Friday, 31 May 2013

Ready to Rock. I Think.

I’m gonna keep this real short tonight, because I’ve got places to go and be and all of that stuff.

Basically, I’ve finished my outline for the new version of the novel. Some of it feels a little dodgy right now, but the bits that do are the kind of thing that mostly clean themselves up with the detail and extra development that a full scene—rather than a synopsis—can provide.

I am, both willingly and with some trepidation, ready to start writing again on Monday.

From the beginning. And hopefully with a minimum of nicking bits off of the previous incarnations.

Yeah. This is happening.

 

-Sean

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The New Dow

The new Emory Dow is a lot like the old Emory Dow (you can read about the old Dow here), only not really. This guy has gotten a pretty major overhaul. Hopefully, one that will make him a lot easier for me to write consistently and with a clear voice.

Physically, he's pretty much the same. Kind of an average-looking little guy with dark, receding hair, cold grey eyes, and a nose that's been broken one time too often. He's built like a brawler—thick fingered and broad shouldered—but isn't much of one. He smokes when he's agitated and he probably drinks a little too much, but he also tires to take pretty good care of himself. Works (slowly and not very well) with his hands. Runs in the morning. That kind of thing.

But, whereas the old Dow was an Essex Boy and a veteran of the Royal Army's actions in South Africa and Uruguay, new Dow is an American. A Los Angeles cop who made the homicide desk for a few years before being head-hunted by the UN Police Services. He only lasted a couple of years with UNPol, though, before the stresses of policing Montevideo in the aftermath of the Uruguayan civil war caused the behavioral problems that got him booted from the service.* But, by then, Dow had accrued enough friends—and shown enough of a knack for security assignments—that Sebastian Spence was able to land him a gig as a UN Specialist Contractor.

Dow lives outside of Santa Fe, now, not in the Peruvian mountains, but the house and living conditions are about the same in a "low-profile" kind of way. Marisol is still his second wife (the first left him as he was getting ready to go into UNPol), and she still does the same job that she used to...But they met differently and their relationship is a lot better now.

Psychologically, Dow is a lot cleaner now. The encroaching PTSD issues are gone, though he still has unresolved issues with what he saw in Uruguay. He's a little weirder and snarkier this time, too. A life-long lover of obscure facts and knowing a little bit about everything. He can get awfully dogged about things, too. Obsessive when there isn't someone around to reign him in the right way. That determination is going to cause some friction later on when the situation at the lunar colony gets more and more dire.

In essence, he's a character who I can get behind a little easier. In a way, I think it's sad that I've abandoned a version of him who was more of a reach for me—more of an excuse to stretch my creative muscles—but, for the sake of writing a book that makes sense and has a protagonist who feels cohesive, this really needs to be done.

I think that I can live with that.

Oh, and I think that I can also live with writing an American named Emory Dow. At least until a name that seems better comes along and I have to spend a couple of hours doing a Find/Replace.

See you folks on Friday.

 

-Sean

* This detail hasn't made it to the blog before, so I'll explain: The UN Police Services is based on the very real UN Police Division, which basically goes into areas in need and augments/expands the standing civilian police force. In the novel, one of UNPol's primary functions is to provide an internationally sourced police force that can be dropped wholesale into an developing or recovering nation that requests their presence—either because there is a lack of a standing police force in the region, or because widespread police corruption has been deemed too detrimental to the civilian population's wellbeing. UNPol then maintains a fixed presence in the area until they are able to help the local government develop and institute a suitable, replacement police force.

UNPol also provides police services for large UN installations that have persistent civilian populations. Such as the lunar colony. The character of Sydney Bessette, as well as all of her people, are standing UNPol representatives on the lunar surface, and—before landing the Lunar Station Chief posting—Sydney's story is much the same as Dow's.

Little Things

If you look around the site, you might notice that I did a little bit of maintenance to it last night. Just a few little updates to the FAQ and the wording of the other header tabs. A brand new tab that gives kind of an early cover blurb for the book. That sort of thing.

I’ve also gone ahead and started updating the twitter feed again. And there’s a new, active facebook page for this project (and for myself as an author).

Back later with actual content.

 

-Sean

Monday, 27 May 2013

Plotlines

Okay, so, I'm going to need a few more days on this outline as I shuffle all of the parts together...But here's what I can share for now:

I'm basically breaking the novel into three, intercut segments. The first will be the story that you know. The old A-story with Dow investigating Cole's death at the lunar surface and coming up with all sorts of the usual detective story set-backs at every turn. That one's kind of a given at this point, and I'm expecting it to take up about half of the length of the book.

The B-story (we'll call these other bits the B and C-stories for the sake of clarity, even if I think they're equally important) will be about Dow's UN buddy Sebastian Spence doing some international leg-work on Earth at Dow's behalf. He'll come into contact with Kinneman a few times, butting up against the impending cover-up and some other dirty stuff going down at the fringes of the UN. It's a lot of stuff that I would have Dow dealing with himself if distance and accessibility weren't an issue, so—rather than cut it outright—I'll give it to another character who I can potentially chop down the line without too much altering the A-story.

