Well 3,000 words-per-month definitely seems to be my pattern of late! Actually, if I’m being honest, I was tracking well below that level until the end of the month, and when I realized it I redoubled my efforts just to be sure I made that mark. I guess 3,000 words unconsciously became a minimum standard for myself.
Also, I wouldn’t have had a chance of hitting that many words if not for a writer’s group that I am a part of. Each meeting we take an hour-and-a-half of uninterrupted writing to get out as many words for our novels as possible. I only attended one of these meetings for the month of September, but from that one session I got 1,200 words. Just by attending more of these (they occur on a weekly basis) I could get a lot more done each month.
For the past while I’ve been realizing that the greatest slow-down to my writing process is that I review each chapter after I finish writing it. I don’t get chapter polished to a perfect state, and there’s still going to be a lot of refactoring and revising to do later, but my work does become markedly improved from this editing-as-I-go approach. I think it is an important process, but it sure does put the brakes on my momentum.
I’m not sure what to do about that yet. I could push myself to edit each chapter for a set number of days only. I could try to be more sparse in smoothing out each rough spot. I could see if it is better to write out three whole chapters, and then edit them as a batch.
Perhaps I’ll implement some of those ideas this month, I’m still not sure. But I will be paying close attention to how things go once I get finished with Chapter 16. Come back on November 1st to hear how it went.
Before I head out, though, here’s a little snippet from my work this month. Enjoy!
An early chill crawls out of the earth that night and the family awakens to several patches of dew that have crystallized into frost.
“Is this a concern?” William asks Eleanor.
“No, not yet. We had a few cooler days last season as well, and none of them were a problem for our test crop.”
The wind picks up, and all of the family pull their blankets more tightly around their shoulders and lean closer to the fire.
“Well that’s a proper sea breeze, isn’t it?!” William exclaims.
“Yes, and a sea sky,” John observes the flat, gray canopy overhead.
“Well I think it’s quite refreshing myself,” Eleanor smiles. The wind picks up once more and she shrinks back into her blanket. “I’ve gotten so used to this hot and humid air that I don’t even notice it anymore. Nice to have a day that you can actually feel once in a while!”
“Well I prefer not feeling the day,” Clara shivers.
“Were you finished with your porridge?”
“Well then why don’t you and I start on our way. The walk will help thaw you out.”
“But then I won’t be in my blanket anymore.”
“I’d consider letting you keep it around you, but then you’d have to carry it back at the end of day.”
“I’ll carry it!”
“And it will be hot and stuffy this afternoon, and you won’t enjoy having to carry it then.”
“No, I’ll be alright. Thank you, mother.”
“I believe you mean ‘please, mother,'” William cocks an eyebrow.
Days Writing: 17 New Words: 3001 New Chapters: 0.75
Total Word-count: 53,133 Total Chapters: 14.75
August continued with the greater success that we saw in July. I’m not at the 6,000-words-per-month level that I was at the end of 2019, but I’m more than double the low point of 1,376 words in June.
Interestingly, I did 17 days of writing in August, a significant increase to July’s 10, but wrote nearly the exact same number of words. I don’t mind that my average performance each day was less, though I wouldn’t want that trend to continue down further.
The good news is that my family and I are officially done with the move! We’re still acclimating to our new surroundings and we’re still busy with unpacking boxes, but the main effort is over. Hopefully that means more time for writing, but honestly even if I maintain this baseline I will be content.
I had an interesting experience with writing this month when I wasn’t sure how to start a particular scene. After trying to find the “right answer” for a while and failing to do so, I just plowed ahead with the first idea that came to mind. I finished feeling that what I’d done was garbage, and that tomorrow I should just erase it and try again.
When I looked at it the next day, though, it was actually pretty decent. Really it was only the very last paragraph that I still had an issue with, which was probably what had put the bad taste in my mouth to begin with. So I kept everything else from before, only rewrote the last paragraph, and happily continued. It was a good lesson in not being afraid to let go of problem areas, but also to step away and look with fresh eyes for value that I might have missed in the heat of the moment.
Before I head out, here’s a little snippet from my work this month. Enjoy!
Across the island, John arrives back at the field, bringing with him the last bundle of sugarcane for William.
“Thank you,” William exclaims, hobbling over to take the sack from him. “Sorry again to make you come all the way down here. I think there’s still some porridge in the pot if you wanted to sit down a moment.”
“No, I had better get back to the workstation.”
“Of course. Well sorry again.”
John waves his hand dismissively, but he cannot help but consider that if it had been he who was bringing in the sugarcane yesterday, he surely would have found a way to bring in the full measure, even with a sprained ankle. Although, more likely, he probably wouldn’t have sprained his ankle to begin with.
“I admire your passion, son,” he says as soon as he is out of earshot, “it gives you vision and motivation. But sometimes you let it get you worked up, let it get you jittery, and then you make mistakes. Yes, I want to give you the fulfillment that I never had, but not at the expense of the grounded surety that I have had. I want it to be possible for you to dream and achieve, but also for you to be focused and deliberate. Otherwise you won’t have it better than me, just different. And I want you to have it better.”
Days Writing: 10 New Words: 3060 New Chapters: 0.7
Total Word-count: 50,146 Total Chapters: 14
With July I decided to do things a bit differently. I got rid of tracking partial days and full days, I got rid of minimum amount to work each day, and I just made it a simple commitment to do something on my novel every day.
And, for the first half of the month, things went quite well. I wasn’t getting every single day, but I was getting more than half, and I was on track to have my best month since January. Then, in the second half, I once again stopped working altogether.
I feel more okay with my lack of productivity for this month than I did for May or June. Things have been very strained these past few weeks, with us getting our house up on the market, preparing to move, and an intense deadline being thrust on my team at work.
It’s difficult to decide the balance of “just get something done, anything, no matter how chaotic the rest of the day has been” and “have some understanding, it’s okay to get less done during hectic days.”
But rather than dwell on what didn’t get done, I want to relish the first part of the month where I was really working on the story. It felt so good. I feel like my changes in how to approach the work removed all of the stress, and left the pure enjoyment of it instead. I’ve craved that these past couple weeks, and want to get right back to it.
So I’m going to keep that same format for August, and hopefully I’ll be able to find a little more time in the nooks and crannies of each day.
Before I head out, here’s a little snippet from my work this month. Enjoy!
“Oh look, there’s some new flowers over there!” Clara suddenly points excitedly to a small cluster of black morning glories perched on the slope that rises on the other side of their stream. They grace a particularly steep portion of that incline, crowning a sheer, rocky outcropping that presses out of the green growth that otherwise makes up the hillside.
“Oh…” Clara says slowly as she regards the precarious position. “We don’t have to get those ones…if you don’t want to.”
Eleanor’s eyes narrow.
“I hadn’t expected you to be scared off so easily, Clara.”
“What? No, I’m not scared, I just–“
“It’s alright. You just wait here where it’s nice and safe and hold my bag.” Eleanor hands Clara the sack and then begins to ascend the hill. She goes up the gentle-sloping side until she is about level with the flowers, then moves sideways to the rocky face. The flowers’ ledge is a little more than two feet higher than her feet now, so she grips the rock face with her left hand, stretches her left foot up to plant it on the rocky shelf, then firmly swings the rest of herself up and onto the ledge. A few moments later and she has plucked a few of the flowers’ finest representatives.
Getting off the ledge is a somewhat trickier matter, though, as now she must step down onto the slanted surface of the hill. Clara sees her mother’s hesitation and quickly scrambles up the hill to be beside her.
“Here,” Clara says, “take my hand.”
“And send us both rolling down the hill?”
“I’ll be firm.”
Clara plants her feet squarely, and keeps her hand out until Eleanor concedes. The maneuver is made simply enough, and the two quickly ascend to the top of the incline.
“Weren’t you frightened, mother?”
“But—but then why did you go up there in the first place?”
“Because you thought I was frightened.”
“But you just said that you were! And I knew you were the whole time, even though you pretended not to be!”
Clara’s tone is frustrated and chiding, and Eleanor cannot help but laugh.
“I’m sorry, Clara, you’re absolutely right. It was silly of me, but…well, I don’t know…I suppose it’s just a hard thing for a parent to let their child know when they need help.”
Full Days Writing: 5
Partial Days Writing: 3
New Words: 1376
New Chapters: 0.3
Total Word-count: 47,133
Total Chapters: 13.3
For a while now I have reported declining numbers each month, and each month come up with a plan to resolve that, and each month that plan hasn’t worked. Consider how many words I have written each succeeding month this year:
A very steady trend down, and fast approaching zero. For June I said I was going to start tracking partial days and full days of writing, in order to encourage me to write something even if only a small amount.
Ultimately, that did not pan out. I’m sure I could make up a number of excuses for why my numbers are continuing to decline, such as starting at a new job and generally having less time due to the new baby in our family, those reasons would sound hollow. The simple truth is that my motivation has been declining. There have been many days in the past months where I could have written…and just didn’t want to.
