Trudy 9: Prying My Mind Open and 12000 words.

Bob pointed out earlier this evening that I am rejecting all his help on Trudy without even considering it. He’s right. I look at everything he says and think, “Background story, not Trudy’s,” without considering that what’s in the background might illuminate Trudy. And in fact, it did, although Trudy’s starting to turn into the Expostion Fairy. It’s like that scene in Gremlins where Phoebe Cates talks about how her father dressed up like Santa and got stuck in the chimney and died and that’s why she hates Christmas. Funny as hell in the movie, but not quite what I was going for here.

Maybe it’s a tone problem.

But the problem Bob and I are struggling over is one plot move that I think is essential and that he keeps pointing out, rightly, makes the rest of the story very difficult to motivate. So I’m creating my own problem here because I’m clinging to this plot point and I can’t really tell him why. Well, I can, but as he pointed out, rationally and cogently, I can accomplish the same things in other ways that won’t make my plot ridiculous.

So I should try to plot this by taking out that point and approaching it the way he suggests. Except that approach knocks the plot off, I think. It just feels wrong. And while it is true that I am stubborn as a pig (he did not put it that way), I think when I hold onto something this instinctively, it’s because it’s important. I can completely understand why my pig-stubborn insistence on that plot point while asking him for help is making him want to drive six hundred miles with a shovel (he didn’t write that, either), but I think when you know something is right, you just go with it. Even when your professional better half e-mails you and says, “YOU’RE WRONG.” (He did write that.)

But then, of course, you solve your own problems since you’ve driven your writing partner to ALL CAPS in his frustration with you. And then pray he’ll forgive you when you come back later and say, “Could you look at this action stuff to see how lame it is because I really am bad at this and you’re great at it.” Fortunately, he’s a very patient and forgiving soul. So I have my hopes.

You know, it’s always hard, but every time it seems worse.

Trudy 8: Regrouping and 10,000 words

Okay, this plan-by-scene thing is not working. Evidently I don’t write in scenes.

I do, however, seem to write in acts. That’s the good news. Oh, and I’m at 10,000 words. In theory, halfway done with the rough draft.

The bad news is that there appear to be only three acts. And I’m pretty sure I need four. The first act set itself up nicely. The fourth act seems to know where it’s going. But as usual, it’s the mess in the middle that’s going to get me. Probably because I had this entire novella planned to take place from six PM to six AM. Not a lot of time to develop character in there let alone a romance.

So I’ve dragged out my trusty white board, scoured all the Don’t Look Down notes off it, and started diagramming Trudy. I know the turning points, but that does me no good if I don’t know the people. The key is to make Trudy determined and unyielding without making her dumb as a rock for not just giving up the toy when all these dangerous men are trying to take it from her. I have to make the reader say, “Hell, I wouldn’t give it up, either.” Which goes back to motivation. If they love Trudy and they believe that she believes she has to get that toy, they’ll take the ride with her. Otherwise, she’s a TDTL heroine: To Dumb To Live.

Write this down: Character is the soul of fiction. Yes, I know that’s obvious. But it appears to be a lesson I learn all over again every time I write.

Trudy 7: Collage and 8500 words

So I’m at 8500 words, and I’m wondering: Do first drafts always suck?

I don’t remember my early stuff being this bad, but then all I remember from early stuff is the final drafts. And once again, I’m writing 95% dialogue, which I was hoping writing with Bob had broken me of. Radio plays, I should write radio plays.

I like these characters, I just don’t believe them. They’re perfectly nice people, except for the bad guys who do have motivation for being Bad, but I don’t believe they’re real, I’m not worried about them, there’s no blood in their veins, no juice in their scenes. I feel like I’m typing instead of writing.

So tomorrow, I’m definitely putting in time on the collage. I used to just paste pictures and put things from the books around the computer, but people like Jo Beverley and Barbara Samuel and Susan Wiggs kept swearing by collage, gluing the pictures down together, so I thought, “What the hell?” and I tried it. Amazing process, which I immediately lost my grip on, of course, and did these elaborate things, but they work, so I’m good with it. The idea isn’t to illustrate the story, it’s to glue together pictures and objects and words that create the mood of the story so that you can look at it and be sucked back in to that place and time. People usually scoff in the beginning, but then they try it and they’re hooked on it. Well, female writer people. Male writers tend to resist it with every fiber of their beings. At least the male writer I know. But I digress.

