Fiction

The Art of Editing Vol. 3 – Ground down to a tiny nubbin.

Right. Yeah. I promised a blog about editing. So here it is. Frankly, i don’t really feel like it because i have been at it all day and my eyes are about to fall out of my head. Okay… that’s a lie. I HAVE been at it all day but i have also been goofing off in a huge proportion to the actual work getting done and THEN i hit a snag.

Right now i’m in the final phase. Proofreading. So that’s something you’ll need to figure on and put in your toolbox. It’s a bit of an annoying process. Really, it’s the easiest bit of editing because by now you should have smoothed out all the really rough edges to your work and are just on the verge of publishing the bad boy and getting out of the proverbial house. It’s all grown up and mouthing off and it wants to take your keys and go to The Who concert and it considers you a huge embarrassment.

I’ve had a proofreader go through it and i’ve gone through it myself. The Proof Copy looks like it should be good and dead with all of the scars all over it. But it isn’t. It’s breathing. It’s more alive than it’s ever been actually and i am just plinking away at patching the tiny things – putting bandaids on all the cruel cuts my red pen has made.

This should go fairly quickly, but it isn’t. I’ve hit a snag. There’s a three paragraph chunk that i somehow missed in the overall close editing that needs to be radically fixed in order for things to work. This sort of sucks, as you might imagine, because i’ve already had this thing out to Createspace and i’m working from a fully formatted Proof Copy, which means i REALLY want to keep the length as close to the original document as i possibly can or risk having to redo things that i don’t want to redo.

No big deal. I’ve got this. Tighten the language a little, kill off the massive run on sentence that i missed, smooth it out.

How do i do this you might ask in stunned and appreciative amazement? Well… it’s complicated. But basically, i stare at it until it starts changing. Is that a cop out answer? Yep. It sure is. But it’s also the truth. I roll the thing around in my head for a little while, try and figure what it is i’m trying to show the reader in that moment and let the sentences and paragraph reform themselves a little to bring that out.

Like i said – the bones are there. By this stage, if you have big changes, they’ve been done. If you are proofing, the finish line is in sight and you are stretching out for it. You’re constrained by knowing there isn’t much you CAN do short of scrapping huge chunks and rewinding yourself way back to a different stage in the editing process and you probably don’t want to do that. You’re sick of your story raiding your fridge and eating all of your food. You’ve bought it a Pinto and it’s already run it into a lake.

So yeah. Just relax. You’ve got this. Stare at that paragraph and let your wise training take over. Be the ball, Danny. I don’t want to hold you in suspense but i will say it didn’t take all that long to fix the paragraphs. There was one hefty run on that had some terrific imagery in it that actually worked better if i carved it into different sentences. It was a bit like straightening the poor guys tie before prom. Then there was the next paragraph that was far too witty for it’s own good. Cut that down to size a little and rearrange here and there, snip the silly rat tail off it’s head and make sure it has a comb in it’s pocket. Now off you go.

These things might come up in proofing. It’s important not to let it get to you. If you let it get to you, that little bastard is never leaving the house, you’re cutting up it’s drivers license and sending him back to sixth grade and you definitely don’t want to do that. You’re almost done. Just make the little fixes you need to make. Remember – we’re talking bandaids and not surgery at this point as long as i feel like mixing metaphors. Which i do. Cuz it’s my blog and i’ll mix if i want to.

If you have an open wound, stitch it up and slap a bandage on and get it out the door. That’s the lesson for the day. I know it’s nothing earth shattering but it may just save you some serious heartache.

Post Script:

Today i was completely schooled on a grammatical foible i have been committing – unwittingly – since time immemorial. The terrible error of my ways has been pointed out and i shall not err again. Lesson learned. But there you go kids, the minute you think you know everything – you don’t. And that’s a good thing.

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Categories: Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Art of Editing (according to me) Vol. 2 – Further Down The Rabbit Hole

IMG_0203Phew. Dang. I didn’t think that introduction was ever going to get out of the way. But now what? I’ve got em hooked. What do i do with a second act? Do i have a second act? What’s my next step? Oh God. What do i do?

Panic.

Panic should be your next step. So run off and take care of that. Chop Chop.

You think i’m kidding. I’m serious. Hanging out with a bunch of characters and a huge sprawling plot for months on end is not a ‘normal’ act in polite society. People frown on that. You are – officially – a weirdo. Which is fine. Weirdo’s make the best people. But a little panic is in order. You should celebrate. You should freak out a little. You should lose your mind a lot. You should wonder what comes next. You should panic. So go take care of that pronto and then come back. I’ll wait.

All right. How long did that take? Hopefully long enough because your next step in the epic that you just wrote is shoving the whole thing in a drawer for a while. Get it out of your head. Purge. You need the distance for the next step because a little distance really helps when you have to go back to it. I suggest you take up knitting or doing jigsaw puzzles or learning Swahili. Take your mind off of it and learn something new and different. Keep the brain minty fresh. You’re going to need it.

So you might ask – why? And provided you’re actually asking this WHY in relation to me suggesting you put it away for a while and think of something else, i will tell you. If your ‘Why?’ is merely general and existential i recommend Sartre or Camus. You have to get away from it is why. You have to let your brain catch up with where you are now. If you’re anything like me, that little noggin of yours has been reaching for that story in the darkest watches of the night every chance it can get it’s grubby little mitts on a spare thought. It’s like you’ve been shut in a closet with a film projector that occasionally breaks. Now is the point you come out and actually see the sun and trees and breath some air that is unadorned with the stank of mothballs.

If you were to look at it now – your story that is – you might not see anything different from what you saw yesterday. You would still be ‘In’ the story. That doesn’t help you read it and reading is what you need to do next. You need to read it just like joe schmoe on the street, if joe bothered to read anything other than the racing form.

Reading is the first act of editing.

Now when i say reading, i’m getting a little ahead of myself. Basically what i’m going to – or HOPE i’m going to – give you in the next few installments are the individual processes. What order you put them in are mostly up to you. I will not – nor CAN i say that there is ONE WAY to do this. There are only steps. Like tools. Reading is the first tool you will see in the tool box.

But there are different ways to read. So it’s a bit like a wrench. You know how there are eighty billion different types of wrenches out there.

Your first read through, in my opinion, shouldn’t be just slack jawed. After all, you already know you’re going to have to tinker with this beast. But, in my opinion, it helps if you keep your immediate goals reachable with the first read through. If you need to fix things – focus on the annoying mistakes you knew you made. Things like spelling and Your/You’re issues. This makes this step manageable and gives you a little boost to keep going. That’s important because you’re in this for the long haul. This is the first step in polishing the marble. Your story isn’t going to move and grab your readers without you committing to the process and little reachable things like that can help you – so long as you give yourself credit for them.

Give yourself credit for them. There will be innumerable opportunities to kick your own ass during the editing process and it IS going to hurt and get pretty tiring after a while. So you HAVE to remember – this is really fricking important – you MUST remember to give yourself credit. 90% of the time you are going to be your own best cheerleader. Everyone else has already gotten tired of you squirreling yourself away and not being social and unless you have a miracle angel talking cheerleading Pegacorn, you’re it.

