Fifty Shades of Change, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Edits

Words is words, which are words that are words, being wordy.

This is the process of writing, you see. Learning perfection is attained not in the first sentence, but rather what the first sentence can become after you’ve written a few thousand other sentences that politely inform what that stupid first sentence should have been in the first place, if only you had the smarts to let them tell you first.

Sentences can be so bitchy.

The Progenitor is this. As is everything else ever written. Certainly, everything ever written by the dope typing this post. Every chapter calls me backward. To adjust something. To tweak some language. To modify dialogue. Because, as I discover the truths ahead, I’m required to align them behind. In this light, I’ve spent some time recently combing through the first few chapters and making adjustments. If you’re reading along you might now be screaming something like But I’ve already READ all that! Yes, you have. I warned you. Edits happen. It’s a process. It’s part of the writing life. It’s the realization the burger needed cheddar AND provolone AND swiss after you’re halfway through. You can still do it. Come on, you know you want that taste. Cheddar just isn’t enough anymore, is it? No, that burger wants MORE and it wants it NOW.

Did I mention I’m a bit hungry?

Agatha’s story is twisting, evolving into the latter 2/3 of the book that I believe might be best classified as WUT. As in, you know, “What?” but different, because you’re all WUT.

Got it?

Good.

Time is tricky, as Agatha is learning. Time is screwed up when you screw with it. Time is a nightmare that may or may not be a pleasant dream when the Keepers find you.

Now almost 20,000 words in, I know I love this story. It’s insane. We’ve bonded and become good friends. We might be holding hands soon. It’s getting serious. Like, totally. I’ve also learned the story was, to no surprise, right about the beginning. Chapter One as it stands will go into the repository at some point, hopeful to be included in a potential opening of Book Two, or a story told along the way. Chapter Three, with its great opening of “The first time Agatha moved through time, she tried to save a cake,” will become the opening of the book. That line sells it. The flow it creates otherwise is ideal.

So, here it is. The end of Chapter Ten is completely raw. I haven’t even looked at them a second pass yet. I’m still hoping to finish the first draft by the end of the year. It’s ambitious, but much like this story, I’m not entirely sane. It’ll happen.

Fire away. Input is welcome.

Progenitor Manuscript .pdf

Day Five: Inside the Outside of the Dog’s Inside World

Project Stats:

4,619 of 90,000 words complete (5.13%)

In Anointed, one of the many lengthy ramblings I utilize to open a chapter has something to do with a dog’s perspective. I can’t really profess to know the first thing about a dog’s perspective, owing to my lack of being one, but not being something never kept a writer from writing about being one, so why should I be any different? Anyhoodles, it goes like this:

It is the general opinion of most compassionate and caring animal
enthusiasts that human beings are without heart in forcing dogs to be left to
suffer the elements of nature under a dilapidated structure of rotting wood and
rusty nails, if any is offered at all. Most often, they would say, this particular
brand of cruelty to these loyal, loving beasts of nature brings about irreparable
harm to the fragile psyche of the pooch in question. The dog becomes a
defeatist, a beaten spirit in a lonely world of dark shadows and torrential
downpours, and a borderline anemic amidst the brutal blood-sucking assault
of ticks, fleas and mosquitoes.
They would say this.
Dogs, on the other hand, have a much more personalized and simplistic
perspective. Outside is Inside, Inside is Outside; rain is a cooling gift from
heaven, a bath is the unbearable warmth of a liquefied hell; a petting is a
trolley ride through Pleasure, a brushing is open-eye surgery under the
unforgiving shear of a chainsaw; a tick or flea or mosquito is an unwarranted
annoyance, and a flea collar is an open invitation to a severe thrashing at the
paws of the three nomadic Dobermans down the road.
Dogs would say this.
And who would be right but the one holding the perspective?
After all, someone will always be at the mercy of another’s perspective,
whether it be at the hands of a well-meaning Master, or the seemingly
distraught, but actually carefree, antics of a dog Outdoors. Or
Indoors…perspectives accounted for, of course.

Seems rather egocentric to quote myself, but there you go.

Point is, everything is about perspective. For example, when working through a chapter, a clear perspective of all the facets of that particular beginning, middle and end, aren’t entirely clear until the last word is written. Today, as I rounded out Chapter Two of what is now called The Progenitor (Specimen A may become the title of a separate book, but who knows!), it occurred to me that my earlier perspective lacked all the necessary details. So I added them. A few line from Agatha’s mother, some clarification over what Ag’s motivation is, and some refining of The Incident with Justin that has her so out of sorts. Therefore, in that What-You-Read-Before-Still-Exists-On-Some-Level kind of thing, I present Chapter Two in completion, unedited. I have also included the a file for the whole manuscript, should you rather follow it that way (allowing you to read the previous chapter(s) as you go). Frankly, I’m not yet sure which is best. Only you know what you prefer. So let me know.

I admit to being intrigued by the development of Agatha’s story. She certainly has a lot to hide. Hopefully she’ll let me in on her secrets before I try to write about them. Oh, and because someone asked where the name came from: I was heavily inspired to write by two wonderful female authors, Judy Blume and Agatha Christie. So, I combined the two names, and put the other two in as characters she knows. Just one of those fun things I get to do as a writer to pay homage to those who inspired me.

As always, I welcome all input!

Chapter Two (Word)

Chapter Two .pdf

Progenitor Manuscript .pdf

Day Three: It’s about time, sort of

I used to watch Family Ties as if it were some type of religious experience. My world centered around my day of worship with the Keaton clan. I read from the Book of Alex P. Keaton, citing passages to any who would listen for the week to come. I could probably come up with a communion reference, but I’m too stumped on what to do with hymns to make it that far. Actually, I’m a cup of coffee short of anything useful at this point. Do run if that frightens you. I’ll understand. For the rest of you, I’ll just state the show was a profound cornerstone of my television watching youth, and get on with it.

There was an episode in which the immense pressure to succeed drove young Alex to a product called No Doze. I want to explain what it did, but I feel as though doing so would undermine the whole ten seconds it probably took the writers to come up with that one. I think you get it. I hope you get it, because if you don’t you likely don’t understand much of anything I say.

No Doze apparently transforms one into the Fonz.

No Doze apparently transforms one into the Fonz.

I thought of this episode yesterday as I worked through what I could of Chapter Two in the oppressive bubble of time I squeezed it into. I think most people imagine writers carving out long periods of the day, hunched over a screen, snack drawer askew, ringlets of drinks past scarred along the desk surface, the absolute presence of silence draped like a canopy of protection against potential distraction. For the record, this isn’t a real thing. At least not to those of us who like to keep the companies we owe money to happy. For the marginal few who have lovely wonderful delightful people who pay them to write–bless them so–this still isn’t a real thing. They just don’t have to deal with bubbles of time. Bubbles of children, perhaps. But they did that to themselves.

I managed 425 words yesterday. 425 words that represent 0.0047222% of the total projected length of 90,000 words. For those of you who don’t like to math, that’s less than 1%. It took me just under an hour to present the universe with these 425 words. I have no idea how many of those 425 words will survive. If we go by the standard that 1 in 1,000 baby sea turtles survive into adulthood, then you get a fair approximation as to how many words of my 425 children will emerge from a first draft and survive into a published book. There’s a high degree of attrition with words.

If I had No Doze, I could probably knock a book out fairly fast. I’d have time. Time in which there would be no bubble, no oppressive need to hurry, no disruption. Then again, in the 80’s, researchers at the University of Chicago determined that mice who were deprived sleep over a period of two weeks began to have their bodies break down and literally draw them to death. So, I guess sleep is important. Even Alex eventually learned that. Science found the whole Let Sleepless Mice Die experiment odd enough that they tried it again two decades later. No Doze. No such a great idea. Back to my bubble it is then.

What made me ponder the whole No Doze story was no so much the little writing I did in the little time I had available. No. It was the pesky story that popped up a few hours later to say, Hey, maybe you should have started that chapter this way…

Ugh. What a bastard. And it might be right. Probably is. Maybe. Likely.

Damn it.

Regardless the plan is the plan. Write the book. Edit it later.

For now, Chapter Two introduces us to Judy Christie Christie Blume Agatha Blume in a way that I find fitting enough not to make any changes. The story wants me to lay out exactly what is going on in the first sentence. I get that. I may actually agree. But I’m still trying to understand who Agatha is and what to do with her. I’m not ready to toss her in the deep end yet. I want her to sit with me on the steps and observe for a while. Get acclimated to the temperature. Build up the courage to make the leap.

And with that, my bubble of time has elapsed. The second one arrives later. I need that for Chapter Two. In the meantime, here’s the completely unedited 425 sea turtles trying to make it to the ocean. Adulthood is another matter altogether.

Chapter Two

            Agatha Blume paused mid-stroke, brush locked in a battle with a tuft of brown curl, and waited for the knock. The three-beat wake-up call arrived on time, precise, pointed, her mother’s voice muffled through the door. Same as every morning.

“Agatha, sweetie, time to wake up.”

The door opened, as if her words were all the invitation she needed, her mother’s slim face wedging into view. Once upon a time, Agatha had complained about the invasion of her privacy. That the least her mother could do is wait for an answer. That had lasted a week, until Hurricane Betty tore her apart, leaving a trail of verbal debris that included bills paid, meals cooked, clothes washed and general momness employed over her time on this Earth. Agatha had realized then that arguing with her mother accomplished nothing.

Fortunately, she found another way to deal with it. Her mother couldn’t annoy her if she had nothing to annoy her about. No annoyance, no arguing, no yelling, no grounding, no problem. From her thirteenth birthday on peace had reigned, and she had no desire to break the unspoken truce.

She just needed to be careful about it. A toe in the water here and there. Enough to stay ahead of the arguments. Too much and her mother would be the least of her problems.

“I’m up.” She set to brushing her hair, fighting through a new tangle. Some days she thought it would be best just to chop it all off and be done with it. But she didn’t have that kind of face. The kind without freckles. The kind that didn’t require hair to make it worth looking at. She wasn’t that kind of pretty. Truthfully, she wasn’t sure she was any kind of pretty. The hair, frustrating though it could be, at least framed her face well. Made her blue eyes pop. Or so she’d been told by Justin.

Granted, that was before Friday had happened. She’d had the whole weekend to come to terms with the fact that Justin’s opinions no longer mattered.

“Oh. So you are. I didn’t hear you. I’m beginning to think you don’t need me anymore.”

She was across the room in a few quick steps, staring at Agatha’s reflection in the mirror, taking the brush from her hand. The curls obeyed her sweeping strokes in a way Agatha could never manage.

“You’re growing up so fast. Where has the time gone?”

Agatha stared into her mother’s reflection, fighting a smile. “Nowhere as far as I can tell.”

A Storyteller’s Revision

As a young boy, I fell in love with Harry the Dirty Dog. After all, I hated baths, and the idea of burying the scrubber and running away had occurred to me countless times. In later years, I found comfort and familiarity in Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Frecklejuice. In Middle School came The Witch of Blackbird PondThe Scarlett Letter and every word ever written by the inimitable master of fright Edgar Allen Poe. It was at this time I wrote my first story. I’m not sure the title, but it involved a young boy, a baseball game, and overcoming a horrible ankle injury to win the championship. I’m not sure what happened to it, but regardless of how awful it likely was, I’ve never forgotten it. As a starting point, it was comfortable, familiar and hopeful. I don’t recall writing another story until I reached High School, a few years later, where a simple read of A Tale of Two Cities changed everything. It was fabulous. Breathtaking. Inspiring. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to craft stories that thrilled, captivated, and most certainly entertained. I wanted to be remembered, as I had remembered those that inspired me. So I began writing.

It went horribly for a long time. Not to say I was a horrible writer. Just that my dreams were not surpassing my reality. Fear and doubt intervened. The weight of adulthood crushed me. Bills mounted. My skill plateaued as I fought to survive, as I managed to write as time allowed, as I read intermittently, as I refused to let go despite the screeching gnaw within my brain. If I had the courage to brave reading my material from that day, I might wonder how it is the desire survived. The potential was there, however dormant, suffering from a lack of experience, and proper guidance. But I persisted. I kept writing. I met successful writers, whose wisdom and sage advice strengthened my voice, and my resolve. I set aside my love for Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams in order to concentrate fully upon what I wanted to write, rather than my desire to fit in their mold. Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO was, and still is, a fine book. One I can be proud of. Flutter followed it nicely, though I still believe my mind set at that time left me a bit vulnerable within, too raw to maintain the tempo and cadence I wanted it to have.

Since then, I’ve been quiet. Not so much quiet in my every day existence, though I’ve had some moments, but rather quiet on the publishing front. Partly, this is due to circumstance. Partly because I insist on being the best writer I can be, reluctant to offer substandard material. I want to be read well, to sell in high volume, to be revered. But I never want to be Dan Brown, James Patterson, or God forbid, Stephanie Meyer. I want to be Judy Blume, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, and so on. I still want the same thing fourteen-year old me wanted: to be remembered as one of the greats.

And though that has as of yet materialized, the blessing of the writing life is there are no restrictions of time. In fact, much as the apprentice must rise to the level of Master before being recognized for their skill, life has taken me on a tour, an education I may not have asked for but have greatly appreciated. It has granted me the chance to learn, to improve, to better myself as an artist as well as a person.

Most importantly, it brought me Oliver Miles.

It gave me a glimpse of the boy I was, of the countless stories that inspired me, of the many hours I dreamed of what it would be like to walk the worlds within the pages that so fascinated me. Of what it would be like to be the hero. And when The Storyteller spoke, he did so easily, with great intent, with a yearning need to heard, with the voice of a child who longed to matter.

In the Beginning there was a boy, who very much belonged to the books that he loved.

In the beginning there was a boy, who very much belonged to the books that he loved.

He gave me something to believe in. Something special.

And the journey of fourteen-year old Oliver Miles began, precisely where my love for writing was born: In the pages of his favorite books. His passion, however, rest squarely within the five-book series, The Damon Grell Chronicles, a collection he read countless times, arriving at the final chapter of the final book with the same unshakable sense of frustration and disappointment.

“‘Infusco!”’ The light shrouding the figure became heavy and fell, dull waves of warmth tattered to thin wisps by cold shadow.  Silence embraced the chamber, expanded into the growing darkness, and broke in a grinding shift of granite upon granite.  The coffin fell open, its lid split in two upon the sandy floor, the shadows alive, swirling, absorbing all light, taking form, and Damon Grell rose once more.”

After all, Damon Grell didn’t simply fail in his final showdown with the dark Lord Ahriman. He died. And, as if the pain of that loss alone didn’t suffice, Damon was then resurrected by a shadowy figure at the story’s end, leaving the world of Elysium without a true hero, and Oliver without a sense of resolution. Though Damon has been raised, there’s no way to ensure his state of mind, or abilities. Without Damon, Lord Ahriman would rule over all. Without a proper hero, Elysium would fall. Little could Oliver have known that Elysium had indeed found its hero, and that he, Oliver Miles, was the one it had chosen. Drawn into Elysium by the mysterious Storyteller, Oliver finds a world more real, more deadly than he could have dreamed. A world where the magic of words and the future hope of Elysium lead him into a race to find the resurrected Damon Grell before the Shadowheart—the most powerful form of magic known in Elysium—can fall into the hands of a rising darkness that threatens to destroy the world.

I am possessed by this story, and the subsequent four that round it out. So much so that I find the need for it to be perfect. To honor the story fully. I’ve worked on it for years, completely rewriting it several times, most recently last Fall. I have so much back story, I could effectively write The Damon Grell Chronicles as well as the origin story of the individual who would ultimately be known as the Storyteller. I could spend the rest of my life delving into the many side stories and companion pieces had I the opportunity. Perhaps I will. It would be a tremendous thrill to be afforded the opportunity to do so.

As an artist, I am compelled to believe in my work. To believe in its value, its credibility. To raise it above my head and proclaim it special in ways no other work could proclaim. And so I shall. However, I do so with a sense of awe and wonderment over the feeling this tale leaves me. I do so curious over what plan the Storyteller put in effect upon handing me the details of Oliver’s journey. I do so more confident than I’ve ever been that I’ve honored the wish of a fourteen-year old boy who longed to have a voice in the literary world that truly mattered. And soon–hopefully quite soon–you will understand why.