Back in Action Pt. 2 – Damn the details!

But wait…there’s more!

The medical horrors described in the previous post are just the whipped cream on top of the caramel vanilla mocha-yakka-yakka of my recent existence. The initial roadblock to getting Blood for Blood out the door was far more mundane and…writerly…

When I first choked on Blood for Blood, I had many a valid reason, from pressing business elsewhere to the onset of the problems caused by radiation after the prostate cancer. And I make no excuses for backing off on the writing when I’m not feeling tip-top –  the grimness of Bandit’s Moon was certainly, in part, due to the pain I was in from the prostate cancer.

So after all of that, I was back in the saddle and moving along with the Blood for Blood rewrite, and all was good. Until I got to almost exactly the same place in the story as when I’d last stopped.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

As I go along in a story, I will occasionally come up with plot points that I know a fair amount about, either from personal knowledge or from research. That can be a good thing. It can also be a bad thing.

In this case, I’ve come to accept that it is not a good thing in the context of moving Blood for Blood along.

I don’t use a three-act structure to my stuff, though you can find glimmers of that in all the books. For me, the first third of the book is set-up, introducing the players, laying down the basic parameters of the plot. The second third of the book is where I starting mixing it up, bring in some other stuff, maybe pull a little switch-a-roo on what’s really going on, as opposed to what seems to be going on. And the last third is where I wrangle it all together and hurtle toward the end.

Honestly, it’s not really planned that way –  it’s just the way it generally seems to go.

The choke point with Blood for Blood is right there at the end of the first third, roughly 35,000 words in. I talked about the first part of it right here, a chapter about the intricacies of tracking down a tapped phone. It would have been interesting to almost nobody. If you want to read that kind of thing, go find yourself a techno-thriller. It was just a big block of nothing. Words. Lots of words. No real payoff. They come. They find the source of the tap. There. Two sentences. Not 3500 words of accurate but uninteresting details.

Since it couldn’t be edited into something short and sweet, I just dumped the chapter and rewrote it, Problem solved, right? Not so fast, sport.

It was right after that when my attention strayed, which is never good. If I don’t have a desire to find out what happens next, it’s doubtful that a reader will. And something was holding me back.

At the time, I had every reason to do other things, and so I did. Then illness and blah blah. Bringing me up to the current rewrite. Which coincidently came to a screeching halt at around the same place in the story.

This ultimately made me look at and think a little more critically about what was happening in the story. And I realized that the chapter I tossed was actually the second consecutive chapter where I’d gone into excruciating detail about something that didn’t require that level of attention. Rereading it in the context of the flow of the story, it was like I was suddenly trying to run through knee-high mud. Glop glop glop.

I don’t believe I’m going to have to toss the chapter, though I will rewrite it. Cut it down, get rid of all the fabulous details, streamline it and get the story moving again. Dry up the mud.

There’s plenty of interesting stuff (really interesting stuff) to come in Blood for Blood, and I’m quite anxious to get to them.

Back in Action Pt. 1 – Damn the radiation!

As I sit here, I have tubes coming out my back, draining my kidneys into bags on each thigh.

How’s that for an opening?

This is going to be a two-parter to talk about why I’ve been missing in action for the past few months –  there are two things going on, one more recent than the other, and rather than start at the beginning, I’m going to start here, at the end….

Back in August, I went ahead and had the artificial urinary sphincter put in (look here if you need a refresher on what that is…). That all went fine, no post-operative pain, healed up well, and things looked good. They activated it and things were good. Not great, but good. It was kinda leaky. And I had to pee every hour, hour and a half.

But as time went on, I started feeling…unwell. Fatigued. No motivation to do anything but wander around like a zombie. No appetite. And when that didn’t fix itself (as I prefer things do), I finally went to the doctor and found out that I was in acute renal failure. My kidneys were not functioning.

Off to the hospital I went. Here’s a tip –  try to avoid trips to the hospital in the middle of flu season. The hospital here at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has 1500 rooms, and they were almost all occupied. So I spent five hours in the emergency waiting room and then spent the night in one of the treatment rooms, since there were no actual rooms available.