So, Back to the reading. Read it and make those little changes. Take notes. DO NOT scribble all over your manuscript. That just diminishes your agency and gives you a consistent visual reminder of your suckitude in those moments when you least need it. I usually start with a list in a notebook – a bit like the planning period before i sat down and wrote. If i can (and lets face it – MUST) alter a sentence, that’s fine. So long as you keep the little edits reasonable. You don’t want to muck about with too much lest you start yanking on a thread that unravels the whole damned sweater.

Take notes. Make the little changes. If you have a computer program that allows you to tack on sticky notes to things, that works really well.

What sort of notes? Well… that’s really up to you. Read it for the flow first. Read to make sure the thing makes sense, that your transitions are good and that you at least have the sketch of the emotional and plot driven content you were looking for. Read CLOSELY. Read primarily for story. There will be plenty of opportunities to get nitpicky with the grammar but this isn’t one of them. Right now you just want to make sure that the structure is in place and where it isn’t, leave a note for the engineers to shore up the bulwarks. Don’t be afraid to sit and think at the end of chapters. There are times, and they aren’t rare, when i’ve written something and don’t have a clue WHY i wrote it. This is generally the step where i start to figure out why.

I generally don’t find notes like ‘this sucks’ very helpful mainly because there have been quite a few times where i come back to that note after a little while and i’m like ‘what sucks? You’re an idiot. There’s nothing wrong with that.’ Notes like ‘let loose the dialog a little here.’ or ‘find better verbs’ or ‘string this out and add tension’ seem to work much better because then you have some sort of launchpad for the next step.

Which is where the real work begins.

Make your notes specific but not so specific that you’re technically rewriting, which i will get to. And don’t forget that this is not a ‘do this first and this second’ sort of advice column thing. This is a tool box. Rewriting is the another tool i will be talking about. You may lay the wrench of reading aside on the worktable and pick up the hacksaw of rewriting and then shift back to the wrench. They don’t have to be in any particular order. All you’re looking to do is get the rough piece of wood to look a bit more like the thing you saw in the plans.

Now, finally, you have finished reading it through. I hope. You have a whole bunch of well organized notes to guide you through choosing the proper tool for the next step. But remember, before you start, take a bow. Have a sandwich. Listen to some good music and give yourself credit. You have finished the first step in editing. You are a shiny golden god. You can do this. You will do this. Because the world needs your book.

Take this step because you are about to step out of the blue and into the black.

See ya next week.

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The Art of Editing (according to me) Vol. 1

Alright. Are we all situated? Should i take attendance? Ah screw it. Sit wherever you want. This here Blog is The Art of Editing 101. I say 101 because i’m probably not qualified to teach an upper level class on the subject. But i’m going to put a few thoughts out there in a few volumes. Whether you like it or not.

So sit down. Shush. Take notes. Yell at me. Whatever you need to do. But this is important. Seriously. No really. You in the back. I see you playing Pet Rescue. Put it away.

The first thing you need to know if you are a writer, or want to be a writer, is that editing is every bit as much an art as the actual writing process is. Start thinking of it like that. Everybody thinks that it’s a grand thing living in a wonderful floaty cloud on high, plinking away at your keyboards, creating brilliant new worlds, inventing characters. I have personally met artists who believe that the products of their fingers is spun gold straight from the start.

They are liars.

No one writes spun gold. No one. Not ever. Not once. Not in the entire history of all stories ever told.

What artists do is they start to understand that editing is every bit the process of art that drafts are. Possibly more so. Do not presume that your first, second, third, fourth, eighth effort is worthy of production and publication. It’s not. No really. Its not.

No. REALLY.

You aren’t going to believe me no matter what i say, so i’ll just put this out there as coldly as i can. If you are a self pubber, or e book writer, chances are this is going to happen to you. It’s happened to me. Here’s how it goes: You write something wonderful and you think: “oh my god! I’ve got it!” and you’ll rush to press with whatever it is, dreaming of riches falling out of the sky and the accolades and adoration of your fans.

There is even a tiny chance – infinitesimally small – that you’ll actually RECEIVE those things (which is far far worse, really, than if you don’t.)

Then, many years later, you will review that thing you rushed to press and you will invariably head-desk so fricking hard Mr. Miyagi will want to take lessons from you on how to break tables with your forehead. (another tip: this is going to happen anyway, but I hope to help mitigate the damage to furniture if I can.)

I have a sneaking suspicion that there are authors among us, very popular authors, who somehow get that fantastic ego ballooned to ludicrous proportions by enigmatic success and become impervious to this effect because… well… filthy luchre is still pouring in so they can’t be that bad… but they are.

Write well. No one gives a rats ass if you have money coming out of your rectum if you still can’t carry a tune and write a sentence. In fact, you’ll be an even bigger asshole. They’ll gladly stand around with their hands out smiling at you long enough to grease their palms but at the end of the day, you’re still going to have pros call you an inveterate shmuck.

So….

Sorry for that preamble. But that’s where it’s at.

Editing is an art. This is Volume One of the things i’ve learned. Subtitled even further as The Introduction. If you are content to fumble about taking chances and hoping for the best then don’t worry. You don’t need to come back. If you WANT to get better, I can tell you the things that have helped me.

Am I a great writer with fame and fortune to spare? Nope. But I am someone who more often than not does NOT put things out into the world that I would be ashamed to stand behind. I do not claim wealth and success… yet. And I don’t want to, until I feel like i’ve earned it.

Editing is an Art. Are you sick of me saying it yet? I’m going to keep saying it. It’s a beautiful thing in itself.

Take a picture. Go outside right now and snap a shot of any random thing. ANYTHING. Seriously. I’ll wait.

Got it? Now take a look at that picture. Is it art? No. It’s probably a shot of your cat, or maybe a shot of your car. Or the nearest snow bank. That’s fine. You aren’t a photographer. And I JUST asked you to take a shot of any random thing. But what’s the big difference between you and a professional photographer? A professional photographer would have set his composition. He would have framed it. He would probably have gone into some program and tweaked it. He might have cropped it, adjusted colors. If he was old school he would have used chemicals to do this and that mysterious alchemical thing we whisper about – photographic process. He might have used a different camera or a different film. He did all of this because he KNOWS how.

How does he know how to do this you ask?

Because he has screwed it all up before. Editing is the process by which you hone your talent. The more you edit, the better you are at drafting and setting up the originals, the less things there are to edit the next time.

It’s the art of getting yourself closer to what it is you want of your art. You had the idea, you know what you want to say, you know how you WANT your reader to feel. Now you must craft and hone and tinker and process and alter the color and get the notes right until that IS what they get.

Or die trying.

And don’t get me wrong… it might kill you.

End of The Introduction.

Coming Soon – Volume Two – The Basics.

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The Nano Prep Begins – but what do i write?

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Here to inaugurate the great Nano 2014 is my glorious and insightful blog post about where to find the idea. You know. THE idea. The idea that will spin you off to Nano Victory this year and win you awards and accolades and acclaims of sheer genius. These tried and true methods are the best in the business. Even though they’ve never been tried. And might not be true. Either way they’ve worked pretty well for me in the past and they might be good for someone. Somewhere.

Let it be known, of course, that i am not a professional nor have these methods been endorsed by any professionals. In fact, i don’t know any professionals and i don’t think i want to. They’re a silly bunch who prefer wandering around the castle breaking into song at inappropriate moments such as before coffee.

So where do you get your idea?