So I had this old shadow box that I’d saved for a future collage, and while I was daydreaming this book, I thought of it, and it fit that old toy store the story opens in. So I took the glass out of it and chipped out all the ugly crap the store had glued in and started collecting the Stuff. In this case, the Stuff was pictures from an Anthropologie catalog because their models always look so annoyed (conflict), and a bunch of Christmas stuff including a cherub with a violin, and a toy policeman from Goodwill. There was one sulky model slumped on a couch that looked like Trudy’s sister, except her hair was too big, so I cut some of it off and put that in the background of the box. And there was one model who looked mad as all hell, but she was too skinny so I glued some patterned paper on her for a wider skirt and colored her jacket with markers to thicken her waist. And I tried to fix her face with markers, too, but she’s still too damn skinny. I blame Kate Moss. So I’m looking for a new head for her, and in the meantime, I’ve cracked the wings off the cherub and painted it to look like a little boy in jeans and a red T-shirt for Trudy’s nephew Leroy, and I painted the policeman toy in camoflage so that it looks like the insane war toy doll, Major MacGuffin, right down to the artificial raspberry I painted Army green to look like a grenade.

Yes, I am insane, what’s your point?

My point is that if I can get these visuals in here, I can start to get a grasp on the book. And then as I glue things down, relationships become apparant, and motifs, and the story starts to organize itself. I’ve done them before (if you want to see them, they’re on the website under “Fan Trivia”) and they always help. And this one is so early yet, it’s missing so much stuff, that I’m thinking maybe tomorrow, I’ll work on that before I try to write more.

But I did get my 2000 words done today. 8500. They’re not good words, but they’re words.


Edited to add:

Here’s what the finished collage looked like:

Trudy 6: Bleah

Okay, I HATE writing to an outline. Just wanted to share that.

But . . .
The mailbox stayed painted and looks great.
The collage is coming together which should make rewriting this mess easier.
I did another 1000 words. Yes, I know I’m behind. I told you I hate this.

Some of us were just not born linear. Which is why we collaborate with people who were.

I swear, it feels as though this story is lurking just out of reach of my frontal lobe. I know it’s out there, I can see it moving around in the darkness, and yet . . .

Oh, well, tomorrow is another day, Scarlett.

Trudy 5: The Temptation of Pratchett Plus 5500 words

The new Terry Pratchett is out. THUD. That’s the name of it. It’s sitting next to my couch right now and I CAN’T READ IT. And it’s a WATCH book, too. The agony. If I read it, I’ll start writing in snarky omniscient and my already tentative grasp on Christmas romance will go all to hell. But it’s a NEW PRATCHETT. I’m suffering here.

But Sept. 30, when this first draft is done, I’m reading it. With a liter of Diet Coke and the junk food of my choice, I am going to have a wonderful time with Vimes. And Sybil. I suppose Susan is too much to hope for, but certainly Carrot and Angua. Oh, just hell. I hate delayed gratification.

In other news I have 647 unanswered e-mails to go before I’m caught up. So I ignored them and spent two hours today painting my mailbox which happens to be on a very busy highway (“Novelist Killed in Tragic Mailbox Incident; Friends Say, “She Always Was A Moron”) only to go back to the house and hear thunder. I’ll have to go and look at it tomorrow to see if any of the paint stayed on during the following deluge. The good part is that it gave me time away from the computer to think, which was good.

Because then I came inside and wrote. I’m at 5, 527 words, and some of them are good. This might be working. I mean, technically, that’s a quarter of the novella. It’s going to turn out a lot longer than that, and then I’ll have to cut it, but I made some progress here. The characters are shaping up. I got me some motifs.

This could work.

Trudy 4: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

So let’s see what we’ve learned:

  1. If you give up sugar for three days, the craving does not go away. I just had a sundae and it was delicious.
  2. That 2000 word a night thing does not work if the words aren’t in your brain. I reread those 2000+ words from last night. They stink on ice.
  3. Some of us aren’t linear thinkers.

