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

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