Works In Progress

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Sweet Dreams

Okay, I wrote a sentimental scene last night. In fact, most of the scenes I wrote were sentimental moments in the middle of zombie mayhem (Zombie Mayhem would be a good name for a band). Most of the actual slaughter will have to wait for the rewrite, but I wanted to get the few scenes where I knew what was going to happen done before the end of the month. Among them were: citizens find refuge in the church; Pastor Jim goes out to rescue the woman he's in love with, owner and bartender of The Point, Brooke Adams (the one with the scar); Brooke and Jim hide out in a coffin escaping zombies and she says: "Is that a prayerbook in your pocket or are you happy to see me?" (turns out it's a crucifix); N'Vonecz floats through the air in the middle of a cyclone chasing David Graham. And then there's this scene:

Ma Carter had for so long been able to ignore the clanking of pipes in her water closet while she slept, that the ringing of the church bell went unnoticed as well.

As she slept she had the dream that had been coming to her more and more often. She was in a lush garden. Trees hundred of years old towered overhead, surrounding the acre or so of grass and flowerbeds. With her in the meadow were two animals, a lamb and a rattlesnake. Ma Carter had never been one to place too much faith in dreams, and this one was no exception.

When she awoke the first few times, she puzzled over the dream’s meaning. Was she in Eden along with the animal representations of Christ and Satan? Was she being reminded of Christ’s (Christ, yes?) exhortation to be as gentle as a lamb, but as cunning as a serpent? Was it just another day at the petting zoo? Now she just ignored the possible symbolism of the dream and enjoyed the coolness of the grass beneath her feet, the softness of the lamb’s wool, and tried to ignore the fact that the rattler kept inching closer.

If the ringing of the church bell hadn’t woken her, the breaking of glass and smashing of the front door two stories below didn’t phase her either.

The zombies, smarter than they had been when they started out, performed a systematic search of the house. Each room they entered and found unoccupied the angrier they got. The anger was translated into violence directed at the heirlooms and antiques in the boarding house. Their loss of focus began to whittle away at their intelligence.

As the monsters made their way onto the third floor landing, Ma Carter’s dream changed. Ravens began to fly overhead and perched in the trees surrounding the clearing. Worried by this new development, Carter looked down at the lamb, which looked around at the birds, then at her and smiled. She felt the lamb’s peace fill her soul and she smiled back.

At that moment the rattlesnake struck. Just as quickly, the lamb leapt between her and the snake. The snakes fangs sliced into the lamb’s exposed chest, but the lamb shook it free and trampled it with its tiny hooves before it fell victim to the snake’s venom.

Ma Carter knelt and cradled the lamb’s head in her lap.

As the zombies reached her door and touched the handle, the ravens in the dream attacked. As they flew toward the defenseless woman in the middle of the green, the lamb’s body EXPLODED in a ball of light. As the ravens collided with the sphere of light enveloping the woman, the wheeled off and burst into flame.

Within the ball of light, Ma Carter felt herself dissolving, fading away. It wasn’t painful, wasn’t frightening, yet she was glad she’d never have to experience it again all the same.

When the zombies entered the room, the last one in the house, there was no one to attack, no living body for them to destroy.

They fell upon each other.

I checked the scripture reference (Matt. 10:15-17) and found it's serpents and doves, so in the rewrite she'll have a dove on her shoulder and the bird'll peck the snake to death - or have really strong talons (or the dove equivalent) and tear the rattlesnake in half, soft wool will change to soft feathers, and she'll cradle the whole bird in her lap, not just its head. I guess the dove will coo instead of smile.

The shifting perspective may be a problem (she can't know about the zombies because she's asleep, they can't know about her dream because they're not omniscient zombies), but that's a problem to worry about in January.

(daily word count: 3,853 words; total word count: 71,449 words; body count: unknown - zombies are shown carrying countless bodies up to the abandoned mine for disposal, but no "on-screen" deaths last night)

Monday, November 29, 2004

Doesn't Play Well With Others

The action picked up last night as the demon N'Vonecz finally got to come out and have some fun. Here's the emergence scene (which will look super cool in the movie):

Daniels was becoming angry, gesturing with the gun and flashlight as he spoke. Wait for an opening, Gantt thought, then try and get the gun away from him.

"Yeah, that’s what it was supposed to be. Then I call up there and find out she’s been rushed to emergen-"

Gantt struck. He shone his flashlight directly at Daniels eyes and moved in on his gun.

He moved fast, but Daniels was faster. As Gantt grabbed his wrist, Daniels was able to pivot his hand and pull off one shot before he lost hold of the gun.

Gantt flew back across the room, a TWO INCH hole in his chest opened to a TEN INCH exit wound in his back. As he lay there on the floor of the trailer, his lungs WETLY trying to inhale oxygen, his heart painfully spasming, Gantt’s vision colored over red, then everything went yellow.

* * *

Daniels stood there looking down at the remains of the preacher-man. The blown-apart body lay there, twitching. He stood in awe of the massive wound the gunshot had inflicted.

A split second later, though, he was worried. I shot him. I killed him. I am so screwed.

Worry changed to panic as the blood flowing from the wound turned from red on the white shirt to black. The open wound clotted over, grew black and hard[, scaly]. Then the body began to move. It sat up with tremendous speed. Daniels shined his flashlight on the preacher-man’s face. Yellow light streamed from the eye sockets. Daniels couldn’t see if there were eyeballs in the sockets, the light was so bright.

As the thing that used to be Gantt rose to its feet, Daniels scrambled backward for the door. He caught the edge of the door squarely between the shoulder blades and the door swung shut. He scrambled for the doorknob. The Gantt-monster lunged.

(daily word count: 3,238 words; total word count: 67,596 words; known body count: 10)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Writing My First Scene

Things really started moving last night: suspense, destruction, mayhem. I also finally got around to writing the first scene I had sketched out in my "idea notebook" a month ago.

