Derailment and Back on Track

Sometimes two projects cooperate.  The main line runs smoothly on Track One, and the little branch line uses Track Two.  Or, if there is no Track Two, it uses Track One when the main line isn’t using it, and otherwise uses the sidings so the main line can pass it again.   This is easiest if the main line is carrying one kind of story cargo, and the branch line is carrying a very different kind, so the manager can move the switches in the right place at the right time.   Experienced Authors look at the schedule for year and start working on getting the branch line train where it needs to be  early.   And I did.

If, however, there is no Track Two, and the story cargoes are very much alike (same universe, same characters, similar setting), and the scheduling is tight, switching may be inefficient and even ineffective, so that instead of the main line schedule being kept, with the trains passing each other smoothly….you can end up with the mainline train (in this case, carrying the next Novel)  nose to nose with the branch line  train (in this case carrying the Story for Anthology)  on the same track.    They both need the track NOW.  Branch line is due at its station first.   Main line train has way more mass, and thus is pushing the branch line train backwards down the track.   This started in July and continued month after month.

This is, at any rate, the best description I can come up with for what October writing was like.   Novel was just over half drafted by then and making time…a novel in that internal condition is in no mood to stop, or slow down, or share mental space with a story.  Story was on the track but being pushed around by Novel’s insistence that this was its track, it had right of way, and that miserable little old switch engine with one car on the track should get OFF.  Stories generally have smaller engines (mine, anyway)  but they can gain track time if they’re different enough to startle the Novel into giving them space.  Even a novel may pause to chuckle at a funny story, for instance.  But in this case Story was set in the Vatta universe, and the timing for the story was between Victory Conditions and Cold Welcome, a necessity to avoid spoilering either Cold Welcome or the next book.  From Novel’s point of view, all that stuff was over with, years in the past now.   So…Novel pushed Story off the track, warping the frame of both the engine and its flat car.

Author dragged Story over to a siding and said ‘Try again.”  Story said “I hurt all over.  I can’t move.”   Author (with the calendar in sight) said “Try harder…get to the end of the siding at least.”  Story said, “My engine’s all broke.  My back hurts.”   Author threw some writing tools at Story and said “FIX it.”  Author cut Novel’s power supply down by half and tried to transfer power to Story.  Novel blew out a huge plume of steam (and it’s not a steam engine) and surged another 2000 words onward.  “MY TRACK!”  it yelled.  Story said, “See?  See what he does?  And my head hurts and I’m dizzy and I just can’t DO it!”  and with that fell over on its side, off the siding and into a ditch.

Author, aware of the most powerful train on Track One, the dreaded Deadline Express, now only ten days away, its headlight gleaming on the rails,  cut all power to Novel,  yanked Story out of the ditch by brute force, and–gasping and cursing–carried it on Author’s back down the track past Novel, setting it gently on Track One.  Then Author poured all of Author’s remaining strength into its feeble (by this time) engine, forcing word after word into it.   Its warped wheels wobbled and slid on the track, turning v..e..r..y.. slowly.  Finally, past midnight on the last night, Story lurched into its station and sank down panting.  Author, bleary-eyed, went to work on it, rearranging its load into a less raggedy, threadbare, and generally unkempt appearance, polishing, combing, polishing again, and finally plucking Story from the ramshackle flatbed it had been sitting on and sending it on its way to its editor.   Then shoveled the wreckage of the little engine that couldn’t and the warped flatcar off the tracks and spent the next day trudging wearily back up the tracks toward the mainline Novel train.

Author climbed into the engine of Novel that evening and attempted a restart.  As expected, Novel was in a snit (“You turned me OFF!  On the track!   For that…that snivelling little midget of a Story train!”) and produced several more blasts of steam.   Author, in no mood for this, snarled “Get OVER yourself!” in a tone Novel had not heard before, and Novel muttered, “Well, since you ask nicely…” and deigned to start moving wheels and covering ground  with a few hundred words that night, and a regular amount the next three days.

And that was my October.   Of course October had other surprises and complications beyond the writing life, but the writing life did its best to dominate.  Now it’s November.   Novel more or less happy chugging down the rails.   Author was staggering around for several days after getting Story off, but may now be caught up on sleep.   Just in time to start the serious prep for Thanksgiving, house guests,  and the deluge.

12 thoughts on “Derailment and Back on Track

  1. My head aches just thinking about schlepping the Story train around the Novel train. Switching tracks at my day job is like a tiny version of that and it’s challenging enough some days. Brava!

    1. I had a solid headache last weekend and through finishing the thing and most of the next day. Since then it’s just been exhaustion and needing more nap time and more sleep at night.

  2. Good to hear from you. Loved your imagery in this post; it was fun to read even though I know it was a huge pain for you. Looking forward to reading them both.

    Maryland tree color seems to be peaking this week. My husband & I went out to lunch today and I kept wishing I had a camera with me to take pictures.

    1. Our tree color is just starting–some yellow leaves–the “early oaks” will peak around Thanksgiving (a week later than they used to) and the “late oaks” a week or two after. There used to be a big red oak on San Pedro a little north of San Antonio College in San Antonio, on the last rise, that peaked in mid-December. Wasn’t much fall color there anyway, and coming into view of it was always a big treat. Our darkest reds are later than our golden/orange oaks, which are later than the yellow stuff.

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