The Journal, Sunday, 4/30

Hey Folks,

Yesterday, after I filed my Journal, I was out in the Hovel messing around. Bought a new shop vac and carried it out there.

After I set it where I wanted it, I thought I’d enjoy a cigar and a few games of Spider. So I sat down at my writing ‘puter, raised the lid and turned on the mouse.

And the first sentence of a short story popped into my head.

So I opened Word, hit Enter a couple times to move down the page, and started writing. I wrote a quick opening (around 250 words), then closed the computer. (grin) I love when that happens.

The fiction I wrote yesterday is included in today’s total.

***

Interesting morning around here. About 3:30 I was visiting Facebook when I heard what I thought was my little girl. It was a kind of distressed sound, but not her typical Siamese growl.

So I came unglued from my chair, grabbed my flashlight and dodged around my desk.

In the beam of the flashlight, I thought I saw something preceding her as she ran for the bedroom. Natch, I followed.

Bit had parked herself near a corner and was staring past a small trashcan in the bedroom.

I moved up past her, widened the beam on my light, and shined it straight down.

In the corner behind the trashcan was a bunny. It was hunkered in, naturally, and in that form it was about five inches long and maybe three inches across. And scared half to death.

It had that beautiful, tawny-brown fur, and its long but tiny ears were laid straight back. Making itself as small as possible.

I woke my wife to help me. She found another small trash can and I got a spatula to try to guide the little thing into it.

In the end, I just picked up the baby, nestled it close to my chest (babies like heartbeats) and spoke quietly to it. Then I carried it outside and released it near the fence. After a long moment, it moved through the fence and hopped away.

So it’s already been a good day.

Started taking pics at around 7 and did that until around 9. I enjoy macro photography especially. Posted some stuff on FB and ate breakfast.

Today, and Writing

Rolled out at 3:15, excitement around 3:30, then spent the next few hours easing into the day.

I wrote off and on most of the day in 15 and 20 minute bits, and once as long as an hour. Finished another short story.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

See Dean’s “Story Twenty-Nine” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-nine/.

Fiction Words: 3551
Nonfiction Words: 440 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 3991

Writing of “Saving Face” (short story)

Day 1…… 3551 words. Total words to date…… 3551 (done)

Total fiction words for the month……… 39038
Total fiction words for the year………… 247594
Total nonfiction words for the month… 17350
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 74690

Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 322284

The Daily Journal blog streak………………………………… 522 days
Calendar Year 2017 Novel Goal (15 novels)…………………… 4 novels
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 24
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 3
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……………………………… 167

The Journal, Saturday, 4/29

Hey Folks,

This just in, and I’m putting it right up front:

For anyone out there who is still looking for an agent or who HAS an agent for that matter, please do yourself a favor and read Kris Rusch’s Business Musings post “Writers, Scam Artiss, Agents and More” at http://kriswrites.com/2017/04/26/business-musings-writers-scam-artists-agents-and-more-sigh/.

Well, yesterday, even with my brain pretty much toast at around 2 p.m., I created a cover for “Suction Cups,” then a promo doc.

Then I published both “Suction Cups” and the story from a couple days ago, “How Hard the Ground” to D2D and Amazon, then uploaded both to BundleRabbit.

This morning I uploaded both to the website in the Free Short Story tab. One is up now, and the other is scheduled for a couple of weeks from now.

I also sent both of them to my donors. Thanks, all of you.

***

During the process of preparing the stories to be posted on my site, I realized the second story (Suction Cups) feels like it’s part of a novel.

Maybe so, maybe no. I’m taking a couple nonwriting days today and tomorrow. I’ll fire up again on Monday, 1 May.

My goal this year is to write at least one novel per month as well as 15 novels on the year. Shouldn’t be all that difficult if I can stop frittering away days.

But the calendar thing gets me. After I finished the novella, there wasn’t time (the way I write) to begin and finish a second novel or novella this month.

That’s the main reason I wrote short stories over the past few days instead of starting a new novel.

But that’s just dumb. So beginning on May 1, no more wasting days to wait for the beginning of a new month.

I’ve written 4 novels in 4 months so far, plus a novella. So to hit my annual goal of 15, that means I have to write 11 novels in the remaining 8 months. I can do that.

Oh, I’m also tracking pretty much everything now down at the bottom of this.

***

Hey, if any of you have a topic you’d like me to discuss, or one that you’d like me to discuss in greater detail, please email me. Many of my topics come from questions I’m asked in emails.

Today, and Writing

Rolled out at 3. I was very briefly busy with my routine stuff, then uploaded both short stories to my site, etc.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

Some interesting comments on Dean’s “A Novel Challenge” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/a-novel-challenge/#comments.

Then see his “Story Twenty-Eight” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-eight/.

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 380 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 380

Writing of May Novel (novel)

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 35487
Total fiction words for the year………… 244043
Total nonfiction words for the month… 16910
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 74250

Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 318293

The Daily Journal blog streak………………………………… 521 days
Calendar Year 2017 Novel Goal (15 novels)… 4 novels
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………………………………… 24
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………………………………… 3
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…………………… 166

How Hard the Ground

“No matter how hard the ground, beauty finds a way out.” Dan Baldwin

Even at slightly after one in the morning, the air out here is neither hot nor cold. Tepid, maybe. I like that word. The air is tepid, and fueled with a particular kind of dread.

It’s the fear of the expected. The ripe anticipation of knowing what we’re about to see, and knowing we can’t look away. We can’t just gawk and go on about our business. This is our business.

Red, blue, red lights slash in rotation through the moonlit darkness. They chase each other across the ground and up over the scrub brush.

