Ruts, And The Strangers You Meet

I’ve talked a bit before about characters, and about the thought and effort we put into them. But just as important are the assumptions we make about them…assumptions both as readers and as writers.

Jumping with both feet into a an entirely new group of folks, very few of whom know each other, is one hell of a way to start testing your assumptions and judgements about people. It is, honestly, like going to summer camp…just one with plenty of booze to smooth over the awkward bits (and create other awkward bits).

For someone like me, it is also a topic of some interest to expand that thought and wonder how my assumptions about strangers affect those I make about my own characters. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I also weigh all these strangers and new folks for personalities and life experiences to use for my characters…

People surprise me…all the time. In many ways that’s a good thing, since it means I’m not as jaded and cynical as I like to pretend. In other ways, it’s not so good since it means I probably made an ass of myself about them in the first place.

I think we can all agree on the need to be fair and honest in those snap judgments we make, and in the value of that fairness. But to those who read or write, or just plain dream, I will reiterate the broader question I posed above:

How often do you treat the characters that matter to you as strangers? How often do you step back to examine and reevaluate the snap judgments you made about them in the first place? Remember: good characters – characters that are complete and whole – should talk to you, should have depth and demands of their own.  Just like real people. Just like the strangers you meet.

I made assumptions and a snap judgment about one of my characters in Wrath & Tears that I regret to this day. The flaw is not so fundamental that I can’t go back and fix it, but it does mark a failure on my part to let her stand and tell her own story.

I knew, after all the revisions and edits, that I had not done her justice, but it wasn’t until I started trying to think about the assumptions I’ve made about the folks I’ve met up here in the park that I forced myself to really go back and look at her.

You never realize just how much of a rut you can fall into: a rut of people, places and things as much as of thought and experience. I had fallen into seeing and talking to the same people in the same places over and over. A couple of workers put together a “movie night” last night, and I was sitting and having drinks and a good time with several folks that never would have entered my orbit back home in my usual “rut”.

I love it. As a writer I love it, and as I person I need it. I joked about this in Monday’s post, but it really is like summer camp. Or better yet, your freshman year in college. You are, pretty literally, forced into close confines and friendships with folks from far outside your usual norm.

That is an experience and a skill that far too many of us who’ve made it through those early-twenties years tend to forget. Especially when you’re of the more…ahem…introspective type.

Living With The Ghosts

Now that the writing is in full swing, I’m thinking about characters.  Every day – hell, every hour – I’m thinking about characters.  The ghosts are, to me, very real at this point…and will be until I finally exorcise them by putting words on the page.

In more detail, I’m currently thinking about how to communicate all the little details and realities of my characters without resorting to the dreaded “info dump” of exposition and backstory.

One of the things I love about writing – and reading! – is when a well-crafted and well-used phrase, laden with emotion and meaning, communicates far more than 500 words of info-dump.

Now, there is a lot I’m proud of in my writing…and an even greater amount that I know needs work.  It’s not better editing, it’s not better vision, it’s simply becoming a better writer.  But…that does not mean there aren’t things I write that I don’t look at and think, “Fuck, yeah.  That worked…”*

*Goddamned triple-negative sentences!  Maybe it IS better editing I need…and, yes, I’m way too lazy to just go and fix the sentence.  Besides, it’s more fun to write this little aside and mock myself.

Heading that list of things that worked?  Oz.

Of course it was Oz…  He is still my favorite character, and is far and away the character most personal to me.  Shit, he’s still the only character that can bring me to tears…

There is a lot to Oz: a lot of meaning and a lot of emotion.  More than I ever describe, honestly, even in the text.  He is, after all, my stand-in for those friends of mine who committed suicide…and for my own issues with that same impulse.  One of the keys to Oz as a character, and who he is as a person, is his history…

Connor describes a bit of that history to Nat in one particular scene, but that description is matter of fact and simple.  He explains Oz’s life of rape and degradation in the bluntest, coldest way.  That’s all he really can say: he has no way to express to her the truth and honesty of Oz’s past, nor to soften his life of horror and pain…the life that Connor himself barely avoided.

