Thursday, 31 January 2013

Day Thirty-One: Finally

The cards. Oh, god. The cards. There are about one hundred of them, but I think I’ve finally got everything down on these notecards.

That might seem like a lot, and—compared to some previous novels that I’ve done this with—it really is. In this case, though, I think that it’s very much worth it to have all of the character beats, clues, suspect elements, and resolutions on their own individual cards. Tomorrow, I’ll review this initial configuration (which is basically just the order in which the story occurred to me and I wrote everything down) and start playing around with the sequence to create a better sense of flow and development.

Also, I feel like I might be coming down with a cold. Which is awesome.

 

-Sean

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Day Thirty: Drowning in Cards

So, again with the little to report. The cards are still stacking up. I’ve got almost seventy now.

It’s strange, there being so many this time around. I’m more or less setting out to write a tightly plotted, relatively short novel in a genre that thrives on both of those things. But in including each piece of case information and suspect development on its own card (for the sake of shuffling them around better) the whole thing has turned from a one day development tool into a three day chore.

Oh well, it’ll all be over soon enough.

And speaking of things that are over soon enough, I just wanted to remind you all again that the Walk-On Role contest ends on Friday, February the 1st. You can find all of the information that you need to enter HERE, and if you’re experiencing any trouble entering (I was told by a friend that the email kept bouncing back) please say something in the comments to this post!

 

-Sean

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Day Twenty-Nine: Slow Country

I don’t have much for you today, readers. Just one of those days where you’re out of the house running errands, and you can’t get much done.

Work has started on the notecards, and I’ve worked out a couple of dozen that cover most of the major plot points and character beats. Hopefully I’ll finish them off tomorrow and end up with a good first sequence. Then I can start rearranging cards and trying out different configurations of plot and pacing over the rest of the week.

It’s kind of weird being without the little brown notebooks all of a sudden. I’d gotten used to pocketing one and taking it everywhere with me. Instead, I’ve started carrying an old Moleskin that I pull out every once in a while to work on a particularly troublesome novella I’ve been trying to piece together for a couple of years now, but working on it seems more like a distraction right now than anything else. The cards are troublesome to carry and spread out at a restaurant, though, so maybe I’ll just start catching up on some reading instead.

More tomorrow.

 

-Sean

Monday, 28 January 2013

Day Twenty-Eight: Form & Function

Let’s talk about plot and structure. There’s kind of an accepted formula when it comes to your classical detective novels: Twelve core chapters grouped into four distinct acts. Each chapter has a sort of assigned set of elements that must be introduced, developed, and resolved at certain points. It’s all fairly elementary and rigid, but it works and I think that—because this is going to be a fairly traditional detective story—I might try to work within the basic framework for simplicity’s sake.

Let’s take a look at it, shall we? I’m going to go ahead and offer up the basic elements of each chapter, and at the end of each act I’ll offer some thoughts that I’m already having about how I’d like to change the formula.

Act One:

Chapter One:

  • Introduce the crime and initial mystery to be solved.
  • Introduce the detective and provide groundwork characterization.
  • Establish a sense of time and space.
  • Initial dramatic event.
  • Introduce sufficient clues to implicate initial suspects and carry the detective through to the end of the first act.

Chapter Two:

  • Put the detective on the path to solving the mystery by introducing plausible suspects (conventional wisdom has one of these initial suspects being the eventual perpetrator).
  • Establish that the mystery is greater than it initially appeared.

Chapter Three:

  • Introduce a subplot personal to the detective to add thematic/emotional depth. The resolution of the plot should hinge on the growth or change of the detective, and its climax usually coincides with that of the central plot. This is primarily a device for regulating pacing.

Pretty basic stuff, here. In film, the first act usually ends with the protagonists reaching a “point of no return,” which would probably represent the deepening of the mystery for me. Despite the fact that I’m planning to spend a couple of chapters getting Dow to the lunar surface—and drawing this act out a bit—I have plans for the incorporation of all of these elements. They’re likely to be juggled around or spaced out a little bit for the sake of keeping a consistent pace through the additional opening chapters.

Act Two:

Chapter Four:

  • Develop the initial set of suspects, building upon the mystery and introducing additional clues as you do so.
  • The disappearance of one or more suspect.
  • Introduce an element that raises the stakes of the situation, building a sense of urgency.

Chapter Five:

  • Expand the investigation, introducing more suspects or turning characters previously trusted into suspects.
  • Using clues and other information, begin to develop a route to a solution—even if none of the characters realize it yet.

Chapter Six:

  • The subplot is developed, exposing more of the detective’s backstory and increasing the reader’s understanding of him.
  • Introduce a personal stake in the situation for the detective.

This will remain largely unchanged, I think. I’ll probably try to build a decently sized action set-piece into this act, though, as a way of incorporating Dow’s larger and more preferred skillset. Again, you can probably expect a couple of additional chapters, but this has more to do with my personal preference for using shorter chapters to break up unrelated scenes than it does anything else.

Act Three:

Chapter Seven:

  • Begin to expose motives and relationships that were previously hidden, lending new relevance to old clues and clarifying some matters while deepening others.

Chapter Eight:

  • The detective reveals the results of his investigation, giving the reader and other characters—and even the detective himself—an opportunity to review the situation and consider the possibilities. The solution should seem hugely unlikely, due to poor conclusions and the misinterpretation of evidence.
  • The detective decides to change his thinking.

Chapter Nine:

  • The detective reviews the case and attempts to find holes in his logic.
  • Reconsidering a seemingly insignificant clue from the first act sheds light on the case, revealing the true motive behind the crime and the sequence of events that led to it.
  • The detective prepares to tie up the situation.

This will likely be one of the harder sections for me, as I find the repetition of writing these review and compare chapters tiresome. I’ll probably try to find a way of changing things up a bit. Also, I’ve got kind of a cool bit in mind for revealing what’s really going on while also providing the antagonists room to act and cover their tracks at the same time.

Act Four:

Chapter Ten:

  • Using the collected clues, the detective now has a solid grasp on The Truth but lacks sufficient proof. He must now proceed with the intention of finding that proof.

Chapter Eleven:

  • The subplot is resolved, allowing the detective to square himself away and be capable of solving the mystery.

Chapter Twelve:

  • The dramatic confrontation between detective and perpetrator leads to the climax of the plot.
  • The service of justice and resolution for all involved parties.

I think that I’m also going to expand this part somewhat, which I’m fine with as these chapter breakdowns are essentially forms constructed to assist with pacing and the completion of elements (we’re basically just going down a line of check-boxes here, which is kind of boring so why not play with it a little?). Besides which; I’ve always enjoyed a slightly more drawn out climax for dramatic purposes, and the political aspects of this story will likely call for a little more time spent on the resolution. I’m also unsure of the resolution of my subplot (which is, for the time being, Dow’s deteriorating marriage and mental state), as the circumstances and distances surrounding both necessitate they be larger issues that continue to be dealt with after the novel ends. For that reason, I’ve also got another, smaller, subplot in mind that I trust I can bring to a successful resolution.

That’s what I’ve got for you tonight, folks. Tomorrow I break out the index cards.

Also, don’t forget to enter the walk-on role contest!

 

-Sean

Week Four In Review

Note-making is over, guys. I’m still not entirely sure how it took me four weeks and one-hundred and ten pages of notes, but the books are filled and I’m ready to go ahead with plotting. It won’t be long now before I’m ready to write.

This week we explored the specifics of things a little more; be they the reason why I go through this project, the feel and relative location of places on the lunar surface, the things that Dow does when he travels, or how much living in space will probably suck. So, kind of a scattershot set of topics.

I also introduced the first contest…offering up a walk-on role in the story and a free copy of the finished novel. The contest runs until February the 1st, which means that you still have time to enter it HERE if you’re so inclined.

Some stats for the week:

Pages of Notes: 15

Posts: 8

We’re also edging towards one-thousand page views, and Blogger tells me that this is my fiftieth post! So, yeah. Exciting?

Week Five is for plotting, guys. So expect something a little different in the coming days, and a somewhat longer post to come later tonight.

Thanks for reading!

 

-Sean

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Day Twenty-Seven: Why Did I Do This?

As of yesterday, you might remember, the note-making process for A Body Up the Well is done. Over the past twenty-six days, quite a bit of what I’ve posted has, hopefully, made sense from a development standpoint; been the kinds of things that you’d assume are done in the planning stages of a book. The rest of it—especially the bits that I admitted that I probably wasn’t going to use at all—well, maybe not so much.

