Killing Character: Writing Process

Killing characters in a story needs to be a random thing. As godlike as it seems, it isn’t. Unless it seems so, and then it is. Yes, killing something, is an senseless act, leaving me to wonder why I bothered to create them in the first place. A character is not flesh and blood. It’s just words, if even that.

To get to the point: Tragedy occurs at the midpoint of Anori, a spaceship crash, and a personal connection is needed to Dee. Initially, I made this Saarva, the sole Greenlandic character Dee had come to know. And then I realized the stupidity of that, to kill off my only decent Greenlandic character! It was lazy and a cliché.

More powerful and relevant was the death of Val, Dee’s closest friend. They were connected as individuals and character types. Losing Val is highly affecting. But what? How is that random? The death I need is of someone Dee knows. That’s it. And I thought of Nico, the founder of the enterprise. Why not that? Impactful for sure. And random. Calculatedly so.

Effective Montage: Writing Process

Effective montage moves the story with a series of poignant moments. One only has to think of the Rocky montage to appreciate the potential: Mr. Balboa going from drinking raw eggs to surmounting the steps of the Philadelphia Arts Museum in the final iconic shot.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Montage has become so commonplace that a more sophisticated approach is needed, perhaps with a gag and non-sequiturs or two; otherwise the audience gets bored.

Such is my current issue in Anori. Dee Sinclair spends a year aboard a ship, collecting animals from across the world with a group of biologists. The montage of eight locations – moving from Lisbon to the Galapagos – is there to emphasize the power of the expedition along with Dee’s isolation from others.

Lonely sea lion pup on Fernadina Island, Galapagos

Army escorts appear, pirates attack, and Dee observes oddly from a distance throughout, not because she isn’t affected by the dramatics but more so that she doesn’t feel connected to any of it. But does it work? I don’t know.

Only Half a Scene: Writing Process

I wanted a scene that demonstrated the military might of The Anori Project as Dee and the others collected animal specimens from around the world. And so I had a squad of soldiers save the scientists in Libya:

There were lights on the horizon, vehicles, and then a sudden pressure in her head, like she had descended thousands of feet, and then it reverberated out and was in the ground, dust rising up. She felt her knees buckle as she slumped against the wall. The militiamen moved quickly past her and inside the house.

Lt. Graham heaved Dee up by the bicep and pressed his boot onto Jamal’s neck.

“What is this?” Dee demanded.

“Fence has been breached,” Graham told Dee. “This one has a crew out there looking for something more.”

Jamal tilted his head, searching the street past the SUVs. “Where is this fence?”

“Magnets.” Graham opened the door of the middle SUV and pushed Dee and Robi in. “Payload secured.”

Regrettably it comes across as trite and requires far more exposition to work which interferes with the pacing of everything else. So it’s been left on the cutting room floor.

The Cx Trilogy: The Book That Will Get Humanity Back On Track

As crazed as it sounds, that my deep-down aim for The Cx Trilogy. I can feel like I am insane not because I am but because of the insanity to which I am subjected. And so it’s not a burden as a release knowing these things, getting them out of my head so that I can help us get on with it and make things as they should have been a long time ago.

Fallen Greek columns in Termessos, Turkey

Get one with what, you ask? Why, treating people like shit because they don’t have power. It’s that simple. And it’s something we should have figured out a while ago, the 9th century at least. (Fuck all those plague/dark age excuses.) Okay, maybe the 15th century. But the 21st?!? Come on! How many chances can we miss? Allowing Hitler on the scene and then Trump and all of the other fuckers in between? Huh? What? And now we think we are close to being on track for what? Acceptance? Understanding? For anything other than obliteration? That’s just dumb and weird.

Inflatable Christmas penguins at The Brooklyn Navy Yard

Anyway, the book, yes, that, getting humanity back on track. It’s actually about leaving this planet on an generational journey to a distant planet to start anew. And it’s got everything in it: sex, exotic cats, epic action and deep fucking thoughts. And I aim to have it out for you by the end of the year. (If we make it.)

Pandemic Accomplishments: Eleven Months In

A pandemic isn’t a bad thing for a writer – health assumed. The waiting and silence works well for honing character and narrative; at least that’s what I tell myself. And so, yes, I’ve done some writing, although not as much as I should have.

After a devastating experience with an editor, I am now halfway through a long, hard draft of Anori. Other projects – Baller, Wave That Flag & Mina – are simmering.

The blogging has been consistent not only in the number of posts (over 140) but in the content, finding focus on the writing process, especially my past writing attempts.

I’ve got new knees – and six months of PT under my belt along with some extra weight. (Is that an accomplishment?) I’ve read a number of books and seen many films of varying quality. And I got a job that will last until the summer.

The chilly yet picturesque setting of my present residence in Newport, Rhode Island.

Finally, I’ve reached Level 2564 of Fishdom, although that interest is waning at last.

The McPhedran Way – A Typical (Bad) Day in My Writing Process

6:30 am Play Fishdom and Words With Friends. No thoughts on writing.

8:30 am Play Fishdom. Read emails, watch YouTube videos and search for “inspiration” by porn surfing. A general malaise dominates thinking.

