Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Writer is Always Writing & CONTEST for Signed Walker Title

A few remarks before I get to the Contest to Win a signed copy of DEAD ON (Five Star Books).

I have had one of those weeks that has not allowed me to get back to my manuscript; life in general can keep you so busy as to pull you from your plans, goals, tasks, schedules.  I want to write some pages on the novel I am COOKING currently even if it is a few pages or even one page, but this week I had to grade essay exams along with my normal schedule and this took all my time. This and the usual stuff.  So I am still on page 55 and that's not good; that means no forward progress on PlagueShip Titanic.  That disturbs me and bothers me and makes me mad at myself and my lifestyle.  I managed to do some other things like talk to friends on facebook, sent out a few tweets, wrote three other blogs other than THIS I guested on and wrote for where I am the new guy on the block blog.  And then there is my normal Friday blog at

Howeveer, when a writer misses scheduled time, he makes it up.  This weekend, I intend to do just that.  Meantime let it be known that a writer, even when not writing is writing.  What that means is that you are a writer 24/7.  You are thinking about the story, about where it has been, its opening, its UP to this Point, its characters; in fact, you are thinking as if from the point of view of your main character.  You are thiniking about plot points and even reconsidering that opening. 

I am seriously re-thinking how I organized those first four chapters.  I set it up as opening in the past and starting with the shipyard where Titanic and the creature that slips aboard are first introduced to one another, with the horrible death of the miner who discovers the terror in the deep alongside the iron ore mined for the ship builders....and after the two chapters in the past then I opened the modern day story set in 2012 with Buckland, my main point of view character in the present story.  The good news is that the past story will be shaped around my City for Ransom point of view character, the great and wonderful Inspector Alastair Ransom.  I was delighted to realize that finally I could get Ransom on board the Titanic and that he will be exactly where I always wanted him to end the Ransom series -- aboard the Titanic.  When HarperCollins, my publisher for City for Ransom told me after City of the Absent and Shadows in White City that they would not be continuing the seires, I was crestfallen as I had wanted to take Ransom from 1893 to 1914. Horray....I get my way after all.

And next revelation is more a question than a revelation that this book is perfect for Ransom to be revived; this question is SHOULD I begin at another beginning....should I open with the futuristic opening set in 2012?  In fact, should I move it up even futher to say 2020?  But the bigger question is should the novel open in the future or the past?  Many readers, I believe, would be more likely to be excited by those first pages of the Now story as opposed to the Then story.  I know the novel wants both stories and each story, past and present have to be equally important and given equal time....maybe with more given to the Now Story perhaps but pretty equal amount of time spent in both time zones for this to work.

But the big question and would like your input folks is Do I do better starting with the Future/Now Story or should I leave well enough alone.  I think I will give this a lot of thought.  So is that not part of the writing process?  Thinking, thinking, thinking like researching and reading?  Some authors say this is not writing, but I am not so sure.

Now there is the question of the title.  I have racked my limited resources, my brain, for a title and while I am not entirely happy with PlagueShip Titanic, it is the best I could come up with; however, you may come up with an ALTERNATIVE Title, and if you can come up with one that is the BEST Alternative Title in my estimation then I will sign a copy of DEAD ON and send it to you post haste.  Here are the rules...There are no rules.  Anyone can send in a title idea.  By now you know the premise of the book and if not, check the badck posts on Cooking Up a Novel in a year.  By the end of March, I will make a decision on the best alternative title and announce it here.  I am blogging here once a week, typically each Saturday.  The title just needs to sum up the story perfectly.  I hope you can better me on a title suggestions.

That's it for today's post.  Thanks for coming by and all your support.  Not easy being cursed with the need to write, so I appreciate your being here to cheer me on.  Can I make the rough draft in three months?  Not sure....Can I finish the novel in a year?  Sure...why not!  I got time....

Rob Walker

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dead On - Installment 3: Cookin' up a Book!

Joy and time for a mini celebration as I have surpassed page fifty of the novel.  It is important, actually, for an author to celebrate each and every small victory -- as in the opening scene, the first chapter, chapter two.....Now mind you, depending on how you celebrate, this can get you tipsy or bloated, so watch out about rewards but by the same token, you need to mentally reward yourself and pat yourself on the back--as hard as that may be for someone of my girth, but you get my meaning.

Each increment in the forward moving of your story along is a milestone; you think consciously of the whole job ahead of you and it can paralyze you before you're even underway.  Great philosophers, theologians, even Mark Twain all implore you to take a huge task on in manageabl chunks and that is what scenes in a play are for and separate Acts or Chapters.  I find great fault with the push to nowadays call a paragraph a chapter, believe you me.  In fact, however, I did not always know precisely the way to organize my scenes and chapters until I began to read as a writer to seek out how other authors laid out their scenes and chapters, and I discovered in Wm. Hallahan's creepy, wonderful The Search for Joseph Tulley a champion of how to set scenes within chapters and do it well.  Hallahan's scenes are numbered - yes, 1, 2, 3 and sometimes 4 scenes before the curtain closes on a chapter.  I don't feel the need to actually number my scnes as he did in this novel, but I got so much from seeing him do it, and I got into the habit of writing scenes within acts or chapters.

