Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Happy Accident and a Little Obsession

As you will know if you follow this blog, some of my projects are collaborations. For example, I just finished a third Bricks and Cam Job with Eric Beetner earlier this month, and am also working on one called FALLEN CITY with my The Last Collar partner, Lawrence Kelter.

The chapters in both of these collaborations flew back and forth pretty quickly. Eric and I got off to a slow start, mostly because of me, but once we got rolling, we rolled like a freight train. Larry and I were a little sporadic at first, too, but experienced the same phenomenon once things were established -- we flew. In the last couple of weeks, that freight train has positively morphed into a high speed bullet train.

So it was no surprise to me when I got back a pivotal chapter from Larry late last night (even later for him on the East Coast). Although I was seriously considering going to bed when the file arrived in my mailbox, I decided to at least read it. So I did, and it rocked, and as always got me even more excited about the story. That led to doing the revision piece that we always do on incoming chapters. Nothing big, just catching typos and doing some minor polishing. When that was done, I felt like I was in the groove, so I started my new chapter. It was to have two scenes, and I burned through the first scene, creating some conflict and feeling maliciously good about it. I was about a third of the way, maybe even halfway, through the second scene, when something weird happened.

It's still kind of a mystery to me. I must have inadvertently had a key depressed or something while I moved the mouse up to the task ribbon to switch it back to the HOME setting. I wanted to be able to italicize with the click of the button (yes, I know I can CTRL-I, but sometimes I like to click the italics button instead, okay?). Anyway, I used the mouse wheel to try to change it and my tired, clumsy fingers may have even depressed the left mouse button.

Can you see the disaster coming?

All of the sudden, Word closes and I'm staring at my desktop. My first thought was probably the same one you had -- immediately after uttering a favorite curse word, of course.

"When did I save last?"

I opened the file up again, scrolled down and...time for that favorite curse word again. No partial second scene. No completed first scene. No revisions.


At that point, I just went to bed. I told Kristi what happened (she painfully endured the "And then I used the mouse wheel" description that she said was taking forever...and in truth, it kinda did) to vent a little, and we hit the sack. Being the great wife that she is, though, she said, "Why don't you go rewrite it while it is still fresh in your mind?"

But I refused. Stupid Word document wasn't going to me to jump through hoops.

After pouting for about five minutes, I realized she was right. Also, there was no way I was falling asleep, even though it was after eleven. So I kissed my wife and got back up. I grabbed some water and for consolation's sake, a few 'Nilla Wafer Minis. And by a few, I mean two gargantuan handfuls. But I stopped at two. Because that was all that was left in the box.

I did some Google research, asking if there was any way to recover an unsaved Word document. The first answer I found was in one of those help forums like or something. Some idiot didn't save his document and wanted to know if it could be recovered. Some smug asshole replied that if he didn't save it, then there was nothing to recover. No help at all.

Luckily, there were about forty million other hits, and a couple of them had actual suggestions worth trying. I explored a couple of dead ends and finally landed on one that said if I had the autosave feature turned on, then I could find the auto-recover document at a particular location in my file directory. I crossed my fingers and went there. Lo and behold, an auto-recover document with a time stamp on it that seemed hopeful. I clicked on it, opening it with Word when prompted (why did I have to select Word? What else would I open it with? Excel, just for fun? Excel is never fun).

The first thing I noticed was that it opened with the Track Changes margin visible to the right. That meant some of my changes were intact, because I always made it a point to accept (or rarely reject) the changes Larry made on my previous chapter before going into his new chapter. So that was good news.

I scrolled down and saw that all of my revisions were there, and the beginning of my first scene. True, my protagonist was cut off right before he says something nice to his wife (who is piii-iiissed at him, oh!), but I probably only lost ten minutes of work, or less. Just spitballing, but I felt like that was a good estimate, since I noticed the setting on the Auto-Recover option was to save every ten minutes.

Still, that was a lot of lost material, because I had been rolling. I closed my eyes to envision the rest of the scene at the apartment, and the beginning of the second scene, which occurs at a crime scene. Then I started tapping the keys.

I finished the first scene, and drove right into the second. I got to the point where I'd left off and just kept rolling.When it came time to send it back to Larry, I did what we usually do for each other, inserting a page break and typing in the next chapter number. Then I sat there, staring at the screen, because I knew that his next scene, which I was looking forward to, didn't have any ripples into the final segment I was to write next. And my final segment was the end of the book, a time any writer knows is exciting.

So after a little deliberation (very little), I added another page break, was nice enough to type in the chapter heading for myself, and I started tapping the keys again. I wrote what I thought would be the final scene of the book, wrapping up some loose ends and putting a ribbon on things from the perspective of the main protagonist. It went well, I thought. Of course, it was late and I was both tired and mildly biased. But there was some irony, some mild self-awareness, and some love, both of the married and fraternal kind. I also happily tied it back to the very first scene in which the reader meets the protagonist.

When I was done (and had hit SAVE), I sat there a little longer. There was one nagging little loose thread dangling, and it was bothering me. It involved a character that could easily be categorized as the second only to the main protagonist in terms of screen time. And while Larry and I wanted to leave his fate a little bit shrouded (who knows if this will be a one-off or a series, at this point?), there was a part of his story-line involving his family that I didn't want to leave unresolved.

Besides, like I said, I was rolling. I felt like Bruce Springsteen, getting ready to introduce the band near the end of the show right in the middle of the song "Light of Day." Just chanting, "100 miles, 200 miles, 300 miles, train keeps on rollin', goin' 400 miles, 500 miles..."

So I kept writing. Since we had a prologue, I decided to go beyond our original plan and write an epilogue. Nature and art like symmetry, right? I took the approach of keeping the narrator's identity unstated, though it will be obvious to the reader who it is. The epilogue ended up only 366 words, but it did exactly what I needed it to do.

Then, finally, I was done. The bottom right corner of my monitor told me it was after two in the morning, which didn't used to seem so late, but seems positively rebellious now. I did a quick read-through, tweaking and polishing and correcting along the way, which took another ten minutes or more. Then I hit SAVE repeatedly, gave my monitor a sturdy middle finger, and exited the document.

And immediately opened it again to make sure it was all still there. If I was really crazy, I would have muttered an apology for the finger part, but just because I'm a writer doesn't mean I'm full out whacked.  So I only thought the apology.

Still there. All good.

I closed the file and went to bed. I fell asleep fast, and hard.

Now who know what will happen...I haven't heard back from Larry as of this writing, but it is well within his normal window for reply. He may read my two in the morning ravings and hate them. Or he may not agree to an epilogue. It is the ending, after all, and endings are important. But I think he's going to dig it. Because sometimes bad luck can turn to good luck, and a happy accident can end up putting you in a good place, if you're willing to contribute a little of your own obsession.

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