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NaNoWriMo 2007: Drawing Back the Curtain, Part 3 – Plot

I wrote about 2,400 words yesterday, which would be fantastic were it not for the fact that the first 1,667 of them were supposed to have been written on Saturday. The allure of Arkham Horror was too much to resist, and so I spent several hours Saturday evening battling nameless horrors from realms beyond mankind’s understanding in a futile attempt to prevent the Ancient One from awakening and destroying Arkham, Massachusetts. Chris, Gus and I played two games. The first, against Shub-Niggurath, was a dismal failure; when the Great Old One awakened, we soon discovered that were were entirely unable to deal it any damage. The second game, against Yig, was much more successful, and I found that Sister Mary the nun kicked far more beastly ass than the gangster I was playing in the first game. Power of the Almighty, indeed.

Enough of that, let’s get to the meat of today’s post: the plot of my novel-in-progress, which involves neither nuns nor gangsters, nor slumbering horrors that will rip your sanity from you like so much plastic film off the top of a microwave dinner when they awaken. Well, not yet, anyway.

Cleveland, Ohio. January of 1938. The city has a new mayor, elected to the office under dubious circumstances, and a killer roams the streets, able to slay young women with apparent impunity. Chief Inspector Timothy Remington enlists the aid of Bannister Proulx, a detective whose consultations have proven quite valuable to the constabulary in the past two years.

Unfortunately for Remington, the new mayor sees Proulx as a threat to the department of police and the city of Cleveland. The mayor demands that Remington turn over and and all police files pertaining to Bannister Proulx and suggests that some very influential people are concerned that Proulx’s involvement with high-profile murder investigations paints the constabulary in a poor light.

On the heels of this news comes another slaying, apparently the work of the elusive killer who has haunted the streets of the city for some four months. But it’s worse than Remington suspects; the killer he has been pursuing since autumn of the previous year is merely an imitator of the true menace, and the gruesome new slaying is more horrific and more puzzling than anything the Chief Inspector has ever seen.

Despite the mayor’s admonitions, Remington again calls upon the aid of Bannister Proulx and his partner, the young, attractive, and exceptionally intelligent Emma Caldwell. Proulx quickly confirms Remington’s darkest fears. The murder of a mother and her grown daughter on Ridgebury Lane is not the work of the same individual who has been terrorizing Cleveland since the previous September.

Proulx determines that this new killer is far more meticulous and exacting than his imitator and reveals a supernatural element at work. The mysterious symbols and diagrams written on the walls of the murder scene are familiar to the detective, who is no stranger to the arcane and the occult. While Proulx attempts to determine the exact nature and intent of the symbols, he encourages Remington to continue his pursuit of the copycat killer in hopes that catching the imitator might gain them valuable insight into the identity of the true menace.

During the course of his investigation, Proulx learns that the grisly murder on Ridgebury Lane is not unique to Cleveland. Similar incidents have occurred in the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and even Pittsburgh. Not only are the murders practically identical, they all took place on the same street in their respective cities: Ridgebury Lane.

While Remington races to find the copycat killer before he strikes again, Proulx and Emma Caldwell travel to New York City, where their investigation leads them to a secret society that has existed for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. This powerful group has influenced the architecture and infrastructure of every major city of the United States and western Europe, ensuring that certain elements—all but invisible to those who don’t what to look for—were included in the cities’ designs. Bannister learns that the presence of these elements, combined with the appropriate arcane knowledge, will allow near instantaneous transportation between any of these cities, and the thoroughfare connecting them all is Ridgebury Lane.

But who is using this arcane secret to commit gruesome murders from Cleveland to London, and why? The key to the mystery lies in finding the elusive copycat killer, but can Remington and Proulx find him before he, too, falls victim to the true terror of Ridgebury Lane?

NaNoWriMo 2007: Drawing Back the Curtain, Part 2 – Characters

How Not To Grow A Beard: Day 04
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Though the cast of my novel-in-progress is incomplete (Emma didn’t have a name, a personality or defined relationship with any of the characters but Bannister Proulx until this afternoon), I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the cast so far. The only character who had a name (or even a role) before I began writing is Bannister Proulx, and although he is mentioned by name in the first line I wrote, he does not appear until three or four scenes later. Some of the details about these characters could be considered spoilers.

