I’ve been postponing working on this book for several years. I’ve used all sorts of techniques, including working on other Ben Bones adventures and cranking out several other books and lots of short stories. But suddenly this past week, some of the unsolved plot issues have become clear to me.
The Ben Bones stories all begin in a historical event. Ben is called in to solve a conundrum in the present that was caused by that long ago event. And each book is built around a greatly detailed fictional family genealogy that I build to support the story and establish the present day relationships between the characters.
In Ben Bones & The Uncivil War, the precipitating event is the Civil War, the War Between the States. The featured family is split by two brothers who go to fight on opposite sides. I’ve known about this conflict for several years, from the time I first wanted to do this story. I knew how the brothers acted in battle, and I knew that a descendant of the Federal soldier returns to Dublin, Virginia to reconnect with the original family on its home ground. Needless to say, it couldn’t go well.
The other morning I awoke with new knowledge about what happens to the returning descendant and the family members who still live on the ancestral farm. The lights are finally on and I’m home. I can now write the story. Ideas are flowing and the words rush to the keyboard from my fingertips. It’s a great feeling. Another Ben Bones adventure (misadventure?) is a’borning… creeping in the night…
Ben Bones & The Conventional Murders proofing is done (again) and I’ve ordered a second proof from CreateSpace. It’s been a slog, but I have confidence in the story, the quality of the writing, my writer’s “voice.” It’s a good little book. You see, it all begins when Ben goes to Asheville, North Carolina to attend a genealogical convention. He’s planning a relaxed weekend with professional colleagues, but the bodies begin to pile up. Why? Is it the $100,000 book contract that’s up for grabs? The bastardy bond problem soon after the Civil War and Emancipation? Professional jealousies? Sheer cussedness? You’ll have to read the book to find out. It’s available as a physical book and on Kindle.
And now, I’m digging into the re-plotting of Ben Bones & The Uncivil War. This one deals with wartime betrayal and two brothers who decide to fight on opposite sides. But that’s only where the story begins. Ben Bones lives in the present, and it’s here and now that he has to deal with the ramifications of the betrayal, people’s jealousies, and a war that some people simply refuse to let go of.
Meanwhile, I’ve discovered issues at benbones.com. Looks like I have to rebuild the website. OMG, indeed! There’s never an end to all this, is there?
I wanted to write a NaNoWriMo this year (2014) and began with great enthusiasm using an old science fiction idea from 1972. Unfortunately, I bogged down on Nov 7 at approx. 9100 words with a great idea, a handful of unlikely characters in similar but varied troubles, and a static situation… but I didn’t have a plot.
I flailed around for a few days, adding a few words here and there, changing others, but not making any forward progress. When I was a week behind the word quota of almost 12,000, I gave up the idea of doing the story as a NaNoWriMo project. Instead, I dove into the libraries, my own writing library and the public libraries, and read everything I could find on plot and plotting. The bottom line: plot derives from conflict. I had no conflict. What to do? What to do? (Wring hands here.)
Today is Nov 26. I awoke at 4am this morning knowing what the story is about. It’s essentially a dystopian escape story: people trapped in the future (I already knew that), some 400+ years in the future, on an island created by sea level rise, the remnants of civilization in desperate straits, populations depleted and demoralized by disease, pollution, resource wars… and those in control are afraid that the cyrogens’ ideas will cause revolution. They are kept isolated from the world on their island. What they do about their situation is the story I can now dig into and begin to write.
The characters will remain, but the situation has evolved now that I know they are on an island. I need a protagonist, though he/she won’t have a square jaw and wear a white hat. He/she is a victim like the rest, but will be the leader who changes the situation for all. I’m off to the races. The slog now begins. This is the writing process & how it works.
I read through a few of my older posts and discovered some promises and unfinished projects. In particular, I see that I was promising to work on Ben Bones & The Uncivil War, but that book is still unfinished. It’s in the same condition as it was when the post was written back in Feb, 2014. I have successfully avoided working on it by working on other projects.
The Embezzler Didn’t is still not done either. It’s still a good idea, still about a third to one half finished, and I’m stuck for what to do to the characters next. I even threw an earthquake at them to shake the story up. A great idea, and it worked wonderfully, but I still have the same characters with the same animosities toward one another, but with their physical challenges changed a bit. What are they going to do next? I dunno.
Mystery Mastery is finished, complete with a created-by-hand index. That’s out now, though sales are still pitiful. I have no plans to quit my day job just yet… though the desire is big.
BB & The Conventional Murders is almost (!) complete. The story is written and edited, the appendices are done except for the genealogical charts which I can’t seem to print to pdf correctly, and I’m not satisfied with the cover. Perhaps by the end of 2014, he mused.
