Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Want to Get Closer to Your Novel? Take a Step Away


Want to Get Closer to Your Novel?  Take a Step Away

I didn’t do much writing this week.  Writing, that is, on paper.  I was getting too hung up on a word goal which is something I’ve said I wouldn’t do.  I was experiencing a bit of a mental logjam.  I had all these cool ideas, great scenes, and plot devices planned but couldn’t seem to connect the dots.  So, instead, I just thought about TUG.   A lot.  By thinking about the next scene’s setting—not necessarily the scene itself—I was able to formulate how the entire a scene will unfold.

Something I realized I was doing right off in this book that needed correcting was the settings.  You see, I had all these ideas for scenes which were mostly dialogue driven.  Action propels a novel, not ideas.  Yes, I have a goal of keeping the narration down to a minimum, letting things be shown through dialogue. I was overcompensating though.  To keep with my goal, I need to entertain the reader, as well as using this neat dialogue and these interchanges between characters to show what is going on.  One way I can entertain the reader is to keep the scene settings unique.  True, every novel has a main set, a main few sets.  However, now that my main story has been thrust into motion, it’s time to expand the boundaries these characters are at risk of being confined in. 

So the next scene is set at an empty football field.  Two major characters are introduced there.  I can’t wait to write it.

I also got in touch with my main character.  As Thaddeus is essentially me, boy he is mentoring is my son.  I guess I didn’t realize it to the degree that this is true.  But thinking of this next scene, a mentor spending some crucial time, experiencing a potential life altering moment THRU conversation, really struck me.  I want to take my son to the football field with me (as soon as it stops raining one of these days) and sit there.  Sit there exactly as I have pictured.  Realize that this, albeit is research in a way, is also a moment in his and my life that is so little on the surface, but so much more.  Someday. 

So I’ll write this scene this week.  It’ll be good.  Distance has gotten me closer to all these words. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Changing Names to Protect the Innocent
Let Me Have It


            I went to a writer’s group the other day at the invitation of a fellow writer (I won’t mention the group name because they feel they're pretty special-advertising in the free newspaper and all to have these huge turnouts of seven people) I was tentative in attending as a professional editor had told me I’m searching for feedback too early.  I admit, I’m curious.  I write something I feel is good, really good, and it’s exciting to see what others may think. 

            It was a waste of three hours.  After awaiting everyone else’s read, I went.  I read five pages from Tug, the most recent pages which I’d written in a coffee shop before attending.  I had four pages that were relatively polished I was going to read, but decided I’d test this group’s mettle by reading five pages of mostly shit.  I read.  When I was finished I asked, “Did the words come together right?”  The guy who is running the show, Mr. Pretentious in his ill-fitting suit, the guy who critiqued others and read nothing, says, “Yeah.  Pretty much, I think you got it.”

            I felt like calling him on his bullshit.  That’s not critique.  I didn’t come here to get jacked off.  I came here to get feedback.  Instead, I say, “Thanks.  That’s good to hear.  Anyone else?”  Silence.  Then, you used the word ‘retire’ three times.  That’s it?  Really?  Waste of time. 

            So I’m listening to Catherine Rankovic, the editor, and not putting myself out there for feedback.  Except this one last time.  I’m going to post just a touch of what I read and see what the feedback through here is, if any.  Does anyone really read this?  If you’re not a writer, a response of THAT’S PRETTY GOOD, or THAT SUCKS DONKEYS, or IT NEEDS SOME WORK will suffice.  If you’re a writer, maybe elaborate on the above.  If you’re a writer, we’re in this together, why not support one another by being honest, by spending a few minutes in a writer’s groups or providing real feedback when handed something to read or being emailed something to look over. 

            As far as the progress on Tug goes, I’m going to update my Tug consistency key today, and break 10,000 words.  I hope.  If the “words aren’t coming together right,” I’ll stop.  It’s best not to get hung up on self-imposed deadlines if they weaken the quality of writing.

            I’m growing a bit concerned about the closeness of the story.  The story, as I’ve said before is my story.  As such, a great many of the people in the story are people I really know.  This book involves infidelity, death, drug addiction, prison time, fractured families, and other happy things.  To use the cliché, names have been changed to protect the innocent.  Except, some of these people are far from innocent.  Let me rephrase, names have been changed to protect my own ass.  It is concerning though, that my story takes place in this town, and I do still need to live here.  Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.  Maybe this never gets published anyhow and the only visceral effect it has is on myself.  It’s a problem, a good problem, for another day.



