If you are interested in my fiction, and haven’t signed up at its site, click on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD‘s announcement post for the ebook – but the print version is already up, cover and all, and Amazon has notified me it may take 3 days.
The ebook took ONE HOUR to be approved, late last night – I guess no one else was up!
Details at the link – not everyone who comes here is interested in fiction.
Check there, too, for the details of the two Kindle Countdown Deals that are set up – one for PURGATORY, Sep. 21, and one for NETHERWORLD, Oct. 19. Best way to pick up a copy of either.
Not intending to be dire or apocalyptic – but often being able to write a blog post, almost any kind of a post, signals, for me, the end of a difficult period where the brain power needed to do almost anything is just not there, and I’m not sure if it’s the waxing and waning of ME/CFS – or the beginning of the end of being able to write.
Those who know me, or have been following for a while, know how close to the edge of completely non-functional I live. A little bit worse, and no creative juices flow at all.
I wait it out, deal with whatever is causing additional problems beyond chronic illness and disability, pick up where I left off when I can function a bit again.
THERE IS NO POINT
in wasting any of my energy in railing against my fate – it doesn’t help, and doesn’t make me feel better. [Note: my brain supplied ‘railing’ as the appropriate form of protest against things bigger than I can manage. I was terrified for a few seconds when Google only supplied ‘fencing’ as a definition, until I insisted further and ‘rail’ as a verb came up. Phew!]
It is what it is until they figure it out, this ME/CFS, come up with a definitive diagnostic, find the mechanism(s) that cause it, find a treatment, find a CURE!
Today I had an interesting interaction with someone online who claims 1) to have had it, and 2) to have a treatment protocol that cured him. I had the strength of character to tell him I was glad for him, and not interested in arguing with someone online who has the ‘solution of the week.’ And to please stop writing to me.
As we tell new people, “Hope it’s something else – something that DOES have a diagnostic and a treatment.” If something actually cured someone, it is awfully likely they didn’t have what I have in the first place, but something with similar symptoms – and a CURE!/treatment/prognosis.
It’s vanishingly likely that he has something that can help, and I don’t have the bandwidth for another savior with a solution. I’ve been at this nonsense for 32 years.
There is a finite (ie, non-zero) possibility that now that they’re pouring money into long covid research that they will actually look enough to find a real solution. That’s where my hopes are being pinned; ask me in a couple of years if anything panned out – because governments finally realized that 10-30% of the long covid survivors were, essentially, getting ME/CFS and, more importantly to governments, turning from productive working tax-paying citizens into sick citizens needing the disability benefits they have been promised since they started working. Ie, it will COST the governments, and they may figure out a cure is finally worth putting some money into research, instead of telling people it’s all in their heads.
Hope I’m still around.
More than that, hope it works for people who are not recently ill – not that I begrudge the newbies, but I want to be at the head of the line.
Hey! Look! I’m producing coherent (okay, you may argue about that) sentences!
It’s been a rough time since I announced I had finished writing Netherworld, and now that I have finished proofing the text.
The plan was to format and then to get the cover out of my head and onto a page. It’s been weeks. Sometimes I just go read the end, fall in love with it all over again, and go back to sitting staring at the screen.
Because love hasn’t been translating into action.
So far it’s just par for the course, and I expect it will resolve itself, and it won’t hurt to get the new Airbook(name?) from Apple with the M2 thingamabob my eldest daughter says is good – not having the computer question resolved – should I format and cover on the old machine, or wait for the new one and bite the bullet and update my Scrivener which may have some of the things I needed that the previous version didn’t have?
But I can’t believe how much that tiny obstacle in my path stopped me from making ANY progress.
Physical problems have been the stumbling block
I don’t want to go into details, yet, on a public blog, but my already-strained-to-the-limit body and mind have had a huge task added to keeping us all going, it has affected sleep, pain, and comfort to an incredible degree, and taken every speck of energy I had.
Finding a solution took energy I didn’t have, and going outside my medical system, and I’m glad I did – but it won’t be over for a while, and it isn’t going to be any fun. Until AFTER September, and then there will be recovery.
And I won’t have any relief from taking care of the problem constantly unless I am very, very, VERY lucky next week.
I’m sleeping in 1-2 hour chunks. That should account for the feeling of doom – sleep deprivation is classified as torture.
So I shouldn’t worry, right?
Except that there’s always that one last straw, the one that breaks the badger’s back, and I wonder, when I have the brain to wonder, whether this is it, and hope it isn’t, because I’m not finished writing quite yet.
If I am, it isn’t because I quit. I was because I was wrestled to a standstill by Reality, which always wins.
Meanwhile, putting words on page has given me a little much-needed hope again, and getting the news my computer situation might be resolving has given me a goal in a decision I kept going back and forth on (wait – or go ahead on familiar if not completely adequate technology – wait -…).
Thinking outside the box hasn’t worked yet
but I am vastly encouraged by the fact that I figured out how to, initiated it, was fortunate enough to find a listening ear (after several tries), and it may work much better than what I have had (nothing). And in my weakened state, no less!
I’m very proud of myself for trying – hope it works out.
So there – and mysterious. The women who read this blog and are older than 50 and/or have had children may have a clue; the rest of you really shouldn’t want to know. It’s grotty and embarrassing and against all the modesty my middle-class Mexican upbringing instilled deep, courtesy of my beloved Mother.
If I navigate it successfully, you may ask privately, and I’ll name the Beast.
As soon as the fog clears a bit more, and/or the new laptop is here and mastered, I will go doggedly right back to working on the publishing of NETHERWORLD, instead of just going to the file, re-reading the end, and crying into my beer because I love it so much.
I’m just waiting for two good friends to let me know if they liked it, too, to feel a whole lot better.
And if you like to be in at that stage, my contact information is in the About. I could use a few more readers/reviewers who are familiar with PURGATORY, and need to keep going.
In the publishing of the next book, every self-published author has to face the fact that typos exist, are blamed on the author (who has ultimate responsibility), and are as hard to eliminate completely as cockroaches.
What is a practical limit for the number of typos?
A little checking provides a couple of rough guidelines:
A typo per thousand words is too many.
Three typos in ten thousand words is proofing to a professional standard.
That standard means that, in a novel of 187,000 words, one could discover 56 typos – a huge number – and still be within professional quality. But it’s a twenty-chapter book, and that is only 2-3 typos per chapter, which doesn’t sound quite so bad.
The kind of errors matters
Using the wrong word isn’t a typo – it’s a mistake. It often comes from not knowing a word well enough, and not looking up the correct usage if you’re not certain.
There are a number of these anthills to die on, and experienced writers will know the difference between may and might, principal and principle, and verb affect/effect and noun affect/effect.
No one but beginners should have problems with its and it’s, or their/they’re/there. A professional writer needs to be certain about the basics, and have a cheat sheet for the ones which cause them trouble personally.
And it never hurts to check again, reinforcing what you know, challenging what you think you know. I am getting very humble in that department, as my damaged brain keeps throwing me the almost right word, I find it slightly odd – and have the sense to check. The bigger your vocabulary, the more chances for this to trip you up.
Leaving out a short word is a typo – a good friend just caught me leaving out ‘to’ from the infinitive ‘to commit’ – thank you!
The little shorties which are the wrong word, but are an actual word, are one of my peccadilloes: it, if, is, in – it is so easy to type the wrong consonant!
Transposing a couple of letters or leaving off a final letter – happen frequently to all typists, and can be very hard to catch. Sometimes the best way is to have the robot voice of your computer or program read you your own deathless prose – and make you giggle. My current typo-in-hiding is leaving the final ‘r’ off ‘your,’ which sounds funny when read back to me – YMMV.
Paying for professional proofing
does not guarantee perfection, unfortunately. It may be worth it but I think it doesn’t teach you anything. You’ll still make mistakes and typos, and have to figure out how to make the corrections stick in your writer’s mind, if they’re the kind you can learn from such as using a word incorrectly.
