IN MY MEMORY LOCKED, a new cyber-noir thriller

This June 15th, take a journey to a future where emotions are sent like text messages and others’ memories are streamed like movies. IN MY MEMORY LOCKED is my latest, a futuristic detective novel set in San Francisco, 2038.

C.F. Naroy is a computer security consultant hired to stop hackers from destroying the only remaining preserved copy of the Old Internet—”Old” because the Internet has been replaced by the Nexternet, a technology that allows anyone anywhere to transmit instantly love, hate, outrage, joy…their very thoughts.

Naroy’s investigation uncovers blackmail, political intrigue, dark family secrets, and more than a few dead bodies. The stolen data is so explosive, someone is willing to kill for it.

Then Naroy discovers his own painful past is the key to the entire affair. He must choose between solving the crime…or burying it for good.

Pre-order a Kindle edition of
IN MY MEMORY LOCKED
today for only 99¢

(A paperback edition will be available on Amazon the day of its release, June 15th.)

STRANGER SON on sale now

On sale now—STRANGER SON, the third book in the Bridge Daughter Cycle!

STRANGER SON picks up sixteen years after the events of Hagar’s Mother. Ruby Driscoll is now a Hagar living on the streets and halfway homes of Southern California. When she was thirteen, her mother was sent to prison while her younger brother was put up for adoption. Now twenty-nine and facing her biological mortality, she wants to right a wrong.

Desperate to locate her brother and reunite her family, Ruby begins an arduous journey into the heart of her family’s deepest secrets. The search takes her from Los Angeles to the wealthy enclaves of California’s Central Coast to the rugged heart of Jefferson, America’s fifty-first state.

The Kindle edition is priced at 99¢ for only a short time, so order now. Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read STRANGER SON immediately. Paperback edition now available as well!

Pre-order STRANGER SON now

Stranger Son by Jim Nelson

STRANGER SON, the newest book of the Bridge Daughter Cycle, is now available for pre-order on Amazon! The official release day is April 15th.

STRANGER SON picks up sixteen years after the events of Hagar’s Mother. Ruby Driscoll is now a Hagar living on the streets and halfway homes of Southern California. When she was thirteen, her mother was sent to prison while her younger brother was put up for adoption. Now twenty-nine and facing her biological mortality, she wants to right a wrong.

Desperate to locate her brother and reunite her family, Ruby begins an arduous journey into the heart of her family’s deepest secrets. The search takes her from Los Angeles to the wealthy enclaves of California’s Central Coast to the rugged heart of Jefferson, America’s fifty-first state.

Click here to order a Kindle edition NOW for only 99¢ and receive your copy April 15th

(Prices will go up after April 15th, so order now. A paperback edition will be released the same day, however, the paperback edition is not available for pre-order.)

On its way: STRANGER SON, Book Three of the Bridge Daughter Cycle

Usually I’m reticent to pre-announce, but I’ve been getting emails, so…

Stranger Son by Jim Nelson

Today I sent the third book of the Bridge Daughter Cycle, Stranger Son, off to the copyeditor. I’m getting covers and other material assembled as I write this.

Stranger Son picks up sixteen years after the conclusion of Hagar’s Mother. I don’t want to spoil too much, but will say it takes place in a near-future California after a bout of political turmoil.

If you’ve not read Bridge Daughter or Hagar’s Mother yet, you can dive in now and (fingers crossed) be caught up in time for the third book’s release.

No release date at the moment. Watch this space for more news.

How Marcia Lucas (and smart editing) saved Star Wars

Marcia Lucas
Marcia Lucas

Among fiction writers, the editing process is notoriously dreaded as drudge work, but revision is where the magic happens. It’s where a struggling, plodding story is shaped into the author’s vision.

Recently I discovered “How Star Wars was saved in the edit”, an impressive and succinct video on the high art of film editing. It demonstrates revision so well, it should be required viewing in creative writing courses everywhere.

That’s right: Creative writing. Even though it regards film editing, almost all the techniques described have application in revising fiction.

To clarify, I’m not talking about the Star Wars story line. The formula behind Star Wars has been so imitated and overdone over the past forty years, there are few morsels left to claim as one’s own. Narratological analyses of George Lucas’ little sci-fi flick are bountiful, as are the reminders how he borrowed much of his structure from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. All of this is well-trod ground and not what concerns me here.

What “Saved in the edit” highlights is a criminally unknown aspect of Star Wars‘ mega-success: The role of Lucas’ then-wife Marcia in sculpting the movie’s rough cut into a blockbuster. If Marcia Lucas had applied her formidable editing talents solely to the movie’s heart-pounding conclusion (the rebel attack on the Death Star), she would have deserved the Oscar for editing she eventually received. Her contributions went far deeper, it turns out.

Ordering scenes

I’m most interested in two of the video’s sections. The first is the explanation of intercutting (or cross-cutting), starting at 6m50s in the video. Intercutting is a film term referring to a specific editing technique. For fiction, a more general (and blander) term would be scene ordering.

Marcia Lucas and her fellow editors crispened the first act by reordering scenes to better establish the story and get the audience involved. Since viewers are able to fill in blanks on their own, the reordering allowed for the removal of entire scenes, keeping the story line brisk and taut.

Revising scene order is the author at her most godlike. She is rearranging the events of her dreamworld like a child building up and tearing down sand castle turrets. Scene reordering requires bold moves and wide peripheral vision. It’s not about word choice and tightening dialogue, it’s asking if each scene is in the right place at the right time—or even if it should be included at all.

(Another visual medium that uses visual cuts effectively is comics, a topic I’ve explored before.)

My latest (and, as of today, unpublished) novel offers a personal example of scene reordering in my editing process. My early chapters were a mess. The main character was traveling quite literally in circles. An early reader (and good friend) pointed out the wasted time and lack of energy in the first act.

Although I like to make a rough outline when I write a novel, I don’t organize down to the scene, or even the chapter. After hearing my friend’s criticism, I went through the draft and produced a rough table of contents. Each chapter was listed with a brief one- or two-sentence summary of its major plot points. (A writing notebook, even a digital one, is a good tool for this task.)

Thinking of his complaints, and referring to my makeshift table of contents as a guide, I “re-cut” the opening chapters and produced a sleeker first act. Sections of one chapter were lifted and dropped into another chapter. Events were shuffled to tighten the story, sharpen focus, reduce transitions, and get the story on its legs. Thousands of words wound up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. It was worth it.

Marcia Lucas and George Lucas
Marcia and George Lucas

Ordering beats

My other interest in “Saved in the edit” regards the first meeting between Luke and Obi-wan (11m50s in the video):

Originally the scene started with Luke and Obi-wan watching the princess’ message, then they play with lightsabers, and then they consider to go help her.

The editors realized how “heartless” this scene played out due to the lag between hearing Leia’s holographic plea and discussing whether or not to help her. They reordered the scene by opening in medias res to make it seem the two have been talking about Luke’s father for some time. From there,

  1. Obi-wan shows Luke the lightsaber,
  2. they watch Leia’s message,
  3. and then they argue about flying off to help her.

It’s a simple change, which is kind of the point: Sometimes vital edits are not complex or massive, but surgical and subtle. What’s more, notice how this edit did not require re-shooting the scene. All the elements were in place, the problem was their presentation.

The new ordering creates an emotional cone. The tension starts low with exposition (Luke’s supposedly-dead father, a forgotten religion that tapped into a mysterious cosmic “force”). The stakes rise in pitch as they watch Leia’s plea. A tension point is reached when the old man in the desert tells Luke he must drop everything and travel across the galaxy to save a princess.

If you find a scene you’re working on meandering or feeling aimless, consider how the tension rises within it. Is it building, or is it wandering around?

In play-writing, the basic unit of drama is called a beat. A beat consists of action, conflict, and event. Marcia Lucas improved the scene with Luke and Obi-wan by unifying a beat that had been split apart with the lightsaber business:

  1. Action: Obi-wan wants Luke to learn the Force and save the princess;
  2. Conflict: Luke has to stay and help his uncle with the farm;
  3. Event: Luke refuses Obi-wan’s call and goes back to the farm.

Not all edits are rearranging action/conflict/event. If you think of a scene as a collection of little beats, sometimes revision is moving the beats around, much as scenes can be reordered.

One sin I’m guilty of is opening a chapter with the character in the middle of action or a conversation, then dropping to flashback to explain how the character wound up in this situation, then returning to the scene. It’s a false and inauthentic way to start chapters in medias res.

How to correct this? Sometimes by moving the flashback to the start of the chapter and rewriting it in summary. Often I drop the flashback and assume the reader will catch up on their own (as Marcia Lucas did by opening the Obi-wan scene in the middle of the conversation). Each edit is situational and requires a film editor’s mindset. Simplifying scenes is the core of powerful revision.

These editing skills really should be the stock-and-trade of every novelist and playwright. Yet I’ve never seen a book on writing fiction explain these points as ably as “Saved in the edit”. It’s unfortunate it takes a YouTube video on the making of Star Wars to lay out the power of editing in such a lucid and compelling way.

Writing a book is like being an all-in-one film crew. The author is director, screenwriter, editor, and casting agent. The author plays the roles of all the actors. The directing and writing and acting is the fun part, or at least it can be. But editing is where a manuscript goes from a draft to a novel.

Further reading

For more on Marcia Lucas, I suggest starting with her biography at The Secret History of Star Wars. It details the shameful way she was written out of the history of the movie after divorcing George Lucas.

“Marcia Lucas: The Heart of Star Wars is another fine YouTube video, focusing more on her career and her role with other 1970s films you’ll recognize, such as Taxi Driver and The Candidate. It also does a nice dive into Marcia Lucas editing American Graffiti into the phenomena it would become.

Marcia Lucas’ influence on Hollywood and film editing is still felt today. The Beat‘s “5 Editors That Broke the Hollywood System” are all women, including Marcia Lucas, even though the article is not specifically about women in film history.

Real-life bridge daughters: Miejsce Odrzanskie, Poland

Bridge Daughter by Jim Nelson

From the Associated Press:

Authorities in the village of Miejsce Odrzanskie, which has around 300 residents, don’t know why no boys have been born there since 2010, but they are beginning to worry about filling farming jobs in the future. …

Community head, Krystyna Zydziak, said 10 girls have been born since 2010.

Skeptics Stack Exchange suggests things are not as mysterious as they appear:

…none of this should be overly surprising. The village is small (current population 272, according to the New York Times), and therefore there have only been a small number of births in the last decade (12, according to the Post and other media, e.g. Today and Fox News).

If the chance of a baby being a boy and the chance of a baby being a girl are equal, then the odds of 12 consecutive births all yielding girls is (1/2)12 = 0.0244%. That’s small, but when you consider that there are many towns and villages in the world, it shouldn’t be surprising that at some point, just from randomness, 12 girls are born in a row in a given town.

Another real-life bridge daughter sighting occurred a few years ago on Reddit.

Consider this a Twilight Zone-esque reminder to pick up a copy Bridge Daughter if you’ve not already and see what the fuss is about.

The Concordance Depiction

While Googling for my own work—yes, I do that sort of thing—I discovered the video “The Concordance Depiction” by Michelle David.

Originally posted in September 2017, “Depiction” is a 1m04s silent video reaction to my short story “A Concordance of One’s Life”.

Her summary:

This video is about the short story by Jim Nelson called “a concordance of one’s life”. I try to depict the brain of the mentally unstable narrator.

“A Concordance of One’s Life” has inspired other art as well. It was the subject of a San Francisco art show and adapted to a musical by Thu Tran.