I am far from giving up on this project, though. I still do care for the story, and frankly have put in too much time and effort to call it quits now. I’m still going to keep working on it, and will hold myself to a higher standard moving forward.
To this end, I am making the following changes: no more partial-days/full-days, no more “my goal is to write this many days for the month,” no more set amounts of time to write for, and no more set amounts of words. We’re just going to go back to basics. My goal is to write every day, full stop.
I will still track how many days I write, and how many words, so that I can measure trends, but there will be no more quotas. This might seem counter-intuitive for increasing productivity, but really I just want to get rid of all the clutter and bring the focus back to pure writing. Perhaps this plan will backfire, in which case I’ll just re-evaluate it at the start of next month.
Wish me luck!
Though I wrote very little for the month of June, I did write some, and here is a snippet from that work. Enjoy!
The next day William digs some burlap sacks out of their gear and throws them in a pile on the ground, next to his cutlass and field journal.
“How many sugarcanes are out there?” Clara asks him.
“I think it actually is just ‘sugarcane,’ even when you’re talking about more than one.”
“Never mind, it doesn’t matter.”
“Oh, so how many sugarcanes are there.”
“No, see, if there is just one sugarcane you just say ‘one sugarcane.’ And if there are two sugarcane you still just say ‘two sugarcane.’ Just like ‘one sheep,’ and ‘two sheep.'”
“So how many…”
“…sugarcane are there?”
“Well…I didn’t count their number exactly, but back when I was taking inventory of the island I did estimate what I saw. A few dozen here, about a hundred there, and so on. In any case there’s more than a thousand of them.”
“More than a thousand!”
“Or at least there had better be! I’m counting on it!”
“So that we have enough for filling our field?”
“Exactly. Each cane that I bring back should give us about four or five setts–that’s what you call the chunk you plant in the ground that the new stalk grows from–and it will take more than sixty-six hundred of those to fill our whole field!”
“Well Daddy is going to be busy all day!” Clara laughs to Eleanor, who is now walking up to the two.
“Aren’t we all, and every day?”
“Yes, and with no holidays,” Clara pouts.
“Now that is a problem” William concedes. “But for now, the cane isn’t going to wait.” He picks up all of the supplies that he has prepared, kisses his wife and daughter goodbye, and treks off for the first cluster.
Well, May wasn’t a great month for working on the blog, but I don’t really feel too bad about it. To explain why, I think there is something I need to make clear. Writing my novel is not a relaxing exercise for me. It is work. I don’t mind that it is work, it is work that I very much want to do, even work that I need to do, but it is still work. It is the same with these blogs. I enjoy doing them, but they still require real work.
Writing my novel and blogs only happens because I have made peace with the fact that I am going to work my full-time job, and then I am going to work some more. I will work my full-time job for pay, and work my writing projects for passion.
Sometimes, though, the “work” work takes up more of my time than usual, at which point I don’t have much left in the tank for writing. That was the case with May, where on top of my regular hours I have been applying to and interviewing with other companies, looking for a new job. This can be quite an involved process. In my particular profession, each company that takes your application under consideration requires you to undergo a programming assessment, which usually take around 2 hours to complete, in addition to all the standard interviewing steps. Pretty soon looking for a new job becomes its own part-time job.
I could have crammed novel-work on top of the rest, but I think I would have grown to resent it. I frankly needed more of a break at the end of each day. And thus I’m actually pretty pleased with getting 10 days and a whole chapter completed during the month.
There is one thing that I think I could do better in how I approach my novel-work though. I find that if I don’t want to write for my full goal of 30 minutes, then I give up writing at all for that day. I don’t like that. From now on I am going to track two numbers: full writing days, and partial writing days. If I feel I cannot write a full 30 minutes one day, I’ll still try to talk myself into doing 15, and count that for a partial writing day.
So what are my goals for June? Well, the good news is that I did end up getting that new job. As in, just this morning I signed the agreement! So hopefully things will be a bit more back to normal. I’m going to shoot for 21 days, hopefully each as full-writing days, but at the very least as a mixture of partial and full.
Before I go, here’s a snippet from the work I did manage to get done during May. Enjoy!
Thus begins a very slow process of watching and waiting. The puddle fills out the bottom of the main channel quickly enough, and then starts to lift itself from flatness into fuller definition. The family is transfixed by the swelling, slow as it is, and silently stare on as the void is filled.
After it reaches a certain height, the water in the main line starts to tease at the mouth of each irrigation trench. It begins to reach down them, like fingers that are curious, but oh-so-cautious. The water does not flow merrily down these channels yet, rather all of its moisture is spent only in permeating the dry earth there, preparing the way for later, bolder incursions. It creates the illusion that a damp mud is spreading through the soil, extending itself down each trench by pure osmosis.
Only after the soil has had its considerable thirst quenched in this manner do small, thread-like trickles of water glide over the freshly sealed mud.
Now that each trench has filled the entirety of its length, all that remains is for them to rise to their fullest height. The family stand and turn their heads side-to-side, watching the progress ebb and flow through each lane. Now this one pulls ahead of its neighbors, then slows down as its trench widens suddenly. Now this one takes the lead as the eddies from the mainline bring an extra wave rippling down its length, then lapses as the same eddy moves on, sucking some of the water back out.
It is hypnotizing to see the mass at work, as if with a mind of its own. Sometimes it seems a single unit, other times a chorus of individual voices. No one questions whether observing this process is a worthy use of the family’s time or not. Like the birth of a child, or the death of an elder, it seems an important thing to witness. It is the story of how the veins of their field were brought to life.
But then, the exact culmination of the process is impossible to tell in a sequence such as this. For the irrigation system comes near to being filled to the brim…even nearer…nearer still…and then, all at once, the family realizes that each irrigation line has already reached its full depth, and they aren’t sure when exactly the system crossed the line from “very, nearly, almost complete” to “complete,” but it has!
Days Writing: 12
New Words: 3747
New Chapters: 1.25
Total Word-count: 42,497
Total Chapters: 12
Well, the main takeaway from April is that I did not get as much done as I had hoped. Out of the 22 days that I meant to write, I ended up with only 12. There were reasons for that. I had come to rely on a regular daily routine which got thrown out the window with COVID-19 and all that that entails. I wouldn’t say that I had less time to write because of it, but just that my usual cues of when to write were harder to pick up on.
More than that, though, we had a family project which consumed a lot of time, and after I had missed a few days in a row it became very easy to say “well, April is ruined, let’s just not worry about it anymore.”
Which is not the mentality I want to have with this project. I’ve always wanted the freedom to be able to say “this day is crazy, today I can’t write,” but in that case I want the next day to truly be a new day, not just an extension of the last. So I’m a bit disappointed in myself for giving up on a whole half-month because of one unforeseen disruption.
That being said: today is truly a new day, it doesn’t need to be an extension of the last. I can be both disappointed in how things went last month, and also let it go and not be bogged down by it.
With May I already have a couple things on the calendar that I know are going to limit my capacity to write, so I’m only going to set a goal for 19 days. And if I miss one of those, then I’m going to make a goal to try and get right back into a fresh perspective for the next day.
Before I leave, I wanted to start sharing small snippets of my work with each of these updates. I will try to choose things that are still “hot off the presses,” but that does mean they will still be a bit raw, and not quite in their final form. Here’s a little something that I put together during the last weeks of April.
“Your mother and siblings had a garden when you were a child?” Clara asks Eleanor as they work.
“Yes, both to grow our own food, and also to sell at the market.”
“Did your father ever help you?”
Eleanor laughs. “Well there was one time. He had a wealthy customer come in to pick up an order, and the two got to talking, and the man told him all about a new fruit that was coming to our country from the wilds of Africa! Large, red, and juicier than any other fruit on earth!”
“What was it?”
“Watermelon? But I’ve had watermelon.”
“Yes, because it migrated to our country during your father’s childhood and mine. We had never seen it before then.”
“I suppose that makes sense. Father said saffron and vanilla never grew here before we planted them either.”
“Yes, it was just like that. But my father heard about this new fruit and desperately wanted to try it. So he came to the market with us the very next day and found a man that was selling seeds for it. He took them home and planted them that night. Every day, after he closed up shop, he’d come out and tend to them. Never asked the rest of us to look out for them, in fact he wouldn’t hear of it. I think he was proud to have his own special project.”
“And was he pleased when they grew?”
“Well they never did. After the first week without so much as a sprout mother began asking if he wanted any help. Which of course he took as a slight against his honor,” Eleanor smiles in amusement. “So he refused, of course, and then it became a matter of us teasing him each day, asking when he was going to let those who knew how take a look after the crop. He must have tried a hundred different ways to get some life out of those seeds, but there was never so much as a green stem to show for it all.”
