Finished

I reached the end of the 12th draft of my novel early Monday. It stands at 103,000 words and 294 pages, if the formatting is correct.

For some odd reason, I didn’t celebrate.

I guess it’s because it doesn’t mean anything.

As soon as I finished, I started a fresh file for Draft 14. (I inadvertently labeled it 14, and I’ll fix that later.) This one will consist of me hitting spell check, to get the easiest/most egregious mistakes, and then reading it as if I didn’t write it. It’s not a mixture of things that have somehow remained intact since the first draft and things I wrote as recent as 24 hours ago. There’s probably a continuity error in there somewhere. I caught one last night when I made a last-minute change to the sheriff’s last name.

And I also added a chunk of dialogue because I had inadvertently written a character out of the book. The ending in which the character played an important role no longer exists, so if not for the addition, there would have been a “went to visit family” situation from which there was no return.

There’s already a section I don’t like. I’m going to give it a chance by reading straight through. If it sounds bad to me still, I’ll work on it.

I’m expecting this “draft” to go a lot faster than the others.

Once I hit the final sentence again, I’m making an open call to my closest friends for their feedback. I already have five people in mind, and I want no more than seven. While they’re tearing it apart, I’ll finally write the query letter I’ve been wanting to write. I’ll share it if and when I get a deal.

But, deep down, I’m really excited that this draft is over. When I started it, it was 2013. I had a computer I didn’t expect to die on me. Then, when I had a functional computer, I came down with a pretty bad case of writer’s block. And then I had to figure out how to balance things like taking care of a dog in the morning when I like to write well into the night.

It’s close to being real. Once my friends get the correctly labeled Draft 14, I’ll take some of their criticism and apply it to Draft 15 and that’s the draft that goes with the query letter. After so many fits and starts, it could be on its way by this time next year.

Unless it’s garbage.

I still have 50 pages to go

I have finished the penultimate fresh section and went back to augment the introduction of Nicole Cobb with a 1,000-word character sketch a friend challenged me to do. It will remain in the Seven Ninety-Two short story collection, as the version in it has parts I excised due to the overlap with what happens with Lorenzo during this moment.

This goalpost move has made us reach 104,000 words and nearly 300 pages, if my formatting is the correct analogue to a standard hardcover. The original was 15,000 words.

But the next chapter is — I wouldn’t say filler, but tees up the next chapter. The one after that signals the end and will have the final expanded passage. After that is the final proper chapter. The second half of Chapter 24 becomes Chapter 25, and the original Chapter 25 becomes one of the “and the” sections that, along with a few newspaper articles, are outside the numbering system. Part of the reason these pseudochapters exist is because the original version of Brown River Blues had 25 parts and now I’m cheating. The other reason is that some of them include vital information that doesn’t quite fit in the chapters they’re between and are things I expect my editors will tell me to excise.

As you may recall, I’m writing more than what I think is necessary because I think it will be easier to cut things when I declare it finished than to have to add more when an editor gives me feedback.

It feels good to finally be in the home stretch. It’s been six years and more than the length of the original draft since I deemed this thing finished. It was back when the ending was different and was, in my opinion, pure garbage. The next chapter is the last bit of the original ending. It was Chapter 23, and it’s now Chapter 22.

It’s a little funny looking at the original now. I’ve also mentioned before that, despite being 15,000 words and throwing out at least the final two chapters, a lot of that original is in there. Original Chapter 22 is an article Lorenzo wrote. Twenty pages now separate the two. I wrote that article in August 2007 when a was a year into being a professional journalist. In my years of being an editor, I’ve rewritten and revised it as I’ve learned more and kicked it back to Lorenzo to fix. The current iteration still is a little painful to read, because I wanted to convey that he still was a novice writer, but the original reminds me of how much I needed to learn in 2007.

I still can’t believe I started this as a silly writing exercise in December 2006 that I expected would be over and done by January 2007. Instead I didn’t start writing in earnest until that June.

On Dec. 4, 2006, I said

From time to time, I get an idea for a short story or novel or something. Most of the time, they don’t pan out. …

A new one just popped in my head, and I think this one may go somewhere.

I was on LSW4 then. It was new. “Widescreen, 2 gig processor, 80 GB hard drive, 512 MB RAM,” I bragged.

I think my phone is more powerful than that.

