Razor Mountain — Chapter 4.1

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with a new chapter published every week. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

When Christopher woke, light was streaming from the slats in the ceiling. He felt as though he had slept for days, though he had no way of actually knowing. As far as he could tell, there were no clocks of any sort in the bunker.

The long rest felt necessary, but the uncomfortable bed had done nothing to ease his battered body. If anything, all of his aches and pains had settled in and gotten comfortable. In some places they were less acute, but deeper. It made Christopher worry that he was  damaged in ways that wouldn’t properly heal without medical attention. His right knee and ankle especially ached in the joints, and jolted him as he got to his feet.

He realized there was no proper place for bathing in the bunker, but he stripped down and ran enough water in the little sink to wash with a bar of soap from the store room. Once he was somewhat clean and had gingerly washed his various scrapes and the crusty gash down his calf, he started to get dressed again. Then he thought better of it and did his best to scrub his filthy clothes in the sink. He laid them over the backs of the steel chairs and sat down to wait for oatmeal to cook in the weird little oven. He felt awkward, sitting naked, even though he was completely alone. He wondered if there might be security cameras hidden around the place. If so, they had already seen all of him that there was to see.

Sitting with nothing to do for a few minutes, he suddenly began to remember bits and pieces of dreams from the night before. They were  faded and half-forgotten, but he remembered hiking through the snowy forests and mountains. He had the vague sense that there were others following, but he never turned around to see them.

When he remembered to check on the oatmeal, it had already boiled over and was in the process of burning. He did his best to clean the hot box, wiping with a rag and scraping with a spoon, slightly singeing his forearm. The entire bunker reeked of burnt oats. He ate the unburnt portion directly from the little saucepan. As he ate, he opened the notebook to a fresh page.

“Alright, what do you remember?”

He thought back to Anchorage. The flight from Minneapolis had been dull. He had a seat near the back of the plane, in the zone that combined the smell of the bathroom with the maximum possible engine noise. If he had ever had the hint of a thought that regional sales would be glamorous and exciting, he had been disabused of it.

He had a layover in Anchorage, just under two hours. Long enough to be tedious, but not enough to do anything or go anywhere beyond the dull beige-tiled corridors and uncomfortable seating of the airport. He had browsed emails and art websites while he waited.

Boarding the flight to Fairbanks had only been interesting because Christopher had never flown on such a small plane. He was used to taking the boarding bridge onto large planes, not scanning his ticket and walking out onto the tarmac. He had paid more attention to the plane itself than the passengers that boarded with him. He closed his eyes and tried to remember them in as much detail as possible.

There was a man, younger than him. He had been on the plane already, in one of the rear seats when Christopher stepped on. He remembered the back of the man’s head. Dark brown hair, almost black. Parted, and a little greasy. He remembered the elbow on the aisle armrest: a brown coat with leather patches on the elbows. An oddly old-fashioned look for somebody young.

There had been a woman, maybe a little older than Christopher, who came aboard after him and sat in a seat near the front. Her hair was platinum blond, a color that might have been natural or dyed, or perhaps a slightly darker shade naturally verging toward an elderly white. It had been wrapped in a bun.

Christopher wasn’t sure if he had seen either of their faces. If he had, he didn’t remember them. He remembered the pilot, who had helped him stow his luggage and get to his seat with as few words as possible. An older man with white hair mostly covered by a white pilot’s cap with a black plastic brim. The man’s face had been creased and grim; the sort of face that wanted to get things done with a minimum of fuss.

Since the small plane had been a new experience for Christopher, he hadn’t thought much of it. Looking back, it was a little odd. The plane seemed relatively new, especially compared to some of the other small planes at the airport. It seemed strange that they’d fly it with only three passengers. They couldn’t be making much money on a flight like that. The tickets had been dirt cheap, which he assumed was the reason his company travel site had recommended them. The name of the airline had been something generic: something like Fairbanks Air Taxi.

Christopher ran through his memories step by step, making small notes and sketches of the plane and what he remembered of the passengers. He wished he had paid more attention to his ticket, but he couldn’t remember his flight number or be sure he even had the name of the airline exactly right.

He had a flash of memory: the woman in the front seat had gotten up at some point. He specifically remembered her bumping into him as she moved down the aisle. A sharp pain in his arm. He still couldn’t envision her face. Had she gone to that awkward little toilet in the back, with nothing but a curtain to shield it? He thought he would remember if anyone had used that. He couldn’t remember anything more about the incident.

As he thought about it, he remembered feeling groggy and nauseous when he had awoken alone on the plane. He had felt off-balance and had a hard time focusing. He had felt sick. Or drugged.

The idea seemed absurd on its face, but everything after that moment had been so insane that it didn’t seem any more far-fetched than any other possible explanation.

He flipped to a new page and titled it “What is going on?” He began a bulleted list, then laughed aloud as he read it back to himself.

  • A crazy accident
  • Something supernatural
  • Someone trying to kill me
  • It’s all a dream

The insane thing was that he honestly wasn’t sure which option was the most likely.

<< PREVIOUS ] [HOME] [ NEXT >>

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 3 (Redux)

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

Since I ended up posting the Chapter 3 episodes last week and this week, I had a brief Chapter 3 journal last Monday. I wanted to wait until after the episodes were out to avoid any potential spoilers. So now we can speak freely.

Momentum

Christopher exploring the bunker has a certain element of mystery that helps propel the chapter, but I don’t think it’s not enough to sustain the momentum all on its own. The radio message and the map ramp up the mystery, while also giving Christopher some useful clues that he can use to start solving those mysteries.

The sooner Christopher can take an active role in determining his own destiny, the sooner he can start to be a compelling character. That active participation is important, even if it’s just small things. Characters who are just passive lumps, waiting for things to happen to them, are not interesting characters to read about.

Themes

There were several themes that I wanted to keep up throughout the chapter.

  • The strangeness of the bunker. A secret bunker in the wilderness has some built-in strangeness, but things like bunks, a radio, and survival gear are all reasonable things to find in that place. There are other things that are oddities, like the weird oven, the many-piped device behind the storage room, and the lights and odd decorative flourishes. I wanted the bunker to feel “off” in a few ways, to enhance the feeling that there’s a mystery here. (I also made sure to reference the strangeness of Christopher guessing the door code.)
  • Physical pain. Christopher likes action movies, but this is not an action movie. Jumping out of the plane was crazy, and it ought to have killed him. His survival is already a miracle, and he’s going to pay for it. It’s hard to make jumping out of a plane and surviving seem like a realistic thing, but I’m going to try. Christopher is thoroughly beat up, and I wanted to keep that in the forefront of the reader’s mind. He’s not going to be running and gunning by the next scene. He’s going to be hobbling and limping.
  • Christopher’s emotional state. I didn’t focus on this as much as the physical pain, but I wanted to make it clear that Christopher is someone who can work things out. He’s naturally compelled to be a puzzle solver. Even though he spends most of the chapter hobbling around, looking at things, and wondering what’s going on, he also spends some time thinking and planning. He tries the radio, even if it doesn’t work. He’s already thinking about next steps.

