Rosewood

Here we are: The moment I’ve been waiting for. And dreading.

I’ve reached the third of up to five new sections in Brown River Blues.

I wrote a six-page outline months ago, and I’ve been letting it marinate. It tackles a big issue that isn’t exactly pertinent to the plot but is.

I’ve been holding back on it because it’s one of those things that I don’t want defining people’s opinions of the book before they even read it. Although, if it ever gets successful, I can guarantee there being some quasi-pompous Slate think piece on it.

The other thing is the timing.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m bringing my computer and notes with me on my vacation because I plan on having at least one marathon writing session while I’m in Nevada. There’s just something about letting the words flow when the world is relatively still and dark. I think it has something to do with unwinding in general and my brain gearing up for dreams. (Speaking of dreams, mine often are incredibly detailed and have continuity. I’ve been able to pick up where I left off in some instances of being awakened.)

I’ve gotten some exposition out of the way that does some world-building as Lorenzo drives home. The city has a long, quirky history that only gets mentioned in passing a few times. I’ve had to remind myself that I’m the only person who knows so much detail about Imperial City over 20 years, I know where the Wendy’s closest to Lorenzo’s apartment is and what streets he has to take to get there.

I also know a lot about Lorenzo’s ancestral home, Rosewood.

I first drew it on graph paper when I was in high school. I have a passing fancy for architecture, so I often drew building façades or floor plans on graph paper. I did a broad overview of the front and then a ridiculously detailed drawing of the area of the front door. In that one, I considered every square to equal 9 square inches, because I measured a brick and discovered, with mortar, they’re roughly nine inches long and three inches high. Eventually, I stopped drawing every brick.

Eventually, I lost the drawings — and the floor plan — in a move.

But, after 20 years, I know the inside like I know the inside of my mom’s house.

I didn’t know at the time that I effectively drew a front that strongly resembles Richmond’s Wilton. I won’t bore you with the bedrooms and layout or how a creek begins in the backyard and cascades into a tributary of the South Fork Holston River.

Lorenzo’s family is rich. He’s been wealthy ever since I created him. He’s only a journalist because he wants to be and he’s appalled at how little the industry pays. I actually met an independently wealthy journalist before. He was pretty damn good at his job. It’s easy to give 110 percent when you’re not doing it for the money and don’t have to go home to a can of great northern beans. (There seriously was a point when I was starting out that I essentially was starving.)

But anyway, it’s my dream home, and that’s why I had to not only give it what might be its only debut on the printed page but also address why Lorenzo was avoiding it.

I hope the section does it, and Lorenzo’s family, justice.

Power Hour

Did you know that I’ve written a play?

Did you know that I put the finishing touches on it last night?

Did you know that me saying “finishing touches” most likely means I’ll revise it eight more times? (Yes, you definitely knew that one.)

Per Microsoft Word, I started work on Power Hour about 12:30 a.m. Sept. 28, 2005. It’s been complete for at least a decade, but I occasionally go back and make little tweaks.

The origin of Power Hour is twofold: I’ve been told, since a lot of the fiction I write is dialogue-driven, that I should write a play. Then I was loosely inspired by a party.

Despite its name, it runs about 45 minutes. It’s about an off-campus party where a few relationship issues hang in the air. No great truths are revealed and no tears are shed. It’s really just something I wrote for the sake of writing.

Last night, I decided to add it to the collection of short stories. When I opened it last night, something jumped out at me. I do this thing where I write a character making an enigmatic statement or doing something that doesn’t need to be explained but I go back and wonder why it happened. An example is in Brown River Blues. Lorenzo has next to no contact with his parents despite living less than two miles away. It bothered me all this time, so in a section that I’ll describe in my next entry, I’m dedicating pages to him going home and confronting why he hadn’t been home sooner.

In Power Hour, the person who decreed that there was to be a party doesn’t drink at the party. People notice, but it’s a superficial curiosity. It wasn’t superficial to me, so I answered my question in a marathon session I’m now regretting because I do my best writing at night and I typically can’t because I have to deal with my dog in the morning and can’t fall back asleep after taking her out.

Vacation

I’m quite looking forward to the Fifth Annual Robinson Family Vacation (Third, if you only count since we’ve been married).

I have a plan.

It’s been incredibly slow going with the “final” revision/expansion of my novel over the past few years. First, I lost my optimal writing position of lying prone on my bed with my laptop on a table the same height as my mattress. Then LSWV died Then I lost the ability to write well into the night because Missy wakes me up about 9 a.m. every single day. I hate that I’m awake now because it means I’m not going to get eight hours of sleep and, because of when I need to go to work and the things I need/want to do before work, naps usually are out of the question.

We’re going to Vegas.