His statement to Nat tugs at you, yes.  It communicates something about Oz, yes.  But it isn’t real.

No, for me the real success came with what I mentioned above: that one key phrase/sentence that captures everything in just a handful of words.

“…Oz was a lump in his bed, a tight ball pressed deeply into the corner—his normal sleeping position, a hunt for the safety he’d never known.”

I know I wrote the fucking thing, so I’m pretty damned biased, but to me that phrase still captures Oz’s history, and his reality, far better than all the exposition in the world.

As I get better at writing, I’m realizing more and more that you really have to be careful with your words.  You have to minimize.  A good writer can communicate in ten-fifteen words what a bad writer needs a hundred to do.

Now, I’m nowhere near that “good writer” point…and I know – being as competitive and self-critical as I am – that I will never consider myself to be there.  But that just drives me to work and practice and strive for constant (if slow) improvement.

The best personal sign of that development?  When I go back and re-read older stuff, I cringe at my wordiness…and at the lack of focus in my vision and in my words.  That I see and understand those problems is an official Good Thing, by the way.  Well, good nowadays…not so good back then.

There was, to tie everything together, no key phrase to identify the emotion and honesty of those older characters in just a handful of words.

Shit, maybe Steven King was right: the first million words really are just practice.

All Geeked Up

I think I did it to myself again.

What was it Einstein said about the definition of insanity?

Yeah, that might be me.

I was in my office – no more jokes about the brewery! – working on background stuff, and the itch to write an actual scene hit me. Then it got worse and worse until I had to do something about it.

So I sat there and wrote the final scene for Connor’s sequel. Just like I did for the last scene in Wrath & Tears, I loaded this one with emotion and importance. It’s not anywhere near as tragic or overwhelmingly sad, but it is weighted with most of Connor’s history and personal issues. It’s short (~400 words), but it’s got a ton of impact nonetheless. And, yes, if you’re curious, it does have a nice little collection of my own issues as well. Thanks for asking.

Great, now I have an opening scene and a final scene, but still no plot. I have ideas and thoughts and characters…and an awful lot of dot-connecting to do.

Did I ever mention this is my favorite place to be? Staring at a blank page for a new story? Well, I just did. The story you’re about to write is always better than the one you just finished.

I’m geeked out and excited in ways that folks who don’t write can’t really understand. Friends tell me they’d be intimidated and wouldn’t even know where to start. I don’t know if I’m weird (err…that’s been pretty well answered, I think) but I love this part: the whole story stands in front of me, and I have acres and acres of ground to explore…and nothing to hold me back. I have a million ideas, and all the freedom in the world to turn them into a story.img_0012

I am, in fact, a happy panda at this point!

Now, don’t get me wrong…there is some downside to writing this final scene first(ish). Yes, it gives me a point to aim for. Yes, it lets me know where my protagonist is (dramatically speaking). Yes, it puts the whole process in a certain perspective. But…there’s always a but.

But, I put some elements in the scene that I hadn’t planned or anticipated. They work, and work pretty damn well, so now I have to account for those elements and adjust the story to accommodate them.

I seem to remember once mentioning that I love it when my characters (and my stories) surprise me. Connor just did it to me. Again.

Shit, maybe the little bastard was right about writing his sequel…just don’t tell him that. He’s enough of a pain in the ass as it is.

The Ramblings of a Diseased Mind

I know I should probably be a bit on the sad side that I’m not writing the conspiracy story, but…well… Committing to writing Connor’s sequel feels good. It shouldn’t: this universe focuses on the darkest and most painful aspects of people and the universe. I shouldn’t enjoy writing that. But, God help me, I do.

Maybe I’ll add a new title to a business card: “Tormentor of Worlds”. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

Besides, the conspiracy story has been waiting for better than fifteen years…what’s another year or so between friends?

Actually, I very much doubt that story is my friend. In fact, I think it probably hates me by now and would happily see me dead. It just happens to be far too much of a slacker to actually do anything about the problem.

Committing to this story is freaking satisfying. I didn’t expect that. I expected to waver and question. But nope, not a bit. I’ve been sitting at the coffee shop today working on background stuff and figuring out just how I’m going to torture Connor* and a thought for this post came into my head.

