Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Found Money and Lost Plots

First of all, a yellow-green ladybug perched on a flower!

I attempted to interview the ladybug, but it turns out they aren't fans of social media. Who knew insects could even make that gesture?

If you read last week's blog, you may remember the bird I couldn't quite identify. Well, I got a good close look at her this week, and she's a mockingbird, complete with distinctive wing-stripes.

The first draft of the new Markhat book is nearing its end. We're talking the last ten thousand words or less, which means it's time for the big dust-up and the aftermath.

I'll certainly finish up this month, and get a good running start on the next book, which will be the sequel to All the Paths of Shadow. I plan to finish it within the year as well.

I'm eager to wrap up the last few scenes of The Five Faces (the new Markhat book) and do a re-read from start to finish. I have a nagging suspicion this book is going to go down as the darkest in the series thus far. I'm not sure why it wound up that way, but it certainly has. All necessary, of course, because this book deals with some intense subject matter -- Markhat is forced to relive some of his experiences as a dog handler during the War, for instance. He and his dog Petey explored Troll tunnels, hunting owl-eyed giants down deep in the dark. There's absolutely no humor to be found there.

An exploration of free will versus pre-ordained fate also crept into the plot. I won't even give you a hint as to where I land on that.

Oh, and here's a hint for my writing class -- don't EVER write yourself into a corner that requires you to solve the 'Grandfather Paradox.' Talk about a headache! But I believe it was worth it, because it really lent the ending quite a punch.

A start-to-finish cold read of a newly-written novel is necessary for a number of reasons. My primary mission on my first read is to seek out and resolve instances of what my friend Denise Vitola calls pocket amnesia.

Denise describes pocket amnesia as it relates to writers in her blog Thomas Talks to Me. Her entry on pocket amnesia describes the phenomena as akin to unexpectedly finding a twenty dollar bill in a jacket pocket. Yes, you left the twenty there, and yes, it was important (because to all the writers I know, a twenty dollar bill is something that happens most often to other people), and yes, you completely forgot about it as soon as you took off that jacket and stored it away for the winter.

Think of chapters as jackets, and the twenty as a plot element, and then wipe that smile off your face because the literary form of pocket amnesia isn't nearly as much fun as the money-finding kind.

It's like this. Say I state in Chapter Five that my hero, Markhat, is allergic to shellfish, but in Chapter Ten, I sit him down to a lobster dinner.

That's a simple example of pocket amnesia. That one is easily fixed; either omit the allergy reference altogether, or serve beef in Chapter Ten.

The danger, of course, lies in not catching the problem in the first place, and winding up looking careless and inattentive to your editor. In extreme instances, you might also find yourself facing an insurmountable plot conflict -- what if I established, in Book Two, that vampires can always tell when a human is lying, but the pivotal scene in my current book, Book Eight, relies entirely on all-too-human Markhat successfully lying to a vampire?

You can't go back and re-write the previous book. Gutting your current book is tantamount to applying sandpaper to your own tongue. But despite the work and the pain involved, the problem has to be fixed.

Not that I suspect I've done anything quite that disastrous. But the fear is always lurking, a constant companion on that perilous first reading of a first draft.

What if I've neglected to address some fatal plot flaw? What if this entire intricate plot is about to collapse, flying apart like a house of cards in a whirlwind?

And people wonder why we writers are such a morose, glaring bunch. It's because we're always just a few words, a single turn of phrase, between fame and infamy.

Okay, that's a bit melodramatic, especially in light of the irrefutable fact that most of us are so far from actual Fame we'd have to buy time on the Hubble Space Telescope just to get a distant glimpse.

It's either Fame or Fomalhaut, either way, I can't make out much detail...
But we are always at risk of losing that precious unspent twenty-dollar bill.

And for the modern writer, that's a sum we can ill afford to gamble.

Wish me luck this week! I will of course post a bonus IT IS FINISHED WOOHOO post as soon as I type the last word.


  1. That's not a ladybug. It's known as a cucumber beetle and eats blossoms of all kinds. In short, if you see them, kill them.

    Your gardening fiend, erm friend,

  2. P.S. Ladybugs are good bugs. They eat other harmful bugs, mainly aphids. Those you keep.

    Fiendily yours,

  3. That might explain its very un-ladybug-like attitude! I had no idea there were such things. Thanks!

  4. I'm pretty tolerant of all bugs. Even spiders.

    I welcome our insect overlords!

  5. Spiders are way cool. They eat bugs. Cucumber bugs/beetles, on the other hand, are evil. They threaten your food. Never let a bug get between you and your food.

  6. Whoah, cucumber beetles are after my FOOD? Where's my flame-thrower? I'm a tolerant man, but I have my limits!