Thaddeus and Uncle Johnny sat on opposite sides of the hospice bed like, Thaddeus thought, the proverbial angel and devil would straddle one’s shoulders.  Except he wondered which he’d be.  The thick smell of Jim Beam rolled from his uncle like the fumes from the latrine duty Thaddeus had been so often saddled with in the army.  Even in the dim light from the just lit kerosene heater he could see from Johnny’s red rimmed eyes that his uncle would be retiring into a drunken sleep soon enough. 

“You don’t have to stay here, you know.  Me and your grandma, we got this.  He just gets all real kinda bad nights is all.”  Dusty’s breaths came shallow, his death seeming to arrive with every exhalation before another evil breath took in oxygen.  Furthering the agony.  “All this talking today just sapped him is it.”

“I went looking for you today.  I’m tired of hearing all about your help.”

Uncle Johnny feathered back his greasy hair and snorted a laugh.  “It’s a good thing you’re a head taller than me, boy.  Who do you think is mopping these floors, cutting the grass in the summer, taking grandma to the store?  It ain’t you.”

The kerosene heater popped as the metal heated up.  Before she retired to bed, Helena had insisted it be lit to keep the chill off Dusty.  The wavering flames shot coven shadows of the two of them along the brick façade of the dining room. 

“And I know what you’re up to, young one.”

“You know what?” 

“Stephanie got on me for that morphine.  Your grandma said you was having a little talk with her before coming in.  I bet you’d like to tag that fine little piece wouldn’t you?”

“What’s your point?  I talked to a nurse.”

“I know’d she gave you some more.  She don’t like me, don’t trust me.  Some things you just know from looking someone in the eye.”

Thaddeus nodded agreement then squatted over to the heater.  He dialed the flames down a notch before stepping in to the living room and waving his uncle over. 

Johnny patted Dusty gently on the side and bent to whisper something in his ear.  He stood there staring down at Dusty in the heated glow.  “I love him too, you know.”  He said as he joined Thaddeus in the cool grayness of the other room. 

“I know.  We shouldn’t talk like this in front of him.  What if he can hear?  He’s all locked up on the inside there, probably hearing every word.” 

“He’s my dad.  Let me do it.  I swear, I’ll give it to him as ascribed.”


“Thaddeus, please.”  Uncle Johnny nodded down at Thaddeus’ pocket.  “Fish it out and hand it over.  I understand now.  I know.  I do.”  Thaddeus committed a flinch as Johnny’s blackened hand rose out of the dimness toward his face, only to come to a clasp atop his shoulder.  “What I done was bad.  Please.” 

“I can’t trust you, Uncle Johnny.  Not anymore.”  He stepped out of his uncle’s clasp as tears began streaming down the man’s face.  “Go to bed, sleep off what you’ve drank and we can have a cup of coffee in the morning.”

“Fuck you.  He’ll be dead in the morning.”  Uncle Johnny swiped weakly at Thaddeus’ face, then walked to one of the three standard boxy rooms of the house which he’d taken up residence in since his release from prison.  

Thaddeus turned and leaned in the doorway, stroking the bulging of the morphine bottle in his pocket, taking in the calmness of the glowing room.  “Let things take their course.”  He expected his uncle’s shadow to appear rising up behind him.  When it didn’t, “Goodnight, Uncle Johnny.”

“Thad.”  Thaddeus tilted his head.  “I know you don’t understand, son.  I’m in pain too.”

“Goodnight, I said.”

“Fuck you.”  His uncle’s door clicked shut.

Despite not being cold, Thaddeus went to the heater and stood over it, playing his hands in the flowing heat.  It was only 10:00.  The rest of the night weighed on him in a black doom like the evil sick inside his grandfather.  It was time for the first dose. 

Thaddeus went to his grandpa’s bedside and stared at the old man’s chest.  It seemed, again, as if he were dead.  He brought a steady hand to the old man’s ribs, rested it there, fingers on ribs—a butterfly on a sun bleached corpse.  An exhalation...and, yet again, a hateful intake of air.  