If you accept the corrections made by a pro too quickly, you may not move the problems into long-term memory properly – and so will continue to make that kind of flub. It’s worth taking some time to ask yourself why they happened, and whether you can make a permanent self-fix.
And you’re still the one with your name on the book.
So wish me well on what is the final proofing:
Sending out ARCs I think are perfect, and getting back the little niggly (and wonderfully welcome), “I liked it – but on page #n, you have a typo…”
Embarrassing – but I am grateful for every catch.
And vow to learn from them.
Can’t be perfect – but I can always become better.
Gak! It’s been almost a month since I posted anything!
There was a lot of quarantining in that time. NOT because we were exposed to Covid, though some independent living residents in this facility were (we found out because they had dinner with friends in Assisted Living at the Friendship Table, and the AL people ARE tested regularly because they’re in the health-care portion of our facility).
And because those people in IL who WERE exposed to the people in AL who tested positive, the State of California required them to quarantine for FOURTEEN DAYS in their apartments. None of the IL residents got Covid, thank goodness, but WE had a vacation in Lake Tahoe with our kids a few weeks later, and realized that WE wouldn’t be able to go IF we got exposed ourselves, here, and then had to do the same quarantine for 14 days.
That is, we quarantined for 14 days so we wouldn’t have to quarantine for 14 days – at an inconvenient time which would put the kibosh on OUR vacation. Mixed up world, eh?
So – any progress on publishing NETHERWORLD?
Well, yes and no.
For the ms., I created an easy ARC from Scrivener – the complete, very long pdf of the whole thing (~500 pages), and sent it to the first person who’s offered to review AND buy it on launch day (thank you, David!), and as a backup complete proofed file to several places, including my amazing beta reader (thank you, Rachel!), and gave my husband and children the necessary information to manage my literary estate (and publish Netherworld) if something happened on the trip/vacation/return. You never know.
The formatting is no further than that.
For the cover: I have all the pieces, an updated Pixelmator 3, and an updated Learn Pixelmator 3.5 video course (free update – thanks folks!).
I’ve bought licenses for the two cover images from Dreamstime, acquired another photo from the same friend who supplied the sky for Purgatory’s cover, found a couple of low-res images to guide me in the changes I’ll need to create the cover in my head, and put the whole thing into a folder and a backup on the iCloud. Phew.
Now I just have to do the work, get it past my cover mentor (thank you, Jessica!), and create ebook, paper and hardback covers to spec, and then, because I want to make one change to them, redo a bit of the Purgatory covers (bigger name so it shows on the thumbnail, add the award, etc.) which really amounts to redoing a fair amount of the Purgatory covers AND creating the hardcover one.
I have my permissions from Cambridge U. for my KJV quotations – feels nice and official.
I got my copyright certificate from the Library of Congress! I always feel better after I do that, for whatever it might be worth.
Launching is, of course, dependent on having something to launch. I had approached a PR firm, put up with a long delay to talk to them, checked in with them and received a promise of an answer of some kind before the end of May, and than have been ghosted. It does remind me that if people are not reliable in the small things, it’s probably better not to rely on them for the big ones, so that firm is permanently off the table. Too bad, because I liked them, and had already invested some effort into them.
I’m still obsessively re-reading the end of Netherworld – and not changing a word. I promise explosions, and I hope they are well received.
I want to continue getting into writing LIMBO
I literally can’t wait – because there are only a few hours between the end of 2 and the beginning of 3, and I’m very happy how that turned out.
And I’ve already started writing Chapter 41(LIMBO goes to 60).
BUT I’ve been dealing with some medical problems for 2.5 years to no solution, and I’m in the middle of trying to fix some things that really need fixing, and it’s a slow process because disability means EVERYTHING is so much harder – from making phone calls through phone systems that won’t just let you call someone to make an appointment, to doctor visits which consume an incredible amount of prep time, energy, and recovery time, to a whole slew of medical tests with the same problems – which the new doctor insists on before she will even consider DOING something.
Plus a big paperwork problem I’ve finally admitted I had to step in and manage, do some of, get help, hand over to the pros…
And my limited number of daily spoons is gone every day before I manage to write. Because it’s not just ‘write a few words’ now – it’s the whole huge Book 3 planning review, restart, clean up, carry stuff from 1 and 2 typical glorious mess of starting the final volume in a trilogy. Drives me up a tree that I can’t just do it.
But I’m literally doing the best I can
And not managing to sleep very well with all the above, to boot.
I can tell stress that I’m fine until I’m full-body blue, but that does NOT take away the stress. It just doesn’t add worry, but the things I’m having to do are stressful in and of themselves, and that is such a deep autonomic process that you can’t affect it much.
Plus the physical problems have extra pain and much discomfort associated, which has to be micromanaged – and I was already exhausted before that.
There are signs, portents, and possibilities
of improvements, but not fast.
This is literally the first time I’ve even been able to think of writing a simple blog post, in the whole past month.
Life happens – you deal.
I know what my primary aim is (if family is okay), but I’m not able to DO it right now.
Don’t worry. Nothing TOO horribly grim. But I’m all tapped out of spoons every day, almost the end of the morning, when I’ve done nothing yet.
But stuff slowly gets done, and goes into the rearview mirror queue from the To Do list, and I’ll get there.
On the bright side
my oldest daughter is helping me select my new computer for the foreseeable future – my current lovey is from 2015, and can’t be upgraded far enough because then my necessary old software – Office 2011 for Mac and Dramatica Story Expert – won’t work, and I don’t have the mental bandwidth right now to deal with another potential crash.
Everything is properly backed up (Time Machine and iCloud), but bobbles with computers cost me days or weeks when they happen, so for the first time in a long time, I’m being proactive: a new Macbook Air with the M2 processor and good camera should take me far into the future and definitely through LIMBO.
It will, however, require some learning – not my strong point.
So that’s the update:
I’m working as hard as I can on the critical list items
I’m as far along with Netherworld as I can be, including covers
Ditto redoing the Purgatory covers
Ditto writing into the future with Limbo
and dealing with the sorry carcass which makes all of this possible at all in as graceful a manner as I can against the extra stress of having to do it at all, and the unbelievable amount of extra energy it takes
AND, courtesy of my lovely assistant Sammy, whose last day is today (she’s graduating! going on to grad school! going home for the summer!), I have already acquired an assistant for the fall (another senior – so I’ll get 8-9 months of her life, and leave her a changed young woman – but seniors are really handy), and she’s interested in learning the self-pub aspects of the job I haven’t had time to do with Sammy because other things were more, uh, important.
And the ability to write this post reassures me that there’s still a ‘me’ here.
More when there’s actually progress on this laundry list.
Be well. Have a great summer. Don’t work TOO hard.
PS: If you are desperate to read NETHERWORLD, and wouldn’t mind writing a review to be posted when it’s published, email me (abehrhardt at gmail), make your case, and I’ll send you what I have at the time.
He kindly provided a long list of questions, and after I got started, I realized I should post this here, and just leave the first two answers as a teaser on his blog, which you should visit and follow.
He starts his post with:
Publishing gurus are full of ideas for you. To optimize your sales, they might suggest new covers. They will tell you that your only barrier to startling success is a simple (yet costly) tweak to your book description.
Here is my list of answers – a good set to answer for yourself in writing. I’ve edited or changed his questions a bit in places to suit me better – you should read his.
What is success to me?
People reading and reviewing my mainstream trilogy – I am pretty sure it will take off in a big way some day, and these people keep me writing.
What works for you?
Doing it exactly my way, designed for a damaged brain and no energy – because it works.
Everyone else’s suggestions – I can’t follow them, and when I make the big effort, they don’t work for me.
Have you tested other options?
Yes, though not extensively – I’m VERY slow, and this takes time away from writing.
Have you played with the variables?
Not a lot – by definition, half of A/B testing is going to be wrong!
Would you drop what isn’t working?