We’re in the desert on an anonymous tip that came in a little before 10 p.m. There are still a few folks out there who support us. Not everyone’s afraid of us.

All around are scrub mesquite and creosote along with a few reddish prickly pear cactuses. Here and there, a dying yucca. Now and then, a withered fishhook barrel cactus. The kind of stuff that grows where there’s no gentle rain but maybe a deluge two or three times a year. Everything is harsh.

Nothing thrives out here. Old or new, ancient or modern. Growing or recently deceased and interred.

Small rocks glint everywhere in the moonlight.

The ground is mostly flat, mostly imbedded with rock of every bland color. Mostly a chalky off-white, but also tans, browns and every shade of black—all pitted like little moons with impact craters.

To my left front is a growing pile of dirt and rocks. To my right front is another. In front of me, side to side, stretches the hole that originally held all that.

The tip said she was at least three feet down. Said it would be easy digging. He forgot to mention the rock.

The sounds, human and otherwise, that fill the air are quiet. Respectful without meaning to be. Even the quiet rumbling of the river, some forty feet to the west and three hundred feet straight down.

If I killed somebody out here, that’s where they’d end up. Over the edge, a quick brush of the hands and no looking back. But somebody took the time to do all this.

Two vehicles are parked some twenty and thirty feet to the east of the grave.

The far one is a brownish-gold SUV, with Sheriff slashed diagonally across both doors. It brought me and the deputies to the scene.

This side of it is the white meat wagon. It’s the source of the red and blue lights. For some reason Mitch Billings left the emergency overheads on.

This side of the meat wagon are three men.

Mitch is next to the driver’s door, the driver’s side rear-view mirror to his back. The guy’s meaty and has a gut, but he’s not fat. Mid to late thirties and maybe 5’9”, close-cropped hair and a flat top. He’s the boss.

His arms are folded over his chest, and a camera dangles by a strap from his left hand. He doubles as the county crime photographer. As he talks quietly to the two other men, he alternately leans up on his toes, back on his heels.

The second guy is skinny as a rail and a head taller than Mitch. Mid to late twenties. Hair to his collar. His hands are shoved into his pockets, his butt leaning against the meat wagon. He’s bored, but he bobs his head now and then to prove he’s paying attention.

The third is the youngest by at least a few years. Probably in his early twenties. Close-cropped hair with just enough to comb on top. He’s a little shorter than Mitch but meatier than the other guy. He leans on the meat wagon with his right shoulder and his head bent slightly forward, like he’s paying attention. He probably is.

Or maybe he’s just avoiding looking at what’s going on to his left. His hands were in his pockets too. His fists are clenched.

Behind him, a nylon stretcher, poles together, is leaned against the wagon just ahead of the back bumper. Behind that, the white tailgate extends away from the back. It’s swung open sideways to the driver’s side.

The guys are all dressed in the black trousers and white shirts of the coroner’s office. They all have a little badge, and all they have to do is cart off the bodies.

2

Me, I’m Jack Tilden. I’m the director of this evening’s symphony.

I’m dressed like I’m always dressed. It’s always brown or grey trousers, a brown or grey jacket and tie, an off-white shirt, and a brown or grey fedora. Tonight everything is grey.

Down in the hole in front of me are the two deputies. Their current task is another reason I’m glad I’m a detective. My job is to watch and listen as the deputies work. I can do that.

The guy to the left is Pete Mason. He’s in jeans and a t-shirt and a brown and green Sheriff’s Department ball cap. On his feet are brown combat boots with thick hobnail soles.

A sweat stain stretches down the back of his t-shirt. It forms an elongated V from his neck to his belt.

The other one is Joe Mangum. He’s in jeans, a western straw hat and a long-sleeved khaki shirt. The sleeves are rolled midway up his forearms. Sweat and dirt glint in the hair on his forearms. His shirt’s soaked from beneath his left shoulder halfway down the side.

I can’t see Joe’s feet, but he’s probably wearing round-toed western boots. Probably with the dogger heels.

The guys are earning their sweat. They both have shovels. They’re bent to the task in a hole they’ve been working on for fifteen or twenty minutes.

The shovels clunk, scrape and chink on rocks. The shovel handles leap into the rotation of the lights. They sweep up, then over and down. Up, then over and down. A discordant kind of rhythm.

Moonlight and red and blue flashes glint off hands and knuckles over and over again.

Now and then, the deputies grunt softly. Now and then they curse.

An almost ethereal whump sounds as each shovel load of dirt lands on a pile, one to the left, one to the right. The piles peak a little taller each time. Each time a few rocks clatter quietly down the far side.

And the smell that hangs in that tepid air is as quiet and uncomplicated as everything else here. It’s simple, and it’s stark.

The strong, acid stench of rotted onions.

It evokes a childhood memory.

For a moment I’m standing in an old onion field. One that was picked over two weeks ago and everything healthy shipped to market. Only the dead and dying left behind.

Then picked over again ten days ago by the poor. Only the dead left to rot.

Then plowed under last week to make the ground ready for the next crop.

It’s a stench that lingers on your tongue.

And it isn’t onions at all. It’s beauty unearthed.

The deputies are getting close.

3

I wet my lips with my tongue, then reach inside the left lapel of my jacket. I fish a pack of Camels from my shirt pocket.

Even now I can’t look away. Even knowing what’s coming.

By rote memory I turn the pack up and tap out a cigarette. By feel I catch it between my thumb and forefinger, put it between my lips.

I return the pack to my shirt pocket and pull my lighter from my trouser pocket. I strike the lighter, another raspy, hushed sound.

My palm lights up as I focus beyond the flame and inhale some nerve.

It’s all right, I know. Just keep your distance. I’ve seen a lot of these and they’re all the same.