I was asked the other day if I don’t run the risk of overdeveloping my world with all of this stuff. And, you know, that’s a fair question. It’s entirely possible. So why did I write all of this stuff down? Why did I put it into my head and then out into the world? And why would I risk overdoing it when overdoing it might mean the difference between being able to write the book well, or just completely sucking all over the place?

Well, to be honest, it’s kind of my thing. I overdo it. The important thing for me, though, is to overdo it in the right way.

In the case of this novel, I’ve been focusing myself really sharply on the idea of building a concrete and complete setting that I can acquaint myself with. The reason for this—like almost everything so far on this website—goes back to Raymond Chandler. Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe novels are my gold standard for American fiction in a lot of ways. They define a genre and a style, and (and this is the bit that’s important to this article) they are utterly and completely informed by their setting.

The Chandler novels, despite their continued accessibility, are wholly linked to the Los Angeles County of their era. There is no disguising their time or place, and—after a fashion—the city eventually comes to represent a persistent and fully developed character in the series. This is something to be strived for, I think; especially in science fiction where the rub so often comes in some whole in the fabric of the world that the writer has failed to consider and build upon.

So, it is for the sake of building a world that is persistent and complete that I overdevelop. Even if I never use a third of the details and history that I came up with (and with a lot of the technical details, I probably won’t use them), I feel that I’m better off having them available to me than not. Knowing how things work and how they came to be helps me to define and describe in ways that seem organic and natural. If, for example, I know going into writing that the Indian head of state is a household name who just had a messy and public affair, and is on the verge of being removed form office, I have something that’s automatically ready to be dropped into play as a piece of small-talk between characters or serve as something that’s weighing on the mind of a UN Undersecretary. Or, if I have developed the function, use, and market saturation of a particular piece of technology, I can better create descriptions for the reader and avoid scenes that are the equivalent of modern characters telling one-another how to work a cell phone.

Now, from those two examples, a lot of this stuff could pretty obviously be made up on the fly. The reason why I don’t, though, comes back to Chandler again: The man wrote about Los Angeles and his time period so very well because he knew those things going into the writing. Just in the way that a writer producing contemporary fiction should know his time and the town or city where it is set (or a good equivalent if the town or city is fictional). Knowing about all of this stuff—having it available to me—ahead of time let’s me drive forward; writing smoothly and without interruption for further development or consideration. Some things may be added or changed in subsequent drafts, but, for me, the most important thing in a first draft is getting it done.

And overdeveloping just lets me do that better.

 

-Sean

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Day Twenty-Six: Lay of the Land

This is our last day of posts for the “note-taking” stage of development, so I thought I would dedicate it to providing a little more detail on the layout and placement of the novel’s lunar locations. Here’s the whole chart again, this time with my markings:

Moon -Edited

It’s a little small. It illustrates nicely, though, that the bulk of the novel’s action will take place in that upper corner of the Northern Hemisphere, with the exception of the Naval Observatory Dow lands at on the far side. I also have the rough location of the derelict Armstrong Station marked on the Southern Pole because it’s kind of my one, major fictional historic site. Unfortunately, Shackleton Crater’s location isn’t marked on this chart, so the whole thing is very nonspecific and not worth sharing the photo of.

Dark Side Observatory

That circle with a dot in it in the upper left-hand quarter marks the Mare Moscoviense, the large crater where I slotted Deep-Eye A. The Deep-Eye sites (the five dots in the photo) are all part of a large deep space observatory system maintained and staffed by the United States Navy. They represent the only standing military presence on the lunar surface, and are permitted only because the US government provided funding for the project and agreed to keep the sites almost entirely unarmed. A civilian scientist presence operates the telescope arrays, but the fact that Deep-Eye represents a secure and almost exclusively military installation is the reason why the UN agreed to put Dow down there. Deep-Eye A is used as the chosen landing site because it’s the closest to any of the supply depots that the Navy is going to have to drive Dow to.

McMurdo & Station

The supply depot that Dow is sent off to before moving on to McMurdo is the closest to Deep-Eye A, located in the LeMonnier Crater at the very edge of the Mare Serenitatis. The site is unmanned, making it an easy place to slip a man into, and is only about seventy-five miles of easy traveling from McMurdo-Lunar’s location at the Dawes Crater. There are a whole series of supply depots ringing McMurdo across the Serenitatis  and the Mare Tranquillitatis, as represented by the dots in the next photo, but they aren’t really featured at all.

Area of Action

Also important is Cole’s final survey range, which is a block of lunar surface about one hundred miles square. It sits neatly on the Equator, is about three-hundred miles from McMurdo, and prominently features the Ranger 6 impact site from 1964. Try to ignore that red X in the center of it. That probably doesn’t mean anything.

McMurdo & Survey Field

Pretty nice, right?

 

-Sean

Friday, 25 January 2013

Day Twenty-Five: Title Reveal

Been thinking about this one for a while, and, well…

Title Reveal

It’s pretty good, right? I like it. At least for the moment. Might change it down the way. You never know.

But, yeah. We’ve got a title. I wanted something that was somewhat evocative of the old detective novel titles. That sort of colorful, or double-speak-ish, tradition of The Big Sleep, or The Ivory Grin, or The Simple Art of Murder (which, to be fair, is Raymond Chandler’s famous essay on detective novels). I also wanted something that pulled in the science-fictional aspect of the work, hence the reference to going “up” and out of Earth’s gravity well (though, also to be fair, placing Cole’s death on the moon puts it in a completely different gravity well). There’s also that long-standing tradition of murderers dropping bodies down disused wells or mineshafts, and the idea of the body comes back up somewhat implies the truth of the crime coming to light.

So, there’s layers? I guess that’s what I’m getting at. I still like it.

I also filled the last couple of pages of the third notebook today, which brings the note-taking and world-building section of this exercise to a close (actually, I was going to save this post for tomorrow and talk about that material today, but I need to do some stuff with that moon map and take some photos of it for the post, and the light’s no good for that right now). I’m very happy with what I’ve gotten on paper over the past twenty-five days, and—once I’ve done some plotting—think I can turn this into a solid novel.

Notebooks

I am very much excited and ready to keep going here, guys. And I thank you all for your continued readership.

 

-Sean

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Day Twenty-Four: Travel Habits

I think that it’s fair to say we all have unusual travel habits: Strange things that we always pack because they make us feel comfortable. The way that we rummage through a hotel room and arrange our things. Even the way that we feel out our new surroundings. It’s just the way we are as human beings.

So, Dow. Both he and Marisol have jobs that require a certain amount of preparedness. They need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, though for very different reasons, and keep bags more or less ready to go all of the time. Dow’s work bag (and he is just paranoid enough to keep a work bag and a separate, emergency bag) is a waterproof, canvas single-strap backpack, packed down tight with the following (and these things are kind of important for the sake of consistency and having some standing rules for what is or isn’t accessible to the protagonist at a moment’s notice):

  • Two changes of clothes (two tee-shirts [one with a regimental logo, the other from a touring holographic recreation of The Clash in 2037], a pair of cargo pants, two pairs of socks, two pairs of shorts).
  • An insulated rip-cloth jacket (hooded).
  • A recoilless gas-fed handgun with two, thirty-round clips of 2mm. caseless ammunition.
  • A four inch, all-purpose folding knife.
  • Phone cables.
  • Roll-up keyboard.
  • 5,000 Euro.
  • Spare passport and UN identification card.
  • International phrasebook.
  • Pocket first-aid kit.
  • Multi-tool.
  • Lock pick set.
  • A sleeve of latex gloves.
  • Plastic bags.
  • Toiletries.
  • A burner phone.
  • A handful of powerbars and a bottle of water.
  • An old paperback copy of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

Some of this is going to be confiscated by Kinneman on the UN VTOL, of course. The gun and the knife specifically, as McMurdo enjoys a pretty complete weapons ban (UN security forces have a couple of guns for the direst of emergencies but officers are routinely outfitted with shrills; hand-held, unidirectional sonic incapacitators).

*  *  *

And the room…As I mentioned the other day, Dow gets assigned to a VIP suite that’s usually reserved for visiting dignitaries. It’s not overly large, but it is well outfitted (a proper bed, a full electric kitchenette, dining and seating areas, something like a standard terrestrial bathroom, a desk and workspace, motion-activated lights and temperature controls, and a full video communications suite).