In principle, yes – but I have to somehow decide people who don’t know me and my work know what they’re talking about. So far, not convinced.
Are you doing more of what works for you?
I am – and I do as soon as I identify something that works, I do more of it. When I have time and energy, the kicker.
What haven’t you succeeded at trying that might work?
Going viral (not something you can just ‘try.’) Getting on Oprah or equivalent. Practically, attracting a BIG influencer who goes to bat for me.
Have you tried that?
Have asked maybe ten – they all have shied away or answered in generalities or haven’t answered at all. Doing things their way works for them; altering, looking at the outliers, not so much.
Before changing, have you completed other projects?
Yes. I can only work on one thing at a times – very little ability to do elsewise.
Have you analyzed pros and cons of a strategy such as changing genres?
Not until I finish the mainstream trilogy (but I managed to tuck some historical fiction AND some science fiction into it).
What would your costs be?
Funny: They go from me, my time, and my energy, immediately to a very expensive version of let other people do it. I could probably afford it, if I were convinced it would make a permanent difference – but I don’t believe that, because the limitation is still me.
What would the cost/benefit of getting paid helpers be?
I would have to sell a LOT more books to make them pay for themselves, and, since I will never be able to create much of a backlist, there won’t be much help from other work, so it would depend on a single huge campaign for the trilogy.
How much money do you need to live?
Fortunately, I’m retired, settled into a retirement community, and okay.
How much MORE do you need for WANTS?
Lucky that way – none.
Do you have the helpers to effect this change?
Not yet, though I’ve approached several possibilities, and listened carefully to their answers.
Would this be an investment, or money down the drain?
It’s my life, and my only chance of a legacy, since I became chronically ill.
Is a helper worth the time or mental toll it will require?
Haven’t found one yet that is.
What’s keeping you from trying?
Lack of energy.
What’s the worst that could happen?
No increased sales, and the loss of a lot of money which should have gone to charities and the kids.
What’s the best that could happen?
Breakout – and a fame which wouldn’t make much difference to a very isolated disabled life, but would be fun (instead of always being odd woman out).
Is the new way of working a passion, an excuse, or an escape?
Passion, of course. Nothing else is worth the kind of effort necessary.
What makes your new approach significantly different from old projects that failed?
I’m doing it myself; the failed one approached traditional publishing and didn’t get a brass ring.
Are you happy or excited to make this new commitment?
Haven’t had a credible proposition yet; there’s one possibility in the works – a PR company. I’m waiting to hear, because they will have to do all the changing – I don’t have the capacity to.
As working people, the ‘system’ promised us, if we worked hard and saved our pennies for retirement, didn’t spend it all, that we would enjoy some years of healthy living, ease, family, and freedom.
Now they want to renege.
The rest of the world wants to go back to ‘normal,’ ignore any public health measures that might prevent passing on a deadly virus which keeps mutating into something even more dire (so far), has killed oh, around a million Americans directly, and, if I’m reading the statistics right, another million or so in ‘excess deaths’ – deaths which wouldn’t have happened if normal ailments had been treated in hospitals in a timely manner.
Well, those hospitals were full of covid patients – still are.
And after every new peak, ‘they’ are quick to assume it’s the last of its kind (remember after Delta, and before Omicron cases started climbing stratospherically?), and give up restrictions before people get tired of them.
The view from the vulnerable block is pure astonishment
In the US and in much of Europe they are already preparing to ‘live with the virus’ – everyone will eventually get it, THE OLD, SICK, VULNERABLE, IMMUNOCOMPROMISED, FRAGILE WILL DIE, and the world will go back to being a lovely place for idiots to party and catch covid at a concert, restaurant, or bar.
And take it home to Grandma.
Who needs Grandma anyway?
People who might have lived for years, decades
Because what they had, while not fun, is manageable: diabetes, heart disease, obesity…
Or potentially curable: some forms of cancer, getting a replacement kidney or a part of someone’s liver or a heart transplant…
are incredibly susceptible to getting covid.
They don’t just fade away: death from covid is painful, exhausting, humiliating – and with little support from family and friends – lonely.
And people dying of covid in a hospital cause other people not to be able to lifesaving surgery or care – and die, too.
Let us get rid of one of these right up front:
Obesity. It’s an ugly word. It’s a word of our time. Before, the chubby of us had reserves for surviving – and potentially fighting off – some diseases, and lasted longer.
Be that as it may.
It is not something that someone can change quickly. Or at all.
Doctor-supervised diets have a 2% success rate after two years.
And it is a cop-out. Just because a doctor doesn’t like it, and blames everything on it, and says, “If you just lost weight and exercised, you wouldn’t be sick,” doesn’t make it so.
And back to the important qualification for being useless: there isn’t a person on this Earth who can lower their weight consistently and safely QUICKLY.
Another is exercise
For post-viral illnesses such as long-covid, ME/CFS, and possibly any others such as chronic Lyme disease, exercise is CONTRAINDICATED. Read that carefully. It means: “Doesn’t help and DOES harm.”
The exercise-and-it’s-all-in-your-head brigade have been thoroughly debunked, their statistics shown to be bad science, and guidelines are changing everywhere. Not fast enough – and with rearguard actions by the biopsychosocial cabal trying to claim their methods actually work (they don’t want to lose all that lovely research money, ‘treatment’ money, and prestige; and in some cases knighthoods or damehoods (sic?)).
New people with our diseases are needy and desperate. They will grasp at anything that offers hope, and they are not good at separating the quacks from the legitimate scientists. They are given something and told it works, and they try over and over, blaming themselves when non-proven methods actually DON’T work.
Worse than that: they make themselves sicker. For every post-exertional crash, the baseline lowers on what a person can safely do. Enough of those, with the very best intentions, and people end up bed-ridden or worse.
Exercise is dangerous for people recovering from these viruses. DANGEROUS.
I always thought, when I was younger, that I would be able to work my way out of anything by just putting the effort in.
As an old person, I would keep walking, keep doing yoga, have the time for more exercise.
And that people who ‘let themselves go’ had brought it all on themselves. Well, some of them have. But I’ve been trying for over three decades and guess what? NOPE. You can’t work yourself out of CFS.
You DO stop going to doctors because they don’t like illnesses without a cookbook approach. They don’t like mysterious illnesses that somehow have normal bloodwork – for the tests the insurance companies will allow.
They don’t like taking into account one of my widely-shared symptoms: intolerance of medicines. We are the people who get all the side-effects of almost everything that works for ‘normal’ people. I actually went through four of the five classes of blood-pressure medications after getting stents (and both Plavix and Effient – which made me deadly ill). My last cardiologist in New Jersey said the fifth kind of BP drugs would most likely make me quite sick, so we skipped them.
The protection of the booster shots for the immunocompromised
should be extended to the elderly if it is warranted.
I’m in the vulnerable category – I got my fourth shot, considered the second booster shot, four days ago. My arm still hurts and a day after the shot during which I felt as if I had the flu was followed by two days of not getting much done because of being a bit woozy and brain-fogged, and I don’t care at all.
In a week and a half or so, I will have whatever immunity my body can build up from the shots, and I was the one who nagged my doctor’s office as soon as the CDC said people like me should have another booster.
We are back, cautiously, to congregant dining – but the husband and I are taking it very slow because I don’t want to get covid at all (I already have the equivalent of long covid; online friends who have had covid on top of ME/CFS are struggling). Everyone here wears masks, distances socially, and avoids as many group activities as possible – except for today, when we celebrated the lives of those fellow residents who left us this past year with a short ceremony and two songs – sung through my KN95 mask.
We are all wondering what will follow Omicron and its B version.
It will take a long time before people like me will feel safe – and seeing mask and other requirements vanishing left and right, when the scientists tell us it is NOT over, doesn’t help.
PLEASE continue to be careful and smart even when the official rules relax.
The life you save may be someone you love.
I’m hoping my brain will be usable for writing fiction tomorrow.