This is going to sound pretty straightforward but here it is: FROM YOUR BRAIN. I know. Someone has a bitchslap aimed at my face right now but that’s really the easiest way to put it. It doesn’t take long for me to find an idea. It does, on the other hand, take a bit of time. And believe it or not ideas do not usually come down on a thunderbolt sent from Thor’s hammer. They come from taking seemingly random shit that has been stuck in the collective attic of your skull for a long time, just gathering dust.

Here’s what you do: Climb the creaky ladder in your head and start pawing through the attic. Open the various dusty boxes, take in the smell of mold, wipe away some cobwebs. You know when you go up there that you’re going to find something. Your going to open that one box marked ’80’s movie posters’ or ‘mix tapes from high school’ and something is going to pop out at you. It could be anything but it will have a potent meaning to you and it will grab hold with some nostalgia, spinning up memories and all that. Ideas are like that in that, when you find them you know you’ve found them.

But ideas aren’t memories at all. It’s stuff you’ve been storing in your brain. Stuff you keep around. Knick Knacks you’ve been meaning to put up somewhere but haven’t got around to it yet. And they can be anything. Literally anything. You may not even know what they are.

Which brings me to the second point. An idea isn’t anything until you get your brain working on it. Here’s how it works: You know that pretty piece of rock you found in the box in the attic of your brain. Take a look at it. Get your head out of the way. Don’t think of it as a thing or a something. Think of all of it and open up to it. Is there a memory to go with it? Throw that in the mixing bowl. Is it the color? What does the color say to you? Throw that in there. If someone gave it to you, why? Throw that in there. Is it shaped like Shia LeBoefs head? Throw that in there.

Now mix it all around and make a story out of it.

This is all confused and stupid isn’t it? It is. So what? This is what works for me.

Oh. And there’s something else. You have to get your writing imagination to start WORKING on this stuff. Lets take a concrete example. Lets say i have nothing to write for nano this year. On my desk right now are a series of knickknacks. For real. I have a small felted chicken, some plastic Muppet Star Wars figures, a knitted plush elephant and a wooden ship my grandpa made. How do i get my writing imagination to work on this stuff. It isn’t the stuff of high literature. It doesn’t have GRAVITAS. Well… make it. What if these weird little figures hopped on that ship and took a grand voyage of adventure? What if the beaker C3P0 was secretly in love with the Gonzo Darth Vader but he hated the felted chicken who was Beaker C3PO’s best friend because of something that happened in the past? What was that thing that happened in the past? What if Beaker is the worlds greatest salad maker prized for his ability to put amazing salad’s together and desires nothing more than a rare leaf lettuce from indonesia that grows only once in a blue moon that falls on a saturday in march?

What if’s are your life blood when creating an idea. And a what if should NEVER be stopped in the planning stages. You’ll start editing your idea once you hook into something you get excited about.

Ideas SHOULD be ridiculous. They should be a story. They should be your playground brain creating scenes and stories out of the shipwreck flotsam you find on a playground. It works the same way. You know that the slide wasn’t JUST a slide when you were a kid. It was a ramp to alien spacecraft, it was a fire outlook, it was the tip of an island slowly sinking into the sea. Ideas are the same thing. Don’t let your grown up brain interfere with them.

Now… You’ve got something. You’ve got a bunch of weird characters on a ship on a quixotic quest to find a leaf lettuce in indonesia. It may not seem like much – particularly if you have been unable to keep your editing brain from tinkering with it. But it is something. And if you’ve done it right you’re probably wondering where the fuck did that all come from? Don’t bother to think about it. This is your weirdo writing subconscious at work. Just keep generating. But now you can do a little refinement.

I have these people on a ship. Who are they? Why are they on a ship? Is that really important that they’re on a ship? What is the ship REALLY like? Strip away the plastic beaker C3PO and evolve that character into someone. Baker, Candlestick maker, get to know them. Don’t interview them like one would a celebrity on tv. Get them drunk and hold their hair while they throw up. Listen to what they whine about while drunk, watch the fights that happen. All of this stuff is important. It’s coming from YOUR HEAD. Which means, subconsciously that you’ve stumbled upon shit that is somehow – in some obscure way – important to YOU. You haven’t made it up like some 35 year old wanna be architect playing with lincoln logs. You’ve let it pop through your skull. You have AN idea. It may not be a great idea but it’s an idea.

Oh yeah. And do yourself a favor. Don’t start your Nano on a quest for a great idea. It’s a terrific way to start yourself in the hole. Let your brain stumble upon a great idea like sea glass on the beach. Let your brain play. That – to me – is what nano is all about. Not the great novel but a rediscovery of the playground and all the worlds it contains.

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An Experiment in Self-Publishing: pt. 2

No. You don’t get a fricking drawing or a picture of any kind. Nuh uh. Why? Because 135 people have ‘viewed’ my story Cuhlyn’s Tale on Payhip and of them I have sold 6 copies. SIX!!! And 2 of those were to the same people. So they bought it TWICE! Which must mean it’s awesome, right? Guess that shows you. You could have been on the ground floor of something amazing but nooooooo…. YOU chose to sit on the sidelines and see how it all plays out. Didn’t you? Didn’t YOU?

Naw… Just kidding. Sort of. It’s no big deal. It’s a little story anyway. Not something I was looking for – just something that happened along one fine day. So I wrote it. NOW GO BUY IT!

Truth be told the experiment isn’t working all that well. I’ve had a friend in Scotland have some issues with the Payhip site, there was some trouble in the very beginning with Paypal (my fault), and it needed some editing. It has now been edited. Again and resubmitted. According to the site, if you purchase a copy you get it as a Doc file or a epub file. Or both. It’s a little hard to tell. Personally, I really don’t understand the doc file thing. That really shouldn’t even be an option should it? That would enable anyone to purchase, download, alter the heck out of it and resubmit it under their own auspices. Hmmm… I think I’ll have to pull that doc file down before someone with more marketing understanding rips me off.

Also, the same friend in Scotland has mentioned difficulty with the ‘sharing/liking’ of it on FB. She’s not even getting those options on her browser. This is a problem as I have it set right now so that you (yes YOU!!!) get a discount if you share or like it. This amounts to 50% off if you share it. Which seems to work backwards if you ask me. It’s a great idea but maybe the discount should be paid forward? If you buy something and like it enough to recommend it, you can click share or like from the main page and have a discount applied to your next purchase. I mean, who really want’s to go BACK and like something after you’ve read it? Okay. Wait. I do that all the time.

I have to say, though, one thing i do like about it (and dislike about it) is that there is no place to leave comments or reviews. Payhip, as a whole, is very stripped down and no frills. There are no pushes, no marketing slams of ‘if you liked this story, you might like this one that someone with more money has had professionally promoted’. It’s nice because the review thing has become a game. You see it all the time – people begging on the cobbled streets like Dickensian paupers: ‘Please, sir – would you kindly review my vampire novel? I promise it will be no trouble. There’s only one werewolf in it. Honest, sir…’ I know reviews matter. I know i have none. I read reviews all the time, but – as a writer – i tend to review the reviews if you know what i mean. Too many spelling mistakes in a review, loose language use, colloquialisms and it’s as good as a bad review in my opinion. In any case, there is no place to put a review on Payhip, even if you wanted to. There’s no rating system, no genre searching, Really, i’m not sure how you’re supposed to find anything on there.

