I hate it when I have a Coleridge Moment. Oh, you want to know what I’m alluding to…
Well, Samuel Coleridge is famous for writing the poem Xanadu, but there are only 3 verses. Why? Coleridge was an opium smoker, and he awoke from an opium dream with 12 complete verses ready to go. He sat down to write them but was interrupted by a knock on the door by somebody who had come to hassle him about some money owed. When he finally got the guy to leave, Xanadu had left too. And that’s why we only have 3 verses.
Last night I had a dream. I dreamed an entire short story, very clever stuff too, all based around a single active verb… but for the life of me, I can’t remember the verb or the story. It’s driving me nuts.
When I was a nature photographer, I learned a hard lesson. I was sleeping in my Blazer at the entrance to the National Bison Range in Moese, Montana and was awakened in the night by the howl of coyotes. When I opened the tailgate to have a look around, the Northern Lights were undulating above me in curtains of emerald green. It was exquisite. I remember saying to myself, “Get up and photograph this.” I didn’t. I went back to sleep and have never seen the lights again in my lifetime.
The lesson? “Don’t ignore a one-time event. Capture it while it’s in front of you or lose it forever.”
It’s the same thing with these nighttime story ideas. Don’t just stay in bed enjoying the story; get up and write it down or lose it forever. I know this. You probably know this too. But being a human (!), I lost this great story idea. I can’t recall a bit of it, not even the verb it centered around.
This past Saturday, I presented on mystery writing at the Burke County Library in Morganton, NC. It felt great to be standing in front of a group sharing what I know and (hopefully) inspiring the incipient writers in the group to get started with pen, pencil or computer in hand and Roget’s Thesaurus (no, not a dinosaur) close by.
Remember Mark Twain’s famous quote: The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
So all you writer wannabees out there, settle your butts into comfortable chairs and start cranking it out.
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 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.
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.
I’ve been banging around the writing scene for a while, running a mystery writers critique group (wncmysterians.org), writing like a madman, etc., and finally, with 9 titles on Amazon, someone noticed.
I’ve been signed up as a featured presenter at Blue Ridge Bookfest (April 26, 2014) in Hendersonville, NC. They want me to talk about Ben Bones, my Consulting Genealogist character, how he came into being, and what’s going on with him. No problem. I get an entire hour all to myself to spout my theories about writing, research, and the writing life. I promise it will be interesting.
By the way, Blue Ridge Bookfest in Hendersonville, North Carolina is a free annual spring event for writers and readers. Please accept my personal invitation.