FOUR CHARACTERS & VANILLA PUDDING

I’ve been working on a manuscript for nearly a year. It’s been a troubling experience and I don’t know why it’s proving so difficult although I have a couple of thoughts. One…it’s so different than anything I have ever written. I like light writing. Both previous books have been light with a just a pinch of serious seasoning. The one I’m trying to complete is precisely the opposite. Overall I’m happy but it is so dark in places that I sometimes don’t want to go there. I read the words but they don’t sound like me and although I think I did well I’m not comfortable with how it sounds. This is, I think, my second reason for having so much difficulty. I’m not me and a Snickers ain’t gonna help.

So, to take respite from my woeful endeavors, I opened up a few of my old starter files and discovered a whole new world, most of which I’d forgotten. The people that inhabit this place are just as new but they feel like old friends. The story-lines are interesting but undeveloped.

That’s where the four characters come in. They’re of the new but familiar kind of people and totally unrelated to my main writing project. They’re fresh and eager to be drawn out and I sense some gold just below the surface.

As I roughed out a bit of an introduction and an opening scene to this new project I found myself enjoying writing more than I have in months. It’s been almost a chore to sit at the keyboard as my lack of blog posting indicates. With each of these characters I can draw on my life’s experiences from my days in radio broadcasting to bookselling and everything in-between. I guess it goes back to writing what you know.

I’m not done with my current manuscript and it will be completed but I think it’s time for a vacation with four new friends that will let my imagination run wild.

I see a part of me in each of them and I’m anxious to throw them into situations that will bring out the best in them and hopefully serve up some old time philosophies and humor to boot. I’m intending this to be more like the first two books with different characters and perhaps a little mystery-solving thrown in to give them the stage.

A quick tease, which apparently I’m supposed to include in a blog, is vanilla pudding. It’s the first befuddlement of Ned, the personality I most identify with. He and I both feel that vanilla is the boring aunt of the pudding family, the smelly one you put up with because she’s rich and makes good cookies. It’s nice (and serves the purpose somewhat) but given their choice most people would move on to chocolate or butterscotch pudding. In the annals of dessert warfare vanilla is always the pudding left behind. Vanilla would say ‘You go on without me and save yourselves’ and the other puddings would go on without him and save themselves because vanilla was…well, vanilla.

Ah yes…there’s a certain comfort in writing about vanilla pudding.

NOO SHOOS/AULD FEATS

Shoe shopping is probably my least favorite activity. I’m a casual sneaker-type guy and in the old days my only decision was black or white. Now they have shoes for walking, running, climbing, gardening, cooking chili, washing dogs…but I have already digressed. That’s the problem with not writing a blog for months. I’ve been on a bit of a sabbatical although I’m not really sure why. Life is good, cluttered and confusing but good. Maybe I just needed to step back and appreciate the clutter and confusion. That’s as good an excuse as any I suppose. Yup…I’ll go with that.

Back to my shoes. When I needed to replace my usually beaten-to-a-pulp footwear I’d go and stand in front of the racks hoping that a pair would jump out at me (yes they have jumping shoes too). The type of shoe that has never jumped out at me is the kind I bought a few weeks ago. Whenever I saw this style I used to think ‘oh, old guy shoes’ and passed them over but this time I thought ‘gee, they’re neat’ and bought them. The fact that I thought they were ‘neat’ kind of spells out where I’m going with this.

I bought ‘old guy’ shoes because I’m ringing the doorbell on 70 Sunset Lane. I’m an old guy.

I still don’t put a lot of stock in age although lately it’s been on my mind a little more. The underlying theme of ‘White Wolf Moon’ was a man trying to rekindle his youth on the premise that within his sixty-plus body lived every age from birth until now. I still believe that’s true although some of my teen years have thankfully found a good hiding spot (down by my spleen I think…but I shan’t go looking). It’s all about attitude. ‘You’re as young as you feel’ comes to mind but it’s more than that.

Physically there’s no going back. Too much water under the bridge or, in my case, beer under the belt. Lines of life, scars of experience, and pounds of Papa burgers gift wrap the essence of my being.

