Hot Steaming Mess

Welcome back and whew, let me tell you. This week has been a practice in dreams meeting reality. Let me get the personal out of the way first: the weather has sucked, our cat may be sick, work is absolutely ball-bustingly busy, and the culture shock of moving halfway across the country has set in. That’s not even getting into the bug that’s been going around the office, which laid me low at the end of last week and ensured that I didn’t get back into In the Pines until Monday. What I’m saying is that your trusted narrator is currently a Hot Mess, but I am striving for better. Trying to get better at my job and at my writing. It’s an ongoing process.

Speaking of writing, let’s talk about it, shall we? Last week I stated an intention to kick off proper drafting of In the Pines on December 1st and I think I can still meet the spirit of that goal, but a review of the first seven chapters reveals at least two that will need a further outlining pass. The good news is that the other chapters are in really good shape and I think further outlining would be pointless – I need to drill down into the details of the scenes and really let them live and breathe to get to the next step. I’m already seriously loving the two main characters. There are echoes of Corridors of the Dead in this book, to be certain, but I think it’s different enough to be thematic.

Anyway, let me elaborate at boring length about how I envision the process going. There will be one more outlining pass, which will be the fifth draft of the outline, but in this version I will take the “narrative-ready” chapters and start breaking down descriptions of scenes into actual narration and dialogue. For example, going from something like this:

The “camera” pans to her mother, hopefully surprising the reader. Now we set the scene: smells, sights. A tidy table, everything in its right place. Her mother drinks coffee and reads from an iPad, but frowns and looks up. Of course she’s not okay, she says, her daughter got attacked the night before.

To something like this (and again, keep in mind that this is a first draft and will be further refined because yuck):

Though Morgan’s mother sat on the opposite side of their tiny dining room table, in their tiny breakfast nook, she seemed to be a million miles away. Morgan’s words died somewhere in the middle of the neatly-arranged wasteland of artificial sweetener packets, honey bears, and napkins.

After a long moment, Morgan spoke again. “I asked if you’re okay.”

“I heard you,” Wendy said, but her eyes seemed unable to leave her iPad. What would she be reading? Work emails? The Wall Street Journal? Family Circle?

“Then can you answer me? Kind of rude to just sit there…”

Wendy sighed and lowered her coffee cup. At last she lowered her reading glasses and stared across the table at her daughter. Morgan would normally welcome this gaze, but now she couldn’t help seeing her own eyes staring back at her.

“Of course I’m not okay,” Wendy said. “My daughter got attacked last night.”

So you can see how nuance develops; though it’s not mentioned in the outline or in her character description, we learn that Morgan’s mother, Wendy, is cold, prim, and proper, but also has a Martha Stewart side. This will play into a subplot that comes up later.

I can do this kind of elaboration for each of the “narrative-ready” chapters while simultaneously working the chapters that still need outline massaging. I don’t know what to call this phase of the process, exactly. It’s a hybrid approach, for sure, but I think it will help me keep the overall plot in mind while I work on those straggling chapters.

My goal at the moment, however, is to finish plot outline Version 4.0 and then take another week off to work on the third act of the Elkmont story treatment because that bad boy will go in a drawer until the first draft of Pines is finished. Still to be determined on how long that first draft might take.

So, roughly, my current take on the process is to keep switching off between stories; Elkmont story treatment followed by first draft of Pines followed by Elkmont outline version 1. At some indeterminate point I’ll start workshopping the next novel in this merry-go-round, as it’s already starting to take some shape in the basement of my subconscious. Going to be quite the ride to see how this all plays out.

Of course, wouldn’t be a blog entry without the photos. Not as much to go on this week because of illness and general Hot Mess status, but here’s what I have.

This is Broemmelsiek Park in St. Charles County. As you can see, the fall colors were quite choice. This is very late in the year to see this kind of color for an East Coaster.

We were drawn to Broemmelsiek Park for its astronomy center. Really need to go star-gazing there one night.

A moment that felt tailor-made for a shot.

The park has several ponds. This one was probably my favorite.

After our journey we went to the Fireside Bar and Grill in New Melle. They didn’t have a ton of gluten-free options, but I can heartily recommend the bacon-cheese dip. Just make sure you have someone to share it.

We also happened to find the home of the Addams family in New Melle. Talk about a highlight! Hope you have a great weekend and week.

Recharging the Batteries with a Trip to the Dark Side

Everybody, you ready for another week? Ready to paint that smile on your face and press forward valiantly  I’m not sure that I am, but as usual lots of coffee and writing should get me through in a semblance of sanity. Let us pray that it works.

Now, I typically don’t talk too much about my weekend, or even day-to-day, activities on this blog. It’s hard to cite any one reason for my reticence. I guess I just don’t feel that many of those activities relate to the goals of this site, save for my writing and writing-related activities, and I mean, what am I going to do, update you on my daily word count? Nah. I don’t roll like that. I do enjoy telling you good folks about the development of my works, but even that can get tedious after awhile.

But hey, I’m lucky this week, and very happy to share something of my weekend with you folks. You see, this past weekend the wife and I attended first the Cox Farms Fall Festival, and then something called the Fields of Fear. Given the connection to horror and to the sorts of things that inspire my writing, I felt there was some relevance to offer to you, the reader. And if it’s not relevant, at least you can enjoy the pretty pictures.

So let’s be clear on one thing: I love Autumn. Seriously. My love of the season dates way back to at least age nine or ten. Back then I loved creeping around the deserted streets of my small hometown, watching the place settle down as the sun first set and then night fell. I thrilled to the sound of the wind through the skeletal branches that towered over me. I loved the aching feeling that I got in my bones when I saw nice warm lights in houses. It was desolation, but a nice sort of desolation.

It’s become very important for me to celebrate the arrival of Autumn and Halloween; every year I try to find some way to mark the passage of time, as my thoughts increasingly turn to my own mortality and the idea that I have one less Autumn remaining in my lifetime. Sure, that sounds morbid, but it reminds me of just how important it is to relish these things and celebrate them. It helps me to understand the root of the Halloween celebration.

This trip has become one of our shared traditions, and we both relish it. Thus, I feel fortunate to share some of it with you.

Let’s start by talking about the Fall Festival. This is, essentially, the more family-friendly, child-friendly version of Fields of Fear. We’re talking farm animals, lots of talk about what goes on down on the farm, hayrides, and…well, I’ll let some of the pictures talk for themselves.

The trip had an inauspicious start, as I first forgot to dig out the directions and then compounded the problem by not accepting the wife’s offer to print directions (male pride, hoooo). The real coup de grace on my dignity, however, happened when the GPS on both of our phones crapped out. So there we are in the sticks of Virginia, trying to find this place and knowing that they would stop allowing new visitors through the gates in the next 20 minutes. Moods were not exactly high, but I managed to stumble upon the right path, and we arrived with minutes to spare.

Hey, this guy was happy to see us.

We both really enjoy the day-time version of the festival – it’s “soft”, yes, but it has an enjoyably cheesy quality to it. And I mean, hell, who doesn’t want to see fluffy ducks and baby pigs? I don’t want to meet the person that doesn’t enjoy that sort of thing.

And I mean that.

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