Major time shifts...point of view shfts, major shifts of the set (setting/location) make for great Chapter Ends and New Chapter Begins.  Take that to heart and hopefully you will not fall under the spell of writing one paragraph so-called chapters.  Now that said, some mechanical problems and pains in the patootie I had to deal with on continuing PlagueShip Titanic once I got off the beam and completed the opening chapters.  The proliferation of characters in any novel.  How do you first remember all the names and ticks and distinguishing features of so many people running about and mucking about in your story?  For one, I go to the bottom of the manuscript and keep a list of the complete names and possibly a title or a word or two about said characters -- but not a full-blown "chasracter card" or profile.  I don't outline as you see but allow the book to unfold, and I allow the characters to unfold or reveal themselves too as the story's forward dynamo propels them.

I have indeed learned soooooo much from reading as a writer; if you read with the mindset to learn from those who have come before you, and Hallahan is just ahead of me, but the masters of the novel form, and the masters of intrigue and atmosphere, you can't go wrong.  Just about every How-To ends with a chapter on Reading Like a Writer.  That said how could a personality like mine NOT learn the episodic novel from a careful reading of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and not see its flaws, particularly its flawd ending and not learn from the good, the bad, and the ugly of this American classic?  Or for that matter Catcher in the Rye.

So now the book currently being cooked up you must know has to acknowldge a huge learning curve by its author. Each book I write, too, teaches me more about the myriad choices we make as authors and where to put the emphasis, where to hit a sour note, where to do a counter-balance, where to let a bit of experimentation stand, etc.  In the "monster onf the Titanic" novel, I am doing something called framing; I am framing the modern day tale with the historical one.  A good example of this is Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg, wherein the past story informs the present story.  In my Titanic tale, what happened in 1913 an 14 and particularly the night she sank forms a framework for the story in the near future, 2012, which in turn relies on the past story for credibility. 

Who could possibly believe that there is a horrendous disease-carrying bevy of pods or seedlike eggs waiting to be harvested by a monster parading as a man or woman intent on bringing them up from the depths of the shipwreck if the stage is not set some hundred years before on the seagoing Titanic?  Meshing two storylines, in a sense two novels, into as seamless a single novel as one can make it is helped along by the notion of using the historical story as a frame that wraps about the current story.  If not a frame then a series of venetian blinds...back, forward, back, forward.  It is an ambitious undertakiing but a novel is always an ambitious undertaking, and a good, fearless writer always loves a challenge and to challenge his/her readers as Flagg did with her novel.  If you have not read her book but have seen the film, you know what I am talking about.

When last I posted, I left you with a past chapter, opening with the historical framwork.  This could change by time the book is rewritten and polished; I could begin with the current day story and I just might, but for the time being, I will stay with the chronolgy as is.  Last time I placed up an opening chapter and spoke of openings.  In a sense, doing two timelines like this, there are two openings, each introducing a separate set of characters.  It is imperative that you keep your number of chiefs to a minimum--three and four is getting high.  You can bring on walk-on characters, even throwaway characters set up to die in a scene or chapter, and you want to keep a list of character names, but keep asking yourself Whose Story Is it Anyway? 

Zero in on a single character (or two if you are inserting a romance) and keep going back to that point of view.  A single scene or a chapter can be devoted to only ONE character.  In chapter one of the historical tale, the point of view character died, so the next point of view character takes precedence.  Eventually it will be taken over by the main POV character in the past story and happily, I am reviving Inspector Alastair Ransom to do the detective work in 1914 as he has retired from the Chicago PD and is living an aka life as a private detective in Belfast Northern Ireland.  Reviving Alastair Ransom as Alastair Crowley in hiding from a murder trial back in Chicago was a delightful surprise to even me.  He was the Sherlock of City for Ransom, Shadows in White City, and City of the Absent.

For the future tale, the Now Story, the chief POV character is young, virile David Buckland and he shares the stage with love interest Kelly Irvin (as my friend and fellow Five Star/Cengage author won a prize to become a character in my next novel, so here it is!).  She has pulled a major role in the story.  Now this blog has gotten long in the tooth, so I will finish here.  I will place up a chapter from the NOW story below for those who want to see how the current story opens and compare and contrast it to the opening of the Past  story.  Note that with the current story I begin in the mind of the main POV character, and while it is a free-wheeling multiple viewpoint novel, it is David's story and he will be the fulcrum.  Whether you have time or not to read Chapter Three or not, do leave any questions or comments you'd care to and I will get back to you here. 

Chapter Three - First chapter of the Futuristic story framed by the historical tale:

June 10, 2012, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

The screeching seagulls overhead seemed quite out of their minds with the unusual early AM activity surrounding the bizarre-looking research vessel in its slip at the harbor. Human activity. Human excitement. It must mean food scraps for them. What else might it portend, wondered David Buckland, feeling a bit like Ishmael of Moby Dick fame, readying for the voyage with the mad Ahab.

The research vessel, Scorpio IV—four times the size of anything else docked here in Woods Hole—was jam packed with superstructure that supported two enormous cranes, affording seagulls all manner of handy places to perch; in fact, the birds patiently awaited any opportunity for scraps and fish heads to eat. The primary purpose of the two super cranes was hardly for the birds, but rather for lifting tons of weight from the depths of the ocean and positioning heavy objects onto the deck. In a matter of weeks, the computer operated, hydraulic cranes would be picking clean the combined treasures of the untapped, mysterious interior sections of a ninety eight year old shipwreck named Titanic.