Editing Out Weak Language

One of the stylistic errors that I continue to fight is hedging language. I always find a few points in every chapter where things “seem” or “feel” or “are like” something, and I have to delete those words so they just are. I think this is a symptom of uncertainty while writing. If I’m not sure I have the right words or I am going in the right direction, this hedging slips in as a symptom. All it does is make the language weaker. On the upside, I’m developing a pretty comprehensive list of these problematic words, so I can catch this stuff quickly during revision.

Getting Back on Track

I started publishing Razor Mountain with a little more than one chapter already written, to give me a buffer. (The second was done, but not fully revised.) I intended to publish one chapter per week, fully knowing that would be a stretch for me. It only took until Chapter 3 for me to start to fall a little bit behind.

With Chapter 3 spread out across two weeks, I have a week of buffer again to get ahead on writing and keep going with the chapter-per-week cadence. I’m trying to stick with that plan for a few reasons.

First, it ends up being a nice amount of posts each week. Most chapters are going to split into two or three short episodes in order to fit the word count limits on the serial services. Filling Tuesday – Thursday with Razor Mountain fits neatly between a Monday craft post and this Friday development journal. If I ever have a really long chapter, I have the flexibility to split it between two weeks and maybe throw in some short posts or re-blogs.

Second, it feels like a stretch that is still achievable. One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was to acclimate myself to writing more, and doing it on a regular schedule. I have to say, it’s been a resounding success. Having to write for my blog schedule (even though it’s self-imposed) has gotten me to write more, and write with consistency. I used to write in fits and starts. Now I write almost every day.

Writing on a tight schedule has forced me to be a little less precious about my writing. Posts can always be improved, but I’ve started to get a good sense of when I’m better served by expanding this week’s upcoming article, and when I should just let it go and think about next week’s post. I’m juggling Razor Mountain and blog posts, and I prioritize now, instead of putting things off and only writing what I feel like, when I feel like it.

I think I need to cultivate a little bit more of that attitude for Razor Mountain. I want it to be good, but there’s a limit to how much I can revise when I’m publishing serially. That’s okay. That’s the nature of the project. I console myself with the idea that I might go back when it’s all finished and clean up every little part I don’t like. Razor Mountain: The Director’s Cut. Whether or not I end up doing that, it helps keep me going.

I’ll keep trying to hit the chapter-per-week. If I find myself consistently getting behind, then I’ll reevaluate that and adjust the schedule. For now, let’s plan on Chapter 4 next week.

Razor Mountain — Chapter 3.3

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with a new chapter published every week. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

Christopher hauled himself to his feet as quickly as he could, heart pounding. He hobbled over to the desk and looked at the mess of  switches and knobs on the radio. He flipped the switch next to the circular mesh that looked like it might be a microphone. A tiny red light came on, then flickered.

“Hello? Hello, can anyone hear me? Please respond. Anyone?”

He stared at the flickering red light, then realized that he might not be able to hear any response while the microphone was still on. He flipped the switch again. The light stopped flickering.

After a few seconds of silence, he tried again.

“This is Christopher Lamarck, um, in an unknown structure in the Alaskan wilderness. I am stranded and injured. Uh…I was on flight…”

He realized he didn’t know his flight number. His boarding pass was probably at the bottom of the lake, with his wallet and cell phone.

“…on a flight from Anchorage to Homer. I think we may have been off-course. I need help. Over.”

He flipped the switch. He had the odd feeling that he should probably be using words like “over” and maybe the phonetic alphabet, if any mysterious voices on the other end of the line were going to take him seriously as the operator of this ridiculous antique radio.

He left the radio on its current settings, afraid that if he changed anything, he would miss the voice when it came back. He rifled through the desk drawers again. There was blank paper, a box of sharpened pencils, an old, dull pocket knife, a coil of wire tied tight with string, a jar of little metal pins, and two more blank notebooks, identical to the one he had been sketching in.

He took a pencil and one of the notebooks out, to write down anything else the mystery voice might say. The notebook slipped from his hand and fell to the floor. The leather strap wasn’t fastened, and it flopped open to a page in the middle, where a folded piece of paper had been stuffed.

Christopher gingerly bent over to pick up the notebook. He unfolded the piece of paper. It was thin and brittle, and yellowed around the edges and the folds. It was a black and white topographic map, showing a mountainous area with several small lakes and swaths of forest marked by tree symbols. In several places, there were little squares, but no labels to indicate what they might be.

He tried adjusting the largest dial on the radio. Unlike the other dials, the timbre of the static changed subtly when he turned this one, which made him suspect it was for adjusting the frequency. He clicked slowly through about a quarter turn when he found the voice again.

“Three. Two.” High tone. High tone. Low tone. Silence.

Christopher flipped the switch.

“Hello? Can you hear me? Please respond.”

Silence.

He turned the dial a few clicks further and found the voice again.

“Nineteen.” High tone. “One. One. One. Five.”

Christopher flipped the switch.

“What the hell is this?”

As expected, there was no response.

Christopher continued turning the dial. The voice seemed to be jumping frequencies every few seconds. Sometimes one click was enough to find it again, sometimes it jumped several clicks on the dial. After about ten adjustments, he lost it. He cranked through the entire dial, but there was no more voice.

Christopher looked at the notebook. He had written down some of the numbers as he heard them, but he was sure he had missed many of them as the voice jumped frequencies. There were also the different tones, which he had started writing as high or low lines.

A military code? If it was something like that, it was probably automated. He wouldn’t be able to decode something like that, especially from the pieces he had collected. And what good would it do him, even if he did? He remembered reading about numbers stations when he was younger, and speculation that they sent coded messages to spies. He had no idea if that was true, or if it was all just speculation.

He tore an empty page out of the notebook, folding and unfolding it without thinking. It was a shock to suddenly hear a voice in the silence, only to realize that it wasn’t real human contact. Just a facsimile. He was still alone out here. Wherever “here” was.

He stopped shredding the paper and picked up the map again. He hobbled over to the metal table. It was bolted to the stone floor, but the heavy steel chairs were not. He dragged one of the chairs noisily to the entry hatch. He pulled the lever from one side to the other, and it swung open, letting in cold air.

The night of the crash was a blur in his mind, but for some reason the numbers he had pressed on the keypad were clear in his memory. 122199. Still, he wanted to be sure he wasn’t going to lock himself out.

He placed the chair firmly in the hatchway, propping the heavy metal door open. As long as it was open, the lever was unmovable, locked in the open position. He looked at the side of the door, which was a good three or four inches thick. There were three rectangular bolts, currently retracted, and matching holes in the door frame.