But I’m on it. I’ve got the collage started, I’ve got people talking in my head, and I’ve got an outline with beats. What I did get done today: Brainstorming for DLD marketing, beginnings of collage, and internet research. (It’s not like I didn’t work. I swear.) Tomorrow I’m going out for more Diet Coke and pretzels and trying this again.

So I’m behind what now? 4000 words?

Trudy 3: Tivo and 2358 Words

I did 2358 words. They’re lousy words, but by God I wrote them.

Plus I downloaded four versions of Santa Baby from iTunes to inspire me. I can’t find any of my Christmas music, so that’s something else to do tomorrow because I definitely need Christmas music. I’d do Christmas cookies, too, except for that no refined sugar thing. Maybe drag one of the little Christmas trees out of storage just until the novella is done. It’s hard getting Christmassy in September.

It’s also hard writing because this is season premiere month, so I’m missing a lot of new shows. Thank God for Tivo, although the hard drive is filling up fast. I cheated and watched Miami Ink tonight because I’m hooked on it, and NCIS because I’m hooked on Mark Harmon and Pauley Perrette, but everything else on there is untouched and calling to me. I love TV. All those people who say, “I wouldn’t have a TV in my home,” I just feel sad for them. No Buffy. No House. No Bobby Goren. No Lorelei and Luke, no Muldaur and Scully, no Rush and Valens, no Charlie and Don. No Jon Stewart, for heaven’s sake. What are they thinking? They can’t tell Galactica from Serenity or Spike from Angel. It’s just so sad.

But enough about them. I wrote 2358 words. Two scenes that are not well-developed and are going to need major work, but hey, they’re on the page.

This is when I always have grave doubts about the whole writing thing, especially my writing. Seriously, this is lousy, lousy prose, but it’s always lousy in the beginning until I find the rhythm and the characters, until the words start to bounce. So tomorrow I’ll do better.

The important thing is I got 2358 tonight.

Trudy 2: Smuckers and Other Excuses

So I’ve been refined sugar-free for two days now. I think. I’ve been eating Smucker’s Simply Fruit jam and it occurred to me that manufacturers sometimes lie, so I checked the ingredients and there’s something called “fruit syrup” in there. “Syrup” usually means “sugar,” but then again, fruit has natural sugar in it, so . . . I googled. And some woman is suing Smuckers because the jam is not “Simply Fruit” but is also fruit juices and fruit syrups and fruit pectin. For once, I’m on the side of Big Business: It didn’t say Simply Strawberries, lady, it said Simply FRUIT. And now I’m thinking there’s no refined sugar in fruit syrups, so I really have been sugar free. And it’s been pretty painless, too. Somebody said if you go without sugar for three days, you’ve kicked it. That seemed too easy, so I googled again.

There are a lot of people out there who seem to think that white sugar is The Devil. They want me to give up canned corn for fresh corn on the cob, but honey, I live in Ohio and fresh corn on the cob is only available for a brief time. The stuff in the wrapped packages in the produce section is not fresh. Fresh is when you pick it and bring it into the kitchen immediately and cook it with some of the silk still on it or bake it in the husks. Everything else is Old Corn. That guy wanted me to keep a journal of what I eat, too. I understand that many people find this helpful, but I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake. I can’t waste my writing on a food journal, I have to make a living. Plus he said to write everything down, like five M&Ms. Who the hell ever ate five M&Ms? And you know I’d get distracted and start writing riffs on zen of five M&Ms or something. This guy is just not in touch with my reality. Further proof: He said that if you usually eat ice cream before bed, you should substitute a potato. No, I am not making this up. I can hear Gaffney on this now. She has strong feelings about ice cream.