That said, their percentages are really good. Definitely worth it. And i hope they keep that in place should they choose to expand. They’re also really easy to upload to and the sharing/liking features (when they work) are really easy to use, but as i said i have had at least one friend have difficulty getting them to work.

In any case, the experiment continues. If you would like a short little tale about a barbarian trying to save his little village from slaughter you can find it here. If not, that’s cool too – just leave me tips and pointers on how better to market stories, because i still suck at it.

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An Experiment in Self Publishing… pt… whatever

Cuhlyn Cover

So I’m trying something newish… I’ve recently wrote and published a little story about a Barbarian fighting off an evil horde to try and protect his family. It’s DEFINITELY not my usual fare but i figured, why not? You write these things when they show up. That’s pretty much all there is to it. When the muse comes a-knocking you don’t tell her to bugger off and chat up the dude down the street who DOES, in fact, write fantasy. Sorry, Muse. You got the wrong door this time. You want to try 13b.

Anyway… if you’ve stumbled your way back here for whatever reason i just want to hep you to the groovy (albeit rather blood-drenched) little story i am trying out on Payhip. Why should you? Ehn. No reason really. Except – Science! Yes. This is an experiment. I haven’t used Payhip before. It seems like a pretty nifty little service. They only take 5% (which is a lot better than Amazon), you can set your own prices and ‘liking’ or ‘sharing’ can provide a discount off the price. Sounds like a pretty simple solution huh? Yeah. Deceptively simple. This is why i’m giving it a shot. And this is why it’s a story about a Barbarian and not one of the other projects i’m a little more invested in.

That said, if readers like it i’m sure i can offer up more of it when it strikes me. It was fun to write. Hope you don’t mind the rather stilted style of it though. It was a bit weird. I honestly can’t remember putting that much violence in something since… well.. probably ever. That includes having the victim of Meg #5 found with a Candy Cane lodged in his eyeball.

Also… if you do read it – be a little more gentle than it’s titular character. I did the cover art myself and i know it isn’t all that grand. Just close your eyes and remember – this is for science!

https://payhip.com/b/4Snz

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The Second Week Blues – Continuing Tales of the Ravaging NaNo.

PandaGood morning, NaNos. I’m sure by now you’ve collided with that invisible barrier – the two-week blues. You’ve been watching the unbelievable progress of your fellow nanos with a mixture of Hulk Rage and Sad Panda. By now you’ve had some time to get into the middle of your plot and realized it’s all mucky and full of weeds and you’re wondering why the hell I ever bothered with this stupid NaNo stuff. This is usually the point in your november when all seems lost. If you had a fainting couch you would throw yourself dramatically upon it at least once a day. Your hair is getting thin. Your characters suck and they hate you. And why can’t I write an action sequence has crept up and strangled you with its cold icy fingers.

Don’t despair, brave NaNos. It’s only week two. This is the hard part. The rest is easy.

Okay. That’s a lie. But this is the hard part. This is EXACTLY the reason you are doing NaNo.

Here’s the little secret about this giddy madness you’ve engaged in. It isn’t REALLY about writing a novel. It’s about getting over those internal hold ups in you that don’t let you finish your novel. It’s about persistence and grinding away. It’s about the reward of just winning. Sure it’s fun to have a brilliant novel that just rollicks off all over the place like a mining cart full of kittens playing big band music while it hurtles down the rollercoaster track ala Temple of Doom. But that’s not what writing is all about. It’s about work. And a mining cart full of kittens. It’s both. But it’s about getting through those moments and winning in spite of that little niggling voice telling you you can’t and that your ideas are all stupid.

So you’re in the two-week blues. Everybody gets them. Hell, I even got them recently after realizing that my characters have all spent more time in restaurants chatting about the case than actually DOING anything. So I skipped all that stuff and started working on a different part of the story. It is a part, I might add, that I didn’t even know WAS a part until I got desperate and tossed in a guy with a gun. Why? Why not? Voila! Unstuckitude. I know, I know. You want to take yourself seriously and preserve the integrity of your work. You feel the need to keep your plot cohesive. Giant lizards stomping on your city or playing parcheesi with each other while using buildings as seats and a table doesn’t really enter in to your concept for your story. You think i’m just being silly. But the thing is – it isn’t silly if it works. If it gets you putting words on the page – and most importantly – if it gets you to STOP TAKING YOURSELF SO BLASTED SERIOUSLY.

Look, YOU opened the door to the world of imagination. You’ve looked out upon its landscape and took the first steps. You may have laid out your story like a nice yellow brick road and are determined to walk it but just look out on that lovely grass. Look around. Do you have your tourist flyer for the land of imagination? THROW IT OUT! Get off the path. Take a hike. Get lost. Just down the hill over there are some alligators in top hats. What are they doing? You tell me. What kind of trees are those over in that misty valley – the ones with the purple on top that those weird birds keep fluttering around in singing old Morrissey tunes?

NaNo is for you. It’s not about creating an everlasting masterpiece of unbelievable brilliance. It’s about showing yourself that you can win a freaking marathon with your MIND. And it’s about learning how to play again – or maybe for the first time, maybe showing you just how brilliant the imagination can become when blended with the adult in you. Maybe it’s a boot camp for learning to think outside the box. Or maybe it’s the great awful dungeon from which you must escape but you’re the one that writes that story. No one can write it for you.

So what are you going to do, Panda? Are you going to pine at the iron bars of “i’m too far behind so why bother?” Are you going to stare at that massive wall of “My plot is totally boring so why should i keep going because i suck”? Or are you going to invent a troupe of freaking Ninjas to help you scale it? Will you find the bar-bending hulk roaming through your own dungeon? Will you help yourself release your own imagination from the trap of every day. Will YOU win the marathon – dragging yourself across the finish line in a heaving gasp but with a grin wide enough to swallow a bus?

It’s your call, writer.

 

Categories: Fiction, Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

And now for something completely different.

Not really. Actually i’m on my way to bed but i couldn’t miss the official thursday post or i’d feel like a big jerk. So here i am, ending the day as it began – with typing.

By now the usual readers have looked at the Murp Day thing, scratched their heads and said ‘umm…. what was that?’ Let me explain. No wait. There is too much. Let me sum up. I love my mystery stories. I love mysteries. Realizing that sort of came up suddenly one day a few years back after reading Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. More than anything else Chabon really opened my eyes to what a genre story could be. He’s a damned good writer, by the way. If you haven’t explored Werewolves in our Youth or The Wonder Boys or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay start now. His sentences just sing. But it was the Yiddish Policeman’s Union that REALLY did it. In it he crafts a pretty straightforward hard-boiled detective who happens to be Jewish in the now completely Jewish homeland of Sitka, Alaska which is on the verge of reverting to the sovereignty of the United States.

There you go. A speculative mystery.

Fast forward a few years and i decided i wanted to start a mystery series in my own hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin – a place that is positively RIPE for exploitation into a hard boiled sort of setting. We’ve got it all: seriously corrupt politicians that rival New Orleans, rampant racial segregation, crumbling infrastructure and violence. Oh so much violence. We have so much violence they can’t even squeeze it all onto the ten o’clock news, but my how they try. You can almost hear the glee of the newscasters on a ‘heavy’ day. I really wanted to talk about all of this stuff in some way but we readers have a nasty tendency to depersonalize our realities and demand accurate representation out of them. So what does a writer do when they want to talk about racial politics, history, all that stuff, without getting people completely bent out of shape in one stupid unintentional way or another? Ah… that’s it. Make it a fantasy. Much easier to chew that way.

