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Director's Cut, Weeks 4 & 5
After lots of action, fancy meals, and reimagined Portland locales, The Blue Beacon enters its second half
Readers, we’re through Weeks 4 and 5 of The Blue Beacon now, and up to Chapter 23.
This week as I faced some doldrums,1 I had a memory of rowing out to camp on the beach of an island in the middle of the Columbia. You know how you get so far your arms start to tire and you look back and you’ve gone a little ways, but the opposite shore looks hardly closer at all? That’s the feeling I had through a lot of the last two weeks.
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I know this stage is vital to any creative project, so I didn’t fret, but I also didn’t want you guys to carry the same angst about how long this story’s gonna take. I mean, when you have a book, you can see where it ends. So I looked through the manuscript the last couple days to figure out an estimated chapter count.
So here it is: The Blue Beacon will top out at 43 chapters plus an epilogue. Now we can all start the countdown.
I won’t give spoilers up here since I’m running through each chapter down below, but here’s some of what transpired over the last two weeks.
Portrait of General Athena. That image matched the inspiration for that character to a surprising degree, and also managed to make her look regal enough too be a general.
Underwater with salmon spawning. One thing AI art is especially good at is creepy images, which worked especially well here to give the salmon run an otherworldly tone.
Overgrown North Southfront. See, a real illustrator could draw this in a similar style, but with the actual buildings and lines and descriptions from the book. AI can only get semi-close. Still, I liked how this image captured the forest growing up around NoSo, and how the dock on the left side reflected the northern tip of Flattail Island. (aka. Ross Island in real life.)
Belknap at his desk. Just totally out of line with how it’s described in the book and how I picture it in my mind. I’ll need to revisit this one.
The Green Outdoor Restaurant. While I do like the little stream running through, this image just leaves me a little cold, not quite capturing the coziness I hope to conjure up with the Nebraska Tavern.
Chapter Condensing = More Bang for Your Buck
I mostly hit my target of longer chapters this week, averaging around 7 minutes per, and lengthier chapters in Week 5. This meant mashing a couple smaller sections together, which means a slightly more pressed timeline overall. But I’m feeling so eager to get this story out that I went for it. The abbreviated schedule will add to the challenge since most the back half of the book is less re-written than the front, but the story’s strong and I’m trusting this leads to flow states later on as I rush to stay ahead.
Brief Chapter Breakdowns
<WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!!!>
It felt good to kick off Week 4 with some action. One thing I always appreciat in stories is a scene where characters tumble down a forested hillside. Think: The Princess Bride, Tommy Boy, Flight of the Navigator, and Hot Rod. So Eola and Bajo definitely got up to some of that.
I got a lot of fun feedback on this chapter where the Canine Corps come to the rescue and I agree wholeheartedly. This was a fun passage to write! One of the great joys and challenges of this process is naming characters. I have themes I work from, like Oregon geography, but there are gonna be a lot of dogs, so I wanted to stick with the naming them after dogs I’ve met when that’s reasonable.
One especially notable dog to appear in this chapter is Penny, a sweet-hearted greyhound who napped near my desk when I wrote at Willamette Week. She’s the one who bowls into the coywolves at superspeed to rescue Eola. Sadly, The Blue Beacon will probably have to become a bestseller to make Penny’s in-print portfolio. She’s been in Willamette Week and on the cover of Wired.
I’ve always liked John’s Landing for being an long, odd mishmash of a neighborhood and I thoroughly enjoyed remaking it into a profitable shipping town with top-quality craftworkers and also a pirate-y, raucous sort of vibe.
My goal with the action in this story is for it to feel superheroic and wild, but I also want these characters suffused with tenderness and gentleness and I want them to wrestle with violence and war. This section also foreshadows what we’ll learn in the next chapter.
For what it’s worth, I don’t like how Eola says, “The Willamette!” and I hope another line of dialogue comes to me soon but it hadn’t by the time this post went to print.
This was a reveal chapter where we figure out what Ophir’s keeping secret, and I think this marks the midpoint of the book, where the action turns in a new direction and gains added urgency.
One bit of advice from Mary Karr is to fill our story with details we will like, so you can expect more character development through things like shopping and eating. I gotta keep myself entertained in those parts! I’m fairly happy with how Griggs + Belknap stand out. Incidentally, G+B is based on Grand + Benedicts on Macadam. In real life it’s store which sells store fixtures and is super boring.
This scene is totally inspired by Q, the inventor who always gives James Bond his coolest gadgets. It’s always satisfying when characters get upgraded tools.
Arrick’s bow in this chapter is inspired by a Nez Perce innovation of crafting bows from steamed sheep’s horn, which were considerably more powerful than wooden bows.
The Willarog is inspired by the shrews in the Redwall books, who are always lead by a chieftan named Logalog. Also, the character of Lew is based on my Grandpa Lewie, who passed away while this book was being written. I feel a little bad about making his Cascadian character a nutria, but I also think Lew is one of the best characters in this book so I hope it evens out and that I did him proud.
I confess to feeling a little clunkier on confessional dialogue than with the action scenes, so I’m curious how this chapter landed with readers and how the spiritual component of this world comes across.
If you’re wondering why the companions couldn’t just go overland or ride elks or something, well, the answer is this story needed a river journey. River journeys are the original road trips.
I’m just very pleased with how this section worked out, from the underwater sequence to the sushi meal at the end. River otters are my very favorite animal so this book had to have some.
And now our characters reach solid ground in NoSo, their final stop before the Capitol. I would’ve preferred to end this chapter with a little more drama, and for NoSo to have a little more texture, but not every week’s gonna round out perfectly. All in all, the pieces are nearly in place for a big third act.
I also hope to catch up on responding to edits this week. Rest assured, I’m grateful to everyone reading along so far, and especially your feedback and comments. Thank you for being in this journey with me, and for lifting me up as we go along. There’s plenty of story left to tell.
noun (used with a plural verb)
a state of inactivity or stagnation, as in business or art: August is a time of doldrums for many enterprises.
the weather prevailing in this area.
a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits.