Letting the Pyrate In Me Out

Since yesterday was National-Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day, I decided to let the pyrate in me leak out a bit. So I did what any decent buccaneer would do. I went looking for booty. Fer ye landlubbers, booty is pyratese for treasure, not that other kind of booty. And not just any kind of treasure. Had to be a shiver-me-timbers-and-blow-the-man-down kind.

First thing was to get properly dressed in a new set of long-john-silvers. Just can’t go looking for booty if you’re not properly dressed. I put on me tweeds, me silk shirt and me brogues and off I went shopping at the local pyrate store, Blackbeard’s. You know it’s the place to go if you want to be a well-dressed gentleman o’ fortune .

“Ye be going on the account?” the attendant at the clothier asked.

“No shippin’ off fer me. Looking for booty-hunting attire, matey,” I returned him with a smile. “And I don’t want to be taken for no sprog or squiffy. If ye scallywag me, I’ll keelhaul ye for the scurvy dog ye are.”

“Aye, I have just the thing, matey.” He adjusted his eye patch. “And keep yer black spot to yerself.”

Then he dressed me up in some fine loot-hunting gear: a red scarf for me head, an earring of the skull-and-crossbones for me ear, a linen shirt under me sea-green vest and a gray-and-white striped, cotton pants fer me bottom. And to top off me ensemble. A pair of black leather boots.

“By the Powers, all the lassies will give ye the swoon, me hearty,” he said.

I swaggered out of the store like the pyrate-for-a-day I knew I was.

If ye’re going booty huntin’, best have a map. So I went to me book shelves and pulled down an ancient tome. Opened it up and what do ye know. In me own back yard, the loot was buried.

I’d be in need of a shovel if I was going booty-huntin’. I went to the shed. Hadn’t been there for weeks. Maybe months. That was where the shovel had to be. Where else would a shovel choose to hide itself? Certainly not in the kitchen or the bathroom.

I dug and I dug till the shovel showed itself. I grasped it by the handle and went to the X-marks-the-spot on the map. I pushed the shovel into the ground and soon I was six feet and more into that earth I called a yard. All the while I sang the song every pyrate sings when in pursuit of loot: ” Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest—Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest—Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

Down I went, past the black gates of Mordor. Past the foul smell of Buccaneer’s Den. Deeper into the dark earth I dug. Tired, beswaggered, me sweat dripping its sweat, I continued, deeper into the earth than I had ever been. But where was the treasure I sought? Could the ghost of Captain Morgan his own self have stolen it?

Just before breaking through the ground and hitting China in the rump, thar she was. The booty I sought. In an ancient chest, it resided. I approached it, trembling with fear. Yet excitement too. This was it. Me treasure, me booty, me precious.

Me hands shook as I touched the large, rusty padlock. I would need a key for such a lock. But then, by Edward Teach’s beard, the lock dropped open, freeing the chest. I wrenched the lock free. The chest squealed a banshee’s cry as I opened it. I peered into the casket. There sitting alone on a scarlet cloth was me booty. It was a box of Cracker Jacks. And, yes, there was a prize inside the box. It was a gosh-darn truly doubloon. How ’bout that?

I breathed easy, a large grin on me buccaneer-for-a-day face, and leaned against the earth. I reached into the box and pulled out a handful of the molasses-covered popcorn and peanuts. I popped them into me mouth and chewed. This must be the ambrosia the gods spoke of. It was indeed bootylicious.

Ikeadom

Several Sundays ago, we made the pilgrimage, Mrs. Bardie and I, to the holy shrine of Ikea. I’d heard it was a shopping paradise. Have heard it is now one of the three main reasons to come to Orlando, Disney and Universal being number one and number two. Just walk in and they have everything, interior designwise. It will make your eyes water, your words go gaa-gaa and your wallet empty. (Guess that’s why God made credit cards, huh?)

First we had to get a map. Made me think of Epcot, only Ikea didn’t charge, and that’s when I knew I was in trouble. Anyplace I need a map to find my way to the bathrooms, I know, is going to be a bit too much. I was hoping they’d give me a compass too but no such luck. And of course, there’s a Shopping List form on the back of the map.

From the entrance, I played Follow the Leader, following my significant-other up the stairs and into the Big Store. She turned to me and said, “Now, Bardie, if you get lost, remember your Boy Scout skills. Stand still and I will find you.” The place was big, I mean, really big. And so many choices. There was book shelves everyplace and the book shelves had book shelves. And they all had Swedish books on them. I’ve never seen so many Swedish books in my life.

I saw a chair that I kind of liked. It looked comfortable. So I sat down. But I couldn’t get up. If I brought this one home, I’d need a crowbar to pull my heft out of all that comfort. If I looked around, I am sure I would have found that crowbar in the accessories department. There were living rooms so spectacular I plan to end up in one of these when I kick the bucket (oops, cliches slipping in there, Bardie). And a place for that big big screen TV I’ll buy when I win the lottery.

There was a sign saying “Serenity Now. Because there’s nothing better than knowing where everything is…” Now that sounded reasonable. I liked that. Too bad Ikea couldn’t help me in that department as I tried to find my way through the store.

Soon I found myself among a whole bunch of closets. There was one so big I commented, “You could stuff a dead body in there.” I was thinking of my Character Closet theory. If a Character has a dead body in the closet, he must be a serial killer, huh? You know it’s the little things, the details, that give a story its color. Of course, this closet was filled with shoes. Imelda Marcos must have loved Ikea.

There were desks and more desks, more desks than I’d ever seen in my life in one place. And I used to work in an office supply store. These Ikeaistas have made the phrase “everything including the kitchen sink” into a life mission statement. There was way too many kitchen sinks for me to want to look at. There were big ones, small ones, medium-sized ones.

Well, I am not one you want to take shopping. I like my shopping in little doses. My head started to hurt. I’d seen too many living rooms and I was starting to run out of steam. All these rooms were taking on the same tinge. I said to the Mrs., “We’re starting to get reruns here.” Sure it was full of well-made furniture that was inexpensive. But it was just too much.

Then, oh, my God, we headed downstairs, and would you be believe, more stuff. The cranky was now coming out in me. And the “I just want to get out of here”. How were we ever going to get out of this place? It made me appreciate Hansel and Gretel and their bread crumbs. “My God, will we never get to the checkout?” Then, “Oh, no, there’s a line longer than the one at the Pearly Gates.” Well, there was light at the end of the Ikea store. I could see the Parking Lot. As we made our way through the noise and the confusion and into the Parking Lot, I knew why someone said, “There’s no place like home.” They’d been to an Ikea store and were ready to head for home.

So that’s my Ikea experience. Maybe it wasn’t a nightmare. But I know one thing. I just don’t want to dream about it. Next time, it’s online shopping for me.

I dood it! And you can dood it too!

WHAT IS THAT THANG?
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.

WHAT IS THIS THANG?
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.

NANOWRIMOS BEFORE.
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.

OH, NO. HE GETS AN IDEA.
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.

GETTING ON WITH IT.
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.

THE DREADED OUTLINE.
During the month, I used a tarot deck to lay out my plot, Each of the following got a tarot card and a scene:
1.Hook
2.Inciting Incident
3.Plot Point 1
4.Pinch 1
5.Midpoint
6.Pinch 2
7.Plot Point 2
8.Climax
9.Resolution
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.

SCHEDULE
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.

NANOWRIMO DAY UNO
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.

THE BEAT GOES ON.
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.

THE OUTLINE GIVETH, THE OUTLINE TAKETH AWAY.
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.

LESSONS
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.

SO WHAT’S NEXT?
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.