He stepped outside. Beyond the rock overhang, the land sloped down gently to the lake where he had landed. It glinted orange in the sun that was already low over mountains beyond. There was a dusting of snow on the shore, but no ice at the edges of the water now. A swirling wind pelted him with snow that felt like sharp little hailstones.

He tapped the code into the number panel outside the door. A series of clunking noises came from the door, but the mechanism didn’t move, presumably because it was already open. He still had a little irrational fear that he would be outside and the code would suddenly no longer work, cutting him off from the one thing keeping him alive.

He unfolded the map and looked out at the landscape.

The lake was small enough that he could see the entire thing from his vantage point. It was roughly kidney shaped, although the lobe nearest him was skinnier and longer than the far end. There was an open band of rocky shore all the way around, but beyond that it was thick with evergreens. The forest rose away from the lake in every direction, smoothly on Christopher’s right, and rising in stepped cliffs to the left. The trees eventually gave way to steep, bare rock, decorated only by the occasional boulder or scraggly, determined pine.

Christopher studied the map. He had noted the three lakes, but he realized they might be larger than he had originally thought, and there were dozens of smaller lakes. There was no legend to tell him the scale of the map. Out here in the sunlight, he now saw that one edge of the map was rougher, as though it had been torn smoothly along the fold.

“Of course the part with all the useful info is missing.” he grumbled.

Several of the squares marked on the map were close to smaller lakes. There were fourteen squares in total. Four were near the shores of tiny lakes. Three of the lakes were more or less kidney-shaped.

Christopher looked at the orientation of the lake in front of him, then at the mountain peaks he could see from his vantage point. One far off to the right with a wide base and low slope, a much steeper peak almost straight ahead, and the largest to his left — an odd sort of sharp double-peak that almost looked like the mountain was cracked down the middle.

He looked at the lakes on the map, orienting each of them in turn to match the water in front of him, then looking for mountains in similar directions. The problem was that the map was full of mountains of varying heights. Christopher could only guess how far away the peaks might be. Each of the lakes had mountains that might fit.

Christopher stood, the cold already making his hands stiff, and looked out at the sun as it began to set. He sighed.

It was honestly a miracle that he was even alive. He had no right to survive. The bunker in the wilderness, the numbers station on the radio — it was all frustrating and strange — but he had found a place where he was safe for the moment. He had shelter and food. There were a lot of ways things could be worse. And he had to admit, the view was one of the most spectacular he had ever seen. He stopped to just look out at the water, trees, and mountains under the cold blue sky.

Before the sun set, he brought the notebook and pencil outside and sketched the outline of the landscape. When the light was behind the mountains he went back inside, marked several squares on the map that might show his location, and filled in a few more details in his sketch.

As the sky faded to pink and purple, the lights inside the bunker faded as well. Christopher decided there must be some clever skylights funneling the external light inside. However, that bright light was replaced by a cozier glow with a faint flicker to it. It looked like firelight, seen indirectly. He wondered if there was some sort of natural gas piped up from below.

With his map and landscape drawing in hand, he wrote out a paragraph in neat block letters, doing his best to describe what had happened to him and what his surroundings looked like. Then he flipped the switch on the radio, and read it aloud, over and over across a dozen channels. The radio only responded with faint static.

Christopher’s eyes watered and his head nodded. His bruised and battered body was dead weight. He left the radio on the frequency where he had last transmitted. He went to the supply room and found a jar of antibacterial cream among the medical supplies. He slathered his fingers, toes and face.

He stripped to his underwear. The bunker was warm, the stone radiating heat up into his bare feet. He picked the bed closest to the door, unfurled the sheet and blanket from the footlocker, and lay down carefully, wincing. Within seconds, he was asleep.

<< PREVIOUS ] [HOME] [ NEXT >>

Razor Mountain — Chapter 3.2

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with a new chapter published every week. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

Christopher sat at the little steel table, in the uncomfortable steel chair, and ate rice and beans. There was slightly tarnished silverware in one of the drawers of the little kitchen, and a selection of plates, bowls and pots in dull green-gray. One of the cabinets turned out to be a sort of oven. It had pipes running into it from the floor, and a single dial that opened and shut valves inside the box. There were little notches along the dial, but no numbers. Christopher had cranked it halfway, dumped in the rice and beans, and hoped for the best. It had worked out reasonably well.

The cans of food were strange and seamless, as though they had somehow been formed in a single piece around the food. The rice and other grains were all vacuum sealed in some sort of foil inside their boxes. It all appeared to be designed to last forever. The whole place was weirdly timeless. For all he could tell, it was equally possible that it had been abandoned for years, or that someone could walk in at any moment.

Despite his battered body, the simple hot food made him feel almost alive again. Next to the food, Christopher placed a leather-bound notebook and a pencil, both found in the drawers of the desk with the World War II radio.

The radio itself was in good shape. Christopher had flipped the large red switch on the front, and the box hummed to life with a crackle of static. However, no matter which switches he flipped or dials he turned, it picked up no signal. There was a mesh circle on the front of the device that looked suspiciously like a microphone, but he had no way of knowing if it was picking up his voice. The radio had a three-pronged cord that was plugged into a strange socket in the wall. It was the only electric appliance in the whole bunker.

As he finished his meal, he opened the notebook. It was unlined paper, completely blank. The paper felt brittle, but was in good shape otherwise. The leather cover was imprinted with a faint pattern of interlocking triangles. It was the sort of fancy notebook that had a built-in ribbon bookmark and a leather strap to hold the cover shut.

Christopher sketched a few of the objects from around the bunker: the hatch with its rotating handle, the radio, the strange boiler device from the back room. Between the sketches, he jotted phrases and words. It was a habit he had picked up in high school and college, when he still thought he might become an artist for a living and had been obsessed with da Vinci’s famous notebooks. The mixture of drawing and words helped him think.

The bunker was clearly outfitted to hold multiple people, with supplies that would probably last years. It felt a like a military installation, although Christopher wasn’t exactly sure what made him think that. What little he knew about guns all came from movies, and was undoubtedly questionable, but the guns in the storage room seemed like ordinary rifles and pistols. There were no explosives or anything that was clearly military issue. And it was all among other outdoors and camping supplies.

There were also the weird flourishes, like the Art Deco ornamentation around the door frames. It didn’t seem likely that some secret military bunker in the Alaskan wilderness would have extra decorations like that.

Maybe it belonged to some rich guy who wanted a place to hide away from business rivals or nuclear war. But wouldn’t someone rich enough to build a bunker like this stock it with more “rich people” amenities? There weren’t any golden toilets or big-screen TVs or freezers of filet mignon.

When he was done eating, Christopher had two pages of sketches and words, and had come no closer to understanding why the bunker existed. For a few minutes, he had been distracted from the pain in his body, but it all came roaring back as he slowly got up from the metal chair.

