Remaking the World in Some Image or Another

Quick word from our sponsor (…so, basically me):

Song Caster 99 Cents

For a limited time, the Kindle e-book for “The Song Caster” is on sale for $0.99!

That’s right, because I want to make it easier on everyone to get all caught up on their Wilderhark Tales before Book 6.5* launches on July 7th, Book Four can be on your e-reader for just 99 cents. Run, don’t walk! The deal only carries through Monday, June 22nd.

*The Goodreads giveaway for that is still running, btw…

And now onto our regularly scheduled blog post.

<<<>>>

Y’know what’s stupid disconcerting? Watching your author write your life, then completely dismantle it so she can rewrite it into something more or less similar but totally different.

You’ve all been there, right?

I’m Bruno, by the way. Most of you don’t know me. Like I said, Danielle’s in the process of taking my life down to studs, so it’ll probably be years before the books hit the market. Some of you may sorta half-remember me from a guest post I wrote way back when, but let’s face it, most of you don’t. That’s cool. I’m not here to be memorable. I’m here because Danielle wants this process written about, but she’s not in the mood to do it herself, so hey, character, you do it for me, ‘kay?

I have got to join a union.

Anyway. The process.

It’s kind of like the last time she took a bunch of old writing and overhauled it to embarrass her less. (You haven’t seen that book yet, either.) Except that time, the plot didn’t really change; it was more a matter where she focused on the timeline, and through which characters’ point of view. This time, though, she’s got even more work cut out for her. She sort of wrote my first book on the fly, and the second one didn’t get much better, planning-wise, so Books 3 and 4 were basically trying to make sense of 1 and 2. She had some okay ideas, but overall? Kind of a hot mess.

Beyond that, her vision for the series has changed. She’s had the better part of a decade to mull this thing over, and to grow enamored with different characters and kinds of stories. The big game-changer, really, was “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”. (Y’know. “Outlaws of Avalon”. The trilogy that, like my story, doesn’t even quite exist yet, but you wouldn’t know it by how that one Merry Maniac has taken over at least two planes of reality.) Not to give the whole game away, but there’s a connection between the worlds of “Outlaws”, and Wilderhark, and mine. Danielle wants to play that up more. Like, a lot. She basically thinks she’s the Marvel universe.

Out with the old. Some characters from the story’s first version won’t make it into the second. Sucks for them, but we’re not running some sprawling epic fantasy with a dozen books, twenty protagonists a pop. Yeah, it’s still supposed to be kind of an epic, but Danielle has some vague idea as to her limits, and so prefers a slightly narrower scope.

…To make way for the new. The main reason people are getting cut is that Danielle’s got her eye on some other people to take their places. I should probably be grateful she still wants me in the starring role, but gratitude’s not really my way of life, so that’s not happening. Plus I’m privately terrified that I’m going to get completely upstaged by half the cast.

And by “privately”, I mean I totally just slapped that onto a public blog, so.

Will I even still get to wear chainmail? ‘Cause I’ll be too ticked if I can't keep my chainmail.
Will I even still get to wear chainmail? ‘Cause I’ll be too ticked if I can’t keep my chainmail.

The GPS is as lost as the rest of us. The journey from A to B is rerouting all over the place – in no small part because the destination is no longer quite the same. Hell, the whole landscape’s changed. We’re dealing with the plotting equivalent of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and a tsunami or two. A dream come true, for fans of plate tectonics. For the author and me, it’s more like sitting atop a rollercoaster’s highest peak, trying to figure out how to assemble the rest of the track before we plunge to our deaths.

Fortunately, the parking brake’s on, so we’ve got nothing but time.

To be determined. How much free rein will she give me, in this thing? Will I get to swear in-text, or will she prose-dance around it? Will she bother to learn conversational Italian so I can flaunt my heritage? These are the questions I’ve got.

