rewriting and writing again (and bloomsday)

1) June 16, 1904, is the day the novel Ulysses, by James Joyce, takes place, so June 16 is celebrated as Bloomsday. Ulysses was published in 1922, making this year the hundredth anniversary of the book. When I realized this, I decided to post a blog post linking to the various posts I’ve written over the years about Ulysses and Bloomsday.

However, careful research revealed that there really aren’t any. A few posts say things like, “Hey, it’s Bloomsday! Everybody should celebrate!” — but there’s no point in linking back to those.

Oh, well. As much as I enjoy Ulysses (perhaps I’ll read it again this year, in honor of the anniversary…), it’s not likely I’d have much new and significant to say about it. Quite a few people have written about it already, after all.

 
2) Again on the subject of “how to write good,” I remember a lot of blog posts (back in the days of blog posts) about the importance of editing. Do whatever you need to do to generate some sort of first draft, then the real work begins: editing, editing, and more editing.

Sometimes, yes, of course. But it is also possible that your attempts to beat every page, paragraph, and sentence into submission will pound all the life out of the whole thing until you just have a series of perfectly formed sentences. Now, I’m really into perfectly formed sentences, but there are times (as with part nine of my current story, which took quite a while to get posted) that more and more editing is not the answer.

In those cases, I’ve found it best to put the draft (and all of its edits and versions) away, get out a fresh piece of paper and a pen, re-read the previous part to remember who’s in the scene and what they know (and don’t know) and what they’re trying to do, and set them off, writing down whatever happens. That’s what I finally did with part nine, and it got me about 90% of the way to the final version, which is farther than I got with all the cutting and pasting and cutting and pasting.

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the deacon mystery (part nine)

This story started here.

My employer lit a cigarette. There was an ashtray on a small table near her.

“Jennifer,” she said slowly, “please outline, in general terms, what happened yesterday. I saw your father at the book sale. Did anything unusual happen before that? Did you see your father in the morning?”

“We had brunch together. We usually do that on Saturday. Then I did the dishes while he read the newspaper.”

“The Crier?”

“And the Globe. Yesterday’s Globe. He said he was going for a walk, and then he’d go to the book sale, to see Uncle A. And maybe buy some books.”

“Was there anything special about the way he left?”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Did he say or do anything unusual? Did he seem preoccupied or anything like that?”

“No, just like normal. ‘Stay out of trouble, kitten.’ And he said he’d try to find some good books at the sale.” She smiled. “We both like mysteries.”

“As well you should. Did you see or hear anything from him after that?”

“No. I thought he’d be back for supper, but he wasn’t. So, I heated up some leftovers, then I studied for a while, then I got ready for bed.”

“Was… Is it unusual for your father to be away like that, not letting you know his plans?”

“I asked him once… Anyway, he said that a father needs to keep track of his daughter — not the other way around.”

My employer drew deeply on her cigarette. She was suppressing a smile.

“I had a theory,” Jennifer said hesitantly. “I… A lot of people were probably at the book sale. He might have run into some of his friends and they decided to go out afterwards…” Her voice trailed off.

“Forgive me for being blunt, but does your father often go out on Saturday night?” She held up a hand. “I’m conducting an investigation — I’m not moralizing. I need to know the facts.”

She was aware that announcing that she herself was a teetotaler — even apart from it not being strictly true — would not have been helpful at this moment.

“Yes, he sometimes goes out drinking with his friends. Usually on Saturday night, or Friday… ‘A man has a drink.'”

“What happened next?”

“I was getting ready for bed, and I heard the phone ring. I ran downstairs, but I wasn’t fast enough, and it stopped. But then it rang again and I picked it up. It was a man’s voice, and he — he didn’t say hello or anything, he just said that my father was…”

“Kidnapped.”

She shook her head. “They didn’t say that, not that word. He said they wanted money and then I’d get him back. Then they hung up.”

“And you called the police.”

She looked uncomfortable. “I don’t have any money, or I don’t know where there is any.”

“What about your sister?”

“I didn’t know where she was.”

“Any more phone calls, last night or today?”

“The sheriff has called a couple of times, to check in. Nobody else.”

 
“Shall I state the obvious?”

Her mouth quirked. There was a brief period of intense internal struggle as we reached the corner of Main Street, and then she said, “You usually do.”

The snort of laughter she’d been suppressing finally erupted.