Dow’s not likely to make use of most of those amenities, though. He’s a simpler guy than that, but what he will do is take steps to prepare himself once the scope of his situation becomes clear. Motion sensors will be covered over with tape. Furniture will be moved into confusing positions designed to trip up intruders in the dark. All but one of the wall panels that control lights and climate will be disabled. The camera in the comms unit will be pulled loose. The position of everything will be obsessively noted and checked every time he comes or goes from the apartment. And just because Kinneman took his knife, doesn’t mean Dow can’t buy a pack of cheap paring knives colony-side and hide them in various locations.

All of this paranoid spook-show behavior is part of what drove Dow to put himself in that PTSD study in the first place. He thinks he’s going to be able to handle it for a while, telling himself that it’s just going to be for a few days. We can expect for him to have some larger problems, though, especially with being away from Marisol and unable to reliably contact her.

 

-Sean

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Day Twenty-Three: Tensions.

Yesterday we established that McMurdo-Lunar isn’t necessarily the most comfortable place to live, and we already knew that it’s the kind of place that gets filled up with smart, hard people who like to be on their own most of the time. The kind of events that we’re talking about in this book, though, these people coping with the unexplained death of one of their own…Things are likely to get mighty tense up there.

I’ve talked about Mars in the past, too, which got me thinking about tensions going into the body of the novel. I think that everyone at McMurdo is holding their breath in a way. They know that mankind is on its way to the next destination, and that they’re soon to be swept away and left behind. McMurdo and the lunar research bases have been instrumental in the development of techniques and technologies that will make it possible for humans to take the next step, but they’re also destined to become the staging area for that step.

In the coming years, there’s going to be a transition. Production at the orbitals is going to shift to produce long-range shuttles and cargo haulers, research projects are going to be put on hold and teams shuffled back to Earth so that room can be made for new, Mars-centric projects. Big chunks of the stable population are going to go the same way, making space for Mission Control and support teams, and, until then, everyone is going to start vying for a seat on that long trip out to the red planet. Everyone knows that their world, their home, the law, and the focus of the international community are all about to intensify and change.

It’s the kind of thing that makes people twitchy. And now this…

McMurdo is in a UN mandated lockdown when Dow shows up—which is a big part of why he had to get up there in near-secrecy. Bessette and her people followed established protocols as soon as they suspected that Cole was murdered; limiting communications and rover traffic, and grounding all cargo and people lifters under the auspices of scanning and clearing a cloud of debris and micro-meteors that have drifted into space above the colony. No one is getting in our out until an investigation can be completed to the satisfaction of Kinneman and his people on the ground, and that’s just the way it goes when this sort of thing happens.

It’s a simple enough lie, I guess, and a reasonable one. With the risk that space debris has on our current line of stations and spacecraft, it seems fair to assume that a place like McMurdo would have a pretty sophisticated system for mapping any debris that enters local airspace. There are always gaps in an early warning system, though, and—even when it works—you still have to shut things down long enough to deal with the problem. The sort of lie that people will buy every once in a while, and might just work long enough to get done with what you’re covering up. McMurdo is a small community of highly intelligent and observant people, though, and word is going to get around eventually. People aren’t going to like getting trapped in a pressurized can with a thousand potential murderers, especially when a good number are strangers who were down from the orbitals and just had the bad fortune of getting leave on the wrong weekend.

The place is tense, and it’s only going to get worse. And the more I play around with McMurdo and it’s people, the more it seems like a powder-keg waiting to go up. All of this is good and important for dramatic purposes and ratcheting up characters’ paranoia, and I’m starting to think that plotting is going to be pretty fun when I start on it next week. I just have to be careful that I’m not overdoing things.

 

-Sean

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Day Twenty-Two: Travel Itinerary

So, today was a busy day. I’ve finalized how and why Cole is dead, which I’m not going to share because I did kind of say that I wouldn’t post anything that overtly spoiled the book.

Sorry.

If it’s any consolation, I’m very pleased with it?

No? Well, maybe you’ll like this layout of Dow’s overly complicated route to McMurdo:

The UN wants their man looking into things on the down-low, so they put him on the surface in a roundabout way; intending to quietly slip him into the standing security force and proceed from there. There’s enough confusion—and Dow’s discrete enough—for that to work for a little while, but circumstances are going to blow his cover and leave him out in the open eventually. About that route, though…

  1. Car ride from home to a private airfield outside of the city of Huánuco.
  2. Flight on Kinneman’s unmarked UN VTOL from the airfield to Trash City.
  3. The Trash City shuttle up into orbit.
  4. Interception and docking with a US Navy cislunar cargo transport, with Dow changing vessels.
  5. Cargo transport to lunar orbit.
  6. Setting down in the transport at a US Navy deep-space observatory on the far side of the moon.
  7. Escort in a Navy rover across the surface to an uninhabited UN supply depot. Dow sets up inside, and the Navy departs.
  8. A McMurdo maintenance rover—crewed by security personnel—arrives at the supply depot and picks Dow up during a falsified maintenance operation.
  9. Transport back to Dawes Crater and McMurdo.

I think that this is going to pretty well occupy my early, set-up chapters, with Dow being handed off from crew to crew as he forces himself to adjust to being off Earth and also absorb the dossier handed to him by Kinneman. Some momentum to keep up with what could, otherwise, become a very tedious information dump. I also like the idea of Dow being rushed through all of this very quickly, and being somewhat in the dark about what’s actually happened until he arrives at McMurdo and meets Bessette.

 

-Sean

Day Twenty-One: The Moon is a Series of Tubes.

The last time I talked about the McMurdo-Lunar colony in any great detail, it was in regards to layout. Today, I want to talk about it as an environment.

Living in space or on another world (especially one without a good atmosphere) is probably going to be really uncomfortable for a very long time. The lack of gravity, the hostility of the environment, the need for radiation shielding and perpetual exercise to keep our bodies from rotting away, even food and drink and going to the bathroom…It’s a tremendous resource drain on a set of man-made systems that can only do so much when removed from the larger, connective fabric of Earth’s natural systems.

Consider: Most astronaut food is a terrible, freeze-dried horror. Going without gravity causes an inner-ear imbalance that can make you throw up constantly, and that same lack of gravity makes your vomit hang in front of your face in a reeking, terrible blob that looks like something out of a Lovecraft story. Nobody actually likes Tang. If you don’t go to sleep in a well ventilated enough area, you can actually kill yourself by surrounding your head in a cloud of CO2 that just sits there in a still environment where the density of gas no longer matters. The Apollo crews had to poop into plastic bags and store them wherever there was room.

Space is totally horrible…Which is also part of what makes it totally awesome. Mostly, though: Horrible. It also means that this big expensive moon colony that the UN built in my novel is pretty much a lousy place to live.

It’ll be claustrophobic. The air will be stale. It’ll be cold. There will be all artificial lighting pretty much all of the time. Equipment and hazards will be everywhere. Ducts and cables and hoses full of toxic gasses are stapled to the walls. The outside world is barren and dead, and the days and nights last for roughly fourteen days. Dust gets in everything, no matter how hard you try to stop it. And you can only go outside by strapping yourself into a bulky, restrictive suit that is effectively a smaller version of all of those things you might be trying to escape.

Despite all of that, though, I want there to be good things about McMurdo. Spaces that reflect the atmosphere I described in this post about the general population. Things about it that make it a place worth the hardship and discomfort, and that make it seem like more than an awful, super-expensive asylum for antisocial scientists. And I’ve tried very hard to keep that in mind as I determine the way that the colony is arranged and what the space is like.

So, McMurdo is, as I said in the title, a series of tubes. A big mess of primary and secondary corridors leading between the habitation sections and the facilities hubs. They’re pre-fabricated, these tubes; built in lunar orbit and dropped in lengthy sections into pre-dug trenches. And when the trenches are filled in, and the tunnels covered—providing much needed radiation shielding—the only things visible are a series of small divots where the skylights have been placed. Hell, from the rim of the crater, the whole facility would look like little more than a series of isolated domes and power plants connected by strangely patterned ridges of local earth.

There are tiers to McMurdo, in virtually all respects, and they don’t always make sense. The secondary access corridors that allow access to people’s quarters are one of the primary social spaces of the colony and are one of the only spaces that people are allowed to customize and paint and decorate, but they’re low and cramped and somewhat poorly lit. The primary corridors, in comparison. are wonderfully wide, with high enough ceilings and good enough lighting to allow for a certain sense of freedom. They’re reserved exclusively for traffic, though, to be walked on or driven down by one of the cargo or emergency carts, and the white, rubberized plastic that makes up the floor and walls has to remain as clean as possible for inspections or photo-ops. The only real large, soaring space (other than the hydroponics barns) is the central social hub, which has kind of a mall feel to it and features several tightening floors of catwalks under a transparent dome.

