Gearing Up

This weekend I’ve been immersing myself in the 1960s. No, I didn’t watch a Mad Men marathon or vintage shows on the TV Land network. I’m gearing up to write my second novel, After Christmas Eve, set in 1966/1967 in Washington DC.

I’m not trying to catch the nostalgia wave generated by the success of Mad Men–not that I’d mind. The exact date for the story was dictated by a seemingly insignificant detail that I wrote into Until Thanksgiving. Setting this sucker in the 60s poses all kinds of challenges. The devil is in the details.

The fully formed idea for a prequel around that little detail came to me in a flash. I wrote down my thoughts and in a couple of hours, had sketched out the entire novel, subplots and all. I shared the outline with my writers group a few days ago. I’m looking forward to hearing the feedback and unvarnished opinions they’ll share with me on Saturday when we talk about my story .

I say “my story” because I’m the one who gets to tell it. But it comes from somewhere else. The outline is the map I’ll use to discover the details. When I sit down and start writing, what the characters say and do will surprise me.

Saying the characters talk to me sounds like a big load of bull. But it’s true. No, we don’t have conversations while I’m in the shower or anything like that. When I’m at the computer writing a scene, the words just pop into my head. There were times when I was writing Until Thanksgiving when something unexpected would come out. My reaction was often an incredulous, “well, I’ll be damned!”

Knowing who I’m writing about is an essential part of the process. If I don’t know who they are, I have no idea what they would do or say. So I’ve been thinking a lot about these characters–what they look like, how they think, their strengths and weaknesses, where they’ve been, and what makes them tick. A few are crystal clear in my head. The rest are varying degrees of fuzzy. The better I know the character, the more he or she talks to me.

Visualizing the setting is an essential part of the process, too. I visited all the places in Until Thanksgiving during the time the story took place. I remembered enough that I’d expect anyone who visited one of those places to recognize it from my description. Since I was eight when the story takes place, that’s just not possible with After Christmas Eve.

Information about the real places I want to use is limited. There’s certainly not enough to describe what it was like to walk into some of the locations that need to be part of my story. Since I’d have been forced to make stuff up anyway, I’m creating the places I need based on what I’ve gleaned from my research. I’m going to try to keep it real, and hopefully, I’ll succeed–at least well enough for the purposes of telling this story.

Let me clarify that my research has been limited primarily to internet searches. I have not conducted any field research on male prostitutes and have no intention of doing so anytime in the foreseeable future. Just putting it out there because I know it will come up once this book gets published.

I don’t know how we found obscure information before Al Gore created the internet for us. An amazing amount of information is just keystrokes away. Music, television shows, highlights in every sport, top news stories, current events and more are available by year if not by month or even day. It’s just as easy to find out when things were built, invented, and in popular use. A good scattering of these little details helps to keep the reader in the time of the story.

This week I’ll continue doing various internet searches, collecting information that may or may not make it into the story. The more I know, the more I’ll have to draw from when I finally sit down to write. By this time next week, unless the feedback I get from the writers in my group is to go back to square one and start over, I’ll be ready to start writing chapters here in…

My Glass House