Eleanor pauses and looks to the horizon, her face shifting halfway from amusement towards ruefulness as the memories of those bygone days play through her mind. She stays a moment caught between the two emotions, then leans back to her work and continues with the story.
“It was a big joke to us for a while, but then we forgot all about it that winter…for that was the winter he got sick and passed away. The next year watermelon started showing up in earnest, and we finally got to see what all the fuss was about. I still remember the shock when I tried my first piece.”
“The seeds were not the same as what my father had planted the year prior.”
“What had he planted?”
“To this day I do not know, the man at the market had swindled him.”
“It is…” Eleanor agrees “and yet my father maintained a good humor through it all, and I honestly believe he would have been very tickled by the final punchline, if he had only been around to see it. So I’m not bitter about the setback he had, I only wish I could have heard his laugh at the end.”
Wow! I’ll be honest, the first year of this blog dragged very slowly for me. By the time I hit my first anniversary I felt I had accomplished a herculean task.
This second year? It blew right by.
I don’t know. Maybe that means I wasn’t pushing myself and my work lacked sincere effort. I definitely sweat a whole lot less when I look at the blank page at the beginning of each new story! But on the other hand, a lot of the pieces I am proudest of came out in this second year.
Two years might not sound very short, but frankly I am amazed at how quickly writing has become just an ordinary part of my day-to-day. I write. It’s simply what I do.
And I’ve been doing a lot of it! This year I made 118 posts and added 19 short stories and 52 essays. Last year saw 27 short stories, so it would seem that I’ve started making them considerably longer! I hadn’t realized I was doing that, and don’t really have any opinions whether that is a good or a bad thing, I just thought it was an interesting observation.
I wrote 196,000 words this year, compared to 220,000 last year (so maybe the stories aren’t getting longer?), though this doesn’t tell the entire story. Because in addition to this story blog, I also added a second spiritually themed one, where I wrote an additional 124,000 words, though obviously those words are not in a story format. But again, this isn’t the complete picture, because I also started working on my novel With the Beast, and in total wrote 42,500 words of my first draft (we won’t even count the 36,000-word outline that preceded working on that draft!).
If you lump all of those together, I have 362,500 words to show for this year, 582,500 once combined with last year. One more year like this and I’ll be knocking at the door of that coveted one-million-words mark!
Followers rose up to 176, almost exactly doubling the 87 from last year. 17 new countries have discovered my blog, bringing that total up to 64. Once again, I’m amazed at those numbers. I do a big, fat nothing to try and grow my following, and that anyone reads this at all is mind-blowing to me.
Last anniversary I kicked things off by starting work on my novel and beginning an entirely new blog. This year is not going to be so dramatic. I’ll still be continuing with my three regular series (Show, Don’t Tell; Story of the Storyteller; Writer’s Toolkit), and I’ll still be continuing work on my novel.
I will do a couple little things to commemorate this new year, though. For starters, I am going to now include snippets of the latest work in my novel as part of my monthly reports on it. Starting tomorrow you can get a more direct feel for how its style and tone.
Secondly, I am going to extend a special invitation to all of my readers. Recently I started working with a “writing buddy” that I met here on WordPress. We’ve been reviewing one another’s work and its been a very positive experience, both for the constructive feedback provided and for the simple pleasure of getting to know a fellow human. For a while now I’ve wanted to get to know my readers better, and even to help them out with whatever I can. I’ll be extending an offer for just that tomorrow, and I hope you’ll be willing to give it a look.
And Thank You)
As I thought of how to express my thanks, I looked at what I wrote at this blog’s last anniversary and couldn’t think of a better way to say it. All these words still hold completely true for me.
So once again I want to thank you all for your support. Perhaps just coming and reading doesn’t seem like much, but really it is. These aren’t just stories to me, they are the way I process and express my own self. Everyone wants to be heard, and you have listened to me.
Days Writing: 18
New Words: 5244
New Chapters: 1.75
Total Word-count: 38,857
Total Chapters: 10.75
After getting no novel work done in February it felt very refreshing to dive back into it with March. I had intended to write for 22 days of the month, and only ended up with 18, but overall I would say it was a successful return to form.
Based on my estimates I am now one-third of the way through the draft and I very much feel the sense of being in the middle of my work. During the first chapters I was able to feel my work adding up with each day’s efforts, and I anticipate that towards the end I’ll be able to feel the conclusion looming nearer and nearer. But when you sail from one shore to another, there is inevitably that time in between where you perceive little change at all. You might have moved to a different part of open the ocean, but it still just feels like the same, old open ocean.
