Sunday, October 8, 2017

Heading for the John Day Fossil Beds.

Taking my long delayed research field trip to the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument.

I fantasize about walking in and saying, "Hey, what would you do if someone came in and took over the place?"

I see the park ranger hitting the panic button.

"Hey, if you don't mind saying, how many people work here and where do you sleep?"

Park ranger backs away, signals to coworkers.

"Do you guys have security measures?"

Cops flood the place.  "Up against the wall, motherfucker!"

"But I'm a WRITER!"

I wrote the book based on my visit a couple of years ago, and while I don't believe it's necessary to be accurate in every detail, it wouldn't hurt to add a few descriptive details and soak up the atmosphere and surroundings.

Walked into the visitor center, notebook in hand, looking for my pen. That turned into an easy entry into the topic of my book. So much for being coy.

The "interpretive ranger" at the counter was friendly at first, but when I explained more about my story she got a little antsy. She turned me over the the "chief paleontologist" who was very chatty. He quickly answered my questions. Probably was, I hadn't thought of enough questions in advance, so I let him talk and tried to learn details that way.

Then they let me wander around with my notebook, drawing maps and diagrams of the place and taking notes.

An extremely fruitful session. Probably won't change much in the book. I'd guessed correctly about a lot, but this nailed down some of the details. It will make a nice grounding to the story. I got some of the correct terminology that should help add to the verisimilitude of the story.

The biggest difference between the book and the actual location was that the interpretive center is surrounded by hills. Not a lot of places to camp. There are some relative flat spots in front of the place, that will have to do. I figure the barricade will be set up in front of the Cant House which is across and diagonal from the center.

Not an unworkable problem.

I decided to visit the Clarno unit of the monument and oh, boy. I didn't realize it would take me an hour and a half out of the way on very, very winding roads. Which wouldn't have been so bad if I'd started the day a couple hours sooner, but the last two hours of the drive were in the dark, so didn't even get to see the wonderful scenery.

Six hours on the road. But what fun. Eastern Oregon really is a marvel. 


Dave Cline said...

And you don't feel like this is like building a house, and then stepping back, going, "Hmm, it could have used a couple more bedrooms rather than five baths and two breakfast nooks. And, I wish I'd have given it a southern exposure for the winter sun, and maybe moved it further off the hilltop, because, northern winds." -- "I guess I'll get on to rebuilding and moving it now..."


Duncan McGeary said...

It's a good analogy. I can't argue with it.


Duncan McGeary said...

I'd build a new house.

This is more like changing the paint color, or adding a carpet, that kind of think. Nothing that takes away from the structural integrity of the house.

It's better than saying, "I'm not building this house until it's perfect. It picture window faces the sunris in the morning and the sunset at night. The master bedroom is on the top floor so I can get a view and on the bottom floor so I can watch the kids. The kitchen needs to be open to the living room. And I want a dining room in-between.

Good luck with getting that perfect house.

Dave Cline said...

Yes, you and I are at odds on this, but I think we've got more common ground that it might appear.

"I want to build a south facing, four bedroom, three bath home on a hill."

As my Theme, "I" would like it to be a modern passive solar home, with both living and kitchen facing south. That's something I'll have in mind before I build it.

For your Theme, "You" might want a ranch or modern gabled home with a four car garage. But, again, you'd know this before you started.

Where we put our bedrooms, our baths, and such I would leave to creative license. Same for the color, windows, decoration, landscaping, etc.

But the big pieces, the general look and feel and "statement" that it might make are generally known up front.

I don't have to have the thing designed to the nines to start. But, having written so much software and knowing that systemic changes, made in the middle of a project, never turn out well, a plan, of some sort, is a must.

Duncan McGeary said...

It's a solid analogy, except that it isn't building houses, it's creating art. Art can be changed. Art can be improved. You aren't going to think of everything in advance. I repeat-- You Aren't Going To Think Of Everything In Advance.

That's what rewriting is. It is mental, not physical.

A book has so many more parts. You won't--you can't possibly--know all the parts of it before you start. You want to be flexible, if a character does something unexpected or an event sends it off in a different direction.

For me, I discover the story by telling. I can stare at a blank page all day long trying to think of everything the book will entail, but in reality, I get a scene in my head, a general idea of where the story is going, and I start writing and that leads to the next scene and the next.

I've fully plotted one book. I researched it for months, with copious notes. I never wrote it. There are lots of "how to" book that will diagram a book for you. That to me is the equivalent of coloring between the lines, not true self-expression or art.