He went back to the supply room and searched the shelves, eventually coming to a corner that was stocked with first aid kits, gauze and iodine, rubbing alcohol and even some brown glass vials and hypodermic needles in cases of ten. There were several bottles of basic medicine cabinet stuff, including the pain medications he was looking for: acetaminophen and ibuprofen. It seemed likely that there might be some more serious pain medications in the vials, but Christopher decided it was better to be in pain than doped up on ancient morphine from the back shelf of the mystery bunker. Whoever had stocked the place seemed to know what would last, but relying on it might be a bad idea.

Christopher popped a pair of acetaminophen, then went back to the main room and stripped off his clothes. It was surprisingly difficult when everything hurt. He thought to check his pockets and found them empty. No wallet. No cell phone.

He imagined the owner of the bunker picking this moment to arrive. A naked stranger was not who you wanted to find in your secret bunker. Still, the light was better in this room than the others, and he thought he ought to at least try to check his injuries.

His fingertips and toes felt raw, and the flesh was red and scraped up, no doubt from crawling up the gravel-strewn beach. The skin of his knees was also covered in tiny scabs. He had probably sustained some frostbite in his fingers and toes as well, and judging from the numbness of his ears, cheeks and nose, that skin had been damaged as well. Christopher didn’t know if there was any treatment for serious frostbite. He had the vague impression that if it was bad enough it would just turn black and slough off. At which point it was like a burn and liable to get horribly infected.

He had to peel off his right sock, which was caked in dry blood. Underneath, his calf had a long, shallow gash running from knee to ankle. He thought back to the previous night, but couldn’t guess when exactly he had gotten it.

All over his body, bruises of varying sizes were beginning to darken. However, there were no bones sticking out, no limbs bending in directions they shouldn’t. No major new holes or leaks. He was relatively intact. The fact that his right leg hurt tremendously from ankle to hip was worrying, but hopefully it was a series of sprains and not fractured bones. 

When the radio crackled to life, Christopher jumped in surprise, which immediately sent a shock of pain arcing through his body. He sat hard, still naked, on the terrible couch, the pain so distracting that he barely heard the message.

“One. Seven. Seven. Nine,” said a matter-of-fact female voice. A low tone followed for several seconds, followed by a high tone. Then silence.

<< PREVIOUS ] [HOME] [ NEXT >>

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 3

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

Deadlines

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

Douglas Adams

This week, I did my Douglas Adams impression, finishing up Chapter 3 a few days behind schedule. It ended up being another 3-part chapter when I split it up for Wattpad and Tapas, and by the time I got through editing and beta feedback, I didn’t have three slots in the middle of the week to schedule it on the blog.

Instead, I put out a reblog on Wednesday, and episode 3.1 on Thursday. I’ll publish the other two parts next week, giving me a little buffer to get ahead again. I’d prefer to publish a full chapter every week, but failing that, I can at least publish something Razor Mountain each week.

I don’t know if anyone cares as much as I do about the scheduling, but my goal is transparency here, whether the process goes smoothly or not.

Taking Inventory

A lot of the work of this chapter was envisioning the layout of the bunker and all of the things inside. I debated what the technology and furnishing should be like. It had to be things that are made to last without maintenance. Geothermal? Strange, tiny oven? Water pump? All of it, as much as possible, with minimal moving parts. The people who made this place understand how to build for very long term use.

In a classic video game level design blunder, I forgot to include a toilet in the first draft. Then I debated leaving it out anyway, and forcing Christopher to go in the woods. It may technically not be necessary for livability, but that was a little too silly a thing for the builders to do. I put it in the most logical room: the one where nobody would be living, sleeping, or figuring out what to have for lunch.

As I researched the best ways to preserve food, survival gear, etc., I discovered that doomsday preppers have websites with great info on pretty much all of these things. Which shouldn’t have been surprising. Just another internet subculture rabbit hole you can get lost in.

More Next Week

I’m cutting it a little short this week. I’ll pick up next week to talk about the whole thing when the rest of Chapter 3 is out.

Razor Mountain — Chapter 3.1

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with a new chapter published every week. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

Christopher woke up in pain. His head hurt. His fingers and toes and face felt as though they had been scraped across sandpaper. His legs hurt the most, especially the right one. His ankle throbbed. His hip ached. Cataloging his pains, he decided it would probably be faster to find the parts of his body that didn’t hurt.

Slowly, experimentally, he rolled himself onto his side. He paused in his movement every inch or two, as different parts of his body twinged and spasmed. After a minute or two, he managed to get himself onto his stomach, his forearms against the floor under his body.

“I should be dead,” he rasped. “Why am I not dead?”

His throat was so dry, it felt like it was sticking to itself when he tried to swallow.

The exertion and pain had him breathing heavily and beginning to sweat. His clothes, he realized, were still slightly damp, although they had dried quite a bit while he slept. How long had he slept? The floor beneath him looked like stone, gray with flecks of other colors. It felt like stone, but it was oddly warm, as though it was heated from within.

Christopher slid each knee up, pulling into a fetal crouch. He looked up to see the metal door set into the stone wall, recessed several inches. There was a short step down from the doorway to the floor of the room, a low lip that he used to begin pulling himself up. He imagined how he must look, like an old man in a dramatic commercial for one of those “I’ve fallen and broken my hip” devices.

Standing highlighted a whole new slew of pains, including a thumping headache. He was finally able to stand, so long as he kept most of his weight off of his right leg. He paused to breathe and take in his surroundings.

The low-ceilinged room was about fifteen feet wide and twice as long. A stainless steel table with four matching chairs sat in the corner across from him, in what appeared to be a tiny kitchen, with a sink, small cupboards, and a few feet of counter space. In the middle of the long wall was a drab green couch. Beyond, in the opposite corner, was a rectangular wooden desk. A large green box sat on it, covered in dials and switches. It looked like a World War II radio. Above the desk, a wide cork board was attached to the wall.

As far as Christopher could tell, the walls, floor and ceiling of the room were all carved directly out of the rock. It wasn’t polished to a shine, but it was uniformly smooth, every corner and seam perfectly straight. Bright light poured out of long, thin openings evenly spaced across the ceiling. Christopher looked up into the glow for a moment, but couldn’t tell if there were some sort of recessed light bulbs, or if the light was channeled from outside. The light from the tiny window in the outer hatch was certainly more muted.

Christopher hobbled slowly around the room, leaning on furniture and walls to stay steady. The surfaces all had a thin layer of dust. The place felt empty and disused, but wasn’t as filthy as he would have expected if it was some long-forgotten bunker from decades ago.

The couch seemed to be thick, tough fabric stretched over an oddly hard substrate. It felt like furniture built for sturdiness rather than comfort.