So that’s what we have in the Murp thing. What you see is a preamble of sorts. The novels (so far there are two in various stages of completion) are speculative fiction. I know. Some folks will say fantasy. That’s fine. Except i don’t much care for fantasy. I love the Harry Potter books but find most fantasy nauseatingly derivative. I wanted to do something interesting, fun. So i packed up the detective genre, added a bit of traditional fantasy set in in Milwaukee and set to steep for a little while. The results are this odd little mixture that i’ve been enjoying and tossing everything but the kitchen sink into. I hope you’ll like it as you’ll be seeing a bit more of it here and there on the blog. Particularly if you’re looking for it.

No worry’s if you’re not into that sort of thing. I’m still a traditionalist at heart and i’ll be keeping up with the mystery blog and my traditional blood and guts mystery writing at the same time. I just want to give this stuff a little space to let it grow and see what fun i can have with it. If you’re here for the traditional stuff it’ll still be here as will the writing mystery blog you see before you. Feel free to ignore the Murp stuff.

If you’re daring and intrepid though and could use a little dash of the odd and sometimes magical in your tales well you’ll find it in the Murp stuff. I’ve got cops, homicides, and a teeming decaying metropolis laden with some truly… unique… folks. I’ve got a brand new College of Magic offering classes at the local university. See how they manage to integrate into the engineering fields. I have a necromancer who works with a medical examiner and reads the brains of the recently departed. I have a bunch of short people, a few tall people, and a bunch of folks who live in the shadows and the long, wide, wild valley of the Milwaukee River. I’ve got corrupt politicians of all stripes and sizes, an illegal potion ring, racial tensions, murder, mayhem and intrigue.

It’s going to be fun.

In the meantime, Homicide Detective Meg Brown is still in fairly normal Minneapolis. (as normal as Minneapolis gets, which isn’t very) Nothing strange going on there except some fun charming sleuthing. If that’s your thing take a look. There will be a lot to see in the coming months and years. Spike and Kenzie are getting married! I can’t wait actually. I’m really happy for them both.

As for this blog – sorry it’s not the usual fare right now. Like i said. I’m tired and wasn’t even going to write tonight. Was just heading to bed actually, but figured i had to do something for the thursday blog.

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Murp Day – Zero Hour (September 8, 2012)

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The batter swung hard and connected clean, sending a shot through the gap between first and second base that yanked the stadium from a three inning stupor. They were primed by an early autumn chill, cold beer, and hot bratwurst, and briefly murmured their approval with a hum that rose through the ball park only to fizzle as the runner tagged first.

Nate glanced left and saw Cheryl still gazing at her phone, paging through texts for what seemed like the fifteenth time in the last hour. Bobby mentioned she’d been a little distracted lately, since her last boyfriend cheated on her. Of course he also mentioned that she was about as much fun as an ass full of carpet tacks even when she wasn’t distracted. It was one of those things that made him think twice about accepting, but of course that was the whole philosophical predicament of the wing man, wasn’t it? From the last few hours of personal experience, Bobby had been generous with his lackluster praise. It could have been worse. She could’ve tried to talk to him.

She sighed and glanced up at the game like a fourteen year old with a penchant for with theatrical disgust. When she didn’t see anything she liked she dropped her nose right back down. Bobby’s date, Emily, looked past him to shoot an ineffectual scowl at the side of her friends head, then refocused apologetically on him.

“So did you catch the guy?”

“Hmm?” Nate was so engaged with the right center field single, he’d forgotten he was in the middle of a story.

“The convenience store guy?”

He swallowed a molten chunk of bratwurst to clear his throat.

“Oh right. Rabbit fast. Luckily, Bobby’s got Antelope in him or something. He kept after him all the way, like a gazelle, while we were all driving around like it was a parade.”

He sipped his beer as the next batter connected. The ball popped straight into the air and briefly disappeared in the window of clear blue autumn sky between the edges of the retractable roof. He didn’t even need to see the pitcher and catcher below to know it would be an easy out.

“You caught him, Bobby?” She was pretty in an earnest, Midwestern, way – freckles, longish hair, just a little too much makeup artfully applied – but there was just something about her that told him she wasn’t really Bobby’s type. If you’d asked him, though, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you what that was. In fact, he really didn’t have any idea what Bobby’s type would be. If he had to guess he would have said A Cowgirl or Calamity Jane.

Bobby chuckled.

“Not exactly. I’m ninja fast and all but this guy was like an NFL running back and… Well…”

Bobby was not a big guy. Not by a long shot. In a different part of the country his height and temperament would have made him a great rodeo cowboy: short, wiry and tenacious as hell.

“What did you do?”

“Well my plan, such as it was,” Bobby continued. “was to run him until he fell down and then tase the shit out of him.”

He glanced at Nate with his crooked grin.

“The rest of us in the cars were supposed to help.”

“Supposed to.”

The guy in question robbed a 24 hour convenience store the night before. The first officers on the scene thought they had him but he split straight through them, stiff arming one into the parking lot before dashing into the neat rows of post-war bungalow houses behind the store. The stiff-armed cop sucked wind into his radio to call for backup. Bobby was the other one. He picked himself up and immediately gave chase.

Nate and his partner, Paris, pulled up only seconds later and caught the two of them in the headlights of their cruiser. For five blocks they watched the suspect juke like a pro, weaving through alleys, cutting the lanes between houses, hurtling gardens and garbage cans with only little Bobby Lester chasing him while they tried to maneuver into better position. The minute they thought they had it, the suspect would make a quick check and change direction like he was being operated by a bored child god playing a video game. The guy easily had a hundred pounds on Lester. From the view from the squad car it looked like a chihuahua chasing a Rottweiler. Once or twice Paris – who was driving – nearly hit little Bobby when they tried to cut them off but he was nimble in addition to being quick, and slid out of the way before becoming a good ornament.

Nate propped his door open to get ready for foot pursuit. Paris laughed gleefully.

“Look it im! Fast as a fucking cheetah!”

“Which one?”

“Our suspect. He’s like Ahman Green fast.”

“So what would that make Bobby?”

“Umm…” Paris yanked the wheel and sped to the next corner. “Willie Mays? Except he’s not black.”

The suspect and his uniformed blue shadow shot from a gap between the houses and flashed through the lights of the squad car.

“Guess it doesn’t quite fit then.” Nate watched them pass and shoved his door a little wider but the guy cut back and away, right in the direction he’d already come from. There wasn’t much else to do but slam shut again and get ready for next time.

“Robin Yount?”

Robin was a hall of fame shortstop for the local baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Nate grew up idolizing him. In the full summer of his youth, Robin was arguably the fastest guy he knew – and it was an argument he had often – sometimes ending with a playful but brutally serious brawl.

“Robin was a bit taller.” He said as they raced down the street till Paris could crank a quick u-turn. Nate leaned out of the car again. “But you’re getting closer. Same color hair at least.”

Paris hit the gas and bashed a garbage can out of the way with the front bumper. They were coming up again and both men flashed so quickly through their headlights they were like deer on a lonely midnight country road. The suspect swung his head around, checking the distance between him and the oncoming squad car, then hurdled a pile of trash at the side of a crumbling garage and was gone. Bobby was just two steps behind. He was grinning and laughing as the pale headlights caught him. Nate could hear him cackling through his open door, giddy like a kid on the first day of summer.

