Friday, April 24, 2009

Abandoned Luggage

I've had a few impressionable ages in my life. Inflection points, if you will, where a small amount of pressure can drastically change the dynamics of the system.

One of those points, I happened to be reading Friday, by Robert A. Heinlein. There's a scene where the title character, Friday, is standing on the deck of a boat. The boats further up the river come under attack, and she jumps without hesitation. A slower-reacting friend is killed. Swimming away, Friday delivers one of Heinlein's favorite sayings:

'Sometimes, you have to be prepared to abandon your luggage.'

Originally, this post was going to be about how that scene, in that book, changed my life. I was going to wonder out loud whether reading that story, at that moment, had much to do with the restless, rootless, gypsy existence that has characterized so much of my adult life. I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure I was going to end on something about 'the power of fiction', or maybe a musing on whether I'm finally settled now or simply resting for the moment.

And then the boat upriver exploded.

Okay, not really so bad: but my laptop *did* suddenly give me a 'blue screen error' and, just....


My tech guy (Of course I've got a tech guy; *someone* has to maintain the frickin' laser beams on the frickin' sharks' foreheads.) says the hard drive should be replaceable under warranty, but the data on it is almost certainly a-goners.

That means: every new email address in the last year, every email I've received in the past year, all digital illustration work and tattoo designs in progress, every (EVERY) photo I've taken in the last year, the master copy of my (long-neglected) website and the first 15,000 words of a little project I was doodling around with.
Oh yeah, and my book.

Instead, I have the beat-up old laptop the new one replaced. Its USB ports don't work (read: no printing, no flash drives, no nothing), it only seems to work on dial-up, and even thn it has the charming habit of randomly SHUTTING ITSELF THE FUCK OFF in the middle of any important operation.


Three upsides:

1) I do have mulptiple backups of the new novel, though they are two drafts behind. Lucky me, I recently printed out a single clear copy of the latest draft for Her Tiny Majesty, the Great and Terrible Dynamo.

This draft, I get to re-type.

2) HTM, tGaTD likes me better now that I'm no longer 'on that bloody machine all the time'.

and 3)

"The phone appears not be working."

The Dynamo tapped a single foot: tiny, chilling.

"Any thoughts?"

"Ummm, I'm afraid I might've left the computer cable plugged in to the socket."

"Let me get this straight..." The rhythm speeded. "You took the car to work, left me with no transport and no telephone..."

I thought about her cellphone. I thought about her bike. I thought it might be better to live.

"Y'know," I said, "if our house was just fourteen bedrooms on a desolate moor and you were in a lacy nightgown--"
No need to say more. She was already laughing.

Now, if you'll all excuse me, I have some typing to do.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Making Passes

Last night, the printer chugged out the first printed copy of BURIED. I started work in August, finished the first draft shortly before Halloween, and just now, *finally* am ready to turn the damn thing over to The Tiny Dynamo and the Beta Readers (they're down in the basement right now, practicing MoTown covers).

So what did I do in the last five months? Well, I moved house, made a couple of *very* drastic changes to my day job, and suffered the usual assortment of pains and ills to which all flesh is heir.

I also did something like eight drafts of my novel.

You see, the post One Leg at a Time No Longer marked a new direction for me in my approach to writing. I wanted to write more like the way I draw. So I started with a basic idea. Then I 'scribbled' my way through a rough outline. My big concern there was plots and subplots and their turning points.

Then I sat down and wrote the damn thing. Took ten, maybe eleven weeks. Freakin' paradise.

That was my first pass. To me, it was like moving from a loose sketch to tight pencils. And the same as I'll take my drawing, scrub the whole thing down with an eraser and go in again, I took my novel and started making pass after pass, tightening with every step.

They are, in order:

Just the Facts, Ma'am: I read through checking and correcting. What time *would* it be in France at that point? How *does* one say 'fuck off' in Thai? Is that character named Marjory or Mabel? Pick one!