There were several open doorways leading out of the room. Each one had a stainless steel frame with fluting that had a distinctly Art Deco look to it. Christopher couldn’t quite remember when that style had been popular. The 1920s? Maybe earlier. Sometime between the  world wars?

The first doorway led to a much smaller room. It was crowded with shelves, all packed full of boxes, cans, bags and containers — all of it food. It was mostly simple staples: rice, beans, flour and so on. The cans held a little more variety, from vegetables to fruit to meat. The labels were incredibly generic: white text on a faded blue-gray background. There were no ingredients or nutrition facts. Just the name of the food in a slightly skinny font. However, he began to notice that each container had a little triangular symbol in the bottom left corner, like a simplified glyph of a snow-capped mountain.

He walked out past the couch, to the second doorway. This led into an almost identical small room. The shelves in this room were tighter against the walls. They were filled with outdoor gear. There were neatly tied bundles of canvas, probably tents; a camp stove; heavy wool coats; backpacks; lanterns; hatchets and knives; and a rack of pistols and rifles. Once again, everything bore the same dull green-gray, and many of the items had the little mountain symbol somewhere on them.

There was a slightly smaller doorway at the back that led to yet another, smaller room. A large closet, really. It was mostly filled by a machine that looked like some sort of boiler. The stone base melded seamlessly with the floor. It was composed of several stacked cylindrical sections, with thick pipes running between. More pipes ran out of the machine and into the floor around it, like stubby little legs. Others went into the ceiling. Apart from a couple of fluted steel flourishes, it was dull and gray, like everything else in the place.

The only other thing of note in the room was a steel toilet in the corner. It had no tank, just a pipe that came out of the wall. Christopher pulled the heavy metal lever on the side, and clear water quietly swirled down the bowl.

He returned to the main room and took the third and final doorway to what was clearly a sleeping area. There were three small, metal-framed bunk beds, with posts riveted to both floor and ceiling. The mattresses, if they could be called that, felt like the same uncomfortable material as the couch, covered with heavy fabric. A pair of small footlockers was bolted to the end of each bed. Christopher opened one and found a precisely folded sheet and blanket, and a dense, small pillow at the bottom.

He returned to the main room and looked around for a moment, utterly perplexed.

“Where the hell am I?”

<< PREVIOUS ] [HOME] [ NEXT >>

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 2

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production and outlining journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

Research

My outline originally called for a fight between a raiding party of outsiders and God-Speaker’s tribe. However, a little research made it clear that there is really no evidence of armed conflict between groups of paleolithic humans. The generally low population densities would mean that groups wouldn’t interact that much, and it would be disadvantageous for them to fight over resources in anything other than extreme situations.

I decided that attackers probably didn’t make sense as a raiding party, and might be more reasonable as desperate travelers who have fared poorly. They have different language and customs, and can’t communicate. The concept of violence between humans is foreign to God-Speaker’s people, so the attack is difficult to explain outside of supernatural causes.

These paleolithic people have some tools and bits of culture similar to more modern indigenous Alaskans, with the assumption that they are less adapted to that environment than their descendants will become (“modern” in this context still going back many thousands of years). Since they are far removed from future Alaskans, and there’s very limited hard evidence about how they lived, it comes down to inference, guesswork, and making things up.

I did spend some time researching the sort of flora and fauna that might be present, indigenous fishing and hunting techniques, and things like how simple shelters might be constructed.

Revision

My first draft started off slow, with a few paragraphs of background about the tribe and their winter settlement. I wanted to treat this as more of a second opening hook, since it’s introducing a new setting and characters for the first time. When I rewrote the opening, I tried to focus on the character and action and intersperse the background.

I also had the idea of simplifying the language of this chapter to reflect that the language the paleolithic people were using was likely less complex and developed than anything in recorded history. This is extremely tricky, because it’s very easy to get into tropey and condescending “cave-man speak.”

My son is a big fan of the XKCD Thing Explainer book, and I was aware that Randall has a word checker called Simple Writer, to flag any words in a text that aren’t in the most common 1000 words. This kind of writing strikes a nice balance to me, where it is definitely simple, but not quite at cave-man trope level.

I did use this tool to check the revised chapter, and it did help me identify some places where I could simplify the writing. I didn’t strictly adhere to it, because there were a number of places where conforming to it just didn’t sound good. I’ll probably continue to use it as a sort of automated advisor for the next couple God-Speaker chapters.

Properly Started

These first two chapters feel like the extended introduction to me. The two main POV characters have been introduced, along with the challenges they’ll be facing, and taste of both settings.

The next chapter will transition back to Christopher, and will be more about expanding what’s been introduced. More setting, more characterization, and more mysteries.

Razor Mountain — Chapter 2.2

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with a new chapter published every week. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

God-Speaker did not know what to do. The rare contact they had made with others had been hard. They spoke with different words and made confusing gestures. But he had never imagined that people, even these strangers who seemed so different, would hunt another of their kind. People worked together. They left their houses strong and clean when they traveled, for others who might find them. This was the way of their elders, and the elders before them. They did not hurt one another.

Far-Seeing, the strongest and fiercest hunter, approached the stranger with his spear in his hand, shouting. To God-Speaker, his words were quiet and far away. Was the stranger desperate for food? Why had he done this terrible thing?

God-Speaker didn’t hear if the stranger made any reply, but the hand-axe rose again. But the stranger could barely stand, and Far-Seeing was quick and strong. His spear plunged into the stranger’s chest. There was a cry from someone nearby.

The stranger must have been near death already. He did not move. The hand-axe fell to the ground with a thud, and the man fell onto it. God-Speaker approached cautiously, but the stranger’s wide eyes were dead.

God-Speaker fell to his knees next to Makes-Medicine. The rest of the people had come, and there was now a small crowd looking down, whispering among each other and trying to understand what had happened.

There was a sticky red furrow along Makes-Medicine’s hairline where the stone had struck. God-Speaker could see white bone. She struggled to breathe and reached out to him.

“You are God-Speaker and God-Carrier,” she croaked. She was trying to perform the ritual, even as she lay dying. He held her hand to comfort her.

“Listen to the stone god,” she said. “Only with the favor of the spirits of the earth will we find a new land to make our home.”

She pulled out of his grasp, made gestures of naming in the air between them, hands shaking. Then she lay still.

He could barely hear her dying words. “Give my spirit to the river. You must show the way to the people. The god will lead you.”

She slumped as her spirit left her body. He had not been training long, but he knew the words to speak over her, hands out-raised to ward off evil spirits. As a shaman and medicine-maker, her spirit would be strong. She would bring great power to the river.