The quarters, likewise, are cramped. Most people make do with a space five feet by ten that only has a port-hole in the ceiling a foot in diameter. Couples, administrators, and section heads are in better shape: they get twice as much space, with their own little kitchenettes and a bathroom with walls. Dow’s in better shape, still, getting assigned a suite that’s usually set aside for VIP guests. He’d rather have the five by ten cell, though. It’s easier to secure.

Because of the pre-fab nature of many of the colony’s components, there’s a lot of color uniformity. Most everything is (or starts out) white or crème, or some type of grey. There are a lot of hazard signs around, too, and not the kind that try to be clever. The place is very safe in its design, I think. Ceilings and walls are padded wherever possible (both for safety and insulation purposes), and almost all of the floors have a kind of grippy, skid-resistant feel to them. It’s all supposed to be safe and look like the people back home expect the future to look…Which probably doesn’t ultimately leave much room for aesthetics.

All in all, a kind of depressing place. I look forward to it making Dow miserable, just as everyone else has grown used to it.

 

-Sean

Week Three In Review

This week was kind of a big deal for me. Maybe that wasn’t the case for you, but working out characters is really important to me. Figuring out who they were before the story began, and how that influences their actions, emotions, and interplay…It’s a lot of work, and—no matter how hard I try—I’ve probably only presented, or even written down at all, a third of what went through my head this week. That’s behind me now, though (except for whatever I do with my upcoming contest winner), and I think we’re really in very good shape to move forward.

Some stats:

Pages of Notes: 35

Posts: 8

That’s all we have for Week Three. In the coming days, I’ll be working to fill up some gaps (as well as my final notebook) and make sure that I’m in good shape to start plotting the novel in February. Stay Tuned

 

-Sean

Something’s Gone Wrong

So, normally I get these posts done and set them to auto-load at a certain point in the day. But yesterday I tried to set a whole two posts (the daily post and the Week Three in Review post) for different times, and it looks like my computer just freaked out under the pressure and ran off to hide.

Please expect that missing content—as well as today’s post—when I get home from work tonight.

 

-Sean

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Putting You to Work. On the Moon. -UPDATED-

Edit: It occured to me this morning that maybe not every entrant might want to go to the moon, so I'm adding Trash City as an optional place for the walk-on to occur. There are now alternate questions for numbers 6 & 7 to accommodate this.

So, remember how I was talking about putting my friend Coley into the book somewhere as a kind of wedding gift? Well, I was working on her character yesterday and I got to thinking that writing someone into this novel might work well as a contest prize.


Here’s the idea: You send me the answers to the following series of questions, and I’ll pick one entrant to receive a walk-on role in the novel, as well as one free copy of the finished work in the format of the winner’s choosing (printed or e-book). All entries must be received by 12:00PM Eastern Standard Time, on February the 1st, 2013, and they must be sent to heyinternet_letswrite@outlook.com.


I’m also—and it pains me a little to say this—going to limit any potential international winner to a free e-book copy of the novel. Sadly, I’m just not made of money. Any prize granted will be delivered in a reasonable amount of time following the completion and release of the novel, and winning does not make you eligible for early access to the text in any way.


Okay, with that out of the way…Here are the questions you’ll need to answer. Please be as thorough as you can in your answers:

  1. What is your name, and what do you prefer to be called?
  2. What is your age, and do you mind being aged up to what your age would be in 2047?
  3. Describe yourself to me. Height, weight, and build are good starting points, but do you have any prominent or defining facial features? How do you like to wear your hair?
  4. Where are you from, and do you have an accent?
  5. Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Nothing too personal. Just baseline descriptions of what you do, what you went to school for, whether you’d have a spouse or any other family members who are likely to be on the lunar surface somewhere.
  6. Who do you want to be in 2047? What might you be on the moon to do? Would you prefer to be working for the UN, as a researcher for a nation or university, or maybe for one of the corporations? Basically: What do you bring to McMurdo-Lunar? (Alternately: What do you bring to Trash City?)
  7. Why do you want to go to, or live on, the moon? (Alternately: Why do you want to live and work at the Trash City site?)
  8. You walk into a bar and sit down. What are you likely to order?
Eight questions. It’s as simple as that. Just go ahead and think about those, send your answers to the provided email address by noon on February 1st, and you could get yourself featured in this thing in some small way. Cool? Cool. I’ll be posting a couple of little reminders here and there as we get closer to the closing date.


Good luck!


-Sean

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Day Nineteen: Corpse

There’s not a dead man at the beginning of every detective story, but it certainly doesn’t hurt anything. I’ve written some about Warren Cole, the potential murder victim at the heart of this novel, but this week is dedicated to characters…so here’s a little bit more before I go to bed:

Cole, you might remember, is an American Geologist, working for Dennison-Holt’s McMurdo office as a surveyor. A native of the Virginia Beach area, Cole received his PhD in Geosciences from Virginia Tech and worked for several mining companies; right up until his increasingly obvious gambling problem ended his marriage and sent him packing for the lunar surface. The man never learned how to say no to a hand of cards. Or a game of mahjong. Or a horse race or spin of the roulette wheel. Anything, really, and it got him in enough trouble with some bad enough people that he was advised to seek a better life off-world. His wife, Marie-Jean Kerning got just about everything leftover in the divorce (including full custody of their five year-old son, James) too, so there wasn’t much motivation for him to stay.

He’s a perfectly average man in most respects; height, weight and build. Dirty-blond hair, grey eyes, thick nose, and long, thin fingers. I’ve got some pretty solid ideas about how he ends up dead (we’ll maybe see about that next week), but almost all of them involve prolonged exposure to hard vacuum, and that’s not liable to do his looks any favors…

By the time of his death, Cole has been on the moon for going on two years. He’s not particularly well liked (considered a good scientist, and friendly enough, but he drinks a fair amount and tends to keep to himself) among his coworkers and the general population, but certainly never made any visible enemies. He also replaced one addiction with another, and he’s now (I think I mentioned this once before, too) very much into amateur stargazing…to the point of starting to work on a book specifically about sky-watching from the lunar surface.

So, I guess that’s pretty much all I can share about Cole at this point. Maybe none of this is particularly earth-shattering, but I also feel like that’s good in a way. By not making Cole anyone remarkable, I feel like I’m much more free in the range of things that he can be tied up in. If it was a murder, did he see something he shouldn’t’ have? Did he sleep with the wrong woman? Cheat the wrong man at the card table (we’ve also seen that there’s some illegal gambling that crops up at McMurdo from time to time)? At this point, it could be anything—simple or convoluted, big or small.

It’s kind of comforting, having that range in front of me to do with what I like.

*  *  *

As a side note, I’m now fourteen pages into the third and final of the notebooks that I bought for this project. Since I used the first ten for another purpose, this gives me sixteen pages to work with next week…which is probably fine, because in Week Four I’ll be filling in some gaps in the setting and character list, and setting myself up for some (hopefully) smooth sailing when I plot this thing out in Week Five.

 

-Sean

Friday, 18 January 2013

Day Eighteen: In the Background

Just a short one for you guys tonight, because today was a busy day and I didn’t get as much done as I’d like:

Nobody ever gives background players a whole lot of thought, it seems. Well, I mean, production designers and casting people, obviously…but what about most readers? What about most writers?

A lot of the time, the crowd scene is just a means to an end. An opportunity to have a hero or villain slip away into a mass of tourists, or to have a gunshot cause a stampede. And that seems like kind of a sucky thing to do, because—while those kinds of scenes have their place—it’s incredible when you stop and consider how many people you come into contact with on a given day. How many complete strangers. And it’s remarkable just how much the mode of behavior and dress of these anonymous crowds can inform your situation, your mood, and your perceptions of your surroundings.

It is for this reason that I like to have a pretty firm understanding of who makes up the background populations of my books. Nothing significant, mind you, but enough information to put together a good understanding of what kind of person is around to bump into and how their fellows might react. Or an idea of what kinds of shops and restaurants might be nearby. Basically; just enough framework that I can fill in the gaps several times across several scenes and still have things feel proper and consistent.