Then there was the site that said if I don’t kick sugar, I’ll be an alcoholic. Since Maui, I have not had any alcohol because of the distressing lack of little umbrellas in Ohio, but according to this site, “As bodies lose their ability to rapidly metabolize simple sugars cravings begin for ever increasing concentrated sugars, finally ending with alcoholism.” Then I look down and the guy’s selling the cure for sugar metabolism disruption. Always read to the bottom of the page. Then there was the site that said I had to take supplements to balance the nutrients I was losing in giving up sugar; guess where I could get the supplements. Or the smug sugar-free guy who talked about stopping along the Appalachian trail to pick the chocolate pieces out of his trail mix. That has to be one of the top ten signs of incipient serial killer-ism.

None of them said it would only take three days. Damn.

But all that googling put me behind, she said, whining. And I was gone all afternoon doing that maintenance stuff that soaks up so much time, like buying paper towels and picking up prescriptions and waiting in doctor’s offices. And then . . .

You’re not buying this, are you?

Okay, I didn’t write anything today, but I did expand that basic outline so that I have all the scene beats in there. And now I’m going to go through and see what I’ve got there and what I’ve missed. It’s actually the most complete outline I’ve ever done. Well, it’s the only outline I’ve ever done, but it’s really complete. I’m wondering if by the time I get the outline done, I won’t need to write the book. And I know I’ll never be able to do this for 100,000 words. It’s just not happening. But it’s looking pretty good for 20,000.

Or it would be if it hadn’t been for the Smuckers debacle and those anti-sugar freaks on the net.

It wasn’t my fault. Google made me do it.

Trudy 1: Ice Station Zebra, Not

So today was the day I was supposed to outline Trudy. I spent the morning with Val on the deck discussing Battlestar Galactica, tattoos, and general gossip, but then she went home and I spent six hours on business stuff, phone and e-mail. Then I crashed for two hours. Then I went to work on the outline.

It’s twelve scenes broken into four acts with turning points:
Three scenes, then a turning point where the heroine cautiously trusts somebody a little.
Three more scenes, then a turning point where the heroine trusts somebody a lot.
Two scenes and then a turning point where the heroine is betrayed.
Three scenes ending with the climax and a fourth scene for resolution.
(Yes, Act Three seems a little light, but the Act Four scenes are short. I still have to graph out the motifs and subplots and figure out how the tension escalates and where to run the romance plot, so I’ll probably figure out Act Three then.)

Then I sent it to Bob for butching up. I was hoping for pointers on the fight scenes but he got distracted by the end where he wants the heroine to save the planet. I said, “No, Bob, it’s a Christmas romance, she restores a little boy’s faith in Christmas and her own faith in men.” He said, “OK, fine, but I really think you need the Ice Station Zebra Ending with your heroine playing Rock Hudson.” I’ve never seen Ice Station Zebra, and I’m not going to any time soon because I’m pretty sure it has nothing that I can use for a romance heroine in a Christmas novella. Which I told Bob. And he wrote: “The key is [The Good Guy in the novella] makes the decision to protect her over getting the X. He loses the X, the Bad Guys lose the X, but he gets the girl and there’s peace on earth because she kept either side from gaining an advantage. You really need to watch Ice Station Zebra– very smart ending.” [I’m using X to protect the real deal here in case some of you read this novella fifteen months from now.]

If you look closely at Bob’s e-mail, you’ll see our main cognitive disconnect: I always assume Our Girl is the protagonist and he always assumes The Guy is. Except this time, we’re not collaborating, and there’s only one POV in the novella and it’s Our Girl Trudy’s. So Bob’s “He decides, he loses, he gets the girl” has this basic flaw. OTOH, I need him to make sure The Guy’s POV makes sense, so it’s good he keeps thinking of this as The Guy’s story. But I’m still not watching Ice Station Zebra. Which I said. Well actually, I wrote, “Get over Ice Station Zebra.” And he wrote back, “I’m just trying to give your girl the most important role. But she can stand around and cheerlead.”

He knows how much I hate cheerleader heroines, so I had to respond. Yes, I know I asked him for help, but I wanted to know how to beat up the Bad Guy and his Minions in a Christmas-y way, not how to have Our Girl save humanity. I was thinking of bashing them with fake reindeer antlers (listen, there’s a reason I need Bob), but he’s fixated on Ice Station Zebra. So I wrote back, “How does nobody getting the X give her the most important role? Especially since her goal is to get a toy to her nephew by Christmas morning?” And he wrote back, “But my way she saves the world.”