When he had finished, he looked up. The others had waited in silence. Now, they looked to him, and to Braves-the-Storm, who was now the oldest of the people. God-Speaker was young to be shaman, an apprentice who would now have to do his best with what little he had learned from his mentor. Makes-Medicine had said that he heard the voices of the spirits more clearly than anyone she had known. This and the stone god gave him considerable clout, but he was young and inexperienced. The people revered their elders for their knowledge, and Braves-the-Storm was known to be wise and measured. With Makes-Medicine gone, the flexible social order of the tribe had been thrown into confusion.

God-Speaker thought he should want to lead the people, but all he wanted to do was to run into the trees where nobody could see him. He thought he would have years still to learn how to listen to the spirits, to make medicine and practice rituals. He knew he had a responsibility to the people. For the first time, he wished he couldn’t hear the spirits. He wanted to grieve without all of this added responsibility.

“Makes-Medicine wishes to be given to the river,” he said, looking to Braves-the-Storm. “We should prepare her.”

Braves-the-Storm nodded. God-Speaker let out his breath in relief.

“We must do as she said,” Braves-the-Storm confirmed. “We must give her to the river. Then, we will travel, as was planned.”

It was too much. He had lost his mentor. The whole tribe was in shock. And they had to still prepare to leave the valley today?

God-Speaker frowned. Braves-the-Storm was wise. They were nearly packed and prepared to leave. The death rituals would slow them, as would their sorrow, but it didn’t make sense to put off the journey for another day. For all they knew, there could be more of these strangers somewhere close.

After a moment of thought, God-Speaker nodded. Only as he looked up did he realize that many of the others were watching him. He could see relief on several faces. As long as the hierarchy of the tribe was unclear, there would be this cloud of uncertainty. As long as he and Braves-the-Storm were in agreement, it would be tense. As soon as they disagreed, however, that tension would need to be resolved. The people would be watching, deciding for themselves who was best-suited to make decisions for the group.

God-Speaker’s skin tingled, a sensation that had become familiar. The stone god called out to him. He had left it, unready, in the cave.

“I must finish getting ready for the journey,” he said. The others would know what he meant. He stood and hurried back to the crack in the cliff face, shoving his way through the narrow gap. He was lost in thought and again the narrow passage scraped his shoulders.

He found the god where he had left it, next to his pouches of color. He put everything into his personal bag, then spoke to the stone god. He knew he didn’t really need to speak — spirits understood feelings and actions as well as words — but he had enough trouble understanding his own thoughts right now. Putting them into words helped him to make sense of it all.

“Why did Makes-Medicine die?” he asked.

The voice of the god spoke to him, speaking from the earth itself.

“The people have traveled for a long time, but the journey is nearly over. The people will face great danger in the coming days. Evil spirits block your path. Makes-Medicine goes to the spirit world as an envoy for the people. Her strong spirit will speak to other good spirits on your behalf. Her spirit will make the evil spirits afraid to stand in your way.”

The spirit of earth chipped at his doubt. It seemed so unfair that Makes-Medicine be taken away from them. But when the spirits were considered, it made much more sense. If there were evil spirits blocking their way, they would need strong protection on their journey. Makes-Medicine could protect them far better in the spirit world. God-Speaker wished he had learned more about these matters of the spirits.

“Did she know that this would happen?” he asked.

The stony rumble was already fading. “She knew the journey would be dangerous. She protects the people.”

God-Speaker knew this was true, though it did not answer his question. Makes-Medicine had told him that it was always hard to know what to tell the people about the spirits, and what a shaman should keep to themselves. Even great shamans did not always understand.

God-Speaker carried the stone god and his personal bag out of the cave. He was careful to carry the god with the care it deserved. The last thing they needed was to turn the god against them.

As he came out, he found the others still standing where he had left them, talking among themselves.

“Why did the stranger attack her?”

“He does not look like us. He looks starved. Maybe he was hunting us.”

“What strangers could be so evil that they hunt their own kind?”

They looked to Braves-the-Storm.

“He was alone. Did you see his eyes? Those eyes did not see. I have seen eyes like that before. When we hunt, when we drive an animal away from its herd, when it knows it cannot flee our spears, you can see death in its eyes. This man had dead eyes.”

God-Speaker walked over to them.

“The god has spoken to me. There are many evil spirits in this land. We must pass them to reach a safe place again. It may be that this stranger was used by evil spirits, a spear thrown by hunters.”

God-Speaker looked at their faces. Some seemed to understand what he said. Others looked unsure. He wondered if he should pretend to be more certain about the strange and mysterious matters of spirits. Makes-Medicine always spoke with great authority.

“Makes-Medicine has a strong spirit. We must help her as she goes to the spirit world. She will watch over us and keep the evil spirits at bay. We will give her to the river, as she said.”

Braves-the-Storm nodded, as did several of the others. Even in death, her authority would not be questioned. Everyone set to work. Some finished preparing for the journey. Others wrapped her in fishing nets weighted with heavy rocks.

God-Speaker searched the small hide pouches and bags Makes-Medicine had prepared for the journey, finding the ingredients for the ritual. He laid her flat on her back, unable to look at her staring eyes. He marked her skin with color and placed herbs in a small pouch, tied round her neck by a leather cord.

He made a small fire, lighting it with coals from one of the still-smoldering morning fires, and set the stone god before it. Makes-Medicine was arranged, facing up with arms bound at her sides, between the fire and the river, head toward the water.

God-Speaker spoke the words, only faltering once. He had heard them only a few times, at other death ceremonies, and in bits and pieces from Makes-Medicine. The full ritual could not be practiced. It could only be performed when the tribe wanted the full attention of friendly spirits to guide one of their own to the spirit world.

God-Speaker moved to her head and disrobed. The four strongest hunters stepped forward and removed their furred wraps as well, taking positions at her bound arms and feet. They lifted her together, and slid her into the river, guiding her into the deepest waters. The rocks would weigh the corpse down, but it would still be pulled along by the current. Her body would sink into the river mud. It would bind her to the river.

They came out, shivering, and took places squatting around the fire. God-Speaker faced the stone god.

“Spirit of earth, god of the people, you have chosen us. Gather the other spirits and guide Makes-Medicine to the spirit world. Protect us on our journey. Makes-Medicine, spirit of the river, protect us.”

God-Speaker threw dried herbs on the fire. They crackled and popped, sending fierce sparks and smoke into the air with a cloying sweet smell.

God-Speaker and the hunters wrapped themselves in furs once more. He made a thick paste of ashes and water, closed the eyes of the dead stranger, and covered his face in the mixture, to close the eyes, mouth, nose and ears. Then all the people piled large rocks over the body to protect it from scavengers. Better that any evil remain there, sealed away.

Finally, God-Speaker placed the stone god inside its carrier and hauled it onto his back. He put his own bag over his other shoulder, along with the bag of smaller pouches that had belonged to Makes-Medicine.

God-Speaker studied the faces of the people around him. They were grim and determined.

