You see, I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue…

29 Jul

Research can drive a writer nuts if you let it… because it is just about impossible to get something (anything) 100% right. Facts, as the man once said, are stubborn things…

Years ago, while researching TALES OF THE EASTERN INDIANS (my book of Native-American stories), I’d come across  a recent scholarly article on the Vikings’ first voyages to the “New World” and their meetings with the North American tribes. We’re talking hot-off-the-presses world-recognized-expert stuff. I soon contacted another Viking expert for some accompanying info and during our communication, mentioned this article in passing entirely to prove to him how well I’d done my homework. His response: “Oh, THAT article! Yeah, Dr. So-N-So doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s off by 200 years.” Zoinks!

At the recent Thrillerfest, an author (Anne Rice? Michael Palmer?) recounted how she/he’d constructed a fictional city council based on a real city council known personally/thoroughly and has since received vehement and meticulous letters from a reader detailing how a city council would “NEVER” do this or that. Lots of city councils out there. Michael Connelly, who’d spent years as a reporter in courtrooms, is stopped often by folk with: “I can’t believe how well you nailed X. That’s exactly how we do it.” and “Can’t believe how much you screwed up X. That would never happen.”

There’s always another expert, reader, article, or discovery lying in wait with different info than what you found. I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure out when Vikings first landed in North America, and at the end of that life would still have people arguing about and/or altering my findings.

In PROJECT CAIN and CAIN’S BLOOD, I got to research serial killers, cloning, military science, post-traumatic stress disorder, the genetics of violence, and crime. Interesting topics. Did I get everything right? Doubtful. Difficult to do when even something as basic as Ted Bundy’s eye color becomes arguable. “Blue” says one report, “Brown” claims another witness. “Green,” Bundy replies himself in the court transcript. “They change color depending on the light,” says a reporter following the case. They change color??!! <yanks hair> The FBI said blue, so I went with that. The FBI was a good-enough source for me. Might someone who knew Bundy have a better/different fact? Maybe. But I had two books to write and couldn’t spend the next four years of my life deciding what Bundy’s eye color was.

Every writer must come up with his/her own rules on this stuff. Mine are this:

  1. Research as comprehensively  and precisely as you can.
  2. Find consensus between several sources.
  3. Then tell/use the best truth you can find.

Simple, right? Does it guarantee I get everything right. Nope. Even “facts” and “statistics” can change source to source. But, unless I want to spend forty years on each book and still get something wrong, it’s a pretty good start.

Maybe YOUR rules will be different. James Frey (author of A Million Little Pieces) infamously got in hot water for the truth bending he’d used for his best-selling book… but his next book, fictional Bright Shiny Morning, he admitted proudly, “If I saw something , a statistic, I wanted to use but it wasn’t quite right for what I wanted, I just changed it.” (Mark Twain suggests, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”) It IS Fiction, after all.  And I found Frey’s stance quite freeing as a writer (still do), but it didn’t really fit me. So, all in, PROJECT CAIN and CAIN’S BLOOD are some 700 pages, and only once – in a total nod to this Frey interview — do I intentionally bend the “truth” of history to augment the fiction.  The rest, to the best of my two-years research, is “accurate.” Debatable? Of course. Few things aren’t. My father, a historian, recently gathered with other American-diplomacy scholars at Harvard to discuss the conditions leading to Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and the Cuban Missile Crisis. There was not, 60 years later and several lifetimes spent studying the topics, consensus on that panel. How’s the adage go? Ask two <insert profession here> a question, and you’ll get three answers.

Best bet is to (a) establish your own ground rules early and (b) accept that you’ll still never be perfect regardless of your rules and (c) appreciate that the world is like your favorite in-law/sibling who has completely different “facts” from the ones you dug up… and just think of it as Thanksgiving dinner all year long. Now, pass the gravy, please…

Liking Jeffrey Dahmer

29 Jun

I’m at ALA in Chicago this week and spending a lot of time talking about Jeffrey Dahmer. It reminds me that a writer should probably “like” his/her main character. Even if it’s simply liking how terrible they are. Otherwise, it’s gonna be a long couple months (years!) with someone you don’t look forward to spending time with. Drafting, editing, promotion, discussions with readers… it’s a long-term relationship for sure.

