Two Stories? That’s Not a Problem…It’s a Disaster

Okay, so I still can’t make up my mind.

I finished the book: This Place of Wrath and Tears. Until someone changes the title. I love my title…but not even I would put money on that one making it through the editorial filters. “Too many words”, “Too literary”, “Too presumptuous”…you can fill in the blanks as well as I can.

At any rate, all I have left is the next story…

Of course, that’s all I ever have…the next story. The next story is always better than the last one. And that’s why writers drink…err, well, that’s (partially) why I drink, anyway.

The problem is simple: I can’t decide.

Damn, I’m never gonna write that goddamned conspiracy theory story at this rate.

Connor still won’t shut up. I keep thinking about him, and about how I can start his next story. And about what I want it to say…the simple fact is, Connor’s stories are pretty personal and close to me, so it feels like there will always be more there. I know the theme…I know the premise…and I can run with it.

But for the other book, the conspiracy theory story, it’s a bit more of a slog. Oh, I know the premise…I’ve known that for years. I even have a grasp on the tone, and a bit on voice and POV, but none of that has really clicked together.

I think part of the problem is that I just finished the final edits on Wrath & Tears. That does something to my mood…err, that does bad things to my mood. Hard to write a sarcastic comedy when I’m still feeling the after-effects of killing off Oz.

I’ve started spinning my mental wheels because I can’t make up my mind. I do a bit of work here and there on the two, one or the other on any given day, but nowhere near enough concentrated and focused effort. My plan has been to spend the rest of this year doing all the prep and background work and research for the next book. Then start writing right after the new year starts. That gives me a hair over three months.

Should be more then enough time…shouldn’t it? Shit, I’m already goin’ nuts because I don’t have anything to write. I’m a sad and pathetic pandaimage right now. All I really want is to cut that three months of prep in half, and start on the book. And to do that, I have to know what the fuck I’m going to write.

*sigh*

Yeah, yeah, I know…first world problems. Bite me. Now, if I tell you how I’m running out of space on my PS4, and how I’d rather buy another hard drive than delete shit, THAT is a first world problem.

It still sucks, though.

Right now, I do have to say, Connor is winning the fight. I have my finger on the scale to tip it to the conspiracy theory book, but Connor is evil…he cheats. He reminds me of all the shit I still have to say…and just how dark and fucked up the universe really is.  He also says I owe him for Oz…

Oktoberfest!

Ahh, Oktoberfest. It’s the most magical time of the year!

All I want for Oktoberfest is beer…

Okay, that didn’t sound alcoholic or anything.

The root of the problem is that I know just too damned many people in the beer business…and spend too much time in that world myself. You know (if you’ve been paying attention) that I do quite a bit of my writing in the taprooms of breweries. Well, one brewery in particular…the one owned and staffed by friends of mine.

I also–in my “non-writer-life”–spend a great deal of time & work immersed in the beer culture of both the US and Europe. And, yes, it is as satisfying as it sounds! And, no, I won’t give any more information. This is, after all, supposed to be an anonymous blog. If I start talking about my “real work” that anonymity goes bye-bye fairly quickly.

At any rate, all of that is to say that last weekend was Okotoberfest at my “preferred” brewery. It was crowded, it was lively, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. I even wrote a couple of blog posts over the weekend so I could keep things going.

Then I read them again. Err, well, I sobered up first, then I read them.

I may have had too much to drink to write on that particular day…

They were funny as hell, but not even I can figure what the hell I was talking about when I wrote them. Other than a dude wearing short-shorts and girls in dirndls (hah! take that word, spell check!). And no one wants a dude wearing short-shorts.

The dirndls were cool, though.

And hammerschlagen. You have to have hammerschlagen. And, yes, all the cornhole aficionados out there just wish they could play hammerschlagen…of course, so do I. I suck at hammerschlagen. Almost as much as I suck at cornhole.

The Ghosts? They’re Knocking Again

So, as I hinted in the last couple of posts, this book is done.

That’s a seriously weird feeling, to be honest. A writer without a story is a pretty pathetic figure. I don’t really know what to do with myself…

Wait, that’s a lie. I know exactly what to do with myself. Start the next story.

Let’s be honest–I’m only happy when I’m writing, so I need to get back to writing.

As I mentioned way back when I started this, I always have a bunch of ideas fluttering and floating around. Mostly those ideas wait their turns with quiet patience. Connor and Oz were definite exceptions; they wouldn’t shut the fuck up.

Well, when a story is done it’s time to go back to those ideas…to those ghosts fluttering around inside my head. Err, that came out creepier–or at least more nuts–than I intended….

