Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The "Joys" of Editing


This is the first chapter of "The T.E.M.P. Agency", my NaNoWriMo project from 2011 that I've been looking to edit for a long while. To that end, I'm going to be spending this week re-reading the whole thing, printing it out, and then seeing what needs to stay and what needs to go.

The setting is around the 1930s-1940s and I wanted to try to capture the feel and flair of the time. Not sure how well I succeeded, but again, it's a first draft and in need of some heavy editing (as well as an ending of some sort). Going back and reading this, I'm still not sure if I've put too much emphasis on the "sci-fi" aspect (the main character's inner workings), taking away from the setting and feel of the era.

Also keep in mind that I have no clue as to how long a chapter is supposed to be. I've heard time and time again "as long as it needs to be" as the answer, but I still am not sure.

      Roland Matthews always hated waiting in line at the theater. Ahead of him were two teenage girls, giggling as they looked at the movie poster under the lighted glass. Jonto of the Jungle was quite the impressive figure at 6 foot 2 with eyes of blue.... a wavy blonde mane of hair that never seemed to move, even when he was swinging across the jungle on all too convenient vines. He reminded Roland of that Charles Atlas fella, with his leopard skin briefs and chiseled good looks. Who knew what the two girls were giggling about as they sneaked glances at Jonto's impressive build. Matthews was convinced, though, that they were giggling at Jonto's pet chimp Simba, who was perched on his left shoulder as he struck a heroic pose. Then the realization hit him. Shouldn't these two girls be in school? It was a school day after all, wasn't it? Roland remembered it was, actually, Saturday, while pulling the lapels up on his shabby looking, threadbare coat. One day seemed to blur into the next when you were out of work. The construction business had all but dried up during the Depression and Roland, being low man on almost any totem pole he was a part of, was always the first let go when times got really tough. Sighing to himself as he finally made it up to the ticket counter, plunking down his twenty five cents, and taking his bright red "Admit One" ticket.

"Let's go, Jonto...." he sighed again as he headed into the darkness.

The Majestic Theater, down on the lower east side of Manhattan was an o.k. joint, as far as movie houses went. The seats were clean and not too frayed and the ushers did a decent job of keeping the floors debris free, so that your wingtips didn't stick....too much. The house lights were already dimmed as Roland made his way into the crowded theater and there weren't too many seats left. Spying one in the far, upper corner, he sighed again as he tried to slink around what smelled like a butcher who had just gotten off work and headed for the corner.

"Let's go, Jonto..." he mumbled again as he made his way through the human maze and to the seat. 
"Pardon me.....'scuse me....pardon....'scuse me...." he mumbled as he almost stumbled through the sea of human legs, finally plopping down next to a large man wearing a wide brimmed fedora with the collar of his long, worn, overcoat upturned. Roland shrugged to himself as he settled down and the newsreel began.

"REAL LIFE 'MYSTERY MAN' KEEPS THE BIG APPLE SAFE!" Read the blurb. The narrator telling of an honest to gosh Mystery Man....just like that Shadow character from the radio show....who was bringing in crooks and saving hard working folks all over the city. A rare photo of someone calling himself "The Nimbus"...wearing all black from head to toe....shooting what looked like lightning from an odd looking gun at a couple of would be robbers.

"Gotta be a gimmick...." Roland whispered out of the corner of his mouth while nudging the man in the fedora next to him. The shrouded man seemed awfully....solid, as Roland's elbow felt like it had smacked the side of a battleship.

" talking during the show." The man whispered back in an almost monotone. 

"Huh"? Roland replied, leaning in a bit further.

A gloved hand shot up, the thumb jabbing at the sign hanging on the wall just above them where a cartoon usher asked politely.


Another sigh came from Roland as he leaned back into his seat and finished  watching the newsreel. "Still think it's a gimmick..." he grunted.

After the Little Louie cartoon, it was time for the feature. A loud voice boomed from the speakers..

"Let's gooooooo Jontooooooo!!"

Children and grown ups alike cheered and clapped as the jungle king swung the treetops, flipping around the branches like an Olympic gymnast while the opening credits rolled.