Here's how it turned out (first-draft style):

The door to the office was locked, so he kicked it in. If he needed to cover his tracks later he could say a tree branch had fallen into the door and broken it, or the old standby: It was already broken when I got here.

The trailer was also on the generator, so there was plenty of light for Graham to find his way around the broken remains of the office chair to the desk. Graham didn’t think long about the office chair, he looked quickly for blood, but not seeing any decided Kennedy and Gantt hadn’t gotten into a knock-down drag-out fight.

He opened the desk drawer and pressed the power button on the phone. He heard the same series of beeps and boops he had the night before and then the LCD screen flashed “Ready.”

Graham looked around the desk for a phone book. Not really expecting to find one, he wasn’t greatly disappointed when he didn’t. Figuring the hospital would have a listed number he figured dialing 1-541-555-1212 would do the trick (check eastern Oregon area codes).

As he pressed the INITIAL DIGIT “1” a stream of water hit him in the temple. Graham checked to roof of the trailer for a leak, but didn’t see one. He took two steps back from the desk and hit the “5” key. Again a stream of water hit him, this time squarely across the bridge of his nose. He looked up at the ceiling, and then closely at the phone. He turned the phone sideways and hit the “4”. A small JET of water sprayed from a pin-point hole below the LCD screen.

Graham turned the phone over and pulled the battery pack off the back of the phone. A small tube dangled from the exposed back of the phone. The battery unit was a hollow reservoir filled with water.

Graham threw the PRACTICAL JOKE phone on the ground. He rummaged through the desk for the real phone.

Panic mounting, [he] picked the toy phone up off the ground. It was identical to the phone Gantt had proudly shown him last night. The brand name, WHATWASIT, the green LCD screen still reading "Ready," the dial tone that still blatted out of the speaker: all the same.

If Gantt actually used this to talk to his BENEFACTOR, Graham thought, he was either heavily into the miracle business or he was a madman or ....

As the word “madman” rushed through Graham’s brain the generator began to sputter. The lights dimmed and then went out.

Graham could hear the screams of Gantt’s audience and the squelching sounds of feet running across the soaked DEAD grass. Graham fished his keys out of his pocket and pressed the button on his mini-flashlight. The office was lit weakly, but Graham could see the doorknob of the office door reflecting the glow of his flashlight.

As he made his way around the desk, he tripped over the remains of the office chair. He fell to the ground, dropping his keys as he broke his fall. Blindly, he felt around until he heard them jingle as his hand brushed against them.

He grabbed them and climbed to his feet. He pressed the button. Flashlight on. Doorknob there. He crossed the room and braced himself as he reached for the knob, certain Gantt, the toy phone using madman, would be on the other side.

He turned the knob, ready to run out and leap the stair rail if necessary. Instead, as the door swung open, he screamed as looked into the DEAD eyes of his friend, Emil Kennedy. His neck was clearly broken as it lolled sideways against the wall of the closet Graham had opened by mistake.

Graham reached out and touched the cold face of the ex-priest. “God bless you, my friend.”

As he stepped back to shut the closet he looked down and saw a thin black book on the floor. Graham remembered Kennedy had a book like that when he had fished out his keys earlier – was it only six hours ago? He stooped down and quickly grabbed it up: Tobin’s Spirit Guide.

Graham shoved it in his pocket, as he SHINED the flashlight around the room until he found the RIGHT doorknob. God help anyone on the other side, he thought as he opened the door and ran outside.

(daily word count: 3,660 words; total word count: 64,358 words; words remaining: n/a)

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Cascading Flashbacks

Last night I realized that I had forgotten all about the boy Jacob who David Graham first meets when he gets to town. He appears briefly in several chapters, but I had neglected him completely in Day 4. Since I need him to come to the tent meeting and tell Graham that there's a problem with Maya, I figured I better set that up ahead of time (Jacob telling Graham about Maya sets off the big chain of events leading up to the finale).

Jacob Olsen sat in his room, alone. He had had trouble sleeping the night before, pumped up by the Hymnsing, stressed out over Maya. He had found out at the Hymnsing that Maya and her mom hadn’t left Graphite as early as they had initially planned. If he had known that, he thought, he would have stopped by to see her, to say “goodbye, get well soon, see you around” – something.

Now, that missed opportunity snowballed into a paralyzing fear that he was too late. That that had been his last chance, and having missed it, had consigned her to an unimaginable fate. When he had gotten out of bed in the morning, he had thought of calling her. “Nope, too late, sorry Charlie, that ship has sailed and it hit an iceberg getting out of the port.”

During school, he had been distracted in class. He saw the decorations on Maya’s locker and sunk deeper into depression over not having bought her a card, or even made one out of construction paper or the card-making software on his computer. In class he had doodled “get well Maya” over and over again, filling in spaces with bouquets of flowers and sketches of her face.

Several times before lunch he had seen Mr. Graham walking by his classroom door. He’s come to bring me bad news, Jacob thought. He’s found out something and wanted to let me know personally. During lunch, Jacob searched everywhere for his friend, even stuck his head inside the faculty men’s room and called out “are you in here, Mr. Graham?” The calculus teacher, Mr. Prentiss, was the only person in the restroom and didn’t take kindly to the intrusion. He checked at the office if someone had left a message for him. The receptionist acted as if he were playing a practical joke.

(daily word count: 3,819 words; total word count: 60,718 words; words remaining: n/a)

Friday, November 26, 2004

Weird Association

Sometimes word association can take you weird places. Sometimes you're just weird to begin with.

Back at the Bookery with his laptop and a steaming hot cup of coffee in front of him, Graham told his story to Emil Kennedy: The history of Gantt’s crew, the locker at the school for Maya, Gantt’s benefactor and his alias. A man on one of the stools with a cup of coffee and a dogeared copy of Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October, kept looking over at them; irritated or interested Graham couldn’t tell.