*Hey, it’s his own fault – he’s the one who demanded this story!

I started thinking about the underpinnings of the story itself, and the question of tone and intent. Now, Wrath & Tears was intentionally melancholy and sad. Not quietly bittersweet, but full-on, punch-you-in-the-face sad. If the reader doesn’t shed at least a tear or two at the end, I failed. Completely. But the sequel? The sequel can’t share that same dynamic. Oh, it will still be dark and bitter – it is IS Connor’s story, after all – but Connor has learned and grown, and his outlook and perceptions are different.

Plus…Wrath & Tears was written in great part from my own thoughts and memories of suicide, and I am not dipping into that particular well again. I have more than enough personal demons to fight, who needs to double-dip?

There will still be a sense of angry resentment, yes. Hell, the story starts with Connor in prison…of course anger and resentment are part of it! But there’s also a certain tone of bittersweet recovery on the agenda. And, yes, finally there will be an element of hope, and an answer to the question I wrote at the top of the page when I was first working through the details of Connor’s character…the question that kept him alive before he met Oz: yes, there IS more to life than this.

Dare I mention that Connor is growing up, and the wistful nostalgia of passing youth? Not that he had much of a youth…

Do I have to lock these things down just yet? Actually, no. Not yet. But once the background and basic structures are in place, then I DO have to know. How all that background material gets fleshed out into an outline of chapters and scenes is very, very dependent on the tone.

And the characters? They’re even more dependent because they have to be able to respond to that tone, and have their own opinions and reactions. They can’t just slavishly serve as foils for the plot, or for the protagonist’s perceptions and needs. They have to have their own reality, and their own needs.

Okay…enough rambling. That is the price of not planning (in any way) what I’m posting. If you haven’t noticed yet, pretty much everything is pure stream of consciousness. I should probably look at fixing that, but…

img_0011…I slack, therefore I am.

For now, I think I will try to use this space for its original purpose: namely tracking and posting about the process of writing a story as I actually go through that process. The original idea still has something resembling merit (I think). That idea was to create a space where someone just getting into writing long-form fiction could see someone else’s firsthand experiences and lessons without having to do all that inconvenient joining of writing groups and sitting around talking.

It might even work. Hey, you never know…”even a blind squirrel”, and all that!

Of course, this all may change…hell, probably will change. Boredom and the need for change tend to set in, uhh, somewhat quickly in my world. Shit, if you think I’m bad here, you should see my last few relationships…

Lazy Post of the Month

Hmm…I’ve only got one post (Wednesday’s) queued up and ready.  I like to have 2-3 posts ready so I can slack off.  I need to practice my slacking off, and God forbid I let this blog get in the way of that!

I had the beginnings of a different post I wrote over the weekend, but it involved cheese sticks and nukes, and I’m not sure I’m ready to go there yet…

Screw it, time for another writing snippet I guess.  Below is a (very) early version of the opening scene for Connor’s (potential) sequel.  Keep in mind: usually I create a plan and outline before I sit down to write a scene.  This one never had that, it was done purely off the top of my head.  Unlike the other snippet I posted, I likely will use this in the story itself, but only after some serious revision:

The whirring of another lock in another cell door. Connor would never get used to that. It was just as bad now, two months after his eighteenth birthday, as it had been at thirteen. Shit, in some ways it was worse. The years in between had taught him about suffering, yes, and about the price always waiting to be paid, but also about love and friendship.
A gulp, then, at the thought of friendship. Of absent friends. Of Oz.
Blood on the floor…blood on the knife…blood on Oz’s wrists. And Connor too late to do anything other than hold his friend – his brother – as the last of a too-short, too-painful life dripped away.
At least Oz hadn’t been alone. Only one thing had ever scared Oz: alone. Being alone and, especially, dying alone. Alone was worse. That was lesson number one, a lesson Connor would never forget.
But Connor was alone now.
Oz was dead. Marie and Vin were dead. Fadi had crawled into a bottle and disappeared. And Nat? A second gulp, almost as big for her as for Oz. Nat had washed her hands of him. Takie princess that she was, pretty and rich, she had had enough of her foray into rebellion and danger. She had cleaned away the dirt and grime of dockside, and Connor with it.
“Move your ass,” a voice barked from the small intercom by the door. “Work details leave in ten minutes.”
Connor didn’t want to crawl out of bed. For all its faults, the bed was warm. The prison’s floor was cold. The cell was cold. Hell, the whole fucking place was cold. Less than a year into his five year sentence and Connor was already very, very tired of the cold.
At least it wasn’t dockside.
If they’d put him into the much smaller jail out there he’d have been dead months ago. Too many people knew who Connor Spogelse was. Too many people blamed him for the violent gang war now ripping that space station apart. And far, far too many people wanted him dead. The cops almost as much as the remnants of the crime family he had betrayed.
Grim humor, and the memory of his sarcastic friend, were always enough to find the absurdity in his life: how many people could say they’d betrayed a major crime family, brought down an entire government, and earned a price on their head, all before their eighteenth birthday?
He could all-but hear Oz’s laughing voice in his head, “Fuckin’ overachiever.”
Out of bed he did get, in spite of the cold, and down to the entrance of their pod of cells. Even after many months the ground felt weird to Connor. Most of his life had been spent in the artificial gravity of a space station, and the regular, ‘real’ gravity of a planet was just different enough to be disconcerting. He felt constantly like he was about to fall over. And that was before he went outside and saw all that emptiness hanging over his head…
As stupid as it sounded, even to him, his mind just couldn’t accept concepts like ‘sky’ and ‘horizon’. And God help him with crazy shit like ‘scenery’ and ‘weather’. He just knew he’d never get used to any of it.
The lights were still dim and just eight prisoners waited by the door. The only ones of the forty in their pod with the privilege – and the drive – to get out of bed hours before the rest and go to work. The others gave Connor a certain amount of space while they waited for the guard to get his shit together and lead them out into the halls.
With nothing to do but work, read and exercise, Connor had finally started to fill out his height. He would never be considered big or bulky, but he was no longer the slight, rail-thin teenager he had been just a year ago. It was more than just size, however. What Connor had done to the last aho who had thought he could hit on the youngest kid in the entire prison brought its own respect, as well. Dirtside criminals and thugs were little prepared for the sheer violence any dockside ikiryo could bring to bear with no warning.
The heavy door to the pod clanked open and the watch sergeant stuck his head inside. “Alright, let’s go.”
The prisoners filed out, moving automatically to walk in single file against the corridor’s righthand wall. You didn’t have to be in Chapman Penitentiary very long before the rules became automatic. Fucking with the guards could be fun, but it most definitely did not make getting through your sentence any easier. And Connor wanted to get through his sentence; wanted to get through with as little trouble as possible.
Down the long hall they marched, whispered jokes and comments the only sound. It was early enough that not even the other guards were moving around if they didn’t have to. Later, when the day shift started, the halls would have guards and staff walking in packs alongside the ever-present movement of prisoners.
The small group reached an intersection and had to wait while the sergeant called to the control room to open the heavy security door sealing the end of their corridor. It was a major crossroads, this, and each of the four corridors leading off was similarly sealed.
A wave and an incomprehensible mutter from the sergeant sent Connor over to the one door painted a different color from the others. Sky blue this one was, indicating it opened into an area that led outside the prison. The others, connecting only to other internal parts of the facility, were a dull, earthen red.
A few steps and Connor pressed the small control on the door’s heavy metal frame and stared up into the holo camera. The door would not open until the operators in Central Control had verified his identity, and his permission to access this particular door. No smile showed – could never show, not for this – but his access to this door was his greatest scam to date. Quite how the prison officials had overlooked Connor’s past as a criminal specializing in cracking computer security and networks he didn’t know, but his first job in the prison library had offered him just enough access to arrange this very special gig.
“C’mon you little fucker,” the sergeant yelled, “hurry up!”
While the door behind Connor remained open, no other door in that intersection could open. Connor almost laughed at the grumbling he heard from those behind. The other prisoners were all headed to jobs in the prison’s kitchen and storage areas, and he could never understand why anyone would be eager to start burning fake-eggs and slopping out pseudo-oatmeal.
Finally, a buzzer sounded and the door behind Connor slid shut. The dull thud of that door was followed by the popping of seals from the one he faced. A heartbeat later that door slid aside. Even the air smelled different inside. Instead of the stale, chemical air of the prison, there was a hint of…something very different.
A wave of sound washed over him, and an air of activity. Two steps inside and he was almost run over by a rushing prison guard. Short and pretty this one was, with brown hair and bright blue eyes. She threw a distracted smile and a half-hearted wave. “Sorry, no time to get things set up right now. Just hit the basic stuff. By the time you’re done the rush should be over.”
Her accent was strange, vastly different from the hint of dockside’s patois that still clung to Connor’s tongue.
A glance around and Connor saw twenty new prisoners standing in a line, wrists and ankles shackled and orange jumpsuits rumpled and dirty. Four guards stood near that group, talking amongst themselves as much as watching the criminals in their charge. More guards were seated behind the nearby counter, checking ‘screens and preparing to call out names.
The prison’s Admissions and Processing Center, its link to the outside world. Work in that area was one of the best jobs a prisoner could get…and was far and away the best job a data-thief like Connor could get.
His smile was satisfied as he went to the closet and began filling a mop bucket. An hour of cleaning and four hours of network access every day? Yes, please.
Maybe he’d arrange a little ‘donation’ to his commissary account today; why eat prison food when he could just buy his own with someone else’s money?