Also at this point, I'm scanning along for weak spots, sore places, obvious bruising in the story. I'll be back for those later.

The Hero's Head: Two things about the way I write: I often don't know my characters very well when I start, and I like action. By the end of the book, I'll know my hero (heroine, in this case) much better than at the beginning, but I'll tend to be light on Sequel.

This pass, I hunted for things the hero wouldn't have said, things she wouldn't have done, etc. I also made sure I took the time to let the reader know where she was going and why.

Plant and Payoff: This pass really deserves its own blog post. It also might have been better done second instead of third, but I was just too itchy to go back and straighten out some of the hero's wrong steps early on. Basically, anything you need later in the book, you need to plant early. We've all heard that if there's a gun on the mantelpiece in Act I, it damn well better go off in Act III. Well, it works in reverse, too.

This pass is about realizing you had gunfire in Act III and going back to put the gun on the mantel...

Mustache Twirling: That's right, the villain gets his own pass, too. This meant going through the novel with an eye out for nothing but the villain. Sometimes I'd pretend I was a Famous Asshole Actor who cared nothing about the script as a whole, only about my part.

Writing this pass, I focused on the villain's introduction, motivations, what they're doing when I can't see them onstage, that kind of stuff. This needs to be done for each and every major character, and sometimes for the minor ones.

And since in this story the hero is surrounded by MANY hostile forces, each villain (and a few who seemed bad but weren't) got his own draft. I made five separate passes to give the devils their due.

Better, Faster, Stronger: Remember those weak spots, bruised places, dead areas I spotted in my second run-through? Last thing I did was to go through the work and take a long hard look at any that were left.

You see, by the time I'd focused on the hero, then the plants and payoffs, then all the villains and major characters, a great many of those 'bad areas' had been cleared up.

Of course, the ones that were left were thorny as hell. I kept at it every day, and it gradually came together. Might've gone faster with more hours spent, but I'm not complaining.

Now the readers will start in. I'll discover that Mabel is unexpectedly Marjorie (because the Find/Replace missed that one). That the hero oddly stood a moment in the moonlight in the middle of the afternoon. That I didn't do enough to explain why anyone would put a live snake down their pants.

Before Agent Anne gets it, there will be another pass...

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Every year at Easter, the executed corpse of Jebus rises from its tomb to feast on the living and we ward it off with talismans of chocolate and marshmallow.

In a similar vein, I'm rising from my blogging-coma to catch y'all up with what's going on.

1) BURIED (the work-in-progress) is *very* nearly ready to go out to the Tiny Dynamo and the Beta Readers. (sounds like a band, doesn't it?) I've taken the story as far as I can. Now, the readers will tell me what's missing, what's too much and what (if anything) just plain misfires. After that, it'll be the marvelous Agent Anne's turn, followed by the Eventual Editor. At least, I do so hope.

2) My day job has changed. After six years, my gig at Planet Tattoo is over. The owner and I had been doing business on a handshake agreement, and a couple of weeks ago I found out that a handshake is worth the paper it's printed on. So that was it for us. For a time there was talk of me buying the shop off him, but wiser heads and random signs writ in the heavens all pointed a different way...

The Ink Spot opened its doors for the first time yesterday. Sonja and Betty and Jay and I are all there, and the new place is really, *really* nice. I can't believe how much we did in such a short time. But then, look at the blog title: I pretty much live with a brick dropped down on the accelerator and the steering wheel snapped off in my hands. And the brake pedal? As shiny and new as the day I got it!

Once Jebus has been chased back into his grave for another year and this mandatory holiday is over, we'll be able to get back to normal. Or to figure out what normal is in the shiny new tattoo shop we all just built:

The Ink Spot
205 Hills Road
(across from the Mad Butcher)

For my Christchurch readers, drop on in. I'd love to see you! Anyone out there who wants a beautiful portrait tattoo, something photo-realistic, cartoonish or other high-quality illustration in skin, I'm your man!

And for the rest of you who miss the days when I wrote about writing, I'll get back to that too!