National Novel Writing Month is an international contest for writers to push themselves to write a 50k word novel in 30 days. Not too hard, just 1666 words a day.
In 2012 I decided to take on the challenge. So I spent my November pounding out Draft A for The Midas Murders. After crossing the 50K on Nov 17th, I felt good about myself. I got an ending and drew the end of that first draft at just over 60K.
The experience was very rewarding. I met writers from Bucks County here in Pennsylvania, talented and enthusiastic. I’m waiting now to read some of the results.
I also wait to do it again next year. I may do a sequel or a new subject.
Who is Sam Skilton?
Sam Skilton (Real first name Samson) is a teenager born on the Ides of March. I became aware of him 30 days after separating from my first wife. He was an orphan (as all YA protagonist teen boys seem to be) in search of a kindly person to take him in. I’m pretty sure he tagged along from my trip to Redmond, Washington, hiding in the suitcase that never really got unpacked.
He looked a lot like that long-haired boy I call my son. The two of us probably passed him numerous times in the woods. We probably saw him at the campfire, sitting on the opposite side of the flames, the side without smoke going into everyone’s lungs.
He has a good heart, a nervousness around others (especially girls), a respect for adults, a sense of honesty, and the belief that good will triumph.
He has a slew of relatives, all but one relegated to the dustbin after the third draft. The one uncle he keeps has a secret just out of the boy’s grasp.
Sam Skilton is destined to have a series of adventures and solve the greatest mystery, doing so in an entertaining fashion.
Sam Skilton shares the initials with his author. (It was not intentional. The clueless author did not realize it until about the 10th draft. By then it was too late to change. )
Sam Skilton shares the first name ( and hair style ) with the grandson of the Maid of Honor at the author’s second wedding. (Totally unintentional. The author had several drafts done before even meeting his future bride.)
Sam Skilton has completed his first adventure (Camp Black Oak) and been put on the shelf to percolate. He is awaiting the BringYAtoPA writer’s conference before taking the next step.
I was born in 1957, the year of Sputnik, The Cat in the Hat, and the television debut of Perry Mason. While being raised in the Age of Space Exploration sparked my interest into science and Dr. Seuss entertained not only me, but my son with his rhymes, it was this last event that changed my life.
Back in the 50s and most of the 60s, our black and white television received 1 (yes one) station, the CBS affiliate from Binghamton, NY. That limited the shows we watched. But it did limit wear and tear on the channel changer knob.
On Saturday night, Perry Mason held court, solving a murder and exonerating his client each week. Today’s audience would probably call the plot repetitive, always enacting the same formula. However, that was part of the magic. How was our hero going to outwit the police and DA?
I have no idea when I remember the first episode from. I do remember Raymond Burr being an imposing figure in the title role. Along with the characters Paul Drake and Della Street, Perry would usually take on Hamilton Burger and Lt. Tragg. The characters were created by Erle Stanley Gardner, a former lawyer, providing a different perspective on the stories.
Over the years I have seen every episode of the original series, the revamped series (without Raymond Burr <<shutter>> ), and the made-for-tv movies reuniting the old Perry and Della. I have read a number of the novels, along with a few in two other Gardner series under the pen names of A. A. Fair and Doug Selby. I look forward to reading the rest when I inherit my father’s collection.
While it was a wonderful show, it holds a special place in my heart for an entire different reason. One night I was having a difficult time going to sleep. I believe I was anxious about an event the next day, most likely something happening at school. My mother sat on my bed and started to spin a tale of a great chief who helped his people by using legal techniques. She declared the chief to be “the Perry Mason of his time.”
I know that line made me laugh. It settled me down and I fell asleep, and survived whatever the next day brought.
Whenever I have trouble sleeping, I think back to that night. Like my mother, I start to create a story, though rarely either about Perry or Indians. Almost always it allows me to slip into slumber.
When I wrote my Sam Skilton adventures, I remembered my mother’s action that night. I incorporated the creation of a story into Sam’s experience as a central plot point. So in a sense, my story was inspired by Perry Mason.
Back in 1980 while I was living in the Mohave Desert, my best friend from high school came out to see me. I picked her up at Las Vegas and headed back to my place. She quickly became bored with the desert life (can’t blame her) so we went on the whirlwind tour of the Golden State.
I gassed up my Datsun and we headed south to LA. I had spent little time in the City of Angels, but we decided our first stop would be Universal Studios. We did the studio tram and stage shows before heading north. We made it as far as San Luis Obispo before collapsing for the night.
The next day we visited the mission at SLO before grabbing the 101 to San Francisco. We drove through the city and over the Golden Gate bridge. We stayed in Marin County that night before exploring Baghdad by the Bay the following day.