But no. Each one belongs to itself. Each one is different.

Just as I slip the lighter back into my trouser pocket, Joe says, “Oh.” It’s more a sigh than a word.

Pete stops. He looks over at Joe and nods. Quietly he says, “Yeah. I’ve got her too.”

There’s an inadvertent moment of silence.

Then a shovel scuffs on the other side of Joe as his shoulders hunch and twitch. The reds and blues flash off his khaki back.

The underside of his shovel scrapes lightly on a rock. It screams in the night before he tips the handle lower. Then he twists around, looks over his left shoulder.

I don’t see his face, but I catch the motion as he turns. I’m still looking past him.

“Here she is,” he says quietly. “We’ve got her.”

He says it like an official announcement. Like I didn’t know. Or maybe like it was a rescue mission.

In a way I guess it was.

I have to look at my feet for a moment, and I nod and take a drag. Then I look over at Mitch and gesture with the cigarette.

He says something to the guys, then starts toward us. He stops at my side, looks down and to the left, then moves around the hole. Now it’s a grave. He starts taking pictures.

The flash alternately enhances the moonlight and scares off the reds and blues.

When he’s through, he glances at me and nods.

I look at the deputies, then gesture again with the cigarette.

Both their faces are aimed up at me now. Is this what it’s like to be God? Am I waiting for a prayer?

As if they need to hear me say it, I say it. “Okay. Bring her up.” I pause, then, “Just go careful.”

That’s someone’s little girl. It’s someone’s wife, daughter, sister, mother.

I don’t have to say that part.

Joe knows. He nods and sighs as he turns his head back to the front. He lowers himself to one knee.

I can’t tell you whether he’s near her right shoulder or her left. The slope of the side of the hole lets me see a shadowy orb just past his side. But I can’t tell whether it’s her face or the side or back of her head.

At the other end, Pete knows too.

He half-stands and tosses his shovel up on the far side of the hole. A little harder than he meant to.

It screeches a little on rocks when it lands. It slides.

Then he crouches again, heels together in the small space, and bends forward with both hands extended. He has to grasp the ankles.

He lifts them a little, gently. Shakes them a little. Only a little.

Dirt rolls off bare calves, bare thighs.

In my periphery, a shooting star, falling. A grain of something, plunging to the earth. A flash, extinguished.

Mitch crouches to my left, raises his camera. It flashes a couple of times, blinds the night.

Pete lifts again, shakes again.

Some cloth shifts and more dirt falls away.

The way the body refuses to bend—so she’s buried face down. Still in her clothes. A skirt or a dress. Blue, maybe.

Mitch takes another picture. Another. Says, “Okay.”

Pete lowers her ankles, lets the toes of her white canvas boat shoes rest.

The dirt has turned them tan.

He leans back out of the way.

Mitch shoots a few more pictures, then stands and moves behind me to my right.

I take another drag on the cigarette, then expel a stream of smoke. Inside it, I say to Pete, “Easy, now. Easy.”

The back of Pete’s head nods as he shifts, twisting his body to the right. He adjusts his position with a step, too, moves his left foot across her feet to the other sloping side of the hole.

It was a silly thing to say. None of this is easy. None of it can be. But she’ll still come out of the ground more gently than she went in.

4

A friend of mine wrote one time, “No matter how hard the ground, beauty finds a way out.”

The line accompanied a picture he’d taken of a pretty little wild flower. A pretty little weed.

Guy’s weird for taking pictures of nice things, pretty things. Things that persevere against all odds.

Like little flowers pushing their way up, striving through rocky, hard soil to reach the air.

Life wants to live. Beauty strives to be restored to the light.

He didn’t know how right he was.

To the right, Joe’s still down on his right knee. His left is bent up almost under his chin. He arches his back, swings his shovel up and to the right.

It lands in a creosote bush on the other side of his pile of dirt and rocks. A few dry twigs snap, return to the earth.

He turns back and his shoulders twitch in little repeated movements as he dislodges her right shoulder.

Then he twitches again and tosses something underhand, behind him.

It turns out to be a fist-sized chunk of rock. It flies up out of the hole.

Something about the chunk of rock catches my attention as it flows through a low arc.

I track its progress, and for an instant in the moonlight there’s a bright yellow face. It’s a few inches above the ground. Petals surround a mottled center. A thin stem extrudes up from black olive drab leaves. Those spread in a flat circle on dirt and small rocks on the ground.

And the face, stem and leaves disappear as the rock hits with a satisfying thump.

No matter how hard the ground, beauty finds a way out.

But there’s no guarantee the ground won’t come back to spoil it.

5

A few minutes pass, and Joe has the shoulders and torso free of the rocks. Free of the soil.

Did you catch that? The shoulders and torso. That’s distance.

Did I say I’ve seen a lot of these? Did I say they’re all the same?

Distance does that.

But each one also belongs to itself. Each one also is different.

Every shooting star is a different grain of dust.

A few minutes pass, and Joe has her shoulders and torso free of the rocks. Her shoulders and torso are finally free of the soil.

He and Pete begin to shift someone’s little girl into the right position so they can bring her up.

They lift someone’s daughter gingerly.

They turn someone’s sister gently on her side.

They lift someone’s wife carefully, at the same time.

They ease someone’s mother down to rest on her back.

Mitch moves about in a different dimension, takes a series of pictures.

When he’s through, to nobody at all he breathes, “Okay.” Then he looks at the meat wagon, shatters the night with a few rapid fire snaps of his fingers.

The two men there straighten and look at him.

He points toward the stretcher and wags his hand at them.

The young one picks up the stretcher and the two start toward us.

The taller guy looks at the other one and utters a short laugh at something.

