The Barrels of Your Skull

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WHY WE WRITE

We never have a problem coming up with ideas for our stories. As Taylor correctly points out in another post, sometimes we have too many ideas for our own good. Nevertheless, there’s never a shortage of imagination and inspiration. Writer’s block is non-existent around here. The main reason for this is we’re inspired by true masters of the pen. I’m not talking about Stephen King or Shakespeare, although I take nothing away from either.

We are always inspired by true lyrical masters. I’m talking about the artists, poets and writers of another medium.

Try this on for size: “He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how you like to be kissed. He’ll put both his arms around you; you can feel the tender touch of the beast.” These lines were written by Bob Dylan, one of the preeminent poets of the 20th century. The words are lyrics to the song, Man Of Peace from Dylan’s 1983 album, Infidels.

These words inspire the visual artist and the writer alike. People try to decipher a deeper meaning behind the lyrics of Dylan, but I say, why? Enjoy the picture he’s painted with his words and use the words to inspire and motivate yourself. Consider these:

“But all the while I was alone. The past was close behind.” Hmm, “The past was close behind.” Simple, but powerful lyrics from the song, Tangled Up In Blue on Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks album.

“…Shakespeare, he’s in the alley with his pointed shoes and his bells, speaking to some French girl, who says she knows me well.” Picture that. These lyrics come from a song with a provocative title, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, from Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde.

Some will suggest there are better examples of Dylan I could use. On this point, that doesn’t matter. Two people could argue Dylan for days. After all, it’s inspiration, nothing more complicated that that. Get your inspiration from wherever you want. Bob Dylan’s lyrics are sometimes deep, sometimes fun, but they still motivate and inspire.

So, what about more contemporary artists, you ask? They write good stuff, too, you say. First, I agree. I can (and probably will later) give you many examples of contemporary artists that inspire us. Second, you read this far because you’re learning stuff you didn’t know.

One last point, from Dylan’s Man of Peace: “Well, he can be fascinating, he can be dull; he can ride down Niagara Falls in the barrels of your skull.”

That’s badass.

Long Distance Loneliness

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WHY WE WRITE

“There’s a long-distance loneliness rolling out over the desert floor.” Credit prolific songwriter Jackson Browne in his song, The Fuse, from his album, The Pretender. With this painting of emotion, the pen becomes the brush, the mind is the canvas. With but one line, an emotion, a feeling is painted.

“A long-distance loneliness.” It’s beautiful, it’s immense, and it’s depressing all at once.

It’s a challenge when one attempts to resolve the dilemma of the greater of two artists – the one whose canvas is transformed with the brush, and the other, who uses words to stir the senses.

Pictures bring feelings. Sadness, romance, and elation. That magnificent painting of the waterfall with the calm pool beneath, takes you away. Put yourself into the picture, drenching yourself in the icy water, hiding behind the massive liquid sheet, falling asleep in the sunlit afternoon on the bank of the sandy shore by that waterfall.

Question to myself: Where can the visual artist take me that the writer cannot? Is it enough to paint the cave in the shadows? Does the visual artist take me into the cave, or does my own imagination? In the scene of the cabin in the woods, surrounded by a winter wonderland, do I feel the warmth of the fire because of the light I see in the window and the smoke emanating from the chimney? Does my mind take me there and supply the warmth?

Does the painting on the canvas move my psyche? Is it true that I need to have experienced warmth to imagine it? Do I need to know snow to feel the cold? Is it the viewer who brings the canvas to life, or the artist?

So to the visual artist, and I am one myself, I challenge you to paint the cold without showing me the snow. Paint the warmth of the cozy fire in the cabin without showing me the fire. Paint the wet of the waterfall and the depth of the valley and the height of the mountain. Yes, the visual artist can do these things and more.

This all begs the question: How does the visual artist paint the “long-distance loneliness rolling out over the desert floor?”

How indeed?

Heavy Breathing and Panic Attacks

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The whole process of writing and publishing a book is hard. No, seriously. When someone says “I’m writing a book,” you might think, “Yeah, and?”

It’s not easy. It’s very fucking hard. Sure, anyone can write a book. You can, your mom can, your best friend can. Hell even the creepy neighbor next door can write a book. But then what?

Being this close to publication has really thrown us off a little. I mean, we’re this close! We’re super stoked, but at the same time wondering “now what?” Um, we go to publication. So when do we publish? Oh, the by the end of the year of course. Seems simple enough. We’ve still got two months. Wait…two months…? TWO MONTHS? Ok, we won’t panic. That’s not cool.

So heavy breathing and panic attacks aside, we’ll turn to our Handy, Dandy Google! (Admit it, you thought Notebook. Blue’s Clues really sticks with you.)