“I’m sorry,” she said, not looking even remotely sorry. “You walked right into that one.”

I smiled as she looped her arm through mine. “I know. I threw it right over the plate–”

“Oh, please. No sports metaphors.” She gestured with the head of her cane. “Please proceed.”

“1) Rhonda didn’t tell Miss Deacon about your conversation with her father at the book sale.”

“Agreed. She wouldn’t.”

“2) Mr. Deacon offered you substantial money to hire you, but his house is very small and shabby, and one of his daughters is attending Claremont College — which has very inexpensive tuition for townies — and it sounds like his second daughter may go there also, although I got the impression that she’d rather go somewhere else. There were brochures on the table for Harvard and Yale.”

She nodded. “And?”

“This is Sunday. Did she go to church this morning, perhaps to see if her father would be there, or to ask her uncle what happened at the book sale? Or, if she was afraid to leave the house, afraid of missing a phone call, why not call the church?

“Also, I do not believe she was being entirely truthful with you.” Her eyes widened expectantly. “She’s in high school. Yesterday was Saturday. Who studies on Saturday night?”

She snorted a laugh and punched me, very lightly, on the shoulder.

“Very good. I might consider handing this entire case over to you.” She smiled and squeezed my arm. “If I had something more compelling to think about right now, of course.

 
To be continued…

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the deacon mystery (part eight)

This story started here.

The Deacon house was smaller and shabbier than I’d expected. It looked like an old summer cottage that had been converted for year-round occupancy. It was on Pine Street, just a few doors down from the sandwich shop where we’d eaten our lunch the day before.

It occurred to me that if my employer and I did ever have the desire, and the wherewithal, to get a house in Claremont, a house like this was probably the best we’d be able to manage. And then we’d need to buy furniture…

I made a mental note to make sure we stayed on Mrs. Jessup’s good side.

As we walked downhill on the narrow path from the sidewalk to the house, I wondered how we were going to get “in the door,” so to speak. Did my employer have a plan, or did she think that at this point her fame in the local area was such that any family in any sort of distress would automatically welcome her arrival?

She knocked on the wooden frame of the screen door and waited. After a few moments, the inner door opened and we could see a young woman in a dark hallway, looking out at us. It seemed that she took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the bright sunshine outside, and then she opened the screen door.

“Miss Sleet! Can I…” her voice trailed off.

“Miss Deacon, I am Jan Sleet. This is my assistant, Marshall. May we come in?”

Miss Deacon stepped aside and motioned us in. “Of course,” she said awkwardly, after we were already inside. “Can I…”

“You’d like to know why I’m here, of course. I spoke to your father yesterday at the book sale, and today I’ve heard that he’s missing. I was wondering if there was some way I could help.”

“Oh.” She looked around the dark and narrow hallway. “Would you like to come into the living room?”

“You’re very kind. Thank you.”

My employer sat in the best armchair in the small living room. Miss Deacon perched on the arm of a sofa and I sat on a straight-backed chair.

Miss Deacon (whichever Miss Deacon she was — had my employer figured that out already?) was apparently around twenty years old, slender and dark-haired, dressed in a Claremont College T-shirt and washed-out jeans, with bare feet.

“My father is missing,” she said slowly. “From what the sheriff said, I know he talked to you at the book sale–”

“How did you learn he was missing? Do you and he live here alone?”

“My sister Julie — she’s a year older than me, and she’s at college.” She stretched out her T-shirt. “This is one of her shirts. I’m a senior in high school.”

“Will you attend Claremont also?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m going to apply to several schools, and see where I get accepted…”

“Do you live here — just you and your father? Does you sister live on campus, in the dorms?”

“Oh, no. She still lives here, too. She has a boyfriend. Sometimes she… They’re out sailing now — he has a boat.”

I could tell that my employer was finding it rather charming that Miss Deacon was trying not to state the obvious: that sometimes her sister spent the night with her boyfriend.

Miss Deacon waited a moment, then she said, “Miss Sleet, do you think you’ll be able to help?”

The great detective shrugged and smiled. “I have no idea. Not yet.”

Miss Deacon seemed to take this as cautious optimism, combined with eagerness to get the investigation going.

I had a different interpretation.