So, McMurdo-Lunar. What’s that like? Well, it’s a major international endeavor, so the best way to describe it is probably as “diverse.” A ton of different people from all different races, backgrounds, ages (25 is my set bottom end on how old you have to be to live and work in orbit), genders, and orientations. A highly diverse group of human beings, each of them occupied with highly specific tasks (except anyone on shore leave for the weekend) and professions, all living there at McMurdo or coming and going from the orbitals and the outer lunar stations.

It should make for kind of a carnival or bazaar atmosphere in the social spaces. People dressed in a riot of colors and patterns (even though most people stick with various styles of jumpsuit and coverall), even though some facilities or departmental teams lock their staff into a specific uniform. It also gives me a huge variety of options as food, drink, and entertainment go. A very well cultivated “global” environment that looks good on film, but also makes for a genuinely nice place to live.

 

-Sean

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Day Seventeen: The Snitch

Now that I’ve really worked on him as a character, it feels kind of wrong to call the guy who goes by “Smith” a snitch. There’s not really a better name for him than the role that he plays in the narrative, though, and we’ll probably see him crop up a couple of times to Goldblum at Dow and Bessette.

Smith (and I’ve decided that I don’t really want to know his actual name, which is kind of weird for me) is a savant-like Environmental Systems Engineer working for one of the major orbital-supply corporations (knowing which company would also give Dow a way of finding out his real name, and I’m not saying that Dow will know if I do…but sometimes you don’t want to know more than your characters do, because it’s nice for there to be some mysteries in play), who was granted permanent residence at McMurdo-Lunar in exchange for servicing the company’s systems and components.

With the help of his live-in boyfriend, Kenneth, Smith has managed to tap into most of McMurdo’s major monitoring systems, recording as much data from the equipment as possible and saving hard-copies. He spends most of his day reviewing the stored data with an obsessive, documentarian’s eye, and uses findings and emergent patterns to create improvements and preemptive fixes for his company’s products. This is technically an illegal seizure of UN data, but Bessette lets it slide because the man’s conscience prevents him from doing anything unseemly with it, and he has a long history of alerting her to anything illegal that he picks up on from observing patterns in the feed.

Dude’s tall—about 6’2” in low-grav—and broad and well built. He’s smart and observant enough that he needs something else to do while he’s reviewing his feeds, so he spends a lot of time on the treadmill or working out. Native Dubliner, red hair, brown eyes. Lots of tattoos (I’m thinking technical stuff: big, complicated swirls of binary code wrapping up and down his arms, and circuit-board patterns done in luminescent inks). Very much enjoys his work and his life, but doesn’t recognize how obsessive he actually is. Probably doesn’t leave his apartment that much.

So, this is the guy who our detectives are going to go to when they hit a wall and they need someone to look at the colony and the case with…well…unconventional eyes. He’s not really a snitch in the traditional sense, though, or at least I hope he isn’t. As I was considering the character, I realized that there’s not a whole lot of room for that sort of person in this world. There would naturally be a criminal element in McMurdo—if only because it’s full of human beings—but in a place that small and isolated and focused, it’d be primarily contraband smuggling and gambling, and maybe even a little light prostitution. There’s not really room for anything bigger, because in an imperfect, unnatural system like that everyone pretty much has a full-time job already, and—because the system’s continued existence relies on them all doing their jobs—everyone is going to more or less be the very best at what they do. I can’t have the traditional, full-time rat, so I had to adapt some.

I can only hope that it works on the page.

 

-Sean

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Day Sixteen: A Healthy Workplace Environment

Let’s talk about Warren Cole’s coworkers at Dennison-Holt for a little bit. Neither of these guys fit too neatly into any archetypes that I can think of at the moment (though both are potential suspects), so I’m just going to dispense with that today and get down to it.

*  *  *

Charlie Adlard:

Nobody has been on the moon longer than Charlie Adlard. Originally a NASA engineer, Adlard came up on the initial construction of Armstrong Station and was eventually assigned as the station’s long-term commander not long after it went live. He left NASA after an explosion at Armstrong killed six and led to the station’s closure, and—rather than return to Earth—moved on to the newly founded McMurdo-Lunar to work as a civilian contractor. Once established, he did several years of advising and engineering work for the UN and the corporations when they started moving up-well.

Adlard enjoys a reputation as a lunar pioneer—a modern-day space hero—despite the accident that occurred under his watch, and this was a major contributing factor in Dennison-Holt’s decision to hire him as their program coordinator and PR man at McMurdo. His reputation with the UN is fine, and both the McMurdo staff and the scientists who pass through the colony still love him, but the corporations hate him like crazy. Dow’s not so sure about him—the man’s got station and clout and it’s made him cagey and more than a little arrogant—but he’s got respect for the man and can relate to some of what he went through in his career.

The man’s of relatively average height and build, and has kept himself in good shape despite being in his mid-sixties and his long-term exposure to lunar gravity. His hair and beard have gone white, and he’s lost a lot of his hair in a fairly dignified way. Great, bright blue eyes and good teeth. All in all, a great fit for the job that Dennison-Holt hired him to do. People love him. His staff loves him. Like most people who make their way up the well, though, he’s got some antisocial tendencies—he’s just better at hiding them than most, and he keeps the fact that he’s got issues with most everyone pretty well under wraps.

Adlard has good potential as a suspect, especially in the initial stages of the investigation. The well regarded public figure with the guts and wits and—yes, possibly—capacity to commit a murder and execute an intricate cover up…Well, that’s a bit of a time honored thing. It’s all about what you do with the character though, and, while I’m a bit intrigued by Adlard and any potential motive for murder that he may have hidden within him, that’s something that probably won’t be explored further until I start seriously plotting the novel. Which makes him the first character I’ve discussed so far who might not make it to the page.

Akako Bogdanov:

Warren Cole’s Dennison-Holt assigned research assistant is Akako Mikhailovna Bodanov*, a PhD candidate in Extraterrestrial Geology from the Ural State Academy of Mining & Geology. She’s in her mid twenties—easily the youngest character in the novel by a decade—and comes from wealthy Russian and Japanese stock (father is Russian, mother was Japanese) and was raised spending time in both countries. Akako also spent time in the US as a girl—accounting for her excellent English and her ability to fit in more easily with the primarily Western McMurdo population.

Akako believes fiercely in the Dennison-Holt mission and plans to bring that philosophy of conservation with her when (she hopes, and is likely to be disappointed) she is chosen as mission crew for the impending Martian Colonial Initiative. She very clearly idolizes Charlie Adlard, but didn’t get on very well with Warren Cole on a professional level; finding him to be a mediocre scientist with a complete inability to leave his personal issues and interests at home. She’s not much of a people person, and her sense of entitlement makes her somewhat impatient with those around her.

Ms. Bogdanov initially took the D-H for the prestige, rather than something more practical for Mars (like digging on Earth in a similar geological area), because she hoped to use the extra personal time and low-grav experience to design some new piece of testing equipment and gain some notice with the colonization panel. She lacks the engineering background for that, though, and was becoming increasingly frustrated with her position in the weeks leading up to Cole’s death. Now that she handles all of the dead man’s surveys in his absence (which is a big deal for an ambitious intern) she seems to have balanced out a little bit again, psychologically, and seems to hope that the title of Interim Surveyor will get her the attention she feels that she deserves. Maybe a little simplistic as far as motive is concerned, but most people don’t kill one another for complex reasons.

Akako is young and very pretty, and has a lot more life in front of her than she’s otherwise willing to acknowledge. Trim, tall, dark haired, and fine featured. Being raised by wealthy, heavily social parents, she learned at an early age how to turn emotions and the pretense of emotions on and off at will. It should be a little hard sometimes to tell whether she’s expressing her own views in a conversation or merely shutting down and allowing herself to reflect the views of those around her. Could very easily become a femme-fatale type, if the need ever arose.

 

-Sean

*Akako’s name as presented here is actually kind of a nice example of why secondary research (to me, anything that you look into for reasons beyond the development and execution of the primary plot and character arcs) is important when you’re writing a book. In films, television, and books we often see the sort of “typical” three-named Russian. A lot of people, I think, just hear it and assume that it doesn’t mean anything, though, which isn’t true. A lot of Slavic nations still employ that middle name (here: Mikhailovna) as a patronym: a portion of the name designed to pay tribute to, or at least acknowledge the existence of, the person’s father.

