Archives for December 2013

Consequences

It’s the last day of 2013, and I’m probably going to take the day off from Bandit’s Moon and just chill out for the day. But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about what happens next and what I’ll be writing tomorrow.

As I’ve mentioned in many contexts, I don’t outline the story before I start writing. I don’t write to a formula (this kind of thing happens at the quarter mark, this other kind of thing happens at the 60% mark, etc.). I make it up as I go along, and the story evolves organically, instinctively.

It works for me. It probably wouldn’t work for you, unless you’ve done this a lot.

So every few days, I’m planning out what’s going to happen in the next couple of chapters. Sometimes the day before I’m planning what’s going to happen in the next chapter. And sometimes new ideas pop up, changing the direction of the next chapter.

That’s where I am right now.

Tomorrow I’ll start Chapter 11 of Bandit’s Moon. It’s rolling along pretty good, and up until last night, I knew pretty much what I was going to do with it. But then I went a little funny in the head.

Private detectives gather information for whatever case they’re working on in one of two ways – through direct observation, action and gathering of “clues” (as they say in the detection business…) and by talking to people.

There’s been some of both in Bandit’s Moon thus far. More talking than gathering physical or visual evidence, because private investigators get more of their information that way. I could have Welles lift latent fingerprints from a scene – I know how and I’ve done it myself – but once you have them, you need to compare them against something, and that usually requires a police crime lab – and even with Welles’s good police contacts, that’s a stretch. Doable, but why would I want to go there?

So there’s a lot of conversation with different people. Not styrofoam peanut blah-blah designed to fill out the real stuff in the chapter. It all has a purpose. It all gives Welles more information, the reader more information, and moves the story along.

But as much as I like writing it, sometimes I sense that it’s time for something different.

I started thinking about approaching the story in the next couple of chapters a little differently, giving them a different flow and feel without changing, in the end, what they were going to accomplish and where those chapters would leave me for what’s to come. Because in the end, there’s always a lot of different paths to get you to the same place. The trick is to pick the right one.

So I decided to make something happen. But then I ran into the wall of Consequences.

Everything has consequences. Every action. The whole Butterfly Effect thing that I’m not going to get into. Conversation has consequences, but it can be written to either lessen or enhance those consequences, based on what the characters say. Actions, on the other hand, can be written a lot of different ways, but the action itself has consequences that are pretty much going to happen based on that action, regardless of how it’s written. Because of simple logic.

Logic is cruel. Story logic is even crueler. I can’t just make something happen because I want it to. I have to think through the consequences, what’s next if that ‘something’ happens. And sometimes those consequences are not what I want, will turn the whole damn story upside down or take it in a direction I don’t want to go.

It can be worked around, and it can even be worked around in a satisfying manner that works. Take the movie Heat, for example. Cops and robbers. The cops are watching the robbers before their next big score. More important, the robbers know that the cops are watching. Logic says that the robbers would lay low, let the heat die down, let the cops come up empty. But that wouldn’t make for a very satisfying story.

So Michael Mann gives the robbers a reason to keep on going with their planned heist. The leader of the crew wants to make one more score and get out of the business. The other guys in the crew buy into it, out of loyalty, arrogance, whatever. So even knowing that they’re being watched, that it all might blow up in their faces, they go on with their plan. Satisfying, yes. Logical? Well, sorta. Not real-world logical, but it’s okay for story-world logical. And in the end, it’s all about “well, it could happen this way” and not “well, it would happen this way”.

That’s where I am today. I know what I want to happen. There are a couple of different ways it could happen, different degrees of happening. With each of them, there’s story-world consequences. Logical story-world consequences.

What I’m doing right now is weighing those consequences. Figuring out how I can avoid consequences that will take things in the wrong direction, or make it harder for me down the road. All while remaining logical.

I think I’m almost there. By the time I start Chapter 11 tomorrow, I better be…

Bad People

The world is full of bad people. I’m not talking, necessarily, about criminals or people who do the occasional bad thing. People commit crimes for a variety of reasons, some out of what they consider necessity, others for purely business reasons. And just about everybody does something now and again that, viewed objectively, would fall into the “bad” category.