Soundtracks

Music is important to me. In a lot of ways music is important to me. It is key to my writing (more on that in a moment), but it also plays a role in every aspect of my life, and in who I am as a person. The more I learn about music, the more music I experience, the deeper my life becomes.

All art has power: a Pollock painting speaks with power about certain themes and realities…a walk through the Bargello Museum will teach you a shit-ton about the impact and communication of sculpture…but there is nothing to compare with a night of live music.

Everyone has their own tastes in music just as they do in any other art form. I have my own definite musical preferences, but I can see the attraction and emotional content in just about everything. I don’t care if you’re talking about death metal, punk, rap, jazz, or chamber music…every style has its worth and its own incomparable “must-listens”. I listen to a little of (almost) everything, but for me the trophy goes to good, old-school blues. Give me a small, dark blues bar and a good drink and I am the happiest guy on Earth. Throw in a cigar and I’ll…have a hangover.

Yep, I’m definitely getting older.

Now, to tie that love of music into writing. Err, that’s easy: I can’t write without music. Period. Fade to black. Exeunt omnes.

Every single thing I write has a “soundtrack”. In some cases that is simply music that sets a tone and mood for me, and for what I am working on. In other cases, however, it becomes (or defines) a key part of the story. Wrath & Tears is a good example of that – more specifically, the end of the book. In the last scene I wrote the final, painful image: one broken kid holding the body of another, far more broken, kid. That image ends the book, but in my mind the scene fades to black and the “credits” start to roll. There is, as we fade out, a song playing that sums up that final scene, sums up Connor & Oz’s relationship, sums up the entire story…

Note – yep, I’m going back to my marketing roots and “teasing” the end of the post. Hah! Take that!

What you listen to very much has an effect on what you write – and how you write it. Every book – hell, every scene – has a mood and tone, and the music has to reflect and support that. You don’t believe me? Go ahead, write a love scene while listening to Five Finger Death Punch…or write a huge, bloody battle while listening to Bob Marley…

See? I told you so.

You have to know what tone you are trying to set. More importantly, you have to know and understand (harder than it sounds) what subtext you are trying to communicate in your story. Just because a story is about Little Red Riding Hood in the woods doesn’t mean that story is ABOUT Little Red Riding Hood.

Okay…not gonna dive deeper into that particular pool. I could spend the next couple of weeks just trying to expound on subtext, symbolism, allegory, metaphor and meaning…and any of a dozen more ways for a writer to express what he or she really means.

That’s not today’s topic…for which, Thank God! I’m not even close to ready to tackle something like that today (or this week…or this month, for that matter).

