NaNoWriMo: One Week (and two days) Later

Technically, Sunday was the one-week-in point for NaNoWriMo, but I was busy, tired, et cetera. Then Monday I was at work all day for a mind-numbing six hours of computer training modules in which I learned all the OSHA nonsense that doesn’t apply to me at all, all the dos and don’ts of selling alcohol and tobacco – which I won’t be doing at all because Electronics is simply not allowed to ring those up, and a depressing amount of propaganda regarding the company’s history and Corporate Jesus of choice.

Seriously. I don’t care who you are. The owner-operator of a chain of grocery stores is not equivalent to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Nor is it OK to put his color picture next to their black and white ones as though he is actually better and more prominent. Good company it may be, but pioneering the “super-center” concept is not on the same level as outlawing slavery and fighting for human rights.

Nor did I miss that puerile attempt to liken him to King Solomon in that insipid little “quotable quotes” book full of “his” sayings (seriously generic nonsense spouted by everyone who ever owned a company in American history) interspersed with Proverbs.

That idiocy might work on your normal drink-the-Koolaid employees, but I’m a writer, goddammit! I see through your bullshit.

Fuck.

Anyway. I made good headway on the sequel in the first week as I massively re-wrote the handful of chapters I had written just after finishing the first novel and then started in on the new stuff, and my first week word count puts me at 21, 217 words into what will probably wind up about 90-100,000 words for the second of two Unknown books.

While it has been suggested I might finish and decide to go make it a trilogy, I probably won’t. I always had a plan for two books about this guy and the truth of it is that he’s just not a character built for a long-haul. I suppose at best I could put down a prequel series of short stories about his life before even the first novel, but that wouldn’t make it a trilogy either.

So why two?

I like even numbers. I like dualism and balance. I like to tear a character down to nothing and build them back up again. I’m too lazy to plot an enormous series, or my brain just prefers not to dwell on the same story for too long. Take your pick. Whatever it is, there are too many reasons to really lay out. I’ve just always had this plan and this feeling that his was a two-book tale of sacrifice and redemption.

There’s surely a bit of the pulp in the Unknown, of course, and I know he’ll pop up from time to time in short stories (have two with him so far) or take on a new form as I reach further and further into the deep-time plotting of his world in general, but the story of the man himself isn’t nearly as grand as the mythos that grows up around him.

Isn’t that always the case?

So, here I sit on my day off between yesterday’s grueling exercise in bullshit-tolerance and tomorrow’s fun-filled sojourn into “register training” that promises to drive the stake a little deeper into my soul, staring at a blank line and wondering where we’re going next.

I probably won’t churn out another 21k in the next week, because working is going to severely cut into my prime writing hours (after tomorrow I go on 6pm-2am through the holidays), but I’m sure the Unknown and I can blow that 50k NaNoWriMo goal out of the water anyway.

He’s a wordy son of a bitch, and I just listen and write it all down.

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NaNoWriMo and The Unknown

We’re up to day three of NaNoWriMo now, and I’ve spent most of the time editing the handful of of chapters I already had done for the sequel to my first, yet-unpublished novel. I knew at the time that I was writing these chapters I’d have to redo a lot of it, and that’s holding quite true. The basic story is there, but I was struggling a lot  with how to reconcile the sweeping changes between books one and two and how that’d affect how my characters moved forward.

As of this post, I’ve finished the prologue and first two chapters to the tune of just over 13,000 words. I have one more complete chapter to rewrite, and then it’s on to the all-new stuff. NaNo’s goal is a 50,000 word count by the end of the month, and since my first book is over 95,000 and I wrote 56,000 of those in six days in March, I feel confident I’ll blow their count goal out of the water and more than make up for the fact I’d already written a few chapters.

In addition to the second book, though, I’m also going over my first one and making the revisions that I’ve been claiming I’d get around to since July. I’m trying to get as much of that done in the NaNo month as I can.

In regular-jack-off-life news, I got a job selling electronics at the Meijer location a couple blocks from home, and orientation starts Thursday afternoon. With that in mind, I’m trying to get as much done for NaNo as I can in the next few days since I’m not sure how my new schedule will affect my writing time.

Anyway, I thought in lieu of a ranting post about nothing I’d take a little time to define what it is I’m writing. I tend to speak around the subject of “THE NOVEL” in terms of what I’m not doing with it or how I got an idea for something in it, but haven’t really done much to give a look at the actual thing itself.

I started with a simple idea. An image, really. I saw in my mind a man who had a featureless white helmet that covered his face and sometimes shone with its own light source. He wore black, as all good vigilante crime-fighters do, but instead of a cape he wore a long trench coat with a hood he could pull up to hide his “face” if he wanted to go unnoticed.

