Snow Days, Deadlines, and Editing Madness

Last week, it snowed.  A lot.  Winter finally decided to really make an appearance.  Which is awesome.  I love the snow and we certainly need the water.  But, all that snow isn’t great for getting any editing and writing done.

Schools were closed for four days, and the smallish bi-pedal beings (and the one that is now taller than me!) were stuck at home.  And I can’t seem to get much work done when I don’t have the space to myself.

We survived being home bound and school went back to normal this week.  In order to get my head back in the game, I committed to another deadline.  It’s still got some holes, but I’ll be sending The Compass Code, draft three, to a couple of beta readers this weekend.   Which is exciting, but extremely nerve-wracking too.

In order to get the draft ready to share, I’ve been editing like mad.  I’ve also given a lot of time to learning different techniques for self-editing and improving my craft.  Much to my surprise, this has been a lot of fun.  Maybe after all these years with this project, I’ve just gone mad.

If so, it’s worth it.  I think.

Anyway, in my quest to polish my writing, I stumbled across a couple really helpful podcasts I want to share.  They are The Book Editor Show and The Writership Podcast.  If you’re looking for some great tips on editing your own work, check them out.

And so, back to the editing madness I go.

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Happy Hal-idays!

It looks like I’ll have a white Christmas tomorrow as snow fell hard today, covering the dirt piles, rebar, and concrete blankets in our construction-zone yard.  It hasn’t felt like Christmas here yet as we haven’t had a tree up until today and very few decorations out.  This December has been even busier than usual, but the snow brought with it a peace and calm, and finally, finally, I feel ready for tomorrow.  But, once again, I didn’t plan ahead to prepare any sort of holiday post full of cheer and goodwill.  Of course, I don’t usually write much cheer and goodwill, that doesn’t quite fit the genre.

War, torture, assassinations, arms trafficking, organized crime, child abuse:  these are the dark, difficult subjects I usually write about.  I write about them because it gives voice to the anger they fuel in me.  But spending so much time steeped in research and writing about such things requires that I also nurture a healthy sense of humor for the sake of my sanity.

My favorite writing buddies, my sisters, help me out with that a lot.  Awhile back, we got started laughing over a name.  I asked them to help me name a character in my novel who is an actor playing a detective in a hot new prime time cop show, and one of the first suggestions was Hal.  Which really made me laugh.  It also resulted in a series of back-and-forth messages between me and my sisters, heckling each other and cracking puns using the name Hal.  In the end, the challenge was made to name a character Hal in each of our works in progress.  (Yes, there is now a Hal in The Compass Code, but I doubt every reader will find him.)

This challenge resulted in me writing a silly scene that has no place in my novel, but does involve some of my characters.  I call it The Hal Scene.  I don’t generally find it useful to utilize writing exercises or prompts to write scenes that will never be part of my novel or it’s immense back story.  I’ve always found that to be a frustrating endeavor.  It feels like wasted time to me.  I want to write what I’m going to use.  But, once in a while, I’ll get an inspiration, and I just have to “waste” the time it takes to put the words down on the page.  The Hal scene is one such moment.

Since it’s Christmas, and because I’m well into a third draft of The Compass Code (with chapters!), and because I’ve never shared any of my fictional work outside of a small group of people and I have to get over the fear, I’ve decided to share The Hal Scene with my readers.  Just for fun.

I have to warn though, this scene does not reflect the tone of The Compass Code at all.  I didn’t write this scene with any intention of ever plugging it into the novel.  I wrote it to make myself and my sisters laugh.  So, dear readers of this post, please don’t expect so much humor from my novel, because the novel really is about war, assassinations, torture, etc.

It’s said that laughter is the best medicine, and I believe it.  So, I hope this silly scene brings some smiles and laughs to my readers this holiday season.  May the Christmas holiday and the New Year bring you much laughter, joy and peace.

So, without further ado…

(Except, please note, this post contains adult language.)

The Hal Scene

              Seth Miller burst into the barracks whooping and yelling, startling everyone awake.  It was so early it was still dark outside and several of the men threw pillows at him as he danced a jig between the bunks.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, man?  You wasted?”  Turner growled.

“It’s a boy!” Seth yelled.  “I knew it.  It’s a boy!”

With that, none of them could resist his unbridled joy and he ran around the room giving high fives and fist bumps while they all congratulated him.  Bulldog jumped from his bunk and grabbed Seth into a bear hug.

“That’s great, man,” he said as he released Seth.  “You guys are so blessed.”

Jack offered his fist, and Seth cracked his own against it.  Turner rolled out of his bunk grudgingly, and put an arm around Seth’s shoulders while clapping him on the back.

“Way to go, Daddy-o.”

Since they would have to be up shortly anyway, they got dressed and ready for their morning run.  When the men found Lt Davies and Sgt Rodriguez, Seth shared his news again.  His excitement energized the team as they took off running.

“You guys name him yet?” Bulldog asked.

“We haven’t talked about names yet.”

“What?  Man, you gotta think about this now.  This is a huge responsibility, dude.  This kid’s gotta live his entire life with whatever you pick!”

“Shit, man, this is too much responsibility for Lite-beer here,” Turner said.  “We better come up with something to help him out.”

“Name him Tyler,” Lt Davies called out.  “It’s a good, strong name.”

“No way.  If you’re gonna name him after the L-tee, name him Davy,” Rodriguez suggested.  “Now that’s a good strong name, like Davy Crockett.”

“Nah, name him Phil,” Turner said.

“Dude, are you kidding me?”  Rodriguez shot back.  “Juan.  Now that’s a name.”

“Call him Jaime,” Jack said.  “Jaime will love it.”

The suggestions kept coming as they finished their run in the growing morning light.  When they hit the range, they didn’t stop, each trying to out-do the others as they took turns pulling the trigger.

“How ’bout Clint?” Turner asked as he squeezed his trigger.

“Edward.”

“Robert.”

“Lance.”

Down the line it went until it was Bulldog’s turn to take aim.  Everyone waited with anticipation as he had yet to suggest a single name.  He savored the moment, taking a couple deep breaths before easing the trigger back.  The bullet pinged against the target and Bulldog turned to the group with a triumphant smile.

“Hal,” he said.

“What?” they all cried.

“What the Hal kind of name is that, man?”

“Oh, Hal no!”

“What?  It’s a great name,” Bulldog protested in a serious tone.  “It’s short for Harold, man.  Means power, a leader, a ruler.  Dude, come on!”

They were all silent for a moment, staring at Bulldog with surprise at his earnest expression, before bursting with peals of laughter.

“You need Hal-p, man.”

“It was my Grandpa’s name.  He was one tough dude.”

“No doubt.  With a name like that, he’d have to be.”

“Yeah, y’all are real funny,” Bulldog grumbled.

“Hal-arious,” Jack said, a sly grin on his face, before pulling the trigger.

*******

Happy Hal-idays!

Wait…What Chapters?

I’ve read many, many books.  All sorts of books.  Nonfiction, text books, novels from a huge variety of genres…and almost all of those books had one thing in common.  Chapters.  As I am finally approaching The End for The Compass Code, the idea of chapters is weighing heavily on my mind, because my novel doesn’t currently have any.

[chap-ter]

noun

  1. a main division of a book, treatise, or the like, usually bearing a number or a title.

Another November has come and gone.  I avoided NanoWrimo again this year, but I didn’t avoid writing.  My kids and I made a wager that if I didn’t finish a second draft of The Compass Code, they would get to choose the dinner menu for a week.  Think ice cream and bad pizza for seven days straight.  Gross.  So, I was motivated.

I made a list of over 30 missing scenes.  I wrote the last missing scene from the list on November 30th.  It took just over 36 minutes to print the 540 pages of a PDF of my second draft.  It took six years and the threat of a week of ice cream and bad pizza for dinner for me to finally figure out how to finish a novel.  Now, I have to figure out how to make it look like a novel—with chapters.

I like making lists.  I like making timelines for my characters.  I like writing down ideas and connecting them to each other with lines.  It’s fun to play around with my writing in visual ways.  But outlining?  Oh, heck no!  That’s work, not fun.  That’s organizing, not playing around with ideas.

Breaking this novel into chapters feels like outlining.  It feels like an impossible task.  It’s work, and it’s hard.  Bleh.  I know I’m not going to get it right the first time.  (Yay for beta readers!)  But somehow, I’ve got to find those chapters.