“I’ve been [Googling] combinations of Neville and Nev with Onyx, Black, Blackman, Black with a wildcard character after it, White and White with a wildcard, in case he’s trying to throw us off that way. Nothing. I’m going to look at lists of the Northwest’s richest people in case there’s someone there with initials N. O. or some kind of color related last name. If that comes up empty, I’ll try combinations with Chamberlain as the first name.”

“Wasn’t there a kid in the Harry Potter series named Neville? What was his last name? Weasel? Weasely?”

“No, that was Harry’s friend Ron and his family.”

“Longbottom,” the man at the end of the bar said. “Neville Longbottom.”

“Barry SOMEONE, God bless me, but you’re a man of unexpected depth.”

“Nah, not really, just my daughter makes me read the things to her at bedtime. Must’ve read the first books three or four times a piece, this last one we’re on our second time through. Harry Potter and Narnia, no Russian subs in ‘em, but she loves ‘em none the less for that.

“Longbottom, huh?” Graham said. “Not much hope in that, is there?”

(daily word count: 3,425 words; total word count: 56,899 words; words remaining: n/a)

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Don't Drink the Water

Part of the main plan behind the revival meeting is that everybody in town has to be presented with the Gospel. Whether they respond or not is secondary (and the game is rigged so that few if any will), but they have to hear it. To that end, Rev. Gantt has to go around and persuade bars, restaurants, and businesses that will be open during the time of the meeting to tune in the radio broadcast (there's a financial incentive if they do). Here's what Gantt finds when he walks into Brooke Adams' bar, The Point.

A large muscle-bound man stood behind the bar, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt. The name Rudy was written above his left pectoral in laundry marker ink. As Gantt stepped up to the bar, Rudy, his voice deep but genuinely curious, said, “What can I getcha?”

“Nothing for me, actually, to drink that is. Would you happen to be the owner of this bar?”

“Nah, that’d be Brooke Adams. She’s back in the storeroom doing inventory. Want me to get her for you?”


“Sure you don’t want anything to drink? You’re looking a little flushed. Ice water?”

Gantt hadn’t been in the bar a minute and already he was sweating. He considered the offer of water, but the thought of drinking anything in a bar turned his stomach. “No thanks, I’m good.”

With Rudy gone for the moment, Gantt took his handkerchief out of his inside coat pocket and mopped his forehead and the back of his neck. As he began to put it away, he changed his mind and took the coat off entirely, laying it on the barstool beside him. He stuffed the handkerchief in his pants pocket.

An old man wearing a green flannel shirt and John Deere baseball cap stepped up to the bar beside him. The man placed an empty pilsner glass on the bar and looked up and down its length.

“Seen where Rudy went?”

“Back to the storeroom to find Ms. Adams. He should be back in a minute.”

“Thanks.” The old man looked Gantt up and down, applying the same scrutiny to him as he did the absence of the bartender. “You’re that preacher guy from the park, arencha?”

Gantt did his best to smile; the beer fumes coming off the man kept his stomach spinning. “That’s right. Coming to the main event this evening?”

“Ha!” The old man barked. “No offense, but I don’t see that happening, no sir.”

(daily word count: 1,942 words; total word count: 53,474 words; words remaining: n/a)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Filling In

Last night I wound up filling in a couple bald patches in the novel, places where after I had finished a section I realized something else could/should go in there.

One of the spots I realized two nights ago after writing the main "Hymnsing" section. I'd been wanting to establish that sound carries in the valley of the novel's setting, and near the opening of Part IV: Friday Rev. Gantt goes to a nursing home to persuade them to turn on the radio to his broadcast that evening.

So I wrote a snippet from the perspective of a near-vegetative man Gantt meets at the nursing home. No one from the nursing home is aware of the events in this snippet. The man himself may not realize it, either. Only you, Privileged Reader, are granted this vision.


A mile away at the Riverview Retirement Home, Jason Fanning could hear the sounds of the Hymnsing faintly in his bedroom. The barely audible sounds spurred him into action as surely as the flautist of Hamlin had compelled his quarry to parade after him through the street.

Fanning swung one varicose veined leg over the side of the mattress and then the other. Using the wheelchair beside the bed for support and guidance, he made his way over to the window. As he slid the window up a chilly breeze accompanied the strains of the organ into the room.

He had always loved the old hymns. He thought he had heard “Amazing Grace” earlier, but had lacked the strength then to get out of bed. As he strained to hear which hymn was being played, one after another, Fanning felt his strength increasing. As if the joy he felt in his heart were being translated into SINEW and MUSCLE in his legs and back, when he heard ANOTHER CLASSIC HYMN being played and heard the words coming out of his mouth, Fanning knew it was time to make his move.

Now, with the window open and the melody of I COME TO THE GARDEN ALONE drifting in, Fanning began to WALTZ around the room using the wheelchair as his partner. When the tempo changed with the next hymn, INNA GADDA DA VIDA, he abandoned the wheelchair and danced A/THE FOXTROT by himself. When the organ played NAME THAT TUNE, Fanning returned to the wheelchair and the waltz; halfway through he stopped and began to sing, his once rich baritone now a barely audible croak. He sang anyway, not having anyone to impress – not even himself. He sang, tears streaming down his face. He sang, and then he danced some more.

Obviously I need to research some good hymns and appropriate dance steps

(daily word count: 2,032 words; total word count: 51,532 words; words remaining: n/a)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Backstory Synchronicity

There have been several times in the past weeks where some little detail in a character's backstory has played a significant role in the character's development in the novel that I hadn't seen prior to writing a particular chapter. Last night I wrote part of the pre-Revival get-together where people sing hymns and share their stories. I also included a flashback where Reverend Gantt's prison history plays a factor (I didn't know it would going in, and it probably needs refinement, but it worked well enough for last night).

For more examples of this happening, see my other blog.

As the song ended, Gantt looked for another person to pass the microphone to. Three rows back he saw one of the women he had borrowed gardening equipment from earlier in the day raise her hand. As he handed her the microphone, he noticed the BELLIGERENT man who had ACCOSTED him in his trailer twenty minutes before the service began.

