War Zone

Good grief. Is it really a month since my last update? Well, progress continues. Even when I’m not in the mood or I feel stuck, I have made a point of writing every day. Sometimes it’s as little as a sentence or two; sometimes it’s several pages. At this point it’s less about the flow than about keeping the pipes from freezing. Result: I’m moving slowly, but chapter six is past the midpoint.

This is where the story picks up. To now it’s been exposition; we’ve met the characters, gotten a feel for the scene, and had a taste of the mysteries and perils at play. Here is where it starts to gel; the stakes are defined, people begin to make decisions, and we start to explore just what’s going on in this picture.

As part of that process I find myself dumping exposition through dialog with a new character, to bring the story to date into focus and give it a jumping-off point. When I came to the scene, I didn’t realize what was happening; I just had it in my head as a turning point where the characters began to accept a call to action. In retrospect this scene is what the story needs to build its own momentum.

I’m amazed when I touch, and then pass, these far-off milestones. As ever, things don’t always happen exactly the way that I envisioned them — but then my vision is always a little hazy in the particulars. It’s intimidating to approach these moments — plot points, character points — that I have planned for so long. As with so many of my plans, some part of me never thought they were real; I figured I would roll them around in my head forever. I would keep laying them out on notebook pages, drawing lines, filling in blanks. Now the story has washed up and begun to absorb them.

Another thought, while I’m here: I spend ages laboring over my word choices. Each word has its own nuance, each phrase its rhythm, and I beat myself up a little when they don’t flow the way I want. As I write it, then, each page, each conversation seems to go on forever. If you look at my notebook, it’s all scribbles and arrows and notes in the margin. Then when I read the printed page, it’s just… there. The words come and they go, and none of that work really shows. I feel like if I want to get any meaning across I’ll have to resort to all-caps or novelty typefaces.

Maybe that subtlety is a strength. I don’t know. It could mean hidden layers for readers to uncover the third or fourth time through, or it could just mean that the story isn’t communicating anything. I’m trying not to be too obvious, but I do intend my points to come across.

It’s a puzzlement. We’ll see how it hangs together when there’s more to go over.

Just like Finland

So we’re at 25,000 words. That comes out to 100 standard pages. As usual the real page count differs depending on where you’re reading it.

Progress has been slow, this chapter. It’s not entirely a creative problem; it’s more the consequence of practical demands: moving house, attending to the changing needs of my family. I have much on my mind, and scant time to act on any of it.

Still, the daily updates continue. Right now I’m in the middle of a flashback, which is providing me the chance to explore a couple of characters and the basis of their relationship. Though to me it may feel like meandering, every time I wind up on one of these tangents I return with something crucial that I would not have found otherwise. In retrospect the book wouldn’t be what it is without these regular side steps. So though I may feel lost, I am gaining faith in the material as a guide.

Caves All the Way Out

There we go. I seem to have broken that hump, and now the prose can flow.

This character is always harder for me, possibly because his thoughts and motivations are so much more pronounced. It’s easier for me to hint than to state, and there is so much here to be coy about — yet without some kind of exposition I’ll never get anywhere.

I guess I don’t have to worry much about subtlety. Something I have noticed — even when I feel like I’m screaming and hammering a point to death, others tend not to pick up on the signs. For many years I wondered how everyone around me could be so dim. It’s only lately that I realized I might actually be that obscure.

Crimson and Ivory

Often I despair of this project, particularly as I start a new chapter. Though I sit here, days pass when hardly a word goes down. I read what I’ve written, and it seems so forced. Clearly I’m on the wrong track, but I don’t know if I can change direction.

Then something shifts. I change a few words, add a few sentences at the start, and it all makes sense. It flows. It could use another draft, like anything — maybe some expansion — but it works. Then the momentum kicks in. It’s working, so it just keeps working, building, growing.

And the changes are so small. It’s the tiniest details that trip me; the wrong syntax, or the right thoughts in the wrong order. I get flustered. I give up. I need to quit that.

