison Ikkoku and thinking about how I haven’t killed anyone in far too long. Which tells you far too much about how my mind works. (Although, to be fair, I mostly thought about how nobody has tried to kill Shaw yet in this novel, and realized that so far, noboy had any reason to.)  Anyway, it was then that I realized how to solve all my problems at once:

I have to kill Amy Mason. That would fix the dead end I’m currently staring at, it would provide a nice break in the story’s current lull, and it would give Shaw added incentive to get his ass in gear.

It’s like with comics. In comics, if you’re stuck, you blow something up. (Come to think of it, that’s also how they handle it in blockbuster movies.) Here, I’m stuck, so I’ll kill Amy Mason in order to move the plot forward.

29. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

The single worst problem when I’m supposed to work isn’t writer’s block. It’s distractions.

It’s late in the evening, and I’m rather tired. It’s been a long day, and I haven’t slept well for two nights. I’m currently rereading James Clavell’s Shôgun, which is one of my all-time favorite novels. I haven’t read it in several years, and it feels fresh and exciting again. It’s difficult to tear myself away from the novel, and I have to expend a lot of willpower to not boot down the computer and lose myself in Japan of AD 1600.

I have several DVD box sets that I still want to watch. Among them two seasons each of Magnum PI, Starsky & Hutch and Home Improvement. I’m a member of media swap groups, so I don’t have to buy used books or DVDs or CDs. I swap out stuff that I no longer want or need, and get back stuff that I do want. The problem is willpower: it’s hard to resist impulse swapping. When I decided to write Die Young, I locked the unwatched DVDs away, to remove the temptation.

One thing I do to reduce distraction is that I write on the notebook. The notebook has  no internet connection. It has no games installed. It’s a pure work machine.

And yes, the internet and games are massive chronovores. I just finished translating a movie that took twice as long as it should have because, well, I didn’t like the movie, so I spent more time on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking places, or playing Half-Life, than I should have. And yes, I got Half-Life through one of those swap groups. It’s a major effort to not check the swap groups all the time for interesting stuff, because while I work on Die Young I wouldn’t want to take the time to watch movies anyway.

The matter is made worse by the fact that I don’t have a deadline. Die Young is a sequel to The Coldest Blood, which hardly anyone has read. Nobody’s waiting for it. It makes no difference if I finish it this year, or next year, or not at all. I’m pretty good with deadlines. That movie I mentioned above, the one that I disliked so much I procrastinated too much? I still turned it in a day early. Go me, right? Yeah – I know, though, that I could have turned it in much earlier than that. Then I would have had a bit more breathing space with the other four deadlines I have right in front of me. The next translation is due on May 2, then another on May 9, then a couple of columns on the 18th, and then there’s another translation that I need to squeeze in somewhere along the way. Busy, busy, busy. I don’t really have the time to slack off, to be distracted.

And yet, there is that copy of Shôgun over there, beckoning me to boot down, call it a night and immerse myself in the adventures of John Blackthorne, the Anjin-san, and the rise of Toranaga-sama to Shôgun.

If I were smart, I would try to use it to motivate me. Tell myself that somewhere down the line, some guy with a notebook computer and word processing software will try to resist the distraction of Die Young.

But only if I can resist temptation.

By the way, you might know the writing rule ‘kill your darlings.’ Well, every now and then, I get one that is very very difficult to kill. This time: His confusion was so obvious that I didn’t know if I should feel sorry for him or invite him to poker night. Tell me: is that a potential classic, or what?

27. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Okay, to be honest, it wasn’t all that great either way. Sure, I had a good writing session last night, but I’m rather unhappy with my output. To the point where I had to decide, against my habits, to fix it in revisions.

What happened?

As I told you in a previous post, I discovered that the first chapters of Die Young emulated Robert B. Parker’s method of one chapter per conversation.  Once I discovered that I had done that accidentally, I decided to continue that way for the first in-story day of Shaw’s investigation.

