Farming My Fields

About half an hour ago, before I jumped in the shower, I listened to some Black Sabbath.

I’m not actually a big fan of theirs – I saw them live in 1974 – I like a handful of songs. But as sometimes happens, I thought of Ozzie whining “Killing yourself to liiiiiiive…” and thought “Haven’t heard that one for a while…” So I fired it up, listened, then took a shower.

In the shower, I was thinking about Black Sabbath. I know that they’re still together, more or less, and apparently working on a new album. But why?

In my less-than humble opinion (imltho, for those of you who like abbreviations…), Sabbath was a band of the first half of the ’70s. They had a distinctive sound and they cemented their place in history as one of the early proponents of what was to become heavy metal and later just plain metal. And after about 1975, they really didn’t have a whole lot more to give.

Not because of the revolving-door nature of the band, with people leaving and coming back and leaving and coming back over the next forty years, but because everything they did in those years was pretty much irrelevant. They sold albums, they even had some minor hits. But it was same-same, no matter who was singing. You could listen to a new song, and point back at the “classic” Sabbath song it was like…

This isn’t a problem endemic only to music. The pointless sequels, prequels and reboots that flood movie theaters show that there’s a school of thought that says “If you have something good, you need the same thing again…and again…ad infinitum”. Or books. You stake out your own plot in the literary landscape, and you start writing. If people like it, if it works, you stay there. And when the plot starts to become barren from over farming, you sometimes start recycling. Different characters, different situation, same story. Some don’t even wait for the field to become barren.

I intend to end the Night and Day series before I run out of “different” ideas. Before my creative landscape is dry and used up. Before I decide that maybe I can do a book “like” Bleeding Sky but instead of the German ambassador it’s somebody else, and Welles once again has to protect him or her. Or maybe I’ll mix it up and make it somebody Welles has to get to, kill or whatever –  that would also tie it in with Bandit’s Moon. People who liked those books would certainly like that story idea, right?

Maybe. But who cares… I publish the Night and Day books for people to read and hopefully enjoy. I write the books for me. Because I have a story that I want to tell, that I want to “harvest” from my creative landscape and get on paper. Or at least a screen of some sort.

The Night and Day series will end at some point. That point will be when I run out of what I consider to be original ideas, original scenarios. A point before I start looking back at earlier books and consider changing things up to grind out another one. Because that would truly be a grind. Even if you enjoyed reading it, I wouldn’t enjoy writing it. I’d find it truly repellent, even if it was well-received.

I’m not at that point now. I have three books in the can, another being written, and at least three more planned. After Blood for Blood, I may start something else (standalone or series, as I’ve talked about in the past), do a couple of those, then come back and do a Night and Day book or two. Perhaps doing something else will give me a new perspective on Night and Day, and water that overused-metaphor of a field, throw a little fertilizer on it, change the crop from corn to potatoes. Or not.

But I will stop the series before I become Black Sabbath.

Stations of the Cross

Today it will be five radiation treatments down, thirty-four to go. That’s not what this post is about, but I thought I’d get the health stuff out of the way so you know I’m alive and plan to keep living –  because if I’m dying, there’s really no point in following the blog because it’s just going to stop one day right in the middle of a wor

Treatments aren’t bad –  I spend as much time getting there (about 10 minutes) as I do on the table, with the machine rotating around me as I lay on the table.

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That thing at the top is the part that actually shoots the radiation into my lower abdomen, and it rotates around me, stopping in eight locations and giving me two 20–second shots of radiation from each. Meanwhile lame soft rock spills from a speaker in the ceiling. If it went on for more than 10 minutes, I’d probably go mad. Especially since I can’t even think about Night and Day while “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” plays….

And I have been thinking about it.

Still haven’t come up with a title for the eight-chapter short detailing the last four days before Welles went into Camp Delta 5 and the last four days before he was released. I’ll eventually need a title, but I’m sure one will come to me in the fullness of time…

One of the things I’m going to have to do is go back through the first three books and make notes on certain characters and happenings from the past that I’ve already mentioned. I’ve talked about “making it up as I go along” in the past (there being no big Night and Day world bible to refer to) and occasionally that’s created mild continuity errors (Uptown Station having formerly been the Liberty Ave. station in Night and Day and becoming the Tremont Ave. station in Bandit’s Moon, for example). I hope to avoid such problems with the unnamed short. We’ll meet characters from earlier books (Ray Holstein, Becca James) as well as characters mentioned in those books. And we’ll see things play out as mentioned and alluded to in the first three books. So continuity is important.