In all the horror of the day, there was one thing for which he was grateful. Makes-Medicine had given him a path to follow. She was bound to the river. If they spoke of who she had been, she would be Makes-Medicine, but if they spoke of her now, she was River Spirit. They would follow her and trust in her protection as far as she would take them.

The people walked along the stream through the valley and down into the gravel-strewn gully that would take them to the roots of the mountains. The homes where they had wintered were behind them. An uncertain future lay ahead.

<< PREVIOUS ] [HOME] [ NEXT >>

Razor Mountain — Chapter 2.1

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with a new chapter published every week. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

The sky shimmered with green and blue light, but the spirits refused to speak. Once again, God-Speaker wondered if he was suited to his new name. He sat for most of the night, wrapped in seal furs outside his pit house, listening and watching the sky. He slept little. When the first pink light touched the peaks of the mountains, he stood, knees stiff.

The pit house had a roof of branches, dry grass, and moss, bent over a shallow hole in the hard earth. God-Speaker crawled through the entry tunnel — the dip and turn that stopped the wind — to the room inside. Old coals still glowed at its center, a thin line of smoke rising to a small hole in the ceiling.

God-Speaker’s house was small. He had no mate to share it with. His things all fit in one bag. It was similar to what the others would carry: a waterproof seal hide with a leather strap. Along with food, a spear, hides, and a few stone tools, he had herbs, paints, and other tools of magic.

He slung another, empty bag over the other shoulder. He would carry less of the tribe’s supplies than others, but he would carry a heavier weight: the stone god.

It took only a few minutes to pack everything and be ready to leave the winter settlement. When he came out into the cold morning air, it was brighter and others were awake. They ate dried fish, meat or berries; tended their fires; and packed their own things for the upcoming journey.

God-Speaker took a few small bites of smoked salmon as he walked among the pit houses. His stomach churned.

The valley followed a river running between two snowy peaks. The gurgling sound and clean smell of water permeated the little village. The river was deep, and though it had turned icy and shrunk during the winter, it had never frozen or dried up completely. The houses were dug into a flat area of hard earth that led down to the water. God-Speaker walked away from the river, toward a steep, gravel-strewn wall of striped rock on the far side of the houses.

At the end of the little cluster of houses was another house so small that only one person could live there. This was the house of Makes-Medicine, oldest and wisest of their people; shaman and herbalist. She had her own special pouches of herbs and tools to pack, but God-Speaker knew she had risen early as well. Whenever the group traveled, she would look for signs from the spirits, and prepare magic to aid them on their journey. She had built a fire in a shallow hole outside her house and was prodding it with a stick.

“Are you ready?” she asked him, without looking up.

He took a deep breath. He was proud to carry the god, but also nervous.

“Today, you will be God-Speaker and God-Carrier to the tribe,” she said. “I will name you to the spirits before we set out.”

Their people had many names as they grew older. Each person was named soon after birth, for a physical feature, a personality trait, or the hopes that the tribe had for them. As they grew, they acquired new names by their actions. Names were given by the other members of the tribe, but it was good to offer those names to the spirits of the world around them. The spirits were powerful and mysterious. If they recognized the people by their actions, friendly spirits might help them and keep them safe.

God-Speaker was unusual. While men were often hunters and protectors, it was not common for them to be shamans. Women seemed to be more adept with the herbs, potions, and paints. More importantly, they were more likely to hear the spirits. Makes-Medicine often heard the spirits in dreams, but she had told him that others witnessed the spirits in other ways.

God-Speaker had earned his name before the winter set in, by finding the stone god and the place for the village. A voice had called out to him, a voice that nobody else could hear, leading him to a shallow place in the river right before a waterfall. There, sitting on top the other rocks, was the stone god. After that he heard the voices of spirits almost daily.

God-Speaker still wasn’t used to the whispers he heard from the god, and from spirits he couldn’t yet name. They had led him past the waterfall, down to the green valley where his people had spent the winter, and to the cave.

God-Speaker left Makes-Medicine and walked to the sheer rock face. It looked as though a long line of earth had heaved up, making a wall of layered, crumbling stone. A jagged crack split the face from the ground to its upper ridge. God-Speaker squeezed himself sideways into the crack, into the cold darkness. The spring sun was warming the world outside, but it was still winter in the earth.

The crack bent and turned. God-Speaker took his bags off his shoulders, crouched, and pressed through. Beyond the tight entryway was a little chamber. The crack opened up into a low room with a shelf of broken rock at one end. Sharp shards crunched under his feet. On the shelf, surrounded by little offerings of flowers and food, was the god.

It was oblong, with a flat, neckless head. Thick arms and legs wrapped around the huge belly. He had accentuated its features by careful chipping, bringing out the eyes and clawed hands and feet. It was a strange form, a little like the people, and a little like the animals they hunted. Makes-Medicine told him this was how the spirits were: they took whatever forms suited them, and shaped the world in their image.

God-Speaker had to crawl on hands and knees to enter the space, carefully avoiding the sharp rocks. He bent his head low and spoke to the spirit of the rock, in the way that Makes-Medicine had shown him.

“The people must continue our journey today,” he said. “We ask the god of the earth to speak to us. Lead us to safe places. Lead us to food and shelter. The people will give you many good things.”

The god made no response. It was often silent, and would speak to him in its own, mysterious, time.

From his bag, he took several little pouches. Each pouch had a different color of powder prepared by Makes-Medicine. There were orange-red and white powders made by pounding certain river rocks, yellow and bluish-purple from dried flowers, and a dark green paste made from fresh grass and caribou fat.

God-Speaker rubbed the colors into the pitted surface of the stone god. The white of the eyes and the predatory claws. The green of the fertile earth on the body. The yellow of the life-giving sun on the head. The purple-blue of defeated winter ice on the soles of the feet.

With the god suitably honored and prepared, God-Speaker gently placed it into the bag that he had made for it and pulled the rawhide drawstring closed.

God-Speaker heard whispering from the bag, like the sound of leaves in the wind. He opened it. The god spoke to him, though he did not understand how he understood the meaning of the sound. It spoke to him of the journey, of crossing the river and leaving the valley, and of following the rising sun.

The tribe had followed the rising sun for years, searching for a place where the sun was strong enough to hold back the great ice. Searching for a place with more abundant plants and game, and fewer people to hunt the animals.

The whispers continued, and the cave became colder. The journey would be hard. Harder than it had been so far. The blood of the people would be poured out, and the earth would drink it. The people would be tested. God-Speaker would be tested.

The whispers faded, but God-Speaker heard another noise. There was shouting outside the cave.

God-Speaker left the god on the shelf. He squeezed his way back through the crack as quickly as he could. He came out of the cold earth, scraping his shoulder on a sharp edge as he did.

The people were coming out of their pit houses, running toward the noise, which was coming from Makes-Medicine’s house.

