Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Was So Uninspired

Well, Aretha may have been uninspired, but then she started feeling like a natural woman, so it all worked out okay.

What? All right, I'll explain. As is often the case, I am quoting a song in the title of this blog post. The subject of the blog post is a writer's inspiration.

Today's "Saturday Quote-O-Rama!" post below is the first line of one of my favorite Springsteen songs, "Your Own Worst Enemy" from the "Magic" album. Whatever that song is about, it's NOT about teenagers on a hazardous post-apocalyptic wilderness trek. And yet, those first few words ("you can't sleep at night, you can't dream your dreams") somehow fired off some neurons in my brain to start a train of thought that ended with the inspiration for my current work-in-progress, THE BOOK OF KELL. (aka the Post-Apocalyptic Young Adult or PAYA)

So, I hear the song. "You can't sleep at night, you can't dream your dreams." My brain starts its own hazardous trek in the wilderness of my cranium and somehow I start thinking of a teenager who can only dream one dream. I don't mean dream as in goal, I mean as in when the kid falls asleep, only one dream is available. The same dream, over and over... This thought process began in the summer of 2009. That initial idea is still on the back burner and might make a short story one day. It actually does not appear in any form in THE BOOK OF KELL. But the idea of a teenager... who then became a post-apocalyptic teenager... who had some real problems identifying with the rest of the senior class... eventually morphed into the plot of TBOK.

Which just goes to show that the idea for an entire novel can blossom from the simplest thing. SHADOW POINT sparked from 3 ingredients that came together in the same week: a trip to my hometown of San Diego, spending time on the beach there with a friend and her 5 year old daughter, and re-reading THE TURN OF THE SCREW on the plane ride home. Boom. A San Diego ghost story with a 5 year old girl at its center was born.

ROMEO FAILS just came out this month. (yay!) Its setting in a tiny Midwestern town was based on the time I had spent in two Midwestern towns, one very small and one tiny. I did (again) draw on personal experience to create its plot, which - let me be clear - is fictional, not autobiographical. I remember reading an article about Truman Capote many years ago which talked about him alienating all his friends and relatives by writing about them. They Were Really Mad! An author may choose to be careful when drawing upon personal experience. Or not. Gulp.

Stuff happens either way, right?

My third novel, HEAVENLY MOVES, is due out next year. This 1982 rock'n'roll murder mystery started with the simplest of inspirations: I moved into a new apartment (just like the one Heavenly "Hev" Wilcox moves into in HEAVENLY MOVES) and kept getting mail for the previous tenant, a total stranger. His mail was way cooler than mine. D'oh! That was the beginning...

The fascinating thing about inspiration and writers is that you could give the same core idea to a group of writers and get wildly different results from each of them.

For a new or struggling writer having a hard time finding a good idea for a story, my advice would be: Relax. Take a deep breath. Open your mind to and take note of all the gifts the world presents you. I mean literally, Take Notes! Carry a little notebook or at least a pen with you ALL THE TIME and jot stuff down as it comes to you. Do not think you'll remember it later. Even if it turns out to be stupid when you read it later, eventually there will be a pearl amongst the oysters.

Let's review:

  • Listen to Bruce Springsteen.

  • Go to the beach.

  • It ain't art if you're not alienating someone.

  • Federal mail regulations - more of a guideline than a rule?

  • Eat seafood.

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"You can't sleep at night. You can't dream your dreams."

Bruce Springsteen

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kaor, Earthlings!

You may have seen the ads for an upcoming movie, JOHN CARTER OF MARS. It's based on a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was an extremely prolific and imaginative author of pulp adventure fiction in the early 20th century. The first book in the Mars series was published in 1912 - one hundred years ago! (and it was titled A PRINCESS OF MARS - that's right, girls - the 11th and last book was the one actually called JOHN CARTER OF MARS)

Most people don't recognize the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs these days, although I'll bet you know about his most famous creation - Tarzan. (Jane, too!) Cheeseball movies aside (which he probably had no control over anyway), ERB wrote so much more than Tarzan. Mars, Venus, a whole 'nother country inside the Earth called Pellucidar... and these were series of novels. He wrote multiple series of highly successful commercial novels. Sure, it was pretty darn pulpy, but it was fun, too. (Also a little racist and misogynist and otherwise now wince-inducing, but it was 1912. You think the people in 2112 (if there are any left) won't think we were boneheads?) Mr. Burroughs also wrote many one-offs that ranged from ancient Rome to the post-apocalyptic future. In all, he wrote 91 books. 91, people. Wow. The books are very fast-paced, full of adventure, full of Amazing Coincidences and Unbelievable Occurrences, but that's pulp. (John Carter is constantly hiding behind a rock or a curtain at the exact moment his enemies decide to take a break and verbally review their evil plan one more time.) There's also quite a bit of intentional humor in them. They are a fun read if you like that sort of thing.

In my youth, my older brother discovered the ERB books. Since I read whatever he read (which annoyed the crap out of him), I read ERB, too. And while I was enjoying the exciting adventures, exotic locales and heaving bosoms, I was also learning about pacing, plot, efficient and economical writing and the fact that some guy who had never written a book before sat down one day, wrote his first novel (the aforementioned A PRINCESS OF MARS) and started a lifelong career of incredible success. You go, ERB.

I don't know if I'll see the new JOHN CARTER movie. Those Tharks look jacked up to me... hmmph.

But as I continue to work on my current manuscript - my own post-apocalyptic adventure tale which is nothing like what Edgar ever wrote - I tip my hat across the century which divides us to a great storyteller who simultaneously entertained and educated me in the craft of commercial fiction writing. (along with many other authors) And as I near the end of my tale, I've been struggling to find a name for a minor, yet pivotal, character who has one all-important scene in the final chapter.

You know what? I'm going to call him Burroughs.

Thanks again, Edgar!

Monday, February 13, 2012

keep .com & carry on

Gussied up the website - check out the new & improved!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

2 Days To Go!

ROMEO FAILS, my second published novel, comes out on Tuesday. Which is Valentine's Day - apropos for a love story!

A love triangle, actually:
• one side of the triangle is the "friend" love between two best pals, BFFs since kindergarten
• one side of the triangle is the "family" love between two devoted cousins
• and the last side of the triangle is romantic love between 2 people who barely know each other and are not related

Complications ensue. Don't they always?

Of course, I'm curious as to how the world will receive my new novel. This time around, I'm extra curious because ROMEO FAILS is SO VERY DIFFERENT from my first novel, SHADOW POINT.

I hope the readers who enjoyed SHADOW POINT will enjoy ROMEO FAILS. I hope readers who passed on SHADOW POINT (because ghost stories aren't for everyone - it's cool) will check out the 100% phantom-free ROMEO FAILS for a more traditional love story with a dash of mystery.

Let me know what you think, World. :-) I'll be right here, working on something else that will probably be totally different in a whole 'nother way.