He dug the vial from his pocket and again played it across his callused hands.  Were it to fall and break he would be crushed.  Were it to fall and break he would be elated.  Another intake of air, this time jagged.  Thaddeus closed his fingers around the vial and turned to the side table.  He pinched the sponge tipped stick from the table then placed the vial down.  The eyedropper sat there—an unloaded .357 awaiting bullets.  Carefully, he drew up the dosage Stephanie had given him.  For some reason, he thought of when Miles was a baby and had been sick, giving him antibiotics via an eyedropper.  But this wasn’t going to cure anything.

This eyedropper, this tiny amount of chemical infused liquid held a mercy, held a promise to take everything—everything—away forever.  All the sunny days, and grassy fields, and blue skies, and lovely man defining black coaling tunnels.  And pain.  Thaddeus brought the eye dropper to Dusty’s mouth and pulled down on the old man’s whiskered chin.  Snaggle-toothed mouth and swollen tongue, breath smelling of a slow ending of all things inside.  He was suddenly afraid.  Afraid of everything:  Uncle Johnny sneaking up behind him and snatching the vial away; Helena padding into the room and witnessing what he was about to do; Dusty knowing what he was about to do and screaming against it—all locked up on the inside; if the old man had “found God” at some coherent, weak point in the day, but had not been read any sort of last rites like they do in the movies because everyone was sure he was recovering…

So he’d read him last rites of his own.  With each and every dosage, a last ministry.

“You always kept a good garden, grandpa.  I remember those huge red tomatoes you had that one year.  They put one in the newspaper—grandma was so proud of them, she sent the Breeze a picture.  I remember you complaining they tasted like cat shit from grandma’s cat getting in the garden.”  Thaddeus found himself smiling.  He pulled down again on the old man’s jaw, his mouth having closed and his lips setting like a bad weld.             

Don’t ever be scared…of nothing.

He lifted Dusty’s tongue with the dropper and squirted the medicine in.

“It was a good garden.”

At midnight Dusty’s lips reacted to the eyedropper like a baby to a nipple.  And they revisited the streetcar Dusty had told him he’d rode once in Saint Louis while looking for a job.  He’d rode his first escalator that day in the Peabody building.  Taken in a ball game.  Ate toasted raviolis and got drunk off Busch beer. 

At two a.m. they strolled across the open fields abutting the western edge of town, shotguns cradled across their arms, icy cold breeze of that day, a minty dip of tobacco in their mouths and their eyes wide for sign of quail, that trilling of spooked bird as they took to the air.  The old man had bagged well over the limit and put some in Thaddeus’ pouch so his father could fry it up for supper later. 

Thaddeaus worked a crossword puzzle to while away the long minutes in between doses and even longer moments in between breaths.  At some point, Uncle Johnny needed convincing, again, that he was really okay to stay through until breakfast. 

“Go home, squirt.  I can’t sleep.” 

“Go to bed, asshole.  I can’t sleep either.  I’ll be here until breakfast, when grandma’s up.” 

Uncle Johnny stood above him, arms crossed, hair a mess, his reading glasses askew and eying the morphine.  Thaddeus leaned forward casually and capped the bottle tightly.  “Goodnight.”  He deposited it into his pocket.

His uncle scoffed and shuffled away.  Thaddeus stopped him as he exited the warming glow of the dining room.  “Hey.”  His uncle turned.  The glow from the heater cast evil an yellow onto his lenses.  “You didn’t ask how he was.”

“How is he?”  

“He’s fine.”

Without a word, he entered the dark of the front room and was seen no more that morning.

 And at four in the morning, after revisiting Dusty’s wedding day, the old man breathed no more.

Sunday, April 7, 2013




I only wrote about 600 words this week.  But I’m well satisfied.  I had a fellow writer ask me the other day how to write a necessary scene that is emotional for personal reasons.  I gave her the immortal words of Harry Crews:  Put your ass in the chair and write it.  I did that today to embarrassing consequences.  I’d driven to a café to write as home represented more yard work and another load of laundry to do.  I’m writing a scene where Thaddeus is at his grandpa’s bedside at the time of his death.  And it’s my own story.  It’s embellished very little.  And it’s, as could be expected, gut wrenching to write.  I’m writing and my eyes get all watery.  I look away, think about baseball or some such, then go back at it when the tears subside.  Then I’m all teared up again when the barista comes to my table and asks how my sandwich is.  I look up at her.  Embarrassed.  I tell her the sandwich is fine.  She asks if I’m fine.  I say, “Allergies.”  She, I’m pretty sure, fakes understanding.  Within a few minutes, I pack up and leave. 