Is this cool enough yet? That’s the main thing, really. We both want this remade series to be cool. She wants to hit every awesome note she can, and do it in such a way that these are books she’ll not only love to write, but love to read. I just want to avoid looking lame.

We’ll see what another several months of brainstorming gets us. Just know that I don’t get as loud a say in Danielle’s work as certain other characters I could name (but don’t need to, ‘cause chances are you all know exactly who I mean). So if the project tanks, that’s all on her. And if it rocks… Whatever, that’s on her, too. I’ll just be glad I made it out with my rep intact.

Or, like, a rep at all.

Character Casting Call (INSPIRED Days)

Inspired Days Button

It’s Week Three of “INSPIRED Days”! – an approximate month of awesomeness celebrating my J. Taylor Publishing novel, of which yesterday marked its 6-month semi-anniversary of publication! *huzzahs, hurrahs, sings a round or two of “For He’s It’s a Jolly Good Fellow Novel”*

In honor of the occasion, here’s a piece of flash fiction I whipped up a couple months back, all about one of the many ways a muse may assist his author in finding inspiration. Enjoy!

<<<>>>

“Next,” the voice like bells rang out from the doorway. O was on his feet in an instant. This is it, he thought, smoothing a hand over his hair and down his shirtfront. Don’t screw it up.

O walked in with all the confidence he could scrape together, then uneasily wondered whether they were looking for confidence. What if they wanted someone shy? The posting, written in lights in the ether, hadn’t specified. Confidence seemed the safest bet for first impressions, though, so he kept committed to that.

Inspired Mock Cover
My early vision for an INSPIRED cover, as created by me.

The dark girl seated at the desk smiled, and the glowing-bright man seated in the air beside her beckoned O further in. The door closed behind him – from all appearances, on its own power. “Hi-hi!” the girl chirped. “I’m Annabelle. This is my co-executive, Lucianíel. And you are?”

“O,” said O, shaking the girl’s hand. “Or, something with an ‘O’. Possibly multiple ‘O’s. That’s all I’ve got for sure.”

“Fair enough,” she said. She turned to her floating, glowing co-exec. “How do we feel about Orlando?”

“Donovan, I think,” Lucianíel’s voice rang again.

“Orlando Donovan, then. We’ll hold onto it for later.” Scribbling the name on a notepad with one hand and gesturing for O to sit with the other, Annabelle said, “So, O. Let’s chat. What do you know about yourself?”

“Well, I’m a guy.”

“A good starting point,” said Annabelle, her curly cloud of hair bobbing with her encouraging nod.

“And I’m a killer.”

Her brows rose. “Oh?”

He nodded. “I have to be. I mean, I have to kill. It’s a psychological need. If I don’t, I’ll, I dunno. Get sick. Go crazy. It’s in my twisted nature. Also, I have really arresting eyes.”

“I noticed,” she said. “What are they, blue?”

“I think so, yeah. Kinda flickers between that and gray, but I’m leaning toward blue. Or… do you think I could have eyes like a raven?” he asked hopefully.

Lucianíel tipped his head. “Are you a raven? Descended of ravens or tied to them in any way?”

“Shape-shifting raven?” Annabelle inquired.

O shook his head. “I didn’t mean literal raven’s eyes. Just their color. Y’know how the feathers are just so black they shimmer, like, purple and green and blue? It would be incredible to have eyes like that!”

“Hmm.” Annabelle chewed on the cap of her pen. “Amazing eyes do not in themselves an amazing character make. The psychological need to kill is something, I suppose, but even that on its own is a little… so-so.”

Why do you need to kill?” Lucianíel probed, his own incredible eyes on O intent. “Whence came this vital need?”

O shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m really not sure. It’s something in my makeup. In my blood.”

“So this is not unique to you? There are more of your kind?”

“Sure. Or there were.” O shrugged. “I dunno. I might be the last, or separated from them. I feel separated,” he realized, of a sudden. “Isolated. I might not even know what I am, and that there are more like me. I feel like the only one.”