I jerk my head around and frown. Quietly, I said, “Hey.”

The taller guy looks at me and his smile evaporates. He averts his gaze.

Silence pervades the night again.

Rocks crunch beneath the men’s feet as they approach.

I step back and gesture toward the ground at my feet. It’s level there, and not so rocky. The ground on the other side of the grave is occupied. A mesquite and a creosote bush. Both scraggly, in need of rain.

The younger guy steps past me, offers one end of the stretcher to the other one.

Together they pop it open and kneel alongside the grave to receive the body.

Joe and Pete lift the body clear of the ground and the other two take over. Pre-chastised, they move her gently into position above the stretcher.

They lower her onto it just as gently.

It’s my turn to crouch. There’s no distance now.

A blue skirt and a white blouse. No belt. The white canvas boat shoes I thought I saw earlier.

A necklace of some kind just above her collar bone. The pendant, if there was one, is behind her neck. Dirt and rough pebbles mar her dark brunette hair.

She’s probably around twenty-five.

There’s a large, horizontal dent in the flesh of her forehead above her left eye. There’s another, diagonal dent in the flesh from her left cheekbone to her jaw. Other, smaller indentations dot her forehead and the other soft tissue on her face. No bruising though. Not there.

So at least she was dead before the killer put her in the ground. At least that was something.

Once we figure out her name, I’ll be sure to tell the family.

The only bruising is around the ligature marks. The thumb prints. The crushed larynx.

I straighten and gesture.

As the men lift the stretcher and move away, I glance around behind me. I need to find that rock.

There it is. I lift it gingerly, lay it to the side.

The yellow flower is crushed, bruised. Maybe it’s dead. Maybe it’ll be back.

Behind me, I hear Joe and Pete gathering their shovels. I turn around, say, “You guys ready to head back?”

They both nod and start for the SUV.

I glance one more time at the grave, then back at the flower, and send a thought its way.

No matter how hard the ground, beauty finds a way out.

* * * * * * *

 

The Journal, Friday, 4/28

Hey Folks,

Well, the first reader for “How Hard the Ground” enjoyed it, so it goes to market today.

Of course, he’s alone with me often, miles from anywhere, way out in the desert. And he knows how well I can shoot.

So that might have had a lot to do with his positive report. (grin)

But I’ll take it.

Topic: The Two Levels of Pacing

If you’ve been following me or my work for any length of time, you know I enjoy studying and applying pacing.

Overall, pacing means doing things to make the reader move through the book very fast when you want him to (action scenes) and doing things to make him slow down (rest) when and where you want him to (lunch or a day off for a picnic with the family or something).

There are a lot of tricks to that overall story pacing. Shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs and less dialogue, for example, for a fast-paced scene. The reverse, pretty much, for a slower-paced scene.

But here I want to talk about the second level of pacing. What I call Internal Pacing. Pacing inside an action scene.

Even in the midst of high-tension action scenes, the POV character notices things he wouldn’t ordinarily notice.

Realizing and understanding that and letting it come through your story will add another level of reality.

Plus it’s a ton of fun if you enjoy being inside your POV character’s head. And you should.

This is the point where you get to work with nuances. For that reason, these are the scenes to which I most often cycle back to let my character add detail when necessary. The POV character is in the heat of battle.

And you have to balance the bang-bang action with a description of the setting. (This is from within the character, remember.)

And the description isn’t normal either. This is what the character sees, hears, smells, tastes and so on while his senses are in that heightened, adrenaline-fueled state.

If you’ve ever been in a car accident or other high-tension situation, you know what I mean.
It’s as if visual and auditory representations of what’s going on come to you in stop-action, frame-by-frame pictures and sounds.

For a quick example, say you’ve come to a complete stop behind a flatbed truck that’s stopped at a stop sign.

His right turn signal is on.

You look to the left and see that nothing’s coming.

The guy in the truck lets off his brake and begins forward, so you let off your brake, assuming he’s going to turn.

But for some inexplicable reason, he brakes again and stops.

And you brake again, probably hard. But the road is covered with ice.

You know you’re going to slide forward and hit that ominous thick, flatbed truck and there is nothing you can do about it.

Still, you feel your eyes grow larger, you feel your grip tighten on the steering wheel, you feel yourself pressing harder on the brake.

And you see the hood of your car inching inexorably closer and closer to the ugly steel bumper on the back of the truck.

Everything slows down to a crawl during that intervening second or two. And then BAM, the hood of your car crumples and you’re back to real time.

Now, does describing the setting inside an action scene slow the action?

No. It adds a great deal of depth (and reality) to the action rather than glazing over the surface of it.

As always, questions and comments are welcome.

Today, and Writing

Rolled out actually at a little after midnight. Sometimes that’s how things work out.

I busied myself with email etc., then took a few pictures soon after first light.

Around 9:30 I moved out to the Hovel and started a new story.

11, a break and up to the house. My brain’s working a little slower today.

12:18… well, that “break” turned into a whole thing. I ordered something for my grandson through Amazon. Amazon sent me an email saying it was delivered 2 days ago. Um, no, it wasn’t.

So I went to the PO. (“Do you have a tracking number?”)

So I went home, got my computer, and went back to the PO.

They looked up the tracking number. Said the package was delivered to MY address in St. David (my town) but after that, in Litchfield Park, up near Phoenix.

My PO got on the phone with the LP PO. Guy said it was delivered.

Wonderful. So I’m out $10.

I went to Amazon, left “feedback” for the place that sold me what I ordered, then went to Ebay and ordered the same thing. It cost a little more, but it will be here in three days. And Amazon can bite me. (grin)

12:30, back to the story.

