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Post-Apocalyptic Jerky

February 16, 2014

An ill-advised post, sharing a discussion I had with the protagonist of my impending book …

Tristan has his back to me and is tossing things into a knapsack that lies open on his bed. We find ourselves at his home, the country estate where his father, Rigel, brought his mother, Cerule, after they returned from Luna.Image courtesy of Chris H. @ stock.xchng

“So you’ll need to take a snack?” I type.

Tristan turns to me, his pale eyes narrowed into slits. “It takes about two days to get there. So I need to take a few rations. What’s it to you?”

“Just making notes. Do you know that I’ve written two first draft books in your story, a couple hundred thousand words, and not even bothered to discover that it’s two hundred and twenty thousand kilometers to our moon?”

He raises an eyebrow, then steps around the bed to rummage in his closet. He emerges with a crumpled pair of pants, along with one sock. “Welcome to the real world,” he says and stuffs them into his pack. He kneels on the floor to search under the bed for the other sock, so his next question is muffled. “Why are you following me?”

“I’m trying to figure out your story.”

“Since when do you plan out your stories in advance?”

“Since I want to end up with something publishable at the end of it.”

He stands with the sock in his hand. Static holds it in an odd V-shape, and his silver blond hair sticks out in all directions. “Publishable?” He snorts. “Who the heck cares?”

I stop to consider. “Perhaps I put this wrong. I want to have a clearer story when I’m done.”

He snorts again as he tosses the stray sock into the bag and pushes his clothes into a lump in the middle to get the zipper around them. “How do you plan on doing that?”

Image courtesy of Earl Wilkerson @ stock.xchngHe slings the bulging pack over his shoulder and marches out to the hallway. I follow him to the kitchen. “Well, hang out with you, for one thing.”

“I thought Kristen Lamb told you not to do that.” He grabs an apple from the counter and takes an over-sized bite.

“Much as I adore her, she can’t tell me what to do on my own time. That’s just for the blog.”

Still chewing his bite of apple, he nods and sets the fruit down to pull open a large drawer. Piled inside are what look like protein bars and sticks of jerky. He grabs a handful of them and swallows his first bite of the apple, licking his teeth. “Want one?” he says and holds out a stick of jerky.

I grab it gingerly. Post-apocalyptic jerky looks suspiciously similar to the jerky we consume today. “Is this any good?” I ask.

“If you like eating tree bark, sure it is.” He flashes a rare smile. “So, how does this work? You follow me around and ask questions?”

“Something like that. Sometimes you just do stuff on your own while I’m away, and I look in on you. Sometimes I go make scene cards for things that might happen in the story. Sometimes we just hang around the campfire and tell stories about the way things used to be.”

He scratches his temple as he nods, then takes another bite of the apple. “C’mon then,” he says through a mouthful of apple. “I’ll load up the dragon.”

After this little discussion, it came to me that Tristan isn’t afraid to break things because he knows how to fix them. At first I thought that was just an interesting observation about his personality, but after some more thought, I could see that it applied to myself as well. I’m standing on the threshold of finally starting this story, afraid I’m going to screw it up because as story sketches go I have the equivalent of an oval for the face and two circles for eyes. If I screw this up, can I fix it in revision? Dare I proceed?

Watch my word counter to see …Word Count-Shoals of Stars

How do you know when it’s time to start a story? Could beef jerky survive an apocalypse? And what’s with my protagonist grabbing an apple this early in his creation?!

Images courtesy of Chris H. and Earl Wilkerson  @ stock.xchng
  1. February 16, 2014 4:25 pm

    You can do it! Although I wouldn’t recommend eating his jerky.
    I observe and plan a long time before beginning a story. I know it’s time to start when my outline starts to look like a first draft.

    • February 17, 2014 2:27 pm

      I just started reading CassaFire (picked it up at a great price, you know! 😉 ) and I absolutely love it! Smart-mouthed spaceship pilots AND mind reading in the same book? Awesome. 🙂
      And I’ll bet Byron could show Tristan a thing or two about landing a rocket ship.

      I’m really trying to restrain myself from jumping in on actual story scenes before I’ve got a clearer course on this one. I like your idea of filling in the outline until it starts to look almost like a story …

  2. February 16, 2014 4:44 pm

    You go! He sounds like an interesting character, knows what he’s about, so it’s surely the right thing to follow him around. Sounds a bit like chronicling, as opposed to writing… but that’s probably just me!

    • February 17, 2014 2:32 pm

      Hi Will,
      You’re very much on track, because I do feel as if I’m chronicling my characters’ lives rather than creating a story, although I realize both these things come from my imagination. Having my characters take the lead feels more organic to me, even though that sometimes means I have to mop up a mess in revision!

  3. February 16, 2014 4:56 pm

    A writer I listened to at a conference said that in order to get to know your character, you had to take him fishing. It was her way of saying what you say quite well here. He sounds like an interesting guy to hang out with. Reminds me of my boyfriend a bit as he’s made his own venison jerky in our oven. Tree bark does come to mind.