Oh, well. I write…no one really thinks I’m all there, anyway.

At any rate, back to these ideas.

My thought for the last couple of months has been to finally write the comedy about conspiracy theories I’ve been wanting to start. Crap, it’s only been sitting there, waiting for 15 years!

I love the idea for that book. I WANT to write that book. I’ve been looking forward to writing that book for ages!

And, let’s be honest, after Connor and Oz I could use a funny, sarcastic story as a relief valve.

So I’ve started working on the background for that story…a bit.

The real problem? Connor still won’t shut the fuck up.

The end of DockRat is a bit of a Rorschach test: you, as the reader, see and feel and interpret whatever end you want. What happens to Connor? To Nat? To everyone else?  It’s up to you. To be honest, the only fate I lay in concrete is Oz….for all the tears and long nights THAT brought about.

But…

But I keep thinking.

But I like Connor, and I like his universe/world.

But I still have personal stories to tell.

So I started thinking about a sequel…the sequel I swore I would not write when I started DockRat. This was supposed to be a one-off, a singular book never to be revisited.  Unfortunately, the ghost that is Connor (and yes, Oz) still hasn’t learned to be quiet.

Great…NOW what do I write? The funny book I need for relief and release? Or the more personal story that I left hanging?

The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll be miserable if I don’t start writing soon.

This is why I never went back and revisited the old books, never looked to rewrite them: I always want to start that new story. A new story is a blank canvas…and I get more excited about creating and writing a new story than I ever do about reading a new book (and that’s saying something!).

Since I budget three(ish) months for research and background work for a new book, I don’t have to choose…yet. I’ll work a bit on both: develop the major characters and an overall snapshot of the plots, then decide.

Life would be a lot easier, however, if those ghosts would just shut up…

How I Write….Sorta

Every time I talk to folks about writing, invariably people assume I just sit down and start typing a story from beginning to end. Everything created in the proper sequence and order, all the twists and turns and complexities coming ‘on the fly’. There are probably people out there who DO write that way, but I am most definitely not one of them.

The best comparison to how I write is how a movie is shot: in smaller pieces of the whole that are created independently. After my planning and background work is finished I will create a list of scenes that make up the story itself–in the case of DockRat that is roughly 55 scenes (actually, it started at 58). These scenes are then divided into chapters, parts and acts, but only in a fairly general way as the real details have yet to come. I have a basic vision for each scene that is described in its topic/summary (1 line, maybe 12-15 words), but that’s about it for detail at this stage.

Those scenes are slotted together into a basic outline…but it is an outline that will see many, many changes as things go. Once I have that outline, and a basic timeline, I start working…err, well, I start drinking. Then I sober up. Then I start working.

I do NOT write those scenes in anything resembling ‘chronological order’. To be honest, I don’t write them in any logical order at all–I write whatever my mood and interest calls for at that particular moment. Mood and music are the keys to me and how I work (music is a later post, and is very important to me)…I learned the hard way by once trying to write a battle scene while fairly pensive and listening to Mozart. That didn’t work too well.

I get the strangest looks when I tell people that. “You mean you don’t know what happened BEFORE this particular scene?”

Err…well…no. Not in detail. Sorry.

I do, however, create a pretty detailed ‘background’ document for each scene. That prep sheet has all the basic info for setting, characters involved, timing, etc…and also includes details (as far as I know) on what has happened in the scenes before, as well as the tone/voice I want to use, and what the intent/purpose is behind that particular scene. That sheet can be even longer than the actual scene in some cases.

Hey, it works for me. Get your own system.

The downside, however, is that when the entire manuscript has been written and beaten into what I consider ‘first draft’ form, I still have not actually looked at it as a singular story. Not until I have the first draft copy, and I enter the living hell that is revising and editing, do I read it as a complete story.

And yes, that means discrepancies, screw-ups and oversights like to rear their ugly heads from time to time. I try to catch most of that in the planning process, but I’m about as far from perfect as you can get–and that, to be honest, is what editing is for.

As I write the first draft of this post (I edit these posts once, and that’s it), I have written 75% of DockRat. I still have 13 scenes left to create (about 24,000 words)…and, yes, they are scattered all over the book.

Edit Note – I took a while to make the editing pass over this. The manuscript for DockRat is now done…..err, well, mostly done. I have edited it a couple of times for content, and am pretty content with my structure. My beta-readers have it in their hands right now, and I am hoping to get some feedback from them fairly quickly. Regardless of that, however, I am letting the MS ‘ferment’ for a couple of weeks before the final editing pass.

