I dood it! And you can dood it too!

Yesterday morning I finished the first draft of my novel, Jackson A(fter) D(eath). I began it for the National Novel Writing Month, known as Nanowrimo by its participants, in November, 2015. The novel addresses the question of what happens to Jackson Schmidt, Nami Greene and Gar Fox after they die. It combines the spiritual pilgrimage of Shusaku Endo’s Deep River, the struggle to overcome fear of Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life and the adventurous journey found in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. When I complete my fourth draft, the novel will be 80,000 to 120,000 words long. Currently it is 194,786 words.

With this post, I thought I would lay out the process that produced this tome. Maybe it will encourage youse. Maybe it won’t. For quite some time, I had been playing around with the idea of what happens when we die, thinking maybe I might want to take it on for a novel. Sometime at the beginning of 2015, I decided that I wanted to participate in the 2015 Nanowrimo. I had previously participated in the experience three times, producing novels over 50,000 words each.

In 2004, I wrote Secrets of the Fourth Lithuanian. There was no Lithuanian in the novel. I liked the title. In 2009, I produced the historical comedy, The Absolutely Unbelievably Extraordinary Adventures of Lady Wimpleseed-Prissypotte. It is the story of an American heiress whose daddykins has lots of cash and momsy wants a British title. The heiress marries a British lord with one foot in the cemetery and the other in the grave. He croaks in a bowl of soup in the third chapter during their honeymoon on Gibraltar. She spends the rest of the novel searching for true love or at least a good orgasm. In 2011, I wrote a romance called Five-foot-nine and Six-foot-two. The man was the shorter of the two. So I had a pretty good idea how to write a novel of over 50,000 words in November. 2000 words a day, that’s how.

Finally in March, I made up my mind. I was going to write a novel about what happens after we die. As research, I re-read Philip Jose Farmer’s two Riverworld novels amd Shusaku Endo’s Deep River. I re-saw the Albert Brooks’ movie between March and October.

On October 1, I began working on an outline. For previous incarnations, I had pretty much written the novels by the seat of the pants and for fun. I seriously considered that I might want to publish this one. From March to October, I developed my three main characters. I had a protagonist 37 years old. I knew that he had parents who would separate in April for a divorce. Come Thanksgiving they would be back together. They had done this for 24 years. He died from a heart attack. I also knew that Nami, the heroine, would die from a bullet. Her boyfriend’s six year old son would be the one who accidentally shot her. She had been adopted and she had a sister born nine years after Nami was adopted. The sister committed suicide. The antagonist would be Gar. He would be a contract killer who was seeking revenge for his daughter’s hit and run death.

During the month, I used a tarot deck to lay out my plot, Each of the following got a tarot card and a scene:
2.Inciting Incident
3.Plot Point 1
4.Pinch 1
6.Pinch 2
7.Plot Point 2
10.Final Scene

I saw this outline as a map. It didn’t mean there wouldn’t be changes. There would. I thought of the map as a route drawn out  between Orlando and Los Angeles broken into four separate days. I saw each of the ten as stopping off points. Instead of just writing toward an End, I wrote toward each of them. With the outline, I knew the situation, the What. I didn’t know the how. It was the hows that often surprised me. In the past, I would have had to stop and think what’s next. I knew the what this go-around. I didn’t get stuck in writersblockdom. I have to tell you that this outline saved my rear-end.

It was Sunday, that November 1st day, and a beautiful day. For the past six months, I had changed my writing schedule. Come hell or highwater. I woke up early, got myself a cup of joe, sat down at my ‘puter and wrote for five minutes to a visual prompt. Then for the next hour or two, I worked on my current project. At the end of that writing time, I got up and didn’t worry about writing for the rest of the day. Oh, sure. I would take a note if I got a good idea. I felt like I had accomplished something at the end of the session each day and I thoroughly enjoyed that feeling. My goal for this writing schedule for Nanowrimo was 2000 words. Easy peasy.

I was excited about beginning my Nanowrimo-in-residence. I had thought about nothing else for the previous week. I was a ready teddy, ready to put the words to the blank page. That Sunday morning I did what I usually did. Half conscious and just barely awake, not a good way to edit but a great way to write a first draft, I opened up my word processor and did my five minutes on a new-born prompt. It was an easy pregnancy. Next I started a new file. My coffee mug sat next to me, encouraging, “You can do it.” I like it when my coffee mug does that. I opened up my Outline and read my notes. Yep, that was where I was sposed to start.