1:30, finished the story at exactly 1900 words. How weird is that? Plus it’s a weird story.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

“Story Twenty-Seven in Twenty-Seven Days” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-seven-in-twenty-seven-days/. Not a lot in this one.

See “A Novel Challenge” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/a-novel-challenge/. This is a really cool challenge. If you’ve ever wanted to push yourself and get expert feedback (possibly free), this is your chance.

Fiction Words: 1900
Nonfiction Words: 880 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 2780

Writing of Suction Cups (short story)

Day 1…… 1900 words. Total words to date…… 1900 (done)

Total fiction words for the month……… 35487
Total fiction words for the year………… 244043
Total nonfiction words for the month… 16530
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 73870

Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 317913

The Daily Journal blog streak……………………………… 520 days
Calendar Year 2017 Novel Goal (16 novels)… 5 novels
Total novels to date (since Oct 19, 2014)… 27 (includes 3 novellas)

The Journal, Thursday, 4/27

Hey Folks,

Today is a nonwriting day for fiction. It’s currently only around 1:30, and I’m making the call.

I’m in the Hovel, where I’m going to enjoy a good cigar in solitude and do something completely useless, like play solitaire or something. Then I’m going to finish a few chores at the house and call it a day.

I spent much of the morning doing things around the house, including putting a new screen on the upper panel of our front screen door, doing some laundry, stuff like that.

I went to the Hovel in the late morning and wrote most of what you see below. After that, as I began to cast about for something to write, my grandson came in.

For the next couple of hours he and I jumped through various federal and state and local bureacratic hoops.

Finally, after we ran in frustrating circles for a couple of hours, Bryan’s phone rang. It was yet another bureacrat, but one of the rarest kind. Not only does she actually DO her job, but today she went out of her way to do her job.

In fact, she called us to clarify, simplify and set aside much of the instruction we’d been given by another bureacrat earlier.

All we had to do, she said, was call our contact at Job Corps and have that person call her. She would personally fax the records directly to them on our behalf. End of story.

In short order, she rendered everything we’d done over the past two hours for the OTHER bureacrat completely unnecessary.

Which is fine, because at least we learned some things from having to deal with the earlier bureacrat, never mind the stress levels and the otherwise wasted two hours of our lives.

Like we learned how to use the combination copier/scanner/printer (I haven’t done that for years); and how to fill out an Official Request Form online and then print it for signature and then scan it into a .jpg file —

So we could email them to him.

Me: Wait, what? Back up. We can EMAIL this stuff to you?

Bureacrat: Yes, of course.

Me: Hmm. So then the signature isn’t really necessary, since you’re going to be looking at a picture of the document. I mean, how can you be sure who signed it?

Bureacrat, after a pregnant pause: Ha! Y’know, I guess you’re right. (Insert laugh track here.) Hey, how about that? Now ain’t that just the funniest thing?

What I Wanted to Say: (Insert series of expletives, many never before uttered in that particular order in this solar system.)

What I actually said: No. No, it isn’t.

And that’s what I hate about cell phones. It doesn’t have the same satisfying SLAM we used to get when we’d slam a telephone receiver into a cradle.

Oh, the issue? We wanted to get Bryan’s HS transcripts for Job Corps. Which we were initially told Job Corps had gotten for themselves a couple of weeks ago.

So it was one’a dem days. Life rolls, eh?

Anyway, here’s the topic I wrote earlier.

Topic: On Practice

One of the invaluable lessons I’ve picked up from DWS over the past few years is that a writer must practice.

His way (and the way that works best for me) is to pick one or two techniques that interest him, and then practice that (or those) in the next work.

That’s why I’ve been writing pulp detective fiction.

For one thing, the shorter novel (by definition, 25,000 to 44,999 words) is very interesting to me, and pulp readers expect shorter novels.

But the other, more important reason, is that I wanted to simultaneously study and practice writing high-tension, bang-bang-bang, action-adventure, thriller-type scenes.

And the cliffhangers and hooks that go with them.

Why? Because you only have to know four techniques to sell your stories:

1. Ground the reader in the scene. (In brief, experience the setting through the physical and emotional senses of the POV character.)

2. Write suspenseful, high-tension scenes.

3. Close (or “end,” but I prefer “close”) each scenes with a cliffhanger.

4. Open the next scene with a strong hook.

If you do those four things, the reader won’t be able to put your book down.

In case of a house fire, right after the children and the dog, your book will be the first thing that makes it out alive.

In fact, your book will probably be tucked under the reader’s arm while he’s rounding up the kids and the dog.

But I digress.

After my latest novella was finished, I wanted desperately to be finished with writing “pulp detective” fiction — or at least with the main character in my last two novels and that novella.

In some ways, the guy’s weak, and I don’t like that. The detective in a pulp mystery or thriller should never be weak, at least not in any major way.

He can appear weak intentionally to set a trap (Columbo) or he can appear “sensitive” blah blah blah.

But he can’t be indecisive or allow others to take the lead in his cases. And this guy even did that at least once.

So I’m through with him until he grows up. In fact, I might write one more with a different POV character and have Galecki killed off. Something. Shrug. I dunno.

Anyway, this morning I realized I’m not through practicing writing those suspenseful, high-tension scenes, cliffhangers and hooks.

And I’m not through practicing writing the two levels of pacing that go along with that. (The Two Levels of Pacing will be another topic.)

So whatever I write next, it will contain those kind of scenes because that’s what I want to practice. Also I enjoy it.

Of course, such scenes can be written in literally any genre. I know I can write them in westerns or SF or pulp detective.

In fact, genre doesn’t matter at all when it comes to this sort of psychological suspense-filled stuff because it’s merely an interplay among characters or between the POV character and some part(s) of the setting.

