Friday, September 17, 2021

If Only It Would All Fit Together

 I'm late today because I had some day job tasks to do. Then I got distracted. I realized I couldn't remember all the details of a short story that I contributed to an anthology (Monkey Business: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers, edited by Josh Pachter). I went back to read it, and I was pleasantly surprised that I managed some low-key humor. I'm not known for being funny.

When I was searching my documents for the manuscript of the story, I came across some notes -- notes I'd made over the last two or three years about my historical thriller. I was delighted when I logged on intending to write about something else and saw that yesterday Donis had shared some notes from her writer's journal. 

My notes are on my computer and in the journal I keep on the bookshelf beside my bed and on scraps of papers and the backs of envelope. The notes on the computer are the most complete and I can understand what I intended. For example, these biographical notes about one of my main characters. The book is set in 1939:

Cullen Talbot

1. Where lives?

               A Southerner. Between Atlanta and Savannah on family plantation, mortgaged. Lives alone except for a servant or two. Has three families of white sharecroppers. Wants to bring place back to glory of his grandfather’s days before the Civil War.

2. Family background?

               Grandfather was colonel in Civil War. Lost an arm. Father was a doctor, married daughter of a neighbor. She died of influenza in 1918. Father shot by black man -- intervened in argument between man and his pregnant wife. Had a black nurse, then tutor, then sent to military academy, attended  University of Georgia – majored in agronomy and business.

3. How old is character?

               33 years old – born in June 1906. Twelve when mother died. Just back from college – 1929 – when father killed. The man who shot him was shot by sheriff.

4.  Origin of name?

               Cullen Talbot – British and German on his mother’s side. Her grandfather was a German immigrant.

               Cullen – puppy, young dog (Gaelic)

               Talbot – messenger of destruction (German/French)

5. What look like?

               5’10” – 175 lbs – blond hair, pale blue eyes – scar on chin from fall during teenage fight-- comment of boy about girl he liked – thinks of himself as chivalrous toward women – “gentle gentleman from Georgia”

6. What kind of childhood?

               Parents kind toward each other, considerate not passionate.

7. What does for living?

               Business – farming and mill

               Concerned about prices of crops – dealing with sharecroppers

8.  How deal with conflict?

               Touchy and quick to anger – just as quickly cools down

               Would prefer to use his wits rather than fists – take proactive verbal strike

9. Who else in life?

               Fraternity brothers, senator (mentor) and his daughter, her cousin 


This is all well and good -- except I still don't know if Cullen is an antagonist of Jacob Baldwin, my sleeping car porter protagonist, or a true villain. That's why I have four different versions of his backstory and much more on his motivation. The same is true for the other main characters, who include two women. 

My notes to myself vary -- depending on whether the story is set completely in 1939, or with a prologue in 1968, or with a parallel story set in 2020 during a murder investigation. That 2020 murder investigation would be conducted by the detectives from the two police procedural novels I have set in Albany, New York (alternate history). 

The note about 2020 was scrawled in my beside journal when I woke up in the middle of the night. It's either a brilliant idea and the solution to my problem with the pacing of a thriller that needs to stretch over an entire year -- or, it's a really bad idea.

It would be nice if I could work it all out in an outline - or even in the notes I keep writing to myself. But it seems I'm going to have to write the book and then strip away the 2020 plot if it doesn't do what I'm hoping. At best, it will at least break me out of my log-jam and allow me to keep moving. 

 Like Donis, I wish all the notes I keep writing to myself would come together as a solid plot with all the pieces falling into place. Alas, it isn't that easy.

 Happy weekend, everyone.


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