This chapter isn’t the one that I wanted to write; it’s the one that the book has presented to me. There will be a place for that chapter, but right now this demands to exist. I think I moved that chapter up, anyway. Originally it was to come much later in the book; it was only while mapping out the book on a napkin, in a sleazy diner at Coney Island, that it wound up so early in the list.

It seems the more that I plan this book the more that it defies me. It was a cordial relationship so long as we kept ambling toward some vague goals together. I should know better than to exert my will over these things. I know that I’m not in control here; I just get it in my head that I need to be professional, or responsible. And then there’s this power struggle, and I come away frustrated.

The book will always win. Got to get that into my head. Just go with it. It has its reasons.

My wife and I want to express the most profound gratitude to Ryan Newman for his support of this project. Thanks also to everyone who has been following along and encouraging our progress.

Soap Bubbles

Trying to make up for lost time over the weekend. I’m at the end of chapter four; it just keeps going beyond where I expected. Before I got to them, I knew the general series of events I wanted to cover in these last two chapters. I just wasn’t sure what would fit where, and what might go between. As it happened, everything got pushed back. The chapter two conclusion wound up in the middle of chapter three; most of the exposition that I planned for chapter three got delayed into chapter four. As a result, this chapter is fairly well packed with event. The subject can and does change from one page to the next, and yet somehow it all winds together.

There’s only one box left to check. Perhaps tomorrow we will see how that comes about. Then, on to chapter five. I’m looking forward to that one. It will be… different.

Thanks again for all your support. So far we have received nothing but positive feedback on this project. As it happens we are incurring a few unusual expenses over the next few weeks, as we move to New England to better raise our daughter. Inspirational as it may be, Brooklyn is no place for children.

If you feel like contributing, we have made it easy for you.

Bucket Seats

Oh, I see where this chapter is going. That’s good. I was hoping it would get around to all of this.

It’s odd how helpless one feels in the face of the creative process. You want things to happen, but the process has its own ideas and methods that it only sometimes deigns to share with its host. It will take your suggestions into advisement, and maybe — just maybe, when it’s done with its own little circles of contemplation — it will quietly stumble upon them. And then very likely it will pretend that they were all part of its plan.

Part of the skill in a creative field is to learn which battles to pursue. Few of them are worth the energy; just let the damned muse have her way. Little does she realize that it’s your ideas which inspire her.

The gratitude continues, with big thanks to Mr. Brandon Sheffield — whose enthusiasm I can credit with inching me toward actual production on this novel, and whose support does not abate.

A Growing Horror

This week has been eventful; until last night I barely feel that I got any rest. My writing has suffered a bit. For a few days I barely wrote, and what I did write I hated. It just wasn’t working — and the structure was all out of whack. Every few paragraphs I would realize that I had forgotten to establish something, or to include a passage that I had wanted, or had just paced things poorly and needed more breathing room — meaning my moleskine is a maze of brackets and arrows, threatening to confuse my ever more constant inline corrections.

Then I got some rest, and I took a day off. Today I went for a stroll, and several mental blocks Tetrised into place. The linear writing is back on track, which is lovely; more significantly, my notes have begun to click. I now understand the nature and logic of some key story elements, and I now know how to approach a few difficult chapters.

The horrible secret has become that much more horrible. Which is to say, it has become that much more relatable. I dread to explain it all to my wife. Perhaps I had best let that element reveal itself in the writing.

Thanks to everyone who has been following the process, and to everyone who has donated. You have done wonders already. For anyone who missed the post about the reward scheme we have in place, go check it out. It’s kind of neat, we think.

Progress will probably speed up for the next few days.

The Internal Coquette

We’re at 15000 words. Chapter three still has some life, though. As I said, the estimate is very rough. I find it interesting how the scenes and the dialog keep dancing around the connections that I want to make, often flirting openly: “Almost, but not yet! You’ve got to work for it!” In the interim, scenes grow and characters play through their own natural forces. It’s all for the best. It’s the tease that keeps me going.

Since the start of this chapter I have been listening to WBGO, 88.3 FM. I have my reasons. It’s been a while since I have listened to jazz, or to the radio. If you’re going to do it, might as well do it in the middle of the night.