“I’m not a believer in God or any of that stuff,” the woman began, “but I want to tell you something about this man, Reverent Gantt. The reverent came to my house this morning ....”

* * *

Gantt tuned the woman and her poor vocabulary out and considered the man – the bully – at the back of the tent. The man’s arms were crossed, the backs of his hands possibly pushing his biceps up, but as Gantt remembered it the man’s arms had looked plenty big as he towered over the desk in his office. Gantt [had] sat placidly – on the outside he was placid, on the inside he was looking for something to hit the man with if he lunged, a necessary skill he had learned in prison – and listened to the man threaten him incoherently.

“If anything happens to her, you better start praying. I swear I’ll come down on you so hard you’ll wish you were back in Sunday school, preacher man.”

And so it had gone for a minute or two until the man ran out of steam. Gantt had decided that if the man attacked he’d grab the satellite phone out of the drawer and smash it into the side of his head.

Gantt kept his tone even, neutral, maintaining eye contact with the man towering above him. “I don’t know who you are or what you have to do with me, but let me say that I –“

“I’ll tell you who I am, I’m the daddy of the little girl you worked your voodoo on yesterday and I’m the man who’s gonna kill you if they find anything wrong with her at the hospital in PENDLETON.”

“If that’s the case, why aren’t you there with her instead of here blustering at me.” Turning the tables was another defensive trick he had learned in prison. He hadn’t been much of a people person before entering the penitentiary, but he found quickly how to forestall violence with communication and other helpful life lessons while locked away.

“Because the damn bridge is out and I’m stuck here looking at your ugly face.”

“I see, hmmmm, well I need to be going; I have to take my ugly face out there to the tent for the Hymnsing. If you want to keep looking at it, if that’s what you want to do, I’m not going to stop you; it’s a free country, after all.” Nonchalant on the outside, cautious on the inside Gantt pushed his chair back away from the desk. “But I’d caution you,” Gantt said as he stood and took his coat from a hangar – the metal tip of the hangar would make a good gouging weapon, he thought; “the sheriff mentioned he’d come by and look things over, so I’d keep control of that temper if I were you.”

The bully – Maya’s father, if he wasn’t a complete raving psycho – told Gantt what he could do with himself and stormed out of the trailer.

Gantt took the hangar with him, the hook bent straight out to a point, as he opened the door. He stepped out side and tried the door handle to make sure it was locked behind him. Maya’s father was nowhere in sight; Gantt was certain that he had nothing to worry about, that Maya was alive and well, that all the medical tests would come back clean, but he took the hangar with him to tent to be on the safe side.

(daily word count: 2,753 words; total word count: 49.500 words; words remaining: 500)

Monday, November 22, 2004

Fun with Secrets

In Revival, my non-denominational local pastor is smitten with the local bartendress, which of course is a secret because people would talk. As revealed earlier, said bartrendress has a prominent scar on her neck and for her own amusement times how long it takes for a newcomer to gawp at it. Having never been in her bar, Pastor Jim doesn't know about the "local custom," and winds up misunderstanding their first encounter:

“The scar doesn’t bother you?” [Graham asked.]

“Actually, I think if she didn’t have the scar I wouldn’t have noticed her, but that caught my eye, and then I saw that it didn’t matter to her – when she saw me seeing her, she just smiled. I’m sure I looked like a complete DORK smiling back. Then she raised her hand and wiggled her fingers at me then gave me a thumbs-up and left. It couldn’t have been much more than five seconds since I walked into the grocery store where she was shopping before I noticed her, but ever since I did, I’ve been in love.

Graham debated whether he should tell Bromfeld what the five wiggling fingers and the solitary thumb meant, but who knows, maybe she was smitten too. Bromfeld wasn’t hideous looking: average build and height, but with his sun-blonde hair and pale blue eyes he could pass for a second- or third cousin to Robert Redford.

That conversation occurs at the beginning of Part Two: Wednesday. At the end of Part Two, Graham and Pastor Jim meet up again, sharing a special moment:

When Graham got up to leave, Pastor Bromfeld was standing inside the door, picking the bell off the floor. As he headed out, the two made eye contact. Graham gave him a five-finger wave. Bromfeld shot him back a thumbs up.

(daily word count (11/21): 2,498 words; total word count: 46.747 words; words remaining: 3,253)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Sometimes It Just Writes Itself

Last night I was looking for a way out of a scene that was going on and on and on and ... you get the idea. Fortunately, TV sitcoms provided the answer.

“This town really BITES[,” Maya said. “]If we lived in PENDLETON, I could do the tests early and still do what I wanted in the evening.”

“The thrill of all-you-can-eat lime hospital Jell-O has faded?” Graham asked.

“Oh, barf.”

“Tell me about it,” Jacob said.

“No, really – I think I’m going to be sick,” Maya said and ran [...] into the kitchen.

Graham and Jacob stood in awkward silence, alone in the sitting room.

I cut a "sitting room" phrase out of the paragraph before last to balance out the insertion of a "Maya said" earlier in the excerpt.

(daily word count: 2,126 words; total word count: 37,441 words; words remaining: 12,559)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Feeling Snarky

After a year of writing semi-objective reviews over at Amazon, it's taken me a while to relax my narrative technique for the novel. I think it's getting better; my storytelling, at least, is starting to sound a bit more like me.

I think getting into the discussion boards at faith*in*fiction has helped, too (in your opinion, maybe it's hurt).

Anyhoo, this sounds like something I'd write.

[Graham] pulled out his notebook. “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. I think your perspective as an educator will be invaluable to my article.”

“Thank you, although I haven’t taught regularly in a classroom setting for years. I like to think I know what’s happening at my school, but as this is only my second year here, I’m muddling through the best I can with the rest of the sophomores.”

She played idly with a rubber band on her left wrist, confirming for Graham his suspicion that she was a REFORMED SMOKER. (if there’s a SMOKEBUSTERS or SMOKE-ENDERS group that uses the rubberband method, use that instead)

“Well, let’s talk about what’s going on....”

And so they talked about test scores (improving), drop out rates (declining), truancy, vandalism, teen pregnancy (all remaining steady, but with students increasingly accepting responsibility for their actions), cafeteria food (avoid the meatloaf), athletics (Go Cougars!), and so on.

“Let me ask you this,” Graham asked about fifteen minutes into the interview, “What’s the single best thing about living in Graphite?”

“Well, I think that would be that people really seem to care about each other. No, not just ‘seem to care,’ they do. If you get a flat tire on MAIN St., it seems like three cars won’t go past before someone stops to offer help.”

Graham smiled and nodded and thought to himself, “With legs like yours, you bet they stop to help.” He had to fight hard to maintain his focus on writing his notes in his NOTEBOOK.

(daily word count: 4,482 words; total word count: 35,315 words; words remaining: 14,685)

Monday, November 15, 2004

Dueling Scriptures

Last night I had my travelling revival preacher cross horns (figuratively) with the pastor of the local church. It was a fun scene to write. Hopefully it won't make you vomit.

Gantt took the key and pocketed it. He turned his head and looked heavenward. “A glorious day, isn’t it? Makes you appreciate being alive.”

Bromfeld looked at the TOUR BUS parked in front of his house, the men CLUSTERED on the sidewalk, some leaning against the bus, arms folded. Then he considered the blue sky, bright and clear except for a few stray clouds moving in from the east. “I suppose it does. Pity I have to work on my sermon for Sunday and Bible lesson for this evening.”

“Ah, yes? What passage will you be studying?”

“I was thinking of Titus 1:9-11”

“Aaahhh ... ‘rebellious talkers and deceivers teaching things they ought not to teach for the sake of dishonest gain.’ Is it a coincidence that I’m in town tonight or should I take it personally?”

Bromfeld was silent.

“So that’s it, then. Let me just say that you are not the first local pastor to feel that way about me, nor will you be, I suspect, the last. Only take into consideration that in addition to performing a bit of community service this morning, we will not be receiving a collection during the meetings tonight and tomorrow.”

Bromfeld stared IMPASSIVELY at Gantt.

“We’re not in it for the money Pastor Bromfeld, so if you’re going to let your suspicions run away with your better judgment, perhaps Acts 20:28-30 would be a BETTER text to examine.”

A fly buzzed by Bromfeld’s cheek. He brushed it away with the back of his hand.

“Think about it, and if you decide I’m not the enemy, please come to the Hymnsing at seven tonight. Of course, if you want to be especially nasty, the opening verse of First Timothy chapter four is particularly inflammatory, but I’d still go with the Acts.”

I think in the rewrite I'll have it that a pastor in another town picketted Gantt's revival meeting with the Timothy verse on the picket sign

(daily word count: 2,555 words; total word count: 30,833 words; words remaining: 19,167)

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Stuttering, Dithering & Word Count

In writing speech impediments for my NaNoWriMo project I've found it really pays to have your characters dither rather than stutter. Each "um," "er," and "uh" counts as a separate word. Whereas s-s-s-stu-uh-stuttering only counts as one. I have both, so I'm not completely padding - I also have a lisper, so I've pretty much got it covered.

If you've seen My Cousin Vinnie and remember Austin Pendleton's character, he's kind of what I had in mind when I wrote Mayor Ed Jackman in the scene below:

Graham had just about convinced himself he was being paranoid [about collusion between the mayor and Rev. Gantt], when the door swung open and the mayor stepped out to greet him.

“Sorry about that. I had to make a call and get something squared away for Reverend Gantt. Hope you didn’t mind waiting?”

“Not at all.” Would the mayor be so open about a conspiracy if there really were one, thought Graham. Then again, maybe that’s the perfect cover. “May I ask what the good Reverend needed?”

“I suppose it’s not confidential, wouldn’t want to be accused of having secret backroom politicking going on here.” The mayor waved his hands around, gesturing to the office as a whole, “No cigar smoke filled room ... as you can, uh, see. Heh heh.”

Graham waited a moment, then with no direct answer to his question forthcoming, asked specifically: “What did the good Reverend need?”

“Oh, that? He, uh, that is to say, we, uh, worked out a deal where he and his group; I suppose it’ll mostly be his group doing the work, not him, uh, specifically, uh...”

Graham helped himself to a seat, uncertain if the mayor’s dithering was a stonewall tactic or if he was genuinely nervous speaking to a member of the press.

“...uh, worked out a deal where, uh, whereby the cemetery behind the churchyard would get weeded and cleaned and, uh, spruced, generally spruced up in exchange for the town’s waiving the fee for a tentorary, er, temporary structure permit for their, uh, tent.”

(daily word count: 1,831 words; total word count: 28,278 words; words remaining: 21,722)

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Across the Great Divide

If I did my math correctly, the halfway point in my 50,000 word odyssey is somewhere in this excerpt. There are at least two sections of the book that come before this that haven't been written yet, so the final 25,000th word is likely not here, but since some of the sections after this point have already been written, who knows.

Caution: There's some semi-gratuitous Name-in-vain taking at the end of this excerpt that may not be in the final book or appropriate for all readers. It'll probably in the movie though - it's that kind of moment.

The EMTs were struggling with getting the body bag zipped up over the bicycle helmet. They tried several times, turning her head to the side, pulling up the sides of the bag, MAYBE SOMETHING ELSE, but with no success. Finally, one of them unbuckled the chin strap and removed the helmet, setting it on the hood of the car.

“It looks like she’s sleeping, doesn’t it?” The man in the suit had walked up behind them.

One of the EMTs asked the man in the suit who he was in language appropriate to the situation, but which the Reverend himself wouldn’t have used in his revival meetings – or anywhere else, for that matter.

“Excuse me for intruding. I’m Reverend Herbert Gantt.” He gestured over his shoulder to the half-erected tent behind him. “Would you mind if I prayed over the girl, before you zipped her up in that ... thing?”

“Last rites?”

