Blood of the Tracks

Holy moly, has it been a week since I’ve posted?  Sorry gang.  I’m going to talk about a book, but in the effort of keeping this more natural and less stuffy, I’m not going to use the book format I’ve used in prior reviews.  Instead, it will just be a candid dump of thoughts on the book.

The book is called “Blood on the Tracks” by Barbara Nickless.  It’s the story of a railroad cop that’s putting her life together after her Marine tour in Iraq.  She’s constantly haunted by the ghosts of her past, and when a hobo known as “The Burned Man” is getting booked for killing a young woman the hero needs to face both her past and her present to try and solve the case.  Her companion on this journey is a faithful canine who served in the war with her.  The book was one of six options provided by Amazon for my prime membership.

At this point, I’d like to warn anybody that keeps reading that you will encounter spoilers.  None will be specific, but if you spent time thinking about them, you could reveal quite a bit.

Disclaimer complete.

The book is first person, so a lot of the prose is immediately not helpful to me.  My book is 3rd (indeed, most of my planned books are 3rd).  I’m trying to get some good 3rd person limited books (hint, if you know one, volunteer it!), because I’m trying to find the right balance in the writing of personality vs detached fact/narrative.

What this book did really, impressively well was its Red Herring.

As the hero digs into whodunnit, we get two possible threads:  One that ties into her backstory as a Marine, and one that ties into her backstory before/after her time in the Marines.  I won’t reveal which is the Herring and which is the Plot, but she does a great job playing with us.

She dances with both topics enough that either seem plausible.  However, as we begin to investigate one path, we start uncovering clues that really help settle that the Herring is in fact the Herring.  At that point, I expected Left Field to hit and we either get some third path all together, or we jump back to what we had dismissed as Herring.  Instead, she lets the Herring stay the Herring.  We pursue the Plot with gusto.

The Plot stays exciting and fresh, lots of things escalating and boiling to the surface… And just as we draw in for a breath of air, Herring comes looking for us!  The Herring is still a Herring, but now it’s a pissed off Herring that doesn’t take no for an answer.  Despite the fact that it’s a Herring against The Plot, it’s something we have to be alert for over the rest of the book.

At this point, we have what I’ll call the Wilson Moment.  I get the name from House, MD… One of the few TV shows that’s been on after 2005 that I’ve watched.  House is a doctor whose best friend is another doctor named Wilson.  The episodes all follow the almost exact same plot.  Somewhere around the 75% mark, House has a conversation with Wilson unrelated to the main plot  (We sometimes mix this up with other characters or his other patients, but Wilson is going to get the credit).  During that conversation, House has a revelation that lets him solve the case.

In Blood on the Tracks, our hero is recovering from some injuries and has a conversation with her Grandma about a topic that’s realistically unrelated, but told me immediately who was responsible.  Plot pushes on, suspicion confirmed…. But really, no hard feelings with the book/author.  And even after we finish the book, the Herring has created a perfect setup for Book 2 (or later).  I love how well this was executed, from introduction, to building tension, to herring, to severe side plot that keeps us tense the whole time.

All in all, a great read in exchange for my Amazon Prime membership.

Novel Word Count: 20,893

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Being Sentimental

I’m fleshing out my female protagonist now, giving her some additional wants and desires, hobbies and activities, etc.

She’s a bit sentimental.  Her mother and father are both gone (mother more recently and inexplicably vanished, but she was closer to her father who died several years prior)…   Events are taking place that cause her to reflect on them more, and that’s going to be a constant clip in her thoughts.

Being a dude, I have the emotional range of thimble comparatively, and even when I have those rare moments of heartache, I can’t recall them… So I turn to you all.

What would a princess in a (more or less) medieval setting be sentimental about?  What would remind her of her parents and make her miss them?

I know a lot of answers are dependent on so many things, but since this stage will mostly pass after the first 25% of the book, I’m pretty flexible on what I write in there.  I have included a quilt that her father got her when she was a small girl, childish in the patterns, but she has resisted every attempt to take it away as she’s gotten older.

Any other ideas?

Novel Word Count: 18536

Fantasy Books of the Decade

As I finish my scene outline and start to dive into the meat of writing, I’d like to take advantage of Stephen King’s second most important thing to do when you want to write (with #1 being “to write”):  Read more books… And not cliche and cerebral books on how to write (although I’ve read plenty of those and actually would still advocate reading them), but read the stuff you want to write…

Which brings me to the point of this:

You guys are my social network.  What authors/books can you recommend?  I grew up on Christopher Stascheff, Alan Dean Foster, Robert Aspirin, Anne McCaffrey, and Mercedes Lackey.  In my adult years, I’ve added in LE Modesitt Jr, George RR Martin, and Patrick Rothfuss.

If I’m looking for fantasy, who else should I be checking out?  I’m comfortable with Teen or Adult assuming it’s good.

Novel Word Count: 17,000

Scrivener vs yWriter, the Revenge

A while back I had set a goal of going through and mass updating all my old posts to try and take advantage of what I’ve learned over the years.  While I don’t anticipate that I will do that, I did want to take a moment and call out one that I have updated.

My most frequently hit page is my comparison of yWriter and Scrivener.  Both are great writing tools, and although I personally use Scrivener right now, I think either is an excellent choice.

Since this page is frequently hit, I thought I’d give it a few small updates to show individuals a true comparison of the tools, plus add some bullets into the descriptions that let users understand them better.

If you haven’t checked it out, feel free to click the link above and see for yourself how I stack up these two outstanding writing platforms.

Novel Word Count: 15,619

In Defense of Plotters – Scene Design

At this point, I’m about 1/3 of the way through fleshing out my scenes, and I felt the need to have a throw-down in defense of all the plotters out there (vs pantsers).

Opponents of plotting cite the following reason as the biggest reason not to plot:

Plotting takes away the ability to be spontaneous.

Or does it?

I’ve plotted out around 20 scenes at this point, and I have to say I’ve learned some pretty new things in the process.

  1. A character I thought I was cutting needs to come back… He is going to serve a really critical role now, and helps make one of the main characters far more richer and interesting.
  2. The majority of my story takes place within a single kingdom… But there is a character from another kingdom traveling along.  Her home kingdom now has an interesting superstition and cultural trend for young girls that I had no idea would have existed.
  3. A scene I had originally imagined inside a room suddenly finds itself set on a platform over water.

When plotting, I’m presented with puzzles to make the scene fresh, exciting, and compelling.  I want my readers to be drawn in, and that means creating threads that I can plan where and how they weave into the story.  However, some of those threads won’t be easy to tie in… In those cases, I get just as creative as any pantser, and all sorts of interesting things come out.

Plotting doesn’t destroy the capacity for creative input and spontaneity… It just ensures that as you find those things, you are going to have the benefit of not throwing away piles of words that no longer work because you’ve written yourself into a corner, or because a scene was so tangential to the story that it ends up being filler or a waste of time.

Let me know if you are plotter or pantser… If you plot, what’s been your experience with characters and events taking you unexpected places?

Novel Word Count: 14696