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.


Morgan Mandel said...

You are amazing, Rob! So little time, yet you manage to plug along. You're a great example for me.

Morgan Mandel

P.A.Brown said...

This sounds intriguing. The parasite sounds like one that infects ants, and drives them to expose themselves so they get eaten by birds -- the parasites next host. So there's definitely biological precedence for a behavior altering parasite, and viruses are nothing but small parasites. I definitely want to read this as it goes along, and I'd buy the finished book

Jacqueline Seewald said...

You give excellent advice and provide useful, concrete examples.

Wishing you every success,

Jacqueline Seewald
THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star hardcover, Wheeler large print

Debra St. John said...

I love to read about the Titanic, so anything involving the famous ship is fascinating to me.

Keep up the great work. I can't wait to read the finished product in book-form some day!

Rob Walker said...

Thanks all for your support - just put up 6th Installment and have had a major about the ups and downs of writing a novel. I had to go back to pg. 33 and start over as my computer turned my last pages - up to 75 into ether....cannot find them and have tried everything....Woe is me. Back to the drawing board and now I just have to MAKE more time to catch up. Never going to make self-imposed deadline at this rate.