"Let's gooooo Jontooooooo!!" the children screamed in unison as Jonto punched out a snooty looking poacher with a handlebar mustache, monocle, and pith helmet. The exploits of the blonde lord of the jungle and his pet, Simba, as he rescued trapped animals, escaped dangerous snake pits, and saved the pretty girl, almost had Roland clapping along with everyone else. Everyone, that is, except the sad sack sitting next to him.

Little did Roland realize that the 'man' with the wide brimmed fedora had been coming to The Majestic, every day, for over a month. Absorbing knowledge of the world, the culture of America and her people, what to say and what not to say.  Billions of calculations were forming millions of codes as it restructured it's programming.

When the lights came up, the man pulled his fedora down lower over his face, his collar higher up around him and settled down for the next feature.

The phone rang....and rang...and rang...until he couldn't take it any longer.

"Bohlts Investigations, Templeton Bohlts speaking." he almost barked into the shiny black receiver.
The voice on the other end of the line hesitated....then spoke. 
"Uhhm...Mr. Bohlts....this is Ellen McNeary from the temp agency. You had called last week for a new secretary and we wanted to inquire as to the reason for the replacement. Was Sally inadequate for your business' needs?
"What? was fine...she was swell...a real peach. I...uh...just didn't like the way she made coffee...that's all." He was impressed in the way that he had written a sub-routine to simulate hesitation in speech using "uhs", "urs", and long pauses.
"Oh well, alright then", Ellen sighed into his ear, "we'll be sending a new girl over today. May I remind you that this will be the tenth girl we've sent? We only have so many temps on staff. I do realize that you pay extra, I guess I just didn't realize how lucrative the investigating business was."
"Yeah sister, things are going just great here. I'll be waiting for her, thanks."

The receiver landed in the cradle with a loud *thunk*. The sun was peeking out from behind some earlier storm clouds and the beams spread wide over his desk. The large, oak desk was polished to a high shine....everything on it was neat and orderly with not a speck of dust to be seen. Templeton reached over to his left, pulling open the middle drawer of his desk, past the half drank bottle of bourbon....which he had never, really, drank from...he pulled out a mirror.
"Sometimes the simplest of inventions are the most wonderful." he said to himself as he held the shiny surface up and practiced making faces in it. Smiles....frowns....looks of surprise...looks of dismay...all done to help solidify his role as just another gumshoe. The wire running from his left side to the nearby electrical outlet, though, told another story. Hearing the downstairs door open, then close, he reached down and unplugged the thin, clear, cable from the wall. The prongs of the plug receded back into the casing, then the cord quickly disappeared into Templeton's side.
The large, frosted glass, door with the words "Bholts Investigations" emblazoned acrossed it swung open. A tall, almost lanky, brunette with the walk of a woman who dances regularly entered.

"Mr. Bohlts? Hi, I'm Linda...your new temp."

"Hello Linda", Templeton stood up, offering her his hand which she quickly shook. "I'm Templeton Bholts and...."

"Oh, I know who you're _the_ Templeton Bohlts....the famous private eye!" she almost squealed.

"Private investigator", he corrected. "A private eye would entail....oh never mind that. You're familiar with my work, huh?" Templeton allowed the traces of a smile to curl his synthetic lips.

"Oh sure", Linda nodded, "I've read about some of your cases in the Herald. How you found that meteor rock that was stolen from the museum a few months back and the time you rescued that kid from a group of kidnappers. Oh yeah, I've heard of you."

Nodding his head, he motioned for her to sit down in the shiny, wooden, chair in front of his desk. 
"I'm glad to hear you've heard of me, but we have to get a few things on the board before we go on. Things such as, you're never to come in here unless I ask you're to stay out at your desk at all times....unless I call you in here. I've had some problem, in the past, with secretaries with 'nose trouble' and that leads to nothing -but- trouble in this business. Get it?"

Linda slowly nodded...the surprised look on her face showing that she did, indeed, 'get it'.

"Our relationship will be of a business nature, so no snooping around my office or my personal life.....o.k.?

Another nod told him it was 'o.k.'.

Arching her dark eyebrows, Linda noted some of the plaques on the wall as Templeton explained the way things were going to be. An Investigator's License from city of New York and signed by "Holy Joe" Joseph V. McKee, himself. There were various picture of "Mr.Bohlts" shaking hands with such famous people as John Barrymore, Louis Armstrong, and some young fellow with large ears and a thin    mustache.