In this case, Mikhailovna shows us that Akako’s father is named Mikhail, and the suffix –ovna serves to identify the word as a patronym and Akako as Mikhail’s daughter (as opposed to his son, who’s patronym would have the suffix –ovich, in the case of a given name that crosses genders). It’s the kind of little touch that can be easily overlooked, but might also make the work pop and come alive in a more realistic way for the right reader…and, for that reason, secondary research is the search for as many of those little details as possible. Just to make as many readers as possible feel catered to and included in some way.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Day Fifteen: The Second Detective & The Client

I’m looking at building characters this week, and looking at them through the lens of traditional detective novel characters. Today, we’ve got two characters who are important to the investigation of Warren Cole’s death in very different ways.

The Second Detective:

I’ve noticed over the years—and this is especially true of the novels of Raymond Chandler—that there are often two detectives in the average detective novel. The protagonist is, of course, one of these, but the other is usually a secondary or peripheral character working on the same case in a different capacity. A police detective or ADA, another PI, a meddling spouse, a house-dick working for a law firm or hotel or other establishment…Regardless of their background, these characters often exist to pop up at convenient—or, depending on the novel, inconvenient moments—to antagonize, momentarily assist, or otherwise trade banter with the protagonist detective.

These characters don’t always have a whole lot of screen time, or even a lot to do over the course of the novel (though Jonathan Lethem rather brilliantly gave one his own novel with 1999’s Motherless Brooklyn). Most of them are ultimately working on the wrong side in some way or the other, and a lot of them get shot up and die unceremoniously. It’s a character type that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, and one that I want to play with a bit in this novel. Which is where Sydney Bessette comes in.

Bessette is the UN’s Chief of Security for McMurdo-Lunar, and Dow’s primary contact in the colony. Born and raised in Montreal (which gives me an opportunity to use the sacres, and that’s always a plus) she had a decade in the SPVM (Service de police de la Ville de Montréal) before moving into UN Facilities Security and eventually working up to her current position.

A highly capable and confident woman, Bessette manages her staff well and is proud of their work. Because of that, she’s not overly pleased to have Dow in her playground, but she collects a UN paycheck and is willing to accept that they have deemed it necessary for the lead investigator on the case to have anonymity and distance from the lunar population. Her staff are a good team, but none of them have really worked a murder before and function mostly as a public relations group…and she’s willing enough to admit that she’s running an oversized drunk tank/lost and found. She’ll help Dow as much as she can, which—coupled with his necessary anonymity and distance—give me an excuse to partner her with him for much of the book and put a character into play who maybe has more investigative training.

Sydney is taller than Dow (though most are). Let’s call it 5’10” on Earth and an even six feet in low gravity. Slender, blonde, green-eyed, and a little long in the face. Wears her hair a little more on the long side, despite the potential for annoyance in lower gravity. She’s in her early forties to accommodate the length and development of her career to this point, and she enjoys a good relationship with her staff and most of the colony’s inhabitants. She might even have a couple of confidential informants who help her out from time to time with gambling rings and contraband smugglers. She’s ultimately a little too close to the population to bring herself to ask hard questions on the investigation, though.

She and Dow need one another on this thing, and that’s something that I think is going to be important to capture early on…even if they take a little time to start trusting and respecting each other. I think that she’ll be good for that in this current form.

The Client:

The Client in a detective novel is something of a force to be reckoned with, usually. Someone who can whip the detective into action whether he’s ready to move or not. Someone who can incite a little fear or panic or lust or awe. Someone whose presence can be felt throughout the narrative, even with often-minimal screen time.

The client is pretty obvious in this case, of course: The UN. How do you present that, though? We’ve established that Dow got his initial gig through an old army buddy, but it seems unlikely that Dow would report to that man, or even necessarily the same person twice(I suppose he primarily works with whoever is coming into the region and needs his assistance). In this case, though, I think someone a little more anonymous might be appropriate. Someone whose entire job it is to deal with this sort of situation both in orbit (because, of course there have been other suspected murders and other guys who have been dragged out of their lives to look into them) and in any terrestrial UN facilities. The guy who oversees the chosen investigators and maybe, just maybe, decides how to spin the results or if the whole thing just ought to be covered up.

So, we’ve got James Kinneman—Mr. Kinneman—who’s our semi-anonymous slick creep in a suit. We don’t spend much time with him (and most of it will be over cislunar comms given that he stays on Earth), but I do think he needs to make something of an initial impact. Give him a little sense of menace. An implication that there’s something larger going on behind all of this for him. I’m not entirely sure what his deal is going to be yet, as I think, with a character with this little physical presence, that there’s plenty of room to work on it and improvise some as writing progresses…So we’ll see how that goes.

Physically, Kinneman’s not much to look at. American, early middle age, dark skin and hair and starting to go grey. A very tidy and compact man, walking around in a suit that seems oddly off-the-rack for someone who has a private VTOL and can swing a seat on a space-shuttle on short notice. Sort of unassuming. Builds quietly to bigger things. The seminal CIA man, basically.

That is, in itself, something of a cliché, but I don’t know. I think it works in this particular context. The guy’s kind of a fixer for the UN, but in the absence of his own physical skills he handles his assignments as a manager rather than as a direct participant. He’s an archetype, but a little bit of a subversion in that he’s not some sort of stuffed shirt who ends up being a surprise ass-kicker. More of a strong-willed taskmaster.

I sort of like that. It feels like the kind of thing that could work well in small doses, which is all that the client really has to do at it’s core level.

 

-Sean

Monday, 14 January 2013

Day Fourteen: Detective & Distraction

I’ve always thought it was on the debatable side that the detective is the most important character in a detective novel. I mean, it is called a detective novel…but I kind of like to consider the genre to be more of an ensemble where characters are concerned. Most everyone who you’re liable to meet in one of these stories is important in some way—be it in narrative or emotional terms—and it isn’t always the case, but sometimes those characters pair off nicely. They’re intertwined through a relationship or plot thread.

Kind of like the two I worked on today.

The Detective:

When I started working on Emory Dow, he was some sort of ex-special forces badass living out in the jungle like a half-mad survivalist. And that—let us be honest here—is intensely played out. It’s boring. It’s cliché. So he’s gotten a bit of a revamp.

There’s something of a tradition of military service when it comes to these kinds of stories, though. The classical American detective novel is largely a post-World War II genre, and, as they were primarily contemporary stories, that lent a certain necessity to incorporating heroes and side characters who had recently been pilots and sailors and infantry-men. So, because of that, I did still want to maintain Dow as a military man…I just decided to make him something a little more standard issue. Which is how he came to serve for more than a decade with the British Army, as a Corporal in the 2nd Rifles. It’s also how he came by a pair of nasty tours doing peace-keeping and cleanup in 2034’s Uruguayan Civil War, and the psychological problems that crushed his first marriage and earned him an eventual medical discharge. Which is how he ended up signing himself into a two year study of battlefield stress disorders at a psychological institute in Bristol, and how he ended up meeting the second Mrs. Dow.

None of which explains how he came to be back in South America, mind, but Peru is a long way from Uruguay and given how much time he’d just spent around psychiatrists there might have been a bit of a “facing your fears” thing at work. The important part is that it’s a life trajectory that is simple, straight-forward, and believable—and one that can be developed and explored in a variety of ways via a variety of circumstances. It also puts Dow more cleanly in keeping with Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op character than it does with Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. Someone who has the training and experience to get to the bottom things, but is ultimately better equipped to be a force of nature than the fast-talking gumshoe. Dow is fairly moral and earnest in his own way, I think. He isn’t a naturally quick or sarcastic man, and he probably first entered military service because it was what his father did (I have an idea that the senior Dow was a Royal Green Jacket; a uniform which was folded into the 2nd Rifles several years ago during a restructuring of the British Army) for his entire working life, and stayed on mostly because he was good at it.

All of which gets me pretty well set to write Dow as a character. It informs who he is as a character and how he’s likely to react to things and people, but that’s only a part of the thing. Physical traits and verbal tics? That’s most of the rest of it.

Another bit of tradition when it comes to detective characters is that they’re usually average looking dudes—Sam Spade, the hero of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, is even physically described as somewhat heavily built and thuggish. It’s a big part of the cleverer-than-usual everyman kind of persona that accompanies so many of these characters, and, because of the nature of Dow and this project, that’s kind of the way that I’ve gone. Dow’s short, is what I’m getting at. Five foot seven and thickly built and hatchet-faced. Thirty-eight years old, born and raised at Clacton-by-Sea in Essex. Black hair running to grey and heavily receding, nose has been broken a couple of times and not very well set green eyes. Has some scars and burns. Probably a couple of tattoos. Thick fingers. Smokes when nervous or agitated, which is more often than not…given his somewhat tenuous psychological state. Expressive eyebrows. Doesn’t much like to be away from home anymore. Takes a daily run.