And I still look forward to spending time with Jeff.

In Project Cain, Jeff Jacobson is the first-person protagonist and teenage clone of Jeffrey Dahmer. In Cain’s Blood (the accompanying adult thriller), Jeff is the “side-kick” of the protagonist and still, alas, the genetic copy of this infamous murderer. That’s two books I had to hang with this kid (with one entirely from HIS point of view), so it was doubly important he become someone I wanted to spend so much time with.

Many main characters are some idealized version of the author himself/herself…. Always fun to spend time with. But I couldn’t do that with Jeff Jacobson. (1) My own teenage issues weren’t the “search for self” variety Jeff faces in Project Cain, those many of my students face, or many of my adult friends assert to have faced back in the day. (2) Jeff IS the clone of an actual person, and as this novel is partly an exploration of Nature/Nurture, I’d hoped to explore that nature stuff by focusing as much on the actual person as possible.

So, I went to the source. I went to Dahmer. Filmed interviews. Court transcripts. Memoirs by family and friends. Lurid biographies. In the books’ acknowledgements, I make a crack about one of my sons asking me to “please stop talking about Jeffrey Dahmer.” True story. Because I’d spent months with the guy and wanted to share every new discovery right away.

And, I’ll admit, I started to “like” him…

Yes, Dahmer did terrible things and should 100% have been punished for those crimes. And yes, a hundred times I wished I had access to more information on the VICTIMS; wished I could flesh out their humanity in my own mind and on the page as well as I might with the gobs of info I now had on Dahmer. Yes, thirty-year-old Dahmer comes off as creepy and robotic, dead-eyed and monotone, and you can’t see/hear him without thinking of the god-awful things he’s done.

But I was mostly focused on teenaged Jeff Dahmer.

Fictional Jeff Jacobson is sixteen. Who was Jeffrey Dahmer at sixteen? Midwest kid. Book smart. Boy Scout. Quiet. Interested in science. Enjoyed lifting weights. Shy. Fighting depression with no meds, therapy or parental notice. Crying himself to sleep. Not quite sure how to make friends. His parents fighting constantly, a year or two from divorce. Realizing he was homosexual in a time/place even way more difficult than it can be today.

THAT kid I kinda liked. THAT kid was breaking my damn heart.

Fiction is all about What Ifs: What If Dahmer’s parents had just divorced sooner instead of screaming at each other for a decade? What if a concerned teacher had noticed he’d started showing up to school drunk and actually gave a shit? What if Dahmer were raised in the 2000s and there were a couple more people around to say: “You’re homosexual, huh? Well, there are millions here enjoying a wonderful life and it’s the most natural thing in the world.” What if he’d gotten some therapy, been put on the right depression meds, etc.

THIS is the Dahmer I thought about and Jeff Jacobson ultimately became the “idealized” version of that guy. Those same frailties, temperament, and promise. What, I imagine, Dahmer might have been. Could have been. Should have been. You get the point.

In Project Cain and Cain’s Blood, Jeff Jacobson is horrified to discover he is the genetic offspring of a terrible killer. But he’s thinking only of the adult Dahmer. As he discovers himself through the course of the novel, he’ll spend more time with the teenage version of Dahmer… and hopefully reach — with readers — the same conclusions I did.

The creepy one standing outside the window… (aka: One way I sold a book)

8 May

An early Goodreads contributor recently quipped “If there were a party of good YA books about serial killers, Project Cain would be the creepy one standing outside the window, wanting to join them.” A good line. But only half right.

I’ve been a high school English teacher for ten years and have worked with literally thousands of teen readers. In that time, I’ve developed specific ideas on the best literary devices, voice and structure to entice, particularly, reluctant boy readers. Devices, voice and structure I simply didn’t see being used in most other current YA novels (as good as many of these books are).