Along with vague plans to drive to the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon and Los Angeles — along with playing a couple of slot machines and maybe blackjack, because I’ve been poor for the past 11 years because of my profession as a journalist so I literally have nothing to lose — I’m going to write.

Once I’m 100% certain I can bring LSW8 with me on a plane, I’m going to set up a writing platform, get recumbent and try to finish writing the two or three new parts I need to add and finish revising the rest. I’m sure there are going to be moments when I’m wide awake and my wife is not or she’ll be doing something I have no interest in doing. I mean, I read an entire Franzen novel in Miami last year.

I’m at 270-odd pages and nearly 100,000 words now. I’m on Page 207, and I doubt I’m adding more than 30 pages with the two or three new sections I’m adding. I can get this done before the summer is over and pass it on to my peers while I craft my query letter (I already know the format of it).

I can do this. All I need is booze, a prone position, no dog and the night.

And winning a couple hundred bucks.

Rolling along

I’ve finally gotten past the point where I left myself a gap where I stole a chunk of narrative and moved it elsewhere. It should be smooth sailing until I get to where I need to add a section currently titled Rosewood that I have all sketched out. It’s going to be difficult and a little preachy. But it explains the one elusive thing plaguing Brown River Blues since I first (re)introduced Lorenzo: Why does he live so close to where he grew up but doesn’t go home?

The answer is the back story I gave his parents all the way back in December 1998. Lorenzo misunderstood his father’s motives, and Webster Waycross Williamston Esq. has no idea that’s what the issue is beyond his son not talking to him.

Some lawyer, huh?

And he’s a prosecutor.

Kanawha Canal

My walks with my dog, Missy, often lead me to the Kanawha Canal in Richmond. She typically alternates between relieving her bowels along its banks or on the hills overlooking the James River and Shockoe Creek floodplains. I suppose she likes to take in nature as it calls.

I’m exceptionally vigilant with cleaning up when she defecates along the canal, although at times it seems as if it couldn’t get dirtier. By being a canal, it’s relatively flat. The locks probably haven’t been open in decades, so there hasn’t been a grand exchange of water. Excess returns to the James out of the main outflow at Chapel Island and leaks through the Great Shiplock, but one often sees the detritus a city bob listlessly for days at a time. From the occasional tire marks and front-end pieces from speeders who don’t realize Dock Street bends slightly to the left, I often wonder how many entire vehicles are below the surface.

My current writing is that near stagnation.

My current job is to edit for eight hours. I’ve taken to walking out to move my car, get an item of some sort from the automated convenience store on the ground floor or lighten my load on other floors as to not be glued to a screen the entire time. Lately, I’ve been avoiding my laptop before work.When I return home, I mostly stick to the most critical websites for my entertainment before I retire. Excluding some nights out, this is the latest I’ve been awake in weeks.

I’ve barely had a desire to write, let alone edit my own work. Mostly, I’ve had no desire to sit in front of a computer screen in my off time. It was different when I was a reporter — I was out covering things and interviewing people. In Charlottesville, there were managerial meetings and staff meetings; heading out of lunch, dinner and/or coffee; and going to the old pressroom to place or take a phone call.

Additionally, I reached a point in my novel where I left myself a mess.

I robbed an entire portion of a chapter and placed it elsewhere, leaving myself a note to fix it later. The current revision affected the easy way to clean up the scene and set the stage for a challenging section to write. Whereas my vacation last year restored my inspiration to write, I need another to prepare me to keep writing.

It’s been pointed out by several people that I have been kicking Brown River Blues around for an official decade now — I began it as a 25-part “short” story in late December 2006 and it’s set in the summer and fall of 2007. I’ve called this the final draft. I mean that as in any other edits and revisions would be at the prompting of someone else. I’ve had the idea of the query letter for agents in my head for at least two years. I want to share this. I want it to be over, but I have to get through this rough section and get into not letting the brainpower I need at work interfere with the brainpower I need to finish this novel.

I need to put this canal back in service.

Lorenzo’s Apartment

In the more than 10 years that I’ve been dragging out writing this novel (it’s complete in the basest sense; I’m currently doing a final edit/revision/expansion), I’ve never really sat down and fleshed out how Lorenzo’s apartment looks, although I know exactly how it looks.

It starts with what is now Deco at CNB. The first time I saw what was then the abandoned headquarters of Central National Bank, I said I wanted to live there. As I said in the previous entry in the regular blog side of this, I can’t because it opened when it wasn’t conducive to me moving in and our next place has to be a house because of our dog. Honestly, I wish I could break our lease with minimum penalty to get my dog into a house with a yard now. But that’s a story for the viaduct, not Project 792.

Anyway, Lorenzo’s apartment in The Council Aire is about half the size of that building, topping out at 11 floors. Lorenzo lives on the 10th in apartment 1040A, despite there only being three apartments on the penultimate floor. He and his friends lovingly call it “The Tax Suite.”