"Uhmm...excuse me...", Linda said as she pointed to the picture of the big eared young man, "who's that?"

His well rehearsed speech interrupted, Templeton gave here his best "annoyed" look and nodded at the picture.

"Walt Disney."

"Who's Walt Disney?" Linda asked.

"He's in the cartoon business....for now. One of the best animatronics innovators of all time, why he will be widely regarded...." Templeton caught himself before he said 'too much'. One of his newest sub-routines was called 'Fond Memories" and, at times, allowed him to ramble on, just a bit.

"Never mind you understand the terms of employment here?"
"Yes Mr. Bohlts...." Linda replied sullenly.
"Good....oh and none of that 'Mr. Bohlts' me Max..."
"'s sort of a...nickname, I guess..."
"Well...alright....'Max'....I understand. No snooping, nothing of a personal nature...I'm just here to answer phones and set up meetings."
Templeton nodded as Linda rose to go out to her desk in the adjoining entrance room.

As she got situated, she was still wondering just what the heck 'animatronics' were, anyway.

Watching her stand and leave he went into auto-assessment mode. Height...five foot seven and three hundred twenty two and a half pounds....slight limp on her left side, calve muscle spasm....possible polio victim given the time period. The door closed behind her as he stored the information for later use.
Picking up a crisp brown folder he began leafing through the pages.....wondering.

As Templeton scanned the folder, his virtual 'mind' working through hundreds of thousands of scenarios, a rap at the door triggered his 'When In Rome' program....the one that helped him to blend into which ever society he ended up in. Of course it wasn't really called 'When In Rome', it was actually called sub-routine 1968, but he liked his name a bit better. At least -that- program was working as intended.

"Look Sweetheart, cant'cha see I'm...." The big glob of shadow from behind the frosted glass loomed larger as the door swung open wide. A large man wearing a frayed looking, blue pinstripe suit had a beefy arm around Linda's throat....his free hand had an old .45 special pointed at her temple.

"O.k. Bohlts....look here ya two bit chisler....I want what's due me, see?" The larger man, a scar running down his right cheek, barked.

"Due you?"

"Yeah.....the package......gimmee!"

"Gim-you..." Templeton said slowly as if mulling over not only the gunman's demand, but his command of the English language, as well. 

"Alright....look....don't do anything rash," Templeton said, bringing both his hands to rest flat on the sparkling clean desktop. The gunman jerking his chin at the movement...

"Hey, it there, fella....just you watch it...."

"Keep's's alright..." Templeton tried to put some soothing tones to his voice while he began slowly drumming the fingers of his left hand, rhythmically, on the large, oak, desk. Glancing from the barrel of his gun to Linda's face, it appeared that she was taking this more calmly than would be expected from a temporary secretary. Still, though, her hands hand a tight grip across the large gunman's forearm as she leaned back into him.

"Alls I want is what's due me....gimmee the package and I'll let yer girlie here go."  A menacing shake of his gun emphasized his point.

Templeton's steely blue eyes caught Linda's, he arched a brow...his fingers still drumming the desktop...drawing the gunman's gaze while Templeton glanced over at the highly polished, silver lamp to his right.
Fingers dumming.....thrrrump...thrrrump...thrrrump.....the larger man looking annoyed....

" I get it, or what?" he bellowed.

Templeton nodded knowingly...."Why, yes, I think you will..." and, with that, his right hand shoved the silver lamp directly into the beam of sunlight that shone down on his desk, reflecting it directly into the gunman's eyes.
In a flash, Templeton was out of his seat and vaulting over the desk. Whether he would have made it in time, they'll never know because Linda was already on the move. Bringing her left heel up, she slammed it back down into the toe of the gunman's weathered looking wingtip shoe.
A loud howl erupted from the man as the pain in his foot and bright light in the eyes forced him to loose his grip enough for Linda to scurry free. His arms flying out wide, the .45 special barking, left the larger man wide open for an extremely fast right hook. With Linda clear, the gunman spun on his heel and fell flat on his face...out cold.

"Wow, you're quick!" Linda gasped as she began pulling herself off the floor.

"They don't call me 'Bolts' for nothing.." Templeton smiled, extending his hand and helping Linda up.
"That was a pretty nifty trick with the lamp", Linda said, straightening the hat she hadn't gotten the chance to take off, "a one in a million shot."