The other thing that’s important is that I don’t burn myself out again. If you go back eleven years to when I was writing the first draft of Night and Day (like here, for instance), you see that I would write 1500–2000 words or so in the evening (since I had only evenings to work on the book) and then move on to something else. It wasn’t, as I recall, that I didn’t have the discipline to “write on”, but that I was finding a balance between writing and the rest of my life.

When I picked up Night and Day again in 2013, I no longer had a day job, so I could write all day. And did. And after Night and Day was released, I continued the pace to get Bleeding Sky out. Chapter a day. Didn’t stop till it was done. Then Bleeding Sky was released, and I moved on to Bandit’s Moon. Same thing. Chapter a day. Sometimes I couldn’t sit for more than 10–15 minutes at a time, because of the whole prostate thing, but I kept on chugging along. Then it was released and I started working on Blood for Blood. And finally hit a wall as I burned out.

So I took a break that turned into the rest of the year off. I still thought about the series, about Blood for Blood and future books, but I didn’t have any desire to sit down and start pounding them out (the whole cancer thing probably had something to do with that as well…).

Now I’m back, and ready to start working again once I’m no longer being bombarded with radiation Monday-Friday, but I want to make sure I don’t write myself into ash once again. Over the past eight months, I’ve filled the hours with other things I like to do –  watch movies, read, listen to music –  and I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t want to put that enjoyment on the back burner again while I pound the keyboard for 8–10 hours a day.

So I’ve decided to take it easy –  not a paragraph a day easy, but I’m removing the chapter a day mentality. If things are going well, and I’m really into what’s happening in the story, and I really want to know what happens next, I might do a chapter a day. If not, then I’ll do 1000 words. Or 1500. Or 2000. Or whatever. And then stop and do something else that I enjoy doing.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the writing –  I love it the mostest. But I would like to avoid being consumed by it again.

Home Is The Sailor, Home From the Sea….

Okay, so I’m not a sailor and I’m not home from the sea.

I’m a writer and I’m home from illness….more or less.

Way back in July, when last I blogged (which coincides with when last I wrote), I was gearing up to finish Blood for Blood. Shortly thereafter, my urologist felt that the intermittent catheterization I was doing really wasn’t a solution. My cancerous prostate wasn’t getting any better, the hormones were starving it of the testosterone it needed to become big and strong, but it was still swollen and they needed to do something about that.

The something he suggested was having it removed, which ultimately made sense. Goodbye cancer. Goodbye blockage.

So while I prepped for that, the book went back on hold. And I made the decision that I wouldn’t work on the book until I was done with the cancer. It was more psychological for me than physical –  I look back on Bandit’s Moon, written while I was in a lot of pain from what turned out to be the prostate cancer, and it’s a lot darker than I think it would have otherwise been, my mood being what it was at the time.

Since Blood for Blood is a rebound from that darkness, I didn’t want any of the distress from my health to leak into yet another book. So I put it on hold.

Prostate was yanked out in the middle of September, had a week with a catheter, then that came out too. And since then, urinary control has returned to about 98% or so. Not quite there, but almost…

Then they set me up with a radiologist –  because the cancer was in one of the lymph nodes by the prostate and in the seminal vesicles (like popsicles, but you can figure out the difference on your own…) they felt that I should do a full series of radiation in the area to kill any cancer cells that might be looking for a new home.

Did all the pre-stuff for that in December (x-rays, gold seeds inserted into the mouth of my bladder, a couple of small black dots tattooed on my hips so they could line things up) and today, the treatments start. Every day, Monday-Friday, at 11:45 am, I’ll go over to the urologist’s office, be irradiated for 15 minutes or so, and sent home. Thirty-nine times. Right into the beginning of March.

And then, with even a tiny bit of luck, I’ll be done –  will still get hormone shots every six months for another year or two, but that’s just making sure that the Big C is gone gone gone.