The Council Aire was a hotel that was converted into an upscale condo building that went belly up and became luxury apartments. Given his salary as a reporter, Lorenzo normally wouldn’t have been able to live there if not for the Tax Suite. The other option would have been to have a semi-illegal roommate like his coworker Nicole Cobb.

The 10th floor only has three apartments because the building tapers and because the penthouse has two floors.  One third of the 10th floor is the first floor of the penthouse. Another third is a large apartment that has an unusually high price point because of its height and some added details to further justify the price. One third of the middle third is the elevator, a small lobby for Apartment 1000, Apartment 1040 (the penthouse),  a maintenance room labeled 1001 and Apartment 1040A.

When the building was a condo, 1040 a was the servant’s quarters for 1040.

1040A is has a sitcom fourth wall, much like my previous apartment. There’s a solid expanse of flat, blank wall from the door to the balcony. Next to the door in a small foyer is a coat closet. Next is the kitchen. There there is a living/dining area that opens to a balcony overlooking the river and downtown. There are solid walls on both sides of the balcony, which runs the width of the apartment, and a roof over it that is the floor of the penthouse’s terrace. Next to the kitchen is a hallway that dead ends. There’s an obvious wall covering what used to be at door leading to 1040. The kitchen side of the hallway as the utility room and a bathroom that also contains the linen closet and washer and dryer. The other side is Lorenzo’s bedroom. It’s a little under 850 square feet.

That’s about the size of my current one-bedroom apartment, so it’s not cramped. It’s just small compared with the rest of the development, e.g., Nicole’s one-bedroom contains a “den” that’s large enough for her roommate to live comfortably. She also has a closet. The catch is that the den doesn’t have any external windows, thus rendering it not a legal bedroom.

This is the first time I’ve written this all down, unlike the elaborate schematics of Lorenzo’s family home, Rosewood, that I have drawn and revised since December 1998.

Surprise!

I’m approaching the halfway point of my revision of Brown River Blues. It’s a moving target because I keep adding stuff.

And deleting.

In this particular instance, I moved a chunk of a chapter to earlier in the novel and left myself a note to fix it later. That happened before LSW-V died in fall 2013. It stood at 83,000 words then. Now we’re at 95,000. I’m debating adding a chapter to outline how a character dies. Either way, I think we’re going to crack 100,000 words before the 13rh draft is complete.

But I digress.

So, I got to the point where I told myself “I stole stuff from this; fix later.”

Good job, Robinson.

I’ve been stitching the gap in Chapter 10 together for the past few hours. What I’ve done makes me happy.

What I’ve done since the writer’s block disappeared in Miami Beach has made me happy.

Along with Shigemi and the Sea, I have another interlude of sorts called The Drop and the Pit. It’s a lot shorter, but it fills in a gap in the “secret storyline” that I initially didn’t realize was there all the time. If I do the death scene, it’s probably going to be called Rollins and the Sheriff.

Additionally, I need to put in bit where Lorenzo actually talks to his parents. I’ve mentioned before that his apartment is less than a mile from his ancestral home, but he hadn’t been there in months. The design of that house has been in my mind’s eye since Dec. 17, 1997, so I’m looking forward to describing it.

Although Lorenzo originally wasn’t a part of Brown River Blues, I purposely set it 10 years after the action of my original novel, which no longer exists. There was to be a book set 10 years after his 2001 graduation, but I think I never even wrote an outline for that.

My goal is to have it done by the end of the year and then work on the query letter. I have a format for that in mind. It’s almost time for me to recruit people to critique it. I’m thinking to do three people who have read an older draft that is missing a lot of the stuff currently in Draft 13 and recruiting some new people, including some of my new coworkers. If I can will this into complete existence 10 years after the action of it occurred, I will be overjoyed.

But first, I have to take care of the surprise I left me.

One more thing: After I finish Brown River Blues, I’m considering another story call The Collectors. It spans some time shortly before Brown River Blues and ends about 20 years later. Even if it doesn’t happen, I introduced two of the characters from it. I’ve wanted to write The Collectors for some time now, but I forced myself to ignore it because I didn’t want it to happen at the expense of this current work not happening.

Shigemi and the Sea

The writing streak has continued.

Ever since my Miami trip, I’ve been editing/revising Brown River Blues in earnest. Recently, I reached a point that was always an interlude of sorts where Sydney reflects on how she first met Scott and we also learn how a character’s son died.

In this revision, I’ve greatly expanded this section to give it a standalone title instead of tacking it to the beginning of a chapter. The chapter numbers skip it.

Shigemi and the Sea almost is a standalone short story, but it fills in some stuff mentioned earlier in the story, fleshes out some characters and eventually moves the story along.