What I am talking about is genuinely repellent people. People who, if you could see inside them, would make you vomit at the dark ugliness within.

And I’m talking about the fictional ones. The ones I have to write. It can be hard to get right.

First, every character has something of me in them. It’s unavoidable. Yeah, most of them (including Charlie Welles) are mostly made-up. Maybe Welles is a little less made up, simply because he’s the “voice” of the Night and Day series. You’re seeing the story from his perspective, hearing his thoughts, sharing his perceptions of what’s going on. Sometimes he’s ahead of you, sometimes you may be banging the table because you’ve figured out something he hasn’t. But to consistently write with his voice, I have to put a bit more of me into him.

Other characters not so much. They do have elements of me in them, but they’re also amalgamations of people I’ve known, other characters I’ve created in the past, research, imagination, and probably unintentional theft, to a small degree, from other people’s fictional characters for one aspect or another.

And I try to make them internally consistent. Everybody has a reason for the way they are and why they do the things they do. It may not be a reason that you agree with, or I agree with, but they decided “this is what I’m going to do right now” and they had their reasons for that decision. I try to show that, I try to make their thought processes that led to their actions at least understandable, especially when those actions are hurtful or evil, however you might define that.

In Night and Day, there were a handful of characters that did bad things. Dr. Grinaldi, the doctor that looked like Santa. Lou Carpenter, owner of an upscale slurp club. And good old Ray Holstein, bad cop. Each of them had “sins” on their slates. But I tried, and I think mostly succeeded, in showing why they did what they did, whatever their self-serving reasons. Greed, panic, science. Emotion and need propelled them into their actions. They might have been bad guys, villains, rotten bastards. But they weren’t repellent. At least I didn’t see them that way.

In Bleeding Sky, it was all about shades of gray (though not quite 50 of them). There were a few like the “bad guys” in Night and Day, whose bad actions were justified by their beliefs, their pride. But the major antagonists, to use a story term, weren’t “bad” in the usual sense. They did what they did because it was their job, because it furthered their agenda. It wasn’t personal, it didn’t feed some greater darkness inside them.

And now we’re into Bandit’s Moon.

I haven’t gotten to introducing the main antagonist in the story. She’ll probably show up in the last third or so of the book, as things seem to be playing out at this point. You hear about her. You draw conclusions about her. But until you meet her, you won’t know her true story. Frankly, I don’t know her true story yet. I know some things about her that the reader doesn’t know yet, but as for her real deal, I’ll figure that out as she comes to life on the page.

And at this point, certainly, I’m seeing her in a bad light. But not a repellent light.

On the other hand, as I roll into Chapter 10 today, I will be writing a repellent character. He’s a character that has gone through some changes in my mind over the past few days. I saw him one way, then another way, then yet a third way. And last night, I realized what kind of fella I wanted him to be. A swirling vortex of ugliness. Like everyone, he might have his reasons, or he might just be dead inside…a sociopath with no redeeming characteristics.

He’s not a major character in the grand scheme of things – just another strand in the rope that Welles is pulling himself with on his way to getting the answers he needs. But he is going to be somebody that, hopefully, you hate.

And maybe if I hate him as much as you, something bad will happen to him. That’s still to be determined….I do have my own dark side, and as the Grim Reaper of the Night and Day universe, I can be fickle and arbitrary with the best of ‘em.

Electric!

As I mentioned yesterday, part of the story of Bandit’s Moon puts Charlie Welles back in the world of organized crime, which was in the backstory of Night and Day.

So there are references (mostly in passing) to some of the mob bosses that were mentioned in Night and Day. Arnie ‘The Razor’ Kaiser. Carlo Barozie. Frankie ‘The Wino’ Lavino. All dead at this point, but their ghosts live on, so to speak, the events of the past having an effect on the events of the now in Bandit Moon.

Which is part of the fun of writing a series – as the books go roll, with each one I add more backstory, more elements and people that I can pull out of the box when needed. Of course, there’s always the possibility that including previous elements of the Night and Day world will make things seem too similar, like something you’ve read before.