“But you did get him right?” Emily said, bringing him back to the present. She took two large gulps from her small but expensive beer. Her eyes were wide. The next batter took a hard swing and missed completely.

“Sort of.” Nate grinned.

“They had a little help.”

“They? But weren’t you?…”

“Mmm… That’s where it gets a little complicated. You have to remember, we’ve got three or four squads that took the call and this guy was just stupid fast. So the radio is lighting up with location reports of people coming in to the chase, where they are and all that. And of course you’re trying to keep your eyes on the guy, not hit anything and figure out where’s the best place to bail or cut him off. Meantime he’s cutting lightning through people’s backyards and Bobby’s the only one REALLY on his ass. If he slips or something this guy is gone. Anyway. In all the confusion no one caught this patrolman from district two coming in. He’s not even with our district. Just some guy heading to central who decides he’s in position to take up pursuit.”

“The human wall.” Bobby added as the batter swung on and missed again.

“Right. I didn’t catch his name though.”

“Me neither. But if you look close enough his name plate might still be etched into my forehead.”

“The guy was huge. We’re talking Sasquatch huge.”

“Not that big, Nate. Just about your height actually.”

“But like two of me across.”

“Maybe one and a half.”

“I’m trying to tell a story here. A little hyperbole goes a long way.”

“Now you’re just making up words.”

“Anyway. So me and Paris make another circuit around the houses, back to the block we’d just come from and we’re cruising pretty fast to catch up, thinking they’re going to pop through again. Just like they’d done five times before. And we pull up to the spot where we expect them to be coming from but they don’t. I look at Paris and he looks at me and we’re both just dumb. Goofy dumb. Like this.”

Nate made his best dribbling idiot face to illustrate. He’d been told by his ex-girlfriend that it was a pretty good likeness of his usual expression.

“So we both bail, lights and guns out… That whole thing. I’m radioing a broken pursuit and location when I hear this little squeaking coming from one of those gaps between the houses.”

“I don’t squeak…” Bobby grinned. “Usually.”

The batter swung a third time and got a healthy chunk of it. Nate watched it pop and sail away. From his angle it was hard to tell if it had the distance or not and he could feel the anticipation pulling him to the edge of his seat just a little. The rest of the crowd was snared in the same spell, holding their breath to see if the ball had enough. Their voices rose in a tuneless chorus like rain getting heavier on a tin roof. Outfielders drifted back, necks arched and eyes fixed on the sky. They backpedaled to the outfield track when one reached up casually and snatched the ball out of the sky where it seemed to be waiting for him. The crowd went quiet like someone pulled a switch.

“So now I’m thinking something is really wrong. I come running down the alley, gun drawn and see this huge wriggling shadow. The yard had one of those backyard motion sensitive light things so all I can see is this huge silhouette. I mean it looks like something out of nightmares. Like three or four big garbage bags full of live cats or something. I swap out the gun for the taser and I’m just about to zap when I see Bobby’s scrawny little hand shoot out of the pile and wave at me and he’s squeaking, literally squeaking ‘he’s a cop! He’s a cop!'”

“Frystack! That was the guys name. A beast. I should know. He was on top of me. All 800 pounds of him.”

“Yeah. So basically the moral of the story is we had a shrimp NFL kicker chasing a running back and both of them got squashed by a Defensive lineman. I swear, I thought we were going to have to requisition a spatula to scrape him off the sidewalk.”

“Me too. It’s not even funny. I thought I was going to die. Those dude’s were HEAVY. You ever have a whale on top of you?”

“Yes.” Emily said with a sly grin. Bobby’s eyes got wider and a smile crawled across his face. “Remember Eddie Carlton?”

“Fast Eddie? Really? I? Em…? Really?” Bobby stammered, grinning and shaking his head.

“Hey. He was sweet.”

“He was a guy, Em. That was high school. Sweetness was all he had going for him.”

“Well it worked. We dated for like a year after school.”

“Ugh. Fast Eddie. That sly, massive shit.”

“Well… he was that.” Emily’s smile died with the obvious ending of the memory that she didn’t need to share.

“We found out later that the guy only got two packages of twinkles.” Nate inserted awkwardly.

“Yeah. We found out because they were still in his sweatshirt. They exploded all over my uniform. We get the guy cuffed and this Frystack guy comes up and scoops some of the filling off my shirt and he gives me this huge grin, winks at me and says “evidence”. Then he pops it in his mouth.”

Bobby mimicked the whole thing, including the grin. Nate didn’t see it at the time but he figured it was a pretty good likeness. He even pulled his head into his neck a little to simulate the huge cops thick neck.

Emily cackled. Her laugh was startlingly sharp and jagged and it cut the nice stadium hum, making him jump a little. He flicked a glance past her at Bobby who grinned and rolled his eyes behind her back. Nate couldn’t help but laugh. Luckily, Emily seemed to think he was just laughing with her at his own story.

The next batter dug into the dirt and Nate felt one of those terrible gaps of quiet opening between strangers. Emily seemed to wait for one of them to say something else but they were both clearly at a loss. It nervously obligated him to fill it. He looked down at the batter for something clever to say but the Batter wasn’t obliging.

Of all people, Cheryl stepped in to help.

“Hey Em. I gotta go to the bathroom.” She didn’t pry her dull eyes from the cell phone when she said it. It didn’t take a genius to figure out who she was texting and why it required a bathroom consultation.

“So go then.” Emily shot back feigning distraction with a sudden interest in baseball. It won points from the guys. Most women they knew took those sorts of bathroom calls as duty.

“Come with me.”

Nate didn’t have to see it to know that she’d bounced a disdainful expression off his cheek. He was well past the point of caring about it.

“We can go at the end of the inning. I don’t have to go yet.”

“Don’t be a bitch. You don’t even like baseball.”

“Now who’s being the bitch? For fucks sake, Cheryl. Have some class.” She shoved herself from her seat, and glared again at her friend who still hadn’t extracted her attention from the device. “Pardon me, Bobby, but I have to go drown my shitty friend in a toilet. Could you get me another beer?”

“Sure.”

“Get me one too?” Cheryl shoved past them, not glancing up.

“Fat chance.” Bobby muttered after they’d gotten out of earshot.

“Ain’t she a piece of work?” Nate sighed.

“Which one?”

“Emily doesn’t seem so bad.”

“Nah. She’s okay. We swung from different trees in school. But still… I don’t know. There’s just something about her… She seems to like you though. We could always swap – I could murder Cheryl and you could date Emily.”

“Ehn. Not my type either, Bobby.”

“Well… At least we get a game out of it I suppose. When was the last time we were at the ball park?”

“Last week.”

“When was the last time we were at the ball park NOT in uniform?”

The batter swung wide and the ball socked home in the catchers glove. He always loved that sound, even the feel of it. Back in the long ago, Nate had been a pretty decent ball player – nothing outstanding – but he put his heart into it and connected on some deep spiritual level with all of it: the smell of hot dogs in brine, the crack of the bat, the quiet of the field, the way the ball felt when it found leather. He’d blown out an ankle in college which ended his playing, though he still managed a spot on the District Softball team when time allowed it.

