Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Where has the Year Gone?

On January 26 of this year (2011), I posted the first blog for Writing 4 Death. On February 2, THE SCHEDULE (all caps is a must, to be driven you must use CAPITALS), was announced. Two things: 1) As noted last week, I’m on schedule with Toulouse 4 Death and in fact three weeks ahead, and 2) Where the hell has the year gone? On Friday, July 1, sometime during the middle of the afternoon or so, half of the year is gone, disappeared, pulled anchor, faded away, kaput! Some will shed a tear, others thankful relief. And, dear reader, we are faced with the rest of the year. Can’t escape it, it is what it is.

Writers and time have lived with each other for thousands of years. The Odyssey is as much a sea-cruise as a battle against time. Now for Ulysses it wasn’t so much a Carnival ship once in a life time adventure, what with the Lotus-eaters, the Cyclops, Sirens and such, but it was a ten year cruise home (if you think about it, there are a lot of parallels with the S.S. Minnow, Gilligan’s Island and its advertised “three-hour tour”).

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, holds time in suspension for one man, but time can’t be foiled; something has to age. Almost every story requires a process of time and events, each leading to and supporting the other. H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, pushes us through the barriers of mortality and allows the traveler to live in a time not his own, but to move, almost eternally, back and forth. We wonder, Is it possible?

Time is the stuff of writers; we are shape-shifters, we mold time to our needs and desires, we distort it, collapse it, and for some stories freeze time (or allow it to move very slowly) while we accelerate it for other characters. One of my favorite movies is Portrait of Jennie (1948) based on Robert Nathan’s novella, where two people of different times fall in love, the ending, while dramatic leaves the romantic saddened.

Time attacks the writer in a number of ways. The time needed to write the damn thing (it becomes that damn thing at some point), the time to edit it, the time to produce the final manuscript; impatience is its step-brother. The story or book itself is a progression of time: hours, a day (Dan Brown’s books), weeks, months, seasons (my novel Elk River, out this fall, all takes place in one summer in 1956 – yes, that’s three time references), years, decades, and even generations of families.

How we twist the hours and days into interesting interconnected moments that are strung together makes us writers. While there are other equally important parts to writing: the mundane and glorious sentences, the ‘ideology’, the voice, the themes, Hemingway’s ‘True Self’ (whatever that is – go see the movie Midnight in Paris), the editor, the publisher, and even the printer. Me, I vote for TIME, not the magazine but the little space between now and then.

Stay tuned . . . .

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Benchmarks and Writing Schedules

I have always been a project and task oriented manager of my time. I look at the scope of the work and then estimate the time needed to complete the task and suddenly POOF it’s done. Well, most of the time, oh okay some of the time. We, of the List Driven Clan (our tartan is crossed bullet point lines), fully appreciate the compulsive need to compile to-do lists and thus receive immense personal satisfaction by scratching off one item after another as our mini-goals are accomplished. We even keep them on our iPhone, we are a sorry lot, but we do get a lot done.

I started this blog as way to allow the patient and interested reader to follow the construction of my latest book in the Sharon O’Mara Chronicles, Toulouse 4 Death. I didn’t realize that the initial list of dates and benchmarks (real business term – sounds official – so MBA-ish) would be driving me as hard as the story. I set the work in three-two month segments; each segment goal was 20,000 words (the books are intentionally shorter than the usual novel – faster and quicker reads). I’m on target and, as of this morning, I’m at 39,857 words and very happy with the work; it’s clean and sharp. In fact I’m three weeks ahead of schedule, so even better. And yes, given the title, there is a Toulouse Lautrec painting (stolen) that a billionaire wants to give away. Unfortunately there is a group in Argentina that wants an item that was with the painting and are willing to kill to get it back.

Teaser Alert - Here are the first two paragraphs:

“The village was dead.” Alain Dumont said, as he breathed heavily through the plastic oxygen nose prongs hung, like a painting, from his ears. “Mind you, this was not the first village we fought through and destroyed. But it was the first one in Germany. All the frustrations, anger, and need for revenge that had built-up during our advances through eastern France and Luxemburg were now focused on this first German town. It did not escape.” 

He heaved again and tried to shake sixty-year old horrific memories off his shoulders. “The village was utterly and completely flattened. Me and my boys walked single file in a track no more than a foot wide; barely room for a dog. The rubble, blasted from the buildings, filled the street. The buildings still smoldered and bodies laid half-in and out of the wreckage. God, those Germans loved their brick, now they were buried under it.” He slowly took another breath. “There were snipers in the church towers, we’d advance a block and take fire from everywhere. Some of my men pushed through the interior walls of the buildings; they dug and blasted their way from house to house. Sometimes it was quicker than waltzing down the center of the street being sniper targets. We lost fewer men that way. If we were lucky we had a tank follow us, they rolled over everything. If a sniper fired, we leveled everything over a foot tall ahead of us; it was an advance of attrition. We left nothing alive. But these villages were full of cellars, some interconnected, many filled with old people who wouldn’t leave. Funny that we didn’t see a lot of younger women and kids, they were gone, we found them later hiding in the tunnels, those damn tunnels were under all this part of Germany. And to be honest, I was glad. Never did like killing women.”

By the way, I want to thank the author Sheldon Siegel for the opening line, he once admitted he started a book with the line “He’s dead . . .” so why not give it a chance.

Part of my drive to complete the required work of this segment is to allow me time to reflect and adjust the manuscript for Elk River that my editor, Dennis DeRose, is completing. He tells me it will be done by July 1. It is 112,000 words. I hope that he has been kind; sometimes it’s hard to fix an edited manuscript if there is too much blood on the pages.

Elk River is the story of a 14 year old boy in the summer of 1956 who tries hard to remain young and innocent while the world around him forces him to grow up. Family challenges, migrant workers, a difficult cherry crop, and the hard times of post-World War II America, all push the young man into adulthood.

I have been promising cover shots of the book, below are two ideas. I would love to read your comments.