David Buckland took notice of it all—thankful the seagulls weren’t a flock of albatrosses. He gave a flash thought to his reading of The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, imagining he would undoubtedly run into an ancient sailor or two on this trip—old timers with short fuses and little patience for the young and foolish who got men killed at sea as quickly as scratching an itch. And what with Buckland coming off a failed mission, if the old timers aboard Scorpio knew his history, they’d be wary of him the entire way out and back.

Buckland came aboard without fanfare and no one to greet him. Everyone on the pier and aboard were busily at work. It was obvious orders were to ship out within the hour.

At the center of Scorpio, Buckland found the ‘oil well’ over which the largest derrick supported a myriad of equipment strung with cable as thick as hemp on a Cutty Sark. Essentially a high-tech outfitted drill ship, Scorpio’s primary drilling derrick stood amidships. But rather than use a traditional drill pipe, Scorpio’s gleaming derricks supported her enormous cables—hundred pound CryoCable to be exact. It could withstand the most frigid conditions on Earth, including the bottom of the North Atlantic or to be exact two miles below the surface.

Buckland, carrying his gear, now ran a strong hand along the huge derrick steel. With her electronically controlled pulleys, Scorpio could hoist anything imaginable, even a Titanic-sized bulkhead if need be. David imagined that if the Titanic were in one piece as was the case in a Clive Cussler novel years before Ballard’s discovery of the ripped apart, pancaked-in-on-itself ship, Buckland had no doubt that Scorpio could “Raise the Titanic.”

However, their mission was not to raise her so much as raid her as in the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Some news accounts used the term ‘rape’ her, but Buckland didn’t see it that way in the least. It was well known that Titanic took down many treasures with her—far more than dishware—and the belief held that even the sealed hold that carried a treasure-trove of vintage automobiles would be perfectly preserved at the depths where Titanic resided. Even a sandwich in a Stover’s lunchbox at that depth would be preserved and edible. So what of the stash of mailbags crossing the Atlantic in 1914? A trove of letters and papers alone. So what of all the jewels and watches and rings stowed in the safes aboard, not to mention fixtures and shipboard items that had survived all these years—museum pieces for the world’s showcases?

It was just a matter of using modern means to salvage the treasures awaiting them from what remained inside the various safes aboard, the staterooms, the various extras on the walls, the mailbags, the silverware, the cargo holds. Yes it was all extremely controversial, and Buckland had had to walk through a sizeable crowd of protestors noisier than the seagulls to get aboard, but history would eventually prove the mission the right thing to do. The other side spoke of Titanic as Dr. Robert Ballard had when he’d last left Titanic’s ruins decades ago now—as a last resting place, a sanctified ground, a place not to be disturbed, a place nothing should be removed from. Robert Serling’s Ghosts of the Titanic prevailed in the minds of many, but for Buckland and other scientists such concerns amounted to superstitious claptrap and bad reading to boot.

“Make no mistake about it,” said a white-bearded stout fellow confronting Buckland now, jabbing at the derrick with his pipe, “this monster can hoist up an entire Sherman tank from below if you give the order, Dr. Buckland.”

“Capable of a quarter million pounds of lift,” David replied, smiling. “May sound like science fiction but there you have it.”

“Indeed, young man…indeed.”

“Your voice sounds somewhat familiar. You’re Dr. Alandale, aren’t you, sir?

“Aye—first mate, science officer. We talked on the radio. Captain’ll see you soon ’nough. Busy with a bloody press conference.”

“Good to meet you, sir.”

“And welcome aboard to you.” Dimitri Alandale, half Greek, half Scotsman was in his mid-sixties—a tall, gaunt man, who looked the picture of a graying oceanographer and seaman.

The two seamen, young and old, stood in silent admiration of the machinery before them, understanding its power, and that its express purpose was to lower and lift a massive platform on which thousands of pounds of sensing devices, search and salvage equipment, rested—equipment made readily available two miles below the surface to intrepid diving teams made up of men and a woman whose experiences uniquely qualified them. Buckland would be among the divers using the new underwater breathing apparatus that allowed divers to explore the vast interiors of the sleeping giant below the Atlantic.

He and his entire team had passed extensive tests utilizing the new technology that amounted to breathing oxygenated liquid into their lungs and essentially returning to a fish-like state in that their lungs would be filled with liquid, but liquid from which they could sustain life. It was a technology developed by the US Navy, and Buckland had been among the first test subjects. It essentially involved a moment of death before coming out on the other side, unless a diver panicked, in which case, there was no other side. Having the liquid pumped from the lungs after mission accomplished was no picnic either, but breathing from lungs filled with liquid equalized the pressure and allowed a man to dive as never before.

In any event, there was no room for error.

“I can hardly imagine being able to withstand temperatures of minus 1,700 degrees,” muttered Alandale in Buckland’s ear. The man’s large-faced, wide grin was infectious, and now Buckland placed his looks; Alandale had the bearing and appearance of the actor Max Van Sidow in his later years.

“Our dive suits are made of the same material as the CryoCable here,” David replied, giving a mock-squeeze to the huge cable. Buckland had imagined this trip and the dives ahead of them many times over; he’d imagined the giant platform at the bottom of the sea chockfull with treasures that would find their way to public museums across the globe. Treasures dredged up by human hands from Titanic’s secret interiors.

Sure I’m in it for the money, but I’m here for the adrenalin rush, too, he thought, being honest with himself.

The press called them fortune hunters, mercenaries, but there was more to it than money—far more. Buckland turned at the shouting of orders from below. From where he stood alongside Alandale, he could see that half the people milling about the pier and the research vessel were reporters, and the last time Buckland had spoken to a reporter was on his return from Japan where he’d been branded a hero for saving lives. No one said much about Wilcox. Hell, Wilcox had saved his life so that he could himself go on to save others. But Wilcox had died in the tragedy—and so far as David Buckland was concerned, he’d failed his best friend when Terry most needed him.

Buckland’s Oakley dark glasses lightened when the sun slipped behind a cloud, relieving the scene of the blinding June day. He wore a sailor’s Navy Pea coat and matching toque, looking like any crewmember as he’d hoped to get through the reporters without notice, and it’d worked. He just wanted to blend in at this point; he could be himself at sea and was seldom at ease any longer when not at sea.

His wide shoulders, height, and good looks usually tagged him as some sort of Billy Budd, but this particular Budd held three diplomas and two doctorates. His long, sandy blond hair curled up from below the hat. As always, he maintained his regimen of exercise to keep in peak athletic shape. A former Navy Seal, he routinely involved himself in various triathlons across the country and overseas.

Buckland’s attention was now drawn to a figure pushing through the crowd, a young woman who offered a reporter a sharp reply to what was likely a question about her mercenary tendencies with regard to Titanic. Buckland guessed who she might be, and he thought her stunning, and from her catlike reaction to the reporter, she didn’t take anything sitting down. He noticed how she took in the crowd, eyes darting in all directions as if searching for someone she’d hoped to meet on the pier, someone other than reporters.

Looking over her shoulder like me these days, he wondered, unable to take his eyes from her. He watched her go about in a circle, taking her time on the pier, still searching it seemed and suddenly she was looking up at the ship and straight at David. He blinked and pretended to look away, leaning into the railing, hair lifting in the breeze. But he soon looked back. Had she found who she was looking for? Was she in search of the so-called hero, David Buckland? If so, perhaps there was an upside to the hero business after all. She was gorgeous and obviously in wonderful health.

Her gaze is still on me, he told himself when he again focused on her whereabouts.

He gave her a firm nod to acknowledge their mutual stare, and he instantly regretted it. This ain’t no Woods Hole bar scene, man!” he admonished himself. She had most likely seen his photo in the newspapers or on CNN if not National Geographic. A groupie not, I suppose.

She tugged at a small bag on wheels trailing behind her, her honey-brown hair lifting in the sea breeze. Dressed in jeans and a safari blouse, the returning sun bathed her in light as she made her way up the gangplank. Tall, he thought, fair-skinned, and as she approached, he saw that her eyes matched the color of her hair. Carries herself with a distinct elegance, pride, he surmised.

But Dr. Kelly Irvin, one of his co-divers—stepped up to him and Dr. Alandale, showering Alandale with how she had read everything he had ever written, and how she felt in awe in the presence of such genius, meanwhile entirely ignoring Buckland as if he were a fixture—treating him like one of the crew. But isn’t that my act? My intention? he asked himself.

She introduced herself to Alandale and then asked where the private quarters for the dive team might be found, “So I might stow my gear?”

Alandale gave directions, and she rushed off with the older man pretty much on her arm as he guided her to a door that would take her down and into the ship. At the hatch, she insisted that Alandale escort her below decks. She disappeared without a word to Buckland. Maybe he was wrong in his assumptions about her, but she came off as rather cold to the ‘hired help’.

Buckland reported to the tough-minded, former naval captain, Lou Swigart, head of the dive team overall on Scorpio. It’d been Swigart who had hand-picked David from hundreds of applicants for this mission. David had been told by Lou, some fifteen years his senior, that there would be no headlines going out about this mission to Titanic that were not cleared by the Woods Hole Institute PR machine. That there would be no headline-grabbing cowboys here. “Not by my dive team!” he had shouted. “It’s a purely scientific and salvage operation this…this expedition, Dave, and to the scientists go the spoils—whatever’s dredged out of the belly of that beast down there. But make no bones about it, the entire structure is unstable, and what we’re proposing…well it could easily—easily turn into a suicide mission, you understand?”

“I do…completely.”

“You don’t go into this thinking you have something to prove, Dave. This is now, and it’s hardly the Sea of Japan.”

“I need the bread, Lou. I signed on for the hundred thou.” This was the going rate for a suicide dive; the money had been put up by a private donor working through the institute. Said donor had managed to override decades of objections from those who supported the belief that Titanic should not be disturbed any more than it already had been by various nations around the world—none of whom had the technology that Scorpio was now equipped with.

“I saw the spread National Geo did on you, Dave,” Lou had continued. “Made quite a splash. Just be damned sure we have no g’damn accidents here, and that the wreck you and your friends worked in the Sea of Japan is in the past and out of your system.”