I have a lot of short scenes following multiple narratives in the beginning of the book and I’m struggling to decide how to organize them so they don’t get confusing.  Add to that, I’ve never even thought about the average length of chapters, or how many there should be, or how many scenes should be in a chapter… just how does one take all of the little pieces and construct a novel?

I found some helpful resources online, like this one.  I read through the entire draft and tried to visualize chapter breaks.  I set up a new draft project in Scrivener, and created the first three chapters, hoping to provoke some optimistic inspiration.   I’m still feeling intimidated.  But, this story has come too far to give up now.  So, it’s on to draft three—and the very epic struggle to create chapters.

I guess I need to figure out what sort of wager with the kids will help me get through another round of editing by the end of December!

It’s Red Pen Time

I’m nearly a month behind schedule.  But, I printed a draft of The Compass Code yesterday, and I’m ready to dive into editing it.  It needs a LOT of work.  There are several plot lines that still need tying up in order to bring all the action together at the end of the book.  That is, if I want it to make any sense, anyway.

Even though I know it’s still a mess inside, I think all 345 pages are the most beautiful things I’ve ever held in my hands (well, except for the smallish bipedal beings, but it’s been a long time since they fit in my hands).  I’m sure I’ll change my mind about that in the coming days and weeks.

Today I’m just going to bask in satisfaction while sitting here next to my novel.  I’ll be back at it tomorrow, armed with highlighters, a red pen, post-it notes, and inspiration.  And coffee.

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Me for the next few weeks, as depicted (lovingly, I’m sure) by the smallish bipedal beings.

Reality Keeps Stealing My Fiction

army-2991940_1920On March 16, 2018, Buzzfeed News reported that the Central Intelligence Agency is “deploying small teams of commandos to kill selected suspected terrorists, according to two sources familiar with the program.”  The CIA has denied this, claiming the story is wrong.

(Spoiler alert)  I’ve been writing fiction about this for quite some time. This article could almost be something of an outline for a big part of my novel.

I’ve said before that I’ve been kicking myself for not having finished this novel a year ago every time I see the news these days.  This is yet another news story that seriously lights a fire under me.  While this month has gotten unexpectedly busier than normal, I’m still pushing for my March 31st deadline for a finished draft of The Compass Code.

Once the draft is complete, I’ll be releasing a teaser from a scene that involves my own assassin team.  It’s exciting to see progress, to see the story coming together, and I’m getting anxious to share it.

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

The Daily Struggle

Struggling.  Really struggling here.  Writing scenes that involve a reporter and law enforcement sources and all this enormous conspiracy is not easy.  Nope.  Not one bit.

But, I have set the goal to write every day.  And to finish this novel.  So, I keep vomiting ridiculously terrible strings of uninterrupted dialogue and other pathetic-ness onto the page.  All the while asking myself, is this just a huge waste of time?  Oh, and whyyyyy?!

First, I whine to the dog, or the cat, or both of them.  The usual response…

DSC_1887DSC_2340

Full of helpful tips, they are.

Sometimes, I go for a walk, or a bike ride, or something, in hopes of getting the blood flowing to my under-performing brain.  Unfortunately, no little house troll ever comes along to finish my scene while I’m gone.  In fact, I think one comes along to make the already terrible trash I’ve written even worse because I don’t remember it being that bad!

So, I move on to complain of my inability to write anything but complete garbage to my more helpful writing buddies, my sisters.  As usual, they have an answer for me.  And, as usual, it isn’t what I want to hear.  (Just kidding, for dramatic effect.)

Anyhow, my big Sis, being very wise, said the other day, “just keep writing.”  Just keep writing.  So simple.  And yet, sometimes, it’s agony.  Incredibly stupid, terrible, vomit-spewing, one-sentence-a-day, garbage agony.  But, just keep writing.  Somewhere in that dump is a gem, an idea, a thread that can be worked with to weave an epic scene.

Put on a hat so as to avoid pulling out hair, and just keep writing…

Goals

It’s that time again when people start talking about goals, and resolutions for the new year.  I’m not really a New Year’s resolution sort of person but I always have aspirations.  I’ve never really felt the need to write about them, I figure my goals don’t matter to anyone but me.  But this year, I’ve decided to write about them in hopes it will be an added push to achieve them.  (And because one goal is to write every day, and this was an easy thing to write about, hahaha).

Goals.  I’ve got some.  A lot, actually.  And some of them even involve my writing career.  2018 might just be the year I accomplish some of the bigger, more important ones.  That is an exciting, but also intimidating, possibility.  It isn’t going to be easy.

It’s possible that one non-writing goal will result in a lot of disruption in my routine over the course of this year as the family embarks (hopefully) on some significant home improvement projects.  However, I’m determined to keep a strong focus on writing daily no matter how chaotic it gets around here.

I’ve said it for a few years (I know, I know, who’s gonna believe me now?), but this is the year I will finish The Compass Code.  It’s nearly time to start hunting for a beta reader or two, and an editor.  Along with finishing it and getting it (and myself) ready for its debut, I’ve got a lot to learn about self-publishing.  And, I need to work on that oh-so-important blurb for the book, a task I’m dreading.  Oh yeah, and that cover design, and…and….  The entire process of self-publishing often feels so overwhelming.  I sometimes suspect I procrastinate on finishing the novel to avoid all of it!  But no more.  Watch for a few teasers and “deleted scenes” that I’ll be posting here soon.

Another goal is to get my little orange van back on the road.  Yes, this is actually a writing related goal.  She plays a starring role in my other, mostly finished novel, and I need a photo for the book cover.  I’ve got a location in mind for the photo shoot, and it’s not the back yard. That means a road trip!  So, she needs some tires, and some other, engine-ey sort of things.  Don’t get me wrong, the van runs, or she did, many years ago when she went into semi-retirement.  Marmie’s never let me down though, so I have faith.  Along with her journey onto the road again, I plan to spend some time on Volkswagen Summer this year, and hopefully get it ready for publishing as well.  (If you want to follow my little orange van’s progress, find me on Instagram.  I tag pictures of the van with #Marmie, #littleorangevan, and #VWsummer).

I have long wanted to commit to a set number of blog posts published each month on Seeking Redress and on here.  I’m still hesitant to do so though, since Compass and VW Summer are my biggest writing priorities.  I don’t know if it will happen this year, but I’m going to try.

I’m excited to dive into 2018.  There is no way to know what the world has in store for us this year, and I watch events unfold with some unease.  But, in my own small part of the world, I intend to do what I can to make it a better place.  Happy New Year everyone, and here’s to accomplishing our goals!

 

Image courtesy of pixabay.com

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Snip Snip My Darlings

It’s already January 4th.  And I still haven’t written a word about goals for this new year.  In fact, I have managed only to write a few sentences of notes, an email or two, and a few tweets this entire year.  Maybe it’s a slump.  Or, it could be the whole winter break thing that results in some very distracting, smallish bi-pedal beings running rampant in my house rather than being dutiful students somewhere else.

Anyway, in the midst of all the frenetic chaos that is my winter break existence, I was struck by a revolutionary thought about my novel.  I guess I should say, it isn’t a new thought.  It’s more of an acceptance of what needs to happen.  Writers talk about this a lot, the whole “kill your darlings” thing.  I’m sure it doesn’t come easy for any of us.  But, the acceptance that I have darlings that need killing has brought with it a renewed surge of energy to do whatever it takes to get this ridiculously overdue novel finished.

A while back I was listening to an episode of Writers After Dark podcast (I highly recommend this podcast) and was suddenly overcome with an urge to chop out huge portions of the prologue of my book.  This took me by surprise.  I took out scenes I truly love, and have struggled for far too long to keep in the book.  Once I started chopping, however, I was instantly happier with the beginning of my book.  This past week, I took the chopping to a new level.

My story covers a significant span of years, and from the beginning, I have struggled to explain, or work around, large gaps in time when nothing of importance is happening.  This is a self-inflicted struggle, I now realize, that can be solved by simply snipping away at all those unnecessary darlings of mine.  No biggie.  Except that it’s the entire part one of the book!  Gasp!

IMG_20180104_125942747~2

In a brief moment of alone-in-the-kitchen calm, I realized that, while part one certainly helps to explain who, what, and why, the main characters are, it isn’t necessary to understanding or enjoying the plot of the story.  In fact, part one really just slows the entire thing down.  So, snip, snip, my darlings.

Oh, the freedom I feel now.  This solves so many complications and opens up so many possibilities with what was formerly known as part two.  Don’t worry, I didn’t waste years on a bunch of scenes that will never be read.  Now I have a nearly completed prequel!  And those chopped out prologue scenes?  Well, odds are good at least a few of them will make an appearance here one day.

 

Lego sculpture courtesy of the smallish bi-pedal beings.

Creepy Christmas To All…

Well, since tomorrow is Christmas, and I don’t have an amazing, inspirational Christmas-y sort of piece to post, I’ve decided to dig into the very, very ancient archive for a little holiday fun.

A really long time ago (as in, back in high school), I was given the assignment of writing and compiling some poetry (not my area of expertise, to say the least), for a class full of highly competitive and talented writers.  I muddled my way through some terrible rhymes and exaggerated prose to complete the assignment, with few redeemable results.  On this eve of Christmas, I am pathetically resorting to sharing one of these attempts at poetic profundity in an effort to spread some holiday cheer with as little effort as possible .  (Hey, I’ve got Santa duty, so cut me some slack.)

So, Merry Christmas, and here you go, my very own parody of the much-loved, classic Christmas poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas.  A tale which, at the time that I wrote this I was unaware, has inspired many fun parodies.

Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas

by Katie Aguilera

Twas the night before Christmas and all through my box,

not a creature was stirring, not even the lice in my locks.

My stockings were hung on a string so high,

in the hopes that by morning they would be dry.

I shivered and shook in my rags so thin,

while ice cubes formed in my bottle of gin.

My mutt in her blanket and I in my coat,

thoughts of Christmas a lump in my throat.

Out in the alley I heard a soft mutter,

so I sprang from my box and looked in the gutter.

Along the curb I flew like a flash,

tore open the dumpster, and threw out the trash.

The moon through the smog cast an eerie shadow,

upon the garbage still left below.

Turning my head, I gave a sudden start,

for behind me were eight sewer rats and a tiny shopping cart.

With a little round driver so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Tick.

Dirtier than pigs his coursers they came,

and he whistled and shouted and called them by name.

On Smasher, on Cancer, on Packer, on Virus,

on Bomber, on Stupid, on Blunder, and Dufus.

To the center of the street to the edge of a crack,

now dash away, dash away, and upon their rumps a good whack.

And as newspapers before the wild wind scatter,

they mounted the sky with a rattle and a clatter.

So, up to my box the coursers they flew,

with a sleigh full of eggs, and wiggly St. Tick too.

And then in a blink with a little rodent leap,

they clambered on cardboard and fell in a heap.

I sank to my knees and into my box shoved my head,

and through a split-seam dropped St. Tick to my bed.

A thick suit of fur his body did boast,

torn, no doubt, from his last unlucky host.

A bundle of eggs he had flung on his back,

and he looked like a spider just opening her sack.

His eyes how they glinted, his feet how they tickled,

and with a sly smirk he chuckled and giggled.

His antennae curled and twisted in a way so droll,

and upon my bed he crept like a troll.

A stub of a toothpick lodged in his teeth,

a hint of tick-beard upon his chin underneath.

He had a bloated round belly and a tiny puffed face,

and he dashed to and fro at a fierce insect pace.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old beetle,

but I knew that his bite was like the prick of a needle.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

and I knew I had something terrible to dread.

He gave not a squeal but went straight to his work,

scattering his eggs with a twist and a jerk.

And laying his stick-leg aside of his nose,

and giving a twitch up the cardboard he rose.

He hopped to his sleigh and to his team gave a scream,

and away they all flew to the next stop in his scheme.

But I heard him exclaim as they drove out of sight,

Creepy Christmas to all, and to all a crawly good night!

 

The Rules for #140Line

#140Line is a game on Twitter for writers to share a line from their current work in progress (WIP).  The rules are simple.  In loving memory of the old 140 character limitation that was the foundation of tweeting for years, lines shared for #140Line should contain 140 characters or less.  Of course, no one is going to count, just make a good estimation.

Each week, there will be an optional theme, announced ahead of time.  It can be found @linein140 on Twitter.  Choose a line that uses the theme word, or demonstrates the meaning of the word.  Be creative, and have fun with it, and be sure to use the hashtag, #140Line, so we can all find your talented work.

This challenge is an opportunity to tighten up your writing.  The goal is to express a powerful idea or image concisely.  It offers an opportunity to evaluate the words you use and the way you use them.  So, join @seekingredress and @TAwrites as we rock the old school and share a line in 140 characters or less, every Thursday, on Twitter.