While my upcoming adult book (Cain’s Blood) employs mostly traditional devices, structure, etc. for the adult techno thriller it is, I always wanted something very different for the teen novel Project Cain.

Examples: My students really enjoy the fact-filled Krakauer books we teach (Into the Wild, Into Thin Air.) I’m not a fan, but I also recognize male readers of all ages statistically (and significantly) prefer nonfiction over fiction. So I wrote a straight-forward book which weaves in facts and history throughout. My students gobble up both the free-verse novels of Ellen Hopkins and manga comics. “Quick reads,” they explain. So I wrote a book that reads fast, real fast. Adjectives are for 500 page books I know my own two teenage sons don’t want to read yet. My students, jaded millennials that they are, still respond to and welcome direct/open questions. Our best class conversations often come from a simple query like: Have you ever wanted to kill someone?

This Goodreads member read about 40 pages of Project Cain before giving two thumbs way down, specifically targeting the dry style, “info dumping,” and a couple direct addresses to the reader. Things I put in the book deliberately so Project Cain would not be exactly like all those other YA books — which clearly failed for this reader.

But I also sold this novel on proposal alone, submitting only the first 40 pages as a sample of what I had in mind. The exact same 40 pages so hated by this reader for not being the book she thought it was going to be. The same 40 that got me a major agent, a major publisher and a major deal in less than two months. Because the writing stood out from all the other three thousand books that came in that month. My 40 pages were different.

This isn’t some thumb-to-nose moment. My sale doesn’t discount this reader’s reaction. “Good” or “bad” is always up to each individual, and I’ve collected (and expect to collect) strong votes on both sides with this book.

And so, the smart thing I did to sell my manuscript was stick to my objective: To not just imitate the other good YA books out there. But to write the kind of YA book that I thought my own students and two sons would want to read. Whatever else may come, I’ve done that. Write the book YOU want to. The right publisher and audience WILL find you.

If there were a party of good YA books about serial killers, Project Cain would indeed be the creepy one standing outside the window. But it’s not to join them.

It’s to douse their house in gasoline, and just maybe strike a match…

Cloning Pogo the Clown – TWICE!

7 Feb

In September Simon & Schuster will publish my first two novels at the same time. The first, CAIN’S BLOOD, is a techno thriller from Touchstone Books. The second, PROJECT CAIN, is a stand-alone companion novel for teen readers from Simon And Schuster Books for Young Readers. It’s a unique project/event (in both writing and publishing), so here’s the scoop:

Q: WHY TWO BOOKS?

Cain’s Blood and Project Cain are two different novels written about the same fictional event. In both, scientists have been doing unpleasant things for the military and these unpleasant things escape. The two books explore the trouble/adventure that ensues… and simply do so differently. Cain’s Blood uses the form/devices of a traditional thriller. It follows the story from a dozen viewpoints; mostly from former-army-Ranger Shawn Castilllo’s narrative Point of View (the character brought in to fix things), but also via chapters/scenes from the POV of various killers, military schemers, evil scientists, and victims. All capturing the big picture as the full horrifying story unfolds.

Project Cain is told from the POV of one character: Jeff Jacobson, the sixteen-year-old clone of Jeffrey Dahmer who has recently discovered his true origins and who is recruited by Castillo into helping, we hope, save the day. It’s a much more personal story/journey told with the voice and reflections of a smart, lost and thoughtful teen. A thriller specifically written for younger readers (PG-13) and those adults still interested in young heroes.

These are stand-alone novels; you could read the one and never bother looking at the other and have a complete story. Reading both just gives a more complete story.

Q: IS IT JUST THE SAME BOOK TOLD A DIFFERENT WAY?

