My style of book prep seems like an ever-changing thing. While everyone has their own ideas and ways to make writing a book manageable, there are a lot of differences between genres, and people writing within those genres. I’m excited to talk about what I’ve been doing to write my latest few projects, and how this differs from my earlier, young’un projects that were barely a departure from fanfic.
Hi! I’m Chris. I’m a recovering non-writer. I know. It feels strange to say it out loud. Some of the best advice I’ve heard, from successful and wise people (not always the same) is to not stop reading, not stop writing. Yet I committed writerly sins in my life: nearly three years of not writing, not taking care of myself so I became diabetic (and therefore damaged my writing), and putting my work on hold while I lived a high-stress life. While they don’t actually count as sins, they’ve always weighed heavily on my mind. As if I needed to somehow write mucho to catch up.
And yet, armpit deep in cleaning suds in the bathroom, I suddenly and without warning began thinking about all of the projects I’ve begun, all I’ve finished, and all those worth publishing. I realized, for being unpublished, I have a large body of work behind me.
So how do I start a new project? Usually inspiration strikes like lightning. Yes, already I have departed from most writers. My inspiration is like a jockey, and it rides me hard. And I am happy to run. So whether it’s an amazing movie that brings me to tears, or some concept or idea that just clicks, or even a particularly powerful dream, I usually have an ah-hah! Moment before rushing to the computer. In this, nothing has changed since I first started writing. My first story was a nightmare, my second was a dream-journey in fifth grade, and I haven’t stopped since.
High school and the first try at college marked one doe-eyed excursion, second try at college to diabetes marked a second, and everything post diabetes has been a third, far less naive, foray into book-writing.
First Excursion! High School Cliques and the Love of Connectivity!
I loved grade school. I loved high school. Likely because the complexities of home (read: abuses?) was a far darker alternative to whatever classmates could shell out at me. I was popular. I was liked. I was funny and attractive and athletic and extroverted. *teethgleam* All American Writer, here. (Totally tongue-in-cheek. I genuinely learned to love people in high school and at Millikin U. Genuinely. Without those groups, I would be a far less positive person. Thank you to all you people who made me who I am).
So my world building often came from socially discussed stories like Goosebumps and Dinotopia (what? Only my group?) and Power Rangers and Animorphs and, beautifully, Magic: the Gathering. I’d frame it in a, “I want to mimic this group,” which I essentially call Fanfic (without judgment), and wrote all my friends into roles of teamwork and compassionate power-sharing. Everyone super different, with different roles. Different foci, and they worked together. Sometimes begrudgingly. Because that’s how people accomplish great things.
Dream-symbolism and storytelling has always been a strong component to my writing. My first non fanfic (after Power Rangers, then Dinotopia, then Animorphs books) came Mindgames, where five classmates are pulled violently together into a dream-war in order to try and survive the coming of a violent alien takeover of Earth. Their powers emerged into the real world, with mixed effect, and keeping to the Captain Planet ideals of personalities-influence-magic, they were all their own coolness. Each nightmare field focused on each person’s greatest fear (for example, the first dream was an atomic bomb going off: they had to reach the bomb shelter before the blast wave hit), which artificially built character and connectivity directly and indirectly. It was really quite brilliant. I slated two other books after Mindgames which, sadly, never came to fruition. *tear*
Because I then embarked on a seven book high fantasy series based entirely on its own planet, fifty times larger than Earth, with twelve recognized races of beings, magic aplenty, and lo! War! and social complexities. (Not so) Oddly enough, I began with a map of the planet. And a diagram of the fields of magic. And a long list of character names that became, uncomfortably enough, twenty-seven main characters from across the planet. Having mastered a five person team, apparently, I decided to try and master a planet. Pages and printouts and sketches and (heh) Magic Cards in sleeves with post-its denoting the characters in-action made writing this book a labor of love that required so much juggling. Given the complexities of the stories, when I grew stuck with one group, I’d just jump into another. This was a book of excerpts. Which turned into seven books of excerpts. With four more after to join the seven books together. And another scifi project where a character is abducted by aliens on earth and then finds himself (eventually) on the magic-planet.
Careful balancing of character sheets and maps and lists on my desk kept this thing possible. If I am to undergo another fight in such a planet (Nautlius, anyone?), I must draw maps, create character sheets, and have the thing physically in front of me.
Excursion Two! College and the Age of Mysticism! (Or, Is This TL;DR Territory?)
