The Way of the Word

24. October 2011

Is This World Protected?

“Is this world protected?”

Yes, Doctor, it is. But who protects it? Why, Rory Williams, of course, the Last Centurion.

Would you like him to repeat the question?

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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.

22. May 2011

Vampires Don’t Sparkle!

If you like vampires (the scary kind that doesn’t sparkle in the daylight), you might want to consider spending 99 cents on Streets of Blood, my vampire novel. Only available for the Kindle.

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/jeNxaE

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/j1e19E

Amazon Germany: http://amzn.to/jMhUdp

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.

21. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

Yes, I admit it. I haven’t talked about the progress of Die Young for a while, because there hadn’t been any. I had written one page in February, and then nothing.

On Sunday evening, I booted the notebook again and continued work. I’m not going very fast — I’m a slow writer anyway — but I’ve completed the first three chapters now.

As the plan goes, the first couple of chapters will chronicle the first day in the investigation, which will end with Shaw confronting the person who pulled the (metaphorical) trigger. That is going to open a completely different can of worms, and will keep Shaw busy (and in danger) for the rest of the novel.

The funny thing is that I got back to it because I was bored. I had one free hour. In such cases, I usually either watch a TV series episode on DVD or read. I didn’t feel like watching anything, and because I planned to get a certain book from the library the next day I didn’t want to start on any books. (I’m a one book at a time person.)

So instead, I did a bit of work on Die Young.

I’ve recently noticed that there is one piece of advice that’s frequently given: don’t stop the flow. When you’re writing, don’t go back to edit, just hack it out and leave all the edits/corrections for revision. I have  a friend who works that way, and he’s fast. Even I admit that the advice makes sense. Unfortunately, I can’t make myself work that way.

When I have a scene that contradicts an earlier scene, I feel compelled to go back and fix that. If I think of a better phrase for something I wrote earlier, it’s the same. I edit and revise constantly. Which, yes, is why I’m a slow writer.

I have also considered that I could post the chapters of Die Young here on the blog as I finish them.  That idea came, in part, from wrapping up a chapter evey night (so far). The main obstacle is that it’s not a pace I’m sure I can maintain. And unless I can maintain a regular update schedule, I wouldn’t want to start. On the plus side, it would be the whip I’d need to keep me going if I get another block. I put Die Young aside after one page because I’m not required to continue working on it. I have no deadline, and there isn’t anyone in the world who is actually waiting for this novel. There is no pressure to finish this. Turning it into a blog novel would provide that pressure. And yes, that would be a good thing.

What ultimately decided me against it, other than my worries about meeting a schedule, is the above-mentioned fact that I revise constantly. If I post chapter 1 today, next week’s version might be completely different after the story has progressed in a way that might have required many changes to chapter 1. Or simply after revising individual sentences as I thought of better ways of saying them. A good example is a running gag that I decided to add to the story, so I added it to chapter 1.

The running joke is that when Shaw tells his friends about knowing Diana Young, aka the porn starlet Teh SexKitteh, they all reply, “I didn’t figure you for the type.” When he clarifies that he knew her because she actually lived in his neighborhood, they make an unbelieving comment.

By the way: if you want to encourage me to finish Die Young and/or present the chapters on my blog, you can do so by leaving comments to my Novel in Progress posts and by buying The Coldest Blood, which is the first Shaw novel. For the latter, just follow the link on (your) right-hand side of the screen. It’s only 99 cents per download, and it’s DRM free.

13. April 2011

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

We all know that the new Superman movie is going to be a trilogy, right? And a reboot. And it’s common knowledge that Zod will be the villain in the first movie. Now, nobody’s asked me, and they never will, but this is how I would do a Superman trilogy. I’m focusing on Luthor’s storyarc here, because I feel that after having been the villain/supporting character in 4 out of 5 movies, the animated series, and Smallville, justifying his presence requires a bit more effort in order to make him interesting.

The first movie opens with the destruction of Krypton: a distinctively-shaped spaceship approaches the planet and destroys it. Just before that happens, Jor-El sends of infant Kal-El. The next years are summarized during the opening credits: arrival on Earth, growing up on a farm, discovering the powers and joining the Daily Planet.

Enter Lex Luthor, the most brillant mind on Earth. And a total sociopath. His supergenius intellect has made him a giant in science and economy, and his lack of conscience (“I am the pinnacle of human evolution – to me, all of you are like ants”) has made him utterly ruthless and disregardful of human life. Literally the only thing that matters to Luthor is Luthor. The rest of us exist to worship him.

Then Zod arrives, and with his superpowers begins to take over the planet. Luthor sets out to stop him – and fails. The first and only failure in his life. Even worse, this is the moment when Superman shows himself, takes on Zod and wins! Superman succeeds where Luthor failed, and he now gets the accolades that Luthor considers his due. That leaves only one thing to do: in order to set things right, Superman must be destroyed!