There are many “parallel novels” written by others to capture a new perspective on an old favorite (ie: Wicked and Grendel.) In this case, it just happens to be two books written by the same author at the same time. It was very important to me that readers curious enough to read both Cain books would be well rewarded. And so:

Jeff Jacobson would be shocked at most of the things that go on in Cain’s Blood. There are dozens of scenes/events of which he has no knowledge. At the same time, many of these same scenes would explain a lot to him. If you read Project Cain first, and then Cain’s Blood you should have several Ah-Ha! moments mixed with, I hope, the desire to not be in the house alone.

In turn, Jeff Jacobson faces challenges and adventures all his own that are outside the scope of the Cain’s Blood story. His narrative starts before Cain’s Blood and strays down new paths as he experiences incidents either “off camera” in the adult thriller or many not even mentioned. Project Cain allows this special character room and time to have his own life and journey. If you read Cain’s Blood first and then check out Project Cain, you’ll find a teenager struggling with the monster within and discovering his role in a newly-shattered world.

There are also a few scenes that do make both books. And in these, I try to have a little fun with how the exact same moment can be taken/told so differently depending on the person doing the telling. I’d originally planned to have only new scenes in each book but early readers actually liked coming across familiar ground in new ways. So I kept a few in.

Q: WAS IT ALWAYS THE PLAN TO HAVE TWO BOOKS?

Not at all. I originally wrote a short novella for a magazine in the traditional thriller/horror style. Various points of views. R-rated. People liked it, suggested I write a full novel. However, my students (I teach high school English) seemed extremely interested in serial killers so I decided a YA novel would be the best way to go for the Cain story. I eventually submitted a curious first-third person hybrid book specifically for teen readers (PG-13) to my future agents. They liked the writing but suggested I try a more traditional adult thriller instead with the same story. (In other words, a novel-length version of what I’d done in the novella.)

So, I went away for some time and wrote Cain’s Blood. They liked it, got ready to help find me a publisher, and then “innocently” added: We especially like the Jeff character. Would you consider a book just from his point of view for teens? (In other words, a more focused and personal teen novel I’d almost written when I’d first submitted.) I went off again and wrote Project Cain.

Simon and Schuster was in an equally creative spirit and came forward to publish both novels.

Our hope is that readers who like traditional thrillers will find and enjoy Cain’s Blood, and that readers who enjoy more personal stories and/or YA fiction will find and enjoy Project Cain. And, IF a reader from either group is particularly happy with my work and/or the frightful world of Cain, there is a “sequel” of sorts already in their favorite bookstore!

If you could be the writer behind any novel…

29 Dec

A question posed to me recently by the librarians over at www.stackedbooks.org. But which direction to go? The poetry of 1984. The royalties and merited popularity behind Harry Potter. The legacy of Lord of the Rings. The courage and scope of The Fountainhead or Moby-Dick. The brilliant so-simple-why-hadn’t-someone-thought-of-it-before concepts behind Lord of the Flies or Heart of Darkness or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And then books like A Prayer for Owen Meany or Shadowland or The Chocolate War which I read over and over and over because everything’s exactly where it should be…

But the game/challenge here was choose the ONE novel I wish I’d written. And for decades, it’s been one book: A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. Not even in my top hundred favorite books, yet every time I read it or even think about it, I frequently proclaim out loud: I wish I wrote this damn book.

1] The concept is clever. So clever. And simple. So so simple. Three ghosts (past, present, future) will visit you tonight and teach you about yourself (a self that needs some teaching). Such a powerful tale wrapped in a plot less complicated than most fairy tales or shaggy-dog jokes. The anticipation of what the next ghost will reveal… the uncluttered linear storyline… Some of our very best stories, the ones that last/resonate, can afford to be the most straightforward.

2] Christmas. I mean, wow. Smart. THE Holiday. And sure, you can dress up any plot by attaching it to a specific holiday, especially this one. But that’s not what Dickens is doing here. He’s doing specific things with the roles of tradition (on the holiday with the most traditions in a time (1840s) when tradition was flying out the door faster than you can say “Tiny Tim”) and promoting specifically Christian values on a major Christian holiday (in a time when Christian values were flying out… you get the point). This story HAS to happen on Christmas. Just like Michael Myers has to happen on Halloween.

