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Copyright 2004 Tara K. Harper.  All rights reserved.

Tara K. Harper
January 1, 2004

In which TKH finishes "Wolf in Night", goes to Mexico and
nearly dies after being stung, then of viral pneumonia...


It's done!  Done, finished, finis, THE END.

Two years, my gawd, this has taken.  And it's long, this book, Wolf in Night.  Too long.  It will have to be cut, but I'm blind to it right now.  I have to put something else in my mind so I can see the book again later.

Why did this novel take so long?  For the first time in my life, I think I had some sort of writer's block.  It's not that I wasn't writing, it was that what I was writing didn't have the "rightness" it should have had.  There were several reasons for this, and although I knew what some of those reasons were at the time, I couldn't see how to correct them.

First, there were six different ways to start the book, and six different ways at each significant point to turn the story.  Choosing between them was agony, and I was blinded enough by being too close to the story, to be able to tell which was best.  Every time I wrote something, I rewrote it.  I'd put a section back, tear it out again, put it back differently, tear it apart, put it together with something else, try a different place in the timeline, and tear it out again.

The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.
                                 - unattributed

Second, my villain was quite intelligent, and I had trouble connecting him to the main character because he took the kinds of precautions I would have had I been in his place.  This was a stickler for a long time.  

I finally realized that the solution was one of those unforseen circumstances, the kind that are perfectly reasonable, but which require a contingency plan.  Since my villain had contingency plans, he was able to deal with the circumstance, but in doing so, the connection between him and the main character was made.  I had my ending.  

Of course, that was just the first step.  Later, I tore out that ending, simplified the connection between villains and heroes, set the story down the river a bit, and threw some folks off a bridge.  Now that works for me.

Third and more subtly, I was having trouble visualizing the story from the main character's point of view.  I kept seeing things from secondary character's views, from the villain's pov, from everyone but Nori.  I finally realized that I'd forgotten to ask myself what Nori had been doing with her life.  Oh, not the obvious events, but her daily activities, her time off, her studies, her friends, her skills, what trouble she had or hadn't gotten into, and how and why she'd been caught when she had gotten in a mess.  

Such an obvious thing to do for her, yet after nine published novels, I actually forgot the process, till the problem was so pronounced I had to extend the writing schedule.  Clarifying the person, Nori, brought her suddenly into focus.  She became real, not just a character with some specific strengths and weaknesses.  It brought the book back on track so quickly that I almost felt sick with relief.  

But by that time, I thought I had lost it, lost the ability to write, lost the dreams, the fantasy, lost everything.  My confidence was gone.  I could see other stories, other books, but not this one, and I was focused here, on this one.  Realizing that I'd simply forgotten some basics and lost my perspective--that was a thank-god moment.

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.
                             - F. Scott Fitzgerald in an undated letter

Finally--and this took months to figure out--I was writing into the second book.  I couldn't find the rightness of the ending because I wasn't writing to the ending.  A full third of this novel was actually a second story about the main characters.  I had to tear that out completely, set it aside, and then try to reset my mind to this now-more-focused story.

Photo Copyright 2004 Tara K. Harper
All rights reserved

lack of

I don't usually dwell on the writing aspects of my life (I simply write), but these last two years were a bear for finding that rightness.  My husband kept saying he'd never seen me agonize so over a book.  My response was always, "If I'm agonizing, then it's not right."  A story should flow from one point to the next.  It can race or paddle, twist, turn, and curl back in on itself, but it should always be moving and it should always be smooth.

I describe this process here because these are significant story errors, not simple fix-in-a-paragraph issues.  Perhaps they will encourage new writers to remember that anyone can be stumped when too long in his own mind.

So what did I do in the meantime, to try to take my mind off things?  I dwelt mostly in Mundania.  I harvested a significant amount of lemon verbena, lavender, and rose.  I was considering building a still to make lavender oil, but apparently I need a bit more acreage.  Perhaps a microstill?  I'll need a machinist...

