(Non) Fiction Wednesday: Musings on a Motel Room

Apologies in advance for missing my self-imposed deadline on Open Slay. The damned thing is that I have this week’s part ready in my head and am slowly leaking it out onto the page, but it’s nowhere near the point where I would present it to you. I’m hoping to have it by the weekend, but don’t hold your breath on that. Next week will be even more difficult with being holed up in training for five days, but I will do my best.

Health problem has been looked at and the verdict is…overwork. Well, specifically a heart murmur caused by stress and too much caffeine. Rhythm is normal, EKG “could be used as a model for normalcy”, and no signs of any damage or anything like that, so no need to freak out. As I said yesterday, just a sign that I’m no longer 25 and can’t burn the candle at both ends and then pour gasoline on the middle. Doctor’s orders are to take it easy for a few days, and I’m doing just that. Even the act of doing so has opened my mind back up and my concentration is slowly returning, so…we have this.

This entry came about with the release of the deluxe version of The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (it’s currently WAY overpriced, but if you’re interested it’s on Amazon and all other fine retailers). I hadn’t listened to the album in quite some time, and had never heard some of the nuances that have been brought out in the reissue. I’m not here for a review, though I could certainly fill space with that, but it grabbed me by the throat all over again.

Side note, favorite track on the album? Hint hint:

But again, not here for the music. Not entirely. No, it’s more a matter of what the music itself evoked in me, some long-dormant, half-forgotten emotions. Moments that form so much of my emotional identity, a sort of DNA for the moments that you see in my fiction, but which have faded into the wallpaper of my life.


The Motel 6 in question. See the second door from the right on the very top floor? That’s the scene of the crime.

March, 1996, and I sat in a cold (and I do mean cold) motel room in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This trip had been the only logical outcome of an online flirtation and engagement, the story of which could serve as its own book. This was the bad old days of the Internet, where you interacted via IRC and not much else. If you don’t know IRC, look it up, and maybe give it a shot, it’s still out there. I had met Jill (name changed to protect the innocent) through an IRC channel and…well, hadn’t exactly fallen in love so much as fallen in a situation of mutual convenience. Oh, I believed I was in love, enough to propose when she pressured me to do it a month into the “relationship”, but…well, what can I say? I was 19 and had never had a real girlfriend before. I figured this would be my only chance at love.

Despite that, just as I’m not here to talk about the music per se, I’m also not here to bury that relationship. I’ve done that many times over and you can only go to the well of self-pity so many times, especially when you’re pulling up nothing but sand these days. I’m here to talk about distilled emotion, since it’s so much the stock-in-trade of a writer. Continue reading

Writing “THAT” Book and a New Blog

This morning, as I was making my breakfast in preparation for my long, lovely commute, it occurred to me that I’m writing “that” book. No, not the masterpiece book. Nothing like that. It’s the book that drives an author crazy, just like the films that that drive directors crazy. For an example of what I’m talking about, click here for a list of ten of the most difficult-to-write books in history.

Now, of course the writing of Room 3 hasn’t involved major illness or the threat of impending death looming overhead, but it has gone through two fairly severe bugs, a lengthy pre-operative process, and now wedding planning. In between were also the usual bumps in the road. In short, life has gotten in the way of Room 3. Continue reading

I Love the Open Road: Outsider Life

I love the open road 
and all that it suggests 
wheelwagon dust 
weeds and infidelities 
and always swore our love 
never questioned why 
in a wooden house 
immovable and silent 

-The Smashing Pumpkins, “Soot and Stars”

Once in my life, I believed that the only real way to understand the world was to get out there and travel it, and I didn’t (and don’t) mean that in a tourist way. I mean packing up a car and getting out there to see as many places as you can. For awhile, I thought about living in this mode: driving cross-country back and forth as I wrote and worked odd jobs. The romanticism of the idea got me the most, I think. Of course, I was also young at the time and didn’t feel I had much to lose. I also had a loose network of friends across the country whom I knew I could count on to help me along the way. I’ve changed a lot since then, and I’m not sure that the prescription in the first sentence is entirely accurate any longer, but the idea is still enchanting to me.

Something in my bones drew me to the road – and it still does. It’s hard to explain to those folks who don’t feel the same pull. You can, however, send those folks to some of the great road books and movies, like On the Road and Easy Rider to get some feel for what attracts us. The sense of freedom drew me in, and they talk about that some in Easy Rider. If freedom really is about having nothing left to lose, then I had a near-perfect freedom at various points in my life. The pull of the road seized me the strongest during those periods. Continue reading

Make the Music: Chapter References in The Corridors of the Dead

This post marks the end of The Corridors of the Dead week, and the bonus material for the book. For those who come here for my writing posts, they’ll start up next week. This little detour has given me time to build up a store of ideas once again, so even if these aren’t your thing, we’ll have more of the old stuff in the near future. But for now…

I’m crazy about music. No kidding. I have an enormous collection of music, ranging from Classical to Jazz to Rock to Country to Hip Hop. I discovered the connection between music and my own writing back in my early teenage years, finding that different songs fit different moods. I’ve talked about this before on my site, and found that a lot of other writers have a similar experience.

For regular readers who are also music fans, you might recognize many of the titles that I use for posts; they’re almost always pulled from a song title or lyric that I feel applies to a post in some oblique fashion. I’ve learned that it’s how I relate to titles of any sort, and I’ve carried it over to The Corridors of the Dead, where each chapter title is an oblique reference of some sort. I thought it might be fun to take a look at the chapter titles and offer either a musical sample or some sort of information on the reference. Of course, not all chapters are references, so I’ve left out those which are not.

Oh and some of these titles do represent spoilers, so proceed with caution.

Chapter 1 – Strange Things are Afoot

The book begins at a Circle K, so it only seemed appropriate to throw in this Bill and Ted reference.


Chapter 2 – Got No Room to Breathe Continue reading

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.

Friday on My Mind: The Artist Interaction and a Change of Direction

Today’s entry is a bit of a hodgepodge, so I apologize in advance. A few things on my mind. Met last night with the first of my beta readers to finish Corridors, and it was really enlightening, actually. I mean, not just in getting a feel for some things that might need to be changed in the book or diagnosing issues, or even examining what was good. By the way, it was a very good review. Very fair, and almost everything she had suggestions for were more stylistic, polish issues than issues with the actual substance of the book. It sounds like I finally hit the nail on the head with this one. But what I’m thinking of here is that I’m starting to get the whole participation between artist and observer from the point of view of the artist.

I poured my heart and soul into this book, and it’s a reflection of a lot of very personal issues and ideas. To hear that reflected back in the way that I intended it was nice. I was very impressed that she could figure out some of the nuances that I had thrown in as either little nods or buried leads for the following books. Very cool. Even cooler, however, was that she found different angles for characters and situations in the book that I hadn’t considered because of how she was perceiving the story.

I’ve always been the kind of person who believes that there is one valid interpretation of most stories (leaving aside that some stories are designed to be ambiguous). But as I listened to her talk about the characters and the plot, I hadn’t even caught on to some facets of the story that she had uncovered. Not only is that going to strengthen the story, it’s really cool to see something that I’ve created imbued with someone else’s personal and emotional experiences, the filter of their own life.

So suddenly I feel like my own interpretations

So suddenly I feel like my own interpretations of art that I’ve dismissed in the past might have been valid after all. Actually, that’s not exactly what I mean. I just mean that, while I’ve considered analyzing structure and what actually exists, I’ve always felt that trying to interpret intent is a fool’s game. But maybe not. Maybe my own interpretations and perceptions of a given story’s intent were valid, even if they were different from what the author originally intended – both emotional states (the creator and the reader) being equally valid.

I hope that makes some sense. I’m rambling a bit, and I’m talking on a far more emotional than intellectual level here. I’m also really tired. It’s been a long week

I’ve really been wrestling with Entanglements. Yesterday I realized that I had quite the dilemma. While I was really enjoying the parts of Entanglements that involve the two male characters, Kenny and Noah, I was feeling like the blog entries by Adshade were a total chore and I was just not feeling her character at all. And this was only in the first “chapter”, or set of interlocking information. And it was kicking my butt. The biggest problem was just how…bland she was. Now she was a fully-realized character. I could see her in my head, hear her voice, etc. But she just bored me. I mean, honestly, I think that might be a first. She had a distinctive voice, a distinctive way of choosing words, but I just didn’t like her. She was a little too goody-goody.

So I went back to the drawing board and re-imagined her. What came out is…well, she’s a pretty unique character. She’s originally from Boston, and still has her accent, which shows in the way she writes. Her father was a beat cop for X number of years, she’s a little on the chubby side, she has a cat, etc. She feels like a real person to me, in the way that Matty did.

I was also concerned that having one voice or another being stronger than the other would mean the risk of losing readers when they couldn’t get the “stronger” or more “unique” voice more readily. I started to rethink my whole approach to the book, even if I knew that changing the approach would mean having to remove the blog entries that the characters were reading. This posed two problems. One was that the blog entries drove the plot, obviously, as everything was integral to driving the plot. The other was that I liked this re-imagined version of Adshade.

So getting rid of the blog entries was problematic at best, but then I had the problem that I kept having to stretch believability with how she could be writing the entries in the first place. If I keep having to plug holes in the plot’s plausibility, things are bound to sink.

I considered this. The other solution would be to write a story from her point of view and a sequel or something similar that would be the story of Noah and Kenny. I had planned to take the weekend and really think about which would be the better approach, but as I was walking the long hallway from the elevator to our apartment (the dreaded Hallway of Doom), the answer hit me over the head.

Invert the worlds. Instead of it being about two guys who stumble across a blog and are drawn into this world of intrigue, make it so that the woman who wrote the blog is creating their world – Noah and Kenny become the meta-story, characters which she has created, which will eventually align with her reality rather than the other way around. The overarching plot involves a shady organization who kidnaps her to force her to write – this will all become clear as the story goes on, and ties into the universe in the “of the dead” books. I’m excited about this book again and ready to go!

All right, everybody have a great Labor Day weekend. Since it’s Friday, have to send you out with a song…