“I hope not,” Gantt said in a whisper. He turned back to the students on the sidewalk and called out, “Does anyone know this girl’s name?”

Several kids answered, “Maya” or “Maya Daniels.”

Beside the CRUISER Sheriff Woo and the girl’s mother stood in STUNNED (SHOCKED?) silence. Although he couldn’t see much, even Ed Jackman raised his head and turned it toward the sound of Gantt’s voice.

The EMTs stepped back as Gantt raised his hands above Maya’s EXPOSED head. “In the Bible it says in the last days miracles will be performed (check it to get it right), that people will be healed and even raised from the dead. I believe that to be true. Maya Daniels, I command you to rise up, alive, in the name of the Lord –“

The girl’s eyes opened.

“Jeeee-susss Christ!” one of the EMTs shouted.

Maya’s eyes FLICKED back and forth, the opened sides of the body bag cutting off her view of anything but the upside-down face of a man in a dark suit smiling down on her.

(daily word count: 2,487 words; total word count: 26,447 words; words remaining: 23,553)

Friday, November 12, 2004

Eating Out

Last night I wrote the final chapter of the first major section of the book. In it Graham meets up with a couple kids at the local library and has some dirt dished. Beforehand, though, he ate dinner at a local place called Cabrón's (I didn't accent-uate the "o" while I was typing because the first draft doesn't need it and that's why God created global search and replace; which also covers alien abductions):

Seated at a table, Graham ordered an iced tea and looked over the menu. The selection was typical, if not inspired: the usual assortment of tacos, burritos, enchiladas and tamales. Steaks, chicken and seafood were offered too, with the usual APPELLATIONS of verdes, asadas, picos, and WHAT HAVE YOUS. Any kind of meat could be put in any of the tacos, burritos or enchiladas, so Graham ordered a couple carne asada burritos and a CHICKEN tamale.

While he waited for his dinner, he took out his notebook and sketched out what he knew so far. He knew the downtown was quaint – a cliché, but he could fix it later; he knew what it meant now, and that was what was important. He knew the park was neglected. He knew Ma Carter’s Boarding House was better than many of the hotels he’d ever stayed in – and he dreaded the fact that he may have to blow his cover with his editor if he was going to do the town justice. The people he’d met were friendly; how long could that last, he wondered. He knew a revival meeting was coming that weekend; he underlined this fact twice. He knew THIS, WHICH WAS AN INTERESTING FACT. And he knew THAT, WHICH WASN’T REALLY INTERESTING, BUT IT DID ADD COLOR.

And now that his order had arrived he knew one more thing: The portions at Cabron’s are huge.

(daily word count: 2,311 words; total word count: 23,960 words; words remaining: 26,040)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Local Custom

This scene just kind of came to me while I was foundering about for some way to introduce Brooke Adams, local tavern owner. It's a prime example of my patented stage-direction-free dialogue. In my mind, I know what's happening; hopefully a portion of that is conveyed to readers who are not me.

Graham took a look at her neck; the scar, at least a half inch wide and paler than the surrounding skin ran from the top of her BREASTBONE around the RIGHT (non-jugular) side of her neck to the bottom of her ear, which was missing part of the lobe.

He glanced up and saw her looking at him. She turned and nodded to the man tending bar at the other end. He, in turn, rang a brass bell below a rack of glasses on the wall.

“Twelve seconds,” Adams announced. “Who has twelve?”

A small man in his fifties wearing a John Deere ball cap raised his hand.

“Vic Soames, Rudy. Pour him a Guinness.”

As Vic got up to claim his drink, he passed by Graham. “Thanks, buddy,” he said and clapped his hand over Graham’s shoulder as he walked away.

“What was that about?” Graham asked.

“Local custom. When a new guy comes in, he’s timed from the moment he comes up to the bar until he cops a peek at my scar. Took you twelve seconds. Thanks for looking at my eyes first; you’re a real gentleman.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable? Please. I stopped being uncomfortable about it about a month after the stitches came out and it stopped itching. It is what it is, and mostly it’s been good for business. That’ll be four dollars out of your tab.”

“But – “

“Or you can leave now and never come back.”

“But what if I wanted to include a tip?”

“How much?”

“Buck fifty?”

“Fair enough.”

(daily word count: 2,552 words; total word count: 21,649 words; words remaining: 28,351)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Wakey Wakey

My main character, David Graham, has a boss who strongly disapproves of his staff enjoying themselves on business trips. Said editor was quite happy when the only alternative to bed & breakfasts was a place called "Ma Carter's Boarding House" (see Checking In). Graham was quite pleased to find his accomodations nothing like his fears suggested - still, he's not about to reveal his good fortune to his boss.

Graham’s alarm went of at 6:46. With the intention of getting out of bed at 7:00, he had set it so as to allow for two seven minute snoozes before he had to rise and shine.

As he dozed and woke twice he came to the conclusion he had terribly underestimated the comfort of his bed. Seldom had he drifted back to sleep so easily. Rarely had he had the sensation of surfacing from a deep-water dive in order to silence the snooze alarm. After the second alarm, Graham seriously considered resetting the clock for eight and bagging his interview with Tracy Greene.

Then he had the unfortunate thought of how he would explain his DERELICTION OF DUTY to his editor. “Oh, your canvas cot – the one filled with shards of glass – was sooooo uncomfortable you had to – what? – oversleep an hour? Something’s not kosher here, so spill.”

That would never do.

(daily word count: 2,089 words; total word count: 19,097 words; words remaining: 30,093)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Welcome to the Afterlife

Yesterday I continued writing Graham's interview with ex-dead girl, Maya. He asks her about what she experienced in the few minutes she was dead:

“Everything was red, like when you’re lying out on your back sunbathing, and the sunlight is shining through the blood vessels in your eyes. I wasn’t in pain. I wasn’t scared, but I wasn’t really feeling anything. I don’t think I was numb, it was more like being bored.”

“Like being bored?”

