Friday, October 14, 2011

Creating a fiction book

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a writer.

I'm currently working on several screenplays, one with a Producer in Los Angeles, and an anthology of short Horror / Science fiction stories. It is this Anthology that is actually the focus of this blog article.

I'll get to that in a moment, but first I want to trace the history of how I got to this point. The reason for that, is that it also explains some of the short stories in the book. I could go further into depth on that but, well, time is limited.

What is interesting about this blog article, will be more obvious once my book is published. Because then this article will have detailed the history of how that book came to be just what it was, at that time that it was published.

I first started writing when I was a kid. My mother had an old electric script typewriter. That's a typewriter that when you type something it looks like you wrote it by hand in script, not block letters. It was electric, so it was, cool. She wasn't using it so I put it on my dresser which overlooked the front yard through the second floor window. It was a panoramic kind of window, wider than high. I got to journaling the weather, then put in my thoughts. Once day, after being very angry at my mother, I found it is not good to put your thoughts down on paper where the person of interest could read them. I stopped.

Years later, a couple of teachers in High School realized I had a talent for writing. Later yet, when I started college, my first English Composition teacher recognized my talent for words and pleaded with me to be a writer. I was so pleased that something I assumed would only ever, could only ever be a pipe dream, that I could actually have any possibility at all of this coming into reality, that I considered it. Good grades helped.

By my Junior year at University, it was obvious even to me that I was quite good at writing. So I then decided, partially because I found I had more credits than I needed to graduate, to set up getting a Minor in Creative Writing.
Performing Arts Center (PAC) WWU
That Minor lead me from a Fiction Writing class to the Department of Theatre Arts for an intro to play writing class, because my Professor thought I needed to learn better how to (or at all), write dialog. My fiction was very well received by my other fiction writing students, even by two of them who were the Editors (one the head Editor) of the University Magazine. I was eventually chosen along with another student to write an additional story to be read on finals day as there were no tests on that day. A special privilege.

And so, I entered Play writing. I found that class terrifying, but I truly enjoyed working with actors, dancers, playwrights and comedians, extremely creative individuals. I found it went easier with some rum in a cup of coffee before class, however. I must have turned out something worth while in that class, that was of some degree of quality, because the class instructor picked eight students for a special year long screenwriting class, and I was one of those chosen.

Of that class of eight, two of those student eventually were two of the six founding members of the Annex Theater in Seattle, which is still running after all these years. I've discussed this before on this blog. I never had so much fear and enjoyment in a class before or since.

After college, I didn't find a great job for a few years. After three years, I got a job at the University of Washington. The school that wouldn't let me in, but all these years later, hired me to work in their Medical Center's Information Services (MCIS) department. I worked nights in a sub basement at the University of Washington Medical Center on their VAX mainframe computer.

I also supported the same for Harborview Medical Center (we called it HarborZoo, or "The Zoo", as it was the county Hospital and trauma center and got a lot of crazy types and bizarre ER admissions). I ran both Hospital's departments, all from the same office. I did that job for five years while my new son (as I had gotten married) grew from infant to toddler to four year old.

I worked in a secured office from 9pm till I got done with my work, usually around 2-6AM depending on things. During that time, I wrote mainframe operations procedures and a manual for the hospitals for the Doctors, Transcriptionists, X-Ray Techs and anyone else that had an account on the mainframe. It was a well designed and well received manual.

The software was buggy, produced by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). It was so well received that years later after I had moved on to another job at US West Technologies, I found that surprisingly, it was still in use. After about six months use on the manual, I sent it to Digital Press, the publishing side of DEC. They loved it. They said they would bundle it with their hardware, world wide and I would be getting about $50,000 per quarter year, which was when they sent out checks to authors. I was, ecstatic.

Then they showed it to the DEC business side. And they really didn't like it. They hated my admitting their software had bugs in it and so they crushed my publishing the manual, even saying that they would squash it if I tried to sell it through another publishing house. But one of the things people liked about the manual was that not only was it easy to understand and quick to use, it pointed out the issues that could stop your work dead, and how I had discovered how to get around it and back to work. This saved everyone a lot of time, energy and frustration (which I had gone through for them).

Devastated by this development, I gave up on it. My writing career seems to have been plagued by things like this.

I went back to visit the (Harbor)Zoo one day, and eventually got rehired on-the-side to be on-call in case there were any off hour problems with the mainframe, and found that the manual was still in use. I got hired to be on-call just to make some extra money as I had a new family and had remarried, and because the guy I had trained to be on-call years before, an X-Ray Tech, was now the Manager Information Systems (MIS) for the "Zoo", and also a friend of mine all those years.

The newer employees who I was introduced to were in awe of me, which I found strange, but was explained to me, that they were finally meeting "he who wrote all the procedures... and the manual". Very strange thing to experience. Kind of fun though.

Before that, during those initial five nightshift years, I realized after a while that I could read horror fiction while I was waiting on some computer processes finishing up, and eventually, that I could write horror fiction. I had hoped that some of the creepiness of working in those miles of underground empty hospital tunnels, would creep into my writing. I wrote about what either scared me being all alone in that office, or things that simply creeped me out.

Recently, a couple of years ago I started working with an Author on the East Coast. I adapted her novel to screenplay format (Dark of kNight by TL Mitchell). She had a publishing company she was starting up so she told me to put all my short stories in one document and maybe they could publish an anthology of my works.

I thought, "Cool."

I used to correspond with Clive Barker back in the 1980s via snail mail (I have one of his letters in a frame on my wall) and I knew he had gotten started by a friend of his putting his short stories in a book and it hit big time. He had been living in a house in London with a group of friends and they were spending all their spare change on film stock for shooting little movies. So when a friend of his said something like, "Hey, I work at a publishing house, why don't you give me your short stories and see what I can push through to my boss with them?"

