Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Blinking into that other world

I forget where I was this morning, but I was waiting for something and looked idly out the window. I saw a freight truck with “Panther” emblazoned across the side. Oh, thought I, that might make a great name for a music label, or maybe a tour promoter group, or maybe an album/CD. I’ve always been intrigued by words, as I suppose many writers are. Since I’ve thrown myself heedlessly into my novel, though, I seem to have gotten swallowed by words.

It’s the whole story immersion thing. I’m always -- and I mean always -- thinking about my characters and the story, often unconsciously. Bits of otherwise nonexistent scenes pop into my head while I’m at work or tooling down the road, sometimes with such startling clarity that I catch my breath. Recently something got me thinking about where it would be best to end the story; I had one end point in mind but have begun to think I might need to extend it to wrap up properly.

Abruptly I dropped into the middle of a conversation Neal was having with a woman, whose daughter may or may not be his. I can see Neal as clearly as I see this laptop. I’ve known about the woman (Maria) and the girl for some months now but this scene was unexpected. She said something about her boyfriend possibly abusing the little girl. Her boyfriend came into the room and Neal rounded on him, stalking right up to the guy’s face.

“You touched that little girl? You put a hand on her? What did you do to her?”

Understand that this scene happens some four years after the novel starts. Neal’s been through a lot of ups and downs in those years and has put the loss of his four kids mostly behind him. This has brought everything back. His friends mean the world to him but blood family has always been the most special. Watching his friends with their own families makes the loss of his own that much harder. In one short span of time, he meets a man who says he’s Neal’s biological father (who is obviously a miserable excuse for a human being) and a teenager who says he’s Neal’s half-brother. Now he might have a daughter. To say he feels protective and possessive is the understatement of the decade.

“You again?” Jorge stood at least two inches taller and stared evenly at Neal.

“I said, what did you do to her?”

Jorge’s dark eyes dared him to do something. “What’s it to you?”

That sounded like an admission. His fist connected with Jorge’s jaw and sent him sprawling to the floor.

“Stop it,” Maria shouted.

In case she was planning on pulling Neal away, he threw himself at Jorge.

-- It fades here. This is what keeps me writing, it’s my drug rush; those half-scenes where “people” are really alive can make everything else completely disappear.

Several years ago, I indulged in some fan fiction online. The woman who gave me the most encouragement said, “If you see it, write it.” That’s got to be some of the best writing advice ever given. I haven’t finished the scene where Neal finds out his older kids have been murdered, but it’s never good to keep a muse waiting.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Live and let die

So I have to write a scene that wasn’t in previous versions of my Work In Progress. By leaving his life in the streets, Neal made a conscious decision to break contact with the women he sometimes slept with and who gave birth to his kids. He didn’t feel a strong enough attachment to them to override his need to change his life.

Now, please don’t write him off as an insensitive bastard. He happens to be a bastard but that’s a different issue ;-) I’m talking about life with a street gang. Shoot or be shot kind of thing. I’ve done reading on the subject, and it seems to be true that these guys think of women as property more than life partners. If I’m substantially wrong, I hope somebody will correct me and provide proof.

Anyway. His ex-gang tries to off him, the attempt fails. He finds out that, against his expectations, they’ve gone after his kids and their mothers. This is one of the many lessons Neal’s taught me: just because you live in the streets, does not automatically mean you are a waste of humanity. Realizing that *his family* got blown away because of him, and that those kids will never grow up, hits him the way it would hit anybody. In basic terms, he took the women and the kids for granted and now realizes what he’s lost.

But this will be the first time I write the scene where he gets the news. In order for it to be realistic, I have to feel his pain as much as he does. I did write another scene, set a couple years past this point, where Neal’s girlfriend dies in a house fire.  He knows she's upstairs and his friends stop him from looking for her because the top floor is on fire.  I listen to rock music while I write and Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara” was on as I wrote that. I had to stop several times and let the velvety music soothe me. It got worse: the computer ate my first draft. Since I use my sister’s computer and she takes control of “Stanley” in the evenings, I got out my notebook and my pen and geared up to write the whole scene a second time.

The song stayed in my head and helped me recreate the mood, but wow, that was not fun. And it’s still in first draft form. Now I get to describe what it’s like to find out your little kids and their mothers have been blown away because you crossed a line. Neal’s not a normal sort of guy, otherwise I’d have a boring story. His mother ran off when he was ten and his father (his mother’s husband, anyway) died before that. He has vague memories of other kids who might have been siblings, but he suspects other relatives removed them. He’s used to not having blood family. The gang took over where relatives left off. While that gave him a sense of loyalty, it also taught him to take what he wanted and keep other people at arm’s length. Plus, at this point in the story, he’s only 18.

So, he realizes the kids are gone forever and he’s lost the only blood relatives he had. He has a new life now but no roots. He left the gang, turned his back on them, so he knew he could never go back. Wiping out the kids, though, is a viciousness he didn’t expect. It’s personal now.

If future blogs are written in a weepy voice, have some sympathy for both of us. Every time I edit, the poor characters experience it all over again, just like me. Putting him through the loss of his kids once may make both of us cry, but of course I’ve got to tweak it and twist it and go over it until it’s right.

How do you deal with writing painful scenes? Is this how the stereotype of the drunken writer got started? Talk to me about writing sorrow and what it does to you.