“Well there wasn’t anything to do. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to go. Like it was an all-red waiting room, but without furniture or magazines. I remember calling out “Hello” and “Is anyone here?” The words felt flat, like they weren’t traveling very far. If it were a cartoon I guess they would have come out of my mouth, traveled a few feet and then smashed to the floor with a thud, except the sound of the thud wouldn’t have traveled far either.”


“Do you remember hearing or smelling anything?”

“It was silent, I mean dead quiet. I heard the sound of my voice, but it didn’t sound right. Other than that I didn’t hear anything until someone was shouting something like ‘ again, in the name of the Lord’ and then I woke up, or came back to life or whatever. I didn’t smell anything until that happened, either and then I smelled a really bad stink, like rotten eggs and stale cigar smoke or something. Must have been the car exhaust.”

“So no bright white light? No angel choir?”

“No. Just boring, red, quiet, stinkiness.”

“Do you think you were in, well, you know, ‘the other place’?”

“Hell? Nah, unless my punishment is eternal boredom; in which case ‘why bother,’ I mean, just make me live in this town forever.”

(daily word count: 2,044 words; total word count: 17,008 words; words remaining: 32,992)

Monday, November 08, 2004

Discussing Maya

Here's a longish sample of some dialogue. Right now my the dialogue tends to read like competing monologues, which isn't great. I'm getting better at adding props and detail in to break things up a bit.

I think pretty much everything you need to know is covered in the sample:

Maya sat on a SETTEE up against the wall. An elderly man was in the process of removing a pressure cuff from her arm when Graham walked in. She offered him a weak smile, her color was off and she had dark circles under her eyes.

“Blood pressure checks fine, Mrs. Aguilar. There’s some tenderness in the abdomen match with what happened during the collision. Some swelling in her left ear, also not inconsistent with the accident. No broken bones, no cranial trauma beyond what I can see in the ear canal, no dissociative behavior, amnesia, or anything of that nature.”

On the other side of the sitting room a man walked past the archway, trailing a long, spiraled telephone cord behind him. “Whaddya mean we can’t sue him. He hit her with his damned boat of a car; that’s VEHICULAR MANSLAUGHTER right there.” The phone cord pulled taut as the man disappeared from view.

The doctor scratched his chin, “If WHAT’S HISFACE hadn’t said her heart had stopped beating and she was unresponsive to CPR I wouldn’t have believed anyone else saying she was actually dead. How this fella Gantt did what he did I don’t know. There’s no place in medical science for faith healing and miracles; still, I don’t have a better explanation to offer you.”

The phone cord in the other room dropped slack against the PARQUET floor. “But she was dead. We have witnesses. What about that?”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

“I would really like to get her into the hospital, run some tests to make sure there’s no internal damage. Maybe see if we can find a logical explanation before people start lighting candles on your front porch.” He tried to force a smile.

“Well can we sue that preacher guy then? Tampering with evidence? That’s got to be worth something....”

Hearing her daughter reduced to the level of compromised evidence in someone’s twisted litigious scheme drove Geri into a rage.

“Get out of my house, you BASTARD!” She grabbed the handset and slammed it into the RECEIVER. “Get the HELL out of my house before I call my lawyer and tell him you’re violating the restraining order, you sick FFF–“ She stopped, biting her lower lip, aware that all conversation in the house had stopped and every eye was purposefully not looking directly at her.

Maya sat on the couch, eyes brimming with tears, her breath COMING in uneven (RAGGED?) HITCHES.

Geri continued, her tone icy, but not as loud, “Get out of my house now. I shouldn’t have let you in. I won’t make that mistake again.”

(daily word count: 1,767 words; total word count: 14,982 words; words remaining: 35,018)

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Toonces Mouser the Cat

Tonight (Day 6) I wrote the segment of the novel where everybody goes to bed the first night. This section is immediately followed by Rev. Gantt's nightmare. Mouser is a 3-legged cat that my ex-priest character dragged in out of the rain one evening.

In this excerpt we see "getting ready for bed" from the cat's perspective. I know, it's a cliche - but it's my cliche, dang it, and I had fun writing it.

Mouser the cat patrolled the bookshelves and cupboards behind the lunch counter. She hadn’t seen a mouse in weeks, but she felt the weather changing. And she knew that with wet weather came mice.

Had she been able to talk – and an old codger, rocking on a porch somewhere spitting tobacco – she’d have said she felt in her stump, waving it around for all to see. Even though she knew nothing of high and low pressure systems and barometers or meteorology, and even though it wasn’t a localized phenomenon, she knew what she felt: Mice are coming. Mice will be here soon.

Upstairs she heard The Opener of Cans getting ready for sleep. She had watched him sometimes, trying to understand his rituals. He didn’t groom himself like she did at bedtime, though once or twice she had seen him lick his front paw and RUB down some hair sticking up over his funny ears. Sometimes The Opener of Cans would lie curled up in a ball, but he usually slept stretched out flat. She had tried sleeping that way, but never succeeded.

Her patrol took her by the store’s front windows. She put her paws up on the window frame and looked out at the street through the posters. Streetlights (and the moon?) shone down on the deserted street. She couldn’t see the stars, though she still remembered them from the time she had been tossed out of the car along the road by Kicker. She remembered him still, but The Opener of Cans who had been a woman was fainter in her memory.

She made her last circuit of the downstairs before heading up the stairs to repeat the routine and go to sleep. She thought she saw something underneath one of the stools, but it turned out to be nothing, a shadow cast by something moving on the street.

“Not to worry,” she thought, the feline equivalent at any rate, “the mice will be here soon.” And, who knows where cats’ thoughts come from, “...and something else, too.”

I'm not expecting that Mouser's POV will make another appearance in the book, so a minor indulgence here may not sink a multi-book deal. I have no idea yet if Mouser can drive a car.

(daily word count: 2,239 words; total word count: 13,215 words; words remaining: 36,785)

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Checking In

As David Graham is making his way over to the place he's staying in town, the reader gets an idea of where he'll be staying:

Graham had found the name of the place – Ma Carter’s Boarding House – using an online yellow pages service. There were no franchise motels in Graphite and all the other accommodations had ended with "Bed & Breakfast" – generally a no-no when traveling on the magazine’s dime.

