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…

Jerks

The world is full of ’em. You undoubtedly know some. You may be one. I may even be one. (But we can talk about that another time)

Last night, before sleep stole me away from consciousness, I was thinking about today’s writing. I’d finished up Chapter Five of the rewrite and would be jumping into Chapter Six this morning. So I was mentally running through what I’d written in the original draft, and what needed to be changed, or added to.

And I suddenly came to the conclusion that I wanted to make one of the new major-ish characters a jerk. An asshole, if you’ll pardon the vulgarity.

Why?

I dunno. To give his character a little more fla-vuh, perhaps. I wanted a character who would be a jerk, be unlikable, but not a bad guy. Just someone you’d grow tired of quickly, if you had to spend any amount of time with him. And then, of course, force Charlie Welles to spend some time with him.

I’d already introduced the character a few chapters earlier, but if you recall the Reefer Madness post of a few days ago, he was high when Welles saw him. And if you’ve spent any time around people when they’re stoned, you know that even the most uptight jerk can be loose and relaxed and tolerable when they’re high. Not always, of course, but it happens.

The first fifth or so of Blood for Blood is a sort of misdirection, where you’re led to believe the book is about one thing before it turns out to be about something else. So I thought it would be fun to do a little more of the same with this character –  make him seem like an okay guy up to a point, and then reveal that he’s actually a jerk.

It seemed like it would be fairly easy, so I finally closed my eyes and fell asleep.

After 1500 words of Chapter Six, I stand before you here to tell you that it’s not.

The problem is that I do not want to turn the character into a bad guy. Because he’s not. He’s actually a sorta kinda good guy. He’s just a jerk. So I have to be subtle about it, to some extent. Show the things that make him unlikable, but not to the point that the reader wants something bad to happen to him. Something terminally bad. And soon.

I’m still playing around with it in my head right now, how to play it out so he’s tolerably unlikable. He’ll be around for a few more chapters, then disappear for a bit, then come back for the last third of the book.

With any luck, as it comes together I’ll find it easier. Maybe I just need to think about him a little more.

Conned

The Blood for Blood rewrite is moving along well –  about a third of the way through the existing 12 chapters (though I’ve apparently added about a chapter of new material so far –  I’m in Chapter Four of the original and Chapter Five of the rewrite.)  I’d like to imagine that I’ll finish the chapter tonight, but it’ll probably happen tomorrow.

But that’s not what I’m talking about today.

Went to Magic City Con before lunch today. It wasn’t DragonCon or ComicCon or WorldCon, but for a small, regional con, it was fun enough. No really big names (Virginia Hey who played the Warrior Woman in The Road Warrior and Zhann in Farscape, a guy who had a nice moment in one episode of The Walking Dead, others unfamiliar to me…), a decent dealer room, some cosplay (and no, I didn’t partake –  I know people who are very much into cosplay, but dressing up like a Star Wars of Game of Thrones character doesn’t appeal to me)

There were also four or five authors selling their books.

I didn’t really engage with them as they sat there smiling behind their tables, stacked with copies of their books, bookmarks, cards, and other stuff. The only thing that interested me was if they were selling enough books to pay for their table and hopefully their time.

But it did make me wonder if I could do something like that. There are at least a dozen regional cons in Alabama and Mississippi within a two hour drive from Birmingham (I know this because I checked out the web presence of one writer and saw that he’s hitting cons from Huntsville to Biloxi this year).

Let’s face it, I’m not exactly a wallflower. I can talk (or type) your ears off about what I’m working on. But I really do despise promotion. Sitting behind a table for two or three days, smiling at people dressed as Wonder Woman and Thor as they wander by doesn’t seem like something that I’d find personally fulfilling. I’d rather be writing.

Plus you have to invest in a lot of stuff that would have no possible use other than promoting your works at cons. Banners. Bookmarks. Copies of your books that you’d have to box up and take home if they didn’t sell.

I guess it’s something that I’ll have to keep in mind, though. Once Blood for Blood is finished, and I’m ready to start the next promotional push, I’ll give it some more thought.

Until then, as I said, I’d rather be writing.