3] Ghosts. (see #1 above). To my dismay, I remain unable to write a story without including something somewhere that’s a little peculiar, supernatural, fantastic, unexplainable… I try to write about “normal” people doing “normal” things and get bored with them all-too quickly. I spend the bulk of each day surrounded by normal people doing normal things; They’re also boring. As a reader and writer, I like a little seasoning in my fiction and incorporating ghosts as main characters and plot drivers adds just the right touch of fantastic to a story entirely about, ultimately, a normal man.

4] A CHRISTMAS CAROL has a point. It’s not written to be just entertainment. It was also written, during the greatest societal change in human history, to question/explore the rise of industry and its toll on social justice and the individual human spirit. I wouldn’t know what to write about if I didn’t have some underlying “point” to my tale. Not that you have to (or should) get up on a soapbox with theme, but to borrow a quote attributed to half a dozen brilliant authors: “ALL Art is propaganda.”

5] Scrooge is all of us. Ok, so maybe you’re no wrinkly pinchpenny but you’re here and human. So, it’s safe to say you also have a Past that includes some regrets and missed opportunities; a Future that you worry about; and a Present where you ignore/mistreat/misunderstand a lot of the people in your life. Good fiction is universal; it can speak to each of us. Make us look within ourselves. Regardless of any themes exploring the price/cures of the Industrial Revolution, this tale remains at its core a very human and familiar story. The ghosts, you see, haven’t just come for Scrooge…

6] Dickens’ writing. While this one’s a touch dialogue heavy, when Chuck takes a moment to work his magic, you see an absolute master at work. First line of the book: MARLEY was dead, to begin with. Readers are said to sometimes throw a book against the wall when it’s terrible. Writers, however, more often do it when the writing is so darn good, you wonder if you should ever bother writing again. One sentence can do that. Dickens has several in this little tale that endanger the walls.

7] 150 years after it was written, people still like this story. Proof of how well #5 and #6 were done. We still know these characters, their words, their struggles and joys. Yes, the story got plenty of help from countless plays and films over the years, but the actual book is still read, given as gifts, and enjoyed to this day. It will be on our shelves another 150 years from now. Hint: Not even people named Meyers will know who Bella and Edward are 150 years from now. For an Artist to create something that lasts and delights/touches generations is certainly a worthy goal.

A brilliant concept, skillfully written, a splash of magic, with social relevance and universal personal meaning, whose characters and story will keep readers entertained and thinking for, likely, a thousand years. Yes, that I would like to write.

Now, the question: Which book would YOU choose?

Where I got the “Idea” for PROJECT CAIN…

10 Oct

Jeff Jacobson discovers he’s an experiment, the secret clone of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and must help stop other more violent teenaged clones before they kill again or his own government erases them all. But will he catch these ‘monsters’ before becoming one himself?

Where does an idea like this come from?

The expected answer involves wrestling with universal expressions of human Identity and Morality and exploring the blah blah blah Nature blah Nurture, blah. Self. Blah blah. Teen ethos of… Blah.

And the honest answer has more to do with loving books more than anything and wanting my name on the cover of one and fancying that ex-girlfriends or my parents will see PROJECT CAIN in the bookstore and concede aloud how awesome I am.

In either case, these answers prove too reductive. It would be like condensing the origins of YOU to that one night where mom and dad had some “alone time.” A whole lot more, even in the most seemingly-random circumstances of conception, eventually led to that singular moment.