Dave gave a thought to his best friend whose body had never been recovered, at eternal rest inside the hull of a World War II Japanese submarine; quite the expensive coffin. How many eulogies had he given to Terry Wilcox? “Lou, I swear to you it’s behind me,” he wanted to believe it as firmly as he’d said it.

“Good…good. Can’t have you down there with any damn ghosts, emotional baggage—all that shit.”

“Understood, sir.”

“Have to be focused like a laser. No place for idle thoughts.”

Swigart was right of course, and right to call him on it a final time today. “I won’t let you down, Lou. Promise.”

“All I ask, and thanks for dropping in. Get your gear stowed and ready yourself for the voyage out to Titanic, Dave.”

“Aye, Captain of Divers.”

It was the unspoken stuff that seeped in like water through rock to make its way into Buckland’s mind, however, that now descended on him as he entered the cramped quarters below decks. The narrow passageways, the shoulder-to-shoulder sized bunk space and single locker, it all looked like that damned sub in the waters near Japan. It made him wonder about where precisely Terry Wilcox’s skeletal remains had become trapped, but he quickly rushed from that path of thought, knowing he could not go down that road again if he wished to remain sane.

As a balm, he rushed instead to thinking of the thoroughfares inside the Titanic where he would be diving in the near future. From all he had ever read of the ship, it was spacious—outlandishly so, at least before it sank. Now to be sure, ceilings in particular would be crushing and walls and bulkheads tight indeed, but he imagined it would be more spacious than a WWII vintage sub.

Buckland and other divers had been working with the Navy for a year after their initial recruitment, but oddly enough, they had been trained at different locations and had not worked as a team. It was part of the overall strategy, according to Swigart; from his understanding the ‘bosses’ wanted it that way, believing that too much familiarity among team members in such a high-stress situation guaranteed slip ups, that a dive team too closely aligned by fidelity, friendship, and loyalty were less likely to follow protocol in a negative event or accident. In essence, that was what had happened to Buckland’s buddy in Japan. Perhaps it would not have happened had absolute protocol had been followed, but then again who knew for sure? Certainly not the commission put together to study the mishap, whose thousand page report made for sleep-inducing prose. They had admonished Buckland for failing to follow protocol when things went south yet praised him for saving the others, all but Terry Wilcox.

David stared into the small mirror on his compartment wall and told himself, “You can do this.” He had worked on it to the exclusion of everything else in his life. Lou Swigart had made himself clear. “A good dive team is a tool, Buckland—another arm for the scientists to utilize. No one under my command is going to be some hot dog. First sign of such shit, and you’re on a chopper outta here.”

A noise outside his door and Buckland swung it open on its whining hinges to find Dr. Irvin stooped over and picking up a spilled fanny pack she’d dropped; she’d spilled all manner of feminine items, and among the debris two pill bottles. “Hello, Dr. Buckland,” she said from her kneeling position, hardly able to turn and twist in the narrow passageway. “I heard there was breakfast in the galley,” she continued as she replaced everything in her pack.

“Breakfast? Sounds good. You are?”

“On your dive squad, but I think you’ve surmised that. Dr. Kelly Irvin.” She extended her hand to shake.

He balled his fist and they bumped knuckles instead. “Oh yes, read your file.”

“I should hope so. Join me for ham and eggs?”

“I’ve just begun unpacking, but…what the hell, sure.”

“Thought we oughta get to know one another to some degree. This notion we should have absolutely no concern for one another—to act like, I dunno, cyborgs on the job—I just don’t fully agree with. Do you?”

“To be perfectly honest, it’s probably a good policy—to be honest.”

“I suppose so.” Still she frowned.

“Up to a point, you mean? They haven’t been able to completely brainwash the idea into your head, eh?” He closed his cabin door and gestured for her to lead the way.

She moved along the tight corridor and spoke over her shoulder. “Well, you of all people, Dr. Buckland, you can’t completely agree with the notion, can you? That to be efficient in our jobs we have to give up being human?”

“Well it is 2012, you know, and any ahhh…human foul up could bring on the collapse of the entire world according to ancient Mayan beliefs and that fellow Nostradamus.”

This got a laugh out of her that reverberated up and down the corridor, and he reacted with a smile. “There…there it is, a human moment between us. Frankly, I don’t think even Lou Swigart can enforce what they’re talking about to begin with, but that’s just me.”

She nodded. “There is that little thing called trust; kinda necessary and absolutely human.”

“So how do you like ‘sucking it?’” he asked, using the crude Navy term for the new use of L-C02.

“Liquid O? It’s miraculous once you get there, but getting there, no matter how many times I do it, I’m sure it’s my last breath. How ’bout you?”

“It sucks! But miraculous, yes, it is. Makes me feel like Aquaman!” It was not entirely a lie. But each time he used the square-pac of L-C02 where heavy oxygen tanks had always previously rested, he thought of Wilcox and how this new technology—had they had it in Japan—would have saved Wilcox’s life to be sure. He’d be alive today only if. Instead, Terry suffocated in his suit as his air ran out, and David had been unable to get to him in time on the return down after getting Peterson and DeVries out and up. Although David had risked his own life doing a second dive too soon, leaving him with the bends, it simply had not been enough. Time itself killed Terry.