The right soundtrack helps me to write and work and create things that are right where I need them to be. The wrong music? The wrong music makes things hard – very hard. Invariably, if I choose the wrong music, the tone and pace of the scene is wrong. Wrong means revising – heavy revising – or just plain starting that scene over. Starting over is generally easier.

Below is an example of what I’m talking about: the music I listened to as I wrote Wrath & Tears. I actually have a list of specific songs and albums, but I’ll spare you that detail. It really only matters to me, anyway (well, except a couple I’ll mention at the end of this post). The full list is longer, but the main artists are:
The Fray
Gaslight Anthem
Dave Hause
Mumford & Sons
Chuck Ragan
The Veer Union

And the occasional side trips into: Toad The Wet Sprocket, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Angels & Airwaves, Blink 182, J Mascis, and even the odd foray into Death Cab for Cutie.

Some songs have been important enough to the tone and resolution to deserve specific mention:
That song I described as playing during the “end credits”? “Be Still” by The Fray (honorable mentions here for “Break Your Heart” by Gaslight Anthem and “For All We Care” by Chuck Ragan).

And finally the song that kicked me in the ass and helped everything to start to come together? “Ghosts That We Knew” by Mumford & Sons.

As a final note, the conspiracy theory book does have its own soundtrack building…a very, very different soundtrack. To fit the mood of that book, I have been listening to stuff like the Pogues, DaVinci’s Notebook, Dropkick Murphys, etc… A vastly different feeling. Good. I want a different feeling – I need a different feeling. I do not need sad, intense, dark, bitter or any other of Connor’s failings…not yet, anyway.

Who Needs a Voice?

So I just had this conversation in my “office”…

(And, yes, for those of you paying attention, that’s in quotes because my office is the taproom of a brewery. I have more than enough bad habits to kill a small village, and that ain’t gonna get any better. Just deal with it. I do.)

At any rate, we were talking about injustice and racism in the military in the first half of the twentieth century. Now, a bit of background is probably warranted here: I study naval history. I seriously geek out on naval history. Mostly the US in WW1 and WW2, but also a great deal of Royal Navy history. I can nerd out with the best of ’em when we start talking about the War in the Pacific or the Battle of Jutland…don’t even get me started on the Battle Off Samar Island.

That conversation got me to thinking outside the normal frame of reference about such things…and since I have to put a blog post together, I figured I would explore the topic a bit. Not specifically a post about the injustice and prejudice against minorities in the service – it was there, and I can go off on it for hours if need be – but rather one touching on what I see as one of the underlying issues related thereto: the ages-old conflict between the voiced and the voiceless.

Now, I’m pretty damned “voiced”. In fact, I should probably shut the fuck up from time to time. But still this is an area I have thought a great deal about lately. In all honesty, it is one of the subtexts I am trying to communicate in Wrath & Tears (how I succeed is, well, up to readers who are not as close to that story as I am). There is in fact no character I’ve ever tried to write as voiceless as Oz. Oh, not him personally, he talks to Connor all the time, but his life itself. He is a complete and total victim: of his family, his society, and the universe in general. The kid never stood a chance*.

*Note – “Oz’s Theme” is a paraphrasing of a song I really like…please keep in mind, this song is copyrighted, so I cannot and will not use it in the book/story itself, nor in any commercial context (and this blog most definitely ain’t commercial):
My sick, sadden’d heart
Is the cross that I bear
Cuz I was damn’d from the start
–Based on the song “Benediction” by Dave Hause – go buy the album. Trust me, just buy it.

What I really wanted to touch on with Oz (and with dockside in general), as well as with some of the other ideas and stories I have brewing, is just how fucked up the universe really is…and how good people are so often the victims.

I write sci-fi and fantasy, but I wish to hell I didn’t draw so much from the “real” world around me. I wish all the shit and misery I put in stories came purely from my own mind. That would make me fucked up and evil, but in the end that would be better than the universe fitting that particular description…

Both Oz and Connor live every single day with prejudice and intolerance. Their very “name”, the concept of being ghosts, comes from society’s hate of kids like them. They really are ghosts: unseen, unheard and unwanted. And I see that every time I walk through the central spaces of many, many cities.