Mentally, however, one can take a break and look at life the way one looked at life ‘back then’. It’s not all that difficult but it’s also a bit of an education. Remembering times before computers and zillion channel television packages can be both funny and frightening but with the right outlook you can put things into perspective. Looking at today through the same eyes I had as a twenty-year-old I realize I haven’t really changed but everything around me has. Technology is a long, straight endless highway but life is a traffic circle.

The most damning evidence of my circle? Yup…the shoes.

At twenty I wore moccasins a lot. Leather moccasins laced together with a bow on top.

What goes around….

Mike Grant has two published books: White Wolf Moon and Barking at Yesterday’s Moon. Both available on Amazon.

 

COMFORT ZONE….

“Barking at Yesterday’s Moon” is online. Another chapter in my writing life has closed and it’s time to start anew. While there is still a lot of work to do with getting some exposure and working a bit of marketing I can’t bring myself to not have a Word document open. I have to be working on something and my read-through of the Kindle version of “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon” provided me with another storyline. It involves some of the ‘walk-on’ characters from one of the scenes.

Being ‘walk-ons’ in no way diminished their importance to the storyline. The roles they played, while not central figures, provided insight into the main characters and created some interesting scenes. One character in particular made his appearance early in the book, created a little havoc then disappeared. The more I thought about this man the more I realized there is a story behind who and what he is and how he got there. I decided to flesh out his story and it came surprisingly easy.

Unless you have read “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon” the name Fergus Lloyd would mean nothing. If you have read it then you already have an opinion of Fergus and what he is all about. As in reality and with real people an opinion based on first impression is often wrong. The well-spoken, well-dressed banker might have some questionable material on his computer and that street person might have a heart of gold. You just never know what’s behind their public faces. Fergus wasn’t always the Fergus that confronted Evan and exploring his life has provided some interesting research and excitingly addictive writing.

From the outset of the first draft I had to expand my comfort zone. I prefer to write light and with a sometimes questionable sense of humor and while there are some lighter moments in this story there is also an underlying darkness. This was a challenge for me and a welcome brain-teaser. Then came the scene that I believed would be the pivotal point of the story. Without getting into detail the young boy discovers something horrific in the woods and all his childhood nightmares come back and…never mind. I’ve already said too much.

Suffice to say that this scene completely ripped me out of my comfort zone and threw me headfirst into the horror/psychological terror genre, one that I’ve never explored. Blood, gore, and childhood nightmares wreak havoc with my usual style of writing and way of thinking. After I wrote it I would wake at night and think about it. Each time I rehashed it in my mind I became less impressed. It sounded forced, manipulative, and not at all like me. A week later I wrote an alternate scene where someone else stumbles on the terror and relays it second hand in a more sterile manner. I was more at ease with the revision and I sentenced the original storyline to life in my ‘not used’ folder and continued writing.

One of the elements of writing a story based on a previously introduced character is maintaining continuity with the original. That wasn’t all that difficult in this case but as the new story progressed I realized that I was missing something. The emotional development (or destruction) of this character wasn’t strong enough to result in the character traits featured in “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon”. The crisis, real or imagined, that set him on my created path hadn’t occurred. I opened up my ‘not used’ file, read the original scene and knew that it had to be included. I also learned the value of putting something aside and revisiting it later. I actually like what I wrote back then and with a little work it will become that pivotal scene. It just goes to show the value of never throwing anything away.

On a side note: My age is showing…I welcomed my seventh grandchild into this world on September 3, 2015. Mum and son are doing well.

Shameless self-promotion side note: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0143ZI4W8?ref_=pe_1724030_132998070

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AT LAST A STEP FORWARD…

Finally the proofing print-outs for “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon” are done. After nearly two weeks of re-formatting, rewriting, and tweaking it’s ready for that annoying hard-copy proofing that always seems to uncover a multitude of little things that for whatever reason don’t show up on the computer screen!03

It has taken far longer to get to this stage than I anticipated. It seems that every week I tell everybody that I’ve got it together and then I run into more setbacks and more delays. Originally I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel to “White Wolf Moon” but, according to readers, I left many answered questions. They wanted to know more about wolf-dogs or the relationships between some of the characters. ‘Okay’, I thought, this should be easy. I had a lot of material left over from the first book…I’ll just put it into a second. I didn’t realize how little I’d held back. There wasn’t really enough for a short story let alone a follow-up novel. It ended up being more of the same and actually a little boring as far as I was concerned. I wanted to add a little excitement so I introduced some new characters that ended up creating a little mild gunplay, fisticuffs and…I’ve already revealed too much. I’ve opened up the characters, showing different sides of the human and non-human inhabitants of my little world. I’ve explored and hopefully answered all the questions of those people who enjoyed “White Wolf Moon” and done it while maintaining the original light-hearted style.

