Hurricane Irma, My Novel, and Me

My novel word count is 94,000 words. My editor returned a large chuck of part II just after Hurricane Irma. So there is a lot to do. She asked me if I learned anything from the storm and I had already been thinking about this, so the answer was a resounding yes. My novel actually begins with an evacuation from a disaster.

Hurricane Irma

Most readers know that I moved to Florida a few years ago. I landed on Cocoa Beach, just below Cape Canaveral, and a place where hurricanes rarely strike. We felt immune to hurricanes, after all, the government was very selective in choosing the site for rocket launches (love those things!). The reality is that the Cocoa Beach and nearby islands below the Cape are barrier islands.

Last year, Hurricane Matthew came right up the east coast of Florida and had path leading right to Cape Canaveral and environs. So we evacuated to a hotel and watched hurricane coverage the night the storm hit, until the lights went out. Fortunately, our hotel was right near Brevard county’s disaster center and we got power back quickly after the storm. The thing is, as the storm bore down on our homes we had the distinct sense that there would be severe destruction and flooding. It was a lesson well learned.

This year, when Hurricane Irma burst on the scene at 185mph sustained winds and 220mph gust it hadn’t even swept through the main Caribbean islands. It’s winds were historic and barometric pressure dropped as low as 914 millibars. The magnitude of the storm was unmistakable and frightening. It was being called one of the greatest Atlantic/Gulf storms in history. So we tried to make hotel reservations like last year but people who had realized the danger had already booked every room in the state of Florida. There were even news reports that Georgia was quickly booking up and a few days later reports came out that people were booking in Tennessee.

I will never forget feeling that THERE WAS NOWHERE TO RUN.

We joked that we could run to Saint Louis didn’t want to get swept way in the freeway system and end up in Kansas. But everyone who had any sense was afraid of this hurricane. Key West was generally safer than other islands but anyone with a television who saw the size and fury of this storm evacuated. Of course, there were fools down in the Lower Keys who felt they could just ride it out. We heard stories of several families equipping their kids with life jackets if the storm surge was too great; the stupidity of this… who knows. Maybe they survived and are smug about their decision.

I was genuinely afraid, but I was afraid but more than that I became numb to the fact that our options were running out as the storm changed it’s course. As Irma turned of the west coast instead we felt like we’d been saved from serious damage. Storm surge in our region was predicted to be 2-4 feet, well within our tolerance. We also assumed that we’d get lesser winds because Tampa, 150 miles away, was going to take the biggest hit.

I remembered that last year, Matthew took a last minute wiggle in its course and that wiggle saved our homes from serious damage. And even though there was general agreement among all the storm models, this was on my mind. But by the time this storm did a wiggle that saved Tampa, it’s course change walloped Orlando. We felt we’d be safe enough though and were glad we didn’t evacuate to Orlando, but when the storm finally hit it was vicious. We got hit with winds of 90-100 mph and the damage was more severe than what we suffered last year.

The feeling I’m trying to convey is the sense of being trapped. We were calm and our decision was well thought out. Seriously, we could have fled to Arkansas or Missouri or Kentucky or even Ohio, but we feared there might not have been enough gasoline. I think there would be gasoline on the Interstates, but this was one of many considerations. We felt it would be safe to flee west because of all the displaced people from Texas.

Getting Back to Normal

The situation here is getting back to normal. Well, the Sykes Creek bridge might collapse and cut water supplies for months. This includes everyone on Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, etc. Hope the  Disaster guys figure this one out. I mean, put some f’ing stuff under the damned bridge. Geezus.

Anyway, there’s a lot of repairs that need to be made, everywhere. But I’m also rethinking my evacuation plans if another one of these storms comes along I have decided to take clothes necessary to rebuild my life. I’ll take some life sustaining stuff, computers and valuables but everything else of value (books, paintings, dishes, kitchen stuff, televisions, sofas, chairs, desks, beds, the bedroom wicker furniture I love, et al) is now just stuff to be replaced. If my house is destroyed, I’ll find a new one. It’s like that. Seriously.

I assume that a lot of people who face the destruction of their homes begin to think this way. This hurricane provided a lot of time for me to decide on things to pack and load into my car. I think I can do this again with relative ease.

People who face by disasters that hit without warning, like the Mexico City earthquake, must adopt a different attitude. You need a different type of preparation. When I lived in Seattle I had a ‘Go Bag’ at home and a smaller Go Bag at work. The bags had enough stuff for me to survive under harsh conditions.

There was one funny incident. My iPad had a full battery when the storm hit, so I did some writing on the novel, even when the lights went out. I mentioned this to my editor and she thought it showed some kind of determination, but really, I was just looking for something to do.

Working on Novel Delayed

The storm cause a type of writer’s block, but with the newly edited material I’m able to focus on fixing things. I’m trying to work on the complex historic scenes of the last chapters. So, the novel is a lot of pieces that need to be connected and a lot of holes that need filling. It now looks like the novel will be 120,000 words when it’s done.