“Aww,” Annabelle said, absently sympathetic. A good half of her attention was on the fat little paperback in her hands, its pages well-worn and flipping with familiar ease beneath her fingers. “Dominic… Donahue… Here we are: Donovan. Celtic, Irish. Strong fighter, dark chieftain.” She turned wide, eager eyes on Lucianíel. “That could apply to a race of raven people quite well! A noble family name. Maybe he’s a long-lost prince!”

“Perhaps crows instead of ravens,” Lucianíel suggested. “Murder, and all.”

“A murder of crows – brilliant!” Annabelle cried. “Yes, yes, yes! You, young Donovan,” she said, stabbing a finger across the desk, “are a prince among crows! There was a conspiracy—”

That would be the ravens,” said Lucianíel.

“Say what?”

“A conspiracy of ravens.” He smiled. “Or an unkindness.”

“Ah, I see. Well, shoot, we’re rolling in awesome titling options, aren’t we?”

“Less awesome than obvious. But they’re as good a starting place as any.”

“In any case,” Annabelle continued, returning to O. “Conspiracy. Somebody wanted you gone, probably so they could cut ahead in line to the throne. That they didn’t just kill you shows it was one of the ravens.” She steepled her fingers, eyes gleaming in the glow of a plot unfolding. “A crow would have murdered you, but for one of the Unkindness, death would be too kind. They snatched you from your people and left you to grow up alone in a world not your own, desperate for the death of others without knowing why; a freak and a monster; friendless.”

O chewed down on his cheeks’ insides, trying to stem the flood of painful heat rising behind his eyes. As she said it, it was true. He wanted friends – of course he did – but how could he ask friendship, ask trust, of someone when he might kill them, or someone they cared about? It was bad enough that he cared. Each and every time. A crow prince raised with the morals of a gentler race. Every day was a battle of nature versus conscience, and he could not let conscience win. It would destroy him.

A tissue appeared before him. “It’s okay,” said Annabelle, gently. “Let it out.”

Taking the proffered tissue, he wept freely, embarrassed but unafraid. He sensed their compassion, the girl and the glowing man. Whatever happened today, however this ended, he had their understanding.

“I think we can work with you,” she said, when O’s sobs had softened to sniffles. “More than that: I would like to work with you, O. How would you feel about getting a story?”

“Please,” he said, a smile braving its way back onto his face. “I’ve been trying to apply for one for ages. You’re the first author who’s seemed to notice I exist.”

“And the last author you’ll ever need to petition,” said Annabelle, smiling wide in return. “You’re mine. Feel free to go hang out, for now. If you need anything, there’ll be other characters to show you around. Luc and I will be in touch when we’ve got more of a game plan for you. Sound good?”

“Excellent. Thanks,” said O, going in for the closing handshake. “I appreciate it.”

“The pleasure is ours,” Lucianíel said warmly. “Next,” he called, the first door swinging open in tandem with a second – the door through which O made his way out into the vastness of his new author’s mind.

“Hi,” he heard her greet the applicant behind him. “Sorry we kept you waiting. People were crying. So. A dragon master, huh? Tell me what that’s like.”

<<<>>>

Thanks for reading! If you’d love to nab the novel chronicling the start of Luc and Annabelle’s partnership, remember there’s a giveaway on Goodreads with three paperbacks for the winning. Meanwhile, for the e-reading crowd, the novel’s e-version is on sale all month for a crazy-low 99 cents via Amazon and Barnes and Noble. So for anyone who hasn’t gotten hold of a copy yet, the time is now!

Inspired Sale, Kindle and BN

 

**Coming up Thursday**: A guest post from INSPIRED’s Uri on reconciling her worldview with the surprise revelation that she’s fictional.