I was happy with what I had done all those months ago. Then I read it from the beginning to…about page twelve. If I had not read or been familiar with the first book I would have no idea what was going on. I hadn’t really introduced the characters and I had referenced many things that happened in the original story that simply wouldn’t make sense to someone reading “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon” as a stand-alone. That is why it has taken so long. It seems every time I read it I find something else that should be clarified or even deleted. I have restarted this long journey countless times and I’m still not sure it’s over. I’ve realized that writing a sequel is tougher than starting anew with different characters and a fresh story-line. This is opposite to what I had originally thought.

One more thing that I’ve noticed. This sequel is now finished and, with no intention of making this a trilogy, I find my world seems a little empty now. I sense withdrawal anxiety after only three days of not having Evan, Danny, Marie or Ginn gracing my laptop. I am going to miss them.

“Barking at Yesterday’s Moon” is now in new hands and will be read by a different set of eyes. I can’t help but be a little nervous about this stage but it’s also exciting. What will come of this critique…I don’t know. Perhaps all will be well…perhaps there will be additional tweaking. Either way it is a step forward.

The next step is the process of learning how to become an independent author.

I suspect that’s where the real work will begin.

BARKING AT YESTERDAY’S MOON

We all do it. In moments of quiet reflection our thoughts drift to a time when life wasn’t quite so complicated and we were younger. It doesn’t take much to rekindle the flame. An old song or perhaps something as subtle as a scent can send the mind wandering. Sometimes it’s just a flash thought, an image of someone we used to know. They appear in our mind then just as quickly disappear leaving us to wonder “whatever became of…”. Our wondering returns us to that place so long away and so far ago. We can visit and view through rose-colored specs but that’s about all. We can wonder “what if” until the proverbial cows come home but we can’t do anything about it. Besides “what is” will trump “what if” all life long and with all its ups and downs “what is” is always going to be what will be.

“The sooner we realize that life isn’t perfect…that everything isn’t going to magically fall into place after we get all those ducks in a row the better off we are. Every step we take in life has its own trials and tribulations. When we’ve finally sorted them through we take that next step and…more scattered ducks.”

The above is a quote from the sequel to “White Wolf Moon”, a sequel that finally has a title and a rough cover design:

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Like “White Wolf Moon” the title for the sequel jumped out at me while reading something I had already written. I’d included the line in a conversation between two of the characters months ago:

Danny put his hands behind his head, stretched his legs over Ginn and stared into the darkness. “You remember when we used to do this up at the ranch?”

“No more Danny, I’ve wasted far too much time barking at yesterday’s moon.”

“That sounds like the start of a great lyric.”

“It does doesn’t it?” Evan took a deliberate, thoughtful draw on the pipe then let the smoke drift lazily from his lips. “Although I think Ozzy might have something to say about it.”

As soon as I read that line I knew it suited the overall content perfectly. It encompasses the ‘feel’ of the story as Evan visits old thoughts and dreams emotionally as well as old neighborhoods and environments physically. The “moon” reference in both titles ties them together and the cover uses the same photograph minus the blue tint that I used on White Wolf Moon. Perfect for a sequel!

There’s also an inherent problem with writing a sequel. For those who have read “White Wolf Moon” there is little need to introduce the characters or their past/current relationships or adventures. These readers would accept references to the first book without confusion but I also have to be mindful that there might be people who assume that “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon” could be a stand-alone. This has been one of the major stumbling blocks as I have had to make many minor changes to ensure that all these references are explained without being repetitive to those who have read the first book.