11:00 am Half think about writing but retreat from that, afraid to start.

12:30 pm Lunch. Watch random bits of film – anything from Battleship to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

2:00 pm Ride stationary bike and listen to intense music (Rage Against the Machine, Cheap Trick, Nine Inch Nails, etc.) in an attempt to get brain moving. Watch birds flying past, beds being changed in hotel rooms across the street and people working in adjoining business. Writing problems do not come to mind.

Entertaining things can occasionally be seen in Artezan Hotel.

3:00 pm Read more emails, watch more videos and porn. Snack.

4:30 pm Open the Anori document. Close it. Play Words with Friends and Fishdom.

8:00 pm Think about what I might do tomorrow

So it goes on a bad day. Which oddly enough can lead to a good day.

“Anori” Extract: A Father’s Death

I’ll tell you what I did when he died. Do you want to hear that misery? I took sleeping pills. I drank, like my father. I shut everything off. And then I was in Grand Central, waiting for the train. I had a beer. I was at the stand at Track 106. There’s a stand there. It’s called Bar Car. I had a can of Budweiser, a 16-ounce can.

I took that 16-ounce can to that old marble counter against the wall, with the brass railing, working guys talking about their wives and installers, checking their phones, and all of these people walking past, old men racing to catch their trains, little trolleys wheeled around with broken wheels, the tabloids arriving in stacks, the shoeshine girl staring out.

I had another beer, another 16-ounce can. I stood and watched. There was this crazed guy with a perfectly trimmed beard and then these lost ladies from Japan, a woman floating by, her portfolio tucked at her breast. I was completely still, drinking my beer. That was it, the moment I knew he wasn’t there. That’s when I understood, or I should say pretended to understand that he wasn’t coming back.

Writing Process: Too Much Talking

The writing process can be hard, especially in what is left behind. I had to remove another scene from Anori. The dialogue was strong but it didn’t move the story. And so…expunged.

The set-up: Dee has just arrived in Greenland (where the space ships are being launched) and has dinner with Val, one of the pilots, who confesses a dark moment from her past.

“Yeah, this, I don’t know, trapped in a prison from cradle to…what?” Dee laughed. “What do you die in?”

“Death bed, I guess.”

“Grave! Cradle to grave. Trapped in this existence.”

“Try not to think about it and then move on.”

“Better than thinking about being raped.”

Dee waited.

“It was someone I had known for years. The whole thing, I mean, the whole thing was such a nightmare. We were friends. He was laid back, a decent guy. And then, I don’t know, he just turned into this asshole Mr. Hyde.”

“He was drunk?”

Val shook her head violently like she was trying to not be drunk. “Everybody drank. I had too much. But not pass-out drunk, nothing like that. Just hanging out, relaxed. And then he was on me. He had me pinned, with my arm behind my back.” She half acted it out. “He was going to break my arm. I could feel it. He pushed me backward and tore my dress. He fucked me like that on the floor. I kept trying to move my arm but I couldn’t. he pushed down on that side of me like he had practiced it or something. It lasted two minutes, if that.”

Dee gripped her chopsticks tightly.

“He actually called me with this bullshit confession later, fucking crying on the phone. I don’t know why I listened. He wanted to stay friends. He kept saying that.” Val ground a chopstick into the wasabi. “I left my dress under the table in the living room floor. I came home and threw it there. I didn’t touch it. It sat balled up there for weeks. I couldn’t look at it. I would veer to the other side of the room when I walked through, all of that.”

“You don’t talk to people about any of this?” Dee asked.

“Why bother?”

Writing Process: Need to Pause

A pause is needed in writing. Otherwise it’s just going straight ahead with half things trundled out, the ride getting faster, the wheels getting wonky, leaning to the side and then the other, into an impossible turn which spins so tight that it becomes a centrifuge. And the reader has long since gone.

The writer needs to take a break and breath, step back to make sense of it, find what is working and what is not. Think about other things. And then, bang! Fewer conversations about assault and misery, and more things happening. Best to go with that.

Pandemic Accomplishments: Month Nine

Despite the recent excitement of vaccine and Trump’s repeated failures at the polls and courts, the pandemic drags on. I learned to appreciate the term “Toxic Positivity” over these past days. As Uncle Joe says, a dark winter awaits, meaning that I have learned to reflect more regularly on the utter of pointlessness of this existence and, ipso facto, survived multiple waves of depression and despair.

Mouse blends back into his environment at the Bronx Zoo.

On a more concrete note, I had my bank account cleaned out by a fraudulent check and await the fire marshal’s clearance to helped my wife salvage what we can be from her office which was destroyed by fire.

The remains of Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, New York.

On a more positive note, I have applied for jobs in all five New York City boroughs as well as Paris, Helsinki, Lisbon, Lucerne, Lugano, Rome, Newport, Atlanta, Havana, Cayman Islands and Kathmandu. I have also rewritten the first 110 pages of Anori, with some satisfaction.

Eternal me

On a more moronic note, I have achieved Level 2234 of Fishdom and came, oh so close, to getting the Ghost Robot Fish.