“Questions” or “Ask, and Ye Shall Hopefully Come Up With Some Answers”

As I start brainstorming new ideas for my next writing project, I’ve found myself wondering: Will anyone want to read this?

It’s a little odd, for me, since this is not a question I usually bother with. My more typical “interrogative sentences, phrases, or gestures” are:

– Who is this story about?

– What are they doing?

– Why are they doing that?

– Do I care about this, yet? Alright, then what’s next?

– How can I work XYZ in?

– Ooh, wait – what if…?!

– What goes horrifically wrong?

– How do they feel about that?

– How do they deal with it?

– Wait, does that make any sense? Okay, good, it’s explainable. So now what?

– How many miles between Vegas and Yellowstone, again?

– How in the world does this end?

Any thoughts about my future audience will run more along these lines:

– When and how do I plant this clue so they won’t see the surprise coming, but it won’t feel out of the blue?

– Are people going to be able to empathize with this character?

– Will they have any chance in heck of pronouncing this name correctly?

For the most part, though, I don’t think much about the readers while writing, other than to remind myself to keep the book readable. The first reader I’m aiming to please is me, since I’ll probably be spending more time with this book than anyone. The second is Tirzah, since she’s my writing buddy/beta tester/soul sister and practically has joint custody of some of my characters.

Beyond that, yeah, I’d love to have more satisfied readers than an audience of two. But I can’t predict what everyone will like. And even if I did, I don’t know that I’d let that dictate my writing.

If all I wanted was to sell books, it would be a different story. Then it would be mostly, or possibly all, about writing what a big chunk of the population would want to read. And there would be nothing wrong with that, if selling books were my first goal. But it isn’t.

My first goal is to write stories I love. My second goal is to have other people love them, too. Goal 2.2 involves making money off of that love, and Goal 3 involves Walt Disney Animation Studios and Broadway.

Goal 1 plus Goal 3 would look something like “Paperman”. Haven’t seen this short film yet? Totally have, but just feel like watching it again? Got 7 minutes? Click the pic and go for it.
Goal 1 plus Goal 3 would look something like “Paperman”. Haven’t seen this short film yet? Totally have, but just feel like watching it again? Got 7 minutes? Click the pic and go for it.

So maybe I’m asking myself the wrong question, at this brainstorming stage. Maybe what I need to be asking is:

– How can I thrill myself?

– Which characters will I want to hang out with forever?

– What book can I pull out of me that will make me so super proud that I wrote it?

Selfish-seeming questions, on the surface. But I believe that the best work comes forward when the artist’s heart is wholly behind it. In the end, my readers will be far better off for my thinking of them second.

Back to thinking of first things first, then: Who is this story about?

“Brainstorm” or “Scattered Showers with a Chance of a Bolt of Brilliance”

National Novel Writing Month begins in just 3 days! And my birthday’s tomorrow! And Halloween’s in between! And the next full moon falls on the 28th! Christmas is coming!

Most of that is irrelevant to this post’s topic. …Or, actually, not quite. You see, today I’m talking about brainstorming – “a method of shared problem solving in which all members of a group spontaneously contribute ideas” or “a similar process undertaken by a person to solve a problem by rapidly generating a variety of possible solutions.” That opening paragraph above is a fine of example of rapid idea generation; I just burst in with any old bit of interesting upcoming date information that popped into my head. If it all didn’t so perfectly illustrate the point of this piece, I might have tossed everything but the first statement out. As it is, I’ve chosen to leave it.

That’s the beauty of a brainstorm: Sometimes the deluge produces more ideas worth the keeping than you dared to expect. Contrariwise, sometimes the ratio of workable ideas to throwaways is like a single raindrop amidst a muddy flood. That’s okay, too. Water recycles. The flood will eventually evaporate, condense into cloud form, and come showering down again, perhaps this time with more usable ideas to show for it.