“Barking at Yesterday’s Moon” wraps up the stories of the characters and ties up a few loose ends but it’s also more fictional than the semi-biographical “White Wolf Moon”. From a rifle-toting backwoods adversary to a light brush with the Edmonton City Police Service, Evan gets himself into a few escapades that were not part of my life. What “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon” does is answer the questions that readers of “White Wolf Moon” have asked me. They wanted to know more about Ginn, the white wolf-cross and her relationship with Evan. They wanted to get to know different characters better and to explore the friendship between Danny and Evan. I believe I have now answered all of their questions.

With all the changes I have had to make recently I am still a little behind but I’m nearly ready to run some hard copies to distribute to a few people that I trust to be upfront and honest about what I have written. Their opinions and critique will be the final step before publication.

Then the adventure begins.

TIME TRAVEL & TRUTHS

“No…I wouldn’t want to go back. You can’t change just one thing, it’s all intertwined…one thing causes another and so on. Take away that first thing and a whole branch of your life tree could disappear and who knows where I’d have ended up. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking with you if I could’ve gone back and changed something.”

So says Danny in a deleted scene from my current manuscript. It is the obvious theory of time travel and actually makes a lot of sense.

Time travel is easy when writing a manuscript but the same theory applies. When I began this story I decided to keep writing as the ideas flowed and I’d go back and organize it later. At one point I was reading what I had written and decided one scene would work better in a later part of the story so I used a bit of fictional time travel and relocated it. It was only during what I hoped would be my final read-through that I realized what I had done.

As this is a sequel to “White Wolf Moon” I have to keep in mind the people that might not have read the original story so all the little “in” references have to be introduced. One of the major references was to the place that all the characters gathered on weekends simply called “The Ranch”. Using internal narrative I had Evan (the main character) reminisce about the pioneer property with an introductory description of the geography and the activities they had experienced back in the 60s. That narrative (and a few other mentions) was in the scene that I had moved. Anyone who hadn’t read “White Wolf Moon” would have had no idea what the characters were talking about in the current manuscript.

Another flaw in the time travel was a new character calling an original character by her first name. Their introduction was also in the scene that I had moved so there was no way he would have known this woman’s name as he hadn’t met her yet. That might work for a psychological horror story but not in mine.

Lack of continuity aside I’m surprised at the number of little things I’m finding that need to be tweaked or totally redone. It tends to make me wonder what kind of head space I was in when I wrote it.

Another topic, still in keeping with the fictional flow of this blog…truth on the internet. If I’m to believe everything I’ve read then Shania Twain has died not once but twice over the past few years; Michelle Obama is really a man; Sandy Hook was a Government plot to outlaw assault-type weapons (no children were harmed apparently, they were just “actors”); Malaysia Flight 370 was hijacked by ISIS and is buried in the sand in Syria awaiting another 911 fiasco; President Obama doesn’t know what a cattle guard is, and of course the re-occurring chestnut…Paul is dead.

What got me started on this was a post to a BC Wolf Hunt petition by a man named Bill Schoel whom I don’t mind mentioning because I apparently embarrassed him into hiding. He claimed that a “friend” of his had his dog killed by a pack of wolves that frequent downtown Kamloops, British Columbia. I’m not sure why he chose to name Kamloops as the setting for this piece of fiction but I’m glad he did. I have lived in the city for many years now and I don’t recall any wolf sightings…bears and cougars yes, but no wolves. I’m pretty sure a wolf pack patrolling downtown would make the news. I took him to task and he withdrew into wherever people like that go but not before he had multiple “likes” and confirming comments about his post. It is those people I question. Do they not check out these comments to ascertain the validity before jumping on the Fool Express? I find it amazing that in this easily accessed information age so many people are so misinformed. Perhaps they’re just lazy and would rather mindlessly buy into the flavor of the day than expend what minimal energy it takes to check the facts. Bill should have googled his ludicrous story prior to writing his comment and he wouldn’t look like an idiot trying to spread something that wasn’t true.

One comment I received was questioning whether I thought I was smarter than the rest of the world. My response was “It has nothing to do with being “smarter” it’s simply using your head and presenting verifiable facts (preferably with links). You don’t have to be a genius…just someone who wants to do a little digging and get it right before you comment.”

Alas I fear it’s easier to look the fool.