A stranger stood there. God-Speaker stopped in shock. It was once rare to meet other tribes, but they were more and more common. Others were also looking for warmer, more hospitable lands. They were not the only ones struggling to find the food to feed everyone.

Still, this stranger was alone, and that was unusual. Nobody could live very long on their own. His tangled hair was a reddish-brown that shone in the sun, unlike the black hair of God-Speaker’s people. He looked sick and starved, his skin taut over the bones of his arms and legs, his ribs showing and his belly round. His eyes were open too wide, bright against his dirty face.

In one hand, he held a stone hand-axe. Something wet hung from it, dripping onto a crumpled shape. It was Makes-Medicine on the ground.

<< PREVIOUS ] [HOME] [ NEXT >>

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 1

Welcome to the Chapter One development journal. For these journals I’m going to talk about what I worked on in a given chapter of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. These journals will be spoiler-free, as long as you’re caught up with the latest chapter.

If you want to check out my pre-production journals (which are definitely not spoiler-free) or the book itself, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

So Much Prep

Sometimes I envy exploratory writers. They just jump right into writing the story, feeling it out as they go along. But then, I remember my days as an exploratory writer, and the pain of half-done books that just didn’t seem to go anywhere, or the sudden realization that I needed to throw away and rewrite a whole slew of chapters, and once again I accept my fate as an outliner and planner.

I spent a lot of time in pre-production on Razor Mountain. Close to a year. Part of that was figuring out things like how to write a book description or create a book cover, since I’ve never self-published before. Most of it, however, was extensive outlining.

I knew that this was going to be a serial, and I was going to be writing chapters and publishing them without waiting for the whole book to be done first. That means no opportunity for big rewrites or even adjustments that span multiple chapters. I already outline to try to avoid that sort of thing, and the scariness of publishing as I wrote drove me to outline in even more detail than I typically would.

I have also never documented my process in nearly as much detail as I have in these development journals. A side-effect has been that I am much more aware of what I’m doing every step of the way, and just how long I’m spending on it. It’s easy to let things slide when I’m just typing in my little corner of the basement, with nobody watching.

Now I’m aware that I have an audience (however small). I try to be as honest as possible in these journals, but I do sometimes think about whether I’m going to be boring my readers when I’m really slow to make progress. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t affect me a little.

So, of course it’s exciting to be releasing the new thing. Even if it is a little nerve-wracking too.

Starting the New Thing

Anyone who outlines knows that weird feeling of finally starting to write the book after spending ages just outlining. It’s a very different set of skills. I’m always mildly irritated by my own writing in the first draft, and doubly so in this first chapter.

It’s almost a trope at this point, but the best way to deal with a first draft, at least for me, is to just power through. I have my outline and I know what happens. I just need to write it. I can come back later and worry about finding the right words.

While I was writing the first draft of this chapter, I got bogged down in research several times. It made me wonder if I should have spent yet more time in pre-production on research. But again, at some point you have to stop preparing and start doing, if you want to actually get something done.

Researching Planes and Falling to Your Death

Christopher is flying in rural Alaska, where towns and villages range from tens to a few hundred people. Most of them are inaccessible by road, and since traffic is so light, these flights run small aircraft.

I researched a variety of small aircraft that are used commercially. The Beechcraft King Air seemed like a great example. It’s been in production for decades and is often used for this kind of smaller flight. There are a variety of different models, with capacities around 5-16 people. I give myself some room to be vague here by not specifying exactly where Christopher is flying to, and since he doesn’t know anything about aircraft, it’s reasonable that he doesn’t know exactly what kind of plane he’s flying in. I use this leeway to fudge a few details, taking attributes from several different small aircraft.

I searched for images of the interior, the exterior, the cockpit, and diagrams of the layout. I wanted an idea of how much space you’d have, sitting inside one of these. Where would you put your luggage? Where are the interior lights? What do the controls look like? Where are the doors? The bathroom? That sort of thing. One of the best resources I found were actually websites that list small plane sales, because they post galleries of interior and exterior pictures to show off the planes for sale.

Some details that caught me by surprise, having never ridden in a plane like this, is that they often have pairs of seats back-to-back, so one faces forward and one faces backward. They also may have no bathroom, or a “bathroom” that amounts to a toilet with a privacy curtain.

Action and Feeling

One of the challenges in this first chapter was to perform a little bit of build-up and introduce the situation as Christopher realizes how wrong everything is. Once I get to the point where Christopher has realized the trouble he is in, and he’s flying the plane, getting frantic, and preparing to jump, it all gets more exciting to me. I tried to focus on Christopher’s emotion and what he was feeling.

I was worried about researching the plane layout and how it flies, as well as the mechanics of falling a long ways into water without dying. Ultimately, this is all set dressing. What is really going to make or break the chapter is getting across what it feels like to be Christopher in this crazy situation.

Revision

The first draft of the chapter ended up being longer than I expected: just over 5000 words. (Usually my chapters skew on the shorter side.) I felt a lot better about it as I wrapped it up than I did when I was in the first 1-2000 words. I felt like I had a much better idea of what I wanted this chapter to be.

This is the introduction to Christopher. I work in hints of his back-story and bits of personality, although the focus is on action and feeling. By getting inside his head during these dramatic events, I can start to build a bond between the reader and Christopher. Hopefully. It’s always hard to tell if you’re pulling off the magic trick until you see how the audience reacts.

Because this is the start of the book, I spent a lot of time working on the first page and the hook in particular. I think it’s wise to make the first page the most polished part of any book.

It’s a little unfortunate that I’m starting with the trope of the main character waking up, but I do think it makes sense in this context (and as the book goes on). The opening ties into several events that will happen later on, so I wanted to set up everything I needed to make those links.

Using Multiple Services

At this point, I’ve been blogging long enough to be fairly comfortable with WordPress. It has its irritations and inconsistencies, but for the most part, it stays out of your way.

When I started uploading the first chapter to Wattpad and Tapas, I immediately felt ill-prepared. It turns out to be slightly annoying.

Firstly, I had to deal with formatting. I’ve been using something close to standard manuscript format in Scrivener, but for publishing online I needed to convert to no tabs, and space between paragraphs.

Secondly, Wattpad doesn’t let me schedule an episode for release. I can save a draft, but I have to manually push a button to send it out into the world. As a software developer who has spent years automating repetitive processes like this, it’s an affront. Every post I’ve published on this blog for the past year has been written in advance and scheduled. Tapas and WordPress let me schedule posts. Why doesn’t Wattpad?

Tapas has its own oddities, however. It only lets you schedule posts in PST. Why? It’s not complicated to shift the time zone a few hours in my head, but still, I’m confident I’ll screw this up at least once over the course of publishing the whole book.

Onward

While it felt like a lot of work to do the initial setup, I got it all up and running. Now I just need a few chapters to get used to the process of publishing across multiple platforms each week, and do it efficiently.

See you next week, for Chapter Two.