But that will have to wait, because in the second movie, the distinctive spaceship that destroyed Krypton approaches Earth. Brainiac has come, to destroy our world. And this time, even Superman alone isn’t up to the task. While Luthor would love to see Superman fail and destroyed, this won’t do — the only one who gets to destroy Superman is Luthor. And since there won’t be anyone left to worship Luthor if Earth is destroyed, Luthor needs to save the Earth. During the final confrontation on Brainiac’s ship, Luthor steals Brainiac’s data and happens upon something that nobody on Earth has ever seen: Kryptonite. He discovers that because Brainiac uses it against Superman, and Luthor needs to save Superman from the effects. Needless to say he keeps the sample for future use. Together, they kick Brainiac’s ass.

The third movie brings up the confrontation that audiences have been waiting for: Luthor vs. Superman. Luthor has used the information he stole from Brainiac’s ship to build himself a battle suit that is powerful enough to take Superman on. So he does, confident that even if the suit fails, he still has the Kryptonite to back him up. Superman wins, of course. That is the one thing that Luthor can’t tolerate, so he activates Plan Omega: he overloads his armor, which would result in an explosion powerful enough to wipe Metropolis off the map. It is something that Superman can of course prevent. Worse, from Luthor’s POV, is the fact that Superman saves Luthor’s life. In prison, all Luthor can think of is revenge…

10. April 2011

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

I originally had this idea sometime in the 1980s/early 1990s. I don’t remember exactly when. At the time, the idea would have worked. By now, that is no longer the case, the timeline makes it impossible.

Something that was established in the Roger Stern/John Byrne run of Captain America was that the US government had messed with Cap’s memories. I took that ball and ran with it.

One of the things that Cap had been made to forget was that he had been married, sometime after receiving the Super Soldier treatment. Therefore, he had no idea that he had a son, Steven Junior. The boy’s father had been told that her husband was missing, presumed dead – like so many others in wars all over the world throughout time. So she raised her son accordingly.

Steven Junior (from here on SJ, for convenience) fell in with the wrong people. With the extreme right. He had seen how his mother had worked herself to death, literally, in order to give her son a future, and that didn’t sit too well with him. His father had died for their country, and the country had abandoned them. The country owed him! The attitude didn’t change when SJ married and had a child, Brian. SJ managed to rise in the ranks of his right-wing group.

But the reader wouldn’t know all that when we start out.  The reader would encounter SJ when Captain America does, pretty much by accident. Cap notices just how much SJ resembles him, and the man’s name is Steven Rogers, so he has Nick Fury check the guy out and is stunned to discover that SJ is the son he never knew he had. And that he has a grandson, who is in college! Cap tries to connect with his son. For SJ, discovering that his father is Captain America is an opportunity. He stays at Cap’s side for a while, and when he has Cap’s trust — he traps him. He doesn’t kill him, he wants payback for being abandoned. So SJ becomes Captain America. And he wants his father to know what he does in his name.

Remember that I said that Cap married after becoming a super soldier? The treatment affected his genes, and the results carried over to SJ. SJ, now Captain America, turns against the US and establishes himself as a Neo-Nazi.

Enter Brian, who I’m sure you’ve already forgotten. Brian is shocked at what is going on. Especially once he discovers the true connection between his father and Captain America. So Brian Rogers does what every self-respecting grandchild of a superhero would do: he pretends to be his own granddad and takes on SJ. SJ flees the scene. Now, he decides, is the time to kill the real Captain America. Brian, who had expected something like this, follows his father. He prevents the murder of Captain America and frees Cap from the cage he’s locked into. Together, Cap and Brian defeat SJ. After which they take on SJ’s extremist group and kick their asses.

Afterwards, Captain America suggests that he could train Brian to be the next Bucky, so that he can eventually take over the shield himself. Brian refuses. He believes that he can accomplish more by finishing his education and putting that to use within the system, instead of as a masked adventurer. But he does stay on as an irregular supporting character.

9. February 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

A little appetizer.

 

1

 

„The Sex Kitty’s dead.“

„The what?“

„Not what. Who.“

I laid the iPad on the counter and turned it around for Lucio to have a look. He looked at it without touching it.

„Porn actress Diana Young, 23, died yesterday during a breast enlargement procedure,“ he muttered. „Her fans knew her as Teh SexKitteh, which is the name of the website through which she sold her movies.“

Lucio looked up and shrugged.

„I knew her, Horatio,“ I said, turning the iPad back towards myself.

„I didn’t figure you for the type,“ he replied. I glared at him, but not much.

„It’s her online handle,“ I told him. „Teh SexKitteh. She lived two or three doors away from me.“ I looked at the picture that accompanied the article. „I think I might have seen her at the supermarket once or twice.“

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