Before completing the novel I’ll try to arrange a tour at SwiftShips in Louisiana. I want to make their 35m Patrol Boat one of the ships in my story. Also I want to visit the Coast Guard station at Port Canaveral. They have a class of ships that also will be part of the story. I need some physical reality–all the senses–on these ships.

Isn’t this a beautiful ship! When I saw it I envisioned it as one of the ships in the novel. I’ll contact SwiftShips soon.

I’m increasingly serious about offering Part I (~40,000 words) for free and selling part II (80,000) to those who want to continue the reading the story.



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Story Telling at 1,000 Words a Day

I wish I could force myself to be more consistent in my writing. I have spurts of creativity, like the past few days where I’ve been writing 1,000 words a day, followed by days where I can barely force out a few hundred words or just walk away. It all comes from my brains need to digest what I’ve written.

There was a terrible tragedy shortly after I completed my first draft, I lost over 15,000 words in a technology struggle with OneNote and OneDrive. It isn’t worth describing, but a lot of modern software developers try to do way too much for you and end up screwing you over. Anyway, I got frustrated and grabbed the available backups and restarted. It was devastating and took many months to recover from, and I still wish I had those final two chapters for reference, even though I have a good idea of what I had written.

I’m over 83,000 words now. And it has become a metaphysical certainty that I cannot complete this novel with less than 100,000 words, regardless of how I’m fighting it. However, there’s still a chance I can edit it down in a final draft, but there’s a greater likelihood that the edit will add even more words.

I suppose I’ve tried to contain the story to a smaller novel because I’m conscious of the printing costs if I self-publish.

In that regard, I’m still considering breaking the story into two books; pulling a chapter from Part II and placing it in Part I. I could add some material that I pulled out of an earlier drafts, and create a stand alone Book I. There’s a lot of good reasons to do this, for one thing, I can offer Book I for free as an eBook over Amazon, iTunes and others. Then immediately follow with Book II in print and eBook formats. I’d be able to publish for significantly less in print–a 60,000 word book versus 100,000. Plus, readers could studying my style for free and decide if they want to pay for Book II.

I’ve been playing with this Part I-Part II/Book I-Book II idea for some time now and I think this latest idea is promising. Either way I won’t get rich off of this story but if there is interest, then perhaps Book III can make some money. [As I say this I have that horrible feeling when I’ve made a stock market trade that I know is very bad or very good. *smiles*]

Anyway, I’ve been looking ahead to Book III a bit and even Book IV, where I believe the story reaches its conclusion. I have some notes on the ending, particularly a taste of a bittersweet irony. But this is hundreds of thousands of words away though.


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Slogging Deeper Into The Muck

Even though I’ve written 78,000 words and much of it is near final draft stuff, I’m still slogging in the muck as I try to finish this novel. The thing I like and despise about writing–well, my writing–is that no matter how well you develop a chapter outline and no matter how carefully you write it, the story doesn’t really reveal itself for days or even months and constant re-writing. It I had world enough and time enough, this process could be enjoyable but it isn’t. I suppose this kind of frustration leads to writers block.

What happens is that during the night my brain processes what I’ve written, and this is well and good–I love this. The subconscious seems to connect the many dangling threads and when the work is done and I’m back at the computer in the morning, there’s an idea that needs to be incorporated. The problem is, sometimes those ideas must be inserted much earlier in the story, and frequently enough this leads to more threads that need connecting.

I like threads. I like stories with thousands of threads running, threads that I might not notice on the first read, but linger in my mind and draw me back and deeper into a story. I suspect that the typical sci-fi reader, reading for enjoyment, doesn’t particularly care about the threads but rather the cool stuff that’s happening. So if you dwell on the subtle threads to satisfy your sense of what is important, you can really slow down the action. Frankly, I don’t know what I’m creating. It could be pure self-indulgent crap. And that’s a whole ‘nuther subject and another type of slogging through muck. I mean, when the muck is too deep I have to go back again and clear it out to make the story move along.

Writing is hard work.


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Writing is Discovery, Dammit!

Dammit a hundred times.

The novel is now over 74,000 words, but I’ve spent the last week locking down historic characters. By that I mean, the period I’m writing about has a large cast of characters and while a few of them are well-known, there’s a large cast of supporting actors, so-to-speak. Many of that cast are relevant but some are far more relevant to the needs of the story.

For years I’ve created my named characters. The list has grown to fifty, although there are still only ten principal characters. However, during the past week I’ve added three historic characters that I’d only glanced over in the past. WTF? This story is twenty years in development and I’m just discovering three new characters? I mean, the book is over three quarters written? WTF?

Here’s the thing and I’ve said before and will probably say again and again, writing is a process of discovery; for me, that is. Keep in mind, when I decided to rewrite the second part of this novel I completed an extensive outline. My outline is mostly an outline, but also quite a few notes that any good editor or educator would point out to me that they are superfluous to the outline. Nonetheless, the outline is 17-pages of outline and foo-foo.

So you’d think I’d have a complete understanding of where this thing is going, yes?
~ Well, sorta-yes.