There you have it. He thinks globally, I think locally. Well, he was a Green Beret and I was a small town school teacher, so that makes sense. What I wrote back was straight out of that old dissertation: “This is classic male vs female stuff. You want the global win. I want the intimate connection.” And he wrote, “Good, she can be a cheerleader.” That was just trying to start a fight, so I wrote, “It’s a Christmas romance novella. Globally significant irony is not appropriate.” And he wrote, “OK, she saves Xmas. Woo-hoo.” And I wrote, “Still global. She saves a little kid’s faith in Santa. Or something. The personal, not the political, Bob.”

And then he wandered off since I wasn’t going to blow up a major city or fight back on the cheerleader thing. So I’ll go back to him tomorrow or the next day to get the violent stuff I need because he won’t remember any of this. He says twenty years in the service used up his adrenalin for life; I think it might have used up his short term memory, too. And anyway, he should like doing Christmas violence. Maybe strangling bad guys with a light string. That’s Christmas-y.

In other news, I have had no sugar today in spite of the birthday cake sitting on my stove. It helps that it’s the ugliest cake in the history of cakes. I tried that new microwave icing that you heat and then pour over the cake. Every time Val walked past it last night, she said, “Your cake is still seeping.” So we pigged out on cookies and popcorn. But I have been good all day, no refined sugar at all, so I’m going to go hit the treadclimber for an hour and then come back and analyze this outline again for motifs and subplot, answer several more e-mails about covers and the next anthology, and then I’ll probably crash.

Tomorrow, I have to dig out the Christmas music, throw the cake away, and start to write. There will be no Ice Station Zebra.

It’s a plan.

I Have A Plan

It’s time to make resolutions for the new year. Yes, I know it’s not January first, but I don’t like making resolutions in January. It feels wrong. As somebody who was a student and a teacher interchangeably for forty-five years, I start my new year in September. There are limitless possibilities in September, so much change is in the air, whereas January is just cold and bleak and depressing, heading into February, the Month of the Dead. So this is my new year. And today is my New Year’s Day because it’s my birthday. I’m 56. I know, I don’t look a day over 55. It’s the plastic surgery.

Where was I?

Right, new year’s resolutions. Well, I’ve had a very interesting year, so my big resolution is to continue that and not screw it up. And part of that is getting my writing process together. Basically, I don’t have a writing process, I just flail around, a fact that became abundantly clear when I did Don’t Look Down with Bob. At one point he accused me of deliberately sabotaging myself because I kept ripping up what we’d done and starting over, but it’s actually just what I do. (My parents just called to wish me a happy birthday. Such nice people. I should get up there to visit them more often. Such a lousy daughter. They sent me a birthday card and asked about it and I realized that it’s somewhere in the stack of mail that piled up while I was in Maui. REALLY lousy daughter. I will do better in the new year.)

Where was I?

Right, I should get more organized. Or at least give organization a shot. And as it happens, I just signed to do a novella for a Christmas anthology for 2006. Twenty thousand words about a woman named Trudy who’s mad as hell (that’s not the assignment, that’s who turned up when I was thinking about the novella). Twenty thousand words is short. And a craft loop I’m on is talking about making a plan and sticking to it, X number of pages for X number of days. Well, twenty thousand words is eighty pages, so in theory ten pages a day for eight days is a novella. Key word here is “theory.” Because after that, I’ll have to rewrite it for two years, but still, a first draft in eight days . . .

Of course, this is a cousin to my, “I’ll lose two pounds a week until Christmas and be down to a healthy weight” plan. That never works either. But still, I am intrigued. And it’s a novella. (Just got an e-mail from Bob that said, in its entirety, “Timeline?” On WHAT, Bob? Agnes? Trudy? Charlotte? The writer’s workshop we’re planning? Getting the house cleaned before Val comes to spend the night and drink wine tomorrow?)

Where was I?