"Actually, a one in a......ah, never mind..." Templeton stopped himself from completing that sentence and kicked the gun away from the larger man. 

", I mean...Max?"

"Yes Linda?" Templeton said as he began searching the man on his floor.

"You've been shot!" she gasped.

So, if you've gotten this far....what do you think? Good? Bad? Ugly? Any constructive criticism is welcomed and thanks!

Now...back to the blogosphere!


Anonymous said...

I think it's very good. It kept my attention - I definitely wanted to know what happened next.
At first I was confused about the repeated descriptions of shiny furniture, but by the end I had a feeling that there's a purpose to it.

I hope you'll be posting more :)

Nicki Elson said...

Good luck with the editing. My best advice is to let the piece cool between writing and editing, and you've done that so I say go with your gut. If the sci-fi feels to heavy to you, try lightening a little and then see what you think. As far as length--yep, I get the same answer "as long as it needs to be" but you have to take reader attention spans into account---long enough to give them some new development that keeps them wanting to read, but you can't cram too much into one chapter, either. The rule of thumb I set for myself is at least 2500 words, but not (much) more than 5,000 per chapter---totally my personal preference, not based on any kind of wisdom.

Mark Means said...

Hey, thank you very much :) I try to always do some sort of 'set up' for what's to come but always feel that I, sometimes, go over the top.

I'm sure I'll be posting more as I go through the editing process and thanks again :)

Mark Means said...

Thank you, Nicki, I appreciate the pointers :)

Yeah, I'm thinking it might be too 'sci fi' heavy for a beginning chapter, so I might throw more description of the times/era in there.

I, pretty much, did the same as you with chapters....I think most of mine ran around 2K mark, though some were a bit more 3-4K and some a little less 1.5K. Great point about attention spans of the reader, I hadn't even thought of that and I'll definitely remember it.

Thank you for your comments :)

Mark Means said...

Oh, and also the fact that everything is shiny and dust free comes into play later in the :)

Julie said...

Hey Mark. I'm not a writer so this is from the reader's perspective. I like it. It was pretty interesting to me. My only fault with it is that it kinda lost me in the move from movie theater to office. If this was a chapter break at that point, then I probably would have been fine, but just dropping and going straight into the office part left something out. Also, it could have been that it started with Roland's perspective and then all of a sudden, it was the mysterious guy's perspective. I don't think it's too Scifi though. Enjoyed that aspect of it. That's the only negative that I have about it. As far as length of chapters and attention spans go, I personally prefer short chapters. I do get bored with long ones. Plus it makes it easier to only have a couple of more pages to finish if you have to find a stopping place, and I like that to be at the end of a chapter. I hope you don't mind my input. Will you be finishing this story online, or is it to be a book for me to buy? I really do like the story. (In case you don't remember me, I found you through the Martian blog hop.)

Mark Means said...

Hey Julie, thank you very much for your feedback and know that, for me, reader's perspective is just as important as a writer's.

From the theater to the office was supposed to have been a break in the chapter, so maybe I should make that a bit more clear.

Anytime you want to offer input/constructive criticism, please be my guest. You had some great points which I will definitely be keeping in mind as I go through this editing process.

Once I find a good ending and polish it up, I really hope it will become a book, so keep your fingers crossed :) Like I said earlier, I'm sure I'll be posting more as I keep with the editing process.

Of course, I remember you...anyone who likes Mork from Ork is o.k in my book :D

Thank you again for your great feedback, I really appreciate it.

Morgan said...

You write great action! I could see it really nicely... I'd break up just a couple of those paragraphs--they were a bit long for me--but it could've been the blogging format! I enjoyed your style, Mark. I'm excited for you!

Mark Means said...

Wow, thanks for the kind words Morgan, that really means a lot and gives me hope!!

No, I think you're right, though....a few of those paragraphs could use some breaking up, good call. I wish I could blame it on Blogger, but I just copied and pasted and it kept the same format :D

Patrycja Photography said...

Very cool blog. Interesting posts. ;)
Nice atmosphere guests with you here on the blog. ;]
Yours. Have a nice day. !

Follow me on facebook fanpage and blog
I'm very concerned about this, please. :)

Mark Means said...

Thank you :)

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