 
To be continued…

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how to write good

1) I used to read quite a few blogs by aspiring writers* (back before that blog world was swallowed up by social media), and there were always “helpful” bits of “wisdom” being thrown around, like “adverbs = bad” and “kill your darlings” (in other words, whatever you most love in your story, take it out**) and “never have a preface — always start in medias res” and “if there’s a gun, it has to go off at some point” and so on.

All of these are interesting, more or less, and all of them are easily refuted by great novels by great writers.

Another one was that the key to any story is conflict (the more the better), so I was glad to read this:

Without quite knowing why, I’ve always disliked the truism that conflict is drama’s fundamental ingredient. Yes, we fight and cajole and coax and settle scores: that’s our species, and it’s frequently how we show ourselves onstage. But this bit of craft wisdom—conflict is king—is the handmaiden of a paranoid anthropology, and a limited way of thinking about action and speech. We humans do much more than struggle, will against will. And our talk isn’t strictly coefficient with our need to act upon or influence others for our own ends. Often, to the contrary, it springs from a mysterious overflow of unbidden feeling, more a free gift of sound and syntax—of humor, of love—than a blunt instrument of acquisition. [From this review]

____________
* I frequently had to clarify that I myself am not an “aspiring” writer. I am exactly the type of writer I want to be, and my only aspiration is to get a bit better at it.
** “Be willing to kill your darlings, if necessary,” is actually tolerable advice.

 
2) Legends of Tomorrow was canceled — there will be no Season 8. Some people are really upset about this (particular because, with Batwoman being canceled at the same time, that’s a whole lot of diversity gone from the world of TV superheroes in one day), but I’m okay with it. With long-running TV shows, some people apparently want a final episode to wrap everything up, but I don’t. I prefer to think they whole story is still going on. Do you want Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to have a retirement party?

Besides, there was a “the Legends all retire” episode, it just wasn’t the last episode of the last season, which was a cliffhanger. It was the episode right before that. So, you can pick whichever ending you want.

 
3) Moon Knight is done, and I was really glad I subscribed to Disney+ to see it. Pleasantly, it did not depend on my having seen all the other Marvel movies and TV shows. I saw an article that said people are tweeting jokes about how much homework and research you have to do to really understand the new Dr. Strange movie.

The best part of the series was the fifth episode (of six) where the plot stopped completely to delve really deeply into the main character’s DID (dissociative identity disorder) and what caused it. Oscar Isaac (who plays Moon Knight) did an amazing job at showing the different alters and their history. I’ve seen videos by DID systems saying that this was, overall, a good representation of DID (compared to the usual, where there’s often one alter who’s a serial killer or something like that). Since I write (very obliquely) about DID, I’ve learned a lot from this myself.

Moon Knight may or may not get a second season or a movie, but the season we have ended well, and now I can cancel my Disney+ subscription and go back to focusing on The Witcher.

(And I’m thinking it may be time to watch the third season of Twin Peaks…)

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when is a script not a script?

This is sort of a continuation of my last post.

Another thing I liked was this interview with David Lynch.

Specifically this part:

The A.V. Club: With Inland Empire, I understand there wasn’t a full script before production. Were you writing scenes as you went along?

David Lynch: Let’s clear this up. When you write a script, at least what my experience has been, you don’t suddenly see the whole script and spit it out and type it out with no typos, just perfect, in one sitting. That never happens, never will happen. You get an idea, and you write that one out, then you’re going along, you don’t have any script, you had an idea and you wrote it out. Then you go along, you get another idea and you write it out. Now you have two ideas, but you don’t have a script. You go along a little bit more and you get a third idea, you write it out. And you look and you say, “Wait a minute, I have three ideas, and none of them relate to one another.” Fine! No problem. There’s no script, just three ideas that don’t relate. You go along and you get a fourth idea, and this fourth idea relates to the first three, and you say, “Oh, something’s happening.” And then, when something starts happening, more ideas flood in, quicker! Quicker they come, like schools of fish, schools of fish! And the thing starts to emerge, and a script appears. That’s exactly the way it happens. And that’s exactly the way it happened on Inland Empire.

I don’t make movies, obviously, but that’s pretty much how I work. Pieces and ideas and scenes, and then eventually they start to fit together. It’s like what happened on The Jan Sleet Mysteries — a series of detective stories that started to turn into a novel (a “stealth novel,” as I called it at the time).

What I’m doing right now is a bit of a technical experiment (I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done), and it combines a couple of different ideas, as did the story before (which is why it was longer than the first two, which were basically one-idea stories).