So that’s when I’ll get back to work, officially, with the Night and Day series (unless I start sooner because, hey, I actually feel fine –  better than I have since this all started last January…)

One thing I might do before getting back into Blood for Blood is to write that novella I mentioned. I probably need a title for it (okay, probably isn’t right –  I do need a title for it), which I don’t have yet. I have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to play out, much as I’ve described in one of the bliplits here.

Then release the first three books with the novella/short (and make the short available to those on the mailing list –  which you can sign up for on the right), then finish Blood for Blood and move on to the next one.

More about my constantly-evolving plans next time….

Warming Up

Got a little more than half a chapter done today as I resume work on Blood for Blood. I probably could have finished the chapter (it’s not like I don’t know what’s gonna happen…), but decided to make sure that where I was going with it was where I wanted to go with it –  the experience of a trash-canned chapter will do that to you.

Though actually the chapter I had to discard contributed to this “new” Chapter Eleven. I went looking through the unused chapter for a character name that I would mention in passing as I summarized in a couple of paragraphs what I’d written in excruciating detail last time around. And while doing that, I found that there was a nice section in the last third of the “bad” chapter, a scene in Hanritty’s, that wasn’t so horribly pedantic and which actually set up something for later. So I grabbed it.

Of course, that messed up my idea for the opening line of the chapter. “I tossed the wallet on the desk. “Not loansharks, Jimmy.”” That had to get bumped back a thousand words or so.

I tried to keep it. A technique I occasionally use is to start a chapter “in the now”, so to speak, then go back in time for a few paragraphs to summarize stuff I don’t need to show in real time. I like it because it catches the reader’s attention, fills him or her in, then gives them some background and gets back to the story. When I grabbed the 700–800 words from the discarded chapter, I tried sticking it in right after the summary of the boring stuff.

Sadly, that had me open with Charlie’s line to Jimmy Mutz and then go off on a thousand word tangent before the conversation continued. Not good. Confusing.

So the “recap” and scene in Hanritty’s ended up leading off the chapter, and then we pick up with the conversation between Welles and Mutz. I’m sorry. I tried.

But other than that minor disappointment, the writing went well. I’m ready to finish up the chapter tomorrow morning then move into the next one.

It’s good to be writing again.

Ready to Write

The readthrough on the first third of Blood for Blood is finished.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with it. In the last chapter I wrote before I stopped, there was a hook for a little sub-plot involving a minor character (one who ends up dead in the next chapter, as a matter of fact) that probably seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, it would have been more words for little effect. So I whacked it out.

But other than that, there wasn’t a lot of rewriting –  a few places where my original wording was unclear or not as precise as I wanted it to be. Just normal editing/rewriting stuff that I would have caught and changed when I did the first readthrough after completion.

That final chapter had a slight whiff of the problems that would come to the forefront in the full chapter I trashed when I stopped. Talking about stuff that really wasn’t interesting. In excruciating detail. Things that didn’t move the story forward. That were just words for the sake of words. I trimmed that up in Chapter Ten, while leaving just a little of it in to show the technological savvy of a character.

And I think it gave me some insight into my state of mind when I stopped three months ago. I wasn’t feeling well, but I felt compelled to keep on pushing through and finish the book. So I became very detailed. Even pedantic. The ideas weren’t flowing as well as they usually do, so I worked what ideas I had. Not good.

But that’s all behind me now. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, about two weeks after I stopped, I realized how to get out of that funk and actually wrote the first sentence of Chapter Eleven. But I REALLY wasn’t feeling great at that point, so I decided to let it sit there and be the jumping off point when I got back to it. Which it will be tomorrow.

All of these life changes have changed my scheduling, of course. The novelization of Last Rites is on the backburner right now. I’d like to finish Blood for Blood by late August and get it out in early September. Then on to Crimson Star and the eight-chapter mini that I’ve spoken about in the past. Four chapters immediately before the vampires overrun No-Name City, four chapters detailing Welles’s last days in the internment camp. Which will be part of the box set of the first three (or four) Night and Day books, and also available for free to those who subscribe to the mailing list.

Then on to the next Night and Day book.

I’m also going to build in some downtime –  instead of doing four books a year, maybe three is enough. Even when I’m back in the ”pink” of health, I want to make sure that I don’t burn out again.

So tomorrow…it’s the second sentence and more of Chapter Eleven…