Bannister Proulx is a detective who is respected for his ability to bring a fresh, if somewhat unusual perspective to cases that have proven troublesome for the Cleveland police. Proulx has only resided in the city for a handful of years, and details about his life prior taking residence at Number Eleven Wilmonton Boulevard are few and far between. I tend to think of Proulx as a hybrid of Sherlock Holmes and Fox Mulder (or perhaps Carl Kolchak); although he uses observation, logic and deductive reasoning to solve crimes, he is no stranger to mysticism, the occult and the supernatural. In addition to being a professional detective, Bannister is an amateur magician; he is particularly fond of so-called parlor tricks and quite adept at sleight-of-hand.

Proulx is the only character whose name I don’t plan on changing at some point. Most, if not all of the remaining characters have placeholder names while I’m writing the first draft.

Chief Inspector Timothy Remington 1For the moment, I’m utilizing the British system of police ranks, which may or may not have been used in Cleveland in the mid-nineteenth century. I don’t really plan on changing this; if … Continue reading is investigating a series of murders when the novel begins. He has enlisted the aid of Bannister Proulx in the hopes of solving the homicides before the killer strikes again. In the two years since Proulx arrived in Cleveland, Remington has employed the detective as a consultant on a number of investigations, each time with very good results.

Sergeant Michael Shaughnessey is a friend and subordinate of Chief Inspector Remington.

Thaddeus von Braunhoffen III is the newly-elected mayor of Cleveland. A man of considerable appetites and questionable allegiences, von Braunhoffer gained the office of the mayor under what many feel were extremely dubious circumstances. The mayor has recently begun pressuring the police to discontinue using Bannister Proulx as a consultant on murder investigations.

Emma Caldwell is Bannister Proulx’s assistant, protégé and partner. Someone (and I’m afraid I don’t recall who at the moment; probably Mick Bradley) requested that the “Scully” to my “Mulder” be a red-headed woman, so that’s how I’m writing her. I haven’t really decided whether she’ll be the skeptic or whether she’ll be as fascinated by all things supernatural as Proulx is. In an interesting development, it does seem that something about Miss Caldwell agitates Chief Inspector Remington, and not in an entirely unpleasant manner.

In addition to the named characters, there are a number of bit players, including Remington’s coachman, two constables who guard the house on Ridgebury Lane and the two murdered women in the house. The cast will be growing considerably in the days to come.

Tomorrow: Plot and background stuff.

References
1 For the moment, I’m utilizing the British system of police ranks, which may or may not have been used in Cleveland in the mid-nineteenth century. I don’t really plan on changing this; if I discover that it wasn’t common to use the British ranks, I’ll chalk it up to artistic license. It is possible that Remington’s rank may change in future drafts.

NaNoWriMo 2007: Drawing Back the Curtain, Part 1 – Setting

How Not To Grow A Beard: Day 03
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I’m going to break this behind the scenes look at my novel-in-progress up into three sections: Setting, Characters and Plot. I don’t think we’ll get into potential spoiler territory until tomorrow.

The story is set in a fictional version of Cleveland, Ohio in the first half of the nineteen century. I say “fictional” because I’m not really trying to adhere to any of the city’s history in the real world. It is entirely possible that I will ultimately change the name of the city (as well as Ohio City, in which part of the story will likely take place and which was a wholly separate entity during this time period). I know as much about Cleveland in the nineteenth century as I do about any other city, but the only truly important element of the setting (at present) is the level of technology:

  • Thomas Edison, instrumental in bringing electric power to the masses, is only a child.
  • The telegraph has yet to come into widespread use.
  • Though there are railroads (such as the Baltimore & Ohio), the transcontinental railroad will not be realized until well into the latter half of the century.
  • I may play things a little fast and loose as far as the availability of other technologies is concerned, but the primary concerns are the limitations on communications and transportation.

There will ultimately be other major American and western European cities in the story, as well, particularly Boston and New York and potentially London, but the majority of the action will take place in Cleveland and Ohio City.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow I’ll introduce the cast of characters so far.

NaNoWriMo 2007: An Excerpt.

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I had planned to provide a sneak peek at what’s rattling around in my brain as the basis for my novel-to-be, but I’ve just spent the last two hours writing because I didn’t take a lunch break at work today (don’t worry, I ate plenty after leaving work) and I’m just a wee bit burned out right now and I want to play a little Burnout: Revenge before bed. So I’m going to postpone the behind the scenes stuff until tomorrow and present a short excerpt from today’s efforts. It’s rough and unedited and I make no apologies for it. I’m trying to get the story told and I’m trying to use a lot of words while doing so.

“Mind your step, sir,” Shaughnessey said, and Remington looked down at his feet. An uneven trail of sickly yellow spatters colored the snow on the front stoop, leading to a large, similarly colored spot beside the path where someone had clearly vomited. Remington stepped around the mess and nodded to the two constables, and now the fellow on the left had some color in his cheeks, though it was surely embarrassment that had caused the blood to rise, and not the harsh winter chill.