One of my favorite things about it is the nostalgia. Even as I was beginning to write Brown River Blues, which is set in 2007 it was a time capsule. This section is set in 2002, and it’s been a pleasure to read and write references to AIM, PlayStation 2, how texting used to cost money and the struggle daytime minutes and calling people with a different carrier.

I have no idea how we functioned back then. It’s almost like reading something set in Victorian England at times.

Anyway, this section quickly is becoming one of my favorite parts.

One more thing: The video has a slight link to the story. The woman there is Kazu Makino. Sydney’s middle name is Kazu. Her mother’s maiden name is Makino. Blonde Redhead is one of my favorite bands.

Freedom

While I was on vacation (more on that later), I finally read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I’ve been trying for years, and for some reason, I couldn’t get through the first section.

I finished it last night, and I definitely was inspired. I think it was the sheer bulk of backstory for nearly every character that did it. I have that backstory for my characters, and I’ve shared a lot of it.

Today, I’ve opened the file for the first time in months and revised the first chapter. It’s now organized chaos as the first meeting of Scott and Joe is mixed with some moments of Scott’s past.

I’ve misplaced my outline for other changes throughout. They’ve been on the back burner long enough that I think they can write themselves when I come to them. It’s finally time to see what happens next.

Burn all of your art

More like Fails from Imperial City.

Repair the wasteful part.

Over the weekend, I finally got my dresser. It’s not where I want to put it just yet, but when it is, I’ll photograph it and tell the story about why I’ve been obsessed with this piece of furniture for the past decade.

While I was moving things around to get it out of my childhood bedroom, I found a box of things I thought I lost years ago. I was fairly certain some of the things in that box were stolen at some point. Since it’s been about eight years since those things went missing, I have no use for them, so I wound up going through it and then tossing the box and its contents in my mom’s trashcan.

Except for what you see in the photo.

What you see here is something I started on Dec. 17, 1998. This is the handwritten first draft of the original Tale from Imperial City: Thirty-Eight.

What’s in the lower right is a map of Imperial City. Wessex County is to the immediate north of city limits. If this were a larger map of this portion of Virginia, the main action of Brown River Blues occurs roughly where the top right green folder is.

Thirty-Eight — which is named for the internal designation Imperial City Public Schools uses for Greenfront-Council High School — is where we first meet Lorenzo Santiago Williamston, Marian Moreno and some characters who are lingering in the background of nearly every piece of fiction I write.

I didn’t know what it was about, so I kept writing until I did. It was a comedy, it was a tragedy, it was a piece of magic fiction.

It was terrible.

But I decided the gist of what took place was canon and everything else has been a sequel of sorts.

Somewhere in the process of starting Brown River Blues, characters from Thirty-Eight slowly appeared. Although Wessex County was just down the street from Imperial City, I initially had no intention of placing any of those characters — especially Lorenzo — into the story. When Lorenzo appeared, I made a promise to myself that it would be the final story about him. I found that amusing because it would possibly be the first story about Lorenzo printed for mass consumption.

Another part of the deal was that I would destroy every trace of Thirty-Eight. In both Thirty-Eight and Brown River Blues, I mention that Lorenzo is writing a novel about me in which I’m writing a novel about him in which … you get the point. As I didn’t enjoy some parts of high school, I decided it was for the best that we left that bit of our lives in our collective head.

Furthermore, the last thing I want in this world is Thirty-Eight rearing its ugly head and winding up published. I do not even want that to happen posthumously.

A few weeks ago, I felt like I was finally ready to get back into editing Brown River Blues,  restarting Project 792 and maybe writing more short stories. Losing LSW5 in 2013 and LSW6 and 7’s inability to properly call up the Brown River Blues file brought my fiction writing to a screeching halt. I haven’t recovered because that’s my thing — if I get repeatedly thwarted or the task of putting something back together is painstaking, I rage quit to the point that I do not come back to it ever again.

Example: There is a model Lamborghini Diablo collecting dust on a shelf in my childhood bedroom. I put one together in high school and, to occupy my youngest nephew, my brother-in-law handed it to him to play with, not realizing it was a model. My hours of work were crushed in seconds. I pleaded with everyone to not buy me a new kit because I knew I wasn’t going to go through that effort again.

I hoped for a sign that it was time to get back into the world of Imperial City, and I finally got it when I opened that box. Somehow Draft № 1 survived the purge.

I rode back to Richmond with that more than 200 pages of draft; the maps of the city; and the schematics of Lorenzo’s childhood home, Rosewood, the high school and the glass shop his friend’s parents owned.

I hummed the Greenfront-Council High School alma mater, Hail Greenfront and Council High (yes, I also composed a school song), and I headed over to the dumpster to personally see that Thirty-Eight was no more.

After I come back from vacation, it’s writing time.