The pitcher sank into his stance, checked the runner at first who was itchy with all of the waiting. He took a long lead off, more than he should have given his speed – but the pitcher didn’t worry over it. The guy was taking more than he could chew, practically offering himself up as the next out even if the batter hit it. The pitcher shook off a few signals before nodding and starting his wind up. Just before he finished the arc the runner committed. Nate watched, and on some level felt, the spray of dirt fly from the runners cleats. It was still stored somewhere in his muscle memory. He felt his legs tense up and the toes of his feet crunch harder into the concrete. To him, there was nothing like baseball. The only thing that came close was the scent of the city through a squad car window in the summer time, the distant thumping chaos of one of the many lakefront music festivals or the lurking foot patrol on the lake shore as the fourth of July fireworks lit up the skyline.

The batter connected again. He could tell by the tinny sound that it wasn’t solid – an easy pop fly. The outfielders meandered under it, not even giving enough respect to make the effort and the infielders were already heading in to the dug out.

That was the moment Nate thought he’d gone blind.

The ball was still in flight. Much much later, when finally turning into the precinct for some badly needed rack time, he would have the opportunity to discuss it and they would all collectively come up with much the same thing: a sound like an overloaded transformer followed by a bright flash. But it wasn’t a single bright flash. It was hundreds of brilliant, eye searing flashes all at the exact same instant, as if hooked to a timer.

Unfortunately for Nate, and most of the ballpark, one of those bright flashes came from the outfielder just under the ball. They were staring right at him when he seemed to turninto white hot light.

He got his hands up to his face only after the flash subsided. He shut his eyes tight but ghost images of the flashes were leopard spotted everywhere on the inside of his eyelids. There were so many he was afraid of opening them for fear there would be nothing to see – just never ending blankness.

“Jesus! What the hell was that?” He yelled. Already the sound of the crowd was increasing. They weren’t panicked yet. He hoped they wouldn’t be – maybe it was just some sort of electrical malfunction – but something was telling him that wasn’t the case at all.

“Can’t see, Nate.” Bobby said. “Don’t know. Wasn’t a bomb. Flashbangs maybe? Can you see?”

“No bang, Bobby. Sounded like a transformer blowing.”

He blinked a few times, trying to soften the spots. Then he heard the first scream. It hooked his attention automatically even though the great blind spot obliterated whatever was directly in front of him. There was another scream, and then another. Out of his periphery he could see movement on the far side of the stadium.

“This doesn’t sound good, Nate. Can you see?” Bobby said again.

“Still mostly spots. Every time I try to look all I see is spots.”

“Me too. Try using your periphery. Look away.”

He could see it – it was as though someone had thrown stones into a calm stream of people. They were rippling away from each other evenly, some ripples crashing into others and rising up, all rushing away from central spots in the stands. It almost looked like a new form of cheer, an adaptation of the old tried and true ‘wave’ only with much more panic and screaming.

Someone reeled back into him. He shoved back reflexively but his brain was already telling him it wouldn’t help. If he didn’t do something quick or join the crowd he would be quickly crushed. He’d done crowd control before and knew that crowds were organisms. They responded to stimuli but they responded in unison, without thought or consideration. Fear spread like a virus and resisted all rationality. He felt it creep into him, clutching at his heart and stopping up his thought as thoroughly as a clogged artery stops blood.

Far out on the other side of the field, another ripple went out. At first it was almost pretty: slow and concerned and almost rhythmic. But then it got faster, frantic. He saw people jammed up onto the backs of others, arms up, legs churning. He saw one person fall and get devoured by the gnashing legs of those behind them, desperate, unknowing. The trampled obstacle only serving to trip others who spilled down the sides of the great bowl of the stands like ghastly, tiny, people-shaped grains of sand.

“Pull your legs up, Bobby!” He yelled against the stampede which was already pushing against him. “Pull up and hold tight! Don’t move! Cover up!”

He didn’t know if Bobby could hear him or not. He didn’t even know if it was the right thing to do, but it seemed right plus it would let him get at the ankle pistol he carried.

“Did you bring a piece?” He yelled.

Already, the stream had started to shove past him. It was like being in a lane between herds of passing buffalo. They hammered him repeatedly in the shoulder.

“Got it!” Bobby yelled.

They crammed past him but he didn’t look up. He kept tucked, and tried to prop his feet up onto the seat but it wasn’t much use. Nothing he did would get them to stop hitting him. They grunted and yelled unintelligibly at each other but no one could hear – they were beyond the capacity for listening. The sounds of panic was in him too, chipping away at his sense and rationality. The only thing that helped was keeping his head down and his eyes shut firmly against it.

I’m going to die. I’m going to die. His brain whimpered. Get up and run. Get up and run.

But there was a cooler, almost malicious voice in there too and it told him he’d already made his choice. Whatever came he would live or die right where he was. He’d survive or he wouldn’t.

And that part was right. Whatever happened, he was not getting up. The force of the crowd was too strong. They’d become a solid string of heavy, churning bodies: a single destructive entity without no mind guiding it. They pounded like crashing surf towards what they hoped was the exit. Away from danger. A mob didn’t need to see or know danger to know it was present. It just abided by the will of it’s own sustaining fury and used terror as fuel until it was exhausted in rage, distance or death. Nate made a decision to oppose the mob. He hoped to live through it and see the other side of it, but hope was all he had left.

He vaguely heard Bobby yell something but he couldn’t make out what it was.

“See it?” He heard. But there was more to it than that. Moments ago he thought he was going blind but now going deaf seemed more likely. The crowd bellowed like cattle. ‘Move’ and ‘go’ were frantic mantra’s that sounded more like animals in a herd than any language he remembered. Someone stepped on his back, and then another. It would have kicked him into the stream of people in front had there been any space. As it was it just put his head in position to be bludgeoned by knees and desperate fists, unaware he was even there. He felt himself teetering on the seat sideways and threw his arm out to the armrest to steady himself. One more good pop to the side of the head or a boot to his neck would be all it would take. Any second now.

In the seat Cheryl vacated he heard a solid crack, almost like – but entirely unlike – the crack of a baseball bat against a ball when it gets all of it. Someone in Cheryl’s seat screamed helplessly into his ear but he couldn’t risk picking his head up from his knees to look. Then there was another crack, this one much more sickly and wet sounding. From a bad memory of a bad accident he remembered the sound. It was the sound his brothers arm made when it hit the tree while they were sledding. He’d never wanted to feel that helpless again but here it was, and it was somehow even worse.

“Bobby! Gun! We’ve got to get them off of us!”

Bobby must have heard because the gun went off. At this point it didn’t even matter if Bobby hit anyone. They could fix all of that later, when – and if – they were still alive. The gun went off again. And then again. And instantly there was a break in the stream. He poked his head up and opened his eyes a little, in time to see shocked people tumbling over the metal tombstone teeth of the seats away from him. He didn’t spend a second worrying about them. He knew they would be broken, limbs off kilter, shattered, but he could only do something about that if he was still alive.

He glanced left to where the scream came from. The crowd was thinning, leaving he and Bobby in it’s wake but there was also a woman, in her early fifties maybe, at a strange angle in Cheryl’s seat. She was staring at him with horror, fear and pain, her face upside down. She was crying and she could see the waning panic being slowly replaced with unbelievable pain. He looked down at her. Her leg had been swept along by the crowd and was at a horrible angle with bright bone poking through a horrendous gash.

