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Writing Update - The Engine Driver

As part of my resolutions, I've committed to writing at least 500 words of fiction each day this year. I metaphorically (and ironically) dropped the ball right away, on New Year's Day, when I frittered away prime afternoon writing time by watching the first half of the Rose Bowl, in which my beloved Fighting Illini quickly fell behind by two touchdowns and never fully recovered en route to a blowout loss to USC. When I finally turned the game off it was dinner time, and I returned from my upstairs seclusion to spend the rest of the day with the family. In retrospect, my time watching the Rose Bowl would have been much better spent writing.

But I made up for that lapse by doubling my writing session on the 2nd, when I went back to work. Ordinarily I read on the morning train and write on the evening train (writing being the more mentally engaging activity of the two - reading in the evening ususally leads to a nap) but that day I wrote on both legs of my commute to get caught up, and every day since I've been diligent about meeting my daily quota. (Thursday and Friday evening on the train, then Saturday morning in the waiting room at the Honda dealership while getting a new muffler installed.)

I've revived a project that briefly came to me a few months back but was almost immediately abandoned, a novella which I'm tentatively calling The Engine Driver. It's a Civil War-era story of a young Union soldier who is the sole survivor of an attack on a train transporting prisoners of war back to Chicago. He finds himself alone in the mountains of Virginia, salvaging what he can from the wreckage of the train - at first basic provisions but then parts of the locomotive itself. He knows that his only chance at survival is to somehow fashion a vehicle out of locomotive parts and an old handcar he finds abandoned along the tracks. At this point in the narrative, survival is his sole focus - he gives no thought to what his life might be after he survives, which might be quite treacherous given the fact that he is about to become a deserter from the Union Army. All he's thinking about is how to build the vehicle which will help him survive.

At the moment I'm juggling various combinations of plot in order to come up with a reasonably plausible scenario for how a Wisconsin farmboy with no direct knowledge of steam engine mechanics could possibly build such a vehicle, entirely on his own and under fairly adverse climate conditions. How successful I am in making this pretext plausible will be critical to whether the rest of the story comes to fruition, or instead gets abandoned as I move on to writing something else.

Tune in next week.

January 6, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink