Day Four: Sometimes you just gotta ask

I don’t know everything. Hell, I barely know some things. Life is a busy place full of an infinite amount of information that is constantly changing. Working through a manuscript is no different. I know some things. I’ll never know everything. At times, it’s like I know just enough to work my way through a world and it’s trials. I’m positive the characters laugh at me when they’re off set.

As I noted in the first post on this project, my lead character jumped ship and a feisty teenage girl took his place, altering the entire scope of the story and the genre in which it was to be. This left me a little shy on information when first I sat down to tell Agatha Blume’s tale. I mean, I had all but just met the girl. We hadn’t even had a thorough conversation. Next thing I know we’re starting a chapter with her brushing her hair and having a terse exchange with her mother. And then she drops the Keeper bomb and I stopped writing.

From Chapter Two (one revision, unposted):

It should have been the worst month of her life. All that time, just ticking away into boredom. But Agatha didn’t mind time. She could deal with time. It was the Keepers that bothered her.

Wait. What? Who the hell are the Keepers? Until that moment, I had never heard of them. I mean, I figures I knew who she was talking about, but I had never called them Keepers before. In the first run at Chapter Two, she didn’t mention anything about Keepers. But in a read through, in preparation for completing the chapter, there it was. Keepers. So, I had to stop. I had to find Agatha and ask her what the hell she was talking about.

Thus, I leave for you an interview with Agatha Blume. I get what she’s up to a bit better now. I know who the Keepers are and why she calls them that. Now I can continue.

An Interview with Agatha Blume

(for the purpose of figuring out what her deal is)

Hello, Agatha. I appreciate you taking the time to help me figure exactly who you are and what you’re doing in my story.

Sure.

Tell me a little about yourself.

Um, well, I’m sixteen—seventeen in, like, four months—and I’m a Junior in High School. Please don’t ask about college. I get enough of that from my mom. My best friend is Judy—or at least she was my best friend until I saw her out with Justin at the movies. Now, I don’t know. She knew I liked him. It’s like with my hair, you know? I told her I wanted to dye it blue, to be crazy or something, and then, like, the next day her hair’s blue. It looked good too. Justin texted me after school and was all ooh, it looks hot like I wanted to hear that. I just ignored it. Well, I had a sad emoji ready, but, I mean, what good would that have done, right? He obviously likes her more than me anyway. She’s so pretty. It’s stupid.

Gotcha. So, what about—

Gotcha? That’s your response to that? I tell you my best friend stole the boy I like away from me and you say “gotcha?” Whatever.

It wasn’t meant—

Just forget it, okay? I don’t even want to talk about it.

Fine with me. How about your mom? What’s your relationship like—

Don’t ask.

Technically, I didn’t. You like to interrupt people, don’t you?

(the glare she offers is intense, and yet somewhat humorous. As if it’s taking a great deal of concentration. She might have gas for all I know.)

I do not have gas! That’s gross. Delete that.

I was about to ask about your mother. 

Whatever. She’s fine. I love her. She does mother things, though. Annoying mother things all the time. I mean, she’s a good person, right? It’s not like I don’t realize that. She just … it’s like when I’m in my room, you know? And she just barges in. She’ll knock, of course, but then it’s like she just decides that’s enough for her to come in. I’m not twelve anymore. I need my privacy. And she doesn’t let me do anything. She used to ground me if I didn’t make all A’s.

Used to?

Well, I took care of that. I just make sure I always have A’s. It’s like keeping my room clean and stuff. I just make sure it always is when she comes in my room. If we don’t have anything to fight about…. (she shrugs)

Ah, I see. I get it. You make sure everything is the way she wants it; and if it isn’t, you just … fix it.

Yeah. Something like that.

So you correct it in time. I mean, “in time”. You actually go back and change things. Make sure you know the answers to tests and have homework done and so forth.

I don’t know what you’re talking about. (Clearly her body language says otherwise.)

It’s fine, Agatha. I know what you can do. I’m just trying to understand.

Well, understand quieter. The Keepers are watching.

The Keepers? I don’t have anything about Keepers in my notes.

Oh, well, I guess everything’s all fine then. I mean, if you don’t have them in your notes, they probably aren’t even real. Just some stupid kid with her stupid story. Whatever.

Fine. Tell me who the Keepers are.

(she seems very reluctant to talk about them, shifting in her seat, looking away as if watching someone from afar.)

I don’t know who they are. I just know they watch time. It’s, like, I don’t know. I saw one once, one of the first times I moved through time. I went back two days to try to find a, well, I had lost a ring of mom’s that belonged to her mom and she got super pissed and then cried all night about it. I thought if I went back to when I last had it I could make sure it didn’t get lost. When I got there—I was in the living room—I saw some shadowy person. Like he was there, but not entirely. Some tall looking guy, really pale, you know? Like vampire pale. He was talking to another Keeper somewhere. I never saw that one. He walked past me, almost through me really. It was like he didn’t even see me. He kept talking about an infringement in time–I think that was the word–but he couldn’t place the source. He definitely wasn’t friendly. He had some gun thing. Silver. Kinda big. I don’t know. But it scared me. I just stayed and lived the next two days again rather than risk it. I didn’t move through time again for a while.

When did you first move through time?

(she laughs) My thirteenth birthday. We had a dog named Rufus. He went on a rampage through the kitchen after Judy popped a balloon. Knocked into the kitchen table and the cake went splat all over the floor. I was inconsolable. It was a Minion cake. I love those guys. It was my first non-Princess cake, and I felt pretty adult about it. Stupid, I know. I’m still not even sure how it happened. I just had this idea later that if I could have stopped Judy from popping that balloon, Rufus would have been fine and my cake would have survived.

And what happened then?

I don’t know. It was, like, one minute I was in my bed crying, thinking about that moment, the next I was just there. Judy had the balloon, but hadn’t squeezed it yet, so I just knocked it out of her hand.

And your cake was saved?

Well, no, not exactly. I actually popped the balloon when I hit it, and, well, it all just happened anyway. Splat. Minion doom.

Did you try again?

No. I mean, I thought about it, but suddenly the cake didn’t seem such a big deal. I had moved through time, you know? Cake seemed kinda silly in comparison. The Keeper thing happened a few months later. I had done it a few times in between. I was always afraid of it, actually, so I never went far. Just enough to change simple things that seemed to matter at the time A few minutes the day I missed the bus. An hour the day I threw up in Justin’s pool. The most I ever went was twelve hours or so. It was when I went back two days that the Keeper showed up. Sort of.

So you don’t really know who they are. You just call them Keepers because of time?

Something like that. I don’t know.

You haven’t seen one since?

Maybe. I sometimes think so. A reflection here or there. In a car. In my dreams. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just seeing things. Maybe they don’t even exist, but I don’t want to take a chance. I figure if I keep it under twelve hours, forward or back, I’ll be okay. I think it’s like ripples, you know?

Ripples?

Yeah. Like, imagine you’re blind and standing about five feet into a pool. And someone gets in and the ripples on the water hit you. You can’t see so you probably have a good sense of feeling where it came from, or something. If someone jumps in, yeah, definitely. If they go in like halfway or something, probably. But, like, a toe dipped in and you’d never be able to tell. So, I don’t know, I just dip a toe in here or there.

That’s actually pretty damn clever, Agatha.

Thanks. (Her cheeks are red, she’s watching her feet sway. I don’t think she gets complimented all that often.)

So, just one more question: You said the Keeper you encountered wasn’t friendly. What do you think would happen if one of them were to find you, or discover what you can do?

(She ponders this one. I think she already has an answer, but she isn’t sure if she wants to say it.)

I don’t know. It won’t be good. That I know for sure.

How so?

Because. I mean, how many people do you know who can move through time? Imagine what would happen if a bunch of people could? Other than me, right? People would be moving through time all over the place to fix everything. And, you know, like the cake, it doesn’t always work out. Might even make it worse. Some things are just supposed to happen, right? So, the Keepers have to protect time. They won’t want me doing what I do, even as small as it is.

Oh, I see. You believe they are specifically interested in protecting time and nothing else? Almost angels of time, in a way.

Right. Right. Yeah, if angels carried weird gun things and hunted little girls who just wanted to keep their moms happy. That sounds logical. Good call.

Fair point. I guess we’ll stop there. I think I understand things better now. Somewhat, anyway.

How lovely for you. I’ll go see if I can sleep and not dream horrible dreams, thanks.

Thanks for your time, Agatha. See you soon.

Whatever soon is.

Here’s the latest revision of Chapter Two:

Chapter Two (Revised)

Day Two: In which one may not be one at all

A hero is only a hero unless they aren’t. A bit hard to be a hero if you’re edging off screen at the moment the crisis begins. Likewise, a confident Well, by Golly, I used to be a hero doesn’t do much for a gathered crowd short of create a swell of sympathy for the fallen.

I mean, in The Matrix, Neo goes to see the Oracle, uncertain about what he will hear, and hears the bad news that he is not The One. Only he is. He just has to believe it for it to be true. He just has to make a choice for it to be true. What if the Oracle had said Well, you were The One, until you weren’t. Tough too bad for you, huh?

That would be kind of deflating, I think. Like landing the lead in Broadway musical, seeing your name in the early publicity, then getting the boot a few days before the curtain first opens. Then who are you? You’re the street name people can’t recall without using GPS. The Mexican place–um, whatever it was called–where you had that great burrito that one time. That kid you knew once in elementary school that punched you in the ear. What was his name again? You are the person that Google was created for, because without it you never existed at all.

So, that in mind, meet Donnell Shepherd. He’s a sweet guy. Forty, a bit autistic, terribly fascinated with time, and a severe thorn in my side. Why for, you ask? Well, he’s the former lead of Specimen A. The one who quit then came back after his slot was filled and asked for a job, any job that allowed him to stay on with the project. I told maybe him something had opened up, but I’d have to check with the story and I couldn’t guarantee permanence. Three books is a lot of space to devote to a story and if I just tossed him in Willy-Nilly and it threw a fit about him not being invited, he might find himself dead all quick like. It was beyond my control, I said. Just one of those writing things. He pondered it a few days, then showed up out of nowhere when I was driving back from Richmond, all eager to sign on and confident he could convince the story he was a vital cog worth keeping.

Ha. As if the story cares about anyone.

Look, in the words of Gordon Ramsey: Here’s the thing. You can’t trust a story. Oh, sure, it’ll lead you in with kind words, stroke your ego, tell you how pretty you look in that dress, and wonder aloud how such a creation could be wandering about without someone latched onto your arm. You’ll swoon, giggle, blush, and loose all ability to speak whatever language it is you thought you knew but seem to no longer be able to recall. It’ll pour you some tea, talk about where it sees your relationship going, lead you onto your path and then SQUASH YOU LIKE A BUG.

The story is like your older brother who told you that one time you’d absolutely love being spun around by an arm and leg until your glasses fly off, the blood rushes to your head, and you nearly loose consciousness while you cry. If I had known I would have been spun into an alternate dimension, I might have said no. I mean, you. If you had known. This isn’t about me. Never was.

Ahem.

The most improbable part of this is that Donnell’s pleas worked, to a degree. He not only got his job back, but he got dropped into the first chapter as the focal point of view. Now, it remains to be seen what context his POV maintains going forward, but who wouldn’t want to be aboard the Rebel ship trying to evade capture from the Star Destroyer in the opening of A New Hope? Except the rebels, that is. That didn’t end well for them. Whatever. Moot point. He’s the lead into the story. I’m still not sure how he managed it. God, I hope he didn’t sleep with the story. Gross.

Nah, Donnell’s a nice guy. He wouldn’t do that.

Besides, there’s a very real chance this version of Chapter One doesn’t make the cut. It might not be Chapter One at all. It feels like a Chapter One, but the original Chapter One in Anointed felt like a Chapter One and yet became Chapter Three in the final edits. The existing Chapter One came out of nowhere to steal the lead at the last minute. The current Chapter One of The Storyteller was Chapter One from the beginning, only notably different by way of the fourteen-thousand, five hundred and sixteen edits it’s undergone. By Universal edict, I’m required to say that number may be exaggerated a bit, but you can’t convince me it’s by much.

So, all that in mind, here is a look at the newly minted Chapter One of Specimen A. I’m pleased with it. Donnell showed himself well, and what he experiences is the catalyst to everything that will follow. I have attached a Word document and a .pdf, so that you have options. Options are good. Even Donnell would agree, providing those options allowed him to get to work on time. Read up. Please offer your thoughts in the comments (though my posts on social media are fine as well). This is meant as an interactive project, and I’d love to hear what you have to say as I drop bits of the book in (and ramble about mostly nothing otherwise).

Happy reading. Nah-noo nah-noo.

Chapter One Original (Word Document)

Chapter One Original PDF

Day One: In which one is the day, and the day shall be one.

I am Captain Impossible. I am also highly caffeinated¹.

That could mean that I am the captain of impossible things, or that I am so impossible to deal with that I’m often found wearing a fancy hat and tugging at my cuffs as I comment on the breeze. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Nevertheless, here I am, prepared to undertake a project that could be–might be–an impossible chore. Blogging my way through a book project sounds a bit like bludgeoning myself with a hammer just to see what will happen, or at what point I begin screaming Why am I doing this? But FUN FOR YOU! You get to witness it!

I may need to rework that simile. Then again, the whole point of this is to offer a raw, unedited look at the madness that is writering, so you get what you get. It’s my hammer. Don’t tell me what to do with it. I’ll turn this whole thing into a Three Stooges free-for-all quicker than you click your way clear and run from the room screaming why, why, oh Dear God, why is Shemp?

From left to right, I believe they are Writer, Plot and Story, but I could have them confused.

I didn’t want to have to say that, but you left me no choice.

Anyway, if you’ll please stop interrupting, I’ll continue. I was talking about the book I want to write. The working title is Specimen A. It’s Young Adult. It’s one of those speculative fiction/fantasy deals. Originally, it was supposed to be a straight up adult fantasy, but then my main character quit and I found this teenage girl who said she could nail it. And she did. Originally I figured the story would be a one-book ordeal. Then the story told me to screw off and expanded while I slept. This happens. If a writer ever tells you they knew exactly where the story was going from the moment they started, they’re lying. Damn things are like kids in a sugar factory, bouncing all over the place while you run after, arms wide, expecting they’ll bounce your way any moment. Nope. I can tell you where the story is showing me it wants to go now, but it may change its mind. It may have no choice, because some random back-story character will probably pop his head up on page 101 and say Hey, I’ve got something say, all right? And you’ll be all, The Hell you do. And he’ll be so What if I was a woman and married to that guy? And you’ll jump out of you chair and scare the bejeezus out of your cat because you’re like WTF man? Where’d you even come from anyway? And the story will pipe in with I’m good with it, just so you know. And that will pretty much be the end of your outline.

Writing, ladies and gentlemen.

So instead of a general fantasy, one book story with a forty-something year old protagonist, I have a Young Adult trilogy with a female teen as my lead, and, oh, the forty-something year old wants to know if there’s a smaller role he can accept because his agent said it would be good for his career. What a putz. Fine. Whatever. But he’ll probably die. If the story is so inclined. Book One is called The Progenitor. I think. Yes. I like it. Done.

There is, gratefully, a constant in this all. The story hasn’t departed from the original concept, and I’m fairly certain it won’t. The story remains the tale of a main character who discovers … something … about something and something and something happens to … something … or someone and something.

No it’s not. But writing these damn one-sentence synopsis is a frustrating thing. Just find a book on your shelf that you’ve read and know ok well. Summarize it in a sentence and make me want to read it. Not a run-on sentence either. Like 25 words or less. I’ve edited more synopsis than I have pages of actual books I have written.

Specimen A: A young girl discovers her ability to move through time is neither rare, nor unexpected, and leads to a revelation that will change her world forever.

25 words. Boom. Not happy with it, but it’ll do. I much prefer the fifty to hundred-word plus synopsis that allow a deeper crawl into the where the story is going.

I could take a different approach. One I would take if I were a bookseller rather than an author. In that case: Imagine you had the ability to travel through time, but you knew someone, or something, was watching you do it. They don’t like it. They want to find you. You’re pretty sure they want to kill you. So you try to keep your movements through time short, simple. A quick shot through a day of school, for instance, because you don’t want to see your best friend who you saw at the movies with the guy she knew you liked. Or to the night before because you want to study for the pop quiz you’re about to fail. Then you encounter a boy who has the same ability, only he isn’t trying to hide it. In fact, he’s quite reckless with it. Even worse: He moved into the future and found himself in a coffin, and he’s determined that he’s going to die in two days and the best he can tell is that it has something to do with you. However, his presence has awakened those that have been watching, and now they know your secret. They know what you can do, and if you don’t do something soon, the boy won’t be the only one who dies.

I’ll leave it there. As I’ve said before, I want to avoid spoiling the reveal of what is happening. At least until I write that bit. If the story lets me, that is. Ugh. Stories. Can’t live with ’em, can’t be a writer without ’em, amirite?

I have vowed to keep these posts around a thousand words or less, and with this sentence (technically, the footnote that follows, but, um, whatever) I have crossed that. So, that’s it for now. My next post will be after I write the first chapter, which may or may not be tomorrow, life depending. Might be Friday. Because, you know, you’re going to mark that on your calendar. But I’ll add a link to the entire chapter, and await the torrents of comments that will undoubtedly follow.

¹ Which is neither a by-product of, or leading to, previous or future statements, but rather a non-parenthetical aside lacking in necessary format and function to provide insight into much of anything except that I do, indeed, like coffee.

An Idea at 10,000 Feet

“So, I’ve got this idea.”

“I literally just tensed up. Like you were going to hit me.”

This is a real thing, apparently. I tell my friends I have an idea, and it’s like I’ve catapulted a cow over the rampart. RUN AWAY.

I like ideas. I have many of them. Some of them become living breathing things. Others squirrel away in my head, awaiting the End of Days and Mental Apocalypse that will signal end of Me. Some of my ideas have worked. Some of them worked for a short time then flamed out badly. Some idea were quite splendid, but ultimately forgotten. A couple of them right-out sucked. But I keep going, producing ideas as if planting for a bountiful harvest come Fall, never the wiser, never the worse for it.

Like I said, I like ideas.

This a page from one of my favorite ideas EVER.

This a page from one of my favorite ideas EVER.

Ideas are the seed of creation. Plant them, water them, talk to them about your league-leading fantasy baseball team, and wait to see what happens. Do this daily and the growth will amaze. Forget a few days, give it half water, half evaporated passion, and maybe not so much. Forget it altogether and try to contain the shock and horror when you realize your ideas are smoking-hot scorched earth. I often time find myself in the in-between there, a shortcoming I continue to work on. My little factory of ideas is overrun with product. Distribution has been a bit slack.

Which brings me to my point. You see, I have this idea…

I want to blog my way through a book, open the door to the reader, offer raw material and my thoughts on it as I take the journey from conception to completion. The aforementioned friend, who shall remain nameless no matter how tall or bald he may be, thought me–perhaps justifiably–insane. Why would I want to put myself through the added strain of writing a blog every time I’ve written my day’s work? I don’t know. Jeez, if I had to come up with reasons for the vast majority of my ideas, I’d have shut down the factory long ago. I’m not what one might term an A-type personality, after all. I like cheese, and I damn well prefer to sit while I eat it. That said, I do believe that the exercise–and it would be precisely that–would be an interesting one. I have no idea how it will go, and I have no real plan for what material, or how much of it, I will share. But, being able to lay out the process of creation for all to see would have quite an appeal. If not to readers, then perhaps to writers. At worst, it will to me.

Again, this is an idea. In my head it seems a good one. At least an interesting one. But we’ll see. What I do know is that having people monitor my work and (EGAD!) even comment on it as I go would be significant motivation to create the best manuscript I’ve ever written. Then, after I’ve produced this other-worldly masterpiece of literature, the publishing industry will be so fond of the process they’ll create small rooms along Broadway in Manhattan, windows looking over the work space of writers in need of motivation, their day’s work scrolling atop the space, or accessible via tablets on the outside of the glass! They’ll be forced to record videos about their day’s work! People will watch the breakdowns as they flow from euphoric to despondent, from absolutely certainty to complete despair! BRILLIANT!

Then again, maybe not. My ideas can get away from me, after all, otherwise my friends wouldn’t fear them.

So here’s what I am proposing: I have an idea for a Young Adult fantasy novel. It’s been sizzling away in my brain meats for some time, and I’m pretty sure it’s at the right temperature to break out and devour. When next I write here, I will begin the process, detailing the idea, where it came from, how it has transformed, and give a rough idea of where I see it going. I’ll refrain from talking about the end point, or revealing spoilers that might dampen the reading of any material I post. Also, I’ll refrain from posting entire chapters, as I’m not entirely sold that people won’t run away screaming. If, however, you find yourself one who might be up for taking post in the bookstore of my mind and reading all that I have written, I’ll gladly create a way for you to do so. But you’ll have to let me know. Which seems a rather simple thing to say, but this is me we’re talking about. Assume nothing.

The working title of this project is Specimen A. If it had a subtitle it would be: The Progenitor. It may well wind up with both. Or neither. Or one. Who knows?

So there you go. My idea. Well, my most recent idea. We’ll see how it goes.