Shaugnessey opened the front door and Remington felt a wave of welcome heat wash over him, but an instant later the coppery scent of blood—carrying with it the pungent odor of menses—assailed his nostrils, threatening to bring the bile again to the back of his throat. The heat issuing from the open door was oppressive, its effects intensified by the cold air outside.

“Good lord, Michael,” Remington gasped, stepping into the small foyer, “why is it so damned hot in here?” He fought to keep from gagging on the putrid air, sympathizing with the constable who had clearly been overwhelmed with nausea.

Shaugnessey had covered his mouth and nose with a scarf, and gestured for Remington to follow suit. When he spoke, his voice was somewhat muffled. “There are two fireplaces,” he explained, “and both were full ablaze when we arrived, the house closed up tight. It was hot enough to send Old Scratch hisself running to the snow, and the smell…”

Remington nodded, lifting his own scarf to cover his face. “Wretched,” he muttered, and followed Shaughnessey deeper into the house.

The sergeant led him up a narrow staircase to the house’s second floor, and through a door at the top of the stairs. A lamp burned in the hallway and both men cast long shadows into the dark room. Shaughnessey held up his own lantern, and as the light filled the room, Remington once again only just barely managed to keep from vomiting.

The lantern cast a flickering light over the four poster bed and its two occupants. The two women were both nude, lying in what appeared to be a tender embrace. Remington had seen far worse in the past three months; there didn’t appear to be any blood on either body. The walls of the small bedroom were another matter, covered with hundreds, perhaps thousands of bizarre symbols and cryptic diagrams, all written in dark, glistening, still-red blood. The stench of it was overpowering, and Remington clutched the scarf tightly against his mouth and nose.

“The windows are nailed shut,” Shaugnessey explained grimly, “and the panes are all covered with some manner of tar. That’s different from the others, as well, to say nothing of the blasted heat. The second story fireplace is in the next room. He gestured to the door on the wall to his left. “The door is nailed shut, like the windows. Bastard had plenty of time, it seems.”

Remington swallowed hard and blinked away the hot tears that had welled up in the corners of his eyes. As Shaughnessey moved around the room, the deep shadows shifted, throwing the pale, naked corpses into sharp contrast with the deep red of the blood covering the walls. “Mother of Christ,” the Chief Inspector said, “surely this can’t all be their blood!”

Shaughenssey shook his head. “I don’t expect it is, sir,” he said, “and that’s different, too. I think he must have…brought the blood with him. Human or animal, I don’t know.”

“Let me have your light, Michael,” Remington said. Sergeant Shaugnessey handed the Chief Inspector his lantern, then stood beside him while Remington peered at the grisly writing. After a moment, Remington said, “You were right. This is…different, somehow. It’s cleaner. Whoever wrote these symbols is fastidious and careful, much more so than we’ve seen before. It’s almost certainly another person.” He paused, frowning at something the sergeant had said in the carriage.

“You said I’d gotten it backwards,” Remington said thoughtfully.

Shaughnessey nodded. “Aye,” he said. “This isn’t an imitation of the murders we’ve seen over the past three months; whoever done the other four was imitating the person who did this.”

“Mother of Christ,” Remington said again, “that means there are more of these we haven’t seen yet.”

NaNoWriMo 2007: And away we go…

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Welcome to November and what promises to be a busy month ’round these parts. It’s the first day of a lot of things, specifically National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and How Not To Grow A Beard Month (HoNoToGroABeMo). The first two were originally started by Chris Baty and Eden Marriott Kennedy (which may or may not be a pseudonym), respectively, while the third is a creature of my own devising. 1How Not To Grow a Beard Month is not related in any way to Movember, a charity mustache-growing event that also happens to take place throughout the month of November. In fact, I was unaware that … Continue reading

Rather than writing separate posts about my progress in each of these endeavors, I’m going to combine them all into a single, daily post that will feature a photo of my beard growth (or lack thereof) and a bit about my trials and triumphs on the way to 50,000 words. I’m probably not going to mention NaBloPoMo again until the end of the month, as the daily posts will fulfill my requirements and I try to shy away from meta-blogging for the most part.