I could go on. Easily, I could go on. I’ve thrown out some details here that aren’t even in my written notes. The further I take that list, though, the further I get from the remaining bit of character design: Improvisation. It’s easy to get caught up in planning every detail of a character’s life and physical presence, because every writer wants to create a good, well-rounded character, but it does no good to deny the somewhat organic and improvisational nature of writing a novel. I have to leave room in Dow’s notes for him to wriggle and grow. It’s enough for me to know right now that he’s a good man who can only—like most people—be pushed so far, because if I know exactly where his breaking point is going in then I can’t be surprised when he reaches it. And if I’m not surprised by that development, then it’s harder for me to write the people around him as surprised and it’s a fair bet that you won’t be surprised either, when you read it.

So, combine that with what remains of my notes on him from Week One (his technical skills and firearms proficiency, the fact that he’s in over his head here, that he’s fighting a losing battle with his second wife) and we’ve pretty much got Dow in a nut-shell. Not exactly the guy who you want to trap in a tin can and say, “We think this man was murdered, so figure it out, “ to. Especially when he can’t go outside and have a cigarette. It’s good, though, because he’s on his way to being a person. He’s imperfect. He’s going to screw up and miss things and not realize other things until it’s too late. And that’s what I want out of a fictional detective, so I’m absolutely okay with that.

The Distraction:

In a lot of these novels (and, again, this isn’t universal but I’m pulling all of the stops out here) there’s something, some low-level narrative aspect, that’s unrelated to the mystery or crime at hand but keeps the detective on his toes none-the-less. I like to call this person or thing the Distraction, and it can really be just about anything that you want: financial difficulty, a kid on the way, a woman who gets under the guy’s skin. Some everyday bit of life that keeps cropping up throughout the story to keep the protagonist off his game. In The Maltese Falcon this is Iva, the wife of hero Sam Spade’s dead partner Miles Archer, and the willful, manipulative woman Spade was fooling around with at the time of Archer’s death.

For this novel the role goes to Marisol Dow, our detective’s second wife. A trained psychiatrist and medical administrator (they first met while she was working as the coordinator for the doctors carrying out the study Dow took part in, and she agreed to start dating him shortly after he left the facility), Marisol works on retainer for humanitarian aid and disaster relief groups and regularly travels to disaster sites to run teams of counselors. She’s actually on her way out of town when Dow gets the call for Cole’s death, and it’s this mutual traveling and time apart—plus what she views as an ever-increasing dependency on his part—that’s slowly trashing their marriage. They were never an amazing couple, but he feels like he needs her because she was there when he was putting his life back together and she knows how to deal with him when he has a post-traumatic episode, and she’s just starting to feel a little trapped and used. Both love one-another, but they’re also both terrible at expressing themselves. She’s probably only a month or three away from telling him that she’s leaving.

Marisol is a pretty far stretch from Dow’s first wife (Brenna, a moderately successful Scottish painter who just couldn’t ever stand or adapt to being an army wife). Spanish, and born and raised in Barcelona. A few years younger than Dow, and several inches shorter at five foot two. Black hair, drown eyes, thin lips, well built. She’s taken nicely to having the downtime that she does, and working in the field, and she sports a pretty good tan.

We don’t get to spend much time with Marisol in the novel, but her growing distance and his seeming inability to make himself address it is something that weighs on Dow throughout. He’s not quite on the verge of getting broken up over it, but there are doubts and some low-grade depression…and the communications lag between Earth and the moon, plus the fact that he’s on the moon and she’s out at the site of a Venezuelan fuel refinery explosion the entire time, doesn’t do anything to help that problem go away.

Ultimately, and I know that this probably sounds a little horrible, she doesn’t so much exist to be a character as she does to be the specter of looming heartbreak. It’s still important for me to have established things about her as a character, though, and to understand why their marriage is failing from both sides. I’m glad that I took the time.

 

-Sean

Week Two In Review

Week Two. A little surprised I’ve made it this far, to be honest. Week two is where I usually flake out and abandon ship any time I promise someone that I’m going to get back into Twitter, or start updating my usual blog more often…so I’m glad that I seem to be sticking to this better. It lends me some comfort that I might get this whole thing done.

Did a lot of world-building this week. Or maybe just future-building. Established a good feel for the events that shape the novel’s present, and made some good strides toward developing the locations of the novel. I also got better about presenting my notes in a more undiluted (if not heavily cleaned up) form, but immediately took it too far and dropped all pretense of talking about the development and meaning of those ideas. As I wrote yesterday; this week I’m going to try and strike more of a middle ground.

So, developing characters in Week Three. Building most of the supporting players from the ground up, and adding flavor to Dow and Cole. We’re moving along pretty neatly through the development stages, and with a couple more weeks of research and notes and talking to people, I think I’ll be in good shape to start writing in early February. Which I am definitely excited about, and not at all dreading how boring it could be for you readers…

Also, there might just be a contest coming next week. And I’m not at all dreading putting it on and not getting any entries, either. Oh, crippling self-doubt, you make everything fun and special!

Some stats for the week:

Posts: 10

Pages of Notes: 35

Page Views: 770

This is going in good directions. Let’s keep it up, shall we? Just you and me, readers?

 

-Sean

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Day Thirteen: On Reinventing

Or, rather, reconsidering.

I’ve been re-reading some of my posts today, wondering over whether or not I’m doing what I set out to do with this site. In the last week, I’ve been putting down a tremendous amount of notes and posted quite a bit of it here…but I’m afraid that much of it has just been context-free info dumping. There hasn’t been much exploration of the process, much examination (though last night actually came out pretty nicely in that regard, I thought), no matter my intentions. And, in addition to that not being particularly helpful for those of you who are in this to learn about the noveling process, that’s just downright crummy writing.

And with that in mind, I’m going to try and do things a little differently next week. I’m planning to work on characters next week, and that gives me a little bit of an interesting opportunity. See, I’m kind of a traditionalist when it comes to the kind of detective novel that I’m forming this story around. The characters, in particular, tend to fit themselves into certain slots and tropes (though these are, mind, not necessarily universal) and I think the work that I’ll be doing with developing my own characters will be a nice chance for me to examine those traditional roles and where my folks may or may not fit into them.

So, yeah, we’ve got that to look forward to, I suppose. And maybe a couple of little odds and ends that fell through the cracks over the last few days.

That’s week two, readers. Thanks for still being here!

 

-Sean

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Day Twelve: A Place By the Water

Let’s talk about Trash City…which is an idea I came up with for this setting early on, and one that I didn’t really plan on turning into a place that the novel visited. Things change, though, and world creation is organic which is a big part of why I go through this process that I’ve been showing off over the past couple of weeks. Sometimes you just kind of come up with something that you only ever intended to use as a background detail, and sometimes that thing starts to sing to you and slots itself into the framework of the narrative in a way that you didn’t expect. And that’s what happened with Trash City.

You might remember Trash City from the timeline earlier this week. It’s the Google funded effort to clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch, and it’s gotten a little bit more development over the past couple of days. At it’s most basic, it’s a double ring of ships. The outer ring functions as a kind of atoll—aging, retrofitted freighters connected by deep dredge nets designed to keep the interior of the ring as clear of debris as possible—and the inner ring is made up of both solar panel barges and, well, we’ll get there.

So, these outer ships are big old freighters or tankers that—with the exception of one unit—have been gutted and heavily retrofitted for trash sorting, processing, and light manufacturing. They’ve also all been fitted with starboard-side (that’s the right side, for those not of a nautical bent) trash aggregators and scoop armatures. They pick up and drain large amounts of waste before dropping them onto the deck for sorting. Biological waste is dumped back in on the interior side of the ring to sink, certain recyclables are set aside for return to the mainland and reclamation, others are processed on-site, and anything else is heavily compacted. The remaining outer unit is a pair of ships that have been joined together and repurposed into a field—featuring a landing strip, several helipads, and a launch tower.

Reclaimed materials, which are mostly light-weight metals and ceramics, are rendered down and repurposed into storage cylinders which are filled with the compacted trash and sealed before being moved to the double-hull launch site. Once in place, the canisters (which have got nose cones on them, obviously) are fitted with collapsible, reusable hydrogen-electric launch packs and shot into orbit where they engage in automated braking maneuvers..forming a line of waiting cans.

