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…

Reefer Madness

Reefer-madness_592x299-7

It struck me in the last day or so, as I moved through the first quarter of the Blood for Blood rewrite, that there’s one aspect of society that I hadn’t really dealt with.

Drugs. Specifically illegal drugs.

I may have mentioned junkies once or twice in the first three books, but it was just in passing. So what’s the deal in No Name City? Are people getting high?

Yes. Yes they are. Well, at least the humans.

Opioids –  I figure that there are fewer opioid addicts in town than before the war. Remember, the entire human population of the city was put in internment camps for two years after the war ended. Cold turkey for them all. No matter what they were when they went in, none of them came out as active addicts. Recovering addicts, perhaps, but there were no drugs in the camps.

Why?

Because Vees have a dim view of anything that affects their food supply, i.e. human blood. They aren’t going to get sick, or poisoned, or even high from drinking an addict’s blood, but their body can’t use any foreign elements in the blood they consume. (And how they do that and the results are not something I’ll be going into in Blood for Blood, but will certainly be in Crimson Star. For now, let me just say that it’s generally a private matter, and it’s…distasteful, at best…)

So the Vee camp guards weren’t going to smuggle any in, and the human camp guards weren’t going to risk getting thrown in the camp themselves (or added to the menu). The humans all came out clean.

Whether they stayed clean after release or not was their choice. There would still be some around, but without imports of product or even raw materials, what opioids there are would be scarce at best. Maybe still some for pain relief as prescribed by doctors. Or maybe not. In any case, it would be scarce and expensive.

So there are some opioid users around, but not a lot.

Coke, Meth, and Designer Drugs –  Cocaine not so much. Methamphetamine, maybe a little more, since it can be cooked by anyone with the knowledge to do so. Designer drugs the same –  if you’ve got the knowledge and can get the raw materials, you can probably whip something up.

But again, the Vees are going to make sure that the full power of the law comes down on those who dabble in such things.

Cannabis –  Weed, hash, wax, oils, whatever. It’s relatively easy to grow. You can have a few plants in your house, or even your apartment. A little green thumb action and you’re in business. It may not be that dank bud you enjoyed pre-war, but it will probably do the job.

People are going to be smoking pot. It’s a given. And it’s possible that the Vees are not going to be as uptight about it as they are about other drugs. I mean, people still drink. People still smoke tobacco. It messes some with the purity of the Vee’s food supply, but you have to give the humans something to keep them from getting all tense and wanting to rise up against the vampires.

I don’t think it would be legalized (if you live in a legal state, enjoy it while you can…), but I don’t think you’d necessarily end up as an involuntary blood donor in a Vee prison if you were caught with a small amount. Trafficking, of course, would be something else again…

The reason this came to mind is that I decided to have one of the fairly major characters being introduced in Blood for Blood be a pot user. Not a pothead, per se. I really don’t want to write Cheech and Chong routines. But somebody who uses it, rather unashamedly. A little added character stuff never hurts.

Now excuse me, I need to go fire up a bong so I can do some more…research.

Centric

The Night and Day series is very No Name City-centric. Of course, that’s where Charlie Welles lives and works, so it stands to reason that it’s where the action is. (and for children of the Sixties, remember, “It’s so neat to meet your baby where the action is!” –  Paul Revere and the Raiders)

Of course, there’s talk about the “bigger picture” and Europe in Bleeding Sky and in Bandit’s Moon some hints at what happened in Atlanta during the war. But overall, No Name City is self-contained, and we don’t go anywhere else, or even talk about anywhere else.

Which is certainly okay. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe hung out in Los Angeles, as does Connelly’s Harry Bosch. Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone stays mostly in Santa Teresa, a fictional version of Santa Barbara. McDonald’s Travis McGee is in South Florida, while Parker’s Spenser is in Boston.

But none of those have, at their base, vampire domination of the entire United States. If MacDonald’s Lew Archer doesn’t mention Chicago, you can still assume that Chicago is about what it always was…not some vampire-infested hell.

There’s also the dividing of the country into Areas. You could look back for my map thereof, but I’ll toss it here just to save time…

Areas small

No Name City is in Area Three. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. (And by the way, there is a reason why the Area boundaries are drawn the way they are and why, for example, Virginia is in Area Three and not in Area Seven. Look at the map. There’s even a clue in Bleeding Sky.)

Phillip Bain is Deputy Area Governor of Area Three. Miss Takeda is the commander of the Security Force for Area Three. No Name City is not the center of their universe.

Yet it seems like it is.

This occurred to me last night as I waited to fall asleep. So as I move through Chapter Two of the Blood for Blood rewrite, I decided to rectify that, at least to some extent. When we encounter Miss Takeda, she makes a comment about how she’s just back from Atlanta after a couple of weeks of dealing with a situation. Not sure I’ll mention what that situation was, She is rather secretive. But at least I can show that she isn’t always waiting nearby to get involved in Charlie Welles’s cases. And with the time gaps between the events of each book, she’s probably out having all kinds of interesting vampiric adventures when Welles is doing boring private detective stuff that I don’t write about.

It’s a start. Welles may even leave the confines of No Name City in Poison Blood, the book after Crimson Star. But I do want to try to expand things at least some as I move forward.

And speaking of moving forward, the writing is going well. I’m into Chapter Two and things are falling together. I’d like to have more time to be writing, but a couple of hours here and there is better than not writing at all.