From there, it was on an attempt to put stents in my bladder. They couldn’t do it because my bladder is a radiation-scarred hellscape, all scar tissue, so there was no way to find the openings they needed to place the stents. I was barely awake from that when they sent me off for the nephrostomy in each kidney. They numbed me and sedated me, but did not put me under, so I was vaguely aware as they hammered my back and stuck a tube into each kidney to drain it directly.

Fortunately I was able to get a room after that, and was in there for a couple of days. In the almost-four-weeks since I got out, my kidney function is slowly but surely returning to something close to normal (for me –  thanks to the earlier kidney failure during the prostate cancer, I’m always a little off).

The urologist believes the problem is the bladder. The normal bladder can hold 400–500 ml of urine before it needs to be emptied. Mine, thanks to the radiation and scar tissue, can hold 75 ml. Hence the urinary sphincter was working fine, but since the kidneys were putting out more urine than my bladder can hold, it started backing up, leading to kidney failure.

As soon as my kidney function hits a reasonable level, we’ll figure out what to do next. I’m on medication to relax my bladder, which might allow it to stretch when the time comes. If not, there are other, less savory options. None especially desirable, but ya have to play the cards you’re dealt, right?

As things stand, I feel pretty good (except for the tubes in my back), appetite is back, motivation is back. And once I figure my way out of the little writing problem that initially brought my forward progress on the Blood for Blood to a screeching halt, I should starting moving forward rapidly.

But more on that tomorrow….

 

Another Murder Most Foul

As I move along through the Blood for Blood rewrite, and close in on new material (as opposed to  rewriting the dozen or so chapters I had), I’ve been giving equal attention to where I am now in the story, where I’m going immediately after this, and how I’m going to wrangle it all in within fifty thousand more words.

The break I took for the past couple of years has actually been pretty useful –  it gave me time to give a lot of thought to the last third or so of the book. Which I recall as being very nebulous the first time around.

It’s not so nebulous now. I’ve got a few set pieces for the next four or five new chapters, and a couple more in the last part of the book. But I’ve expanded one of those latter set pieces. I’m going to kill one of the continuing characters in the world of Night and Day.

That’s all well and good. Sometimes characters have to die, to move the story along, or because there’s really no place for their story in the overall story. It was mostly the former and a little of the latter when I killed off Johnny Three-Legs in Bandit’s Moon. His death started the chain of events that led to the end of the book. And there really wasn’t anyplace to go with Johnny. I could have kept him around, had him pop up from time to time, but he was never going to be a more important character than he was in Bandit’s Moon, so hell, let’s send him off on a high point.

There is a purpose for killing off this continuing character in Blood for Blood. It will be part of the chain of events that lead to the end of the book. But mostly I’m doing it because, frankly, I don’t like the character.

That’s right. I don’t like the character. I’ve never liked the character. And now I’m going to kill the character.

Sure, I could come up with some way of getting the character off stage. But knowing myself, I’d always know that the character was out there, and maybe down the road I’d decide that perhaps I could bring the character back, for one reason or another. It’s like somebody you despise, but you haven’t seen them in a long time, and you begin to think that maybe they were okay after all.

No.

After this book, I don’t want to ever have to write dialogue or actions for this character ever again. I want to drop the hammer on the character and walk away.

It did take some heavy thinking to come up with a way to do it. Just because I want something to happen in a book doesn’t mean I can just make it happen. It has to make sense. The character couldn’t just step off the curb to cross the street and get hit by a bus. The death has to be organic to the story. It has to have a reason that moves things along.

After a lot of thought, I think I have a way to do it. I won’t be 100% sure until I get to that point, which is still some time away. But I think it will work. And my hands will be stained with the blood of yet another Night and Day character. I don’t know how I sleep at night…

Snotty Little Fingers

Babies have snotty little fingers.

And while they’re sitting on your lap, smiling and pointing and talking in Swahili or whatever language they speak, they love to shove those snotty little fingers in your face. And if your mouth happens to open, those snotty little fingers go right in.