The C-Story will cover Sydney Bessette—the chief of UN-Pol forces at the lunar colony—and her people clashing with corporate influences (here represented by a string of lawyers influencing the colony's administrators) that want the lockdown and comms blackout lifted. At the same time, they'll be dealing with rising civilian tensions as fights begin to break out in the close quarters of the colony, and helping Dow with certain aspects of his investigation. Busy bees, to the last man and woman.

These other two story-lines will make up the other half of the book—hopefully sharing a similar amount of page space. As I have things plotted out now, I'm favoring the Sydney story with more detail and beats. But that's also the story that has been with me the longest. They may even out.

Okay. That's all I've got for today. I'll keep going with outlining the book and will hopefully have it ready to go back to writing by the end of the week. On Wednesday, you can probably expect a more detailed look at the updated Dow.

 

-Sean

Friday, 24 May 2013

Upon Consideration

I've been giving some more thought to fixing this novel—taking into consideration some of my characters and the things that I talked about on Wednesday—and I feel like I've come up with a couple of solutions that I want to try out.

I'm going to start by slimming down the A-story (Dow's investigation of Cole's death) by taking some of those outlying influences and breaking them off into their own things with their own primary characters. Basically, the issue of the potential UN cover-up and the communications blackout will be handed off to a friend of Dow's in the UN who had a scene in the novel's very first incarnation and was immediately cut. This should give me sufficient maneuvering room on Earth without requiring anything from Dow other than a couple of check-ins. Plus, I like the idea of getting some more mileage out of Seb and James Kinneman.

Up-well, the rising lunar tensions will be handled by Sydney and her people in a series of scenes where they've split off from Dow. This is going to be the biggest change for me, because it limits the partnership between Dow and Sydney to a large extent. Ultimately, that's going to mean a little less spotlight competition between those characters—which is fine by me, since I think Sydney works better in the scenes where she's in control—but it also means that I'm going to have to rebuild Dow so that he has the necessary skills to carry out a murder investigation on his own.

Changing Dow will be a challenge, if only on account of how much work it means discarding. I think it needs to happen, though. His voice has always been deeply inconsistent for me, veering wildly from straight-laced military man territory into a sort of manic, sarcastic pettiness. It's hard to get a grip on, though I blame myself for getting attached to a character and trying to force him into a setting and story that he was incompatible with. I think that I'll be re-writing him into more of a traditional detective—maybe as someone who spent time with UN-Pol and can integrate more easily with Sydney's people. Marisol might end up on the chopping block as well—or at least her story—and Dow might end up as an American. That ought to be enough to get me working with him again...Though I suppose "Emory Dow" isn't the most American name in the world...

I'll figure it out.

Beyond that, I'm going to work on opening up the lunar colony and making it a little more colorful. A little less stuffy. A little more frontier, but not so much so that it seems unreasonable for there to have never been a murder before. There's going to be more of a corporate presence as I slacken up the UN control over the colony, which should make it easier for Dow to get at some of the suspects that I have lined up. And, finally, some of the earlier, more personal suspects will probably end up trimmed away. There's no real way for some of the guys I had gunning for Cole to have access to the lunar surface, so it seems best to just cut them for simplicity's sake.

That's all for tonight. I'm going to start working on a new outline now, I think. Figure out if these fixes are good enough get me to where I can take another stab at writing. I'm also going to be working on a couple of much-needed site updates.

See you folks on Monday.

 

-Sean

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Basics

I want to talk about basics today. Really pare back things to their core and see if I can't remind myself what this book about. This might be helpful, I think, because this thing really started to get away from me when I began piling elements on to the work in progress.

This book, you might remember, is currently called A Body Up the Well, and I say "currently" because, while I like the title (it is long, and awkward, and overly-but-poorly poetic and, thus, exactly the kind of title that I love to give things), I'm pretty sure that it's actually no good, and...

And I'm getting away from myself.

At it's very heart, ABUW can be broken down into three elements that, together, form the A-story:

  1. A murder has been committed and covered up on the lunar surface.
  2. A UN Security Consultant is ferried up-well to investigate the crime.
  3. The crime is solved, despite adversity and possible repercussions.

There. That's it. I just told you—without effort or misgiving—the plot of this novel. I'm done. There are no misspellings or significant grammatical errors. I can publish this bitch and go to bed.

But, alas! No! Because, much as in all things, details matter. Details are where the story stops being a three-sentence summary and start being an actual story. Obviously, I've got the summary down, so maybe my problem with this book is coming from some of those details. Some of the padding that keeps getting piled on as I continually consider new avenues that remove me from my story. Let's take a look at some of them:

  1. Global Politics: There's a lot going on with the death of Warren Cole. He's the first man murdered outside of Earth's atmosphere, so obviously there's going to be a lot, lot, lot of scrutiny and publicity levered at the lunar colony and the UN. Enough so that the UN might just want the whole thing to go away without anyone knowing about it, or paying for it. The communications blackout between Earth and Luna at the beginning of the book, and the quarantine of the colony, is ostensibly there to keep people from finding out about Cole's death before it is deemed a homicide—but it could just as easily be the first step in bottling the whole thing up.
  2. Local Politics: I've had a lot of concern about this one since the beginning. The comms blackout and quarantine makes too much sense to let it slide, but it's also highly problematic because of the pressure that it puts on the lunar population. I've considered growing tensions coming to a head with a riot in the main dome, but that seems overdone. There's also Security Chief Bessette and her people on-site, and the conflict between the investigation/secrecy and their closeness with the local population.
  3. The Corporations: I haven't played much with corporate influence in the parts of the novel that I've written. At least not beyond the potential link between one or more corporate entity and Cole's death. I'm a sucker corporate-heavy settings, though, and for monolithic, morally suspect sci-fi mega-corps, so I might reconsider their level of involvement and the degree to which they are present at the colony.
  4. Dow's Past: Dow is fairly archetypal, but also somewhat complicated. His existing personal relationships, military background, possible PTSD, and general misanthropy are all very compelling for me. I've had a tremendous amount of trouble finding a consistent voice for him, and I'm wondering if maybe he shouldn't just be simplified some.
  5. The Setting: I pride myself on my research, and my ability to know when to let good research go by the wayside when it serves the story. That said, I'm not sure that I'm doing a very good job with that second part here. This is a much nearer future than I'm used to writing, and that unnerves me a bit because I feel a greater obligation to get it right. So as much as I love some of what I've done so far, I think I might want to let drop in the interest of simple clarity and fun. I'm not talking about throwing away physics, but maybe I shouldn't be so concerned with the scatter patterns of loose paper in sudden atmospheric decompression.
  6. The Suspect Pool: This is the general list of people who might have killed Cole and need to be investigated in some capacity. It keeps growing as the writing continues, because I keep coming up with more people who would have a reason to kill the unlikable bastard. It really needs to be trimmed back.

So, I think that's a good enough list to start with. These are the primary things that are going to be informing the story of the novel, growing on their own and then bouncing into the plot at various times to keep it going in proper and interesting directions.

It may seem curious that I've thrown a list like this together, but I've been giving it some thought for the last couple of days and—if I'm going to fix and finish this novel—this seems like a good place. Each of these presents its own set of complications to the writing process that I hadn't considered at the start of writing, so I'm going to spend the next little while trying to come up with ways to get them all lined up and working in concert.

Until then, I'm open to suggestions.

 

-Sean

Monday, 20 May 2013

On Returning

You get attached to this thing—this wonderful thing—that you're trying to create, and you chug along with it. You work on it. You work at it. At making it good and right and presentable and, better than presentable, just as good as you see it in your head at the day of conception.

And sometimes it's easy. Yeah. Easy. Writing sounds like it should be hard—feels like it should be hard—but then there are the days where it isn't and the words just flow out of you like a fucking hurricane. It's better than easy. It's effortless. You're done before you even knew that you had really begun.

I thought that this book would be like that. I thought about this thing and I felt a hitch in my heart and knew, just knew, that it was love. The book wouldn't let me down, and I definitely wouldn't let the book down.

Stupid old me.

I fell in love and I dug into this thing's guts (because all great love stories involve one half of the couple playing joyfully in the other's viscera) and, guys, it was bewildering. The more I wrote, the more I realized that I knew nothing about what I was writing. My protagonist—who had seemed so clear and archetypal in my head—refused to behave or even present a consistent voice. A simple murder mystery became increasingly labyrinthine and politically charged. My world seemed kind of bland and half-baked. And on top of it all, everything about the work started interfering with the rest of my life in unhappy ways.

So I kind of freaked out. I just...I just got scared, guys. I had let the story down, and then I let myself down, and then I ran roughshod on all of you and started letting you down. And before I even knew that I was looking for an out, I had this job opening come along (which I absolutely didn't get, by the way) and, well, when you start letting someone down you tend to keep letting them down. So instead of coming back and rethinking my novel, I went on the run and wrote a short story, invented a board game, and replayed the Mass Effect series from beginning to end.

Anything to keep away from this. Anything to keep on letting us all down (even if I am proud of the short story and the board game thing).

So, this probably seems like goodbye. Maybe, for some of you, it will be. I didn't come here today to say that I'm done, though. I came to say that I'm just getting started. This isn’t an ending, it’s a climax. It’s the moment in an Ennio Morricone score where someone whistles and plays a diddley-bow for a few seconds before the horn section kicks into mad, desperate overdrive. This is the first post of a new Hey, Internet! One where I figure out this stupid book and write it, and make it as good as the image of it that I still clutch to in my head.

There will be some changes, of course. Posting seven days a week was exciting for a while, but ultimately too much when combined with the actual novel writing and my everyday personal/professional life. We'll be on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule for the foreseeable future, with an option for additional post at my (admittedly ridiculous) whim. There's also going to be some site maintenance coming along, and, oh...I haven't quite figured out how to fix the book yet, so we might well be back in Planning mode for a week or two.

I'll keep you updated. On Wednesday.

Because we do that now.

 

-Sean