Nowadays, with L-C02, the bends were no longer a worry during a dive. No matter how fast one descended or ascended. The new lightweight tanks and what they carried did indeed return a man to his origins once the ‘death grip’ was reached and surpressed and gotten past. With the liquid air as it was called, your mask filled with liquid that covered mouth, nose, eyes, and ears. You were literally ‘drowned’ inside your Cryosuit, your every pore and orifice in the “pour” house, taking in the liquid oxygen.

Many a rat and monkey had been killed in an effort to get the formula right. Once perfected, years of tests went into it, and now, for a man or a woman, you knew you would come out on the other side with your eyes opening, your heart beating, your brain functioning, and your skin crawling but feeling! Alive, and soon your eyes cleared, brain fog gone, heart rate finding its rhythm. And that horrible feeling that you were being turned inside out like some sort of garment, finally gone, replaced by a sense of power that reflected the idea of normalcy. The huge surprise too was the freedom—absolute freedom in the salt sea.

If David expected an intimate moment at breakfast with the lovely Dr. Irvin, he was immediately disappointed when she opened the galley entryway. There they found some dozen or so members of the crew, a number of the scientists, and a cook, a ship’s dog that looked a mix of lab and shepherd, and a galley boy who looked from his day’s old beard to be perhaps eighteen. Rather than doing introductions at this time, everyone just cheered in a group welcoming of the two newcomers.

All but one cheered. At the far end of the tight galley room, a sullen fellow kept his own counsel, eyes on his food, fork pushed scrambled eggs around on his plate. A big man with huge hands, this fellow had looked up at David and Kelly for the briefest moment, averting his eyes which to David appeared silver grey with the intensity of lightning. He wondered if it could be Jacob Mendenhall, another member of his dive squad.

If so, Mendenhall might simply be taking to heart the planned protocol to have as little contact as possible with fellow members of the dive squad one was assigned to. It would explain his seeming rudeness. David noticed that Kelly also seemed disturbed by the silver-eyed fellow the other end of the table.

“Sit, eat!” said the cook like a captain giving orders.

Chapter Two continued on in the Past Story....and Chapter Four continues on in the Modern Story.  Do leave any questions and/or comments here on the Cookin Up a Book Show and I will answer same here and remark on same here.

Rob Walker

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

For Openers - Getting the novel underway/What works NOT

Once I settled on the idea of writing the story of a famous shipwreck and to rewrite the history of Titanic, and also write a futuristic give and take between 2012 and 1914, alternating chapters between the two storylines, I could sit down and begin to write. While I do a lot of research & reading to cover my behind and facts, I am always itiching and anxious to get the story underway; I often go back to the research accumulated to fill in gaps where necessary in my knowledge of events, people, etc.and pick up facts and info as I go. This keeps me excited about the story itself, the plot, and this keeps my head in the game; keeps me up.

Making these initial decisions will color the entire book from beginning to end.  The first opening lines, establishing time and place and who is to "star" in these opening pages is crucial and will guide me on my way to chapter two and subsequent chapters, so I have to really nail these opening pages and nail them down. Starting a novel is like setting up house with another person; what you put on the first pages can and will come back to haunt you if they are not the right path to take.

Not that I did not have pitfalls and problems; much of the problems I faced this past week were all to do with Time...where to find it. I am teacing four classes, I have a family to contend with, and and to top off things, my AC-Adapter died the other day. Still I managed to find the time to work--to do a certain number of pages a day. Setting a schedule and sticking to it as much as possible is absolutely necessary, so I have "stiff-armed" loved ones and have told the kids "Unless there is blood, I don't wan to be disturbed during my writing time!"  Still there are chores and ups and downs, cat litter to change, dog food to pick up, roasts to put on, etc.  But a schedule of time or a promise of so many pages a day is absolutely necessary to make a novel happen.  Apply seat of pants to seat of chair and seed the story. Or rather feed the storyline, I keep telling myself. I place the basic preimise, the pitch on my working wall to look at when I need to reestablish why I am taking this long, long journey.

I have completed some 33 pages since last I blogged on how I intend to keep a journal on the process. In these opening scenes and chapters, I do rewrites before I go on; I do so because I have learned from experience that the tone you set and the execution of these opening pages can and do become your initial chapters that will be sent to an agent or editor, and they must be flawless--without error or misstep, and as I write the rest of the book, I can use these opening chapters to already begin the process of getting readings from any and all sources I can find--feedback.  If the feedback is good, I might even set up a sales pitch and begin marketing the idea as I go on with the novel itself.

You needn't read on from here but for those who want to see the RESULTS so far...well...Here is the first scene.  Note that time and place are established immediately and how the story focuses in on character and action and dialouge FAST. 

                                                         TITANIC – A Plague Ship


Belfast, Ireland, April 13, 1914

Slippage dust choked them. A fine shower of it rained down, creating of itself an unruly ghost-fog. It was so fine, they wouldn’t have known it was there had not their helmet lights reflected it. The earth around them groaned and stretched as if disturbed from slumber, just awakening. Tim McAffey, one of the two who’d dared enter to inspect the damage wondered why he’d ever become a miner. Then the floating grave ahead of them settled, and he thought of the bonus promised if he did his job. He thought of home and family and food on the table.

The day had ended with little to show for and mine superintendent McAffey remained frustrated and upset. He knew from experience it’d take days if not a week to get the men comfortable enough about this section of the mine to even begin to clean up the mess where some timbers had given way to what amounted to a minor cave in at best. No one had been killed; two injured and off to hospital.

