Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Fun of Writing Fantasy

I have two loves when it comes to fiction: horror and fantasy. Just as I've lost myself in a novel by Stephen King or Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon or Brian Keene, so, too have I gone to other worlds in tales by Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, and George R.R. Martin. By extension, I've tried my hand at writing fantasy, too, to mixed results.

One of the first original novels I did was fantasy. I intended for it to be the first of a series, and while I think there were some good bits, most of it was utter garbage that will hopefully never see the light of day--at least not in the form it is now. A few years ago, I tried again. I got through a few chapters, and then I put it down. It just wasn't time.

Then a friend and I came up with a fantasy world for a Dungeons & Dragons game, and something clicked. I picked that in-progress novel back up, read over it, and realized it wasn't as bad as I thought at the time. So I went back to work on it. And finished it. And then finished the second book in what will probably be a trilogy called The Time of Ashes Cycle.

Here's the problem: I'm a pantser by nature. That means I have a story idea and start writing. I don't plan things out, I don't think very far ahead, I just let the characters and story pull me along. Fantasy, due to the intricacies inherent in the genre, doesn't work well with pantsers. Therefore, I've had to do a hybrid plotter / pantser thing that I am totally not used to.

A few examples.

For one, I set up a dangling plot thread in the first book to tell what the main character would be doing in the second one. Then I wrote the second one a couple of months later, and completely forgot the plot thread was there. As a result, the main character does nothing for a large chunk of the book. Not only that, but I didn't even remember the thread when I did the second draft of that first book. I only caught it on the third. Much swearing ensued as I realized the additional content I get to write for the second volume. At least I was preparing for revisions, so I was already prepared to dig into that manuscript again.

Another good one: timelines. The world this story is set in has A LOT of history to it. A good thousand years or so. In theory, at least. I also realized while working on that third draft that there is no flow to the continuity or the events being referenced from the past. All that history, and I didn't create a simple timeline to follow for when those events occurred. Something else to put into place before going into revisions.

Then there's maps. Pick up a fantasy book and open to one of the first pages. What do you see? That's right, a world or region map. Maybe even a city map, if that city is crucial to the story. For a world so detailed, the only map I've got is one sketched on a sheet of notebook paper. Nothing digital to put with the series when it gets picked up or if I self-pub it. So I've spent the evening watching map-making tutorials for GIMP and Photoshop so I can at least get a basic map together to include with the book. "But John," you say. "Isn't that what a publisher's for? To help with that interior art, like they did with JEREMY TODD?" Well, yes, but if they don't know what the world looks like or how it's laid out, how can they make an accurate map? See the dilemma?

Last but not least, foreshadowing. Now, even as a pantser, I've managed to foreshadow events in books, usually by enhancing it during the revision process. For a fantasy series, I'm not just doing it within a book, but also for future books in the series. In Time of Ashes, I have to set up a major conflict for book three, the climax of the whole storyline. Aside from a couple of throwaway bits in the first book and some ham-handed bits near the end of the second, that hasn't happened yet. Even more work for the revisions process!

What does all this mean? Ultimately, I've hit a point where I've managed to scare the shit out of myself over this series. I'm going to finish it--I'm too close not to, now--but I am intimidated as hell over it. I suddenly understand why those fantasy authors I enjoy take so long between books in their own series (except for Sanderson, who's more of a writing machine than I am!). Mad that Kingkiller Chronicle Day Three isn't out after five years? I'm not so much anymore. I kind of get it. I still think Martin writes too slow, but he'll admit that himself, so that's different.

I'm going to get through this, and, like I said, I'm going to finish this series. Pride won't let me give it up, if nothing else. But the next time you pick up a thousand-page epic by some fantasy author, keep in mind the work that went in behind the scenes, all the hours of worldbuilding before a single word went down on the page, all the details that had to be thought out, all the plot threads that had to be trimmed or tied together, and be thankful there are those out there who are insane enough to do it.

As if I needed more proof of how crazy I am....

