Writing “Blood Ties” Part 6: The Music

So far I’ve written a little about the fruits of the creative process, but have kind of skirted talking about the actual writing. The hardest thing for me isn’t finding the time directly, it’s disciplining myself to use the time I have. Artificial deadlines don’t generally cut it for me; I need something more positively motivating. I tried the whole I’ll-write-for-45 minutes-then–play-15 minutes-of-GAME reward trick and spent 4 hours getting just one more level. I tried having people “support” (read: bug) me, but those always ended up as sessions in philosophy. In the end, the answer boiled down to straight music. Just put on my headphones, find something that matched the mood for the piece I was writing, then go to town. I’d say the results were pretty good, but they led me to an interesting discovery: books go better with music.

I totally used to jam to a tape of radio mixed music while reading Robert Jordan as a kid, but I never realized just how much it enhanced the mood until I reread certain parts of my book and found it less rewarding to read than it had been to write. Plug in the right music, though, and the thrill bounced back to its original high. Tempting as it is to insert some kind of metaphor involving drugs and that first high, I won’t bother; it doesn’t really wash, you know? Instead, think of it as watching your favorite movie but with the sound off. It’s fun to see and you completely enjoy it because you know what’s happening, but when you put the sound back on, it really pops. That’s what writing with music is like to me: good without, sometimes necessary, but oh so awesome when it’s included.

It can’t just be any music either, by the way. I use specific pieces of music for specific scenes. For example, the original prologue was told from a completely different side originally and detailed the final battle between the two cultures in this eight year war. For the scene, I have The Final Fight from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as my background music. I can see the entire (compressed) battle in my mind from start to finished. Certain scenes match up with certain movements. Sadly, however, it just didn’t serve to set things up for the remainder of the book like we wanted it to, so we changed the scene to show the same battle but from a totally different viewpoint. I miss the scene…it was a really great battle…but we’ll work it into the next book. Do I always use scores? Nope, Chapter the Eighth has several songs attached in my mind, all of which are lyrical. Linkin Park’s “In the End” was pretty heavy there. I used their “Nobody’s Listening” elsewhere too, come to think of it.

I could go through and give my entire song list, but that would take way too much time. Besides, discover them on your own; it works better that way. Next time I’ll discuss schedules, delays, and successes.

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Writing “Blood Ties” Part 5: The Plug

The time has almost come for you to pull up your Amazon account and punch in “Blood and Honor: Enemies Within” for purchase! Why should you consider spending your hard earned money on our untried writing style and story on July 15th? Here’s why!

  • Clocking in around 145,000 words, Blood and Honor: Enemies Within is almost as long as the first two Harry Potter books combined! Talk about bang for your virtual buck!
  • I co-wrote it. That’s got to be worth something, right?
  • If you’re reading this, you probably have a direct connection to me in some way. Haven’t you always wanted to ask an author what comes next or why someone did what they did? Now you can!
  • Characters actually make meaningful decisions that are based off their experiences and desires. Face it – how many books do you read where that actually happens? Yeah, probably lots…but not at this price!
  • Show it off to your friends and tell them, “I know that guy”, then use that information to become more powerful in their eyes.
  • We’re cheap. Really cheap. We won’t stay that way forever (we hope!), so get in now while you can.
  • Read a fantasy novel in which there’s no magic. What, no magic? Then why call it fantasy? Two words: The Blood. Read it to find out what that means.
  • Stoke my ego. When we hit 1,000 copies, I’ll take it to an agent again and say, “See how fast this sold? Don’t you want to give it another look?”
  • Did I mention the cheap part?

Blood and Honor: Enemies Within will be released for public consumption on July 15th. I’ll be at home obsessively clicking “update” on my Amazon site to see how long it takes sales to breech 10. When that happens, I can afford to take my darling and lovely wife out to a movie. Come on people, make it happen!

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Writing “Blood Ties” Part 4: They Evolve

I quickly realized that despite my best intentions, I had no control over my characters whatsoever. They took charge of their own lives and lived them to the best of their abilities.

 

It’s not like they appeared to me in dreams or anything…though that would make compelling stuff…it’s that I found myself thinking, “Riordan wouldn’t do that” or “When did Tiernan start sounding like that?” Looking back now on the character profiles Kevin and I wrote for the characters, they look nothing like their final selves. For example, Riordan, “Helped bring together all clans to fight last battle”; that quickly turned into “Led the Warriors during the last few years of the War to final victory”. Tiernan, “On his last trip to neighboring clan, met a woman (name to be determined) and fell in love.” In the final version, there’s none of that. Did we consciously change the characters to fit the scope of the book? Not so much. In reality, the characters grew into their own to meet the needs of the situations which we were writing about just as people in real life grow to take on greater responsibilities. No first time parent is really ready for their children, but they grow into it (if they’re good, that is).

 

Building a character is tough. I don’t know everything about the character when I make them, only enough to get them going on the page. I let the characters evolve as I go. After a long enough time, I have a picture of them in my mind that I can use to write with, and I go from there. Keeping each character separate can be tough, so I try to give each one some outstanding characteristic that helps them really ‘pop’ in my mind. Riordan is a natural leader. Tiernan has a huge phobia. Ainseal has a unique past. Shannah is an independent woman in a society of men. These things help keep the characters separate and interesting. From there, they evolved into what they are. Riordan isn’t just a natural leader, he’s a man who knows that leading sometimes means following. Tiernan doesn’t just have a phobia, he has a phobia of something that keeps him from entering a society where his place at the top of the societal structure is practically assured. And so on, and so on, and so on….

 

One of the things I like most in the series I enjoy (shout out to Steven J. Brust and Robert Jordan) is that each character has his or her own voice, something with which I can use to identify them. I know they’re different people because of the way they talk. In real life, we can generally tell people by the pitch, tenor, and cadence of their voice. On paper, all we have to go by is their sentence structure, word usage, phrasing. This, in case you’re wondering, is not an easy thing to keep in mind when writing. The only way I found to achieve it was to actually pretend (yep, I’m crazy) that I was in the middle of the scene watching what was happening. If I’d done it right, the words flowed well. If not, they didn’t. If I tried to force a character to say something that didn’t match the mental picture I’d built of them, the words fell apart; if I let them speak, the words flew across the screen.

 

Tomorrow for Part 4, we’ll actually announce the release of the book!

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Writing “Blood Ties” Part Three: Hashing out a Storyline

We had the idea, but where did we go from there? Great question. To start things off, we had agreed that each of us should do a profile for a few of the important characters. We had hammered out an extremely basic outline (which I won’t give away) and decided that we needed to know the characters better before going any further. I see it not like a giant Tetris puzzle but more like one of those block puzzles where you move the blocks around to make a channel for a ball to exit, only instead of using the preset blocks, you’re shaping, sizing, placing, and moving ones of your own design. Once we had the basics of the characters (which are totally unrecognizable from what they are now), we were able to move on with the story.

We knew the basics of what we wanted. The book needed to have several concepts. One was about how a society adjusts after ending a “long” war in which societal barriers are broken. Another was how a son who is strong in his own right escapes from the shadow of his extremely powerful father. Another was how far people are willing to go to protect the past they think is perfect or enter the future they believe to be better. One quick word to the wise: NONE OF THESE ARE OR WERE POLITICAL!

Anyway…we had our themes, so the challenge was to hash them out into a storyline. The way we chose to do it was to sit down and scribble out a few paragraphs of where we each wanted to go. We developed some of the themes around the characters and tried tying them together. This did not work well. We tried bouncing basic ideas around involving the themes and how to make them go further. This did not go well either. If profit is in the process, we earned our keep during that time because, well, damn…it was hard. Success finally came when we started off with a basic premise and a basic ending place and tried moving the characters through the story. The characters drove the story, and we hit our stride. Things moved easier after that…much, much easier. This is when we realized we were on to something for sure. We cared about the characters so much that they actually told us what they wanted to do. It’s like they spoke to us and told us where they wanted to go next. I knew Shannah would do this because we had developed her character. Riordan didn’t speak like that, so he wouldn’t do this, right…but his friend Sean would. Ainseal didn’t speak like that, he spoke with more authority. Ainseal evolved and a new character was created to take his place. On it went, and we finally had an outline. Once we had that, we didn’t really stray, we just kept refining and refining until we had something we liked, something that felt true and real.

Tomorrow for Part 4, I’ll discuss character creation, evolution, and finding their voice.

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Writing “Blood Ties” Part 2: Finding a Partner

Let me start off by saying that I hate group projects. Always have. There’s just something painful about having to rely on another person for your grade when you can’t do anything to move that person along. Let me also say that I love working with the right people in an actual team; just that when you’re working with people you’ve been assigned to or you choose because you’re friends, you may not get the best results. Working with like-minded professionals = good; working with the girl next to you because you’re hoping that somehow everyone else will cancel on the group meeting except for the cute girl you want to ask out = bad…at least the way I did it (I never got the girl).

Working in retail is really a crapshoot. Maybe you’ll be working with like-minded professionals, and maybe you’ll be working with people fresh off the street who like to work because it means they won’t be rained on tonight. I wish…I
wish…I were kidding. I got transferred a lot, which tends to happen when you tell your boss things like, “I don’t want to join the stock purchase program because I like having my money in my pocket instead of in the company’s”, but I digress. During one of my transfers, I happened to step into the best working environment I ever had at Walgreens. Someone set up my dream team. Everyone there was smart, worked hard, and understood the value of true teamwork. I got comfortable, and as I tend to do when I get comfortable, I started talking to people. One of the EXA’s (level above me in management) seemed like a pretty cool guy who knew his way around sci-fi and fantasy, so I started bouncing ideas off him. Nothing serious at first, just stuff to pass the time with while stocking cereal and processed ham. As the days moved on, though, I found myself pondering the idea of my Shamans and their outfits. With no idea at the time as to what I was doing, I asked the guy what he thought of the idea. I don’t remember what he said exactly, but what I do remember is that the day flew, work was done, and I was pissed that I couldn’t stay and hammer out the idea some more. The manager turned into my coauthor Kevin. The idea turned into Blood Ties. I’d say that in the end Walgreens was pretty good to me that day.

It wasn’t as simple as that, of course. We bounced ideas off each other for close to a week before I asked if he was interested in helping with a storyline. I had previously written another book (which isn’t ready to publish yet) and didn’t want this to be a carbon copy of it, so having additional input was helpful. His ideas were so fun that eventually I asked if he’d be interested in working on it together. My recollection is that he thought about it for a day or so then came back with yes. I could be wrong, but it isn’t vital. The point is, we started working together.

Six years later we had a book.

Tomorrow for Part Three, I’ll talk about the actual process of hashing out a storyline.

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Writing “Blood Ties” Part 1: Genesis of an Idea

In preparation for the coming release of the first book in the Blood Ties series, I thought it’d be interesting to look back on the process and do a little documentation. Things don’t just come out of nowhere, right? Mighty oaks grow from trees, people come from embryos, and books (as it turns out) come from ideas. In this case, it was a slight twist on an old idea: instead of totemic power granting strength to people, what if people derived strength from that which they wore…like the skins of animals?

One of the (many) series I read when I was younger was the Shadowrun series. There were tons of interesting ideas in there, and I loved the duality of the contrasts between the orders of magic and technology. On the technology side, there were datajacks and whole universes inside the ‘net (which actually predated a lot of common internet knowledge). On the magic side, there were trolls, elves, dragons. Oh, and people of course. The one that was most interesting (I think he was the main character) had a totem that gave him access to abilities. This stuck with me for a while and rolled around in the back of my mind like a rock rolls around in a gem tumbler (which I never had, sadly). I’d occasionally pull out the idea of having a character with a totem for other books, but would end up dismissing it every time because it seemed too easy, too formulaic. If I were to ever write a book with heavy Native American themes, then fine; otherwise, it seemed too much like a copy.

Fast forward a couple of years. I’ve been working in retail for years now and have trained myself to work physically while letting my mind wander. While putting out stock at Walgreens (cause face it, you can only put out so many constipation remedies before going insane) the idea came back to me, only this time in a slightly more clear fashion. What if instead of just having a totem, you wore your totem. It wasn’t wholly unique; after all, Native American cultures often wore masks of the animals they wished to honor or derive power from. In this case, though, the person wearing the item would actually gain their power. Wear the skin of a bear and you gain the power of a bear. Wear the skin of a cheetah and you gain the speed of a cheetah. The possibilities were as wide ranging as the animal kingdom itself. I had an idea. I didn’t have a specific direction, but the idea itself was strong enough that I didn’t put it back in the tumbler for more polishing. I wanted to study this one, drill down on it, and see where it could take me.

Tomorrow in Part 2, I talk about sharing the idea and gaining a partner.

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Why I’m Proactively Hating the New Smurfs Movie

I’ve discovered that you can get a pretty good feel for how a movie is going to go based on its previews and can therefore weed out the movies you don’t want to see and highlight the ones you do. I find myself gagging at some movie trailers, be it over content or idea, but few incite me to the blood-boiling rage I felt when I first saw the trailer to “The Smurfs”. Forget the obvious feelings of disgust over the continued assault on my childhood memories…this one is an out and out assault on childhood in general. Why am I so angry? The question actually should be “why aren’t you angry?”

When they originally aired, the Smurfs taught us lessons. Greed is bad. Brotherhood is good. Working together is powerful. They spoke in strange sentences, throwing in the word “smurf” for random words. “Absosmurfly”. “Smurf for all and all for smurf!” “We’re going smurfing on the River Smurf today.” Now, though, at least according to the previews, they’re throwing in the word “smurf” to replace the f-bomb. Yeah…the word smurf is about to become equated in the minds of millions of children with the f-word. Don’t believe me? Lemme ask you…if you heard the sentence, “Where the _____ are we?” come out of the mouth of an adult, how would you fill in the blank? It wouldn’t be with the word smurf…it’d either be hell (if someone was around kids) or the f bomb. How about, “I think I just smurfed in my mouth.” Even the website is horrible – www.Smurfhappens.com. Smurf happens…gee, I wonder what word we could substitute for smurf that fits the saying? Columbia Studios is either blithely stupid or intentionally malicious for letting this get to this point. Will certain adults find it hilarious? Of course. Do I want those adults raising the next generation of leaders? Hardly.

Sex sells, but do I really want to see it in movies expressly targeted towards my child/children? The universally accepted American sex symbol of the 1960′s was Marilyn Monroe. She solidified her position as this symbol with the shot from the movie, “Some Like it Hot” in which she stood over a steam grate and let her skirt billow up to the point where she was almost exposed. When I attended college (1994-1999), there were still men who had this poster in their room. Marilyn is a sex symbol to this day; when you think of her, you don’t think of her brains, you think of her body. Now take that image and transport it directly into a children’s movie. Oh yeah…Smurfette is portrayed as Marilyn Monroe. How in the world is this a good thing? Who in their right mind wants their daughter to emulate the prototypical sex symbol? Seeing a generation succumb to the helpless motif of Princess Barbie or Ariel or Cinderella is one thing, but now we have to push the envelope and make them brainless as well? I’m sure the movie later portrays Smurfette doing something brave and heroic later as a sop to women’s groups, but how many pointless sex references and innuendoes do we have to plow through to get to that “revelation”? If the studios wanted us to think they were honoring Smurfette, they wouldn’t have presented her as a trashy object in their previews. Since they did, though, I drew the only conclusion I could – Smurfette is going to be a slut. Thanks again Columbia Studios for planting this idea in my daughter’s mind…as if I’d ever let her come within 100 yards of this tripe.

Finally, let’s address the overall humor found in movies target directly at children. Burping and farting is funny to kids and some adults, but should it really be the center of humor? Pixar has yet to have a bad movie, though I’m fond of some more than others, and I believe I can count the number of burp and fart jokes on one hand…with 4 fingers tied down by duct tape no less. They take the higher road each time. Come on…a movie with a dog where he doesn’t pee or fart or sniff someone’s butt outrageously? Unheard of in other children’s movies! Dug the dog, though, caused me to laugh so hard I almost peed, and that was just the trailer! In the theater, kids laughed out loud when he spoke, awwwed when he looked cute, and almost cried when he was yelled at (as did I). He was a character, not a portrayal. I’ll grant you right from the start that the Smurfs lend themselves towards stereotypes – witness their names like Papa, Brainey, and Handy…but the previews show characters burping bubbles, falling into toilets, and of course the aforementioned billowing skirt. Contrary to what it may seem, I’m no prude, but I do believe there is a good way to do humor and a bad way. We aren’t bringing our children down to the lowest common denominator…we’re inventing one so low we have to dig for before we can use it as a high-water mark. s

Columibia Studios, I hereby state that I am disgusted with you based on your trailer for the Smurfs movie. You had a chance to take a beloved and well known children’s property and turn it into something real, something solid, and something heartfelt. Instead, you appear to have distilled it down to the lowest common denominator in search of money. I sincerely hope your ploy fails. I hope this movie tanks. I hope others can learn the lesson your studio obviously can’t. Treat children with intelligence and respect and their parents’ wallets will follow. Treat them like crap and expect it to come back tenfold.

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