When did that happen? Or Bloody Hell I Really Need A Timeline!

datesThe right tools for the right job. How often has that been beaten into us?  I know I’ve used it more times than I can count. Humans make tools and need them. And lets face it without them we’re pretty much just standing around naked, which can be fun on a warm spring day, but after a while someone had to get something done.

The current WIP that is occupying the gray-matter is a science fiction tale with a strong romantic element. I’m one of those “seat-of-the-pants” writers so I don’t do a lot of outlining to begin with. I finally got to the point where I have a pretty firm ending lock down that I can work toward. The problem is a lot of the events are starting to mash up in my head. I know what needs to happen, more or less, before we get to the climatic and tear jerking ending. However getting them to all fall into some semblance of logical order is becoming annoying. Also I am writing in first person which means Mr. Hero kind of needs to show up at said events–all of them. Would it surprise you to learn that I hate day-planers in real life?

Anyway, I wanted a timeline tool. Pen and paper just doesn’t do it for me. I may be in my 50’s but I am a digital kind of guy. For example, I really had trouble cranking out anything until I ran across Scrivener. It lets you write in scenes and drag them around, kind of the way my brain works. I just can’t say enough good things about it. If you write, you need to at least give it a try. They offer a free trial so you really don’t have anything to lose. And it only cost like $40.  Okay end of commercial,  I was hoping to find an outlining tool for writers that would be as helpful as Scrivener.

There really doesn’t seem to be a lot out there. If you can recommend something I’d appreciated it.  I thought of using a spreadsheet. Yeah, I laughed too. Not going to happen. Calendar programs just are too chunky for writing, especially if you want to have backstory on the thing that goes back hundreds of years. The best thing out there seems to be Aeon Timeline. It is a timeline program designed for writers. The rub is it is Mac only and like the other 90% of the computing humans on Earth I use windows. So bummer. The developer claims to be working on a Win version, which is great, but I need something now.

So I spent the afternoon on Google. (Hey I can count this as research right?) And found a program in development on Sourceforge. Sourceforge is the place developers post programs they are working on–really stable pre 1.0 versions of their software. I’ve found some real gems there over the decades. Timeline is just that, a simple Timeline program. I just downloaded it and installed. It is very simple but it looks like it can work for what I need right now. It can span a very large time range, it has options to view millennium or centuries, and you can categorize events. So for the moment simple and free has won me over, at least until the fabled Windows version of Aeon finally arrives. For those folks out there that are writers, how do you handle timelines for your work?



The Places That Draw Us

Some things have always mystified me. One is strong fragmented memories from childhood and the other is the draw, the pull, certain places have on us.  I’ve always had this memory of me standing next a big stone wall looking out into a bay. I am with my Auntie Vi. We are watching dolphins play in the water and there was an old stone fort with big cannons. I was three or four.

This memory always perplexed me because my aunt Vi lived in Saint Pete, FL and there are no old forts like that anywhere near. I’d ask my Mom about it every now and then but she didn’t remember anything about standing on a wall watching dolphins or going to a fort. Besides we still lived in Indiana when I was that young. Eventually I just decided it was some wacky conglomeration of various images and memories from childhood and pushed it to the back of my mind.

A few years ago on Thanksgiving my Grandfather died.  That was pretty hard. I was pretty close to my grandparents. They had taken care of me when I was very young because Dad was at university and Mom was working. Also Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It was about family. We had left Indiana when I was about five or six and moved to Florida. Up there I had been surrounded by great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and distant cousins. I was the first kid of the next generation and I swam in the love and attention of extended family. Thanksgiving was the time of year when people up north got away and came to visit us in Florida. The house would be full and there would be food everywhere. Thanksgiving was family. Now I was the one living far away. The family was still in Florida but I ended up in Minnesota. I began to appreciate the bone-chilling need to visit family in Florida during late November.

My parents picked me up at the airport and on the ride home they informed me that Grandpa had been moved to a nursing home and was not doing well. We’d be driving up to South Carolina in the morning. My grandparents had retired there years ago to be closer to my grandmother’s family.

We left Tampa early the next morning and arrived in Florence late at night. My Uncle was waiting for us. He had flown in the day before. Grandma was at the hospital with Grandpa. He wasn’t doing well. We’d see him in the morning. About four in the morning I heard someone taking a shower, thought it was kind of odd, but just rolled over and went back to bed. At breakfast I was told Grandpa had died in the night. I missed saying good-by by just a few hours. Family began to arrive. It was Thanksgiving Day and my grandparent’s house was full. I was surrounded by four generations of the family. The house was full of grief. Thanksgiving had changed forever, or so it seemed.