I did a “Chapter One” at the top center, then I set the cursor where the first paragraph was sposed to write itself. Nothing. Nada. Not one word. I screamed a few s-words and a few f-words. As you writers out there know, that never works. I turned to my coffee mug and begged and pleaded. She wasn’t playing by the rules. She wasn’t giving up the words I needed. Am I going to be sitting here all day, staring into el-blanko. I got things to do. You know, that bottle I planned to drink to celebrate. An hour went by. Two. Still nada. For the fifty-seventh time, I got up and poured another cup of mud and checked my outline. Nothing. I was not about to get out of jail free.

Then Muggie spoke, “Why not just write around that first scene?”

“Huh?” I say that when I am being stupid.

“Why don’t you just write around that first scene?”

“How do I do that?”

“Back story,” Muggie said and winked.

“I could do that,” I said. And thus it was that I wrote my first words: “In the beginning…” No, no, no. That’s not it. I wrote, “When Sam and Kate met, height was not an issue.” I suddenly knew that this was the Protagonist’s parents. I was going back that far. There must be a reason and Muggie was encouraging me.

So off I went, not on a wild goose chase but toward the story I had outlined. For the next two weeks, I wrote back story, then I came to the first scene, The Hook/Opening Scene. I just kept going. After the writing was finished for the day, I would spend the rest of the day, thinking about what was next. If I didn’t have a what’s next at the beginning of my writing session the next day, it was a slog. If I had a pretty good idea, it was fast and furious. By the end of November, I had over 60,000 words.

Did I quit? Did I rest on my laurels? I did not. December 1, I did what I had done the previous day. I got up, got my coffee, did my prompt, then continued on my novel. I was bound and determined to get ‘er done. Only my word count for the day changed. I changed it to 500 words. If I wrote more, great. If I didn’t, no prob.

With my Outline, I had a pretty good idea what was next. But getting there was always interesting. There were times when I lost a character. There were times when the Titanic sank. There were times when every Tom, Dick and Harry wanted to go left instead of the right I had planned. So I let them. They wanted to see the angels try to get through the head of a pin. I let them. They wanted to see the world’s biggest ball of twine. We saw the world’s biggest ball of twine. They wanted to visit Napoleon while he was getting ready for his Waterloo. We did that too. But pretty soon we were back on course.

So what did I learn?
1.The outline kept me from giving up. It wasn’t the 10 Commandments. More like the 10 Suggestions.
2.Breaking down a novel into daily baby steps is truly helpful. It takes away the fear of being overwhelmed by the big project.
3.When I write daily, my writing gets better. When I write daily first thing in the morning, I don’t feel guilty that I have neglected my work. I can go about my day with a hop, a skip and a jump. And occasionally a big Whoopee.
4.When I’ve finished my writing session, I can set it aside and feel confident I have done what I was supposed to do.
5.This is just a first draft. It will be crap.
6.I have found a process that works for me.
7.It’s great to have a coffee mug, talking to me.

Not sure this is helpful to any of you out there. But like everything in life, my storytelling continues to be a road to discovery. Even when I think I can’t do something, I know I can. I just have to sit my rear end in the chair, stare at the blank page and let Muggie give me instructions. Serially, it is only by the doing that we creatives learn. That is the ultimate lesson I have learned. And will continue to learn over and over again.

That’s easy. I have to mow the dreaded grass. Oh, you mean with the novel? I put it away for three months. At that time, I will print it out and read it straight through. Then I will go back and read it a second time, making notes. Breaking the novel up into scenes. I will power point each scene. Then I will write the second draft. Then the third. Then a final fourth and it will be dressed up in its Sunday best, ready for the world.

Politics in America 4: City Hall

Chapter 4
Out of the Outhouse and Into the Manure

Now we all know what happens the day after February 1st. It’s Groundhog Day.

It was a well known fact that Weazel Sneeze, and Podunk County, did not have a groundhog. Goof-off Sneeze, the founding father of the town, did a Saint Patrick. Instead of chasing snakes out of the county, he ran off all the groundhogs.

No one quite knew why he did this. Some suppositioned that it was because he did not want any competition with the ladies. You see, he looked like a groundhog. Being the only male above five feet, he was a natural choice if there were no groundhogs. The ladies in them parts were a bit near sighted. Let’s just admit. They were pretty near blind. So they were not able to distinguish Goof-off from a groundhog. We don’t really know if this was true but it’s a best guess.

Since Weazel Sneeze, or Podunk County for that matter, did not have a groundhog, the folks in them parts came up with a new tradition. The new mayor would be allowed out of the City Hall at sunrise. If the mayor saw his shadow, there would be six more weeks of winter. If the mayor did not see his shadow, spring would be springing right around the corner.

Now there was always a difference of opinion on this very important matter. There was another tradition in those parts. No one could partake of the shine in winter time. By Mayor’s Day, folks were getting mighty thirsty. Many were the mayors who had been put out of their misery over the years all because they saw their shadow. Boot Hill right next to Weazel Sneeze had a slue of them.