I did, after two years with, I believe, two weekends off, leave the country and spend a week in Mexico.  Odd trip.  Probably the best part for me was that I got to sing on a Mexican opera stage.  Granted, the stage wasn't being used at the time, but the backstage folk were quite appreciative, and the acoustics were fantastic.

Then, I nearly died when I was stung by a Mexican bee.  I pulled the stinger out instantly, but it was too late.  My arm started to feel as if it was being crushed, a 2-inch-wide steak of brown made a solid band around my bicep, and I lost the ability to move my fingers.  Luckily, we were literally steps from the car we'd rented, and I had doubled up on my shot kits and meds just in case (I'd had a bad feeling about the trip from the beginning).

After that, it was a simple matter of breaking down on a mountainside, which luckily had the only really clear view of the jungled ridges around us and the turquoise ocean below.  I had prepared  for that too, so it wasn't a hardship.  We were almost mugged, managed to make it back into town in time to get stuck near a rickety scaffold where the workers were trying to stucco the outside of a building with fresh concrete. The roads there were hand-cobbled with river rock, narrow and steep (interesting to watch that being laid down), and a brick truck had backed up, so the entire area was blocked.  It was actually quite relaxing.

Photo Copyright 2004 Tara K. Harper
All rights reserved

out of
the old
walls in

In the end, to celebrate the trip, I decided to pick up viral pneumonia, through which I enjoyed a high fever (102 to 104) for six days, and became dehydrated enough that you couldn't pinch skin.  I was very ill, according to the doctor (by the time I got to one, both lungs were pretty much out of commission, and I was having trouble remaining conscious enough to answer any questions).  Poor guy, he seemed concerned that I'd make it through.  I could have told him not to worry.  Breathing is a way of life for me; I'm not likely to give it up so easily.

The hallucinations through all this were quite interesting.  One time, I didn't know where I was; I thought I was still off-shore in Mexico (I was at home, actually). Another time, I didn't know when I was.  That was much more disorienting and I actually felt a pang of fear in that one.  If you don't know when you are, you have no idea what to do.  I didn't know if it was winter or spring, early or late in the month, what day of the week.  I didn't know if I was supposed to get up and start making Thanksgiving dinner, wrap Christmas presents, pick berries for jam, or panic over a deadline to turn in a book.  Calendars don't mean anything unless you know what day to look at.  It was a long twenty minutes to work through that hallucination.

I did get quite a bit done on the book while I was on the ship, though.  It was difficult to find a good power source, but the nights were quiet enough that I could write, usually from about 3 am to 7 am in one of the deserted lounges before anyone started bugging me.

Back home, I drove around a lot with the windows down while trying to finish the book.  Sat out in the rain for many days just thinking.  I love rain on the skin; there's something both cathartic and stimulating about it.

For solitude sometimes is best society

                           - Paradise Lost, John Milton

I didn't go camping (although I did get hit again in the pickup, this time from behind).  Instead, I burned a lot of candles.  Read books that I didn't like.  Played piano and guitar.  Played more piano and guitar, but louder.  Chased starlings and herded flies.  Hit the heavy bag.  Kicked the heavy bag.  Attacked the heavy bag.  Pretty much did everything you can do to a heavy bag and still leave it hanging.

Most fun:  teaching my niece to use a blowtorch.  You'd be amazed at the shapes into which you can twist a penny nail.  Of course, she's a bit young to use the oxy-acetylene torches, so we had to ask a friend to bend the hammer, wrench, and screwdriver to go with the nails and screws.  Still, it was too much fun.  I can't wait till she's a bit older, so we can do even more.  Next most fun with her:  teaching her to do stained glass.  That's my husband's bailiwick, but we both had fun.

So now, back to another book.  At least I'm more myself again and have some sense of direction.

Copyright 2004 Tara K. Harper

All rights reserved.  It is illegal to reproduce or transmit in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, any part of this copyrighted file without permission in writing from Tara K. Harper.  Permission to download this file for personal use only is hereby granted by Tara K. Harper.

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