author

the chase

The Chase

Most creative folk, immediately upon revealing themselves to be, in fact, creative, will be asked: where does your inspiration come from? I like to imagine a storehouse somewhere, like a root cellar, where inspiration lies around in bundles and stacks, just waiting for me to wander down and grab a clump. Or a clandestine visitor wearing a trench coat and a fedora tilted over one eye, who coordinates late-night inspiration rendezvous in pools of streetlamp light…but only when he feels like it.

The truth is much simpler than this.

I have no idea where inspiration comes from. And neither does anyone else.

We’d love to tell you that we saw an indescribable face in a crowd and were inspired to write our magnum opus. But it’s just as likely that we see indescribable faces everywhere we look, and inspiration didn’t occur on 99.99 percent of those occasions. And besides, who wants to write about an indescribable face? That seems unnecessarily difficult. Better to write about the ones you actually can describe, since a fair amount of writing is dependent upon description…it’s sort of funny that way.

Sometimes, it’s explained most unhelpfully as looking at a star, which appears much brighter when viewed from the periphery of your vision than it does when stared at dead-on. This is probably a very poetic way of saying, “I’m not exactly sure how it happens, but I love stargazing, and I have no new ideas for stories about them despite having stared at the sky for the past four hours, so…what were we talking about again?”

It can also be described as a bolt out of the blue, a sudden, sharp awareness that comes upon you in the subway or at dance class or in line at the grocer while you’re organizing your coupons. It sends you scrabbling for your phone or a scrap of paper and a pen before you lose your bolt and end up angering everyone in line behind you for no good reason. At moments like this, nobody cares to ask you about your stupid inspiration or your good-for-nothing bolt. They just want you to get your Tidy Cat and your triple-A batteries and your spearmint Tic-Tacs and move along before someone who is you gets hurt.

Ouch.

I’ve discovered that the longer I wait for inspiration, the less like it is to favor me. It’s wonderful when it happens, but it’s rare and fleeting and it comes laden with holes that have to be filled in by the inspired at some later moment. To quote the thesaurus, it’s too capricious. I prefer not to wait for inspiration anymore.

I’m in search of ideas instead.

And they’re everywhere.

Yes. Idea Seeking is the new Being Inspired.

I don’t wait for them quietly in a softly-lit room with violin concertos playing, either. Oh, no. I throw on my Idea Seeking boots and chase them down with a net and a little jug to put them in once they’ve been caught. Then I watch them fly around and bounce off the glass, and I choose from the ones I like. I let the others flit about and grow their wings until they make enough noise to be let free in their own good time.

(A side note: who here besides me loves metaphors? Anyone? Good! I really hoped I wasn’t alone.)

Waiting for inspiration is like expecting your waiter to know you need a refill and letting him come around when he’s good and ready. Chasing ideas is like flagging him as soon as your cup runs dry. There’s really no chance that he isn’t going to come to you with a full carafe then.

Works like a charm.

So to anyone out there waiting for the Next Big Idea to bubble up from the depths or materialize out of the ether: Maybe try chasing it down instead.

You’ll be surprised how far that goes.

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the vampire recovers

When I first wrote Joe Vampire, I saw him as an edgy alternative to the generally-accepted vampire novel tropes that abound in the world of contemporary literature. He’s not a traditional vampire story in the least…he’s really just a dude trying to find a way through a bad situation that happens to be Being a Vampire.

We’ve all been there. Except for the vampire part, maybe.

I’m just guessing.

For the version I published myself, I came up with a cover concept that portrayed the whole “I’m a hip, urban nerd who’s embarrassed to be undead and wish to remain anonymous” idea. It worked as an introductory image. When it was picked up by Booktrope and relaunched several months later, the office humor-slash-romance element was brought forward, and the Faceless Dude in a Hoodie concept was replaced by a photograph of friends who were kind enough to lend their real-world likenesses to Joe and Chloe. A similar approach was taken when the sequel Joe Vampire: The Afterlife was released, only this time instead of romance it portrayed Joe’s meeting with Lorelei, the hooker with a heart of feces. Another friend was good enough to join in the action (actually, she’s the younger sister of the girl on the cover of the first book…fun trivia!)

I love these images. Each represents a thread of the greater Joe mythos and gives a face to the various aspects of a vampire who doesn’t really want to be seen as such. Each is a step forward in the evolution of the series. What none of them capture, though, is the quirky absurdist humor of the stories—the very feature that I intended on setting Joe apart from the vampire pack. Or coven. Or posse.

I guess I don’t know what their little gangs are called these days.