Back in the late twentieth century, folks around those parts were tired of losing mayors. So there was only one solution. Change the rules.

What came about was this? No matter the ruling, the Weazel Sneeze City Council declared the day as Get-a-snort Day. Thus it was allowed that this could be the one day of the winter that would be considered a spring day. It was kind of like Mardi Gras. The Mayor being The Mayor, he got the first snort, and the second, and the third and fourth if he was still standing. What he snorted was the best shine east and west of the Mississippi.

I’m talking Weazel Sneeze’s own “Doctor Pudding’s Home Brew”. Yep, you guessed it. It was none other than B S Pudding’s daddy who made the brew that made Weazel Sneeze Famous. It was the brew that was the brewski-est, the shine with the shine. You’ve heard of Baseball’s Opening Day. Well, February 2nd, Groundhog Day and Get-a-Snort Day, was like Baseball’s Opening Day. It was the day Doctor Pudding broke out the new batch. And the Mayor did the uncorking.

Mayor P F Sneeze did his duty. He appeared on the City Hall doorstep in the mayor’s hat, a top hat that was said to be once owned by Abe Lincoln. He used it when he was chasing the vampires. It was where he hid the garlic.

P F did not see his Shadow. If truth be told, the reason P F had been chosen was that he did not have a shadow. A loud cheer rang throughout Podunk County. P F raised the ceremonial jug and took one big swig. By the end of the swig, the jug was empty. P F was one heck of a swigger. In his youth, he had swigged the swig that was heard round the world. Both then and now P F fell over sideways.

Before you could say, I left my heart in San Francisco”, the town was going hog wild. B S drank. Corncob Jones drank. Barbara Ann Butt (and all the other Buttskies) drank. Pretty soon there was drinking in the street. And on the sidewalks. And in Sam ‘N’ Ella’s. It was one heck of a Get-a-Snort Day. By sunset, all the denizens of Podunk County had passed out in Weazel Sneeze.

It was indeed an auspicious beginning of Mayor P F Sneeze’s reign as mayor. Little did he know that he was not going to be given the time to enjoy it.

Chapter 5 Next Wednesday: The Shopping Spree to End all Shopping Sprees.

Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: An Epic to be all the other Epics

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “The Ten Commandments” (1956):

To all my Jewish friends, you are in my thoughts as I wish you well during this Passover season. 

It’s almost become a cliché, this movie. That’s why I hesitate to recommend it. But during this season of Passover, it’s very hard to ignore. Hollywood has tried to remake this movie any number of times and has failed. There is something about this one that gets to the heart of the story.

The story is an epic one. It is the foundation of our civilization. It is the story Jesus celebrated with His parents as a child and with His disciples at the Last Supper. This is why I have never understood how those who call themselves Christian can be anti-Semitic.

It is the founding of the Jewish nation built on the desire for a people who wished to be free. But it wasn’t an easy road. This people did not become a nation because it was easy. They became a nation only after years of suffering in slavery, then more years of wandering in a wilderness. Before they became the Promised Land of nationhood.

It is the beginning of Western Civilization’s belief in freedom as a core value. By looking back to the story of Exodus, the African-American community developed a belief in their ultimate delivery from slavery. The call, “Let my people,” can be heard in the song, “We shall overcome,” and in the words of Dr. King’ “I have a dream.” Just like the children of Israel, this community knew that liberation was not only possible, but inevitable. It was this same call for justice and freedom that those at Tiananmen Square and Tahrir Square were crying out for. Wherever injustice and tyranny exists, the call, “Let my people go,” will be heard.

It is story of the gift of Law. Without the law, there can only be chaos. But it must be a law that respects the rights of all. That is a law that everybody is under. Even the king. It was this story and those Commandments that were a forerunner to Roman Law, to the Magna Carta, English Common Law, the Constitution of United States and the Napoleonic Code. When the Declaration of Independence declared that all men were created equal and when Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address, they were building upon the belief established by the Exodus story.

So, when I watched this movie one more time, I remembered these things. I was also reminded of what a great movie this one is.

Of course the movie can’t completely remove the “from my cold dead hands” remark Charlton Heston made before the NRA. I’m sure when all is said and done, he would prefer to be remembered for his performance as Moses, calling for Pharaoh to “Let my people go.” I know I would. One thing is for sure. Yul Brynner was never better.

Politics in America 3: The New Mayor

Chapter 3
Weazel Sneeze gets a new mayor

Now Weazel Sneeze had a rotating mayorship. For the last term of four years, Corncob Jones was mayor. He was a descendent of the Weazel family. When chosen, it was decided that he was a Weazel if there ever was one.

Now it was a Sneeze’s turn. Since the citizens were all for decorum, it only seemed right that P. F. Sneeze become the mayor. After all, he was not any Tom, Dick or Harvey. He was the great great great, oh what the heck, he was directly descended from the original Sneeze, Goof-off Sneeze.