That meant I had to start Chapter 6 from scratch. The problem with that was that Chapter 6 is an exposition chapter. Shaw received evidence and draws his conclusions. That’s much more difficult to pull off only in dialog. From that you can probably understand why I started and scrapped that chapter five times before just hacking it out and telling myself I’ll fix it in revisions.

Then there was the final conversation before Shaw confronts the person who did the actual deed. I had wanted to get more hard information about anesthesiology before getting to that chapter, but I forgot. I had read up on it to see if my idea on how to do it would work, so I winged it with what I remembered from that. So I’ll get the hard data and insert it into the placeholders when I do the revisions.

One thing I am happy with is that I managed to work in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to The Coldest Blood. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, The Coldest Blood is the first Shaw novel. It’s available for only 99 cents on Amazon US, Amazon UK and Amazon Germany. I’m quite proud that I managed to make a reference that you can consider light snark from the character if you don’t know The Coldest Blood, but if you do know it you’ll catch a different layer of meaning.

If a blog post had chapters, I’d call the next one Evolution of a Suicide.

There are some things I always knew I would do. One was the killers’s motivations. There’s the Mastermind, and I know their motivation. And there’s the trigger person, and I knew how their motivation would result in Shaw really getting involved with it.

Huh? What?

Yeah. Exactly. The problem with the idea of Die Young was that Shaw initially gets involved out of curiosity. But that’s not enough to make him take the case. It’s not believable that he should put aside paying work (okay, which he doesn’t have) and get into danger just because he’s curious. I knew I needed to provide him with a stronger reason to go after the Big Bad. I found that reason in the Trigger Person’s motive for their part in the murder. That had also been slightly tricky, because the Trigger Person needed to go against their apparent own interest to do it. When I found an answer to why someone would do it, I also had the answer for Shaw’s motivation to follow this through.

The other thing I knew from the beginning was that I wanted to leave it vague just how much the Trigger Person knew. Did they know they were murdering Diana Young? Did they think they were doing something else? Did they know and just fool themselves into thinking they didn’t? I think I pulled that off. Which leaves the next thing nicely poignant.

The suicide.

Another thing I always knew was that I wanted the Trigger Person to commit suicide in front of Shaw. (No, this is only a mild spoiler, because it happens only 30 pages into the manuscript.) As I worked towards it, I had this image of him chasing the Trigger Person up to a roof, where the Trigger Person confesses their part and jumps. As the story progressed, that became implausible. There was no way that the Trigger Person could stay out of Shaw’s reach long enough to get to the roof. There was also no way that Shaw would meet the Trigger Person on the roof. For the leap into death, they had to be in a closed room high up in a building. Problem: windows, and windows that high in New York, AFAIK, don’t open. So I needed the Trigger Person to have a way to smash the window. Solution: the Trigger Person brings a gun, to shoot out the window. Waitasecond — if the Trigger Person has a gun, they don’t need to shoot out the window, they can shoot themselves … Also, that they had brought the gun has some interesting implications about the Trigger Person’s state of mind after the murder.

So all in all, I’m happy with some things that I managed to do, but I’m unhappy that I left so much “to fix in revision”. But if I hadn’t, I’d probably still be tinkering with Chapter 6 (the exposition chapter, remember?). It’s probably better this way, even if I feel not very good about it.

27. January 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young – Shaw Returns!

Naming the babies.

Finding a title is, for me at least, always one of the more difficult parts. I listened to the James Bond title songs and settled on two and a half soundbites. One from Goldeneye by Tina Turner, A Bitter Kiss. And the others from A Vew to a Kill by Duran Duran: Sounds of Broken Dreams, or the more complete Fatal Sounds of Broken Dreams. I put them up for vote on my Facebook page. A Bitter Kiss got 3 votes, Fatal Sounds of Broken Dreams got 1 vote.

To be honest, I like A Bitter Kiss better too. It’s shorter, easier to remember, and not such a mouthful. Just typing it here, I had to actively resist to abbreviate it as Fatal Sounds. And A Bitter Kiss works nicely, because the first victim gets poisoned.

But. (Isn’t there always a but?)

