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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"The Deep Blue Good-By" Group Read

I joined The Busted Flush - A Group For Fansof John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee administered and I think started by Chris Lueloff on Facebook‎. Recently, the idea was floated that the group read a McGee novel a month starting with The Deep Blue Good-By. As a writer, I know I’ve learned a lot from JDM and my novels Tortured Truths and Heart Chants resulted from trying to create my Travis McGee character and pay homage to MacDonald’s achievement. I’ve read through the series more times than I can remember. This time, I thought I’d pay attention and look for specific lessons for a writer. I posted those on the group page and thought I’d assemble all of them here. Warning, these comments are intended for the reader who has finished the book. So there are spoilers below.

Chapter Uno

By the end of Chapter Uno, McGee's task is set. What I found unusual in rereading it was the amount of space that was given as basically a monologue from Cathy, Catherine Kerr, explaining her situation. This is an extremely long piece of dialogue with only one interruption from McGee the listener. Go look at your James Patterson or Lee Child and just about any suspense action writer and I don't think you'll find such a long monologue from one character. It works for me. You find out the situation quickly and jump right in. It will be interesting to me to see if in this book or any future book there is such a long monologue by one character.

Lesson for this writer: when a character wants to talk, let them talk.

Chapter Dos

Ah, the promise of sex. Not hard to imagine Chook in that big tub. But look at this gorgeous sentence: "...female, deep and glossy, rounded--under the tide little fatty layer of girl pneumatics--with useful muscle." Delicious writing.

But McGee doesn't have sex, though certainly invited, with Chook because he smells something wrong and he turns out to be right. He walks her to her car. Much of fiction is getting a character from point A to point B. With JDM it's never boring. He uses every opportunity to fill in the scene or teach us about the character. "I heard the lisping flap of water against the hull..."

Then we get one of what I call a McGee editorial, this on the Playmate age.

In some forums I've seen female readers don't like McGee and think him a simple chauvinist. I hope female readers here chime in with their opinions.

At the end of chapter Dos, McGee has struck out in the sex departmesrent and decided to take on  the Cathy project.

Lesson this writer takes away from this chapter: When moving a character from point A to point B don't miss the opportunity to do much more.

Chapters Tres, Cuatro, Cinco, Seis

Hmm... my plan was to make a comment after every chapter, but then JDM does what he does so well. Pulls you in and you can't stop reading.

We get introduced to the much modified Royals Royce Miss Agnes who "...retains the family knack of going eighty miles an hour all day long in a kind of ghastly silence." How gorgeous is that! And we learn how he acquired the Busted Flush. Then we get into standard McGee procedure. Go see people and learn what you can from them about the situation and ruminate upon it.

Writer lesson here when we are introduced to Cathy's sister, Christy. This is really a throw away character. Fills a slot. Probably won't hear from her again. Who knows. But JDM doesn't treat her as such. He gives her description full attention with this wonderful summation: " the sultry dignity of she-lions." Love it.

Lesson for writer: There are no minor characters. Just as with people, each character has a soul. Try to find and express it.

Then we get to the creation of an amazing creature, Mrs. Atkinson. McGee first introduces us through the house she occupies which ends with "...they have the look of places where the blood has recently been washed away." And such is Mrs. Atkinson.

I don't know. At this point things seems too contrived. I've never know a woman like Mrs. Atkinson who could be turned into a kind of zombie through sex and submission. I have known some women in abusive situations who get out of them and then seem to seek out the same kind of man. Do hope women readers step in here and comment.

But what JDM creates he carries out to the full and in the end it works.  Her character takes us through 20 pages to chapter siete (I forget when we learn why the Spanish chapter numbers, we'll find out). The lesson for this writer: Don't worry when a character seems bizarre, just go with the flow. The reader will follow right along.

Chapters Siete, Ocho

Travis is still in his fact-gathering stage and travels to NY and then Texas. In Texas we learn that in the search for facts, Travis isn't above a bit of torture. But in creating these fact-gathering trips he gives us a slice-of-life look at his environment and times. In Texas, he becomes a focal point of a family drama.

The lesson for this writer is to remember that when you do scenes so your protagonist and reader can learn something they need to learn you also have the important opportunity to show the world in which that protagonist lives and make it richer for the reader.

Also in these chapters I see what I call McGee Editorials. He has a credit card and hates it. In his diatribe he writes: "In the stainless nurseries of the future, the feds will work their way through all the squalling pinkness tatooing a combination tax number and credit number on one wrist..." Sort of assumed JDM was expressing his own views in these little editorials and he may have tried to limit himself early on. Not later. Those editorial comments are part of what create the Travis McGee mood. We'll see more of them in upcoming novels.

OK, we're getting to the stage where we all know this is headed: that showdown with Junior Allen.

Chapter Nueve

The trio of the three girls we've been introduced to, Chook, Cathy and Lois come together when Cathy gets the shit beaten out of her by, guess who. This Junior Allen, he's somethin' else.

In this chapter some firsts happen in the McGee series. JDM uses a ploy he often will by having Travis remember he has a friend or acquaintance who has just the particular knowledge base into which he needs to tap. This one is a "sly elderly angle-player" in New York who is able to research the local gem market.