I’m competent at doing this, according to various readers’ input. My writing has never been called “thin,” for example (even when I thought it was).

And more than several times readers have gone out of their way to tell me they felt as if they were there, in the scene with the characters. Ba-ba-ba-bingo!

But I’m not expert at it by any means, and it’s what I want to practice at the moment.

Give it some thought. What are you practicing?

Today, and Writing

Rolled out at 2:30. After email etc. I did some stuff around the house. Then Bryan got a phone call. Then the stuff above happened.

1 p.m., back out here to the Hovel to write the stuff before the topic and enjoy a cigar.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

“Story Twenty-Six” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-six/.

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1080 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 1080

Writing of

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 33587
Total fiction words for the year………… 242143
Total nonfiction words for the month… 15650
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 72990

Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 315133

The Daily Journal blog streak……………………………… 519 days
Calendar Year 2017 Novel Goal (16 novels)… 5 novels
Total novels to date (since Oct 19, 2014)… 27 (includes 3 novellas)

The Journal, Wednesday, 4/26

Hey Folks,

Very short post today. Knowing me, I’ll be back with longer stuff tomorrow.

Today, and Writing

Rolled out at 3. Dabbled in what people call “politics” for awhile, but that isn’t an intense enough word.

5:30, I set aside the impulse to chew wheels and spit nails and escaped to the story. Cycling, of course.

Wrote for about a half-hour, then got busy around the yard, then a walk with my wife, then Walmart, then the PO. Finally back at 9:30, updated FB and checked email.

Almost 3 when I got back to the story. Did a TON of cycling. This is an odd duck. I don’t like present tense writing. It sounds like stage direction to me. But this story felt like it lent itself to it, so I tried it. First reader has it now. We’ll see.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

Wonderfully interesting comments on Dean’s “The Magic Bakery: Chapter Six” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/the-magic-bakery-chapter-six/comments/. It’s almost another entire blog post.

Also see “Story Twenty-five” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-five/.

Fiction Words: 1133
Nonfiction Words: 170 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 1303

Writing of How Hard the Ground (short story)

Day 1…… 1807 words. Total words to date…… 1807
Day 2…… 1133 words. Total words to date…… 2940 (done)

Total fiction words for the month……… 33587
Total fiction words for the year………… 242143
Total nonfiction words for the month… 14570
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 71910

Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 314053

The Daily Journal blog streak……………………………… 518 days
Calendar Year 2017 Novel Goal (16 novels)… 5 novels
Total novels to date (since Oct 19, 2014)… 27 (includes 3 novellas)

The Journal, Tuesday, 4/25

Hey Folks,

A few days ago I mentioned that I had an idea for an 11th novel in the Wes Crowley saga. A few of you cheered. Thanks for that.

Part of my reasoning was that the last novel (and the saga) didn’t end the way I wanted it to. Several other readers also noted it didn’t end the way it would have if they were the protagonist.

So I was all set to pull a Hollywood cheat. I was thinking maybe Wes had dreamed (nightmared, more specifically) book 10. I was going to have him wake up at the beginning of book 11 and go on with the story from there after shaking off the dregs of the nightmare.

But in preparation for writing that novel, I read over part of book 10, The Right Cut, this morning.

know what? The saga is finished. Just as I thought it was when I finished writing book 10 in June of last year.

And the ending was completely satisfying.

It still didn’t end the way it would have ended if I (or others, apparently) had been the protagonist.

But I wasn’t. Nor were others. The protaginist was Wes. Writing this particular book 11 would have turned Wes into someone he’s never been.

So no, I won’t do that.

More than anyone else I’ve ever known, Wes always lived up to the ideal that being upright is not a matter of degree.

As it is, the series explores Wes’ life from the time he was 15 years old until he was nearing 60. And that’s enough.

Oh, someday I might put together a collection of Crowley stories that he’s telling his grandchildren or something like that. Of course, they would be stories that are not contained in the saga. We’ll see.

But the saga, the main story of Wes Crowley, is finished.

For those of you who read only paper editions (no ebooks), I can tell you The Right Cut will be out in paper in a week or so. (grin)

As for me, well, beginning today, it’s a whole new world. Time to write something new.

Para ahora, adios, Wes Crowley, mi amigo.

***

I’m still planning another challenge. Soon. But it’s something for which I’ll need to take Dean’s advice and “clear the decks,” meaning prepare the way for fewer distractions.

At the moment, I’m in the midst of a life roll, so it’ll be awhile yet before I announce the new challenge.

I can tell you it will have a great deal to do with actually writing in public. Beyond that, frankly, I haven’t figured it out yet.

Today, and Writing

Rolled out right at 3. I spent most of the morning in a haze of general confusion. Mostly that means my brain was so full of thoughts it was difficult to grasp one, or even tail one to any kind of logical conclusion.

I messed around most of the day, looking at old story starts, old ideas. Nothing caught my interest.

I looked at a file of character names I have.

I looked through about 700 stock photos.

I looked at some old titles I have lying around.

Nothing.

Around 2:30, finally, my gaze lit on a file name in my Writing folder in my Dropbox.

I opened it, and there I found a quote that I liked so much I’d written it down and saved it.

The quote was from a friend and writing colleague. If I remember correctly, it was originally a caption that accompanied a photo of a wild flower. He posted it on Facebook.

The quote? “No matter how hard the ground, beauty finds a way out.” (Thanks, Dan.)

Bingo.

I wrote “How Hard the Ground” across the top of a clean screen. Then I started writing.

About 500 words in, I realized it’s gonna be another mystery thing. Short or long, I don’t know yet. But a lot of rather morose fun.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “The Magic Bakery: Chapter Six” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/the-magic-bakery-chapter-six/.