Still, men were superstitious; once an area underground shook with the slightest tremor, they bolted and often refused to return unless the owners offered an incentive. Two years previous, there’d been a god awful mining accident the likes of which Belfast had never seen before—twenty seven men killed in an instant. But that was another section quite the distance, and this minor sputter, why it amounted to nothing of consequence beyond a six-square pile of rubble in the way of going forward to where it was believed the finest iron ore ever seen lay waiting for them to harvest. They had a contract to fulfill with the ocean-going Star Line—a major client in the throes of building the grandest, largest ship ever to sail the seas. Titanic, they were calling her—and Belfast Iron was already a major part of this historic endeavor. Getting the ore to the foundry and the shipyard, that was all that mattered now.

“What ‘ave we ‘ear?” asked Francis O’Toole, alongside Superintended McAffey, O’Toole’s unlit pipe extended as a pointer to a darkened corner of the beleaguered shaft.

“What is it?” McAffey lifted his flaming gas lantern toward the object, and he gasped.

“Some sorta dog looks like.”

It was embedded in the cave wall, recently uncovered by the recently fallen debris. The snout was huge, the gaping incisors prehistoric in appearance. “Geezus, tell no one about this monster, Francis, not a word.”

“Why? What’re you thinking, Tim? We could put it on display, charge folks to have a look! Make enough to keep us in whiskey and beer for months.”

“Word gets out about this we have two problems, old man!”

“Two problems?”

“Yes—one with the men, the second with the eggheads at the university. The men’ll claim it’s Satan himself at work here, and the professors will want to stop production until they can turn it into an archeological dig.”

“Aye…I see your meaning.”

“This stays with us. We pickaxe this…this ancient badger outta here, wrap it up, and toss it into the nearest river. Let it be somebody else’s discovery. I want nothing to do with it. Agreed?”

O’Toole poked at the brittle creature in the wall with his pipe only to knock away an entire tooth the size of his finger. He lifted the tooth, pocketed it, and said, “Something to tell my grandchildren about!”

“I just said no one’s to know!”

“After I retire one day.” He laughed and turned to McAffey who shoved a pick into his hands.

“So long as you tell ’em that’s all you found—a tooth. Now let’s start digging.”

The two veteran miners intended to make short work of the unusual find. In fact, they soon had the creature extracted from the wall, and were chipping away at the remaining ore attached to the carcass.

“We’ll get a tarp, wrap it, and take it down to the mill creek,” suggested McAffey, puffing now from the work. “Dump it there.” Just then McCaffey sucked in a deep breath of the mine air and stumbled to a rock, squatting there and trying to shake off a feeling he had overdone things.

“You OK, Tim?”

“Just get the tarp! I’m fine.”

O’Toole looked at his boss, nodding. He set off for the surface and the tarp, grumbling while McAffey sat on a rock and waited for his return.

Fifteen minutes elapsed when O’Toole returned with the tarp only to find McAffey bent over in serious pain, asking the other man to get him to the surface; that it was imperative. “Need fresh air…now. Help me, plll-ease.”

He didn’t even sound like McAffey anymore, so distraught was he.

“Sure…sure…I can come back later for the carcass.” But McAffey had forgotten about every other consideration. He simply kept repeating, “Air…I gotta right to air. Get me air!”

O’Toole, a big man in his late ffities—old for a miner—held his wobbly boss who seemed about to faint dead any moment. “Hold on to me; I’ve gotcha, Tim me boy.”

“Feels like I picked up something, Francis. Got no time for this. No time for sickness.”

“You’re nose is bleedin’, Tim—gushin’ it is.”

“Get me to the surface, now!”

“McAffey’s ears began to bleed now, but in the darkness, O’Toole didn’t notice. “Never been sick a day in your life, Tim, so what’s this?” he asked, but McAffey could not form words. Blood strangled any attempt to speak or to breathe. He died in O’Toole’s grasp half way out of the mineshaft in the lit elevator. By this time, O’Toole knew two facts: one, McAffey had died a terrible death, one which left his body looking like an ancient mummy with the bandages removed, and two, that Francis himself was now feeling ill. He feared what had done Tim in had now infected him. He felt the saber-tooth in his pocket, lifted it, and cursed it. He knew, like McAffey, that he was on his own way to a horrible death, and it had to do with handling that beast he’d left below.

Just then he felt a stirring in his body, a foreign intruder, something controlling his fingers to tighten around the overlarge tooth. He squeezed until the tooth bit into him. Something suggested that while he had no future, that he would live longer than McAffey had; that whatever this was, it had fed on Tim like a starved dog over a piece of meat, but that it would take its time with Francis O’Toole. At least long enough to take in the air of the world outside the mine.