In parallel, I was trying to figure out character names. Specifically, the name of the first victim. I played around with some names, but I was never quite happy with them. Everyone has some favorite names, and I kept falling back on those. You could say it’s the Charlie – Christie – Cassidy problem. They are similar enough to get mixed up if you don’t pay enough attention.

Somewhere along the way, I thought of a really bad pun for the first victim’s name: Diana Young. Di Young, get it? I’m sure you do. It’s a stupid enough pun that it made me chuckle, and I was this close to actually using it.

Then it occurred to me that Die Young would be a terrific title for the novel. It means I can’t use the name for the character, but I really like it as a novel title. So I’m going to use it. To be honest, I’m glad that I thought of a good title for this one. I like A Bitter Kiss, but it would work far better as the title for another Shaw novel I’ve got notes for.

So, Die Young it is. At least as a working title, until (and unless) I think of something I like even better.

And maybe I don’t even need to change the character’s name. Maybe it just spares me the effort of driving the pun home by always referring to her as “Di.”

By the way: according to the stats, there is quite a bit of interest in this workblog. If you’re curious about this second Shaw novel, I suggest you might visit Amazon and get a Kindle copy of The Coldest Blood, the first Shaw novel. It costs less than $3.50, meaning you’d pay less than you’d pay for most  standard comic books, and you’ll get a lot more reading out of it. Plus, unless more people buy The Coldest Blood, I’m not going to publish Die Young, meaning you’ll never get to read it. Which, as I mentioned, is currently the plan. I’m writing Die Young only for myself, but economic interests might sway me to change my mind.

25. January 2011

Novel in Progress: Shaw Returns!

First off, a word about spoilers. There will be. In the course of this workblog, I’m going to talk about plot developments and my thoughts behind them. For example, how the original idea evolved into what will actually end up on page, the thought processes, research, procedure. I don’t see the harm in that, because as things stand right now, the only person other than I who will ever read this novel will be my porn consultant.

Yes, I have a porn consultant. Sounds like a great job title, doesn’t it? As I said in the previous post, this adventure is set before the backdrop of the porn industry, about which I know next to nothing. But I do know people who have some knowledge about it, and one of them agreed to be my Porn Consultant for this novel. As such, I ask for his input during the planning and research phase, and he will have to read the script as it develops to tell me where I got things wrong.

He was already useful. There’s a trend in porn right now that I didn’t know of. He knew, and commented on it conversationally. I immediately seized on it, because that trend adds very much to my Big Bad’s motivation. Why does the villain do what he does? Because his sort of crime no longer pays, so he needs to find new ways to make an illicit buck.

The next thing is Naming the Babies. I have a lot of title ideas in my Plotmaster 3000, inspired by the fantastic titles Mickey Spillane used for his books. I’m keeping Hell to Pay in case I ever do that televangelist story, but others that might fit this story are .40 Caliber JusticeDeath’s Angel, Survival of the Deadliest.

However, the first Shaw novel, The Coldest Blood, got its title from a James Bond movie theme song. It’s a soundbite from the Casino Royale theme song. So I’m contemplating the idea of making that into the pattern for the Shaw titles. Which means I’d need to listen to all the James Bond movie theme songs (not much of a sacrifice, except in the cases of Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace – I hate those two songs) to check if there is a soundbite that I might like as a title. (Actually, there might be: GoldenEye has the soundbite A Bitter Kiss, which I like as the title for this story. But I also like it as the title for another possible Shaw story, so I’ll keep looking.)

Character naming is also difficult. Oh, it’s easy for throwaway characters. Like the three hitmen the Big Bad is going to send to take out Shaw. If I name them at all, I’ll simply take the first three spam mails in my junk folder and use the names of the senders. Important characters are where it gets tricky.

For example: Shaw has a recurring character whose name is Christie. I’m definitely not going to rename her. But there’s another character who is relevant in this story, his love interest for Shaw 2. I had wanted to name her Charlotte “Charlie” Parker. But Charlie is too much like Christie, it might confuse the readers. Which means I need to rename that character. It’s not much of a sacrifice. In the honored tradition of serial action heroes, no love interest ever returns for a sequel. (Well, hardly any, hardly ever — I could name two or three, but they are exceptions rather than a rule.) It’s the character who won’t return who gets renamed.