Everyday Life

I am, officially, a slacker.  A severe lack of posts lately…  The only thing I can plead is work.  DockRat has taken over every available minute of my life.  There is news there, of a sort, but I will save that for the next post.

For now, I wanted to put up another snippet from the book.  This is a scene between Connor and Oz, before shit began to fall apart.  I wrote it very early as a way to work on the tone and dynamic of their relationship.  It is not in the final draft of the book, but I still like the peek at ‘everyday life’ for the boys.

When the music was running into itself, and surroundings became a blur, Connor knew it was time to quit. He always wanted to be the last one drinking, but a body could only take so much. And just then his body was protesting and fighting like mad, but what good was that against the urge for another drink? The urge always won.

A throw of his head and the shot went down his throat, just like so many others had that night.

A hand on his arm, then, and a voice gentle and quiet. “Easy, Spog.” The only voice that could break through his alcoholic fog. A face swam into view to go with that voice.

“Oz? What the fuck are you doin’ here? You’re s’posed to be workin’,” Connor slurred. His tongue didn’t seem to want to obey.

A laugh from Connor’s best—only—friend, then Oz sat his small, slight frame in the next seat, a hand still on his shoulder. Connor badly needed that hand to help him focus. The room was really spinning.

“Shit, son, I did work,” Oz laughed. “I’m done, and you’re still here gettin’ fucked up. Marie ‘screened me, said you were gonna need a hand gettin’ home.”

“Heia!” Connor replied with his own laugh, and no small bit of drunken bravado. “I don’t need no fuckin’ hand, I’ll make it home jus’ fine!” He proceeded to prove his point by springing to his feet and sprinting out the door.

Well, that was the plan anyway. Unfortunately his chair didn’t cooperate, and the table tried to trip him and send him onto his face. And then the floor…the fucking floor…that traitorous aho started twisting and wobbling like the universe was ending.

Connor dropped back into his seat with a loud thud and an even louder sigh. Then a laugh and he looked again at Oz. “Okay, so maybe I do need a bit of help. Why the fuck am I so drunk, anyway? I only had a couple.”

For years both men and women had found Oz irresistibly beautiful. For years clients had competed to buy his time, and his favors. But to Connor, however, that face meant not beauty or attraction, it meant trust and care. This was the closest thing he had to family in the whole damn universe. The rest of The Beat was a blur, but Oz’s face clear. As was his laugh.

“Spog, it’s four in the morning. You’ve been pouring booze down your throat for almost twelve hours. You might be twice my size, but not even you can keep up that pace.”
It took Oz’s help—a lot of Oz’s help—to get Connor to his feet. He pushed away, tried to stand on his own…and lasted about three seconds before gravity tried again to tackle him. A steadying hand from Oz, then, and Connor smiled his thanks.

“C’mon, you big bastard,” Oz laughed, “let’s go pour you into bed.”

It was a long, slow walk from The Beat to the cramped, rundown unit the boys called home. A walk not made any easier by Connor’s need to stop and vomit…frequently.

Of criticism there was none, just Oz’s hand on his back and a bottle of water to rinse his mouth. Mumbled apologies and thanks. And laughter…a great deal of laughter, from both.
With no one else in the universe could they trust and relax like this. Only with family…only with each other

Connor was still spinning and nauseous when they reached the steep, ladder-like stairs that led to their third-level unit. “Umm, Oz…we might have a problem…”

It took some doing—and more than a couple of falls—but finally Oz was able to half-carry and half-lead the much larger Connor to their door. The flimsy door was palmed open and the two stumbled inside, neither needing a light to navigate the cramped confines. Ten square feet of stained and decrepit plastic…a pair of bunks and a table…home.

Connor wasn’t sure which was harder: removing the shoes and clothes that suddenly seemed far too heavy and complicated, or climbing into his upper bunk. He lay back and tried to close his eyes, thought about sleep. That was a mistake. That room was spinning far too fast for that; he felt like he was about to fall out of that bunk. His eyes snapped back open and he tried to focus on the roof just inches from his face, all grey steel and rust.

A water was pressed into his hand and guided to his mouth, the touch still gentle and caring. “Drink, Spog.”

He took a long, long drink. A sigh, then, and he sank back onto his pillow. Blankets came up over his chest as if by magic, then his friend’s voice, “Go to sleep, Spog.”

“G’night, Oz. Thanks for helpin’ me.” There was more feeling, and more history, to that statement than either boy would ever admit.

A gentle touch and a chuckle. “I’m always here for you, dumb-shit.”