I’m looking forward to getting through these 50-odd pages and writing the killer query letter that’s been in my head for a few years. And passing this out to my friends who have volunteered to do free peer edits.

After enduring the loss of a computer and a terrible case of writer’s block, we’re almost there.

Almost.

I mean, still have to read it at least one last time since I’ve banged out like 20-page sections this go round and I think the Rosewood section fell flat, but Draft 14 shall be a mere formality and not a yearslong affair.  A dozen years is enough.

F.I. to Harley

I’m stuck at the new section I need to write because I need time to sit down and write it. I have a new old job that isn’t’ exactly near where I currently live, so the earliest I’ll get to it is this weekend.

I also need to make a minor change.

Over the years, I’ve renamed a few characters because I either met someone with the same name (and, once, someone with the same name and occupation) thought of a better on for them.

My biggest problem is that I conjured up a character and then met a person an awful lot like here and so many people are going to think I was writing about her and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. If it gets to that point, I expect someone who knows anything about my life to say “___ ostensibly isn’t an analogue of ___” at some point. It doesn’t help that I sprinkled traits about myself across two characters, including one who interacts a lot with the coincidental character. I’m failing to mention her as to not lead people on before reading it.

But I digress.

Here are some of the changes that have been made:

W. Webster became W. Waycross because I completely forgot my mom’s church had a William Webster as a pastor.

Gene became Gus because I know a Eugene, and forgot Gene was short for it, because this particular Eugene goes by a wholly different nickname.

Mitch became Osbourne because I met a copy editor named Mitch and Oz is a copy editor.

Fiona became Francine because I forgot a friend’s middle name is Fiona. Additionally, this character has unflattering nickname (unbeknownst to her) that is abbreviated F.I. She thinks the group of people calling her Fi are going so because of her initials.

Fi, no longer will be known as Fi.

Over the years, I’ve passed an exit on Interstate 64 for two communities that, from how they’re positioned, sound like the first and last name of a southern belle who has a euphemism-filled sex scene with the “turgid maleness” of Jean-Paul Beauregard Gaudreau.

I decided to create this woman, sans Mr. Gaudreau’s pulsing tumescence, but never got around to it, so we’re getting Harley.

Harley?

On her first day at work, a boorish character is going to respond to her introduction with “Harley or Quinn?” for obvious reasons.

Now I wish she were more prominent, but I’m not doing another massive overhaul of this thing.

Rollins and the Sheriff

I have a short chapter to edit before launching into a new section, Rollins and the Sheriff. I’ve sketched an outline for it already, and it was easy because I’ve known the story for a very long time. it was nothing but a casual reference since at least 2010. (Draft VII is as far back as I can go at the moment.)

Aside: I just realized this draft has taken four years now. I started in August 2013, my computer died that November, my next two machines had problems opening the file, I got writer’s block until 2016 and here we are in the home stretch. Also, I didn’t realize until looking in the archives that I didn’t change the ending until the last draft.

The story of Rollins and the Sheriff evolved slightly in subsequent revisions, but I only touched on it lightly. My favorite part is that it’s the second appearance of a character I invented for my next novel, which might not get written because I lost interest in where it was going, and I have an idea for either a novella that I’m adding to the Seven Ninety-Two collection of short stories or a full-on novel.

I think I mentioned this quasi-revived character, O’Toole, before. His name comes from a bar in Richmond. I don’t want to give too much away about him, but I hope I can do more with him one day.

But I digress, sorta.

There’s a lot of ground to cover in this section, and I think it’s because it’s been cooking in my head for so long. But as I said in a previous entry, I’d rather have stuff to cut than have to go back and add more.

Speaking of adding more, I realized that I need to augment one other chapter, so I really have one new section to add and two more parts to expand. But that should be it. I’m thinking about how, without the additions, I have about 50 pages to go and a lot happens in them.

It’s almost over. It’s really almost over.

And I really need to adjust my sleeping habits because I have to start having a compressed period at home soon.

Who needs sleep?

I’m going to say I’m 60 pages from the end of Brown River Blues. Currently, I’m 40 pages away, but I still have what I’ll call 1½ new sections to write. That means, if the formatting I’m using to estimate printed novel length is correct, I’ll hit 300 pages. I’ve already surpassed 100,000 words, and I’m overwriting. I’d rather have someone tell me I need to cut the fat rather than needing to beef it up.

Never mind that I’ve been beefing this up since it was a 25-part series with no real plot and there’s a “finished” version of this some of my friends have read that has an ending that no longer exists.