Please pop over to prideschildren.com and follow if you are a fan of mainstream fiction of the ‘big book variety.’ There is a short story prequel there and a sample. PLUS the first scene of NETHERWORLD, and reports of how close it is to being published.
This post was composed while not completely with it – may be a bit ranty.
GOING TO ABSURD LENGTHS TO MAKE TIMES AND DATES WORK
There are two parts to verisimilitude: characters and plots.
When you graft a fictional character onto a world in a historical context – changing the name of the president, for example (still missing President Bartlett of the West Wing, not so much the Presidents Underwood of House of Cards), is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, because FICTION.
But there is a significant difference between an alternate history – one which answers what if? questions about what would happen if something changed due to that fictional occurrence (President Lincoln survived the Civil War) – and one which aims to change only a few features of an event, without completely changing the chronology of what happens after.
Because, within wide parameters, most people aren’t important enough to change history, and writing things a little different to end a personal story in a particular way is a perfectly valid fictional technique: you don’t imagine the 1950s differently, but your sleuth solves cases in them.
My fictional world is the real world
I want you to think, when you finish reading my WIP, that you’ve read something that really happened.
But because I chose Hollywood (and Bollywood added to it in the second volume of the trilogy), I need a worldwide stage for some parts, which has resulted in characters at times in very different time zones being aware of or communicating with each other.
Or traveling from one place to another and back.
Or of something they do affecting a different character somewhere else.
Stories aim to give you the flavor of reality
Stories – even very long dense epic stories – give you only a tiny part of what ‘happened.’
Try to document your day. In just one 24-hour day, you perform thousands of actions, make hundreds of decisions. Even listing them in a recording as you go through the day would take forever.
So the writer in a novel has to give you enough of the right kind of scenes so that you think you’ve lived with the characters – but are actually seeing a tiny fraction of what real people would do in that time.
The RIGHT tiny fraction. To give an illusion of time passing and being present.
The writer has to know a lot more than the reader
Or readers will notice the gaps. Call them plot holes, inconsistencies, anachronisms. Or my favorite: refrigerator moments. Because you’re at the refrigerator at 3am and suddenly it occurs to you that there was no logical reason for something that happened in the plot, but you were swept away by the action, and didn’t notice. It may have been Lawrence Block who mentioned no reason for the Estonians to be eating chocolate chip cookies (my memory is very vague on the topic).
Well, I don’t want any of those.
I don’t want readers to say, “Wait a minute – that couldn’t happen!” Because it would pop the ‘suspension of disbelief bubble, and damage the flow.
So I go to a lot of trouble to make sure something might have happened that way.
MOST readers will never notice the hole, or if they do, care.
Funny thing: in my mind, that doesn’t absolve me of the requirement to make sure there aren’t any I can see.
In practical terms in NETHERWORLD
It means that when I do my complicated alternation between characters, and something has to happen on a close timeline, I spend effort making sure that timeline is actually possible.
If two characters alternating are on different continents (a recent example), and there is a plane flight from one of those continents to a place on a third one, I use a lot of convenient time/date software (what time is it in Berlin when it’s 3am in Shanghai?) in coordination with other software which tells me how long the flight will be for a particular aircraft.
Sometimes I’ve had to reset the time for a particular sequential scene.
Other times I’ve had to start a scene earlier or later, build in a gap, or have it end at a different time.
The interesting thing to me has been that when I get that involved in the details of ‘could it work’, I find myself feeling more like a detective than the plotter of a novel.
I’m discovering what happened rather than creating it.
It has been eerie how real the timelines are – and how I’m able to fit the changes in without it rippling through the rest of the scenes.
Some scenes are anchored in REAL TIME
I’ve chosen to insert a character into an actual historical event, so I have to make sure a barrage of physical actions happen around that exact event.
I don’t want a reader to remember something – that year that award ceremony happened on a Monday, not the usual Sunday – and me have gotten it wrong.
It’s enough fiction that I’m putting my characters into that ceremony.
I want the reader to have the spine-chilling thought, “Hey. Wait. Am I remembering it wrong?” because my fictional part fits so well into the past reality.
And it’s not that many years ago.
Next time I may pick something without these real-world anchors!
Or in a fictional universe.
I never realized how much work it might be until I was up to my neck in alligators in the swamp.
As a reader, what do you do when the glitches are so obvious you can’t ignore them?
As a writer, am I crazy to worry about these tiny details?
I didn’t expect to, not this late in the middle book of a trilogy.
I capture these thoughts when they happen, hoping to have something to refer to when it happens again.
The constraint here is both the calendar – the end is near, and the content until the last scene is what it has to be – and a sense of pace.
In the real world, things have their own importance, and can’t be hurried – or slowed. Their pace is what their pace is.
In fiction, however, technically every bit is under the immediate and complete control of the writer – nothing happens without her say so – and completely not. Why? Because the pace you work hard to develop as you go seems to have a built-in speed you didn’t put there.
I’m not used to this
All pantsers are familiar with this.
Whereas I, an extreme plotter, like to think I’m in control of everything.
The story takes over.
And you bumble around in the dark until you learn.
Oh, and try doing this with WRITER brain fog!
You can’t write chaos smoothly
But it can’t be completely chaotic stream-of-consciousness either, not for very long on the page: the Reader won’t stand for it.
So it’s a mixture, and, from deep third multiple pov, you have to credibly present a chaotic situation for a character you’ve already developed (starting that way in Chapter 1 or with a new character is a different ballgame), and who is usually much less confused.
So you will get a little indulgence from your audience, but don’t want to presume on that – or they’ll start skimming, and you’ve lost them.
So, another skill attempted in the craft.
I wonder what the beta reader will say.
If you’re a reader, do you notice this kind of thing? And how much patience do you have for a change in how you see characters, especially when they’re under stress?
If you’re a writer, has this one bitten your ankles?
I haven’t posted for a while for a very important reason: traveling to the Boulder area for our son’s and daughter-in-law’s wedding reception. (I am recovering slowly from the trip, and am finding my writing very much more basic this week – bear with me.)
The wedding was a lovely Zoom event a year ago – it wasn’t deemed safe to have it in person before vaccines in the middle of a pandemic – and under Colorado law, the kids could do the actual wedding themselves by signing a form. They chose to do that, and did a wonderful job of vows with a backpacking theme – talking about how and why they packed the items for a trip.
This year, vaccinated and safer, the wedding reception took place in a venue with the Boulder mountains in the background, family and friends from all over present.
The ceremony was out on the grass in the setting sun – I made it to a seat somehow, and was misty-eyed at the very personal and heartfelt words. Big smiles by everyone. They make a great couple, and have been together a long time now.
So we had to get there
Our son had asked if I wanted a mother/son dance after his wife’s father/daughter dance and theirs as a couple, and I said yes.
I can’t stand very long, or walk very far, and am extremely awkward and unstable on my feet.
So of course I said yes – these things are important, and don’t happen very often.
If at all possible, you do them, because regret is the cost of not trying.
We didn’t have time or occasion to practice before, so it was a one-time event.
My secret weapon was Maggie
Maggie (for the magnesium alloy she’s made from, and the maglev motors that run her) is my Emotional Support Robot Mini Riding Horse – and my bionic legs – and my mobility device.
An Airwheel S8, she is a bicycle seat on a hoverboard. We are a proud member of a subgroup on the Electric Unicycle Forum (even though she has two wheels).
She can be used sitting or standing, lasts a long time and distance on one charge, and I use her around the retirement community inside (elevators and long carpeted halls) and outside (on the Davis greenway, sidewalks, and bike paths). I don’t stand – but the kids and others have tried that without problems.
The trick was getting Maggie there and back – on a plane
To Denver International Airport and back to Sacramento.
Maggie is not a wheelchair nor a scooter, devices most people are more familiar with as mobility devices.
Maggie is electric.
Maggie has lithium batteries built in.
The batteries cannot be removed – the procedure for replacing one is long and involved.
Most devices travel in the cargo hold with the luggage, including my walker of many years, Sylvia.
Most people have never seen an Airwheel S8 (I am a ham; I do demos at the drop of a hat, and talk about my mobility device to anyone who evinces the most minor interest).
My greatest fear was showing up at the airport in Sacramento
and having a particular crew (the pilot’s word is final) or counter staff refuse to take her on the plane at all.
The next biggest were having my mobility device damaged during the trip, refused passage on the way back, or become lost baggage. My very sturdy walker has been affected by the many trips she’s been on, and the bracket I put on the front to hold a basket was broken off on a trip long ago. I breathe a sigh of relief every time the walker shows up again while deboarding.
If Maggie stops working (it has happened – this is my second Maggie), she becomes a 32 lb awkwardly shaped piece of metal and plastics that barely rolls.
There have been a number of incidents with cheap lithium batteries causing fires on planes and in other places, so I understand their concern – in principle. But electric wheelchairs travel all the time.
If absolutely necessary, I would have dragged myself all over the wedding venues with my walker. But what would happen to Maggie if I couldn’t take her with me was a big concern, because airports are not a place you can store things and time would be limited (as well as my energy, which is my constant battle to preserve).
Preparation before hand was key
I spent a lot of time a couple weeks prior to the trip (over an hour on the phone) talking to the person the Accessibility phone at the airline had at the other end. We sort of figure out that it would probably work. This person said a ‘note’ would be placed in my file for the trip.
A few days before the trip, I got anxious. I went to my reservation to see if the note said what it was supposed to say. There was no note. The only codes were the ones I had written into the form when buying the tickets – informing the airline that I needed a wheelchair in the airports, and that I can walk enough (hanging onto seatbacks) to get to my seat, so I wouldn’t require the on-board airline wheelchair to get to my seat.
Nothing about Maggie, nonstandard devices, batteries… all the things we discussed. Nothing I could mention to a gate person or counter person.
So I called again – and this time got someone who said she was Accessibility – and didn’t recognize the name of the other person! At the same phone number. Not a good start.
The second person was much more helpful for a specific reason: with a little searching, and knowing the airline website, she was able to find the specific wording which would let me take Maggie onboard, either in the wheelchair closet or in the cargo. I printed it all out, highlighted the relevant sections, and brought it with me.
I didn’t need to use it – but it could have gone the other way.
The airport trip was easier because I have an Assistant again
She was available to drive us and our luggage to the airport when we needed it. And she promised to bring Maggie home if something went wrong and my mobility device wasn’t allowed on the plane. Fortunately, I didn’t end up needing to call her back.
Sacramento was an easy airport to navigate: it was agreed I would use Maggie to get through TSA, and all the way to the gate, where the final decision cabin/cargo hold would be made – by the crew/pilot.
So far so good – and then, at the crowded gate (we were plenty early), the gate person told me the crew said there was no room on board for my device.
First big hurdle
The crew person who came out said there was no room. But I was allowed to go down the ramp to the plane on Maggie.
And at the door, I asked to be allowed to see the closet.
At this point I’m sort of holding up boarding (btw, disabled people are supposed to board before ANYONE, including First Class passengers, VIPs, people with small children – a right more honored in the breach than in the observance), so they let me on (I’m hanging onto anything I can at this point, with Maggie about to go down to the cargo hold), and I see that the only reason they won’t put here there is because it has a bunch of crew luggage.
So I state unaggressively but unambiguously that my wheelchair device has priority over crew luggage. I may have asked if they wanted to see the printout of their website written information; I don’t remember – the counter people didn’t want to see it either.
At that moment one of the pilots stepped out, and asked if he could help. I explained, said Maggie could be picked up with one hand. The flight attendant removed the luggage, the pilot placed Maggie easily in the closet, and the hurdle was over. I am very grateful – but still shaking – as I make my way to my seat, hanging on to seatbacks. My husband dealt with the carry-on luggage, sending the walker to the cargo hold, and putting our other stuff in the overhead bin.
After landing there was a wheelchair waiting for me, so I pushed Maggie in front of me through the very large airport, down to baggage claim (on a train!), the attendant got us to the door, our youngest daughter was waiting in the cell phone parking lot with the car, and the hotel room was actually there (you can bet I had called, prepared them for late arrival, and reminded them I needed an accessible room – but the ride was still spent with me worrying). I made sure to tip the wheelchair attendant very well – he was very helpful and stayed until we were in the car.
The wedding festivities went well
Except for me having zero energy, and being totally wiped out most of the time, everything in Boulder allowed me to participate as much as I could, because our youngest daughter rented a car and did the driving, all of it, and we fit.
At the actual reception venue (not designed at all for disabled people), I either used Maggie as a live cane (she is very stable that way, if a bit too short), or people carried her in for me and I grabbed whatever I could for support, and we managed.
The mother/son dance went incredibly well – I assayed a twirl at the very beginning, and it worked beautifully, so we did a bunch more, and it was really great to dance for the first time in years. I’m hoping someone has video!
The return trip was fraught
for a bunch of reasons, including Denver having a huge number of visitors leaving over the weekend (we were grateful our flight was on Monday).
We got there early. The counter help person took a snapshot, and texted the request for the on-board cabin to the gate. First step accomplished.
But when we navigated the busy airport and TSA and train with another wheelchair attendant, and got to the gate early – there was no one there, and the food venues didn’t have anything I could eat. I ate an Atkins bar, and prepared to wait.
When the gate person showed up, it was a repeat of the first boarding, with none of these people having seen my device (usual), or the form passengers are supposed to supply to go with their device to the hold (they said they had NEVER seen one – it’s on the website), and they started telling me the closet was too small.
Again, very unaggressively, I explained that Federal regulations require a certain size closet, and that Maggie was smaller than those dimensions. They came back with saying that there are many different aircraft, and not all have the closet (even if they have the number of seats that require the closet – 100), and that they didn’t think the closet door was wide enough.
It all felt as if they were trying to prepare me to be disappointed. At this point I’m completely wiped out by the trip, the wedding, the problems at the hotel (the only accessible feature I needed was a shower seat – and it turned out to be coming off the wall!), the physical and mental gymnastics required to be a disabled person in an able world.
Back to me
I managed to pretend to be positive. To do my little demo of how well Maggie serves me. To be polite and chatty with the gate person, the flight attendant who basically told me it probably wouldn’t happen but they were working on it and that the door was too narrow, and the pilot who came out and said all the same things, but that they were going to try.
This time I was allowed to be the first person down the ramp.
When I got there, I was prepared for failure, but of course the closet door was plenty wide (they have to be able to fit a passenger’s folded manual wheelchair into that space), the on-board aisle wheelchair was there, in the closet, and completely folded out of the way – and Maggie went in sideways through the door with space to spare.
I dragged myself to my seat, shaking again, and somehow survived the flight home, the wheelchair from the plane pushing Maggie in front of me, baggage claim, and was lucky enough to have the Lyft driver I arranged for as soon as we were at baggage claim and the suitcases were coming out arrive in three minutes, manage to load all out stuff, and get us home.
Feedback to the airline
Five days later I found the energy to fill out their survey.
I hate those things. They want you to check all kinds of points worded so only a horrible person would complain – but I put enough into the text boxes where allowed to give them a picture of what happened, to say everyone was very nice (they were – even when saying no a lot), and suggested that more on disabled passengers, wheelchairs, the on-board closet, and nonstandard devices should be done in training (knowing they all get periodic passes through it), and submitted. I doubt it will do any good, but you never know – I’ve done what I could.
My husband submitted his version – and he is a very supportive man, and didn’t step in and take over at any point (much appreciated) who knows exactly what I go through – he had some extra comments, again, very polite – and we’ve both done what we can with their awkward survey.
The future – I plan to travel more, and Maggie is an essential part
I hope this post gets shared (and I will ask John Morris if he wants a version for his site) because other people need to be prepared.
It was a constant obstacle course. Things are designed for able-bodied people. Any one of several hundred points on the track could have been the sticking point. Everything that eventually worked could have failed. I am grateful to have gotten there and back – and still exhausted.
Everything takes more energy and time when you are disabled – and you have far less energy than everyone else. Not fair, but it is what it is.
I saw no one else in their own wheelchair in either airport. That was surprising.
I’m sure the system is so daunting most physically disabled people just don’t try it most of the time. The mental strain is significant – and I can see how hard this would have been on someone less coherent than I was (and I was not doing well), or with other problems processing crowds, noise, and roadblocks.
I thought a wheelchair attendant was the key to getting through TSA efficiently (I cannot imagine what shape I would be in after standing in line – sitting on Maggie for any length of time is not great, especially if we aren’t moving), but it isn’t, and I think, after pushing Maggie, live, in front of me through corridors, trains, and elevators, it would be easier if I just rode her, while pushing the walker in front of me. But the attendant was critical in dealing with luggage, saved some of my energy, knew exactly where to go, and would have been helpful had anything gone wrong. Six of one, half a dozen of the other – and tip money very well spent. And an extra pair of hands is nothing to be sneezed at.
But most of all, I am incredibly grateful for those who
have fought all the previous battles:
Making sure there is an on-board closet
Making sure there is a wheelchair that fits in their aisle to get a passenger who can’t walk to their seat
Creating the Americans with Disabilities Act and its protections
Creating the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), [which] prohibits discrimination in airline service on the basis of disability – and all its protections
for other bloggers like John who write about the joys and perils
and who provide feedback constantly on how air travel meets or falls short of these ideals for every day travelers.
Please excuse my lack of editing this down into something shorter and more pithy – I am still not recovered, and this feels below my standards in many ways, but if I don’t get it all down now, much will lose its immediacy.
Please feel free to pass this on.
Please contribute your own thoughts and experiences and suggestions.
I had a surgeon, the other day, refuse to do a minor procedure – WITHOUT EVEN MEETING ME – after talking to the nurse practitioner who examined me, because their ‘guidelines’ stated another procedure HAD TO BE DONE FIRST to rule something out.
Now before anyone gets all worried, it is a minor procedure which would improve my life significantly.
I didn’t say no – I asked for statistics.
Was told they had guidelines.
It is my very real experience in previous cases that ‘guidelines’ are often years out of date, because, as one doctor told me, “It takes time for the research to be incorporated into the guidelines.” Lots of time. A decade and a half in the previous case.
But even that is a red herring
I don’t know what the statistics are in this case, but I’m guessing MOST of the ruling-out procedures are unnecessary. As in, don’t discover anything that needs being attended to in the majority of cases.
In the case of normal reasonably-healthy people, going through a ruling-out procedure is a minor inconvenience, the loss of a day or two of their time, and an allowable use of their medical leave (if they’re working).
FOR DISABLED PEOPLE WITH NO ENERGY, EVERY procedure
carries risks and an amazingly high load of days lost and physical inconvenience, minor and major misery, time, calling in of favors, arranging…
You name it.
And it is very reasonable to 1) ask if something is STRICTLY necessary, and 2) supported by research and statistics which show the procedure is worth the enormous effort it costs that disabled person.
If a restaurant meal is $50 for one person, and $50,000 for another, it is reasonable to ask first whether the second person wishes to pay that much (this is what prices on menus are for, among other things).
Not taking that into account in medical procedures is the equivalent of saying, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
The ADA requires that health care entities provide full and equal access for people with disabilities.
This can be done through:
Reasonable Modifications of Policies, Practices, and Procedures. Adjusting policies, practices, and procedures, if needed, to provide goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.
At the end of the fact sheet there is a feedback form. Where it asks Is the information useful to you? I checked NO.
Where asked How could the usefulness be improved? I answered:
“Reasonable modifications (or changes) to policies, practices, and procedures” does not address RECOMMENDED procedures used to RULE OUT a possibility, when it isn’t a strict requirement, would be much more difficult for the disabled person to satisfy than for a normal healthy person, and is not wanted by the disabled patient – who understands but does not consent to the recommended procedure, and is thus prevented from having a service they DO need and want.
Where asked What are the most important changes we could make? I answered:
Directly address the fact that, for disabled people, things can be MUCH more difficult to do because of the disability itself (which in my case includes very little energy in a day), and it is not fair to insist they meet the same RECOMMENDED but not STRICTLY NECESSARY requirements an able person is presented with.
And where asked What other factsheets do you think we should write? I answered:
How to lower the barriers which prevent a disabled person from getting a necessary service/procedure when these barriers are ONEROUS to a disabled person compared with an able person.
Do I expect any help from the ADA people?
The wheels of government move slowly in the best of cases, and there will be pushback and talk about ‘lowering standards’ and interfering with ‘recommendations by doctors and medical societies.’
And, more ominously, ‘disabled people not knowing what is good for them.’
Change would likely take longer than it does to update those guidelines they are so fond of, produced by a medical society, 15 years after the research changes, to CYA those who might be sued if they don’t follow ‘standard procedures.’
I’m pretty sure they were not thinking about the EFFECT of the above on a disabled person with limited capacity – just imagining what it would be like for a person like themselves (rarely disabled) to go through the procedure, say, with an emotional support miniature horse (yes, they are specifically included, but might be excluded if not housebroken).
I’m furious because there is no recourse
This is the only version of the medical procedure I need within my medical services system.
It takes me a lot of energy to even write about it here; the actual recommended but not in my estimation strictly necessary pre-requisite to the procedure I need is one that would take over a week of ALL my time and energy to do – and I’m not sure I could manage its requirements anyway.
Finding an alternate to their clinic is beyond my capabilities.
The minor procedure would improve my life immediately but isn’t going to happen.
And I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere with the ‘feedback request’ from my medical providers – thought I may just send them this post.
As the disabled person
I should not have to fight over things like this, but should be asked my preference without having to go through the stress of fighting the surgeon who hasn’t even met me.
I have wasted enough time and energy on this already.
I hope I can continue to manage the problem.
And I wonder exactly what they think ‘informed consent‘ means when I do NOT consent.
And, if you’re worried, I’m not taking stupid chances – I’m not planning on dying of something preventable.
Why do disabled people have to fight so hard for stupidities like this?
After much reflection, some of it in writing, other of it in the middle of the night, I have realized that the win, to be mine, has to come from me.
A real win is one you create yourself, the hard way, with blood, sweat, and tears. Since you EARNED it, you OWN it.
Since you created it, it can’t be taken from you (do remember your backups off site, though!).
Someone buying Pride’s Children PURGATORY – in paperback! – is a win, as is someone purchasing the ebook, or taking it out at Kindle Unlimited, especially when I haven’t done any marketing in ages. But it’s not something I have control over.
I had a recent win against Covid
As soon as the CDC said immunocompromised people would be on the short list for the early boosters, I asked my doctor AND my facility about it – to no avail. They said, “When we get it, we’ll let you know.”
But I started seeing other people with my same illnesses posting on FB about having already received the booster shot.
Regardless of how (I wouldn’t lie to get one, but don’t even know if others did, though there have been newspaper reports of lying), the key fact was availability.
So I nagged the doctor’s office, reminded them of my immune status, and they made it available. Then I arranged Medvan transportation, went and got the thing, suffered through the side effects (second day was quite flu-like, and I had more brain fog than I anticipated for the days after that), and, in another week or so, will feel I have done as much as possible to protect myself. And did NOT take that dose from someone getting their first vaccine.
I finished a tricky chapter in Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.
As I get toward the explosive end of NETHERWORLD, it is getting even more important to get it exactly right, because even less time separates the end of 2 from the beginning of 3 than separated the end of 1 from the beginning of 2, and every story-second counts.