“Some seed in that damned, cursed prehistoric dog carcass,” he muttered to himself, feeling an overwhelming urge to live, and to do so among other men—other men who would allow life to continue—yet a life he did not recognize. All he knew was that he must survive long enough to get to the surface. In fact it became a mantra. He kicked McAffey’s inert, dehydrated form—his skin going the way of the strange animal they’d found—off the platform to disappear into the darkness below. He chanted, “Got to get out…got to get out…got to get out…”

Some time later, O’Toole stumbled down to the Belfast shipyard looking like a drunk at the midnight hour. He passed below the huge gantry, a part of his brain unsure how he had gotten here, how he had come so far, how he remained alive when Tim McAffey had died so quickly and violently. He felt not at all in control of his limbs, felt no control of his will, yet he was alive, despite the horrible belief that some kind of dread disease had grasped hold of him. It seemed madness to contemplate, but it felt as if the thing that’d taken hold of him, somehow transferred to him from McAffey—or rather McAffey’s corpse—and the creature they’d carelessly handled, was intentionally stretching out its time with O’Toole—using him up in a more directed fashion as if it could…as if its feeding on him from within was held in check. While it had so quickly and voraciously fed on McAffey, it had now ushered in a powerful self-control. Whatever it might be called otherwise, the thing was sentient—thinking, manipulative, conniving, and it wanted survival.

It directed him to the shipyard; it seemed to want to get as far from its former prison as possible. To that end, it wanted O’Toole aboard the ship being built, a ship that was built from ore taken from the mine—as if it had an affinity for the iron walls or realized it could be the perfect lair. His conscious mind had no real evidence of any of it.

In any case, O’Toole had no choice but to carry ‘it’ aboard if that was its wish.

By now realizing himself to be just a conduit, a vehicle to move it from the cave to here, O’Toole thought of killing himself, but he had no ready method of doing so save leaping into the water as he could not swim. He made a move in that direction but was turned about, his will no longer his own. He guessed that he’d debated over suicide too long, and it knew his thoughts and was ahead of him on this.

Francis moved now below the giant letters hundreds of feet overhead and twenty feet apart that read:
T I T A N I C.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Watch a Novel Come into Being from idea to publication

With the new year, I decided on a resolution -- to get a new novel underway, and while it is an idea I had visited in the mid-eighties, I wanted to revive it and start anew.  It is a mix of historical suspense and a futuristic tale. This on the surface may seem a bit odd, maybe strange, and certainly ambitious. In fact this title idea is quite ambitious, so ambitious in fact that it may never see completion--especially if I start thinkikng of it in its entirity rather than in controllable pieces and parts like the varied pieces of an enormous puzzle.  Imagination has me going back to the Titanic -- the infamous Titanic, a subject so many readers can never get enough of.  I have myself read extensively about the night the Unsinkable Ship slipped below the waves, and due to some disturbing facts without answers, I have long wanted to "explain" these facts--odd behaviour of Captain Edward Smith in particular.  And so the book begins with a huge questioning WHAT IF?  What if Captain Smith, a man with a stellar seagoing record, a man on his last voyage who had never so much as put a dent in a ship in his entire career, how he could on Titanic's maiden voyage CAUSE the worst maritime disaster in recorded history--and WHAT IF he did it on purpose?

What would be Captain Smith's reasoning?  What could cause this stern, steel-spinned captain, admired by all, to intentionally ram Titanic into an iceberg field at full speed, an iceberg field he knew was out there thanks to the Marconi messages recieved in the radio room and placed in Smith's hands?

So what came first, the What If premise or the research?  The research suggested the idea of involving the captain in a "benign" conspiracy to destroy ship and all aboard.  The plan was in fact that no one survive--and that the plague spread by some evil force let loose aboard not survive and not reach land in New York or anywhere else. Smith went down with Titanic along with thousands of souls, but he fully expected those in lifeboats too would die of the elements and exposure, accident and the pull of Titanic as it went down.  His instructions to his crew were meant to snuff out all life aboard in order to contain a horrendous disease-spreading MONSTER.  Yes, my intent is to put a monster aboard the Titanic in an effort to answer the inconguities of the circumstances found in the history books.

So my first efforts have been to READ, then read, then read.  Read everything I could find on the famous shipwreck down to where the ore in the ship came from.  Second job is to pull from the reading and research a pivotal and exciting premise via an imaginary leap.  These two jobs--research and flight of fancy get the novel underway.  I have done the reading over years and years.  The premise has been living in the back of my mind since the mid-eighties when I started to once before do this book.  Pulled away by other contracts and considerations, I have leaped back into what I am calling PlagueShip Titanic.  It will take me months if not a year to complete the book as I am working around a job, four children, a wife, a dog, a cat--all of whom require pampering and attention, not to mention the visitudes of life and things like flat tires.

So like Julia-Julia -- I aam propsoing you follow me here and I will report a couple of times a week on how the manuscript is shaping up.  I will discuss openings, beginnings, scene-building, chapter building, point of view, time shifts, point of view shifts, setting shifts and juggling the historical chapters (story) with the futurisitic chapters (plot).

This past week, I somehow managed to craft some 30 pages.  I hope to run the novel to some 400 pages at minimum but am not at all sure I can make it that far.  I hope you will wish to follow me in the progress of this "monster" tale ground in fact.  The challenge--one of many--ist to get the reader to believe in the viability of the monster and its disease carried with it.  How does the writer convince the reader of the IMPOSSIBLE?  One important technique--detail, detail, detail.

Using examples from the ongoing work, I will discuss every aspect of the art and craft and science of the writer and the process.  Do hope you will find this of interest and come along with me to the Writing Zone.

Next DIRTY DEEDS mystery/suspense blog will soon follow.