So, the beard is gone, shaved off for my Hallowe’en costume. I toyed with the idea of shaving my head, too, but Laura vetoed me. I was a little nervous about how Kyle would react to seeing me without the beard that I’ve been sporting since well before he was born—not to mention with my face painted in an approximation of The Red Skull—so I had him watch while I first used my beard trimmer to cut most of the facial fur off, then lathered up and shaved my chin smooth with the old Mach 3. 2I absolutely loved to watch my father shave when I was a boy, and I’m a firm believer that every boy should at least have the opportunity to watch his father do so.

My fears were unfounded; Kyle handled the entire thing—from shaving to application of the latex brow and cheekbone enhancer to painting of my face—like a champ. At no point did he ask where daddy went, and he never hesitated to jump into my arms when I was done up like a gruesome, grinning villain.

And so, with a naked chin and a glimmer of a story idea, I set forth on the journey that will be November. During my lunch break at work, I wrote just over 800 words (thank you, Google Docs), putting me just shy of the halfway point for today. Once Kyle goes to bed and the house is (relatively) quiet, I’ll see about doubling that and maybe throwing in an extra hundred words or so to start building a buffer.

In tomorrow’s update, I’ll reveal which story I’ve decided to tell this November and pull back the curtain on some of the ideas behind it.

References
1 How Not To Grow a Beard Month is not related in any way to Movember, a charity mustache-growing event that also happens to take place throughout the month of November. In fact, I was unaware that Movember existed until a week or so ago.
2 I absolutely loved to watch my father shave when I was a boy, and I’m a firm believer that every boy should at least have the opportunity to watch his father do so.

Halloween 2007, or NaNoWriMo Eve

The Red Skull
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I wish I could say that an evening out with ghosts, goblins, superheroes, transforming robots and mystery-solving, snack-gobbling teenagers has cleared all of the cobwebs out of my head and left me fully prepared to begin writing tomorrow, but it turns out that clarity, vision and inspiration aren’t commonly doled out along with Baby Ruth, Kit Kat, Lemonheads and Big Hugs.

We did get a lot of candy, though. And by “we”, I mean Kyle. Just because I was in costume and holding the bucket doesn’t mean the candy is for me. Well, not all of it.

I may not be prepared to begin writing tomorrow (which has never stopped me before), but I am prepared for How Not To Grow A Beard Month. The beard is gone and I’ll probably give it a once over again before I go to bed, just to make it nice and official.

The words will come. Or they won’t. But the hair is inexorable. The hair must grow.

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2007

NaNoWriMo 2007 ParticipantIs it mid-October already? That can mean only one thing: National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, as the kids call it; or, as the Ancient Ones knew it, November) is right around the corner. Once again, thousands of aspiring writers from all over the globe will attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 short days.

This will be my fifth consecutive year participating in NaNoWriMo and—though I’ve only hit that 50,000 word goal once before (in 2005)—I’m pretty jazzed about it. People still say that, right? Jazzed? Anyway, I’ve got a couple of ideas floating around in my head and I’m going to try some pre-NaNo mindmapping exercises to knock some of the details loose before I commit the first words to paper (or electrons) on 01 November.

The (morbidly or otherwise) curious among you can view my NaNoWriMo profile at any time to get an idea of how well I’m doing, but I’ll also have a handy word-o-meter in the sidebar at KJToo.com to provide a constant reminder that I need to be cranking out 1,667 words per day throughout the month. I’ll also be recording a couple of episodes for The NanoMonkeys, the (Parsec-nominated!) daily tips, tricks and encouragement podcast Chris Miller, Mur Lafferty, P.G. Holyfield and I did last year. We’re doing it again for NaNoWriMo 2007 and we’ve got a lot of new participants, including Sam Chupp, Jason Penney and Natalie Metzger, just to name a few. Stay tuned!

In addition to NaNoWriMo I’m going to take another stab at National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo, and attempt to write—at a minimum—one blog post every day in November. Last year when I did NaBloPoMo I was writing daily posts about my NaNoWriMo progress; this year, I’ll be posting pictures of my HoNoToGroABeMo progress, and if you’re wondering what the heck that is (and why there’s no link to the appropriate website), read on…

HoNoToGroABeMo (short for How Not to Grow a Beard Month) is a project of my own devising. On October the 31st, I will be shaving my goatee off and letting my beard grow for an entire month, documenting the process with a daily photograph. It is my sincere belief that the bizarre follicle topography of my face makes it impossible for me to grow a full beard, so I’m giving my cheeks and chin thirty days to prove me wrong. I’ll still be shaving my neck just below the jawline, because after a few days that hair drives me up the wall, but the aforementioned cheeks and chin will remain untouched by my Mach 3 (but occasionally groomed with my beard trimmer to maintain some semblance of civility on my grizzled visage) throughout the month of November.