Once a month, the launch rig sends up a small, manned shuttle, which goes from can to can, collecting the launch packs into its cargo bay and firing the cans  at the sun with a low-powered onboard magnetic accelerator. The shuttle then returns to Trash City, gliding into the landing strip with the assistance of drag-chutes.

The whole thing is—as I’ve said—bankrolled by Google, who are essentially funding a collective of environmental non-profits that decided to get serious and pool their resources. In exchange for this funding, (which is supplemented by World Wildlife Fund-esque donations and “adoptions”) Google uses the site for publicity and company retreats, and one, other thing—which brings us to the second, inner ring of ships and solar barges. The barges provide a significant amount of power to the whole enterprise, and the inner ships house large wireless server rooms that support and extend Google’s longstanding “free internet” initiative.

Now, at this point, you might just be wondering how this place fits into the story of a sad, broken-down detective looking into a possible murder on the moon? Well, firstly, it plays into this running theme of isolated places that I’m building—Dow’s home, the orbitals, the lunar surface, and now Trash City—and the staffing of the novel with the sort of fringe-ish people that tend to inhabit these places. Secondly, Trash City is a good, relatively close launch-site to where the UN is pulling Dow from in Peru, and I just happen to like it for the place that’s got the next scheduled launch—my thought being that to prevent a panic, the UN is going to try to sneak Dow up to the lunar surface and he and the shuttle will be meeting a cislunar transport in orbit.

It’s kind of a good example of how these kinds of things evolve, actually. Does that make sense?

 

-Sean

Friday, 11 January 2013

Day Eleven: The Dead Man’s Workplace

I worked on some smaller aspects of the world today: focusing on organizations and locations that play into the narrative, but that we don’t necessarily spend a whole lot of time with. One of them is our dead man, Kerensky’s, employer…the Dennison-Holt Lunar Preservation Commission, which I have mentioned before. I’ve also changed the dead man’s name from Miles Kerensky to Warren Cole, mostly because there are starting to be a few too many Slavic and Slavic-sounding names in this thing.

So, Dennison-Holt. A non-profit organization, bankrolled by private investors and organized by a collective of conservationists, astronauts, and ex-space agency staffers. The group was originally put together to evaluate, acquire, and preserve select lunar sites (manned & unmanned landing sites, scenic points, disused habitats, etc.). Dennison-Holt was also selected by the UN to handle surveying when it was ruled that all corporate petitions and lobbying for site acquisition required comprehensive mineral, structural, and historical surveys—which explains the existence of Cole and the other surveyor teams.

The corporations, eager to grab up all of the corporate real-estate that they can, often attempt to circumnavigate the survey process on emergency claims, stating that site exploitation should begin immediately on the grounds of “company and public security, and ease of access to natural materials deemed vital to the continuation of human industry.” Which is melodramatic crap, obviously, but it doesn’t stop them from using it…or from contesting virtually all of Dennison-Holt’s claims for natural or historic preservation. As such, the organization spends a lot of time fighting the corpos in UN hearings concerning the validity of their results.

As a non-profit, they don’t have the sheer lobbying power to pressure the UN into amending the laws concerning lunar exploitation, but they hold public opinion and still manage to get most of their sites confirmed and established as internationally recognized public park-land. All of Dennison-Holt’s data becomes a matter of public record as soon as it is submitted to the UN, though, and all of that material reaches the corporate orbitals well before it hits Earth and gets read. Preliminary results that indicate a D-H find on a major site that the corporations would be just a little too afraid of losing is plenty of motive to murder someone like Cole and stop him following up on his data or appearing at a hearing.

 

-Sean

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Day Ten: McMurdo Hub

I put the word “Hub” in my lunar McMurdo’s name the other day, and that has come to inform the way that I’ve laid the station out. Situated within the neat circle of the Dawes Crater, I started with a  large central facility that would serves as kind of a command and social center for lunar activity. Someplace nice and normal and city-like that would allow the UN and the space agencies to show how fine life off-world can be for current and future generations. A series of spokes stretch out from there, spreading across the heart of the crater, providing space for housing and the larger utility centers.

Dawes is just over eleven miles in diameter, and, with a maximum population of somewhere between 1500 and 2000, McMurdo doesn’t need all of that space yet. Think of it as room to grow, and imagine something a little less crabbed when you take a look at this rough diagram that I drew up.

McMurdo

Okay, so, normally I would have scanned this, but my scanner’s not exactly working right now. What we’ve got instead is this kind of terrible photograph, but I think you can still get the gist of it. Let me run down the components for you:

We’ll start at 1, which is the central hub facility addressed above. It’s mostly a social center with restaurants and bars, a movie theater and a small park. The medical center is also located in this area, along with the public offices of several administrators. The ring of smaller, numbered facilities around the hub are sort of back-bone departments, housing Admin ( 2 ), Engineering ( 3 ) and it’s connected rover maintenance bay ( also 3 ), Waste Reclamation (4 ), Water Handling ( 5 ), Atmosphere Handling ( 6 ), and Security ( 7 ).

Around these facilities are the primary access corridors, highlighted in red. Each of the six is named for a major space pioneer (only one or two of whom are likely to be fictional), and they lead first to the housing sectors ( A ). The southernmost, Gagarin, is several miles in length and leads out past the southern rim of the crater. Instead of housing, it features a massive, partly pressurized storage area ( E ), and eventually leads out to Port Control ( F ) and the colony’s landing fields ( G ). The northernmost corridor, Tereshkova, leads out past its housing complex to the primary communications center ( D ), which oversees and services all communications made on the lunar network, and handles routing and packet transfer for most surface contact with the orbitals and Earth. At the ends of the southeast and southwest corridors (Leonov and Armstrong respectively) are a series of massive hydroponics banks ( B ) which provide fresh foodstuffs, as well as atmosphere reclamation centers. Finally, at the ends of the northeastern and northwestern corridors (which I don’t have names for yet) we have the power centers ( C ), which maintain a number of small fusion reactors as well as a pair of elaborate solar arrays.

For as impressive as McMurdo would appear to an outsider, it’s also an extremely delicate place. Most of it is under several feet of dirt for the sake of radiation shielding, and while there are windows and skylights all over the place, they’re extremely thick and don’t provide much of a view or let in any real light. There’s dust getting in from the surface everywhere and ventilation has to run constantly to prevent toxic pockets from building up (need to talk to someone to see how big of a problem this would be in lunar gravity), so there are few places that are actually clean or quiet. There’s the constant risk of some astral projectile hitting the place and venting atmosphere, and the landing fields are miles away to prevent human beings causing much the same problem accidentally. Plus, there’s no such thing as a closed system with our current level of technology. McMurdo can collect as much energy as possible, recycle as much water, grow as much food…but eventually a machine is going to break or they’re going to run out of something, and Earth is going to have to bail them out. It’s a dangerous enough place, even without a murderer possibly running around.

I like this layout, actually. It’s got some fairly traditional elements to it, but I like the fact that the whole thing is also kind of a publicity stunt that could go wrong at any moment. It feels right, and it gives the lunar surface an air of instability that I think will lend itself well to driving the characters forward in their investigations.

 

-Sean

Day Ten: Maps Aren’t Just For Fantasy Novels

Look what I found:

Moon - Whole

That’s pretty nice, right? It’s not exactly what I was looking for, but I think it will be more than good enough for my needs. It’s laminated, so I can draw all over it today, lists all of the major geological features, and features all Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunik landing sites (though the Apollo sites are strangely absent).

There’s also a slightly surreal feeling to it…At least for me. The image quality is great, but the colors are slightly off, like they did some correction to add definition and then dialed the contrast way up. It makes the craters look as carved and as ancient as they really are. Like each one is miles deep. The whole thing feels sort of huge and mythic. It may not be the best image of the moon that I’ve ever seen, but I think it’s among my favorites.

I’ll be back with more tonight, but I wanted to leave you with a close-up of the junction between the Mare Serenitatis and the Mare Tranquillitatis, which is where I’ve chosen to place the McMurdo hub. Right there around the Dawes and Plinius craters.

Moon - Close

Also, special thanks in this case to the staff of The Learning Center here in town, for obliging me as I asked a ton of questions and for selling me the print off of their wall when it turned out to be different from the one they had in stock. I’m very sorry to hear the you folks are going out of business.

 

-Sean