And the other first thing that happens. Travis has sex! He's turned it down in the book up to this point and turns it down again when Lois creeps into his bed. Then we get at first blush what seems pretty phony to me. Travis feels all gallant and his amateur psychologist kicks in and determines that, well, Lois does need sex and with someone as caring, gentle as himself. It happens. All works out fine. And it's some pretty great heated prose. JDM creates these scenes really well "...a creature in endless movement, using all of herself the way a friendly cat will bump and twine and nudge and purr." That's pretty good stuff. Anyway, after, Lois seems cured. Seems phony. Then he has a self revelation and realizes that indeed he has several international records in just that description.

Writer's lesson here is all about sex scenes. Try to find analogies. That cat stuff is gold.

Chapters Diez, Once, Doce, Trece, Catorce

Okay, I'm clueless why JDM numbered the chapters in Spanish.

Be that as it may, Travis does his sleuthing and with the help of Lois's memory gets a great lead on where Junior Allen's boat will be. We know the encounter is coming and JDM draws out the tension of waiting like a tightly strung violin string over which he plays the anticipation bow until it sets up a scream of "get to it!"

And that acquaintance? That gem guy in New York. He comes through with a critical piece of deception Travis needs to fool Jr. Allen. And a nifty trick it is, indeed.

But first we get introduced to the new set of lost young souls Jr. Allen will prey upon: forlorn little rabbits. There is a clueless male among them. Travis shakes his hand and we get this beauty: "He had a dead handshake, like a canvas glove full of hot sand."

Travis has a beautiful plan to discover where Jr. Allen has hidden the gem stones on his boat and it works to a T. Another plan to use a sap to knock the guy out works out great, too. Then Trav does a stupid thing and it almost gets him killed and it does get Lois killed. I think I cried foul at this point. That was just a bit too slick of a way to get rid of this new burden in his life.

I wanted to pay particular attention to the fight scenes. JDM does them with direct, straightforward description. "He hooked his left around my neck and began hammering me with his free hand." But pay attention to the verbs: planted, stuffed, heaved, ripped, bounded up, snorting, gouging, kneeing, clambered, straddled. It this succession of different descriptive verbs that makes the description of the fight flow.

So in the end, Travis is successful in recovering some of the treasure. Had he not done the stupid thing he would have had it all and Lois would be alive.

Things felt thin and empty to me at the end. But then I realized Travis had just been birthed into the fictional world and we were watching him grow up and JDM start to know him better for all his many good points and also the questionable ones.

I know the books are just going to get better and Travis even more interesting.

Comments welcome.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Reworked a Science Fiction Novel I Wrote about Thirty-Five Years Ago, The Sands of Andros

As a youngster, teen, and young adult I devoured science fiction. It seemed natural that I try to write the stuff. I actually finished The Sands of Yama, a classic approach to the genre that was rather short in length at 40,000 words. Too short to submit to any agent when the minimum for a novel as 60,000 words. And I was very unsure about it. I put it down to a learning experience. Has a plot, pretty good characters, not bad dialogue, good action scenes and ends up being a first contact story. It was also an exercise in world creation, or in the case galaxy creation. Galacton is a federation of planets. When a planet is discovered by one of the companies in the federation that company lays claim to the planet. It can be exploited or sold to any group that would like to colonize it. A lot of radical groups do just that so a group of Muslims or Christians or any group that wants its own planet with its own rules can have a planet and do what they want there. Galacton has a strict hands off approach. The groups are free to discover their own destinies.

The company Krackcom has discovered the planet Rhome and its one island continent, which I named Yama. The island is loaded with goodies. There is electrogold, there are caterlund furs, a special honey is both an hallucinogen and an aphrodisiac. There are the mysterious compucells that are found the the appendix to the brain of the huge mammothet. There is a clam whose meat expands the human lifespan by 100 years. These materials are so rare that Galacton realizes they must not be exploited to the point of extinction and so they control the collection of the materials by a simple process. They can only be collected or hunted by hand. No mechanical devices.

And there are plenty of dangerous creatures on Yama that provide natural protection for these resources. So Krackcom is allowed to offer a gamble to those who choose to play. Collect 50 pounds of electrogold and take it to Rest and Reward Station One and you will be rewarded with enough Galacton credits to live freely for five fun-filled years. The rewards for reaching the other stations with the required amount of collected material grows exponentially

The reward for entering the last R&R station is known--one-eighth ownership and board membership of Krackcom itself--but it is not known what must be collected.

That's the set up. Our main character, Thaddeus Bean III will enter the contest. Those entrants are known as gramblers. Only one grambler in the 268-year history of this game has made it to the last R&R Station: Thaddeus Bean I.

So I was sort of between book projects and always examine the old slush pile and I came across the manuscript, typed on a manual typewriter (imagine that!) I started reading and thought. Hey, this isn't too bad. So I started re-keyboarding it. Making alterations. Read ahead in the whole things and saw how actually it hung together quite well. And now it's done and soon I'll submit it or publish it myself. Those old word counts have gone the way of the manual typewriter.

I had used the structure of Galacton to create another science fiction work, a novella called "A Match Made in Heaven," in which the Mormons have left earth to populate the planet they call Moroni and discover their destiny in the stars. Those two works are the only products of a scheme I had to write a series of books based the concept of planets under complete control of the worlds they inhabit, with Galacton forces stepping in only when any other those planets became warlike with designs on other planets.

I decided Yama didn't work as a name for the island and so I changed it to Andros. Now The Sands of Andros is ready for the general public. Do need a book cover, though, if any reader of this blog is interested in contacting me.

And maybe I just might explore writing about other worlds in the Galacton federation.