That’s why writing my story has to be about the journey, and not just the destination. Each chapter needs to be compelling to write for its own sake, no matter where it leaves me in the overall project. Not only will that make for a better writing experience, but a better reading one as well.
For April I hope to write for 22 days again, we’ll see how that turns out. If I do, I would expect to land about halfway through the twelfth chapter. Come back on May 1st to hear if I managed that or not.
Daley declined the ride from Officer Hales. His conversation with Quincy had got his mind stirred, and he needed time to muddle out why. So instead he dug his hands into his pockets, turned his feet towards the Gulf of Mexico, and began his slow walk in that direction.
It wasn’t even that he had questions to answer. Indeed, it would have been nice if he could have distilled an intelligible question out of the knot twisting in his mind. There wasn’t anything particular that he wanted to know, he just couldn’t shake the feeling that the entire affair was somehow odd.
Otto had thrown a big party for his friends, and let them all watch as he blasted himself away. He had been uncharacteristically public about the whole thing. It seemed likely that he had intentionally placed himself so that he would fall into the river and be swept away. Even an explanation like Quincy’s–that Otto had just indulged in a single moment of over-the-top drama–still left Daley dissatisfied. That was just another strange thing compounded on top of all the others.
“And he shot himself in the chest,” Daley said out loud as he kicked at a stone. That was unusual, too. Most people wanted to be certain that they would not be left suffering for a long while after they shot themselves, and a shot through the heart was trickier to get right.
Daley had encountered confusion like this before, of course, and he had come to learn what it meant: simply that he did not know enough. It didn’t matter if you were handed important puzzle pieces if the overall picture wasn’t complete enough for you to know what hole they filled.
Thus as he finished his mile’s walk he made his peace with the ambiguity. For now it was enough to embrace the uncertainty, and then wait patiently for more of the details to come trickling in. He smiled as he found that tranquility, then looked up to take in the scene unfolding before him.
The river had continued to run steadily by him all the way to the Gulf. Here it drastically widened, spewing itself into the larger body with a churning froth. In this fringe area the water spun in little whirlpools as all the different currents competed with one another. Then, after they had cancelled one another’s momentum out, the water was sucked by the underlying loop current down the southern arm of Florida, then eastward and into the Atlantic Ocean.
Three boats were lazily drifting around the coast now. Since the suicide was recent, there was still a chance that the body was caught in the churning froth. That was good in that they might snag it before it was lost to the Gulf, but it was bad in that it meant navigating some treacherous, choppy water for the boats.
“Made it, did you?”
Daley looked to his side, down the rocky outcropping that he stood on, and saw Price’s head hovering below.
“Didn’t see you there,” Daley said. “How are things getting along here?”
Price shrugged. “Dragging their nets, as you can see. Haven’t found anything yet so far.”
“Yes, well, it might be a difficult find. Hang on a second, only two of those boats are coast guard. Who’s on the trawler?”
“Some local was nearby, agreed to help us with the search.”
“Why was he here?”
“Fishing I guess.”
Daley scowled and shook his head. “There isn’t any good fishing here, just look at this place!”
“Gee, I dunno. Maybe its a new boat and he wanted to get the hang of it in choppy water.”
“Hmm, maybe. Just a little strange, anyway.”
“So what if it is? That’s hardly anything worth getting worked up about.”
“No…but then there’s a lot of strange, little things going on.”
Daley ignored the question. “And each little, strange thing I have the same thought: well that doesn’t really mean anything. But all together it seems like a few too many oddities.”
Price shook his head. “You know what’s odd? You’re wanting to be here for boring body retrieval. What did you call this earlier? A hobby? What kind of hobby gets you somewhere like this?”
“I’m not bored. Why? Are you?”
Price scoffed and pulled a walkie-talkie up to his mouth. “Hey you guys find anything yet?”
“Well…we would have told you if we had.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
After another hour of waiting Price and Daley called the men on the boats to ask what they’d like for lunch. Then they drove off to get hamburgers and called the men when it arrived. One of the boats made for the single dock a quarter-mile down the coast, and the two detectives drove down there to join them. They remained on the boats then, watching from the deck as they continued dragging their nets across an ever-widening circle.
They were nearing the end of the bay, which meant that the water was finally getting steady, and also that it was about to widen out into the bulk of the Gulf. Not a good sign for ever being able to retrieve the body. But then, just as they were getting ready to call it for the day, the second coast guard vessel signaled that they’d found something caught on the rocks at the corner of the bay.