Sending Chapter 35 off to my beta reader was a key step: it is the 3/4 mark in several ways, and I have been forced to make the tiny detailed decisions that make the difference NOW, and not in some writing future – ‘when I get to it.’
It’s getting harder and harder physically and mentally
I acknowledge that, and move on.
Restarting after the brain fog is always tricky, because I have to assume I’m past it before I’m sure I’m past it, and restarting is part of the process of getting past it. What I mean is that it takes a huge amount of psychic energy to restart, sort of like the difference between static and dynamic friction (starting to move a piece of furniture across carpeting is much harder than keeping it going once you start (so don’t stop!)).
Apply that pressure too early, and all it does is extend the downtime.
Wait too long, and situational depression sets in.
And there is always something else that need my limited attention ability – and seems more important just this minute.
I live with this, write with this, and have been at it for a very long time.
There are rumors on the horizon of research for long-covid that might explain another post-viral syndrome, ME/CFS’s problems, and it is possible that even after 31 years it might be helpful. Rumors – but this one has some interesting science behind it. We’ll see.
But, as the husband reminds me, even if it works it will be years before it is available, and I can’t let any of that time go to waste.
So I face the fact that there’s been a break, and get back to work.
Yesterday I took the first step:
I re-read what I have put together, in these brain-fogged days, by following process and trusting it will work as it has every time before – eventually.
And even though there’s one tiny part in the middle of the scene where a decision has to be made about an order of events, the rest is written.
And the end made me cry (actual written steps in said process: “DIG DEEPER – CRY” and “BECOME THE CHARACTER – WRITE WITH THE EMOTIONS RAW.”)
The character needs it, but I am the one with the whip, forcing change. It hurts.
Being present in the writing – mining my own experience: “HERE AND NOW; BEING PRESENT!”
I may work in imaginary situations, but if they don’t get treated as real, with me there, documenting as it happens, it never converts into something good.
From my Journal: “… is nice – but she needs extraordinary, and open to a degree she won’t be able to demand from him.” It is either there in someone, or it isn’t.
Voltaire said ‘the best is the enemy of the great.’
Many people think perfectionism keeps you from getting something finished and out the door and good enough.
But in writing something unique, it matters. Not that you become a perfectionist, and never get anything done, but that you not let ‘good’ or ‘good enough’ or even ‘good enough for government work’ keep you from achieving your own standards.
Because I hope my readers are the people who have those same standards.
If you are, you will know that about yourself.
THAT’s where the wins come from.
So back to the drawing board, salt mines, design board
While I still can.
Because if it’s meh, it costs me way too much to be worth it.
Chapter 36 is well started, and I am imbuing it with the frustration of writing in the middle of the challenging circumstances that are a pandemic which no one expected would last this long.
And a lot of the pain.
If you look for it, something will pull you back to the task.
Some lights are seen better in contrast with dark.
NOT necessarily permanently – I don’t write downers or tragedies – but so you have done a good job when writing something that, in the long run, enhances the story.
A hero is a hero ONLY in comparison to the obstacle overcome.
The DIFFERENCE between the hero’s HIGH and the villain’s LOW is the STAKES of your story.
The answer to every objection is: Does it make the story better?
Even in a long book, you have only so much space to use the whole palette of emotions that go with your story. You don’t get to waffle about – you have to use what you have, and make it squeal.
This means that you have to be confident enough to do what the STORY needs, even when it hurts – or at least feels odd – when you get to the place where you have to write that the wrong character is winning.
For a while, you tell yourself.
So the ‘winning’ characters have something to overcome that is worth writing about.
But plotting it to happen and writing the scene are different
I knew what I was going into when I chose to start writing this novel trilogy. It is in many ways a fairytale for grownups, something that is highly improbable in the real world.
But I figured out a way to make it come out the way I wanted.
I found a way to make the ending POSSIBLE.
And, as you might expect, it required some finagling to make it interesting and not trivial.
It required making ‘highly improbable’ ALMOST ‘impossible.’
And then doing the writing to make it happen.
To me. Who am picky about plausibility.
Because the characters need to change
Some of them do.
And change of direction requires the application of force.
Nobody changes unless they have to.
And these characters had no reason to go looking for change, except that I wanted them to.
The bigger the change, the bigger the applied force needs to be
The applied force is the stakes, and I needed to make the stakes big enough to make a couple of very stubborn characters change, so it’s really their fault.
But then I got to the actual writing
And I found I had to make the reasons for change credible because the characters had turned into people I cared about.
So the actual writing of the lowest scenes not just in the middle novel, but in the whole trilogy, was hard.
Even though I knew it was coming and exactly what was going to happen.
I had to admit that there was no way around the difficulties I plotted in in the first place. Duh!
So I went ahead and wrote the first of these scenes, and it was as hard as I imagined it would be, and harder because I write linearly, and couldn’t postpone doing it now.
I am proud to say I survived
The story survived.
Some version of the characters survived.
The villain got to win.
At least for the time being, but mostly because it is necessary.
If you aren’t writing stakes you care about, I can’t see the point of putting in the kind of work this is taking. Because it is very hard to let the villain get away with things, even temporarily, because it is necessary to create that leverage for change.
And I had to give it the very best writing I could create – and make every tiny step in the win justified – because otherwise the villain is a straw villain, easy to overturn.
I hope it works for my readers after it works for me.
Or you guys are really going to hate me.
How do you feel about this kind of story – as a reader?
If you’re a writer, have you ever had to do the same?
WHEN IT ISN’T AN INTENSE IMMEDIATE NECESSARY EXPERIENCE
It’s a high bar, wanting only scenes in a novel that are strong enough to leave a reader breathless.
Quietly or dramatically, a scene has to have a reason for being in the story, and that reason has to answer the question: Why is this scene PIVOTAL?
Yes. Every single time.
Scenes accomplish many things at once
The structure and skeleton of a scene offer a place to hang many hats: character development, plot, theme(s), setting, language, the ability to hold a reader’s attention, emotions… I could go on for a long time, or merely post some of my checklists for things which must be considered.
A scene has to be packed with meaning, symbolism, omens, backstory, forewarning, consequences, and costs.
It has to move the story from where it was to where it has to be, a stepping-stone across a great river.
But the scene itself has to have a primary reason to be in the book, and it isn’t as a catch basin for a whole bunch of important little things the author thinks the reader needs to know.
I dropped a scene
I’ve done a lot of things between the complete rough draft and what will be the final complete draft that included rearranging material, moving things to a slightly better scene for them, altering the timelines enough to change the order, switching point of view to a different character, tweaking the goal.
I’ve considered, for each scene, how best to tell its part of the story.
I’ve combine a couple of shorter ones, split some long ones.
I’d have to go back over extensive lists, but I don’t think I’ve completely dumped one before.
It feels weird – but I’m happy I made the decision to ‘kill a darling.’
I was having trouble writing 34.5.
Since I have trouble writing every scene, this wasn’t anything new or startling. I have many ways of writing myself out of these problems, some suitable when it’s the writer who has a previously-unknown problem (the Journal gets a lot of these long explorations of why) and others which work to get around my physical limitations.
I have those checklists to allow me to explore MANY features of a scene in small enough chunks that I can focus on one thing at a time – by the time I’ve gone through all of those, I have the gathered material for that scene all in one place. Then I have systems to organize it. Then it gels. Then I write it.
I was even in a good mood and had had enough sleep.
The material wasn’t compelling as a whole.
There were specific bits that need to be in the book. There were some really nice bits. And there were all those answered questions and placeholder text bits, including some really decent dialogue.
Then I realized that writing this particular scene bored me
And that I wouldn’t be looking forward to rereading that scene when I reread the book, and would probably skip it.
Telling myself the Reader needed the information, presented in a nicely dramatized way, with bells, didn’t work.
And then I really, really looked at the nascent scene, and I admitted to myself that there were 2-3 necessary pieces, which is why I thought I should group them in this scene in the first place, but that it wasn’t enough to do a good job of surrounding them with a scene and let the reader absorb them painlessly.