He watched her lips move.

“Help. Me.” She choked.

In his right ear he could still hear the thunder of the stampede, finally making it to the exit and getting clogged there. People would die in there. He was sure of it. But there was almost nothing he could do about it right now. His brain was rapidly shifting to triage mode.

“We’re going to get you out of here, ma’am. Just sit tight. Try to keep calm.”

“Help.” She mouthed again.

“Bobby?” He glanced right. Bobby was already standing. He looked almost unharmed. Maybe a little tussled but he figured his own much larger form had shielded his friend from much of the abuse. Bobby had his cell phone and was trying to dial with the gun still in his hand. He was staring at the crush of people trying to get into the exit tunnel.

“Can’t get through, Nate. Got no signal. What are we going to do about them?” He pointed at the crush.

“Nothing we can do, Bobby. Not from here and here is where we stay. We’ve got to help the people we can help. You get me? Keep trying the station. When you get through tell them there’s been an incident at the stadium and we need support.”

“Got it.”

“You see any security anywhere?”

They both looked around the stadium. Down below, on the field, ball players from both teams seemed to be cautiously converging on something in the outfield. Many of them had bats in hand. He scanned around and spotted a few of the yellow shirted event security standing around, pointing and yelling at each other.

“There’s a few. Go talk to them. Get them organized.” He told Bobby.

“Got it.”

The woman clenched his arm hard, her nails digging in, unconscious in her sense of pain. He glanced at her again, wincing and noticing a thin stream of blood trickle down his arm. He grabbed her hand to pry it loose.

“We’re going to get you out of here. Just stay…”

But his voice trailed off as he saw something beyond her in the stands.

It was a good thirty feet away.

At first, he thought it was a bear. Insofar as that made no sense whatsoever, it made perfect sense. What else could so completely panic a whole baseball stadium? It was easily as big as a bear, huge in the shoulders, and seemed to be trying to crawl up the stadium seats by grappling the back rests with it’s feet on the seats. But it was the feet that gave him pause. They were in boots.

Nate blinked, unsure of what he was seeing. Maybe they were still stung from the flash, or maybe he’d gotten hit or something. What he was seeing was clearly not a bear. Not unless bears had somehow become a strange shade of turquoise and wore shoes and… a shirt? That was a shirt wasn’t it? It couldn’t be.

He closed his eyes and shook his head out, like they do in cartoons when someone’s taken a particularly nasty jolt to the head. The way his brother did when he thought he was being funny. When he opened them again the blue, shirt wearing bear was still there. It clambered up another row, gazing around, it’s huge head swiveling on an ursine neck. It turned, glaring at him. It’s expression was oddly human – snarling and bear-like – but somehow human. It’s eyes locked on his in fear, rage, and confusion.

Nate reached for his gun.

The thing stood up on the seat, ripping out the seat back as though tearing a sheet of paper from a book, then flung it out behind him where it sailed out onto the baseball diamond like a strangely shaped frisbee. It curled its huge head back till it was pointing at the retractable roof and howled into the open mouth of the perfect blue autumn sky.

Nate had never heard a more mournful sound in his whole life. It was the sound hearts make when they’re breaking.

Categories: Fiction, Mystery, The Stonemaidens Cup Series, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Motivation Not Motive: Some Thoughts on Character and Plot in Mystery Writing

Sorry I’m a little late. I don’t know what happened to yesterday but I blew it. The whole day. I don’t know what happened to it. I think it was eaten up by an allergy attack – my head was full and stupid and my eyes felt like they were about to pop out of my skull. It wasn’t pleasant. So I blew off the blog for yesterday and literally crawled through the writing quota. I know. You’re wondering how one can literally crawl through a writing quota and now think I’m one of those assholes who throw out ‘literally’ all the time. I suppose this is one of those gray areas. If you’re a total word snob with no appreciation for fun ‘Literally’ will bug you but I won’t retract it. If you’d seen me trying to write yesterday you’d know why.

Anyway. I have a serious beef against Motive in thrillers and mystery. I hate it. HATE it. Writers tend to think that it’s really important to the appreciating the antagonist to haul out the litany of why they do what they do. Personally I could care less and can’t possibly know. I’m much more concerned with the Who and the How. I feel that we’re really looking for Motivation not necessarily the motive. Sure, it’s still important to your story: Motive, Means and Opportunity and all that, but just be careful in how you handle it. Do NOT become heavy handed or dazzled with your own brilliance in making this intricate maze of motive that all will gape at and be amazed. The best stories are the simplest: the one’s that have plenty of room to explore your characters motivation or the vector of their journey.

Motivation is, simply put, the driving force behind a character. Sit down a few seconds and consider your own motivations. Unless you are a vapid, shallow twit you probably have dozens of motivations bubbling up in your little skull at any moment: love, money, success, fame, fortune, respect. They compete for your ego’s attention, vie for prominence in your actions and drive you from one thing to another. Now, if you know this about yourself why get so wrapped up in the why of your antagonists? Sure, plot is largely built on Why someone had to die but in my opinion and more germane to your character is what motivated them to do it? Fear? Rejection? Poverty? Hunger? This is where your character lives. It’s their basic fundamental psychological position. This is the space that gives you room to explore their psychology and to do that you’re going to have to go deeper than the basic ‘i’m getting revenge for my wife cheating on me.’ or ‘he stole my car’.

Watch CSI sometime. Seriously. This may be the only time I advocate watching CSI for anything other than comedy. Actually, in this case you’re watching it for comedy too. It’s really a very funny show if you’re a writer. In fact I would take CSI for comedy over any sitcom out there. It’s not simply the mind-bogglingly silly way they lurch the show from point A to B (then to C, D, E, F etc) it’s the final payoff you get when you finally get the scoop on why Arnold Fwoopdidoo III killed his wifes mothers brothers sisters cousins uncle with a plastic spoon and a teaspoon of salt. Usually (I would say about 90& of the time) the motive is something so completely idiotic that no one EVER would come up with murder as the solution. And I mean no one. Not even true serial killing psychopaths. It’s inane. Honestly, I don’t know how CSI writers look themselves in the mirror every day. Or they’re laughing their way to the bank.

What I’m saying is everyone’s been cheated. Everyone has had something stolen from them at some point. Many people have been cheated on. Many people have done the cheating. These things happen but most of the time they don’t end up in homicide (in spite of what the news would like you to think.) So what is it, psychologically, that snaps in someone? That’s far more interesting than ‘He slept with my wife so I killed him’. What does that look like? How does it twist the brain? This is the meat of motivation. To do it well you will need to engage the reader with really exploring the perception of it rather than the usual interrogation moralizing by the officer and the long-winded exposition from the suspect.

I tend to think – and this is just my opinion – that much of that snapping point is simply the flip side of something we tend to think of as noble. That’s the area where procedural or thriller becomes interesting to me. What does it look like when Love turns to Rage? What does it feel like when the pursuit of justice becomes the desire for vengeance? Isn’t this what fascinates us so much about serial killers and profiling? It’s the fact that they live in the hinterlands of ideals, they operate from the knife-edge of disgust and adoration of their own psyches. Put a weapon in the hand of someone who completely loses control of their motivation (or someone to whom losing control IS a motivation) and see what happens. I guarantee that it’s much more interesting than cooking up a silly elaborate plot based on motive.

 

Categories: Fiction, Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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