So in gearing up for the third full-length title in the series—title: Joe Vampire: The New Paranormal—I went back to the drawing board and came up with something much more graphic, more colorful and more indicative of the dark, silly nature of Joe’s tale. In Joe Vampire (book one), it all comes down to the shades; they give him some degree of anonymity so he can slowly work his way back into the world at large. In The Afterlife (book two), much of Joe’s progress in dealing with his vampire situation revolves around music…but even that ends up tainted. A blood-spattered synthesizer keyboard captures that best, I think.

(Side note: To make it easier for new readers to catch up on both titles, Booktrope has awesomely thrown them together into one e-book file for Kindle; The Joe Vampire Collection features a version of the new cover, too.)

And for The New Paranormal? Well…the image for that gives away too much of one the story’s fun twists, so I’ll hold it back until we get closer to release time. But it absolutely follows the new pattern. Other works in the franchise will follow suit; Night Falls, a Joe short story, already extends the imagery (for everyone who knows what the title references, the bloodstained apple with a vampire bit missing from will make total sense). So will a little volume of Joe Vampire wisdom I have in the works.

And when Joe Vampire 4 comes along—and it will—it’ll do the same. The idea for both story and cover are already percolating in the ol’ think tank.

Funny how something like a cover reinvention can bring new vitality to a creative project…especially considering the franchise is about a character whose life only really begins after he dies.

But make no mistake: while the Dude Vampire may have a brand-new face, he still has the same old mouth.

On some things, there’s just no compromising.

aiming for the middle

There’s a term that describes the literary practice of beginning a story in the center of the action: in media res, which translates from Latin to “in the middle of things.” Stories such as this presume the reader knows something of what they’re getting right from the jump. The author doesn’t coddle or pander; they throw the reader into the ocean and slowly lead them ashore as the story unfolds. If it’s a war story, the author doesn’t necessarily start by describing an army barracks and leading to the action; he starts with the battle and works his way forward (or sideways or backward) from there. It’s theatrical and cinematic, and it works fantastically as a device to start a story at a quicker clip than it would if it started at a quiet, uneventful moment.

I love this mode of storytelling.

I use it as a model for what I write… only I take a slightly different approach. I tend to begin my stories as something I call in media animus: in the middle of the soul. My characters are already fully-formed when you meet them. They absolutely have growth coming, and regression is more than likely as well. Evolution and personal development and descent into circumstance. But they’ve already undergone some quantity of the circumstance that prompted the story. I find the most interesting way to tell their tales is to introduce them to the reader at a pivotal and potentially uncomfortable or disorienting moment in their development. It gives a solid sense of the gravity of their situations. Joe Vampire did that; his first post doesn’t begin before he’s bitten, and it doesn’t tell you anything about who he was prior to this incident that has made his story worth telling. There’s some detail fill-in on that down the line, for sure. But his blog opens when he’s already three months into the vampire trip – up to his knees in bloodthirsting, he is. He’s jaded to it by then, and somewhat bitter. He’s still descending and has little knowledge of what’s coming for him. But he’s holding his own. This is what prompts him to tell his story in the first place. And the impact of his circumstance is apparent from the get-go.

In other words, the story begins in media animus.

 

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We’re not at the shore…we’re aaaaaaall the way out there, in the middle of my metaphor.

Same with Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing. When it opens, Tyler is six months past the death of his mother. He’s stewing in his own pain and anger, venting it at his father and sabotaging his own future while trying not to be overtaken by everything that’s happened…and, quite honestly, he’s a little bit unlikable at that point. He may have a solid reason to be angst-ridden, but whether his behavior is justified isn’t really evident at that point. At the risk of alienating readers who want to like their main characters from page one, I take the chance that readers will judge them several times through the story. In storytelling as in life, first impressions end up being more about impact than likability. You may not like the characters in my stories from the very beginning – or by the end, either. And you don’t have to.

All you have to do is be interested in hearing more of what they have to say.

And there’s a reason for me doing things this way.

If there’s something I value more highly than anything else in storytelling – more than a twisty, compelling plot, more than a satisfying emotional track, more than witty dialogue and snazzy descriptive passages — it’s characters who live and breathe. Authors aren’t writing stories about setting or timeframe; we’re writing about people, what they do and what happens to them as a result of their choices. Their virtues and their vitriol; their deeds and their downfalls. Of course, we’ve invented these people and their situations in our heads. But so has everyone else who has ever interacted with anyone in the physical world. We don’t know the stories of ninety-nine percent of the people we meet, but for just a moment in our interactions, we ascribe them a soul: motivation for what they do, as evidenced by their kindness toward us (or lack thereof), their interactions with others, their mannerisms and behavioral tendencies. It’s the same when we meet a character in a story for the first time. If you were to meet Tyler Mills in real life, he’d be the kid with his chest puffed up and a chip the size of a Buick teetering on his shoulder. You wouldn’t know why necessarily, or understand his path. And you wouldn’t need to. You’d simply recognize the signs, register his behavior and possibly wonder what happened to make him so. You might even want to know a little more about him…maybe.

