Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Current WIP and a Very Interesting Week

Recent happenings have distracted me, but not enough to keep me from updating this blog!

For those of you unaware, the writing world lost a great figure in the death of Tom Clancy.

Of course, being a veteran gives him extra brownie points.

Clancy's best known for his works of military fiction, such as "The Hunt for Red October," "Rainbow Six," and "The Clear and Present Danger." He inspired a number of spin-off series (most of them made into video games, like Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell) and entertained people for generations.

This made the release of Stephen King's long-awaited book "Dr. Sleep" harder to celebrate. I haven't picked up a copy of the book yet, but so far the reviews I've read are throughly positive. I was actually quite surprised that it didn't get as much fanfare as one of the latter Harry Potter books, owing to King's legendary status and "The Shining" often cited as one of his best works.

Moving on to personal notes.

I was pleased to learn that my body weight is now a mere 212 pounds and my fat percentage has dropped 4% since July, from 26-22%. Yesterday, I ran 6 miles for the first time, the hardest physical endurance challenge I've ever undertaking to date. I can't tell you how proud I am to have accomplished this, though I was wiped out for most of the day and didn't get to writing until 5pm.

Moving on to minor business.

You may have noticed that I conducted a mass purge of my older posts. All news-realted pieces were deleted, along with the short-lived Youtube experiment called The Portal. It was fun doing videos for awhile, but I rapidly began copying other people's style and doing things I wasn't very much interested in to begin with (like video game reviews). It had nothing to do with writing, which is what I do. Furthermore, although history is a passion of mine (and I follow current events as a result) this blog was never meant to be a springboard for any kind of discussion. Yet, I chose to post those things because I was too lazy to commit to my real love.

Lesson learned. Goodbye fluff. On to major business.

Last week I promised to talk a little about my current WIP (Work in Progress). Today, I shall!

Inspiration is a tricky thing. Some of the ideas I get the most passionate about are spontaneous, and don't take much thought on my part. This new book, which is rapidly approaching the 80,000 word mark, was touched off by my typewriter hunting experience.

Historians and antique hunters often see an old relic of the past and sigh, mumbling, "If only it could talk, the stories we'd hear." Indeed, I'm one of those people. Most manual typewriters out there today are well over 50 years old. The used Royal and Remingtons you see going for $25 in a pawn shop may have at one time been used by a secretary working for the Navy or Army Ordinance.

The basic, raw idea behind my current WIP was about a young graduate student who loves historical artifacts. He becomes infatuated with a typewriter he finds in the home of an old woman he's interviewing for a term paper, and learns an amazing story about its pervious owner: the town's first black newspaper reporter. He makes a deal with the woman to tell the man's life story in exchange for the machine. From there, the idea was quickly molded into a much deeper story involving America's difficult past and how, as Faulkner said, it never really dies. The protagonist finds himself being pulled into a long-standing feud between three people, each wanting him to tell the story their way.

Besides that, I found that I had a wonderful opportunity to show readers what it really means to be a historian outside the realm of teaching middle and high school. Most people don't know it, but an entire industry of professionals thrives preserving old buildings, archeological sites, and conducting ground-breaking research. That's the kind of historian I want to be, and the kind that you find in the novel.

Writing the book has been comparatively easy to writing "Lunar Dawn." I was 15 when I started that book, but now I'm 24 and have grown up a bit. This time I did a lot of things differently. I wrote detailed character backgrounds and a solid working timeline. I also wrote a rough outline of what I wanted to accomplish in each chapter. These notes have been the most helpful thing for my continuing progress.

Well, not this kind of plotting....maybe in another book.

The book was plotted around a 3-month series of events, roughly one semester. My experiences as a graduate student helped me write, in wonderful, lavish, insider detail, what it means to really research something. Only at this level do you truly come to appreciate how useless the internet, particularly Google, can be in finding sources. Most of the good stuff has not, and probably never will be, digitized to the point of making it that easy.

And so, there's lots of microfilm browsing, newspaper hunting, and meeting people who were there. While the subjects I have covered in my university career are not nearly as exciting as the ones encountered by the protagonist, the methods by which he gets his information are real. That's been the easiest part.

The most difficult part is filling in the "real life" segments. My class schedule is so light this semester that I have more free time than ever (hence how I've been able to accomplish this much). My character follows a similar life pattern, but I can't spend pages upon pages telling the reader how he surfed the net for two hours and then read a novel till bedtime. Great for relaxation but it makes horrible storytelling.

To rectify the problem, the novel skips periods of time when nothing important happens. One scene transition has the protagonist out for two weeks with the flu (based on a real bout of sickness I endured this spring). It helped build tension for the scenes ahead. I think the pacing is very good, so hopefully the beta readers will feel the same way.

As I said last week, this will be the first novel I've written on a typewriter. I didn't write down the exact date I began, but it was in the final days of August. I started right after a 10-day vacation in Utah, so shortly after I got back on the 17th. Today is October 6, so I've spent somewhere around 50 days writing this thing and the page count currently stands at 270.

Not bad, if I do say so myself.

I just finished reading "The Dogs of War," by Frederick Forsyth. He's often said that he meticulously plans everything in his books before striking a single key on the machine, and that he churns out 10 pages every day. That means he can get 400 pages done in just 40 days, or a little over a month.

To me, it's not how fast I've been going that's important. I've maintained a minimum quota of 1,000 words each day, but if I can't do that, I at least get one page. My ultimate minimum is to never ever go a day without writing something on the book. If I'm away from the typewriter, I try to use the laptop and then transcribe it once I get back.

Amazingly, all of these things have contributed to an excellent work schedule. I've changed a few things here and there, surprises come up that turn out to be wonderful accidents and move the plot along. The rough outlining made room for this, and I'm glad I added the little snippets.

I'll continue to update the blog as things progress. Once I get to page 300, I intend to celebrate with an ice cold soda.

Power to the pen and those who use it!

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