In this case, that hopefully isn’t a problem. Organized crime in the city was an element of Night and Day, but the book wasn’t about that and the only gangster who played any real role in the story was Eddie Gabriel. Bandit’s Moon has a bit more of the organized crime thing, but ‘No-Neck’ Al Werkle and his mob are allies, not enemies, this time around, and the part they play, while important, is not the heart of the story.

But it’s not just people that come back. An inanimate object that was an important part of one memorable scene in Night and Day returns as well in Bandit’s Moon. I speak of this:

Florida_electric-chair

Old Sparky! The throne-like electric chair in the interrogation room of the Uptown District police station. Of course, it wasn’t used for executions (which is not a form of punishment in the Night and Day world – if the condemned is a vampire, it’s easier to just nail them to a rooftop and wait for the sun to peek over the horizon. And if the condemned is human…well, why would you want to waste perfectly good food…think of the starving vampires in Albania!)

I always thought of the chair as a tool that was there to frighten whoever the detectives were interrogating. Get strapped into that bad boy, and you could imagine what might be coming next if you didn’t spill. And it was also there if they wanted to just strap somebody in and forcefully interrogate them. Keeps the ‘suspect’ from falling down and flopping on the floor.

Of course, by the time Bandit’s Moon begins, things are changing in the police department and an electric chair in an interrogation room probably isn’t suitable for the “new” Metro PD. So it had to go.

And how do cities get rid of stuff they don’t need? They auction it off. And you never know who’s going to make the winning bid, or what they’re going to use the item for when they win the auction.

‘Nuff said.

Men of Honor

(and I’m not talking about the movie with De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. – that’s way too heartwarming and feel-good for me…I feel just fine without watching it…)

I’m talking about gangsters. Mobsters. Organized crime. Who like to think of themselves as “men of honor”.

Organized crime in my unnamed city was a part of Night and Day. But the only ‘gangster’ that the story spent any time with was Eddie Gabriel, who is not a stereotypical kind of mob boss. He’s a small timer who was probably not directly connected with any of the organized gangs prior to the war with the vampires. An independent. He knew mobbed up guys, maybe even did some work for them from time to time, but he was never on the inside. So when he sees his opportunity in downtown after the humans are released from the internment camps, he’s working without a script – and ends up a mixture of Mafia Don and small-time hustler.

The rest of the mob bosses mentioned in Night and Day were just mentioned – you never got to spend time with them, though Arnie Kaiser even made a quick appearance on-screen, so to speak. It was more the idea and existence of mobs, and their corruption of the police department and other aspects of life that was the focus of Night and Day.

In Bandit’s Moon, I’m back in that territory, though in a different way. In this book, mobsters are allies for Charlie Welles against a greater threat. And so I’m going deeper into their world.

But what world?

The Godfather (book and movie) painted a picture of mobsters that was,to a great extent, glamorized and not especially close to reality (and I’m not using the term “Mafia” or even the in-mob preferred Cosa Nostra – because there were and are Irish mobs, Jewish mobs, Russian mobs, etc.) Real mobsters of the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s were not the ritualistically polite, honorable, family-oriented guys of the movie. They were killers and thieves, and usually pretty brutal about it. Not at all courtly.

But when you get into the 80s and beyond, The Godfather began to have an effect on the real-life mobsters, especially the younger ones coming up through the ranks of whatever crime family they were part of. They liked the movie. They liked the idea of how mobsters were portrayed in the movie. And so as they became higher ups in their organizations, some “became” the kind of mobsters they’d seen in The Godfather. Not inside, of course – inside they were the same lying, cheating, thieving, murdering skeeves that they always were. But they had the veneer of Don Corleone.

The Night and Day series takes place…well, say 5–6 years from today. Or tomorrow. Or next year. And the United States after the humans are released from the camps is a snapshot of the day before the vampires came. And in that snapshot are those who were in the organized crime business. Some are still human, some are vampires. But the way they run their business, the way they play their parts in the mob, is going to be very similar to the way they played the part before the war.