The next time I’ll update this workblog, I’ll have at least a working title for this novel.

23. January 2011

Novel in Progress: Shaw Returns!

Who is Shaw, you ask, and where does he return from? You might want to check those links on the right and click on the one for The Coldest Blood.

Shaw is my hardboiled PI character, the protagonist of my hardboiled mystery The Coldest Blood. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out on something. Don’t take my word for it, I’m biased, buy a download, read it and see for yourself.

When I’m out by myself, I think about how to kill people. It’s inevitable, and you’re lucky that I’m more of a mystery writer than a psychopath. When I think about how to kill people, it usually ends up on paper. Or at least a .DOC file.

Yesterday, that was combined with something that had been making news here in Hamburg recently. I’ll talk about that in a future blog post. That news event is a tragedy, but even so, it makes no sense that it keeps me occupied, because I don’t know the people involved, I don’t know the business they’re in, I don’t know anything about them. Except where they live, five minutes’ walk from where I live. But that in and of itself shouldn’t influence my thoughts in any way.

I decided to take those thoughts and exorcise them in the best way that I know how to do: by writing about them. And since there is an interesting mystery thriller hiding in that tragedy (actually, there isn’t, unless you let your thoughts drift in regards to how to kill people, then you add one and one and get a homicide… Never mind), I decided to turn it into a mystery novel.

Re-enter Shaw. He was supposed to be my Mike Hammer, he was supposed to establish me as the next Mickey Spillane.

Except, he didn’t. Instead, the lack of interest he generated in everyone he met crushed down all my aspirations towards a profitable writing career. I had resolved to discard the notes I had for future Shaw novels and never return to his dark adventures.

But. I like writing Shaw, I’m comfortable with his supporting cast of homicide Detective Robert Weaver, Christie the hacker, Paul Pogue the information broker.  Also, I’m lazy, and I thought that if I write another mystery novel, why not revisit Shaw and his friends instead of creating all new characters from scratch.

So here you go. Shaw will return, solving a crime that will take him into the depths of the porn industry. I’ll tell you more about that in future posts.

As soon as I have a title.

21. November 2010

A Book By Its Cover

Sometime ago, I wrote a hardboiled mystery novel, to which I attached all my hopes and dreams. It had the title The Coldest Blood, and should appeal to people who like traditional hardboiled and pulpy stuff, like Mickey Spillane’s work. I had expected this would launch my career and an entire series of Shaw mysteries.

Too many rejections later, I had to face it: instead of launching my career, it had served to bury it.

Almost a year after that realization, I decided that I, at least, consider the novel too good not to share. The emerging e-book market made it possible to publish it myself at a cover price that wouldn’t scare off too many potential readers.

I mean, really, $20 for a paperback novel? I don’t know how anyone would be willing to pay that much. But, $3.49 for the same novel as a DRM-free ebook? If I had an ebook reader, I’d look at the price, I’d see that it’s about half the cover price of a paperback novel, it costs less than a standard comic book (at least those published by Marvel Comics) while providing far more story than any comic book… I just might give it a chance.

We’ll see if others think that way. If all goes well, The Coldest Blood will be approved by Amazon within 24 hours or so.

Until then, have a look at the cover:

Not having a cover, and not being able to afford one, had been one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Then I happened on a website called Dreamstime. They sell royalty free stock photos. And they are actually affordable! The picture I chose as the cover for The Coldest Blood cost me a pittance. Two downloads, and it will be paid for! I played with the image in MS Paint, adding the title and the credit, and it was done!

The other thing is that those of you who read this blog regularly probably wonder if I have changed my mind about self-publishing. No. I haven’t. Self-publishing The Coldest Blood is simply admitting that I have failed at my ambition, and am therefore reduced to a hobbyist. And for hobbyists, self-publishing is all right.

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