The process of WHERE/HOW/WHEN/WHY a writer first got the idea for a book or story is long and muddled. Muses often arrive in busloads and in a dozen different shades and shapes before a single word is ever put to paper. [Note: There are some authors who claim to wake up and start writing as if inspired only by their last dream. That ain’t me]. And so, I’ve tried to capture some of my various muses/inspirations here as I worked on PROJECT CAIN for five-plus years. For those readers and future-writers drawn to such things, I hope it proves helpful or interesting:

1] Creative Theft.  (or ‘Inspiration’ if you want to be kind)  I was at a writer convention in Nashville doing a panel on horror writing with an author named Jason Brannon. At some point, Jason mentioned the idea of his next book: A sideshow circus featuring legendary monsters: Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, Jersey Devil, etc.  GREAT IDEA! Loved it. I’d actually written a book about The Jersey Devil and so this was right up my alley. Kinda wanted to taser Jason and steal the concept from him right then and there. But writers don’t really do that to each other. So I started thinking instead. How could I commandeer the idea and appropriate something new with/from it? [Somewhere online there are pics of me sitting next to Jason… I look completely out of it because I’m thinking with every brain cell on how to make his idea MY new idea]. I got as far as a sideshow of famous serial killers. No, a museum. No… a private collection. No… Hmmmm. Why the heck would someone collect serial killers?  I had no answer yet. Oh… and is there a little Jurassic Park here? Sure. Or The Road or Sixth Sense or Huckleberry Finn or Perks of Being a Wallflower. Maybe just a smidge. Thousands of people have been telling me stories for decades and there’re a lot of ideas collected and evolving within this grey matter. [Jason’s eventual book is called THE CAGE. Buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Cage-Jason-Brannon/dp/0976791498]

2] Market (Part 1).  I’d become friends with the publisher of Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest, a popular speculative magazine which specialized in, well, stories that combined science fiction and horror. Friends notwithstanding, dude hadn’t bought any of my stories yet. Fair enough. My science fiction stuff lacked horror, my horror stuff lacked sci-fi. So…. Driving to an Apex book event one night, a two–hour trip, all I thought about the whole drive was a story that somehow offered the perfect blend for Apex. I’d read every issue of the magazine up to that point. Knew what their editors liked and added some goodies accordingly. Cloned serial killers. Evil scientists. Lab-produced monsters. Done. I pitched the story that same night as a 40k-word novella. Apex said yes and then serialized the tale in four installments throughout 2007. The story of Jeff Jacobson (the narrator of PROJECT CAIN) was years away still. But the “Cain Universe” had finally started taking shape…

3] Write What You Know (Part 1).  I teach high school English and one day (many years after the Apex story was published) the students got on the subject of serial killers (it comes up more than you’d think in a room of boys…) One student started quizzing the rest of us. In what city…? What is the name of…? How many… Etc.I got every question right. While my knowledge of the Shakespearean sonnet or Hemingway’s influence on postmodernism was tolerated at best, I’d now proven I also knew a lot about something the guys found extremely interesting. Freaky dark stuff. Horrible stuff. I, in turn, was admittedly surprised how interested they all were in these old killers. Which was silly on part, as we’d both simply reached the same conclusion: serial killers are cool. Interesting. Their backgrounds and specific crimes and behaviors. Gross and morbid, certainly. But there’s all sorts of gross/morbid stuff in this world that’s rather fascinating. So here was something teens were interested in that I knew a lot about. I wondered: Could I rewrite that old APEX story for a young-reader audience. Maybe something even from the point of view of teen “Jeff” (a supporting character in the original novella)…

4] Write What You Know (Part 2).  Specifically, I teach at an all boys school. And have two teenaged sons. And was, true story, once a teenaged boy. PROJECT CAIN would be a book centered around the musings and struggles of… a teenaged boy. This was something I could write about with confidence, clarity, and truth. And this, also, was a group of people I thought deserved a voice. Most young-adult books are aimed at, and thus about, the ladies. Young men have unique challenges and standpoints and strengths. Jeff Jacobson – a clone of the most infamous serial killer ever – could just maybe even become that voice.

5] Market (Part 2).  Young adult novels are the niche of the decade as publishers quest for the next Harry Potter or Twilight. As a result, we’ve gotten hundreds (thousands!) of great new books to choose from: Imaginative. Well written. Thoughtful. But books that speak to boy readers are particularly rare, however. And young readers tastes have matured. Harry Potter readers move onto the darker and more-thematic Hunger Games, for instance and the existent theory in New York publishing being that “young readers” are ready to go “darker” still.  As an author weaned on King and Lovecraft and Bradbury, I was happy to oblige….

