Progress Check: The Joy of Writing

As I mentioned yesterday, this is my last post heading into the weekend. I’ll have posts Saturday (another great interview) and Sunday, but tomorrow I’ll be dark while we carry out a site migration. I’m excited about the changes that are coming, and the new features that I’ll be able to offer, some of which I’ve been eyeing since last Summer. More details will come as I roll the features out.

I’ve been puzzling somewhat hard over exactly what I would write about today. What was so important that it would have to hold for two days? I brainstormed. I read around for good blog topics. I racked my brain trying to come up with something great. Then I realized the answer was right in front of my face: write about writing. Continue reading

Six-Sentence Sunday: Room 3

“That’s it. I didn’t mean to offend. You seem like a lady of ‘fine upbringing’.”

I laughed. “No offense taken, and if you mean I sound like a nasty bitch, then you’re barking up the right tree.”

She smiled. “Something like that. So, uh…where are we? Really, I mean.”

I shrugged. “You think I’d be putting up with half this bullshit if I had even the foggiest of notions?”

“They don’t let us out?”

“No, they don’t let us out, and there’s no playground. I don’t know the last time I saw the sunlight. I mean, real sunlight, not filtered through this crap,” I said, and knocked on the plexiglas window.

“I was afraid of that. Do you know much about their group?”

“I’ve seen five people in my time here. Not counting this room’s former, other occupant.”

She glanced around the room. “I’m not your first roommate?”

“Nope. Used to be a girl named Gina in here with me.”

Gina. To this day, I can still hear her screams. I wondered what they’d done with her body.

Gazing into the Crystal Ball: Future Projects

Since we’re rapidly approaching the Holiday season and the end of the year, it seems like a good time to slow down and take stock of the projects that I’m planning for the coming year.

First and foremost, of course, is Entanglements, my next novel. While it’s still early in the drafting process, I can offer a short synopsis as it stands at the moment:

Kelli, a woman who was spirited away to a mysterious cabin in the middle of nowhere and subjected to strange brainwashing techniques and unnamed drugs, finds her life changed when a highly prized experimentation subject shows up: Carla. Suddenly, dead and distant relatives appear to her and her musical abilities grow by leaps and bounds while the experimentation rots away Carla’s mind. Kelli and a fellow captive fall in love as he explains the plans that are unraveling around them. As Kelli discovers why she and Carla were brought there, they plan to finally escape and destroy the experiment.

I fudged a little on the end there – some details are still very subject to change, but it’s a general enough description at this point to hit the target as it stands. I know the ending, I know the beginning (it’s practically completely written), I know most of the middle, but some definition still needs to happen. I have faith that it will all come together.

My hope is to have Entanglements ready for release by March. Similar to The Corridors of the Dead, it feels like a book that’s going to write itself. As a matter of fact, it’s been beating against my skull for the last few weeks as I prep Corridors for release, so I think there’s a better-than-average chance it comes in March.

After that, of course, comes the sequel to Corridors, City of the Dead. At this point, City exists as a plot outline with major points built in along the way. Many things have changed in the four months since I first conceived the story, and I’m sure a lot more will change before I get started on it, hopefully in late January or early February. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s looking likely that I’ll have a different narrator for this one.

Following City, which I’m hoping to get out in July, there will be another non-Dead novel. I’m currently vacillating between the novel Lily, which I’ve mentioned several times on this website, and the first book in the series that will grow from the Kayson Cycle (the Cycle serves as a prologue for the first book). There’s quite a bit of that series already in my head, and I should probably be writing some of it down, but then again, Lily is completely plotted and ready to start going. I’m just going to let the decision make itself as time goes on – we’re talking about something that likely won’t be published for a year, so there’s loads of time.

In December, I’m hoping to put another series up on the site much like the Rule of Three entries. I’ll lay down some guidelines, write out the version that goes on the site, and then sometime in January release another Kindle single with some expanded information and scenes.

Sometime down the line, I have an eye on pulling all these stories together into an anthology, but that’s way down the road. For now, I’m hopeful to put out a story every other month.

What’s really pie-in-the-sky at the moment, however, is building a real website. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love this one, but the limitations of the vanilla WordPress offerings are driving me crazy. It’s a big one. Right now the only thing holding me back is money. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I’m getting married next April, and the cost of migrating this website over to a self-hosted server will probably be somewhere in $150 range. Long-term, moving the site is absolutely the right choice to make, as it will afford more control over the website and more options to offer to viewers. But for now, with the holiday season looming and the wedding, along with expenses such as editing, I can’t justify the expense. When the time gets closer, I’ll have a lot more to say about it.

But I do want to start planning book signings. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, and I need to research hitting up some conventions next year. I’d also like to sign at a few local bookshops, too. The convention circuit might be the right way to go, though – especially some of the regional ones. Once I have more information, I’ll have it up here.

All in all, it’s an exciting time. While I don’t expect to have an overnight success, I do feel like my life is changing in a very positive way. Participating in a thriving community of readers and writers is helping me to understand myself better, as well as my place within the writing community as a whole. It feels good. I’m also developing some ideas of where I think things are headed next, and I hope I’m proven right. Until then, I’m just going to enjoy the ride.

More News: New Corridors Cover, Press Proof, and Bears. Oh Myyyyyyy

Pre-orders belong on that list, as well. At last, I can unveil the cover for the Kindle and print version of The Corridors of the Dead. This work was created by Celia of Celia Draws, and represents something close to my original vision of a pulp novel cover for this book.

The cover shows the scene wherein Matty finds herself in the Corridors of the Dead, right around the third act. The dark character, also shown on the first cover, is Delilah, one of the key antagonists in the novel.

I’m stoked to get this out there; the wait was excruciating, as having this cover in hand meant that getting the ball rolling on a press proof was just around the corner. In fact, as of this writing, I am waiting for the arrival of my first press proof to double-check formatting and quirks in the publication process. I’m performing these checks in concert with manuscript proofreading, so I’ll be handing off the self-edited version of the novel to my editor/proofreader, Shelly Burnett, on Monday. As with so many things about self-publishing with a full-time job, I’m having to parallel process a lot of stuff due to my time constraints. It’s all about creative time management, I find.

Of course, I also think I’m almost ready to commit myself more fully to writing Entanglements, with, some work on the Kayson Cycle in between (this is almost fully finished, and I think I’ll hit the November 1st goal quite easily).

Once I have a proof of Corridors in hand and a good idea of how the printing process will proceed, I’m going to start setting things up to take pre-orders for signed and unsigned copies, along with a giveaway scheme that I hope will remove some of what I find to be the more distasteful elements of giveaways. It’s a real Pandora’s Box to open, but I’ve struggled with the idea of holding giveaways just to drive traffic. I know it’s a great idea. I know it boosts interest and eyeballs seeing the potential product. I just have some misgivings about the process. In short, I think that giveaways sometimes (not always, I’ve seen great giveaways) a wasted opportunity for an author to more directly interact with his or her audience and form a dialogue around the  work. I’m trying to come up with a scheme to maximize this for both myself and my potential readers without feeling like I’m “selling out” too hard.

I’m beginning to see why so many writers’ sophomore efforts are lackluster: you don’t have to deal with this tail-end stuff when you start out on the first novel. It’s nothing but sailing on clear seas. The process of quality checking and promoting Corridors has been intriguing and I’ve learned a lot of lessons, but I’ve been a little frustrated with the trouble I’ve experienced in getting a rhythm going with Entanglements. I hope that my return to the manuscript will be as fruitful as I once thought that it would be. Still, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It’s change a lot of my own perception of both myself and my abilities. I think everyone should try this whole thing at least once; they might amaze themselves.

Garbage Day: Oh What Can I Do

Well, I’m back. I think it’s a good thing. In fact, I’m fairly certain it’s a good thing. But I can’t 100% say with every fiber of my being that it’s a good thing. I was ready to come raring back with a great post about how to recover from being on vacation, but in the end, I scrapped it because I’m not 100% certain how to do it. I mean, come back from vacation, not write the post. It’s been so long since I had one that I’m a bit clueless when it comes to getting back and pushing that stone up the hill again.

One thing I do know is that I have a stockpile of ideas bouncing around in my head. That’s a good thing, right? Sure, it’s going to be a real headache to get them organized, but it’s better than feeling that the well is dry, which was pretty much the case going into my trip. I was writing at a record pace for myself before I went, but I’m afraid I was doing so at the cost of my sanity on some days. I was coming home completely drained, unable to really come up with much of anything new beyond what I could dictate. In that respect, I’m incredibly grateful for the time off.

It also afforded me a chance to really get to know the new narrator of Entanglements. She’s such a distinct character, and I didn’t have much of a clue, really, of who she was outside of the bit that I had written in the original version of the novel. I took some time to have conversations with her in my head (yes, I know how crazy that sounds, but if it works, it works – call it “method” writing) and got her viewpoint on a number of things that likely won’t show up in the novel but inform her views and actions. That’s a net gain. Oh, and yes, that picture is what she looks like in my head at this point. The woman is Claudia Gordon, the first deaf African-American lawyer. Great story.

Of course, we’re now a little more than a month out from my original targeted publication date for Corridors of the Dead. I say “original” because I’m beginning to think that we may need to push it a couple of weeks (two weeks because the following week is Thanksgiving). We’re eyeing the 30th of November as a possible back-up date. The delay is due to a few factors; one is that I’m having trouble getting a solid date for when the new cover will be finished, or even any information from my graphic designer. The other is that my edits are taking a little longer to finish than anticipated, even going at them full-tilt.

With that in mind, I have set two goals for this week: one is to post a sample chapter based on my edited version by the end of the week, preferably by Thursday. This is very doable, and you can pretty much count on it. The second goal is to get my edits to my editor by the end of this week. That one…well, that one may have to slide after all. We’ll see. As I said, the edits are taking a little longer than I thought they would, but they are making the book a lot more streamlined, so I’d really rather not rush them unless I have to. I’m trying to see this as an overall positive, as having so many sets of eyes and edits upon the book can only make it better, and I’d rather have a delay upfront than damage the long-term prospects of the novel. I’m a little stressed about it, but what are you going to do?

Got a lesson in what it means to be a bit more high-profile as a writer on Saturday. For those who read regularly, you may have wondered why I didn’t have a post, or if you did see the post, why it got pulled. It was a guest post, and I had suspected it might cause a bit of a…well, ruckus? That might be the best word. It was my friend’s light-hearted take on Buddhism, a lot of it meant in jest, some of it mistaken and wrong. I posted it thinking that it might spur some conversation and an expansion of knowledge among those who weren’t familiar with the faith, as the faithful might provide counterpoints and corrections to some of that knowledge. I’m not a Buddhist, I just had a feeling that some of the points may have been a little off, so I thought some corrections might enlighten – use some of the expanded audience to educate.

In retrospect, it was a foolish idea, as, like I said, I didn’t have the best knowledge of the subject matter and probably should have vetted it more closely. It also strayed into religion, which I typically try to avoid. I didn’t anticipate that, while some would take the time to correct those errors, others didn’t appreciate the tone at all, and got very angry. Honestly, fair enough. I can see why it came off as disrespectful, especially knowingly posting some information that may have been incorrect. In the end, it just didn’t seem worth trying to spur that discussion if it was going to have that kind of visceral effect on people. It was completely counter to my goal, and I saw the error of my ways. I apologized and pulled the piece from my site – lesson learned, will not go down that road again. Crash has since posted the entire, unedited piece at his site (I had cut down on some of the swearing), so if you’re curious, you can go check it out.

So yes, busy week coming up all around. I’ve now dictated my Rule of Three entry for this week…we’ll see if I can cut it down to size, but I definitely have the feel for trying to fit these story pieces together in a fashion that makes sense in a short fiction context. Once the whole thing is done, I’m definitely going to add some more detail and release it as a cheap Kindle Single (is that redundant?), as the story and the world intrigue the hell out of me, but I’m having to make some compromises that wouldn’t be there with a looser word count. Still, no hate for the word count; it’s teaching me a lot and focusing me in on what truly matters in the story.

Keep an eye out for some analysis of things that we watched in New York…have a lot of ideas bouncing around in my head about the two movies that we saw.

On The Outside: My Characters

The recent debacle over Entanglements has helped me realize that I don’t know how to write normal healthy people. Seriously. I mean, while I myself may now be kind of a recovered whatever-I-was and feel somewhat normal and healthy, I will probably never have the first clue of the perspective of someone who was raised by a normal healthy family. That’s not to condemn my own family; we did the best we can and I love my parents. It’s just difficult for me to understand and relate to someone who had a completely healthy upbringing.

That’s where I run into this overwhelming problem with getting bored and having trouble really getting hold of the emotions of somewhat healthy characters. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to write people who have had similar experiences as me, who haven’t walked the “conventional” life, and came from a slightly less advantaged background. They may have worked their way up or gotten a lucky break, but they still have that in common.

Despite coming from an upper middle class life, Mattie from Corridors of the Dead had an extremely dysfunctional family and on top of that is a lesbian, so her outsider status was pretty much cemented from an early age. The fact that she embraced an outsider subculture was just a natural outgrowth of who she was, and the same applies to the new narrator of Entanglements, growing up as an impoverished black woman who aspires to be a songwriter in rural Texas. I think that’s part of why she became so interesting and why she spoke so much in my head as opposed to the other main character, Carla, who had somewhat cold parents but a fairly stable life as a child.

I think outsiders have an especially strong and vivid history in literature and film. Luke Skywaker is a hick farm boy who had the most dysfunctional possible parents and guardians. Jack Kerouac and the Beat movement were all about looking at society from the outside in. I think at their cores fantasy and sci-fi are all about being outside of consensus reality. That’s kind of the point of the genres and, to me, one of the problems of presenting a “normal”, white-bread character in a crazy environment is that character might have a lot of trouble adjusting to that altered reality, whereas someone who came from a more unstable background is used to having things change at a rapid pace and trying to stay ahead just to survive.

For me, it’s more compelling to take someone who hasn’t had all the advantages and has had to learn to survive on their own wits, not to mention that a lot of innovative approaches have come from people who have stood on the outside. Look at the stereotype of the once-nerd who becomes a titan of software development; it’s a stereotype for a reason – because it happened to so many.

I’m not downing modern mainstream society. While it has its flaws (as does everything), there are a lot of advantages to it; one of its prime advantages is the comfort to be taken from its predictability, as well as its definition of roles for its members. What I write is all about removing that comfort and that role definition, about rewriting who people think they are. That’s one of my primary interests, and it’s a lot harder to do with someone who’s heavily steeped in the modern mainstream – they can just go catatonic, like Carla was. Add to that the fact that I just don’t know how to get inside their heads, and the answer becomes clear.

In retrospect you know it’s kind of always been my thing. Take video games, for instance. Most video game heroes are white males, in order to, I suppose, apply to the broadest demographic, but I’m bored of it, and it says nothing to me despite the fact that I am a white male. I just can’t identify, but give me a chance to create an African-American female and put her in the lead? Now you’re talking about something interesting. It’s been that way forever for me, so I need to embrace this fact about myself, that I want to see people who aren’t your “traditional” heroes and protagonists doing the things that those characters would do. It just makes for fresher storytelling.

So I solemnly swear to apply this approach to all of my stories from now on. All of my narrators, at the very least, will have some sort of outsider status, something that sets them apart from normal society, even while retaining their essential humanity. That’s not a challenge – that’s just plain fun.

Changing Mid-Stream: Handling Frustration

Forgive me if there is some tense confusion, as I’m writing this entry the night before posting it, I’m fried from a long day, and I’ve hit a sort of writing “bottom”. I wanted to capture some of what’s going on in my head on this blog, though.

I’ve mentioned before that I dictate a lot of my first draft. Entanglements had been taking up the bulk of my dictation time, but with my vacation approaching next week, I wanted to build up a good stockpile of posts to leave for folks. A combination of this and working on Episode 1 for the Rule of Three had temporarily pushed Entanglements to the back-burner. Being nearly finished with Episode 1, I decided to turn back to Entanglements, pick up where I’d left off. It had only been a couple of days. No problem, right?

Wrong. I ran smack-dab into a brick wall of indifference. The original concept had included a second captive in a room next to the protagonist, Carla, and the two whispered to each other through a grate between the rooms. Good idea to help remove some of the isolation and give Carla a sympathetic character, so we weren’t stuck inside her head at all times.

Problem is, after the first such instance of this grate-talking went smoothly, I lost all desire to write another grate-talking scene. Why? Because the dynamics of the scene had been totally robbed. Carla and Jenny (soon to be renamed) had been reduced to talking heads. Every single time the story got moving, I’d have to add these grate-talking scenes to help move the plot along, and the story came to a screeching halt.

This isn’t new to me. This sort of thing had happened during the original draft of Corridors of the Dead, and I had ignored it, just thinking that I was suffering writing fatigue. In retrospect, it should have been a warning sign. When it started happening again today, I took a step back. Couldn’t be writer fatigue. The Rule of Three story is humming along, and I’m into it. I’m enjoying the editing process on Corridors. It’s something wrong with the story.

In retrospect, the problems with the plot of Entanglements have been clear from the start; this will, after all, be the third major retooling. Parallel stories are insanely difficult to pull off, and I knew that I was in for a tough time. Still, I pushed forward, thinking that I had the plot structure and tools to do it.

Clearly, I was wrong. I just cannot come up with a way to make these stories intertwine that doesn’t feel incredibly forced and contrived, and it’s been bothering me. Combine that with the grate-talking problem, and I was forced to admit that some major changes had to be undertaken. Where to go, where to go?

The answer to the grate-talking was to put the women in the same room, and put the other two rooms in the cabin to good use. This gave a lot of new dynamic possibilities. The answer to the interweaving tales was to rip the other story out. It will become its own novel at some point, but right now, I’m just not ready for that. Baby steps. This, of course, alters some of the basic premise of the story, so I had to change Carla’s gift. The process of changing this gift (this is an idea I won’t give away) ended up altering the nature of the narration, and so I’ll be handing off both narration duties and the love interest to the second woman in the room.

Funny how this stuff happens. That second woman was a last-minute addition, someone interesting who came to mind, and I found it a lot more comfortable and fun in her head. She started stealing larger and larger chunks of the grate-talking scenes, so why not make her the narrator, even if she’s not “the protagonist”?

Of course, you can’t just remove half the story and expect it to stand up on its own. Thankfully, some ideas for subplots presented themselves, and I’m going to run with them.

I mean, overall, it could be a lot worse. I could be looking at the flaming wreckage of a great idea, trying to figure out what the hell went wrong. As it is, I have about 20,000 words that can largely be re-used. So rather than thinking of this as a rewrite, I’m looking at it as a chance to start a new novel with 20,000 words ready to go. That’s really not so bad. And I think the new concept is going to be pretty strong with the confusing, uncertain elements of the second story removed. Sleek, streamlined. Not bad traits for a novel.

Black Holes and Revelations: Show Don’t Tell Revisited

In yesterday’s Garbage Day post, I mentioned a new realization regarding showing versus telling, a grand epiphany that helped to ease my pen, and I thought that I’d like to flesh that out some today, take the opportunity to work through my thoughts on the whole subject, so bear with me. This entry is just as much about learning myself as sharing something.

Saturday night, as I was working on the journal section for Entanglements, which features Carla as the protagonist, I saw that having the key supporting character, Samartha, behave in a certain fashion was strengthening the emotions between the two. The problem was that I was continued to add on Carla’s observations of these behaviors and her interpretations of those actions. The behaviors were so strong in painting a picture of Samartha’s inner world that I felt the interpretations were cheapening what the reader might gain from those behaviors. So I started trimming interpretations.

At the time I thought I might be taking a risk in muddying communication with the reader, but upon re-reading, I was blown away. Samartha’s intentions became murkier, yes, but that added to the overall tension of the scene. While giving interpretations might be completely in character for Carla, it  also forms an obstacle to clear communication with the reader. I needed to allow breathing room and afford the reader some space for his or her own interpretation of Samartha and his actions. These interpretations may or may not be borne out by what comes later, but what was important was to allow room for that and stop trying so hard to control how the reader interacts with the story.

Now, some of this concept – cutting out a character’s take – wasn’t entirely new to me or particularly noteworthy. I did the same thing with a book back in the late 90s in order to streamline the prose. What was new and what I’m focusing on here was the idea of leaving his actions open to more interpretation on the reader’s part.

I do think this comes with some important caveats. I think there are some times when it’s okay to offer a protagonist’s internal take on something. I’m imagining a high-stress situation where the plot is motoring along and things are more defined. A target character’s actions might be ambivalent but a certain take on those actions are essential to moving the plot forward. In such a scenario, it might be a little more acceptable to take a second and offer the protagonist’s take, gently nudging the reader with a hint of something that might be coming. The optimal solution in such a situation would, of course, to reveal these intentions through the actions and speech of the character in question, but sometimes a high-tension plot can handcuff both the writer and the characters, making such a choice impractical if not downright impossible.

But when you’re talking about character building, especially earlier in the book, it seems to be the better idea to deny as much of the protagonist’s interpretation as possible. The biggest barrier to getting this, for me, was that this is actually counter to how most people think. Most of our opinions are formed about people pretty much upfront, during our first handful of interactions with that person, so it would make sense from a more realistic standpoint to offer that information. The thing is that the protagonist offering his or her interpretation of the target character’s actions may deny the reader the opportunity to form their own interpretations of the actions upfront. In effect, this turns the reader into an invisible character, processing the information that’s given without comment and working with the writer to build an effective narrative in his or her head. The essence of the artistic process.

So what does all this mean? It means that I was creating a layer between the reader and the story that just didn’t need to be there. Yes, it’s her journal. Yes, somebody writing in their journal might do that sort of thing, but she’s also an experienced writer, so she would be a little bit wiser to this concept, and, well, it isn’t a real journal, meaning that it’s okay to have a bit of artifice. I mean, some of the conventions of dialogue are artificial, but everyone understands the conventions enough that it comes off as natural. Seen through this lens, removing Carla’s interpretations is effectively the equivalent of removing “uhms” and “ahs” from someone’s speech (though those can be used effectively – another time for that).

All of this was part of my epiphany. For a long time, I thought “Show don’tTell” just made for a more compelling tale, but hadn’t emotionally grasped why. I just knew the maxim, like someone who can ape the words of a language but doesn’t entirely understand it. I finally got it on Saturday night, when I saw how it removes the divide between the story itself and the reader. The author and the protagonist telling the story get out of the way and let things breathe, allowing the artistic process to move forward.

That made me look more critically at some of the books that I read, and I’m realizing that almost all of the books that I prefer do just that: they remove the layer. They don’t impose the character’s point of view (unless that’s the central function of the story – American Psycho is a great example of this). They don’t get locked up in so much florid language. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate florid language, especially as an exercise in and of itself. As a writer, I can look at it and say “wow, that’s some really great writing”, but the biggest piece of the puzzle is the question of what it adds to the story. Often, not much.

So now I’m going back through Entanglements and trimming excess fat, looking for those little moments. Once Carla’s character is established, I don’t need to share her take on everything that happens – that’s up to the reader, our invisible character.

I share this not just as a learning experience but as an alternative viewpoint for writers who were in my boat and not completely grasping the concept. I’ve read writing book after writing book, and none put the concept in these terms. It was never explained to me that telling isn’t just lazy or short-hand (both things that I read or was taught), it’s putting an artificial barrier between the reader and the story, akin to putting a window between the reader and the story. Sure, they can see what’s going on, but they can never be a part of it.

You may not always be able to remove that window, and hell, sometimes you might not want to do that – there are times you need character reactions – but I’m realizing that the best time and place for that is later in the book, while allowing for pacing and not slowing things down at critical points. All of it should be in the service of communicating with your reader, not just sticking to timeworn tips about the proper way to write.

Garbage Day: The Garbagening

Welcome to the second edition of Garbage Day. Mondays are hard enough without having to try to come up with a coherent theme for however many words I typically average, so I try to collect a random mishmash of ideas that come to mind on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, then throw them together to see if it makes something interesting. Sort of a word stew, I suppose.

First item, of course, is that the Star Wars Blu-Rays came out on Friday. I know this isn’t strictly writing-related, but it is site-related, as I’ve spoken before about the changes that have been made. I haven’t had a chance to see any of the changes beyond A New Hope, but I felt I should acknowledge the arrival because as mixed as my feelings are about the franchise these days, trending toward negative, it still has been a huge influence in my life and, along with Tron, was instrumental in making me a writer.

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about as it relates to Star Wars is the Hero’s Journey. You know, Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey monomyth? If you’re not familiar, a summation of the concept from Wikipedia:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Many stories feature this monomyth besides Star Wars. The first Matrix movie, the Never-Ending Story, Ender’s Game, Conan the Barbarian, and even Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure all pay tribute to this concept. It’s a commonly-used trope, so much so that when I set out to write this entry, I was going to rant about how this has become shorthand for making an interesting plot and has become overdone. In a conversation with my friend Rob recently, he cited some movie that I can’t recall, but he said that he enjoyed it because it was the Hero’s Journey all over again. My knee-jerk reaction surprised even myself: I said I felt that it was a bit overdone these days, and I was getting tired of it.

But the truth is, while I might have felt it was played-out and a cheap way to buy legitimacy for a story, I’ve since realized that that is not my problem at all. I mean, hell, In the Corridors of the Dead is basically the Hero’s Journey, so obviously I feel some resonance with the idea still. In fact, I think I lost some sight of the fact that the Hero’s Journey underlies almost every story that we tell these days. Seriously, check out The Godfather, Harry Potter, Slumdog Millionaire, When Harry Met Sally, etc. etc. So my problem is not with the concept itself, or even every story using it. I think my problem is that it’s become perceived as something special when, really, it underlies almost every story. That’s truly what irritates me – that something that is basic to storytelling has become so revered. It was a big thing in the 90s to talk about the monomyth in relation to Star Wars, but I’ve come to realize since that It’s akin to celebrating DNA, I suppose.

On to the next topic. I’ve decided I’m not 100% happy with the current cover for Corridors of the Dead. Don’t get me wrong, I like it. I think it’s well-executed and I think it’s a good cover, but there was always something that never felt quite right for me. It wasn’t the vision that I had for it. So I’ve found a place where I could hire another cover designer, someone who I think understands what I want. After a lot of pondering over what to do with having two competent cover designs, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not fair to throw the first cover out. So I’m going to have to two covers for Corridors. I’ll use the new cover exclusively on Amazon and the print copy (as we’re building this one for dual purposes), and use the original on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and any other site that might pop up. I’m kind of tempted to have a third cover, in fact, so that I have one for the Nook, one for Smashwords, and one for Kindle, but that might be overdoing it.

But I think that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve seen plenty of examples of this in the music industry – buy the album at any given store and you might get a different cover. The more I thought about this, the more I liked it as an interesting marketing angle. And who knows, a re-release might make it even more interesting. The initial sketch of the new cover is very exciting, though. I think you’re going to like it.

I’m roughly a quarter of the way through Entanglements, and it’s bringing out a different side of me, I have to say that. I’ve written several passages now where I can see myself maturing as a writer. I think you might know what I’m talking about – the kind of passage that you write, then look at later and marvel that you wrote it at all. Saturday night, as well, when I really got down to it, something clicked and I really “got” the principle of showing and not telling in a way that I never have before.

Part of this evolution is down to tone, though. Corridors of the Dead is told by a woman who doesn’t read a lot, and while she’s intelligent, it’s more street-smarts. Entanglements is a combination of a novel and a journal “written” by a woman who has authored and self-published a novel and works as a proposal writer. There is also more of a sense of adventure in the first book. Both share suspense, but with the latter being more of a romance, there has to be a different quality to the language – a more languid feel at some spots that allows me to stretch out more. I think the book will ultimately benefit from that.

Also in the very early stages of plotting The City of the Dead. I’m molding my idea around a structure which came to mind last night. More on that in the future.

Let it Ride: Feeling the Process

Today let’s talk about process; specifically, the process of writing. Some of you who have been reading this site for at least a modest amount of time may remember when I began talking about having an idea for a thriller. It was only a few weeks ago, right? It was exciting. I was really into it. I started reading up on conventions of the genre as I plotted the story.

Then I ran into writing reality as the concept revealed itself to be somewhat flawed. I was a little distressed, but not freaking out. I’ve found that this is a normal part of my process. Often the initial idea is good, but it needs a lot of refinement. And by refinement, I don’t mean sitting down up front and thinking through the idea over and over again. It’s kind of something that has to reveal itself, instead. Almost like a lottery scratcher; you scratch the first of those colorful little icons and reveal the basic concept; maybe this is your four-leaf clover or whatever iconography the card is using this time. Then you scratch the second and see how the characters connect to the concept. It may or may not be connected – maybe you get a cherry instead of a clover, but that’s okay, because you only have to match three and you have two more to scratch off.

My point here is that while I had scratched off and revealed a decent idea, the other concepts were other icons. The whole thing was not going to work together until I retooled one or more elements. Back to the drawing board. I’ve talked about that, too, about how I came to understand that the dynamic of the story needed to be inverted from what I had originally envisioned. Again, that’s cool, that happens. At least I figured it up front, rather than what happened with Corridors of the Dead, where I worked out what needed to be changed after writing it, editing it six times, and sending it to agents. Not that I’m bitter!

But that’s exactly what I’m talking about here – how the process of creation changes an original idea. Most people who know me in real life will tell you I’m a huge music buff. I really enjoy finding new bands and new types of music to enjoy. I’m never satisfied with just what I have; there always has to be some new sound or idea that I want to look into. When it comes to bands that I really like, one of my favorite things to do is get ahold of demos (this is easier for some bands than others) or a set of demos. For example, I have a CD of the Beatles that is 20 takes of one song. I’m the only person I know who would sit through that and actually find something compelling and useful here, and it’s the way that the song evolves.

Sometimes you hear how a completely different concept transforms into something else. An aborted song can be tacked onto the end of another song, and eventually become something more than two so-so songs. Since I was once such a huge pumpkin head, here’s an example of a song evolving.

First, we have a raw demo set down in a studio while on tour. Scratch vocals, and some musical elements are different.

Second, we have an acoustic demo recorded at home in the fall of 94, and we can see the vocals evolving.

Finally, the released version (there are at least three more demo versions of this floating around, but I’m trying for an example here, not to bash you over the head).

I think so much of that fascinates me because it’s so similar to the writing process. I mean, it basically is that, rendered as music. I know I constantly take old ideas that might not have worked in some other context and add them to a story that I might be working on at the moment. For example, if someone were to look through my archives, you’d see that the character Jazshael that’s referenced in Corridors of the Dead was actually the protagonist of an abandoned novel from 10 years ago.Some other concepts that came from dreams over the years also got incorporated into Corridors, sometimes unknowingly. Everything has to be fodder.

Of course, sometimes the process just takes you in unexpected directions. Going back to what I was saying about Entanglements, I started off with a concept for what I thought could be a pretty cool thriller, but as I wrote and really got to know the characters, I discovered that while there was some suspense still there (the sense of drive and tension is still very important to the story), there is a paranormal romance buried in there. Needless to say, this was very unexpected. It just…happened. I put two characters together, and their interactions went in a certain direction. They weren’t literally made for each other, and yet they seem to be made for each other all the same.

Now let me preface this by saying that I am the last person to write a paranormal romance. My opinion of Twilight stands: it’s just not good. I’m sure there are great examples of paranormal romance. It’s just not my thing. Which makes me wonder if my own take is going to follow some of the conventions that I observe when reading second-hand reviews. Hell, maybe that’s a good thing. The protagonist isn’t a teenage ~~waifu~~ in her final year of high school who discovers a handsome, older man with a dark secret (and I don’t say this to denigrate the genre, I believe there’s room for every genre and everything under the sun – it’s just my experience). None of that. But you know, put to it? Yeah. This is the definition from Wikipedia:

A type of speculative fiction, paranormal romance focuses on romance and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the genres of traditional fantasyscience fiction, or horror.

That’s pretty much it. It’s a love story that happens in another world, in an entirely different context. How did I get there? Like I said, it’s that natural transformation that occurs during writing. The guy notices her hair. She notices how he smells. Etc. It just kind of builds from there. Oh, and throw in a good dash of Stockholm Syndrome, too. That’s going to be wrestled with throughout the course of the book.

That’s just the thing. The process sometimes grabs us and takes us where it wants us to go. You hear writers talking about how they don’t write the story, the story is written through them. It’s true. When you get into a groove and really understand your characters, it happens. So many times I just sit there reading what I’m writing, somewhat bemused. But it’s the story that wants to be told. I think otherwise, it’s dry and lifeless and not true to myself. Obviously, it’s coming from some part of me that needs to express it, and I can already see some echoes in this romance of issues that I’ve deal with in the past. Yes, they come from within, they come from our subconscious and are colored by our experiences, but they’re not always within our conscious control.

My whole point is to remind you to stay open to that process. Be open to the strange and unexpected twists and turns that a story can take. It’s what makes something new and unique. I think we need a lot more new and unique stories. Always.