I've never written a book where I wasn't quite a ways in before I realized I could have done it differently.

But here's the thing. I never would have come to that realization without writing in the first place. I would NEVER have thought of it in advance.

For me, I can add and I can subtract, and I can do change the writing and the surface details. I can add a room or subtract a room, but I can't change the size of a room that's already been written.

So it's more like a fully functional house where I add a backroom, or I knock out or add a wall.

What happens when I get that sort of realization is one of three things.

1.) I set the book aside.

2.) I try to fix the problem, and if I do then great, if I don't...I set the book aside.

3.) The book is pretty damn good without the change, so I publish anyway.

But thinking you're going to get through a book without making substantial changes...well, like I said, good luck with that.

Duncan McGeary said...

Maybe I should go back 30 years, when I wrote seven books and quit.

I flailed around for years on my first book. My second book popped out of me (half formed, which it still is...) My third book didn't work at first, but I ended up crafting my best writing in my early career. I stuck with a bad book for too long on my fourth book, my fifth book was a little better but weak, and then I let my imagination go on my sixth book which made the rounds and ALMOST made it half a dozen times. Having rewritten the sixth book numerous times in response to editors, I decided my seventh book would be the way I wanted it, and it didn't work.

So...after all that work, I took a step back.

I had written myself into too many corners, was what I told myself.

I fully plotted out a book, then abandoned it.

I waited for the fully formed idea, the killer app, the plot that worked, the fully envisioned world.

And I waited...and I waited....and I waited....

25 years go by.

I finally have free time. My creative energy returns.

Here's what I did. I told myself I would write anything I wanted without filtering. I wouldn't say no to any idea. I wouldn't rewrite anything until I finished.

The first book didn't work. The second book didn't work. The third book was weak. (all unpublished.)

The fourth book, I thought I really had something, and the fifth book I thought I had something better.

I spent a couple of years writing without regards to what other people thought and I loved it.

I opened myself up to criticism, and that helped, and then to more criticism and rejection, and I worked through that, and then...well, it's gotten back to where I'm second guessing myself again. It's gotten messy.

I'm about to wall that off again--not worry about publishers, because I'm spending way too much time with that in my head.

Back to pure writing on my own.

Dave Cline said...

I understand.

Maybe what I'm theorizing about is, not so much a plan, but a skeleton, with the merest number of bones and a skull.

When Jeanne Rowling started she knew Harry was a wizard, would have to go to wizard school and have to fight some bad wizard who tried to kill him with the help of friends. All the other details she no doubt created along the way.

Tolkien knew that once the Ring of Power existed that it would need to be destroyed. Why and how and by whom? Had he thought about it - get the eagles to drop it into Mt. Doom -- there, done. Next. But that's no story.

Roald Dahl and the chocolate factory - find a kid to give the factory to, do some teaching along the way. And discover all the cool stuff in the factory while writing.

Hunger Games, send in a girl to fight and win a gladitorial battle in a dystopian future. But discover Snow and skills and compassion and bitterness.

I'm pretty sure these skeletons existed, with additional bones or tendons here and there, but they existed at the beginning. No doubt there's discovery along the way, and the path to the goal will meander. Giant spiders in the Hobbit? Beorn the Bear? Eleven swords? Probably all discovered along the way. But the way was a journey to a mountain and a treasure.

A skeleton. That's all I'm saying.

Duncan McGeary said...

Oh, I never start a book without the basic premise, a pretty good idea of the skeleton, and most often a vague idea of the ending. Nowadays, I try to decide on theme and how many characters I'll need, the tone, and all that.

Writing changes everything.

Or the premise simply doesn't work the way you thought it would.

My idea of "Takeover" was to have it parallel the real events at Malhuer, then ramp it up by having a murder, and then have some real bad guys come in and have a final shootout.

The problem was, the parallel events didn't have enough inherent drama to carry through until the murder.

So what I'm doing now is adding that little bit of spice to the mix.

But...what I find with changes is what seems like a simple change affects every other part of the book. I doubt you can write a book where that doesn't happen.

I'm just the idiot who details that struggle in public.

Duncan McGeary said...

In fact, that's very clarifying. It isn't so much that I didn't have both of my last two books planned, it's more that the execution of the original concept showed that it didn't work.

I wanted a chase book in Deadfall Ridge. If I could have had the chase happening in the first chapter, I would have. Probably should have in the second chapter.

Instead, I spent 50 pages setting it up.

Next thriller I write there will be no set up. It was start running and never stop.