So I have to say that although some projects aren’t done, others have been completed. I have not been wasting my time. Well, not ALL my time anyway. Read on, gentle reader.
NaNoWriMo is poised to begin – only two more days of fretting about the project before we have to dig in and actually do it. My NaNoWriMo project for this year is Cryogens, a science fiction mystery about the future.
For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It’s an online challenge (google it) to write a 50,000 word first draft (that’s only 1667 words per day) during the month of November. It’s a gas! If you commit, you will learn a great deal about yourself as a writer, and perhaps even have a book when you’re done. I have done this once before (2012) and the result was a 32,444 word “mysterical adventure” entitled The Extra Body. It was the first time I started a book with no idea what it was about, who the characters might be, or where it was going to go. I have quite enough to do in my daily life without adding NaNoWriMo pressure, and wasn’t planning to do it again this year, but something happened while I was casting about for a story idea.
Looking through some old notes, I discovered a worn and torn manila envelope dated 1972 that had some scribbled notes for Cryogens. It’s a story that has been in waiting for years. 1972! Can you imagine? The story had never been written, but it was a good idea then and still is. I didn’t write it then because I was too young; I didn’t know enough about people or the world. Perhaps I was involved in other projects – like trying to earn a living as a photographer. But now, with many more years under my belt (which is of somewhat greater diameter), I feel I can write the story of the people I invented so long ago. NaNoWriMo 2014 is the perfect opportunity.
So I’ve been scribbling more notes on my iPad, emailing them to myself, and picking them up in OpenOfficeWriter for editing. (BTW, I’m going write the book in OpenOfficeWriter instead of MS-Word. I’m sick of Microsoft’s system “enhancements” and arrogance. So this year — lots of challenges.)
Who else is coming along for the ride? Want a writing challenge? NaNoWriMo might just be it.
(Boy, this sure reads like an advert for NaNoWriMo. It started out to be about Cryogens, but seems to have gone off track. Oh, well. Best of intentions…)
After two years in the gestation and writing, my book on how to write a believable mystery is finally out. I never did get that arts grant to write it, so, as I have in the past when my plans were frustrated, I plowed ahead with the project anyway. I did it with the magazines I edited and published. I’ve done it with self-publishing after years of trying to get in agents’ and editors’ front doors. Now I’ve done it again.
Since writers are always interested in improving their craft, Mystery Mastery is bound to help a few at least. The goal of the book isn’t to tell people “the rules” for writing. I don’t believe there are any iron-clad rules beyond Heinlein’s “Write” and “Finish what you write.”
Mystery Mastery is designed to set people thinking about their writing. The book is packed with useful and challenging exercises to do exactly that. There are exercises for character and plot development, types of characters, setting, weapons, research, and much more. Sure, it’s my theories on the writing process, but this is a book designed to set people into motion.
The book is available from Amazon or directly from me.
Commence to writing, people!
I seem to have lost my momentum over the holidays. Not that the holidays got in the way of my writing. In fact, I don’t do much in the way of celebrating, and since everyone else was insane for the period, I had little freelance work and much more free time to write. But I didn’t write.
Instead, I got bogged down in the story The Embezzler Didn’t, and had to set it aside for a while. But more importantly, even knowing that I had a March deadline (self-imposed) for Ben Bones and the Uncivil War (BB#4), I had no plot for the story and didn’t know where my characters were going. I had the characters, sure. That’s the easy part. And I had the genealogy that ties the characters together all worked out, and I knew the two precipitating Civil War battles that started the story running… but that wasn’t enough. I needed a murder (a victim), a weapon, a logical motive, and a murderer.
Finally, things are looking up. I awoke one morning a couple of weeks ago with the murder scene playing like a movie for me. I knew who got killed, and I knew what the weapon was. (It’s a stolen relic cavalry sabre from one of the two battles… but don’t tell anyone just yet.)
So now I’ve started into the writing. There’s research mostly done, background material worked out, historical appendices, and the opening chapter that introduces Ben Bones to the reader and explains why he’s hired for this research gig. No plot yet, but I’m cogitating. But most exciting, I’m writing again.
Speaking of what some of you might think of as “writer’s block…” I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think that a “real” writer should be able to sit down any time of any day, in any season or weather, and write. It might not all be deathless prose, but it’s output. I consider the periods in between writing to be fallow periods. Just as soil has to rest and not be planted for a while to regenerate, I think the same holds true for the creative mind. There are simply times when it needs to recharge. That’s what I’m now coming out of. And off I go again.