“Story Twenty-four” is at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-four/.

Some fun in the comments on Dean’s post from yesterday at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-three-plus-stuff/#comments.

This just in: I strongly recommend you read the comments under “Robert Prisig Dies at 88” at http://www.thepassivevoice.com/2017/04/robert-pirsig-dies-at-88/. Specifically, the comment by Tom Simon. Really great stuff.

Fiction Words: 1807
Nonfiction Words: 690 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 2497

Writing of How Hard the Ground (story or novel)

Day 1…… 1807 words. Total words to date…… 1807

Total fiction words for the month……… 32454
Total fiction words for the year………… 241010
Total nonfiction words for the month… 14400
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 71740

Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 312750

The Daily Journal blog streak……………………………… 517 days
Calendar Year 2017 Novel Goal (16 novels)… 5 novels
Total novels to date (since Oct 19, 2014)… 27 (includes 3 novellas)

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Hi Folks,

A writer and friend once asked in a comment over on my Daily Journal whether I would

“address the issue of setting the bar of productivity so high that [some] of us … can’t possibly keep up with you? As much as I want to, I can’t keep up. I’m guessing that eliminates me from the ‘professional writer’ category.”

I did respond in a comment (on the Journal), but I know a lot of readers don’t go back and read comments. Also, there are at least two separate issues in his question, and I didn’t answer them both.

First and foremost, please understand, I don’t set the bar of productivity for anyone but myself.

Your job as a writer isn’t to keep up with me or anyone else. Your job as a writer is to write. Period.

And that’s a job you took on yourself voluntarily. You can quit if you want.

We all live different lives with different requirements, different interests, etc. I wouldn’t dream of setting your goals for you. You have to do that yourself, or not.

Here’s what I recommend to calculate or set your own productivity goals if that’s something you want to do:

  1. Figure out about how many publishable words of fiction you can write per hour. (Same goes for other kinds of writing.) Most writers who practice writing into the dark tend to get 750 to 1000 words per hour (that’s only 13 to 17 words per minute).
  2. Figure out realistically how many hours per day you can write. This doesn’t have to be every day. It’s your schedule, so set it up the way you want to. (If you feel that you have zero free time every day, email me and ask how to find extra time. I’d be happy to fill you in.)
    • If you write only one hour per day and you put out 1000 publishable words per hour, you will write 30,000 publishable words in a typical month. That’s 360,000 publishable words per year.
    • I started to add that if you write only two hours per week, you will write 110,000 words per year, but that isn’t really true. The numbers are there, and it’s possible. And I’m sure there are exceptions that prove the rule. But the fact is,
    • if writing is such a low priority that you can find only two hours per week to practice your craft, chances are great that other things will take over and the writing will fall away.
  3. Prioritize. Do remember, please, that only you can set your own priorities in your life. If you’re in prison, then many of your priorities are set for you, but otherwise you set your own priorities. The fact is, when we want something badly enough, we find a way to make it work. When we don’t, well, we don’t. That’s priorities.
  4. Write. You can’t be a writer unless you write. Yes, it’s a free country. You can SAY you’re a writer even if you never write anything more substantial than a grocery list. But you can’t BE a writer unless you write.
  5. This is a bonus. Know that there is power in streaks. If you want to be a writer, set goals and challenge yourself.
    • If I hadn’t set a goal to write a new short story every week back in April, 2014, I wouldn’t currently have 92 short stories on the site at HarveyStanbrough.com and another one due by Monday at 9 a.m.
    • If I hadn’t set a personal daily goal to write a certain number of publishable words per day back in October, 2014, I wouldn’t currently have six novels and a novella finished and be over 25,000 words into another novel. And finally,
  6. It doesn’t matter WHAT goal you set, as long as you set one and then strive to reach it.

Okay, that’s one question answered.

Second, if you can’t keep up with me does that automatically eliminate you from the “professional writer” category?

No.

  1. I don’t keep up with Dean Wesley Smith, but I still consider myself a professional fiction writer.
  2. I don’t keep up with ANY of the old pulp writers. Many of them routinely hit over 1,000,000 (that’s one million) words per year of published fiction, and they did it on manual typewriters.

As I said above, it isn’t about keeping up with anyone else. It’s about setting a goal and then striving to achieve it.

Only you can decide whether you are a professional fiction writer. But don’t judge yourself based on what I do or on what anyone else does.

In my world, if you’re a “professional” anything, that means you engage in a certain activity as your chosen profession.

If you’re a professional automobile engine mechanic, you repair engines. If you’re a professional house painter, you paint houses. If you’re a professional teacher, you prepare lesson plans and conduct classes. If you’re a professional writer, you write and you put your work out there so readers can find it.

As I wrote at the outset, I didn’t write the Daily Journal and post my numbers to intimidate anyone or even to challenge anyone. To be honest, I posted the numbers “in public” primarily to hold myself accountable. Secondarily, I post the numbers to show other writers and would-be writers what is possible if they follow Heinlein’s Rules and if they practice Writing Off Into the Dark. I posted my Topic of the Night pieces to share my knowledge. (shrug) Nothing more to it than that.

If my postings here or on the Journal encourage any other writers to greater heights with their writing, good. I am honored.

Finally, just so you know, I blatantly stole the idea for my Daily Journal from Dean Wesley Smith, who does something very similar. He calls it Writing in Public.

Honestly, I think he got the idea from Harlan Ellison, who at one time set up a chair and small desk in the display window of a department store and wrote short story after short story “in public.”

He wrote the stories on the spot on a manual typewriter, and as he finished each page, he stuck it to the display window so the readers gathered outside could read it as he wrote it.