I’ve known pretty much where Book I ends from almost the beginning or at least by 2013. But as I write I am constantly surprised at how the story continues to reveal itself to me. There’s a process at some level of consciousness that is connecting the hundreds or thousands of threads that I’ve set in motion. The net effect is that I wake up and discover something new and unique that must be explored.

This story is Science Fiction, yanno. And the backstory revolves around a lot of History. But in the past, I think writers didn’t force their stories into historic events as much as they do in modern writing. But we have extensive resources that makes it possible to understand historic events more thoroughly than at anytime in the past, even in the case of authors who had massive intellects.

Anyway, writing is a process of discovery whether I like it or not. And just to make matters worse, it’s a process of discovery about my fictionalized characters as well. And the pressure to finish this thing by my self-imposed deadline builds.


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Progress: 14 Chapters and 70,000 Words

About ten days ago I took a trip to the Keys. We went as low as Bahia Honda but spent the nights on Islamorada. On returning I had a burst of new energy and set about editing Part II (26,000 words). The editing stirred a lot of good ideas and when I started writing again I was writing over a thousand words a day; one day I did 3,000 words.

In my early plans for the novel, I imagined 50-60,000 words would do the trick. I had plans for two follow-on novels, but I felt I could get a lot said in 60,000 words.

Today I passed the 70,000 word mark and I have five chapters to go. So, at 5,000 words a chapter I’m looking at 25,000 additional words. I’m hoping to cut the last chapter down to maybe 2-3000 words but most calculations give me 90,000+ words.

I realize that a lot of what I’ve written for Part II is crap, so I’ll need feedback from my editor to reel it in. And I’m starting to feel pressure because I don’t expect to submit to agents or publishers before September. And I won’t wait beyond October to publish. That means I’m cutting it close if I intend to enter the world of conventional publishing.

I enjoy the writing more and more. I am living the story through my characters and it is a unique feeling. I’ve said it before but I think there’s an aspect of writing that’s akin to mental illness. I told one of my editors I don’t want to be a ‘Writer’ or ‘Author’ and she was curious. She asked why I write and I told her that I want to tell this story. She logically concluded that I see myself as a ‘Storyteller’ but I told her I don’t see myself that way either.

Maybe when I finish the novel I’ll be able to classify myself. I write because I’m compelled to… does that make me a ‘Compulsive’? I suppose that’s it, although I would hate to be thought of that way.

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Part II is Half-Complete

A couple months ago I put Part I of my novel (40,000 words) aside to work on Part II. My editor Caroline had some very interesting idea that I explored. For one thing, I’d been inventing ways to make my heroine more active and it lead me down byways that were hollow. With Caroline’s evaluation I saw my way to an entirely new approach in Part II.

I started the new Part II with a complex outline. I was focused on tying historic events into the plot that my characters could interact in, but the main focus was to let my protagonist bloom. As of this date I’ve completed five of ten chapters in Part II or about 26,000 words. The new approach is very satisfying and I’m writing 1,000 words a day now… well, when I’m working. For example, next week I’m going to the Keys for a sentimental journey.

It looks like the novel will require another 25,000 to 30,000 words. Even if this thing expands to 100,000 words I think I can edit it down to 90,000 or even more in a final draft. Originally I was trying for a 60,000 word total, mainly because of self-publish costs; the cost of hard cover and paperback books can run up as word count expands.

Anyway, this cost thing has me rethinking how I go about getting published. Perhaps I’ll have to search for an agent/publisher. And after all the work I’ve done I’m not looking forward to hurling myself into that process. I could e-publish easily enough, but I like books and just can’t imagine going through the ordeal of writing to walk away without a nice hard cover book sitting in my book case. I suspect this is archaic sentimentality.


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A New Dilemma

Part I of my novel is complete and I’m good with my decision to significantly change Part II. The decision is good for a lot of reasons but I find myself churning a lot of publishing ideas. The dilemma is, if I wait to finish the Part II it will take months more of writing and editing, then trying to sell the story to agent or publisher.

Part I is about 40,000 words, but I pulled a lot of material in the interest of making the two parts roughly equal in size or a total of 80,000 words for the entire novel. I’m also finding that as I write Part II, it will exceed 40,000 words. So there’s that also.

Part I has been edited or commented on by five different editors. And it’s in the hands of two beta readers at the moment. I expect I’d have to put some additional work into it to make it standalone publishable, and it might expand to 45,000 words–more of a novella.

My plan all along has been to offer Part I for free, as an introduction to my writing. So financially there’d be no loss if I just self-publish as a standalone work. I’m cognizant of the possibility that self-publishing might alienate any agents who might be interested in publishing my work; I get that. But I anticipate writing several follow-on novels with  many of the same characters. The other thing is, while Part I and Part II have the same characters, the story and locations  are very different.

Publishing Part I as a standalone would certainly make writing a story synopsis much easier. Heh. So who knows? I’m leaning toward the self-publishing option but there’s still a lot to think about though.

UPDATE 22 May: Just did the math on both parts. I’ll stick with original plan to publish a single two-part novel. Just anxious to complete this thing. Part II to is intricately connected to historic events, so the writing is demanding. What a mess. heh.


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