I don’t exactly live in a “megalopolis” (to dredge up an old dystopian sci-fi name), but my home is more than large enough to have kids – teens and twenties, mainly – lurking and hanging around those central spaces. Some are homeless, and some are just barely hanging on by their fingernails. And don’t even get me started on where I grew up (Los Angeles area)…Port Oblivion has a great deal of LA’s dark side to it.

Don’t watch those kids as they hang-out, watch the normal people walking around them. They don’t see the kids. They don’t hear the kids. It’s like those folks are walking through a cloud of ghosts, and if they ignore them strongly enough those ghosts will disappear.

To bring everything back to the naval history conversation I was having: those kids are just as voiceless as was a black mess steward named Doris Miller on December 6th, 1941. In spite of everything he faced, Miller was – IS – one of the great heroes of the US Navy, and far too many don’t even know his name.

Now ask yourself: do you know the names or the stories of any of those kids you see in your town square?

The voiced and the voiceless.

The unseen, the unheard, the unwanted.

Sound familiar?

Yay! Random Snippets of Writing!

When I was still doing the prep and background work for Wrath & Tears, I needed something to set the tone.  More, I needed something that would really set-up and define who Connor was as a person.

As I mentioned in a previous post, that solution was the “letter” I wrote from Connor’s (dead) dad after the Riot.

Well, as I think through the possibility of a sequel, I decided to do the same thing.  Below is a snippet I – literally – just wrote (and no, I haven’t had a chance to edit).  I still haven’t decided between Connor and the conspiracy theory book, but every time I do something like this Connor gains more and more of an edge:

Connor’s cell was on the second level of the pod. That made it the area least monitored by the prison’s guards – what fat, dirtside mappo wanted to climb stairs? – and so the area most likely to have problems. They were all felons, so who gave a fuck, anyway? Shou ga nai.

Connor left his cell to move downstairs and see if he could find a card game. You could only read alone in your cell for so long. Even for a kid who had never known privacy, who had dreamed of the day he could hear silence, you could only take so much isolation.

He wasn’t paying any particular attention to his surroundings – an odd habit for someone used to danger and violence – and so was surprised when his slow walk was interrupted by two of the other prisoners.

“You wanna get out of the way, sparky?” he asked with an eyebrow cocked at the shorter of the two. The one directly in his path.

A glance between the pair, then the shorter one spoke, “Ah, c’mon young ‘un. You spend all your time ignorin’ everyone. We just wanna talk a bit. Get to know you, that kinda shit. Ain’t no harm in that. ‘Sides, you’re too fuckin’ pretty to be walkin’ around alone. You know, some of the guys in this pod, they ain’t gonna leave you alone much longer.” There was a certain look on the man’s face, a look Connor knew well from his early days living in dockside’s depravity. “Why don’t we head to the showers over there and talk a bit?”

Oh yeah, it was that look. Fucking erojijii.

Connor’s internal alarms were going nuts and he knew this was more than just the normal bullshit of bored men with nothing better to do. They would go back and forth for a bit, exchanging insults and then threats, but in the end they would fight. Well, Connor could give in and be raped, but he wasn’t going to let that happen, so they would fight. Why wait?

He stepped forward, put a hand on the shorter man’s shoulder. “Tell you what, boss, I got my price.”

Eagerness, now, on that face. On both faces. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“You gotta know how to fly.”

The hand on the man’s shoulder grabbed, tightly, and the other shot out and took hold of the waist of the man’s pants. A surge and a heave and the guy flew over the railing. It was only a dozen feet to the floor below, but you would have thought it was a thousand from the way the son of a bitch was screaming.

Connor looked at the second man, bigger but far more quiet than his partner. His voice was quiet and relaxed, almost conversational. “You still wanna play, boss?”

Alarms were ringing at the guard station by the pod’s entrance, and Connor could hear boots pounding up the metal stairs. The prisoners below were yelling and cheering. The other man looked at him and backed away, shaking his head. A few steps and the man turned and ran.

Even as several guards swarmed over him, Connor couldn’t help but smile. Fucking erojijii.

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…

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…