After a bout of retail skullduggery and limited footwear socialization, I returned to college with bared teeth. This was my world. I needed to fight through it and make it happen. My stories reflected this: The Acorn King was a dual-first person perspective nee dark ages telling of a warrior-general and his scholarly brother who unravel the secret to an ages-old sect of immortal creatures, written first in one first person perspective then rewritten in the other. Complex as all hell. Very little world building needed; it built itself as I went, and it shows: social aspects are broadly-stroked, memories are vibrant and alive, and crushing family guilt is the drive of the story.
i, pawn dreamer was a hashed group of tarot-card esque characters loosely fitting together to do battle between them. I discarded the conventional ideas of conflict, pacing, and story arc. I wrote as I pleased, and for an audience that was far more limited than previous: my girlfriend. She, a shaman, a faith healer, a spiritual person, supported my more spiritual endeavors into the dream-discussion, and so astral projection and dream-walking became cornerstones in my works. This was a series of poems and dreams that I put to paper, then drew connective tissue.
My urban fantasy (Jim Butcher-esque) Soren novels, starting with Of Salt and Wine was a hard labor of love–I wrote from start to finish, without excerpts, and rewrote the thing (without editorial review) in entirety at least four times, with major revisions going into the fifties over the course of four years. It was a violent undertaking. If I were to write well, I must rewrite this until it’s right. Then I became diabetic. And rewrote again, and destroyed everything because I was a zombie writer. And spent the next year cleaning up the mess that was my rewriting work during that time. It was, in a word, a nightmare. The worst thing that could happen to me.
Then I tried writing a re-envisioning of Harry Potter series. I know. Cocky Chris. I loved it. David and His Shade, set in an alt-reality Oregon school of magic, was a lot of hard work that became wounded by my diabetes.
Excursion Three! Post Mystic and the Age of Moar College! (Or, Are you done yet, Chris?)
So I married the gf. Then she left me eight months later for many complex reasons I won’t go into here. I was devastated. I recovered. I worked a soul-sucking job for three years after that (recovering), where I did not have the head-space to write. I don’t know if it was the crap food, the crap hours, the crap work, but I was mentally and physically exhausted by the time I finished. I had my tonsils removed, and I was out for five months (along with other complications. Stress leave, anyone?), and I wrote. I started Red Wing Black, I started Nautilus, and I started Prism, three books that still knock my socks off today. They began with very different intentions in mind, as well: RWB was a return to stream-of-consciousness writing, focused on two people driving across Texas. A kind-of coming of age. And it only focused on two people. Like a gender-swapped Bonnie and Clyde, where the guy needed saving all the time, and the girl was so badass Clint Eastwood asked her to get ON his lawn. Social everything was even more vague and obscure; the open road was far more important than the people they passed.
NOTE! DOING THIS WHILE WRITING IS LIKE SKIPPING LEG DAY AT THE GYM. YOUR ARMS LOOK SWOLL BUT YOUR QUADS CAN’T SUPPORT.
Nautilus was a return to high fantasy with all the complex crap I learned from AK and ipd, with all the same lovable monsters and set in the same world as AK (even with one of the same characters). I bypassed world building (mostly) by scavenging AK information and building up the story from there. Prism was a gothic-af-self-hate story I began with the hopes of playing the Phantom of the Opera theme song on repeat in my head with Davey Jones’s organ and Mary Shelley’s characters. I did nothing to world build, and it collapsed like a flan in the cupboard. (MC is a girl that lost her boyfriend in a car accident, saved by immortal Great Gatsby-type character stuck outside of time by a horrible electrical accident at the beginning of the 20th century. She, broke and scrappy. He, rich and ephemeral.)
AND THEN! I found heaven. I quit my job. Returned to school. Started writing Corpus Paradisum over NaNoWriMo November (through January if I’m being honest), and approaching 90k. I worldbuilded the crap out of this, and found myself falling into the “two characters” motif of laziness I had got into via earlier writing. Instead of focusing on external conflict, I instead work from the inside. I now world build with a list of characters, a list of ideas, and a list of historical events. Post apocalyptic lit requires that kind of formation, and an eye for historical detail if it’s to be believable. I have three files open at every moment of my work: one, the text; one, the character sheets and defining aspects; one, the important hoops that must be jumped through in order to tell the story properly. I am SO happy I wrote so much framework in January, because if not, I’d be looking at another dead project.
Write on, my friends! I hope this helped someone somewhere along the way. I left out a few projects along the line, but I couldn’t fit everything together. Otherwise I’d be talking about Excursion One for four posts.