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BIRTHDAY

As of February 26 I am 24,820 days old…or about 595,680 hours if you prefer. That’s approximately 35,740,800 minutes or 2,144,448,000 seconds. Suddenly 68 years doesn’t seem so bad. My heart has beaten 3,800,000,000 times (give or take a million or two) and I`ve inhaled/exhaled roughly 714,816,000 times. No wonder I’m tired.

I touch on age often in my books. In White Wolf Moon Evan is explaining to Jenn how the years don’t disappear…they remain inside you:

“Sure I’m physically sixty.” He touched his chest. “But in here it doesn’t count for much. When I turned sixty, fifty-nine didn’t disappear. It’ll always be part of who I am. Every year I’ve lived is buried somewhere in this battered old body which means I’m still fifty-nine, and forty and thirty and twenty…”

Yes that svelte and dapper young man still abides in some secret hidden part of this old body. Occasionally he manages to crawl up and out but he finds that the landscape has changed. The lines and weight that 68 years have wrought is alien terrain. Jeans that once required that fashionable Carnaby Street belt now hang in there without any support whatsoever. There’s nothing in the world that can bring back the percentage of human dignity surrendered when your wife tells you to tuck it in and you’ve already tucked. Time is a cruel master.

In the sequel to White Wolf Moon I describe it this way:

Evan leaned against the bathroom sink, listening as the mirror told his tale. The problem is that mirrors don’t write fiction. He could easily forgive the mirror a smidgeon of artistic license; perhaps a little fib or two, even an outright lie…but mirrors don’t do fiction. He stared silently into the realization that the disheveled sixty-something creature staring back at him was indeed sixty-something. His eyes were dark, the laugh-lines of yesterday were annoyingly apparent today, and his hair had become most unreliable. He ran his fingers through the grey shock, placed it carefully then softly sighed as it slipped back down over his forehead.

“Nowadays when I wake up feeling like crap,” he said, “I stare into the mirror and I look like crap. In the old days it didn’t matter how I felt I at least looked good. Sure, I can psyche myself up…tell myself I’m feeling great and do a little yahoo dance on the way to the bathroom but the mirror always shows and tells. It could lie but does it? Oh no…whatcha see is whatcha get Morris. Damn mirrors.”

And he explains it to his wife Marie this way:

“It took sixty years to get this way and it’ll take sixty more to fix it. Hardly seems worth the effort.”

A lot has happened in the last 6.8 decades and I was there. More importantly I paid attention. Through simple osmosis I’ve sucked up a wealth of seemingly unimportant trivia, from housecleaning to simple mechanics to…whatever. I suppose that makes me wise in an offhanded kind of way…the senior. The last time I held this title I was in high school and I really wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t ask to be a senior…it just sort of happened. All of a sudden I had this responsibility to set a good example for all those junior kids, some of which were older than I but obviously not wiser.

That’s how you get to be a senior in high school. Passing. That’s all there is to it. All you have to do to be a senior in life is survive. It’s pretty simple actually.

There’s only one problem with this system of seniority by age. For every wise village elder there is a village idiot. Through the simple act of survival the village idiot could eventually become the village elder. Throughout history many societies have fallen due to an old village idiot.

But I digress and I’m running out of space.

I don’t have a problem with being nearly 10 in dog years, in fact I don’t normally think about it. I can watch quiz shows and answer the history questions not because I studied but because I was there when these things were happening. I’ve gone from one channel on a fuzzy b&w television to a kazillion choices on a big flat screen. I’ve been to drive-in movies perched in the bed of a pickup truck and I’ve watched some of the same movies on Blue Ray whilst parked on my couch. I’ve marveled at so many changes over the years with a sense of wonderment and appreciation that people born in the past twenty years can’t understand. They’ve grown up with the technology and gadgets designed to make life easier. They have no idea what it’s like to head out to the pump to bring in a bucket of water and heat it on the wood stove to take a bath. Times have changed and will forever change but the learning stays the same. Not just book learning but good old fashioned life learning. It’s that basic knowledge and common sense that surrounds us all but so few seem to grasp yet, according to Evan in the sequel to White Wolf Moon, it really isn’t all that difficult:

“It’s no big secret…just pay attention. Eyes, ears, and mind open…mouth shut. Nobody ever learned anything by talking.” Evan squinted and shook his index finger at her. “Listening…that’s the teacher.”

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