It’s raining words! Hallelujah!
(Image found on Pinterest)

Hmm… I like the analogy alright, though I suppose I might have found a prettier way to say it, had I given it more time… I’m not putting a huge amount of care into the crafting of this particular post, though. This post, I’m writing brainstorm-style. It’s all about output (with, I admit, a modest amount of compulsive editing; even were this for no eyes but my own, I wouldn’t abide anything that truly makes me cringe). The pretty stuff comes later, when I’m actually writing the novel/short story/whatever the brainstorm’s outlining.

Now, not everybody likes to outline their stories. Not everybody needs to. Some prefer to just figure out the tale as they go, and if they can get a good book out of that, more power to ‘em, I say. But for anything longer than a really quick short story, I can’t do that. I need to get my stats straight first – character info, a relative timeline, which startling plot twist goes where, and how in the world this is all supposed to resolve. To keep track of all of that, the novel needs an outline. And because I have an interest in the different ways writers prep their projects and shall assume that somebody out there feels similarly, here’s a peek at what all goes into a Deshipley brainstorm.

It all starts with a blank document, which quickly becomes less empty as I jot down the date and time. (No real reason for that, it just enables my illusion of organization.) Then I’ll start babbling to myself.

The following is an except from an actual brainstorm doc left to languish in the Possibly Salvageable Junk Pile, with a bunch of nouns changed to protect the innocent ideas which I may yet one day wish to use, in some form:

* * *

So there’s this… young lady of some sort or another. And there are wolf men after her, so she needs protection. She gets a troll. I’m assuming she can’t be an angel, then, because her attitude about this is less than stellar, and angels always have stellar attitudes. But speaking of stellar, maybe she’s a star sprite. Wonder why the wolf men want her… And wouldn’t a star sprite be able to defend herself? Hmm, but maybe a half-star sprite couldn’t. Still unanswered, though – why do the wolf men want her?

…Oo-o-o-ooh… Thought: What if this defender is none other than [insert name of some previously-written-about Character X]? With [Character Y] as his sidekick!!! This would happen before he becomes [some glorious future self], of course… And they could get in league with some genies, too – or at least one, and his gnome. That’ll be nifty, since genies can communicate with the undead.

What in the world would cause such an alliance? And why end the alliance there? Why not scale it back so it’s not Character X and Character Y, it’s just some other troll, some angel, some wolf man, some star sprite, some genie, some gnome… even some human. (“Seven companions… very well! You shall be the Fellowship of the Whatever’s Goin’ Down Here!” “Great! So… where are we going?”)

* * *

*Shikka, shikka, ka-BOOM!*

Pretty chaotic, right? That first downpour often is. But while the brainstorm doc itself probably won’t get any tidier as I go along, the novel it’s trying to piece together will. Maybe some thirty pages of yakking later (a rough average), and likely having gone over the same points over and over again, for the sake of keeping it clear in my head, I’ll have worked out who’s who, what’s what, and when’s when, where, and how – my favorite part of all that being the “who’s who”.

I brainstorm my characters, too, naturally. Sometimes the babbly way seen above – just throwing out anything I think they are or want them to be, for a start, and worrying about what’s actually true later – sometimes via my Anything and Everything Character Questionnaire. …Although for some reason, I usually hold back the in-depth Q&A until after I’ve already given the characters their book; kind of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, some might say, but I find it’s a great way to generate sequels; hanging out with them in an imaginary pillow fort is good for that, too. The bottom line is just to get some idea of who I’m dealing with so it will be that much easier to let them speak through me while we’re all in the story trenches together.

That’s the bottom line of the whole brainstorm, really: The more I know before I start the ride, the smoother it will be. Fewer wrong turns, fewer potholes, better gas mileage, and, uh, better songs on the radio. …That last bit was probably best left out of the analogy, I’ll concede. Unless you’re writing a book with minstrels, in which case, it can’t hurt to know your song numbers in advance.

So, that’s the first step in my magic-making process. What about any other writers in the house? How do you make it rain?