Reluctantly, Graham had booked three nights, expecting a lumpy mattress smelling of its previous occupant, faded blue and white striped wallpaper peeling on the walls and a dresser only wide enough to hold his change, keys, and – not that he actually owned one – a long straight black plastic comb with several teeth missing. He dreaded what the shared bathroom would look like, imagining a single bare light bulb dangling from the ceiling, cracked tile and enamel in and around the tub, strange hairs clogging the drain.

The name of the place had suited Graham’s editor just fine. Its name and low price made the editor smile as he signed an expense voucher. The fact it had no website helped confirm his feeling he was sending a writer off to stay somewhere that would make a boot camp barracks seem like Heaven.

But is it the right idea? Hmmmm....

(daily word count: 1,723 words; total word count: 10,976 words; words remaining: 39,024)

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Wall o' History

While in a used bookstore, our hero finds pictures on the walls detailing the town's history. This is what he sees (remember, ALL CAPS words are placeholders; italics are notes to myself to figure something out in the re-write):

On the walls at the far end of the bookshelf CUL-DE-SACS (or culs-de-sac as the case may be) hung framed black and white photos. Typed note cards below the pictures identified them as sites from Graphite’s history: The Old Mine, c. 1888; ST. WHOEVER’S Church, burned 1897; in a frame below it another church, burned 1952; a one-room schoolhouse, this one relocated to SOMETHING HISTORIC PARK, PENDLETON 1973; SOMEBODY’S Mill, c. 1910; a ribbon cutting ceremony at WHATEVER Park, c. 1948; several shots of MAIN STREET over the years, 1908, 1933, 1948, 1960, and color shots from 1976 with a bicentennial parade, and 1988 with a Graphite Centennial banner draping across the middle of the street.

WHATEVER Park, by the way, is the park where the revival meeting will take place. So far everywhere I've typed it it's been WHATEVER Park; for a slight fee - or as high as the bidding goes - I'd be willing to name the park after you.

(daily word count: 2,681 words; total word count: 9,253 words; words remaining: 40,747)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Reverend Dreams

Today I wrote in a couple stretches and wound up with 2200+ words for the day. Here's part about Reverend Herbert Gantt's dream (the final part of the first "day" of the novel):

Gantt wasn’t much of a dreamer; what scattered thoughts passed through his subconscious, usually drifted through without notice or comment. Once in a great while he would awaken, troubled by a persistent thought that he had been shown something he should have remembered.

Tonight the Reverend slept. Tonight the Reverend dreamed.

He was standing on the shoulder of the highway. Behind him sat the bus, the flat bed trailer truck that towed the portable building that served as office and sanctuary, the trailer truck that held the meeting tent (tabernacle was the word that echoed in his head when he saw the trailer) and folding chairs. He looked in the windows of the bus and saw his assistants asleep. He saw himself asleep on the bus as well, his wide forehead pressing against the window. A thin trail of saliva trickled out of the corner of his mouth.

All looked as should be expected, except for two things. First, all the vehicles were painted black. If not for the lights on in the bus and portable building and the running lights on on the vehicles they would have looked like areas of inky blackness in the star-streaked high desert night. The other thing that was odd were the hundreds of cars parked behind the second trailer truck. Like the ending of that movie, Field of Dreams, the cars with their running lights on stretched to the horizon. They sat there, their engines idling. None of the cars had their interior dome lights on the way the bus was illuminated, and that sat fine with Reverend Gantt. Something told him he didn’t want to see who was driving the cars. Part of him knew. The rest of him was glad the other part was keeping it a secret.

Suddenly a rumble arose from down the line of cars. The dream Reverend in the bus, asleep, shuddered. The dream Reverend outside the bus, who somehow knew this was a dream, realized that the real Reverend dreaming the dream had just shuddered, too. The awake dream Reverend sincerely hoped that the dreaming Reverend would wake up before whatever was making the rumbling noise made its way down the endless line of parked cars.

Okay, it gets a bit metaphysical at the end, but in general I like it. At least it didn't cause vomiting while I wrote it.

(daily word count: 2,272 words; total word count: 6,572 words; words remaining: 43,428)

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Meet Sheriff Brandon Woo

Today I wrote the chapter where writer David Graham meets Sheriff Woo. Before entering Woo's office, Graham wonders about the Sheriff's family's nation of origin. This is what he finds behind the sheriff's office door (note: words in all caps are those I intend to revisit in the second-draft process):

He had expected that a pen set on the desk might have a U.S. flag and one from China or KOREA, maybe. Instead the room looked like someone had barfed up a Cost Plus. He saw flags from China, both Koreas, the VIETNAMS, Japan, TAIWAN, SINGAPORE, and several that he could only guess were from countries on the INDOCHINA PENINSULA. One bookcase was covered in carved Buddhas and dragons. Two large SHINTO ARCHES were used as bookends on a shelf behind the desk.

A large fish tank filled with goldfish sat underneath the window. Beside sat a smaller round fish bowl with a Chinese fighting fish in it. On the floor below both was a doormat with two koi, one mostly white, the other mostly red, swimming around each other forming a yin yang symbol.

There was too much to process at once and Graham belatedly realized he was standing frozen in the doorway, blocking the sheriff’s entrance.

(daily word count: 2,066 words; total word count: 4,300 words; words remaining: 45,700)

Monday, November 01, 2004

01 Nov 04 12:00:01 Epilogue

As you can see, things don't end well for at least one poor soul:


In the dirt-floored room, the fat, yellow candle finally burned out. Thick, acrid smoke, invisible in the darkness, wound silently from the wick. For one brief moment a single scream rose above the din, only to be swallowed completely a few seconds later and for all eternity.

The End

(daily word count: 2,234 words; total word count: 2,234 words; words remaining: 47,766)