How’s that for confidence in your ability as a professional fiction writer?

Happy writing,

Harvey

The Journal, Monday, 4/24

Hey Folks,

Some folks’ need for boundaries is amazing to me. To see what I mean, read the comment by “Patrick R” on Dean’s http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-one/ and then Dean’s response.

With appropriate respect to Patrick R, I found the exchange hilarious.

***

I did a spell check of The Platinum Blond Perturbance yesterday after I finished it. Ugh. Even writing the promo doc for this one was like pulling teeth.

And there are people who spend months or years writing a novel? I swear, I think I’d shoot myself. Or at least go find something fun to do.

This morning I’m going to create a cover and get it out. I want this thing off my desk.

For some reason this one really annoyed me. This is one of those that I was tempted to let die a few times. Even now I’m tempted to just throw it away instead of publishing it.

Fortunately, in my mind DWS keeps saying “What right do you have to pre-judge what the reader will like?”

And doubly fortunately, that admonishment was borne-out the last time I wrote something that I thought sucked canal water from all 50 states.

Not surprisingly, I don’t remember the title, but it was a short story. And the day after I published it, a reader emailed me to tell me it was one of the best things she’d ever read.

Go figure.

Remember that, folks.

1. Writers really ARE the worst judges of their own work, not only when they think it’s good, but when they think it’s horrible.

2. Every value judgement really does come down to the reader’s taste. Period.

***

Well, Bryan finally got through to JobCorps at about 9, only to hear “call back in two weeks.” That’s what they said two weeks ago.

Well, I guess it’ll be what it’ll be. But I’m annoyed to say the least. The last WIP plus this has me wanting to do odd things. I’ll leave it at that.

Today, and Writing

Rolled out at 4. I kept waking up and then just lying there until I went back to sleep.

I spent the first two hours reading stuff online. Spent the next couple getting a cover done and getting The Platinum Blond Perturbance distributed and uploaded to BundleRabbit.

Went to lunch with my grandson, then updated HarveyStanbrough.com and StoneThreadPublishing.com with the new book.

Nonwriting day today.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

At Dean’s place, “Story Twenty-Three plus stuff” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-three-plus-stuff/.

From The Digital Reader (http://the-digital-reader.com) a compilation of tweets chock full of URLs for you to research and read if you’re interested. See http://the-digital-reader.com/2017/04/22/paul-bibas-ebook-elibrary-emuseum-epublishing-news-compilation-week-ending-saturday-april-22/.

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 440 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 440

Writing of

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 30647
Total fiction words for the year………… 239203
Total nonfiction words for the month… 13710
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 71050

Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 310253

The Daily Journal blog streak……………………………… 516 days
Calendar Year 2017 Novel Goal (15 novels)… 5 novels
Total novels to date (since Oct 19, 2014)… 27 (includes 3 novellas)

The Journal, Sunday, 4/23

Hey Folks,

Well, I woke up Sunday mornin’ with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt…

For some reason, I woke up with that in my mind.

I love that song, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” by Kris Kristofferson, one of America’s foremost poets in my estimation.

My own head isn’t hurting except with the hope that my novella will wrap today or tomorrow. Though I do love my whiskey and have several bottles on hand.

But I love a clear head more, so I don’t imbibe other than very rarely.

I currently have my two favorites — Jameson & Sons and Jim Beam — as well as Beam’s Devil’s Cut and a very special bottle of Rebel Yell. A friend gave me that. I was so ignorant that I opened it before I understood it was a collector’s item.

One’a these days….

Today, and Writing

Rolled out at 3 and per usual spent a few hours just playing. I did do one bit of creative work, creating a meme using a photo of a wiseguy and a two-word quote from a Berkeley cop: “Okay… And?” Great fun. At the expense of a very unprofessional professional.

Around 7, one more cup of coffee and out to the Hovel and the novel.

I cycled and wrote off and on for about an hour. Then Mona and I took a walk, just a couple miles out back.

Wow. Every story writes differently, but I hope I never have another one like this. Too convoluted, so too many opportunities for the critical mind to jump in and try to “figure things out.”

And OMG ugh. I’m definitely through writing in this world for awhile.

Anyway, I got the thing finished today. And since I include novellas in my novel count (easier than saying 20+ novels and three novellas), my annual goal for novels has just increased from 15 to 16.

Tomorrow’s schedule is up in the air until Bryan calls Job Corps. If they say “Come on down,” I’ll have a trip to Tucson tomorrow. If not, I’ll write and the trip will come later.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

Some great comments and thought-provoking (and sometimes frown-provoking) questions at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-one/#comments.

His “Story Twenty-Two” is pretty good too. See http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/story-twenty-two/.

Fiction Words: 2571
Nonfiction Words: 330 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 2901

Writing of The Platinum Blond Perturbance

Day 1…… 1381 words. Total words to date…… 1381
Day 2…… 1864 words. Total words to date…… 3245
Day 3…… 2136 words. Total words to date…… 5381
Day 4…… 2201 words. Total words to date…… 7582
Day 5…… 2579 words. Total words to date…… 10161
Day 6…… 1344 words. Total words to date…… 11505
Day 7…… 2513 words. Total words to date…… 14018
Day 8…… 2149 words. Total words to date…… 16167
Day 9…… 2571 words. Total words to date…… 18738 (done)

Total fiction words for the month……… 30647
Total fiction words for the year………… 239203
Total nonfiction words for the month… 13270
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 70610

Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 309813

The Daily Journal blog streak……………………………… 515 days
Calendar Year 2017 Novel Goal (15 novels)… 5 novels
Total novels to date (since Oct 19, 2014)… 27 (includes 3 novellas)