    • February 17, 2014 2:37 pm

      So it does taste like tree bark then! (Not that I’ve tried either tree bark or post-apocalyptic venison jerky 😉 )
      I like the fishing analogy a lot–not only because sitting on a dock with one of my characters would certainly be fun, but because trying to catch a story idea sometimes feels like putting out a worm on a hook and waiting for a bite!

  4. February 16, 2014 9:24 pm

    Breaking thing is the mostest funnest 🙂 I intentionally try to do this. Take something… break it… and make a story out of how to fix it.

    I can’t wait to see what you and Tristan come up with.

    • February 17, 2014 2:40 pm

      You and me both, Papabear!
      These Dragons’ Milk books are great fun to write, but will be quite intimidating to revise. I’m hoping that by the time I get around to doing that I will have a better command of my toolbox. In fact, a chain saw comes to mind, along with maybe a nail gun …

  5. February 17, 2014 2:21 am

    Hahaha when I read Kristen Lamb’s post I immediately thought of you and how much I love the conversations you have with your characters. I’ve recently started ignoring some of the ‘advice’ from people like her and Catherine Howard because I’ve discovered if I don’t plough my own furrow I can’t work at all. So what if I never sell 1,000 books, at least I’m still being authentic to me. Surely the world doesn’t want cookie-cutter author blogs anyway?

    And yes, there are always revisions. Get writing, girl, it’ll be grand!

    • February 17, 2014 2:48 pm

      I can’t deny that a chill went down my spine when I read Kristen Lamb’s thoughts about character interviews, and I did briefly consider changing things up around here and doing away with them.
      Then I thought about it some more, wrote a blog post, (coming up for IWSG day) and decided to keep doing what I’m doing until further notice. I think I understand Kristen Lamb’s reasoning, and it makes sense. However my characters are intrinsic to my writing so it will be hard to shift my focus– especially, since as far as I can tell, you guys seem to enjoy reading my interviews as much as I love writing them. And isn’t that what this gig is all about?

      • February 17, 2014 3:02 pm


      • February 17, 2014 4:00 pm

        I love your interviews. Don’t change.

        • February 17, 2014 6:28 pm

          Thank you, both for chiming in. 🙂
          It’s not easy to stand my ground, especially because I really do appreciate so much of what Kristen Lamb says.
          I’m beginning to discover why it’s not always easy just to write what’s in my heart.

  6. melissamaygrove permalink
    February 17, 2014 3:48 pm

    The time to start a story is anytime you can’t not think about it. Create a file. Jot down your thoughts as they come. Things may change as you go (and research), but that’s okay.

    Maybe you can figure out a way to preserve those apples. 😉

    • February 17, 2014 6:34 pm

      Then it might be time for this one– because as much as I try to focus on other writing, (revision for one thing) my fingers and thoughts keep turning out new scenes for Tristan!

  7. melissamaygrove permalink
    February 17, 2014 3:52 pm

    Coming back after reading Lamb’s blog. For once, don’t listen to her.

    YESSSSSS! Keep talking to your characters. I LOVE your blog. Do you hear me? LOVE IT! – especially when your muse makes an on-screen appearance. Don’t you dare change a thing.

    It may not work for some writers, but it works for you. 😉

    • February 17, 2014 6:32 pm

      😀 You are so sweet!
      Too bad the IWSG doesn’t have emergency sessions, because I could use one about now! I’ll have to hang in there until March, I suppose.
      In the meantime, I have a feeling the Muse is going to have a few things to say about this deal. 😉

  8. February 19, 2014 6:34 pm

    Sharing your discussions with your characters is one of the things I love most about your blog. It’s unique and draws me in every time! Don’t change 🙂 But DO start that book — you are definitely ready and I can’t wait to see your meter start counting. Exciting times ahead!!! 🙂

    • February 20, 2014 9:46 pm

      Hi Arlene,
      Thank you so much for chiming in on this debate. I have much more to say on the subject, so look for a blog post devoted to just that, but be reassured, I’ve pretty much decided to keep the characters on board. 🙂
      As for the book, I just realized this morning that some exploratory scenes with troublemaker Tristan are quite possibly the first scenes of the story! (until revision that is …)
      So my word counter just made a big jump upward! 🙂

  9. March 21, 2014 10:35 pm

    I know it’s time to start a story when I can’t hold it in anymore. I feel like a cup that’s filling up with words and right before they spill over it’s time to start, or lose the words that spill forever. Sometimes I jot notes on the backs of receipts or the tops of pizza boxes to buy myself a little more time.

    • March 22, 2014 8:09 pm

      It’s funny. I ended up writing about 10k words that were supposed to be just following this character around, he went to a bar, picked up a chick, that kind of stuff, and, well, things happened and I realized this was the beginning of my story!
      So, I guess my story really did start spilling out but I didn’t want to acknowledge that I had actually started it. 🙂

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