Baby

Then you spend a week and a half hacking up pieces of your lungs and gasping for breath, until you finally go to a doc-in-a-box and find out that you have acute bronchitis, which is fancy doctor talk for a severe chest cold. And after steroids, antibiotics and inhalers, you finally begin to feel better.

And ready to write again….

Rabbit Holes

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m prone to falling into rabbit holes while I’m working on a project.

When I was actively making animated films, I’d take a break in the middle and spend a day looking for the right music, or working on an animated title sequence. With the Night and Day Series, breaks usually involve firing up iClone –  build a nice 3D scene, save a screenshot, do the cover in Photoshop, spine (for the paperback) and the blurb on the back.

This weekend’s rabbit hole involved the first three books in the series.

After finishing up Chapter Six of Blood for Blood Friday night, I did some skimming of various writing forums as I often do, mentally mocking people for their stupid questions (“I really want to write but I don’t have any ideas. Can somebody help me?”)

I came upon a few threads talking about moving the print copies of people’s books from CreateSpace to Amazon. I’d been vaguely aware that Amazon had started offering their own printing for  physical books about a year ago. It had seemed interesting enough, but since CreateSpace had worked fine for those few readers who wanted a physical book, it wasn’t a high priority –  I sell 20 ebooks for every one paperback.

But people were talking about how easy the process was to move from one to the other, and how happy they were with the Amazon printed copies, so I decided to give it a whirl. Did Night and Day first, a few clicks, and it was done. Saturday morning I went ahead and did the same with Bleeding Sky and Bandit’s Moon.

Then…

Saturday morning, after getting the two books moved over, I decided to do a little more forum browsing before I got into Chapter Seven. Saw people talking about an amazing program called Vellum. It’s basically just a book formatter, but as I’ve discussed in the past (like here and here), formatting can easily kill a couple of days or more. Vellum does it in minutes, for both Kindle and paperback, and includes a lot of nice formatting stuff (like drop caps and little graphic flourishes) and handles all headers, footers, page numbering, and that kind of thing as well.

So, hey, let’s take a look.

Oooops, it’s Mac only. But it looks so good….

Because my brain is mostly mush, my first step is to see how much it would cost to pick up a used Mac laptop. Then I’m looking at new Mac Minis. But then, because there are some solid particles in the mush of my brain, I realize that I used to run a Mac virtual machine on my computer (basically a fully-functional Mac in a window on my Windows desktop) and still have the files. So I get a new copy of VMWare Player and try to load the old virtual machine. Too old. Won’t even load in the new version of the player. And then I realize it’s too old for Vellum, too.

So, off to find a more recent version of MacOS, hopefully in virtual machine format, and I find one. High Sierra, the latest version (until they release a new version this year). Load it up, and after some fiddling, get the virtual machine working.

Then I throw Vellum on there. Vellum requires Microsoft Word .docx files for import. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been using WordPerfect for 30 years, prefer it to Word, and though I have Word as part of an Office 365 subscription (primarily for Outlook and OneNote), I almost never use it.

Let’s convert the WordPerfect file of the entire Night and Day to Word. Oooops, the new version of WordPerfect, released a month or so ago, doesn’t have Word conversion yet, because Microsoft discontinued their Word conversion package that other companies use. Fine, I’ll load the WordPerfect doc into Word, do the conversion there.

It sucks.

All kinds of problems with the converted text, that would take me hours to fix manually. So after playing with it a good long while, I decide to try exporting to rich text format (to strip out the WordPerfect stuff) and then import that into Word. And there we go.

So last night, I did Night and Day and got it uploaded –  new Kindle and paperback versions. Today I did Bleeding Sky and Bandit’s Moon. The more I use Vellum, the faster it is, since I know exactly what to do to get what I want. I think Bandit’s Moon took me less than an hour, from conversion to moving files from PC to virtual Max to finished product.

All of the newly-formatted books are up on Amazon now, and should be live in the next 24 hours or so. I’ve already checked out the Kindle versions on both the computer and tablet, and they look great. Later this week, I’m going to order a couple of paperback copies of each book (having given away my copies) and check out both the Amazon printing and the Vellum formatting.

And tomorrow morning, I can get back to Chapter Seven of Blood for Blood.