Saturday, September 30, 2017

I Definitely Know How to Run My Mouth

September is creeping into October, Halloween is almost upon us (yay!), and looking back, I've had a productive summer. THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD came out near the end of July, I hit Scares That Care Charity Weekend days later, and I've done three different podcast interviews that came out since then where I've talked about JEREMY TODD, CONSEQUENCES, and dropped some hints about my forthcoming novel from JEA Press, MUDCAT. In case you missed any, here they were:

Arm Cast Podcast Episode 165, Recorded Live at Scares That Care
Armand Rosamilia had a revolving door on his guest seat during this one, so in addition to the segment where I appear with Wile E. Young, you can also hear him chat with author and podcaster Tommy Clark, super fan Tim Feely, podcaster Elizabeth Katheryn Gray, and author and podcaster Frank Edler.

The Horror Show with Brian Keene, Episode 130
Brian was slammed with helping to keep Scares That Care running smoothly, so I got the privelidge of being Mary SanGiovanni's first solo interview that Sunday morning, with Dave Thomas providing occasional comments as well as running the technical end of things.

Unnerving Magazine Interview Series, September 25, 2017
I had a chat with Eddie Generous from Unnerving Magazine about the origins of JEREMY TODD, Stephen King's hit or miss movie adaptations, and other things for his Author Interview series.

In addition to those, I also made a cameo appearance in The Mando Method Episode 47, where I was a member of the live studio audience at Scares That Care, and was occasionally pulled in by Armand and Chuck as they talked about their experiences at the con.

I'll be adding all this to my Publicity page soon, but for now, you can feel free to follow any or all of the links above and see what I had to say. For that matter, check out their other episodes as well, as all of them are entertaining and - in the case of Mando Method - quite informative, especially to anyone who wants to try their hand at this insane profession of writing for a living.

Monday, September 11, 2017

You'll Float, Too: My Review of Stephen King's "IT: Chapter One"

Adapting a novel to another medium is no easy task. Add in a previous adaptation that has achieved a level of cult success, and things get even harder. When the work in question is from Stephen King, a man whose career is littered with a series of hit-or-miss (mostly miss) adaptations to the screen, the task might even start to border on the impossible. Finally, consider that the source material is a whopping 1,000+ pages, and many would prefer to give up before they even begin. The odds are almost guaranteed that you'll produce something closer to Maximum Overdrive than you will to Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile.

Thankfully, IT gets it right.

There's a balance to adapting a novel to a visual medium, be it comics or television or movies. The printed word allows you to get inside your character's heads, to be the character in a way. Since a book can be as long as it needs to be, the story can be a slow-burner to develop the characters and the world and the problems. Movies and television have a set amount of time to tell the story, so often such luxuries fall by the wayside. In Hollywood, it's generally accepted that 1 page of script is the equivalent of 1 minute of screen time. A thousand hours is longer than most television series ever get, much less a movie. So how do you adapt it, and do it right?

By getting to the essence of the story and the characters, and not spending a large amount of time on the fluff.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Real Ghosts from the Past: The Story Behind THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD

Every story starts somewhere. For CONSEQUENCES, it was a local legend from my high school days. For THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD, it starts more recently, but it does dig into things that happened as far back as middle school for me, and also digs into things that keep themselves hidden in the dark recesses of my mind, only coming out on occasion when I’m feeling especially vulnerable. Writing the story helped me to deal with those to some degree, and hopefully writing this “story behind the story” post will help me finish exorcising them. Will it get rid of them? No, they’ve been there too long, and have become a part of who I am. But hopefully they’ll lose what little remains of their sting, and that’s more important, anyway.

Since JEREMY TODD has only been out for a couple of weeks now, I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible for those who haven’t managed to get very far into it.

One of the themes in JEREMY TODD is bullying, and how victims of bullying deal with it as they get older. This is the first and only time I’ve ever gone into a story with even that much of a theme in mind. Usually, I just have the story idea and then I write it. I might find something during edits, some subconscious thing that crept into the story somewhere along the way, but it’s never a conscious decision. This time, it was. Everyone has their hot-button topic, the thing that sets their blood to boiling until the rage is nearly strong enough to consume them. For me, that topic is bullying.