6] Research.  The first rule of writing is “Write What You Know.” The second is “Know More.” (The third has something to do with “not talking about Fight Club.”) Before I wrote a single word of PROJECT CAIN, I read and watched and listened. Fifty books, hundreds of web articles. I asked my sons and students what they would do “If….” Watched hours of taped interviews with actual serial killers and psychologists. Scientists. Teen counselors and social workers. Visited serial killers’ personal websites (which some produce while in prison). At one point, my oldest son finally asked me to “please stop talking about Jeffrey Dahmer all the time.” It was hard not to. My head swimming with facts and arguments regarding serial killers, government conspiracy, military testing, development in teens, the ‘anger’ gene, cloning, etc. Like a stew or soup, I guess. Tossing in everything I could find, stirring the pot again and again until I thought I had something worth serving.

7] World View.  Everyone has one. What makes a “good” person? What is the cause of Evil? Sin? Is there a cure? Should there be? What is the role of government? Do we have a good one? What is the role of our military? Of science? Of a father? What function does The Past play in our lives? When is a boy a man? How responsible are we for your own actions? And so on…  Literature allows writers (and, by proxy, readers!) to explore, test and maybe pronounce these worldviews. Try out some new answers. Challenge our own previous notions. Maybe tackle different sides of the same question using two characters. PROJECT CAIN provided a stage with plenty of opportunity and space for these kind of considerations. This is THEME land: A place where English teachers aren’t full of shit. Where writers and readers gather for a short time and get to, even if in fictional encryption, share honestly about being human.

Add all that up. Maybe you’ll have an idea to start a book. I did. And Jeff and I hope readers will enjoy the results of PROJECT CAIN as much as we enjoyed all its many beginnings…

As to how PROJECT CAIN is also a totally different novel called CAIN’S BLOOD: we’ll save that discussion for next time.

The Last Blog

19 Aug

….Or the first. Time will tell. Having thus far avoided blogging for many reasons, I don’t anticipate a big change here. I’ve joined WordPress to be part of THE CLASS OF 2K13 (http://classof2k13.com/); made up of 20 fabulous writers; all with their first YA novels coming out in 2013!  19 of those writers will likely have very interesting things to blog about. Some already have…  Visit them.  The 20th? (And I literally WAS the last to join (and the only boy now that I think of it))… not so sure what he’ll do. I know, first, he’ll need to reset what a ‘blog’ is in his own mind. The traditional form just won’t work.

At issue:

(1) A draft of my teen novel CAIN XP11 is expected in two weeks. I can work on THAT for two hours tonight or work on an insightful, helpful, original, witty, thought-provoking blog. I know which one my new editor at Simon & Schuster wants.

(2) Most of what I say ends up pissing people enough. Not all people. Not even most. But some. And even though I’m a tough guy from New Jersey who often wears a swell ‘piss-off’ face, I’m a writer/softy at heart and I get my feelings hurt when even ONE person is mad at me. It upsets me for almost a whole day (and we get only so many of those). The internet, as we all know well, opens us up to people being mad. And mean. Some guys love to stir the shit and are good at it. I’ll still do that with close friends. With strangers, I kinda just want to make more friends.

Could I safely discuss events in publishing? When ReaderCon exploded this summer, I was kinda disturbed by some of the nastier comments flying (referring to the event as ‘Rapecon,’ comparing what happened to ‘cutting off male genitals,’ etc.) I tossed off a quick message saying “What the Hell people? You want this guy dead?”  Within THREE MINUTES, I had close to twenty emails… most of them calling me an enabler, a moron, and a ‘troll.’ [My teenaged son still laughs at me about that one]. Two people sent me viruses. Only one response was someone speaking to me as if we were face-to-face. I had better things to do that day than apologize to 19 strangers for seeming insensitive to an issue on which I AGREED with them (just not with the tenor it was being discussed). Hell, one of the guys I pissed off works at Publishers Weekly. He’ll probably be reviewing my book in five months. [When’s the last time you saw a review using negative numbers?] How to discuss why I think “YA ficiton for boys” struggles without insulting most of the people I work with and for.