A big maybe, perhaps. But still. It’s there.

And that’s the hook.

To purposely mis-quote Paul Simon, “Maybe’s the entrance I’m looking for.”

It’s my job to turn the Maybe into an Absolutely, and ultimately leave the reader with a sense of I’m Sure Glad I Did. I don’t know if I hit the mark every time, but I know I feel much better about what I’ve written when I give my characters that sort of treatment. Whether they’re kind or crooked, noble or abhorrent, my characters wear their psychology from the moment the cover opens, in hopes of compelling the reader to step in and try it on for size.

And that’s why there are no slow-rolling beach entries for me and mine. From minute one, we’re out in the water — in the middle of our messy souls — paddling or sinking or barely holding our heads up. We’ll flail a little…or a lot. We’ll probably struggle more than we swim. But we’ll work our way through, for better or for worse.

It sure beats wading around at the shoreline waiting for the tide to rise.

self-d’illusional

A few years ago, I got caught up in Mindfreak, the Criss Angel show with with all the impressive street magic a dork like me could ever hope for. As a fan of things that don’t easily fit into the everyday world, I flipped out. Every next illusion was more brilliant than the last – even the little ones.

Especially those, actually.

When a magician requires a fully-constructed stage and theater lights and pyrotechnics and a small crew of technicians running the show to turn a tiger into a woman under a silk sheet in front of an audience who blew their grocery money for the week on a set of tickets, there’s obviously something more to the illusion than simple sleight of hand. But when a magician can pass a rolled-up dollar bill through a solid pane of glass at a storefront window on a busy street in plain view of anyone walking by who didn’t pay anything to see it happen?

To me, that is truly magical.

And so it was that Mindfreak was a most brilliant illusionist experience, even though it was captured on video and broadcast over cable (another set of technicalities, but I couldn’t make it to Vegas to see it happening live, so…). My wife would remind me repeatedly: he’s not *really* levitating (or catching on fire, or disappearing, or pulling a woman into two pieces).

Um, yeah. I knew that part.

What captivated me was the absolute showmanship and consummate proficiency with which the illusions were executed – largely in 360 degree view-range of those watching on. I watched for camera trickery, and to be fair, there was some of that, though it was mostly for the larger pieces. It was the smaller illusions that won me over most.

Anyone can fool me by levitating between buildings with some well-executed though imperceptible mechanical assistance.

It takes honest-to-goodness magic to blow my mind by shoving tube-shaped money through a solid pane of glass with an audience two feet away.

The mundane made magnificent: that’s how I see it.

For me, that’s where the real magic lies.

Recently, I’ve been researching street-style magicians while creating an antagonist to trouble Sid Handelman in the new book. Criss Angel is a bit too theatrical for what I’m thinking. No offense to him at all; he’s a genius at what he does, and I’m always floored by what he comes up with. And David Blaine sitting in plexiglass while not eating for two weeks is a different type of magic altogether. It makes an appearance in the story, too…hopefully in a hilarious way, if I execute that section correctly. But this guy, while not at all cocky, captures the easy-going essence of small-yet-grand magic that I think this character needs. His name is Justin Flom, and he’s contemporary street magic all the way. Check out his Starbucks coffee refill trick, and then dig around and watch some of his other crafty illusions using commonplace materials. He’s the un-flashy reboot of the classic sleight-of-hand illusionist.

Sid Handelman should take a lesson.

 

 

 

 

and then…

MovingHouse

“Sometimes it isn’t enough to rearrange the furniture. Sometimes you need to move the whole house.” – Traditional Lunian proverb

Consider these new digs my do-over, my rebeginning. My attempt at extending beyond simply being the writer of a particular sarcasm-prone anti-vampire who just can’t seem to keep his opinions to himself.

Not that I have anything against the guy.

Very fond of him, actually.

He is the springboard, the proving ground. Square One in the story behind the story. But there’s more in my pen than just the navel-gazing snark of Joe Vampire. So I’m branching out a little. Changing the format ever so slightly, in a new environment. And, oddly enough, simplifying things in the process.

In other words, moving the house.

Experimenting with new tales about new people who have new words falling out of their mouths. Some of it isn’t even comedy. Hopefully, that’s a good thing. We’ll see.

And yes, Joe Vampire is still part of this. A huge part, actually.

He’s just going to have a little company now.