So for the next month, while one of us is editing, rewriting, and editing and rewriting some more, the other (me) will be researching. Asking questions like:

  • How to find the perfect book editor.
  • What’s an ISBN, and how do I get one of those?
  • What’s a book launch campaign?
  • Do I have to come up with the book cover?
  • Do we have any more 805 by Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, California?

You know, all the important stuff that needs to be answered. We’ve found some cool resources, guides, forums and mentors we’ll be telling you about in future posts. In the meantime, if you’ve got any tips, tricks or 805, let us know.

Limiting Details

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details

When I read a book, I have to be able to picture people and things in my head. I have to be able to kind of play a movie in my head with the book’s description. However, I don’t want the author to give me too much detail. I’d like to be able to add my own spin on the characters and places.

This begs the question: How much description is too much description?

You’re probably thinking “the limit does not exist. Use all the description.” I think this is a mistake. When you give the reader too many adjectives and start describing the irrelevant details, that’s too much description.

One thing my dad and sister had on their side when they started Changers is that they’re both avid readers. They know exactly what they want in a story. They know what they look for when starting a book. There wasn’t one time during my editing of Changers where I said “There isn’t enough detail here” or “Okay, I don’t care what her freckles would make if you played connect-the-dots on her face”.

I’ve read books where I’ve actually had to go back and find the original description of a character to realize that there is a huge continuity error. In the first chapter, someone will be described as having straight, black hair and by the end of the book, it’s curly and dirty-blonde (in Changers, this could happen *wink* but in books not about Changers, it’s not right).

The authors of Changers have made it so I can imagine the characters but I’m also allowed to make up details to complete the picture. If/When this gets turned into a movie *fingers crossed*, they won’t have a hard time finding the cast.

 

 

Editing Babeesty

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babeesty2

Sometimes editing is a bitch. Damn! Even at this late stage in the game we’re finding issues with continuity and spelling.

About spelling: Watch out for ‘global search and replace’. I think we really did have all the spelling issues covered. We’re good spellers, so all the spelling errors we found were either fat-fingering or light-fingering. Then I just had to go and do a ‘global search and replace’ on a specific word I didn’t like. While reading through what I thought would be one of the last – if not the last – edits, I come across the word “babeesty”. So I’m going, What the heck did we mean by that? Never mind the details, it was irritating. It’s bad enough to catch accidental mishaps. But the self-inflicted errors are trying my patience.

About continuity: A character is last heard from at a particular location. Two chapters later, the same player appears 370 miles away with no mention of how she got there. It would have been optional rather than mandatory, to just have the player in the new location, because that kind of thing happens all the time. The reason we thought this might be an issue is because the events in the three chapters at issue were taking place concurrently. We had to insert a short scene to justify this player’s presence elsewhere within the three-to-four-hour timespan. It actually worked out neatly. We like the addition.

I read a critique online where a reader said, “Gosh, didn’t you even edit this?” We don’t want to come off with, “Thank you for reading our book with typos and continuity errors. We’re hoping you don’t notice, because we didn’t.”

So back to work. You know what they say about babeesty!

Relating To The Players

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kid stuff 1

When I was a kid, I always thought when I became an adult, I would be this all-knowing, mature, cool person. I imagined all the asshole-ness of my childhood would be gone because I would be mature. I thought the ‘underdog me’ and the ‘cool kids’ would finally be on the same playing field.

Adults are just big kids. We’ve learned from our mistakes. I think people learn to suppress past portions of their lives they’d rather not remember. So much suppression is going on in most adults, they actually cause themselves to forget where they came from. They forget the hurt. They forget the feelings of youthful rejection. They forget the innocence and the playfulness. There’s a line in a song by Bob Seger that says, “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” The kid inside never really goes away – people just don’t know the kid any more.

Writing YA is a natural for this team because we remember what it’s like to be a kid. We remember the good, the bad, the hurt, the simple joy. We remember where we came from.

Creating and developing the players in Changers comes from remembering, from never letting go of the kid inside.

 

 

Why Punks?

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punk right

Why did we decide to use Punks in the story? Why are Punks one of the three main groups of players? Why Punks, of all the groups or cultures to choose from? Why choose Punks?

  • “They were smokers and non-smokers, shy and outgoing, tattooed and pierced…or not. They sat, stood, crouched and knelt on chairs, benches, tables and sidewalks. The group was a family of individuals. Each individual was his or her own person.”
  • “…the dress part is secondary. Punk is attitude. It’s a way of thinking, a frame of mind. Punk is about being an individual. It’s someone with a beef against the profit-driven world. It’s about not buying into society and the quest for money, just for the sake of having more than the next guy. It’s not just a different fad. It’s more like a culture. There’s a reason behind the culture. It’s specifically against doing things to be part of the average person’s idea of normal society. It’s an attitude that comes from inside a person. Dressing punk is a reflection of the attitude.”

That’s why.