Then we all left. The trip back seemed long, slow, and silent. After a few days at my folk’s house I new I needed to get away. I need to be alone to process things. I spread out a map of Florida on the table to look for inspiration. Saint Augustine caught my eye–the Oldest City, the First City, of America. I had always wanted to go there but it was up in the northeast corner of the state; out of the way, so far north they are almost Yankees. I packed up my folk’s truck with camping gear and headed out.

Sitting on a beach in the dark, wrapped in a blanket, waiting for the sun to rise out of the Atlantic is a good place to think and process. The dark goes gray, then pale, then a kind of white silver. The clouds burn with red, then orange. And it happens. The sun. At first a drop of blood red distorting the line of the gray horizon and then it soars, like it can’t wait to get into the sky. Ever yellowing as it rises. The morning wind rushes toward shore. The surf picks up and the sea birds begin to squabble. A new day.

Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine, FL
Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine, FL

When the sun had yellowed and seemed to settle in for its day’s work I decided to go explore Saint Augustine. I wanted to see the fort. For some reason I had a thing for old Spanish forts. I stood on the battlement and looked out over Matanzas Harbor. There were sailboats anchored in the harbor and dolphins playing in the water. I had been here before. This was it. I looked down at the seawall outside the fort. I knew this was where I had been standing all those years ago when my Auntie Vi had lifted me up so I could see the dolphins. I looked back out at the harbor and into the Atlantic beyond. Why had that memory stuck with me all of these years? Why had the desire to visit this place always been in the back of my mind?

When I returned to my parent’s house, I asked my Mom if we had ever visited Saint Augustine when I was a kid. She thought for a moment then said we might have passed through there once when we visited Florida before we moved down here. She thought we stopped there for a bathroom break, maybe. Was that it? A random memory from a pee-break had stuck with me for all of these years? Imprinted the ocean, sailboats and Spanish forts on my mind?

The Castillo still calls to me occasionally. I’ve been back to visit the Old Town a few times since I’ve moved back to Florida, most recently was this week. Two writer friends, Cindy and Gayle, were visiting. We were staying in Orlando so they could visit the Mouse House. Over breakfast on Monday, Gayle was sharing about her current WIP. Part of the book is set in Florida and she was thinking Coco Beach. Something whispered in my ear and I asked if she had ever been to Saint Augustine? Her answer of “No” resulted in a wonderful day trip. As we stood next to the Castillo de San Marcos and looked out at Matanzas harbor, I once again pondered the mystery of childhood memories and the places that draw us.


Perspective & Imagination

The USS Recycle
The USS Recycle

I stopped by my Mom’s house for lunch today and she told me my brother had left something for me. My folk’s house is kind of a way station for the sibs. We all live in different parts of the TampaBay area but usual stop by the folks house every week or so and it makes a kind of mid-way point to leave things. I opened a plastic grocery bag and found a piece of trash from nearly forty years ago.

Well, not quite trash. In early Twenty-First Century speak we’d call it a re-purposed item. As a kid, I’d manage to look at leftovers from a party—a plastic champagne stopper and two plastic drinking cups—and see a spaceship. I have no idea how or why my little brother had this. Somehow this thing was not only saved but packed and moved from Florida to Arizona, put in storage while my parents lived overseas, shipped back to Florida and then ended up at my brother’s house.

I looked at it, shrugged and then dropped it in the trash can. A piece of trash from the past. But I started thinking about it. I remember that I made it but I can’t really remember when. And I thought what kind of kid looks at trash sitting on a table after a party and sees a spaceship?

I used to be that kid. A kid that dreamed of stars. A kid that dreamed of pirates and adventures. I pulled the model made of cups out of the trash and tried to remember what happened to that kid. Didn’t he die?

Motivation where are you?

So it was a late night at the job-from-hell but all the way home I have this scene going in my head. I am actually kind of bummed that I didn’t have my laptop in the car so I could just go to Starbucks and get typing.

Anyway, I get home, scrape off the cloths and get into the shower. I feel good. I get an apple and a big glass of water to re-hydrate and site down to write and…not a damn thing. Too wired to go to bed and too fuzzy to work.

Oh well, I’ll stare at the Scrivener screen for a while and see what happens. Inspiration is apparently a fickle…well you know what.