Should I discuss politics and alienate (on any given subject) HALF of my potential reading audience. And with my particular world view, I’d likely alienate the OTHER half with my next day’s statement. I was mad a Stephen King for two years because of his political rantings (rantings I now agree with) and didn’t actively seek his new books during that time in grrrrr  protest. Mr. King could handle a Constant Reader’s two-year boycott. Mr. Girard can’t. Should I discuss — oh, I don’t know — how lame I think retelling/reworking old fairy tales is? A bunch of the writers in my new group (and older writer pals too) have done just that. But they’re fine writers I support 100% and readers will love these books and I truly hope they all make a million dollars… That means keeping MY negative-Nancy fairy-tale comments to myself. And they’ll, hopefully, keep their ‘ohhhh-evil-government-science-project-gone-bad’ comments to themselves. ; )

Check out Jacob Silverman’s recent article in SLATE: Against Enthusiasm: The epidemic of niceness in online book culture.  So good. So true. But when the internet allows people to (from the safety of their favorite loveseat) get sooooo cruel, and the professional writing community is sooooo small…. the ‘epidemic of niceness’ is, I think, the best way to go. Fight  with your brothers in the privacy of your own house all you want. Out in the neighborhood (in public), you better have each others’ backs. Period. Writers/readers are my brothers and sisters.

(3) Finding something original to say. Another article on “Defeating Writers Block’ or how to ‘Create Dialogue that Matters’ etc. etc. (A) People who love writing blogs are already covering most of this crap a zillion times and better than I could and (b) [See #2 above] I’m in no mood to argue about how to do something/anything. There are 100 ways to write a short story, to edit, to do research, to flesh out a character, to start a novel, to finish a novel, to find an agent, do a signing, skin a cat, dispose of a body, etc. The second I say THIS is how you do it, you always get someone jumping in/on to say, “NO, THIS is how you do it.” Ok, yes. Fine. That way’s great also. There is no one way to do anything… and I have little desire to write a blog which covers all 100. How unoriginal would that be? Recently, I read a blog in which a male writer shared the process of how he’d interviewed several women to get his new female character down just right. I was thinking “great idea” as I’d done the exact same thing for a short story of mine (one of my best, thank you! Check it out in the Stoker-nominated DARK FAITH anthology). This guy, however, was ripped to pieces by just about everyone else who’d read his blog. He was, according to these folk, a “moron” for needing to do this, how “insulting to women,” etc.,  Meh. This, I don’t need. Dude was simply sharing what worked for HIM…. too many people can’t just let it go at that.

(4) I loathe writing. It’s hard to do. And anyone who claims otherwise doesn’t write well.  If I have anything to say, it’s probably best I save it for the next short story, chapter, novel. I try to craft and polish my fiction writing so that it’ll last a thousand years. This blog? It’ll have typos, clunky sentences and thought, overused/misused words. Shall I rewrite it? Edit? Twice. Five times? Sure, I would my fiction. But this is a friggin’ blog. A toss off. A little ‘hello’ to anyone who might stop by. But it’s not. It’s writing. It’ll be up for you and others to read even more easily than my books.  I was recently asked for a quote for my school’s year book (I teach high school english). The assumption was I’d quickly toss of some witty writer line and we’d all be done. I said “give me three days, I’ll get back to you.” My name was going to be under words. I wanted them to be the right words. Will I ever give that same time/effort/consideration to a ‘blog’ when the alternative <shudder> is allowing half-formed writing to be seen by others?

Worse, on a good day, I’ve got 1,000 words in me. I just used 900 of them on this.

Jeffrey Dahmer gets only the next 100.

Maybe he and I will see you again when we’re done…