Mark Terry

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Boring Drills

July 27, 2010
I've written about this before. Sometimes when I get a story idea, I'll write a little bit of it to see if it takes off. I had a story idea recently and although I'm in the middle of the next Derek Stillwater, I wanted to experiment with this story idea a bit. I think it still might make a fine Derek novel. Anyway, I thought I'd put them up here not as a poll, but to give you a glimpse of a process I sometimes go through. In this case, my focus isn't to find out of the stories work for you, but to find out if they work for me, which can be a very different thing.

The first attempt got deleted (probably with good reason), but it went something like this:

Michael Gabriel stood in the background in his three-piece gray suit, wearing even the vest. He put the vest on to honor Jeff, who died entirely too young. The honor guard fired off their salute and a bugler played taps and the crowd in Arlington Cemetery drifted away. Michael intended to do that, too, when a woman began to walk directly toward him. Jeff's sister. Shoulder-length chestnut hair in a dark suit with a knee-length skirt and a champagne-colored blouse.

There was more, but not much. It wasn't flying for me, even though I knew who she was and what she wanted and who Jeff was and even to some extent who Michael was.

Then I tried it with a character I've written about before, Dr. Austin Davis in a novel titled HOT MONEY that we haven't been able to place and I might consider publishing on Kindle (or maybe not, I haven't decided).

Entering the Rayburn House Office Building to meet with Congresswoman Julia McDowell, I was confronted by the bronze statue of Sam Rayburn, holding a gavel in his right hand. Rayburn held the record for surviving as Speaker of the snakepit known as the House of Representative—seventeen years. He was noted for his integrity and shyness, which are two traits not often noted in modern Speakers of the House, although vindictiveness and score-settling are.

Security passed me through quickly with a “Good morning, Dr. Davis,” and a run through the metal detector. Representative McDowell, from the state of Indiana, had a three-room suite of offices on the third floor with a particularly good view of the Capitol Building.

Her receptionist smiled and said, “Dr. Davis, Representative McDowell will see you shortly,” and pointed over to a chair. My name is Austin Davis and I am a political consultant. I am a very particular kind of political consultant, however, with a very particular set of skills. A politician typically hires a political consultant when they want a problem spun; they hire me when they want a problem to go away.

I did not know exactly what Representative McDowell wanted with me, although I could guess. Meanwhile, I spent the time in her reception area catching up on the day’s headlines on my laptop and eying McDowell’s staff, which leaned toward thirty and forty-something women in suits. There did not appear to be many men on McDowell’s staff.

* * *

Well, there's nothing wrong with it, although it's sort of place-setting. My biggest problem with it is that it's sort of reiterating things I wrote in HOT MONEY.

Then I played with this:

Professor Joe Gabriel stood in front of the classroom at Georgetown University and asked the question, “What motivates a suicide bomber? Why do people commit the most final act of terrorism? Ideas?”

There were thirty-five students in the classroom. Some were graduate students in political science. A few, Gabriel was sure, were spooks—CIA, DIA, State Department, probably some private contractors.

A young man with a crewcut and the squared-off posture of a marine said, “They’re nuts?”

Gabriel smiled. “Probably, some sort of psychopathy. Are you in the service?”

“In the Corps.”

He’d been right. “So someone who is willing to charge a machine gun nest is crazy? Willing to throw themselves on a hand grenade to protect those around them?”

“Probably,” the Marine said, to the amused laughter of the rest of the class.

“Not patriotism?” Gabriel asked.

The Marine cocked his head. “That’s … that might be too … theoretical. In battle, anyway.”

“Have you seen action?”

The Marine nodded. “Afghanistan.”

Gabriel nodded. “In your experience, then, who do soldiers fight for?”

“Each other,” the Marine said without hesitation. “Your squad. Your team.”

“So do terrorists commit suicide for each other? Anyone?”

The general consensus was they did not. Gabriel said, “So far, the consensus is ‘crazy.’” He gave an elaborate shrug. “Widespread psychopathy, even a certain contagious quality to it. Nihilism, perhaps.” He prowled the stage. Gabriel was a smidge over six-foot with broad shoulders. In a gray suit, he limped as he walked, although not badly enough to require a cane. Gabriel had served in the military as well, and had been close enough to an IED—improvised explosive device—in Iraq to cause permanent damage to his right leg and an honorable discharge.

He stopped and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “What does Al-Qaeda want? Anyone besides Jeff?”

A woman said, “A war with non-Muslims.”

“They’ve got it. Officially since 2001, but it was going on a bit before that. Once they have their war, what did they want?”

“To win,” another student said.

“Hmmm,” Gabriel said, leaning against the podium. “How does Al-Qaeda define winning?”

The door at the back of the lecture hall opened and a heavy-set balding man entered, caught Gabriel’s eye and leaned against the wall. The man folded his arms across his ample chest. His remaining hair was gray and he wore thick black plastic-rimmed glasses on a thick nose. Gabriel nodded at him.

Someone said, “The destruction of the U.S.”

“That grand?” Gabriel said. “How would they define destruction of the U.S.? And anyway, Al-Qaeda has spread all over the place. Started with bin Laden. Let’s get specific, then. What did bin Laden want?”

The man at the back of the classroom said, “He wanted the U.S. out of Saudi Arabia. Out of the home of Mecca. He viewed the U.S. as occupiers since the first Gulf War in 1991.”

Gabriel nodded and waved a hand. “Thanks, Steve. Let’s assume for a moment that Steve is correct. Can anyone cite any other precedents?”

Jeff, the Marine, raised a hand and said, “U.S. in Afghanistan.”

Someone else blurted out, “U.S. in Iraq.”

A third student said, “British out of Ireland.”

“Israel out of Palestine!”

It went on like that for a while before Gabriel said, ...

* * *

Gee, we may never find out what Gabriel said. Out of the three, I like this one the best. But as I said, I can see this particular story belonging to Derek, although I find this version of Joe Gabriel, college political science professor and political consultant, to be the most likely to click for me.

What's your process like?


Blogger Robert Carraher said...

Of course, I like the last one as well. Didn't like the first one at all-sounded like describing a page from a fashion mag. My process, I think, is much the same. Get the idea down, hate it. Rewrite it, still not fond of it. Write it again, flesh it out, let it simmer, try it back on 'til one of you gets tired.

12:48 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I'm playing with a new version of a very old story and I'm really liking it. I did first person, third person, switched POVs, tried different tenses...

Still playing. I have to put it off in lieu of other projects. But it's the one keeping me up nights.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

I like the set up of the first one because I could feel tention of what the woman wanted that had to be discussed right then. (the clothing discription seemed off-she's approaching a man, I don't think he's see her like that)
I liked the last one too but didn't feel the tention. it was more relaxed. Even if this wasn't a poll it seems we can't resist, can we?
I write a blurb, like the back of a book first and save it. Sometimes I write a few pages. I feel guilty leaving my wip too long to go and play with the others.

9:27 AM  

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