            I put my ass in the chair.  I’d been avoiding the writing of this scene, and it’s not done yet.  It will be, later today.  When I’m at home.  I’d told the other writer some advice I’d pulled out of my ass—hey it’s nice to be asked advice via a private message on Facebook—I’d told her, “Arrange a reward for getting it done.”  Well, I don’t have a reward arranged.  I don’t have anything arranged.  I have more of the same to do later.  It will bum me out.  When I’m writing this scene, I’m there again.  I’m at his bedside dropping morphine into his mouth and listening to the jagged breaths, watching the rise and fall of his chest and expecting it to stop at a rise or a fall and never move again.  It fucking sucks.  My only hope is that I can convey just how much it fucking sucks to the reader.  Great progress though.          

Tuesday, April 2, 2013



(I've said this once before)


Jesus Hector Christ, it’s been a supremely shitty writing week.  I almost gave up on TUG.  Several times.  From the virus, to the purported fix—then not fixed—to the new issues…

I had backed everything up on my external hard drive when all the trouble began.  No problem.  This way I was protected just in case my computer needed reset.  When I got my computer back “repaired” I realized, to my horror that nothing had saved.  But that’s all mentioned before in post eight.  So I rewrote what was gone.  I put it into my machine and, as I suspected, it was much better.  Then my computer started acting up again.  Nice.  I printed it right away.  I returned my computer to the “repair shop.”  They promised it’d be back in two days at most.  And I have this hard copy and the re-saved new version on my external hard drive.  I went to a winery (for the first time) and had a really nice chat with the owner about writing.  She even offered to host a reading for me sometime.  She kept insisting she’d love to read what I’ve written and seemed well-read (ie: she doesn’t care for Stephen King).  So I’m kind of buzzed on wine and go out to my car and grab my copy.  Besides, it’s saved on my ex hard drive. 

Later, when I return home, I plug my drive into my daughter’s laptop only to discover that the file exists—with 0 bytes.  And my only copy is in a winery an hour and a half away (probably in their trash can).  And the guy at the computer shop says he may need to reset my laptop.  Well, suffice it to say, “Fuck.”

I went to Best Buy and bought a new computer.

I returned home, plugged in my drive and started writing from the last save point.  Yes, I think it’s better again.  All I have to do is have shitty luck to have good writing luck.  I’m still awaiting the fate of my old laptop. 

Now, on to writing stuff…

I’ve definitely quickened the story.  Remember that timeline I made?  It was just a guide and is now pretty much useless.  But it did serve a purpose in allowing me to marshal my thoughts.  I’m midway through chapter three and events originally scheduled for chapter five are occurring now.  This is good.  I stopped writing tonight at a very (hopefully) moving place in the story.  It was a good writing evening because I’m feeling down in the dumps and this is a sad part of the story.  Getting down in the dumps always helps me write better.  It makes me not live in the moment so much, causes me to become overly introspective.  Sometimes the dreaded future of things seems so clear that I feel fortunate to have clarity, any clarity.  This clarity seems to help me to focus on the past, present, and future of pretend characters in a pretend story.  Being as this story is, basically, my story I can tune in to the mood so easily. 

So bad luck and sadness are my key.  Lucky me.  Performing a psychoanalysis of myself causes me to believe that the more I want my story to succeed, the more I’ll determine ways to maintain this melancholy.  That’s a pretty stupid statement.  But it just might be true. 

Three and a half chapters into things and I’m thinking of taking a risk in chapter four.  I want all these goals, subplots, etc to be established by the end of chapter four, that’ll be about 40 pages in.  I’m trying to keep chapter length consistent at 10-12 pages.  The reason I feel this is a risk is that it’s going to be a lot of information in a short space.  Again, I want things organic.  I’m avoiding as much narration as possible.  I think I can do this through dialogue and by my antagonist finally making a physical appearance in the story (I want all the major characters to be introduced as well by the end of chapter four).

I only wrote about 700 NEW words this week which isn’t bad considering all the down time and frustration.  I look to have hammered out the rest of chapter three then get a good start on chapter four.  

At 7000 words and getting my pace back.  Again, screw that asshole hoodoo bad mojo monster.  He’ll lose.  He always does.