Friday, February 22, 2013

Birthing a novel

God, I hate starting a new writing project - I'm not a notecard kind of guy, so I try to pull together the whole thing in my head - developing plot points, fleshing out characters, establishing narrative peaks. Oh, I do write stuff down, but I'm not organized enough to do a detailed outline. Julian May once said that she does a very detailed outline, then does one draft - just one draft.  Ha! As if.

My last novel was a straight mystery.  This one might be a little more adventurous. Same era, 1952; same setting, Oregon High Desert; same protagonist; Sheriff Matthew Harkness, but with more added punch - maybe Commie hunting FBI agents and flying saucers.  Then again, maybe not. Where I begin and where I end in my writing often are two widely disparate places.  When I revise, especially from first draft to second, it's usually not just a word here or there, but massive changes in direction Here's a sample of the second scene of a very rough Chapter 1.

I squinted up against the slanting late afternoon sunlight and meandered down Main Street.  The old, lame and diseased sat in rocking chairs on the covered portico that fronted the south side of the Ochoco Inn.  It almost being the weekend, those poor folks had come into town from all over the state, seeking the healing touch of our local faith healer, Jessica Love. Among them, were a couple of locals, Prometheus Hawthorne and some old fart I’d seen before, but couldn’t name.
Theus hailed me.  “Sheriff, come and meet my grandfather.”
“Sisyphus Jones, I presume.”
The old man glanced at me with flint eyes.  “You’re not as funny a feller as you think you are,” he said.
“Some people like my humor.”
“His name is Hank.” Theus spit a brown glob of tobacco off the porch and onto the pine board sidewalk. “Grandpa was telling me about the time he met Wyatt Earp down in Arizona.”
“So you were around when the Earps shot it out with the Clanton gang?” I said.
“Gunned them down, more like.”  The old man’s face was like scarred up leather, brown and broken.  “It wasn’t much of a fair fight.”
“No need to fight fair when your life is on the line.”
“Gramps is here to see Jessie Love and get healed.”
“Rheumatism,” the old man added.
As we chatted, Ed Dilkes sidled up to us.  He poked me in the ribs with a finger.  “Here tell we’ve got reports of flying saucers.” Dilkes was the editor and publisher of the local newspaper.  I’d deck a lesser man for that. Dilkes was a pesky man, but one with a certain moral compass. I admired him for that.
“Pardon the interruption, boys,” I said. “but Mr.  Dilkes has no sense of couth.”
“Don’t know a newspaper man worth his salt that does,” Dilkes said. “Now about them saucers.”
I grabbed Dilkes by the elbow and steered him away from the Joneses. “You’re crazy.”
“And federal agents are poking around, looking for little green men.” Dilkes was a narrow-faced man with a blue-black beard and rapid-fire east coast speech.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sometime the best lie is the grand lie.
Dilkes rubbed his palms together.  “Feds and flying saucers, gosh, this is going to be a great story.”
“If you didn’t have three kids and a pretty wife, I’d wring your scrawny neck.”  He hadn’t tumbled to the commie list yet, but knowing Dilkes, he would sooner than later.
“You remember when they had those saucer sightings up in Portland?  ’47, I think it was.”  A steno pad and pencil appeared in his hands.
“I was still down in Frisco back then,” I said. 
“Bunch of folks saw them flying over Oaks Park, including a couple of policemen.  All over the Oregonian for weeks.  Government said it was weather balloons.”
“I am skeptical of everything, but dismiss nothing.”
“Me too.  How about an exclusive.”
“How ‘bout an exclusive kick in the ass.”
Dilkes laughed. “You still on the wagon?”
“What does that have to do with the price of ‘tators?”
“I’m just watching out for you.”
“I watch out for myself, thank you all the same.” I lit up a cigarette.  The smoke felt good in my lungs.
“There’s a meeting of folks trying to stay sober down at the Community Church on Wednesday nights.  You’d be welcome if you decided to poke your head in.”
“Not much of a church-going sort.  Mother was, a brimstone Baptist.  We’d go to church, then when we got home, she’d whip me with a strap, just ‘cause.”
Dilkes was smart enough not to ask, but he did anyway. “’Cause?”
“Cause she could, ‘cause my old man up and died when I was eight. ‘Cause she was a mean bitch. ‘Cause I have no fucking idea.  That enough?”
“Don’t have to get sore about it.”
“Ain’t sore at you, Ed, but the whole thing left me sore at the world.”
“Door’s always open.”
“Appreciate that,” I said.  We parted with a handshake.  I meandered by Doc Silverman’s office.  He’d told me once that he had been a Commie back before the War. Him, being one of my few true friends in this county, I thought I’d tell him about the FBI on their witch-hunt.  He wasn’t there, so I decided to drop by the high school and palaver with the science teacher, Malgauss.  I wasn’t too partial to commies, but I was less partial to G-men stirring up problems in my county.


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