Anyway, I’m tired.

Really tired.

But since I’m heading into the home stretch, I can’t stop myself from working on this. I’ve been staying up till 4 or 5 a.m. the past few nights despite Missy needing to go for a walk by 11 a.m. and me needing to do responsible adult things before heading to work.

But I’m excited. After LSW-V died on me in November 2013 and the writer’s block I had until June 2016, having the urge to work on this has been great. And has kept me going.

But I’m about six pages from the next new section, and that seems like a good stopping point for the night.

Third Street

AS I WALKED to work, I knew whether I was on time by where I saw Radio Raheem. If he was near the plasma donation center, weaving his way through the smokers either waiting for their rides or waiting for their turns, I was late. If we were closer to Main, I was good.

The man who amplified music from an unseen device disappeared a while ago, before the plasma center moved to a location closer to its clientele of do-gooders and $50-needers, before police shot an axe-wielding man at Third and Main.

I had seen the man hours earlier when was shirted and his hands were empty. As he crossed my path, I said “RVA all day,” to myself as I noticed his kilt in the early morning. I thought not of him again until the news reports and seeing his final smudge linger on the pavement for an unusually long period across from 3rd Street Diner.

“RVA all day,” I said again.

In my younger and drunker days, I often was a denizen of that former Confederate hospital, eating mounds of food of questionable quality on tables of questionable cleanliness, surrounded on those late nights with my fellow dregs of society who first tried to fill the void with alcohol and then pancakes. Or slices from the ostensibly Italian pizzeria as the bass pulsed from the gay bar a few doors down and the back gate of the Times-Dispatch rattled as the late shifts filtered out before the nearby blocks grew as still as the terminus near the Downtown Expressway or the blocks approaching and passing the convention center before the bifurcation into Fifth Street and a ramp from the interstate.

Or the portion lingering in a dying, cloven neighborhood, anchored by a church calling itself the Temple of God with the Last Day Message. And a cemetery.

Rosewood, Part II

Here we are: Nearly three months later.

I finally started work on this section. Part of the reason for the stall was that I wanted to throw in some additional background and had to plan it out. It kinda sucks that I did it because I feel like it’s one of the things that will get cut when the editor of a publishing house suggests changes.

I threw it in because it is canon to the “prequel” that no longer exists.

In the December 1998 novel, Lorenzo has two best friends. I decided to mention what happened to the second one. I’d always known the second friend, Jake, would run away from home and wind up in New York. I felt like I needed to address that estrangement to further hammer home that Lorenzo should not be back in his hometown.

When I first started writing this in December 2006, it was when I came to the realization that I could not go back to my hometown (although I did from December 2008 to February 2009). As I have mentioned before, all of my short stories are set in this universe and Brown River Blues also is intended to be my farewell to the character of Lorenzo Williamston. I feel like it won’t be a proper farewell without reconciling things from the original novel and subsequent short stories In my opinion, the things that happened from late 1998 to roughly 2004 still happened to him.

Acknowledging that Jake was a person Lorenzo cares about and misses is as important as addressing after a literal decade why Lorenzo and his father weren’t talking.

Speaking of that, do you want to know the real answer to that question? If I remember before the book is published, I’m deleting this, so commit it to memory.

I initially didn’t intend on Lorenzo being in Brown River Blues. At some point in the first draft, an instance comes up where it would have been good for Lorenzo to get legal advice. His father is a prosecutor. I had forgotten. I explained him not asking his dad with saying that they hadn’t talked because of some vague conflict and moved on with the plot. In further revisions, I deleted the needing a lawyer thing but noted that Lorenzo hadn’t been home. So, I’m writing a new section to my novel to retcon a mistake that maybe only 20 people saw when I could have instead thrown in a phone call home or mentioned him having dinner with his parents or whatever.

But, overall, I feel that this section needed to be written. I am going to be a little preachy in it. I don’t get to do that because of my career as a journalist. Indulge me.

Note: I’m trying to get back into the habit of differentiating between posts about my fiction writing by the capitalization (or lack thereof) of the blog titles and whether there is an accompanying YouTube music video. Entries that are both viaduct and Project 792 entries have capitalized titles and music. If you read my blog straight from my domain, these entries are separated by links in the navigation. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t allow a site to run two separate blogs, so it’s the best I can do.

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.