Monday, July 13, 2009

File 3297: The Shanghai Tunnels is DONE!

Hello to everyone who's been following my progress, or should I say to the person who's been following it. Well whatever the case my be, as you can guess by the title of this posting, and if you've been following me on Facebook, I have finally completed the first draft of the first book in the mystery series of The Pendleton Files.

To think, it all started about fourteen years ago. I had moved to Portland, after finally fleeing my life of captivity in Florida, and discovered that there were Russian immigrants living here. It hadn't occurred to me before, but it made sense. I should have realized that would be the case since the Iron Curtain had fallen. But then I also thought, what had they done for a living before? What were they doing now? What if one them had worked for the KGB? What kind of job would they have here in Portland? The answer was obvious. A private detective. A Very good private detective. One with skills taught to him by an organization which delved into espionage. Then that's when I came up with the idea. Someone should write a book!

Unfortunately I found that I couldn't write that book. Not exactly that book. The research that was required for such a character didn't exist. The Iron Curtain had done too good of a job. Short of actually finding someone from Russia and spending a week with them, there was no way I would have been able to write an accurate depiction of my character. But I tried anyway. Along the way I had written a short story for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, but was rightly rejected, thus giving me my first badge of honor as a writer. The coveted Rejection Letter. (Sigh.)

So after having been bitten by the writer bug, I did not despair. I thought if I couldn't write a book with my favorite hero being the main character, I'll write around him. Plus, I was starting to like Lydia. Originally, I had planned for her to be Kris's partner, a woman who had just gotten over the death of her husband who had been killed about a year ago in a tragic car accident on those treacherous Terwilliger Curves of I-5. Tsk, tsk.

She was still supposed to be from a wealthy family connected with Portland's history, but only into reading detective mysteries. She thought it was time to start seeing people and had always had a thing for our hero, who had previously been working at her bakery. You see, I had planned for Kris to be working at his Uncle's bakery in order to save enough money to start a private detective agency. In his first book, I was going to have him just starting up and putting his office together when Lydia shows up at his door with a phony case. Eventually he warms up to her and finds her to be an asset. Near the end of the book, by the way there does turn out to actually be a case along the way, we learn that she earns her private detective license and has picked up a few things from our former KGB hero.

Yeah, that would've probably been a good book, but the one I ended up with isn't too far from it. I tried to write Kris before, but I had no idea what his views and opinions would be, the things that drive our actions. Like I did when I was writing our woman detective, I dance around Kris by saying 'he said something in Russian', or 'he had to go contact a source, but said he'd come right back'. Fortunately with Lydia I only have to dance around those feminine things a little bit. Which thankfully isn't too hard for me, considering I grew up in a female dominated family. A mother and two older sisters.

Anyway. Enough about me. The book is finally done and today I start dressing it up so I can take it to the dance. The Query dance, as I like to call it. Though having never done it before, I'm not sure that's an accurate metaphor.

I feel I owe Lisa (Scottoline) for this. From the beginning, it was her style that made me really want to write this book. The first book I had read that was written by her, Courting Trouble, was different from any other book I had read before. I thought it must have been a lot of fun writing it. Then I started wanting to have that kind of fun for myself and thought it was time to start writing the book I had been wanting to write. But I struggled at first. I bought Stephen King's book on Creative Writing which helped me a lot, and tried my best to follow his guidelines. I got discouraged because I found it difficult to find time to write, but read in Mr. King's book about successful authors who were faced with less time than I had. It was then that I had decided that during lunch breaks at work would have to do for now.

Then two trashed books and six years later, I finally met Lisa. By this time, my progress had trickled and I convinced myself that going back over chapters without finishing the book was still writing the book. I had just been laid-off the week before and was afraid I wouldn't be finding a job in a very long time, if ever. But I was still working on the book. I tried to think of what I could ask her and thoroughly went through her website in order to find something to say besides 'Your responsible', and risk ending up with her having to issue one of those TROs against me that I've read about in her books. I came across a video she had made, explaining her writing process. In it, she says she doesn't do any revisions or editing until she's finished writing the book. Well, I thought. That's what half the writers say, but I ask her about that anyway.

Before I had asked her that question, I believed that whether it takes months, or years, eventually I will get published. So for now I should take advantage of the fact that I don't have a deadline.

That was before.

It was the night of her book-signing. After she had came to a point in her introduction, and talking about her new book, she asked once more if anyone else had any questions. Then I mustered my courage and asked my question. But first, I should point out that stemming from my desperation and fear, I had recently became a member of Facebook as a means of notifying anyone out there of my jobless situation, thus hopefully alerting someone to come to my rescue.

"I have a question," I said.

"Yes," she answered.

This is it, I thought. "You say that you don't do any revisions before you've finished writing the book." I realize soon after saying it that it wasn't a question, but quickly recovered by saying, "How can you do that? I mean I can't move on without going back over what I've written."

Then she said, "You have to. You can't get it done unless you get it done." I'll have to be honest here. I really don't remember exactly what her answer was, but I'm pretty certain that was the gist of it.

What I do remember though is that we hit it off. It was like we thought the same way. I was actually finishing her sentences. She told me that you need motivation, you need Fear. I needed to "go for it." I remember that last one because she's always saying that to me in her e-mails.

She opened up about how it was when she first started out and how it took her five years before learning that, as Stephen King puts it, 'you have to kill your babies'. In other words, edit out your best work, no matter how much you love it. We talked for so long that I ended up being the last person she talked to before having everyone line up to get their book signed. But just before, this is why I mention Facebook, she knelt down to me and asked, "Have we met before?" Apparently, my Facebook page had caught her attention.

After I made her evening more fun and further embarrassed myself by kissing her goodnight, Yes, that was me on her 'Appearances' page, I went home and followed her advice. At first, I found it difficult. I hadn't realized until then that it had actually been a while since I had written anything new, but soon remembered my own little motivator. Once you make the first cut, the sawing gets easier. Once I realized what a problem it was not to be writing anything new in a while, I started to become a believer.

Eventually it got easier again, and then started to realize something else. I was wrong to think that not having a deadline was a good thing. Because without a deadline, you have no reason to get it done!

I finally close today's posting with something I've probably done before, but I believe I should do again.

Thank you, Lisa Scottoline, for all that you've done and all that you will do. You've inspired me from the beginning and for that I owe you.

And thank you everyone who had been following my progress. Some time in the next few weeks, when I finish straightening out the kinks in 'The Shanghai Tunnels', I'll begin writing "File ????: Pioneer Courthouse Square".

Once again, thanks for your interest, and remember ... "Omission is the enemy."

-Greg Wilhelm, author of The Pendleton Files.

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