It won’t surprise you that it was a villain scene – and I’ve given her plenty of room to express her opinions, follow her thoughts, listen to her justifications.
So I made the decision to cut a scene
And immediately knew it was the right decision.
I found a home for those necessary bits in the following scenes and an epigraph which wrote itself. There isn’t anything wrong with them.
And the chapter suddenly got livelier.
I dug into the next scene, and found it compelling, and found a way to make it heartbreaking.
We’re back on track.
This scene should be a doozy. As they should all be, if I had my ‘druthers.
I can always go back and put it in; somehow I don’t think it will be necessary. I’ll leave it up to my beta reader to notice.
I don’t think this is because I write one finished scene at a time; I’ll find out.
I gather a lot of pre-written material when I start a scene.
I also have a lot of lists of prompts I fill out which remind me to think of various aspects of a scene, from the internal twist to the various beats to the emotions I wish to invoke in Readers, so I’ve created a lot of new material now that I’m about to write this scene.
And I have one bugaboo, what I call the Old Text (OT), the original polished-but-primitive draft that I wrote when I had the three books in the trilogy plotted out, and wanted to see that I could make it logically from the first line to the last.
The Old Text can be missing, a few paragraphs, a scene in the wrong point of view (pov), or even, in the worst case, a
PERFECT FINISHED COMPLETE SCENE IN THE CORRECT CHARACTER’S POINT OF VIEW.
Except it’s not right.
And every attempt to take what you have and rework it, rearrange it, change it, edit it, tweak it
It’s still wrong.
Worse, it’s throwing you off and keeping you from getting into the character’s pov so you can fix things.
For those times you have a secret weapon:
You can choose not to keep ANY of what you wrote before.
Or only a couple of tiny new pieces you just wrote that you know are in the right pov.
Or an image or two, reworded of course.
Or the time/day/date.
Or even the idea of the scene.
But you don’t have to because there is no Scene Police Division
down at writing headquarters.
No one who can make you, encourage you, or even try to persuade you.
Just because you wrote it gives it no rights.
Just because it was finished, complete, polished, and has impeccable grammar and spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, and you worked for days on it way back when you wrote that particular version, it has no integrity or separate solidity: it is just as friable as your grocery list.
With me, it means I am really stuck.
All the journaling in the world can’t fix something that needs to be plowed under and redesigned from the bottom up.
I just redid a scene like this – from a blank page. After getting fairly close to…something.
I had so much new stuff to put into the scene, and such a solid Old Text version, I thought it might be one of the few things that survived from that draft.
Maybe if I had published the scene as a story fifteen or twenty years ago when I wrote this particular little gem, and spent days or weeks getting it to be the best I could do back then. It might have been a book I removed from my backlist after getting much better with the newer books.
I’m glad I didn’t publish that older draft.
Even I had the sense to realize it needed a lot of work.
The new version is so much better.
But I hadn’t realized that the OT had so much power.
I didn’t want to start from scratch. I didn’t want to dump everything.
I wasn’t sure I could write something better, or come up with an entirely different version of the original idea.
That’s just the FEAR talking. Trying to protect me from wasted effort (old and new).
So I labeled the old contents ‘draft version’, and left it where I could get to it easily if I needed to swipe something from it.
And I started a blank file with the words: ‘just putting this here so the page isn’t blank’
And I started all over again, paying special attention to how that character operated, felt, saw, listened and wrote it again from the top.
Then I deleted ‘just putting this here so the page isn’t blank’, proceeded with my other steps to get a scene into final usable state, and didn’t insist it contain any of that old but good stuff, and …
It’s finished. It came out far better. I wrote the new version in a day or two, edited and polished it, and it doesn’t look at all like the OT.
I still can’t imagine any amount of tweaking that would have turned the previous grammatically-correct-but-completely-wrong and progress-blocking scene into what I signed off on today.
It hurt. A lot. All that nice clean text!
But sometimes you have no choice but to start from scratch.
When did THEIR time become more important than ours?
When did CLIENTS become patients?
When did their needs to be in control become more important than the clients’ rights to timely and adequate and compassionate service?
When did their convenience supersede ours?
When did taking care of disabled clients become a burden to them, an inconvenience to their mission?
When did their control become more important that our PAIN?
When did it become acceptable for them to frighten patients, to threaten them with dire consequences for not obeying instructions to the letter, to TELL them they will end up in the ER with a massive attack of something? (This has now happened twice.)
When did THEY end up with all the cards – and the self-righteous belief that they know best for OTHER people with REAL LIVES?
This is the letter I would LIKE to send to my medical services group – if I dare, once I have carefully weighed the consequences to my future treatment.
Think about that: I have to worry that they might be bothered by something I, the person responsible for paying them, might say. As nicely as I can.
First, though, I would like to say: don’t mess with a writer – they are good at nuance, both reading it and writing it. Not on the spot, of course – that’s for narcissists and sociopaths and politicians and comedians – but afterward, when they’ve had a chance to think.
And to realize what just happened.
And rewrite what you think just happened into the correct narrative that takes the CLIENT into account.
Except rewriting the narrative created by the thoughtless ‘professional’ requires 1) rereading it (I won’t – too negative), and 2) putting in an enormous amount of my own time – knowing it probably won’t work. Or change anything.
THE LETTER TO MEDICAL PERSONNEL AT XXXXX which I may never send.
Because I need some kind of medical care, and all of these are similar in that they think they know it all, and they OVERWHELM you.
My mind keeps nagging about the letter I should write to my medical providers about energy, visits to specialists, and fear-mongering. Which was applied to me, a disabled person, at the end of a too-long-for-a-disabled-person day.
And the tone of the after-visit summary took my breath away – and made no mention of or accommodation for that disability which caused so many of the problems. Bullying a disabled person is NOT nice.
I will NOT have the procedure unless I decide it is necessary, there are several more worrying symptoms, and they don’t respond immediately to medication. And do NOT appreciate how I was treated so cavalierly.
I need to write the letter so it appears in my medical record, and I can point to it, but I don’t expect it to have any effect on anyone there.
Do NOT treat disabled people the way you treat normal people – we can’t take it.
And no, it doesn’t NECESSARILY help to bring someone else along. Then I have to deal with THEM, too.
The calculus of what I can take vs. what I need is ongoing: don’t assume, ASK.
And more than asking, could you make a climate where I will think of asking myself, EVEN when exhausted?
CLIENT (person who pays the bills)
The above is not coherent – I’m still going to let it stand, because the incoherence is generated by the system.
I’ve let this one stew for almost a month, and I’m still angry. I was going to just let it drop, leave the unfinished post among the almost 100 draft posts I never finished.
Not naming names – and I’ve decided it isn’t SAFE for me to let them know what I really think, so I’ll keep tweaking the interactions (as in my previous state – which was as bad or worse) instead of taking them head on.
Other options to minimize the problems
One is to do as much as possible via video visits; those are usually on time, one-on-one because the provider isn’t popping in and out or pawning you off on a nurse.
Another – based on my last visit to another city for treatment – is to make sure you have done the paperwork part of a visit SEPARATELY via video BEFORE the in-person appointment. I find it a major problem to have filled all the paperwork before the visit, and to be grilled over every single thing in my medical history again anyway.
I will explain that it is very difficult for me to do BOTH in a single visit – and, by the time I get the service, I am exhausted and frazzled and not being as coherent as I tried to prepare to be.
LEAVE the minute it gets to where I can’t keep going. I keep trying to respect THEIR time, at the cost of trying to continue to talk and even be awake and coherent when things go on too long. Going back is not a great option, but maybe I can finish by video.
Stand up for myself in some small way each time.
Say, “This is not helpful.”
Risk being labeled difficult.
Complain to higher management – with specifics (respectfully – that writer nuance).
Because the stress of doctor visits has gotten to the point that all I want to do is avoid them.