Right, the writing plan for the novella. I’m thinking a scene is usually around 2000 words long, give or take a thousand words, so maybe ten days, breaking the novella down into scenes. I don’t write in chronological order, but I can break it down into narrative chunks. The heroine is going to get three phone calls from her sister, so I could do those, set up the backstory and motivation there. The heroine is going to have three increasingly intimate arguments with the hero. (Just got an answer back from Bob: “Agnes.” Great, Bob. What kind of timeline on Agnes? On the proposal? The entire book? Writing timeline or plot timeline? There’s such a thing as taking laconic too far.)

Where was I?

Right, I could do the conversations with her sister, the arguments with the hero, the set-up and resolution scenes . . . this could work. Plus I love this novella idea. And I think I can do two thousand words a day. For those of you saying, “Two thousand words a day? Anybody can do two thousand words a day,” I’d like to point out that I’m not just typing this stuff, I’M MAKING IT UP. That takes thought. And we all know that when it comes to focused thinking, I’m not even in the also-rans. (This just in from Bob: “Outline and first scenes. Then we put it aside while you do Trudy and I finish Lost Girls and Avon. Also Charlotte is in there somewhere.” Trudy is the novella, Lost Girls is his sequel to Bodyguard of Lies [which is great, you should read it, and is Lost Girls a terrific title or what?], and Charlotte is my next solo book, about a home ec teacher who just wants to get married but ends up learning to belly dance and getting a tattoo. Why? I don’t know, I just write the damn things. But first I have to get my half of the Agnes outline to Bob. I told him he had an early Agnes scene he could use to get her right in his Shane scenes, so I’m off the hook there, but I have to get that outline to him today. I’ve had it for a couple of days, so he’s been very patient.)

Where was I?

Right, the novella plan. So if I make a plan on Monday, and then follow it for the next ten days, I should have a complete first draft of Trudy by Thursday the 29th. Factor in a day to take care of whatever disaster intrudes, and that’s Friday the 30th and the end of the month. I like that. Yes, I realize this is not going to work, but it’s a good experiment and besides– (E-mail from Bob: “Resend so I can get a feel.” I’m pretty sure he means resent the old Agnes scene so he can get a feel for her character, but if you think I’m going to let that one go by without a snarky comment, you don’t know me.)

Where was I?

Right, done by Sept. 30. And since Val is coming to stay tomorrow night, I can pour her a lot of wine and make her talk the whole thing through with me. (Val Taylor has been my critique partner since 1993. You wouldn’t believe the lousy drafts she’s waded through.) Val loves organizing stuff. This could be good. I’m going to try this. And to keep myself honest, I’m going to–(Bob just wrote back and said, “Whatever.” Not in a good mood this morning. That’s okay, I am. We have this deal, only one of us can get depressed at a time. Works great. Give me a minute here while I find that old Agnes scene and send it to him.)

(Okay, went back and read that scene and it was terrible, so I e-mailed Bob and told him I’d write him one from scratch. Which I should probably do today, except I have to get the laundry done so Val has clean sheets and get all my office stuff out of the kitchen which is where it ended up when I painted my office two days ago. And get the boxes off the dining room table so we can eat dinner there. In fact, I just have to get all the junk that doesn’t have a place out of the house entirely. And then maybe I can find another surge protector so I can plug in my printer so I can do these Trudy notes so I can–)

(Just got an e-mail from Bob: “ok.” Not chatty, that Bob. Gotta get that outline off to him fast. Which means I eat lunch at the computer again.)

Where was I?

Right, the plan. So on Monday, I’ll lay out the plan, and then I’ll do two thousand words a day every day until Friday the 30th. And to keep myself honest, I’ll do a blog entry every day about how it went. These entries will be short and boring, but they’re not for you, they’re for me, so feel free to skip them. And then a week from Friday, I’ll admit defeat and return to my regularly scheduled flailing.

So here are my new year’s resolutions:

  1. Get a writing process, starting with the Trudy Plan.
  2. Lose two pounds a week until Christmas.
  3. Be a better daughter.
  4. Get rid of all the junk in this house.
  5. Maybe lose one pound a week until Christmas.
  6. At least give up sugar.

Okay, the resolutions need work, too. The important thing is, I have a plan. And I’m sticking to it.