“Yep, that’s a body,” Price observed as the corpse was laid out on the deck. He knelt down and opened the man’s jacket. A large, red stain covered the shirt, but the bullet wound had long since stopped bleeding. It gave Price a clean look at the entry hole. “Looks like a .45 maybe…you didn’t find the gun yet, did you?”
“Yes. He was still holding it in fact.”
“Oh wow! Let me look at that. Colt Commander…. Yep, just one bullet discharged. Hey how about that, Daley? We got it all right here. Nice and tidy for once! Hey…what are you looking for?”
Daley had finished going through the man’s jacket and front pant-pockets, now he was tipping the body sideways so that he could reach the ones in the back.
“Just wondering if he–aha!” He pulled out a thick wad of cash.
Whew! one of the coast guards whistled from the side. It was clearly more than a thousand dollars.
“What, he was going to bribe his way past Saint Peter?” Daley said pointedly to Price, but his companion did not follow. “Oh come on! You really don’t see it yet?”
Price just gave him a bewildered stare, so Daley stood up and took charge. The volunteer searcher had pulled up next to the coast guard boat with his trawler, and in one fluid motion Daley strode to the brink of the two boats and hopped over to the other. He could feel the tension among the coast guards behind him, could see it in the eyes of the volunteer. That was alright, a little tension might help him squeeze out what he needed from the man.
“Hey, I just need a quick word with you,” he said brightly, gripping the boatman firmly under the elbow and steering him towards the trawler’s cabin. “It won’t take a minute.”
“Just a formality, come on.”
The man was clearly very uneasy about all of this. That was good. That meant he knew something, and Daley was right to have drawn a connection from the money to him. As they rounded the corner Daley let his eyes do a quick appraisal of the man. He and his boat were untidy vessels, but uncharacteristically dressed up for the day. The man had shaved his thick stubble just this morning, evidenced by the tan line on his cheeks, his messy hair was hidden away, just the fringes of it peeking out from under the new ball-cap he had put over it. The boat was uncomfortably empty, like it had been filled with clutter which had recently been hauled away all at once. The man had been expecting company, and either it was someone important…or someone wealthy.
They passed through the doorway and into the small cabin in the middle of the boat. Price was bounding after them, so Daley quickly slammed the door shut and turned the lock, leaving his partner giving him a befuddled look through the window.
“There, no police,” Daley said as he rounded on his prey, “so hopefully you’ll be honest with me.”
“Hey man, I don’t really feel comfortable with this, don’t you think–”
“You were hired to pick up a passenger and smuggle him into another country. Probably Mexico. Just say yes.”
Daley winced and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I guess you’re not ready to be honest. What’s your name?”
“Hey man, this isn’t legal, is it? I should have that cop out there arrest you for breaking and entering! Aren’t you a cop yourself?”
“Nope, just a volunteer. Like you. So really you should be open with me. Because while I’m not a cop I do know them and I can get them off your back. I don’t care that you smuggle people, Jones–”
“My name’s Gene!”
“I don’t care that you smuggle people, Gene. I really don’t. What I do care about is that the police don’t get the wrong idea and think that you’re involved with a murder! So help me out, we’re on the same side here.”
“Involved with–what?! Those guys–” he jabbed his finger towards the coast guards “–they told me that guy was a suicide!”
“Yes, to keep you around until they could pin you with some hard evidence.”
The man’s eyes went wide with horror and Daley had to make a special effort not to smile.
“There’s too many suspicious things up at the crime scene,” Daley continued, “and the biggest of them all is a random boat that just happens to hang out where the body turns up.”
“Oh come on, if that man was murdered and I had something to do with it, you think I’d just be hanging around here waiting to get picked up?”
“No, I don’t. That’s what I’m trying to tell you, I think you’re innocent! But I’m not the one that has to be convinced.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with this,” Gene folded his arms and furrowed his brow. “So let the cops take me in if they want, the truth’ll see me through.”
“If you want it that way, sure. But then the truth means telling them why you were really here instead, doesn’t it?” Daley paused to let the weight of that sink in. “And even if you weren’t here for murder, you still don’t want the cops poking into the real reason, now do you?”
Gene remained silent, so Daley continued.
“You got a call, right? Pick some guy up at the mouth of the river, he’ll have a pocketful of cash for you. You just got to get him out of the country and into somewhere else without going through customs?”
“Why are you doing this?”