I wouldn’t mind writing more one-idea stories, but it’s the connections that are often the most interesting parts.

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the deacon mystery (part seven)

This story started here.

The sheriff, having discharged her responsibilities, departed (after thanking my employer, of course). The attorney left a moment later, nodding to each of us in turn, apparently in lieu of a spoken farewell.

As we heard our departing guests walk down the stairs, one and then the other, my employer regarded me with a frown.

She was not, I thought, expressing disapproval of my appearance or my actions. When that was the case, she usually pulled her glasses down to the tip of her nose and gave me a piercing look over the rims. But it was obvious that something about the sight of me was not filling her heart with joy, and I thought I knew what it was.

Before either of us could speak, however, if we were going to, there was a tap at the door.

The stairs in the inn were carpeted, but a couple of the boards usually creaked enough to alert us to any new arrivals, now that we were the only tenants.

There were exceptions, however — people who were not heavy, or who walked carefully.

My employer and I glanced at each other. Neither of us had forgotten the events of the night before.

I was moving to get my gun when we heard a familiar voice.

“Good morning! It’s Kate Lane, from the Crier!”

My employer’s shoulders slumped about a quarter of an inch. She gestured at the door with her eyes. I went over and pulled it open.

Miss Lane, a reporter from the local newspaper, looked up at me eagerly. “I saw the sheriff leaving, and I thought–”

“Miss Lane,” my employer said, getting to her feet, “I do not conduct business in my bedroom. We can talk on the deck.”

I saw the reporter’s eyes flick around our modest room, perhaps accumulating clues that it was in fact a shared room. We never made any attempt to disguise the fact that we lived together. People quite often appeared to be curious, but almost nobody ever asked directly.

In the downstairs hall, my employer poured two mugs of coffee. She made a face that the reporter couldn’t see — she knew that the impact of not offering anything to our guest was vitiated by the fact that Miss Lane had a container of takeout coffee in her hand.

 
The sky was clear but the air was cold on the rear deck, which was in the shade at that time of the morning.

Our regular table was pretty much as we’d left it after our breakfast the day before. Mrs. Jessup never sat out here now that the air was colder.

I brought over a third chair for our guest.

Since we’d met her, I’d had the impression that Kate Lane, in her mind, regarded herself as our friendly rival — the scrappy local reporter who spars with the gifted amateur sleuth who had moved into her town.

However, I do have to report that, in reality, we seldom gave her any thought at all.

“Jan–” Miss Lane started, but my employer gave her such a glare that she stopped immediately.

I wasn’t surprised that the reporter had blanched. My employer had looked as if she was about to call down a lightning bolt directly on the rear deck of the inn.

“So,” my employer said as I lit her cigarette, “Miss Lane, what can I do for you?”

The reporter recovered her composure and she smiled, apparently not entirely able to conceal how pleased she was with the situation, even after her initial faux pas.

“Miss Sleet,” she said slowly, “I’ve heard that Fred Deacon approached you yesterday to help find his missing daughter. Have you decided to take the case? Is that why the sheriff was just here?”

My employer shrugged. “Sheriff White was here to ask me about that conversation, yes. Under the circumstances, that’s part of her routine. I had no huge revelations to give her — I can tell you that much. I can also tell you that I declined Mr. Deacon’s offer yesterday — I refused, in no uncertain terms, to investigate his missing daughter, and that decision has not changed.”

Miss Lang shrugged. “I guess that answers my question. Does–”

“The answer to your next question, which you should have asked first, is that this is on the record. Please feel free to quote me.” She stubbed out her cigarette and used her cane to get to her feet as I pulled her chair out. “If you do decide to quote me directly, please quote me accurately and completely. Have a pleasant day.”

As we walked down the path to the front of the inn, my employer regarded me again, still displeased.

We were obviously going to investigate — or at least begin to investigate — the Deacon case, whatever that might turn out to be, and she had no possible justification for this action on our part.

She couldn’t claim that it was for the money, especially since the person who had offered her the money was the one who was apparently now missing.

If she had claimed that it was to help the poor, suffering members of the Deacon family, I would have reminded her that she was not — according to her — a public convenience.

She shrugged. “Well, come on,” she said, turning away and leading me down the sidewalk toward the corner.

I made a mental note that there were still four dirty mugs in our room, which I would have to remember to wash at some point.

 
To be continued…

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