He didn’t have a name, he didn’t have a gimmick. He didn’t even really have a history or a face or a defined age. I didn’t know if he was black, white, Asian, Mexican, or a green man from Mars. It didn’t matter. Over time, he defined himself as I wrote, to the point that by the end of the first book I felt he was a pretty well fleshed-out entity to himself. A little rough around the edges, with a few gaps, but mostly intact.

But in August of 2008, all I had was that image and a scene in mind. I knew it was a dark and stormy night –  because that’s how these things always play out – and I knew he had a job to do in a burnt-out shell of a church. That church was real to me. I’d driven by it every day for two years since some idiot put the torch to it claiming to be a Satanist, and though it was in the stages of rebuilding by the time I got around to writing the story I always rather liked the decrepit shell it had become and imagined what it’d be like if the area were a little rougher, a little more plagued by crime and homelessness, and a little less quick to rebuild its churches.

So, I wrote what I had, and it took over for itself. I put the first version of what I intended to have as nothing more than a fun short story I might do something with later down in about an hour.

Then I sat on it.

Then the laptop I’d written it on died its final, agonizing death, and I lost that copy of the story entirely. However, since I tend to remember just about everything I write down once, I wrote the whole story out again. This time in longhand with a pen and a legal pad. It had changed very little, and all the key elements and actions were still in place. I got a little more detail going, and by the time I finished writing it out I had another idea in mind for the character and how to use him again.

I thought, maybe, I’d use what I’d written as a script for a graphic novel or something, but by this point I was still very much just writing for the sake of writing. Then I kept writing, and I delved a little bit into topics like public domain super heroes from the 30s and 40s I could get away with using pieces of or updating, and though none of those made it in whole-cloth, the research was valuable for helping me make some decisions where I wanted to go. So too did I spend hours upon hours re-reading the myths and legends I’d enjoyed so much as a teen so I could refresh myself on details and find ways to merge mythic themes into this strange, gritty noir feel I was aiming for in the writing of the thing.

To that end, and my general dislike of trying to pigeonhole any one story into one of the woefully inadequate descriptors we call “genre” these days, I’ve applied my own “genre” to the effort as displayed on my NaNoWriMo page: Mythic Noir.

Before long, I’d done twelve chapters at just shy of 50,000 words and had what I thought was a good story going. It turned from a lone vigilante operating in a world without anyone else of his kind into an epic tale of a man struggling to cope with the sudden rise and proliferation of post-human entities and the question of why and how they had come to be.

But I let it slide. I hit a wall and instead of bashing through it I backed away from it, and the longer I went without trying it, the easier it got to just leave it laying. I focused instead on my RP work with PotP, and occasionally toyed with a short story here and there for my own amusement, and even spent some time trying to plot out the course of thousands of years after the novel’s own timeline to see where it was going and what else I could do.

I am, after all, a fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and the way everything King wrote had something to do with The Dark Tower. Even in the most tangential sort of way. I wanted to do that with The Unknown. To send ripples from one man’s life and struggles through hundreds or thousands of years of history. I figured it was doable, but I had to be able to finish the book first.

Now that I have, though, I find myself needing to finish the second book too. I have a lot of short stories to tie into it later at all sorts of levels in the grand timeline, but I need to know how the Unknown’s story really ends. For that, I’ve always planned two books.

That’s what my NaNoWriMo project is about; finishing the story and moving on. One way or the other, his story will be finished. Though he might live on in the pages of short stories and side stories here and there in the way no pulp character really ceases to stay active, I’m planning (or maybe hoping) that this second book will be the final stage of laying the ground floor for whatever I do from here on out.

Before we get to that, though, I wanted to share a look at how it started. At the bottom of this post you’ll find a link to a separate page I’ve uploaded the entire Prologue to. You’ll notice right away it reads a little funny because I’ve taken it upon myself to experiment a bit with tense shifts. The prologue itself is written entirely in First Person Present, which I signify throughout the novel in italics as a way to mark certain events as action sequences of a more urgent feel than the First Person Past narrative allows.

Throughout, I jump between the two where it makes sense (though to some of my proofreaders it didn’t in some places and I’m working to fix the delineation between what “deserves” to be in what tense), and hopefully by the end of this preview folks will see why I do so. I felt it was simply a good way to get into the character’s head a little more thoroughly. I want you to decide for yourself who this man is and whether he’s in the right or not, and to do that you need to see him like I do.

Anyway, here ya go. Enjoy:

The Nameless Unknown: Prologue