Gene paused, weighing his next words carefully. “So…if, theoretically, things really were like how you just described…why are you trying to get me to tell it to you now, rather than to the police down at the office?”
It was a fair question. Gene didn’t want to be conned and he could tell that Daley’s explanation didn’t quite hold up. Daley would have to be a little bit honest with him to win his trust.
“Because, Gene, the police have to operate within a system. And I hate that system. It’s far too slow and far too encumbered. That makes for a lot of uncertainty. So maybe they would question you right now, but maybe they wouldn’t for a few days. Maybe by then the trail’s gone cold. Maybe by then you’ll have thought up a story and you’ll lie to them because they won’t put the right pressure on you. Honestly…maybe they don’t even question you at all. It’s entirely possible that you could sail away today and never hear another word about this again.” He paused and clasped his palms together in front of him. “But if you did that, then a man would have been murdered today and it would never be set right.”
Gene looked down at his feet.
“I don’t think you’re a bad guy, Gene. I really don’t. And I don’t think you want to stop us doing right by that poor sap they just pulled out of the water. His name is Otto, by the way. Don’t know if you knew that. And really, I just want to help Otto out, Gene. I really don’t care one bit about whether you’re a smuggler or not. Just tell me that that man was planning to meet you here, still alive, and that raises enough uncertainty for us to keep this case open. You won’t have to make any official statement, you won’t have to talk to the police. The detective out there is my personal friend and he’ll take my word for it. He’ll bend the rules that much because he just wants what’s right like you and me.”
Gene cleared his throat slowly. “And if he did want to talk to me, it would just be your word against mine.”
“That’s right. And if you changed your story, they’d throw out anything I said as inadmissible.”
“You’re not wearing a wire or anything?”
Daley pulled his shirt up.
Gene exhaled slowly and looked at his feet tapping on the deck. He looked up. “Okay…it’s like you said.”
On Monday I spoke of how a story often includes multiple layers, including meta-commentary on its own subject matter. Very often characters will discuss themes on the side, and then playing them out in their own drama. A classic example of this is the conversation between Captain Kirk and Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The two are debating as to whether no-win scenarios really exist, and what the correct behavior in such a position would be. Unsurprisingly, the action of the movie brings them face to face with that exact quandary.
I have tried to put over the mystery of Otto’s death another layer of mystery, that of Daley’s choice to stop working on the force. We did not see much development of that in this post, that will be further pursued in my next section. For today, though, I decided to try another form of multi-layering with the conversation between Daley and Gene. The conversation here is layered and also interwoven. Daley is telling lies, telling truths, and telling half-truths. He is taking his own perspectives and putting them in the mouth of the police. He is making up false accusations that Gene might be the murderer…but he is expressing a true opinion that someone has played foul.
Gene is obviously lost in the layers. By the end of the conversation he has a bit better idea of what Daley is really about, but still not complete. However the audience has been given enough context (I hope!) to see through the whole rigmarole and understand what Daley is really driving at. It was fun to try and write a layered piece that would be confusing towards a character, but be illuminating towards the reader.
In a recent post I shared a little bit about how storytellers try to obfuscate facts to make their final revelation a surprise to the reader. In my next post I’d like to look at that idea in greater detail, particularly how it is used in murder mysteries. While there I’ll also point out which of these murder mystery tropes I am using in Washed Down the River, and which ones I am not. See you next Monday!
I mentioned last month that my family would be starting February with the birth of our second child, and that I wasn’t sure how much time I would have for writing my story. All of this month I have been on paternity leave, which is a great blessing that I am most grateful for, but having that dramatic shift to my surroundings meant that all consistency went out the window. I find it very demotivating to do projects unless I am able to fit them into a regular schedule, and so I decided to wait until March to get back to my novel. There were odd moments here and there where I could have written, but it would have only depressed me to tease at the story, never being sure when the next writing session could happen.
Anyway, things went perfectly well with the birth, mother and baby are doing wonderfully, and I really enjoyed the extra time with my family. I think it was very good for all of us. But here we are now in March, and tomorrow is my first day back to work and normalcy. I will start back up my goal of at least 30 minutes writing every weekday, for a total of 22 days.
I have missed this writing quite a lot. I did manage to maintain my blogs during February, due to their being more bite-sized, but it just isn’t the same as working through a big, meaty novel. It’s honestly been very encouraging to see that I miss With the Beast so much, rather than feel relieved to have had a break for it. Hopefully I’ll be able to go at it with that much more vigor then! I guess we’ll see when I give my next report on April 1st.