While this had been nice, nothing prepared me for our next destination. We headed east, into the Sierra Nevadas and Yosemite National Park. We entered the park from the south and were greeted by a sequoia, the Grizzly Giant. It stands only 209 feet high, but its circumference is just under 100 feet. It is huge. We stood there marveling at it. I had never imagined a living thing to be that massive.
As we did not have reservations, we pressed on, driving through the park and across Tioga Pass to reach the eastern side. Almost exhausted we did make it to the town of Bishop without an accident.
Our last day in California started by driving up into the White Mountains. There we visited the home of the bristlecone pines, some of the oldest trees in the world. We walked among trees that were over 4000 years old and still growing. At one point we sat on a bench overlooking the vista point you could look down on a glacier and watched as film popped out of her camera and rolled down the hill. We debated for fifteen minutes if one of us to retrieve it. Such is the decision making process at 14,000 feet.
When we came back to earth, we skirted around Death Valley and headed for Las Vegas. Our trip had run its course.
While I took many trips within California in the 3 decades I lived there, none were quite as memorable.
I saw magic (from the movies), history, modern marvels, nature and its beauty. I stood on top of the world (at least pretty close to it for the continental US) and with ancient survivors. All of that was made special by being with my best friend.
That Wednesday started with me being laid off from my programming job at a computer game company and went downhill from there. A couple bodies here, another one there, and I keep saying nothing happens in a small town. Recruited into the investigation by the local sheriff and a retired ( and maybe crazy ) police detective, I have to assist my partner, an inexperienced deputy, find the mastermind before the whole world turns to gold.
The Midas Murders started life back in 1993, my first writing project back in those days. I got about 13 chapters in before I got bored/distracted/too busy to finish. I found a written copy in October 2012 and wanted to type it in and finish it. After entering the first chapter, I discovered NaNoWriMo and decided to use the concept for a brand new story. Thirty days (or less) I had a 60K novel completed.
The book is written in 1st person, in the form of a detective mystery relying on snarky film noir-like narration coupled with a story that turns topsy turvy as the story progresses. It is written in as many cliches as I could manage, tossing in unrelated details to add a bunch of humor to the tale.
I read the first part at the Oxford Valley Writer’s Group who gave it encouraging comments. I don’t see it being a hit, more like a throw away story.
The next step will be sending it thru the Bucks Co WriLis editorial process. I hope it gives someone a laugh.
Updated: I submitted the book to the Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Contest. Sadly, it did not make it through the first level. Oh, well. There’s always next year.
VRRRRooom VRRRRooom VRRRRooom.
Back in 1962, my father came home and said a co-worker invited the family to an evening out. We packed up the car and headed for Lake Moc-A-Tec. We were going to the races. Dirt track stock car racing.
I don’t really remember the night. Had we not liked it, that night would have been just a blip on the radar. But we went back. For the next decade, we went back almost every weekend from late spring to early fall.
In 1963 the track needed a scorekeeper and found an honest person in my father. Sometime later, he became the person tracking the points earned by the cars. Later still he was tasked with announcing the races. I can’t remember when, but my mother also got suckered into being a scorekeeper. They also helped out at the concession stand before the races started.
Where was I? At first sitting with my mother. Just watching the cars got flying around the track, kicking up dirt, reaching speeds of almost 60 MPH. And making a lot of noise.
After my mother moved to the scoring booth, I sat with a family in the stands.
Of course, I wanted to do more.
So, I got my first job. Assistant handicapper. I checked in the cars as they arrived at the track. I also helped my father calculate the points and eventually became the runner, communicating between the scoring booth and the flagman.
I enjoyed my Saturday nights.
Now my father was asked to help out occasionally at another track on Friday nights for special occasions. Then in about 1967, my parents were asked to help out at another track just starting up. They were going to run Sunday afternoons.
So for a while we went to Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday races. At the new track, I got to do the same jobs, plus count laps for the flagman and be the spotter for the announcer.
Though I never got paid, I got valuable experience in being a sports statistician. I also created a fantasy world, coming up with long elaborate stories centered on racing. They were my first attempts at fiction.
With my parents extra money, we went on vacations. I’ll leave those memories for another day.
We made friends with many people at the tracks. Some continued during the off-season while others faded without the constant contact.
It was a time and a sound I’ll never forget.
Welcome to the Langhorne Lion blog. My name is Steven Skinner, an old gray beard living in Bucks County, PA. I started the blog to put down some of my thoughts and share them with friends.
If you want to know more about me, check out the About Me link.
I will be updating the site often, so check back.
All thoughts and opinions expressed on the site are mine. You can’t have them. No, not for any price. Don’t even ask. So there.
On second thought, I will rent them, but the price is steep. Probably your sanity, dignity, or $1.29 US.