A few days ago I finished the first draft of what will be my tenth novel. I took a few hours off and the next morning began work on the story edits of what will be book number nine. Next week I’m going to be reviewing the galleys for book number eight. This is a dream come true; it’s what I’ve spent the last twenty-five years practicing for; to be an author with a steady stream of books being published and people finding enjoyment reading them.
The challenge for me is that all of this writing takes place not in the fictional world where authors retreat to the woods, or to a sea side resort in the Bahamas’ to pen their masterpiece, but amid the chaos and distracts of everyday life.
This morning I was working through the edits on The Glacier Gallows; this will be the fourth book in the Cole Blackwater series. The story edit process is a tough one. I have an amazing editor who knows my work well and helps me craft and hone each story. I write the book, but she keeps me from getting bogged down, repeating myself, or from making some egregious procedural mistakes with my crime fiction.
The Glacier Gallows has been a pretty easy edit so far. I have to re-write a few sections, but for the most part things are moving along well. That said, it does require concentration, and when I’m deep into the story, it’s sometimes hard to extricate myself to deal with the world around me.
So it was this morning. The boys needed supervision and there were logistics to be sorted out and all I really wanted to do was stay absorbed in what I was doing. Returning to the real world from the fictional one didn’t go well. I wasn’t at my best.
But that’s the way it’s got to be. I don’t have the luxury of being able to disappear four or five times a year to pen first drafts and do story edits. And I wouldn’t want to miss my real world for anything. Every morning is a blessing; to wake to find I have a healthy, beautiful family, a full-time job making the world a better place, and the ability to venture out into the surrounding mountains to ride, run or ski. Sure, these things require me to parse out my time transfixed by the imaginary world of my characters, my essays, and my photography, but they are what fuels my creativity, and I couldn’t have one without the other.
The bomb blasts that rocked the City of Boston and its annual marathon were not only an assault on the 24,000 people running the race, and the hundreds of thousands of spectators who cheered them on, but on the human spirit as well.
Anybody who has ever participated in such a race knows that the finish line holds almost magical significance in the heart and soul of a runner. I’ve never run a marathon, but I’ve run shorter races, some of which were very hard, and the finish line is a place of both exhaustion and exuberance, and can signify a triumph over both physical pain and the mental barriers that have been repeating, over and over in the runners mind: “Just give up.”
When you cross the finish line – even if you crawl, on hands and knees – you are telling those voices that you are stronger than they are; that you can persevere. In every race I’ve ever run I always return to the finish line after I’ve crossed it and cheer on the few remaining racers who are still on the course after I’ve completed it. These are personal victories over bad knees, gasping lungs, stitched ribs, thirst, hunger, fatigue, and the pantheon of condemning internal voices that every runner rebels against.
The bomb blasts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon were a direct assault on the human spirit that triumphs over all of these obstacles.
Our challenge now is to rise even higher; to lift our hearts and voices above the madness of a few people who care so little for life, for love, for the story of each and every living soul who has struggled and overcome 42.2 kilometers of elation and adversity, and a life time of hindrances both great and small. Fear is the enemy of love and of life. The new finish line that must be crossed is the one that carriers us over the demarcation between fear and hope; between fear and love. In this race too we must quell the voices of doubt and trust in the indomitable nature of our spirit to see us through difficult times.
Sometimes you just can’t stop. Sometimes, despite knowing that slowing down, stopping, regrouping, is the best way to handle a plot challenge, or the slow-as-molasses in January feeling you get while working on a first draft, you just keep going.
That’s what I’m doing with Black Sun Descending. It’s been, by far, the most lethargic first draft I’ve penned as a writer. I’ve been at it for six weeks and I’m just 43,000 words in. Normally I take a month and I’m done. The words just pour out like sewage from a ruptured municipal pipe, all raw and fowl but at least on the page, and ready for the second draft treatment.
Not Black Sun Descending.
Part of it is I’ve been on the road a great deal with my full-time, paid work; part of it is I haven’t outlined this novel as well as I should have. Maybe part of it is I’m distracted by so many other book ideas that Black Sun literally has to compete for neural pathways to get to my fingertips and out onto the computer screen.
I did take a few hours the other morning to stop my manic effort to bulldoze the book into existence and sort out a few plot challenges. Who are all these people, I asked myself? Who are the suspects, the supporting characters, and what are their motivations? Normally I work all of this out ahead of time, but for some reason I just threw myself into this project with considerably less of an outline than I’m accustomed too.
Four years ago I wrote the synopsis for this three-book series, with Black Sun Descending being the second book of the trio. Sitting on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon I mapped the whole Red Rock Canyon Mystery series, and when I returned from that trip, wrote a six-page précis of the novels. That’s what I’m working off of now. Usually I’ll have twenty or thirty pages of a hand written story-board. Now I’ve got two pages of typed material and it’s proving to be insufficient.
Why? Because writing a first draft is no time to stop and wonder what the hell is going to happen next, or who is this character and why do they keep insisting on showing up in my manuscript.
I got some of that sorted out the other day, but I’m still flying a little blind. And I suspect there is a canyon wall somewhere there in the fog.
I’ll get through it. If you scroll back through some of the posts in the Deconstructing Draft One section of this blog, you’ll see, as I do, that its always the same. Middle of the book: slow down, complain, question, moan, and keep going. Its the only way to get these things done. Plow through. No matter what.