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Thursday, 17 April 2014

That thing you do… my writing process

My writing buddy and up-coming Master of Horror, Jamie Schultz, tagged me up for the writing process blog. It's interesting because it's not one of those things I've ever sat down and analysed, so I learnt a few new things about the way my mind works in writing gear.

1. What am I working on?

At the moment I'm skipping past the half-way point on Fur Thing, which is part of the Blue Moon Detective series. What that stalls, I work on the next Crescent story, which is turning out a lot darker than I ever intended. And I'm playing with ideas for a couple of good old-fashioned ghost stories; real old-school balls to the wall horror (I hope.)

I tend to let those ideas ferment for a long time, waiting for them to either turn into something useable, or fade away if I can't make them work. Then I have the opposite situation, where the ideas come through and bounce up and down screaming at me until I have to write them NOW to get a bit of peace.

2. How does my work differ from others of it's genre?

I try and give things a bit of a twist that you hopefully don't find too often. The Crescent books fall under traditional/sword & sorcery - but the hawks are a new species, and people and interactions are complicated, and there isn't always a happy ending. The Blue Moon books feature a shifter that was born as a cat, a medicated house-cat, a vamp with serious Odin issues, a ghost that was traumatised both before and after death,  and a gay medium who adopts these people as his surrogate family when his own cut him off. And while they solve cases and help people, they all have good and bad points. I also have a fairly warped sense of humour that comes through in all of these; love and blood and oh-gods-the-world-is-ending needs a good punchline.

And of course, there's the pure slapstick, like House of F.A.R.T.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Well, according to my mother, it's all Stephen King's fault. I've always been drawn to horror and fantasy. But all fiction is a fantasy, and a lot of fact is horror. I think what really drew me in was that most of the stuff I grew up reading was unique, and pushed the boundaries. Romance never made me casually sidle into the lounge to finish reading a story, where there was light and other people to choose from if anything nasty decided to visit. Westerns never made me break out in a cold sweat as my mind stuttered over sentences. I LOVED that. I wanted the ability to do that to other people, to make someone check under their bed before they turn the light out.

That doesn't mean I won't explore other genres, eventually. The mind is a playground, and I haven't finished playing in this particular sand-pit yet - and there are a lot of other places to play - and combine with each other. That's the best part about writing. The only limits are the ones you place on yourself.

4. How does my writing process work?

I have a rough idea of future books, and I do a lot of research both for what I'm working on and future story lines - I took an on-line course in archeology in 2012 for one of the Blue Moon books I'm planning. I'd say 80-90% of the research doesn't show up overtly in the books. It's background, and it's how I paint the world and drive the characters, but it's more important that I have the knowledge ticking away in the back of my mind.  (Although researching weaponry and symbolism probably put me on a number of watch-lists, and the non-fiction part of my library would make the average profiler wet themselves.)

The actual writing part is trickier; and it's pretty much time-defined. My handwriting is terrible - drunken spider attempting the hokey-pokey kind of illegible - so I type everything. I used to handwrite all my stories as a kid, until my mom gave me her old typewriter. Doing shorthand in college did not do my handwriting any favours.

I'm a pantser - I know what the plan is, but I've tried writing outlines in the past and my characters tend to ignore them. Then again, I've never had a story go exactly to plan - once the characters start talking and moving, all pre-conceived notions are as much use as a pair of chocolate panties.
It's more a case of "Tell me what happened next." Which is cool, because if the story starts to bore me I figure it out immediately, and I can step in and change direction.

I have a roughly hour-long commute on London transport to work and back. With train changes and the ability to get a seat, this translates to roughly 45 minutes of writing time each way. I stick my writing playlist on and write on my phone. 30 minutes writing for lunch. Weekends are writing,  re-writing and fixing issues and typos.

Usually around the 25K mark I re-read and think that this is frigging horrible. At that point, I know I have to leave it alone and work on the other book or another story for a bit. If I go back and it still reeks, the decision is either fix or delete. 95% of the time it's fixable, and just needs a clean-up. The other 5% gets run past Stace for a yay or nay. If she wants more story, I'll give it a shot. If it's dubious or a no, I hit the delete button. (It's impossible to make that decision alone; I don't know a single writer that cruises through every book and is happy with it. Most of us get to the point where we re-read and want to curl up in a ball and suck our thumbs for a while; and you can't make a final decision at that point because you can't be objective.) On the rare occasion I've had to delete, I've taken the view that it's a positive. The next story will be stronger for the mistakes I made, and I hopefully know what not to do going forwards. Every time you write you learn and you grow, and hopefully I'll still be learning new tricks when I hit 90.

Once the story is done it heads for beta land, and I try to forget it. When I get it back, I go through it with the beta notes and fix what needs to be fixed. Then the editing process starts, and by the time you get done with that, part of you wants to set the bloody book on fire and dance around it screaming.

Then it gets ignored for a bit until the final re-read. Guaranteed this is when I find typos and issues that everybody missed, and 99% at least one still slips in when the publishing thing happens. It's annoying, but it happens.

While the story is in the final marinading stage, I work on the cover. I either paint from scratch, using CorelPainter, or I use one of my photo's and manipulate it. I have tons of pictures on my iphone and you can do amazing things with manipulating colours and light now, and it's a relaxing thing for me.

Then I have to figure out the synopsis/publishing blurb, which goes back to wanting to set the bloody thing on fire all over again.

Then I fight with tech and upload the thing. Amazon is pretty easy. Smashwords gave me a minor nervous breakdown, to the point I haven't gone near it in a while.

So there you have it - a brief view of my writing process.