A Fun Scene to Write

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chair in the basement

Someone said, “We need to have a scene where Curtis is confronted by the cops.”

All righty then. Best get typing. The players in the Changers saga have to grow as the story progresses. Especially major players. Otherwise, they’d be boring. If Curtis started out as an insecure, weaselly, punk musician, and by the end of the book, he was an insecure, weaselly, punk musician, he’d be a boring player. But if he started out as an insecure, weaselly punk musician, and by the end of the story, he was a brave, confident punk musician, he’d be a badass.

Partway through the beginning of the story, Curtis is involved in two incidents that change his life. These incidents work to shape his thinking and his actions through the rest of the story. The scene mentioned above (where he’s questioned by the cops) takes place after Curtis’s ‘awakening’. An officer visits Curtis at his home and questions Curtis’s involvement in the disappearance of a local girl. In this scene, Curtis strays from what we thought was his comfort zone and makes a few wisecracks to the cop. His demeanor is less reserved, more confrontational. As the reader, you knew he had it in him, but it was repressed. In the scene, Curtis does lean on the security of his parents to a degree, so you can tell he’s not a completely changed person. That comes later.

That was a fun scene to write because we got to start shaping Curtis from nerdy geeky punk toward Curtis the badass. But that wasn’t the funnest scene to write.

Someone said, “We need to have a scene that shows Sol absorbing a human life while Sol is in his jacked up state.”

Oh, this was a fun scene to write. These two little squirrely guys become Changers and decide to cut out of The Underground City prematurely. They end up at Kutch’s house and are tasked with finding a human for Sol to absorb. These two guys, Zack and Rod, are dipshits. They can’t even do this right and they end up causing other problems. So when Rod is provided a human, courtesy of Kutch, to ‘feed’ to Sol, things get messy. After Rod pokes, prods and persuades the victim to get close enough for Sol to absorb, Rod’s task is fulfilled. Yeah, that was fun.

Even a dipshit has his day.

 

 

Chapter Chat

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chapter chat

There came a time when we took a look at what we had named our chapters. The book-writing software we used made it easy to keep things organized. Looking back, it seems we may have taken for granted how easy it was to create new chapters, and create new scenes within the chapters. It was so easy in fact, we found our 89,000-word book had sixty-three chapters. What?! How’d that happen?

This became one of the editing phases of the book, just like finding problem words, or renaming our players. We had to ask ourselves if the story needed so many chapters. After trying to keep our thoughts organized, and trying so hard to keep the story itself organized, sixty-three chapters gave the book a feeling of disorganization. Wow, that’s the opposite of what we thought was happening.

We discussed the issue. We were split. Sixty-three chapters seemed high, but if it made sense, why not? As long as each chapter stood on its own and was relevant to the flow, okay. We also talked about how having fewer chapters might be less distracting to the reader. Ultimately, we trimmed the number to twenty-three chapters, with five additional no-name mini chapters that were phone calls between players. It actually tightened things up, and tight is good in this case.

In the end, we rolled Chapter Forty-one, “Drew and Sydney Go to Visit the Punks and Try to Convince Them to Help Find Out About the Disappearances”, into a scene within Chapter Fifteen, “Two Joeys”. Sounds about right.

 

 

I’m in the Mode

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Juke Box, 1965 Rockola Starlight

We never actually have to be in the mood for writing. Writing is creating, and at least one of us is always in a creative mood. Whether it’s writing or painting, pencil drawing or making creatures out of clay or tinfoil, someone’s in the mood. However, we really feel like the tone – or the mode – matters.

Setting the mode is different from setting the mood. We like to have specific things within reach when we create. Depending on the mood, munchies are optional. Chips, M&Ms, peanuts or popcorn. A drink is never more than arm’s length away. A drink is essential. Cold beer, hot coffee, diet soda or ice water. One of these is always present. Call it a security blanket if you want, but that’s the way it is.

The must-have-never-create-without-it is music. That’s where the real variety comes into play. The mood for “what’s-on-your-iPod” varies like the wind. For the record, this isn’t an iPod family. We have iPods, but nothing beats the freedom of Android, satellite radio and the ever-faithful turntable. Right, the one that actually plays vinyl records. More often than you’d think, we fire up the 1965 Rockola jukebox.

In our house, at any given moment you could walk into Rancid-Transplants-Tim Armstrong; Led Zeppelin-Deep Purple-Doobie Brothers; Coldplay-Dreamers-AM Taxi-Young The Giant; Tyrone Davis-Tavares-Harold Melvin-The Spinners; or The Archies-Monkees-Partridge Family. It could be Ska, Punk, Indie, Alt, Rock, Pop or Steely Dan.

There’s always something on, but it’s the audio that matters, not the video. Nothing beats a cold beer on the table and some Tim Armstrong on the stereo. That’s the good mode.