What are they going to be like to interact with? Well, some are going to be like Eddie Gabriel. Outside guys who are now inside guys. Making it up as they go along. Others are going to be post-The Godfather mobsters, guys with that Don Corleone veneer who go through the motions of honor and politeness and respect. Though the veneer may be kind of thin.

I know it’s going to seem derivative. Like I’m just basing the characteristics of some characters on The Godfather (movie or book), or using a thousand other mob movies and books as my template. Which is why Welles says, at one point, “It took a lot to keep a straight face while I listened to this Godfather-inspired bullshit that a lot of mob guys liked to use because it made them feel like they were the real deal.” He knows it’s just an act. I know it’s an act.

But it is fun to write. Makes me feel like…Mario Puzo…

Knock Knock Knockin’

It’s getting dark, too dark to see. Feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

Okay, that’s not actually true. I’m not knockin’ on heaven’s door. I have no desire to knock on heaven’s door. In fact, my preference is to never knock on heaven’s door. I’ll say I did, nobody answered, so I left and came home.

Nor is Bandit’s Moon knockin’ on heaven’s door. There’s plenty of life and adventure in this baby…

But yes, I’m at the point in the book (closing in on a third of the way to the finish) when it’s getting dark, though not literally too dark to see.

If you look back here, you’ll see I’m about where I was then with Bleeding Sky when I had what I called “Apprehension”. Mentioned it here as well in passing as I was in the last lap to the end of Night and Day.

It’s a byproduct of the way I write. Which is why I’d never suggest others write as I do. I do it so you don’t have to.

Right now, I know pretty much what’s going to happen in the next 3–4 chapters. Maybe 5, depending on how things play out. That gets me to roughly the halfway point. After that there’s a void. A big black hole of nothing. Until the end, where I know what’s going to happen, though I don’t have any details. Let’s say 45,000 words and I have no idea what those words will be or what they’ll be about.

Scary, huh?

Sure, I could plan ahead. Write down a few sentences ahead of time about what happens in each chapter. Twenty-eight or so little paragraphs that I just have to “fill out”. I don’t do that, because, as I’ve said, I would find it constricting. Joyless. Just filling in the blanks.

Or I could write to some “formula”, which some do. Story as carefully constructed rollercoaster. This kind of story element happens here, this element there…all leading up to that last giant rise, the climax of the story, then a fast, precipitous wrap up and you get off the rollercoaster.

Yes, I know people are successful with this. But do readers really notice or care if the flow of the story is satisfying? Do they subconsciously expect something to happen ‘pretty soon here’ when they’re a quarter of the way in, two-thirds of the way in? What if something “happens” at the 20% mark? Does that throw everything off? Do they feel lost, confused?

I read a lot (though rarely fiction when I’m writing…I’m a natural mimic, and I don’t want to even subconsciously mimic what I’m reading, in flow, in story. So I stick to non-fiction when I’m writing fiction…) I think I have a good “feel” for story flow. I’m the one who is sometimes saying something needs to happen ‘pretty soon here’. It’s instinctive, more than anything else, and when that instinct kicks in, I make something up.

Not out of thin air, of course. I don’t have the mothership descend from the sky, or a long-lost presumed-dead father appear for no apparent reason. It’s something that’s either based on what’s come before, or what I know, however vaguely, is to come after.

Sometimes it kicks things in a different direction. Sometimes it reshapes the story in ways I hadn’t anticipated. It happened in Bleeding Sky, my “so this is what the hell’s going on” moment. It probably happened in Night and Day (had I started blogging in the early stages, I could probably find that moment, but at this late date, the story construction part of writing the book is lost in the fog of memory). It will probably happen in Bandit’s Moon. And Blood For Blood. And all the untitled books, in this series and others, still to come.

I do relish the sense of discovering the story as the reader discovers it. It’s why I generally look forward to writing at least something every day (sometimes less than I want, rarely more…). It’s why when I do take a break, because I honestly don’t know what happens next and need to let it percolate in my brain for a while, I always reach that point where I’m anxious to get back to it.

But the difference between me and the eventual reader is simple. All that reader has to do is turn the page to find out what happens next. Sometimes when I turn the page, it’s blank.