Now there’s some things everybody around Weazel Sneeze knew about P. F. Sneeze. First off, the P. F. stood for Pig Farmer. ‘Cause that was his vocation, his calling and what he did for a living. He used to be called Fourth till his ever-loving Daddy, P. F. Sneeze the Third died. For years, Third had been known as P. F. Now that he was long gone to that pig farm in the sky, Fourth was the new P. F.

P. F. was a right righteous fellow if ever there was one. He also had a lot of gumption. He got it the natural way. He took after his Mama. She was known in parts near and far throughout the state as a woman with petticoat gumption.

PF’s gumption had gotten him into trouble recently, but no one would have respected him around Weazel Sneeze if he hadn’t gotten into trouble. It was in the genes of the folks in those parts. Any way the State had given him a citation for “excessive pig farming without a license”.

“Just like the guvmint,” he told his nearest and dearest, the newly minted and nuptialed B S Pudding.

Under protest, he paid the fine and got hisself a license. But he wasn’t happy about it.

Everybody knew that he was qualified for excessive pig farming with or without a license. P F was highly edumacated fellow. He’d taken the correspondence course in pigology from the Snort Holler College of Agriculture and Horticulture and All-them-other Cultures. He could “Sooie” with the best of them. And he had a diploma to prove it.

P F wasn’t much of a talker. No sirree. He wasn’t a listener either. Mostly he was an ignorer. Give him a conversation to ignore, and he’d be the first to ignore it. That had been the thing that attracted B. S. to her husband, and she liked it. After all, if you’re going to be ignored by your red-blooded American male of a husband, you might as well choose a husband who takes his ignoring seriously.

On top of that, B S, what with her renovating her face, was now the prettiest girl in Podunk County. All the fellas ‘round about that part of the state were after her. Both the eligibles and the ineligibles. Only P F ignored her. It was right there and then that B S knew he was the man for her.

B S had always known she was something special. When P F went out of his way to ignore her, she knew she had found the One. She was tired of the pedestal all the other men put her on. The air up there was way too hard to breath. It was like being on Everest without an oxygen mask. Little did B S know she was about to have a special place in history.

Once every four years during Leap Year on February 1st, Weazel Sneeze got a new mayor. Three months after P F and B S were hitched, P F was inducted as mayor. When the City Council came to him to propose the proposal, P F just followed his usual strategy of ignoring them. But the City Council had decided aways back that he was their man. They were not taking No for an answer. He was going to be mayor whether he liked it or not.

They threw a bag over P F’s head and threw him into the back of the Official Weazel Sneeze Pickup Truck. It was a Chevy. Once upon a time, it had been a Ford. No one could remember why the folks in Weazel Sneeze had abandoned that brand, but they had. The City Council sang “Roll out the barrel” as they drove him down to City Hall, which just happened to be an outhouse on the other side of town. Though it was an outhouse, it was a mighty fine outhouse, and big enough for four people to take a dump in. The City Council was only three people. With the mayor that made four. So you can see that it was the perfect place to hold a City Council Meeting.

That City Council threw P F into the Outhouse and closed the door. Talk about smell. That place had a smell. P F was just about to gag from the odor.

There was only one way that the new mayor was going to get out of that outhouse. And that was through the front door. But that wasn’t about to happen until the mayor performed his first function as mayor. It was a tradition that went way way back.

We’ll leave that till next week’s episode of “Politics in America”.

Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: The Man Without a Conscience

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999).

Some movies are good when you first see them. You enjoy them. The second time around they are not as good. The third and fourth time you see them you get to the point that you can’t stand them. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999) is not one of those kinds of movies.

It is the kind of movie that starts off just okay. With each showing it gets better and better and better. I’ve seen “The Talented Mr. Ripley” five, six times at least.

Tom Ripley is dissatisfied. Tom Ripley would prefer to be anybody else. You see, Tom Ripley doesn’t like Tom Ripley’s life. He doesn’t like Tom Ripley. He would do anything to get out of Tom Ripley’s skin.

One day Ripley gets his opportunity. A rich businessman offers him an all-expenses-paid round trip to Italy. Ripley’s mission: to get the man’s son, Dickie, to return home to the United States.

Once in Italy, Tom Ripley discovers that he likes Dickie’s life. Dickie has it all: a boat, clothes, a villa, a woman who loves him. Ripley wants that life. Ripley doesn’t want to be just anybody. Ripley wants to be Dickie. He’ll do anything to be Dickie. And soon Ripley will be Dickie.

There’s only one problem. Dickie’s girlfriend and the police are not about to let Tom be Dickie.

Is there a villain you think would make a great hero?