So Clive gave his friend his stories never expecting much of anything to come of it. Boy, was he wrong. Steven King remarked of the books, Barker's "Books of Blood" series, "I have seen the future of horror fiction, and it is, Clive Barker!" Amazing. But then Clive is an incredible writer.

So thinking what the Hell, I slammed my stories all into one word document to send it off. It's been in the editor's queue for a while now and that has given me some time to think about it. Not to be the type that would just slam my stories in a word doc and send them off, before I sent them I tried to write a frame for wrapping the stories in. Something to try and tie them all together.

Now, more about the short stories....

When I was at Western Washington University (Psych Major), I had been working on a paper for my primary Psych department adviser, Dr. Rees. From the moment my girlfriend and I saw him that first day, we knew he had to be our Prof. He was a wild looking character, very thin, tall, partly balding, stark white hair wild and long and all over the place, a forked white beard; he looked partly Einsteinien and partly Asian Philosopher, which he wasn't. Asian that is. He was a philosopher of a kind.

So late on one Wednesday night, around midnight, I was exhausted, burned and needed a break. I hit a point that I could stop at. I was sitting on my living room floor with my new typewriter (my mother sent it, no more waiting in line for a typewriter at the library). My girlfriend was in bed asleep and it must have been warm weather because in the winter there, you had to sit on a chair with your feet up off the floor, or you could feel the freezing cold drafting up through the floorboards.

Bellingham Washington gets quite cold in the Winter. Ground freezes rock hard. But summer is wonderful and we'd many times, watch the weather report in Seattle and it would be miserable weather, but our microclime in Bellingham was sunny and warm.

I was sitting there looking at my typewriter. I had an urge to just type anything, anything that I wasn't needing to type, and so I did. I typed "Perception" centered at the top of the page. Then I sat there staring at a blank page. I typed: "Darkness", then more, until within a few minutes, I had one single spaced full page of text. It felt like it just "fell" out of my head, onto the page. I re-read it. It was a bit corny but quite good for what it was supposed to be.

I took it to class the next morning and gave it to my Professor. I said, "It's just a trifle that feel out of my mind onto a page late last night after being fried working on my paper all night. I thought you might like it." He smiled, took it and said, "Thanks".

The next morning I sat down in our basement classroom and a girl was handing out a single page handout. People were streaming into class as I looked at it, and I remember thinking, why does this look so familiar. I couldn't place it at first because it was in that purple ink having been run off one of those old fashioned copiers with a drum that spins spitting out copies. Then I recognized my story from the day before. I was stunned. I looked around and no one noticed me at first, then a few people looked at me and at the paper.

I later found out he handed it out to all his classes. This happened again a year later when I produced a "Phenomenological video" in the pursuit to better understand what "Creative" was. At that time, I was frustrated and needed an actor for a minute, but with no one around, I just used myself. I was in that video for about twenty seconds, but it caused me no end of grief when suddenly I was known all over campus, for a while; a minor celebrity. What I learned from that, was that I like fortune, but not so much, fame. Fame is, people bothering you all the time when you are on the way to somewhere. It's fun, at first, then it rapidly degenerates into a bother.

It was that short story, "Perception", that I decided to use as a frame for my short story anthology.

Recently, I gave two hundred pages of my anthology, as it was when I sent it to the publishers, to a friend of mine. She is a very smart lady and one of a type, of three special ladies I have known in my life. Quick, sharp, acerbic at times, but fun to be around, though you have to be on your game (not really but it helps). Sadly, the other two are no longer with us. Special people don't always last that long, so when you have them, appreciate them.

Now I had a concept for the anthology. My original idea had been to make it a semi anthology, semi novel. I wanted to have the first short story be ancient, and the last short story, the most recent in a chronological sense. Taking the reader on a temporal journey from the beginning to the end of life on Earth. The problem was that most of my stories are in more modern times. I could either write new stories, or simply try to make it work. I decided to try to make it work, pretty much, with what I already had. But to make it as enjoyable to read as possible without spending another year rewriting.

So my friend only got 200 pages because my printer broke in trying to print them out for her. Her comment was that she felt after about 150 pages, that there were simply "Too many words!" I flashed on the film, "Amadeus": "There's simply too many notes, simply remove a few and it will be good," said the Emperor, Ferris Bueller's old principle, or words to that degree. I had to laugh. What that meant to me was that I was giving the reader too much, too fast, and the stories were too dense. 

How to fix that then? I thought about it for a few days.

Then I got an idea. The first stories in the book are from the Middle Ages, they are dark and dense. The language is Middle English, not the easiest thing to read. A book has to pull in a reader, fascinate them, addict them as much as possible, as soon as possible, so they will read on, right? A reader has to have their energy level raised while reading (and when not reading, after having read some) so that they will be able to be carried easily across those difficult spots in the book and so they will want to continue. And when they are not reading the book, they will want to come back to the book to finish it. Then, when they finish it, they will want to buy another and read that book too. Honestly, this is what authors do. Or mean to.

So, I needed to draw the reader in. I needed to make the first part of the book very accessible and interesting, at least, to invoke curiosity, so readers want to go on to the next page, chapter or story. My solution? Reverse the timeline. The more modern stories are easier to read, so they are more accessible. By reversing the timeline, I can pull the reader in more easily, get them further into the book so they are more committed to reading it. They will thereby absorb more of the frame I have built to tie it all together and thus, give the reader more to be curious about in wanting to know the answer to the obvious question: "What the Hell is going on in this book?"

Here is the original table of contents:

Preface 4
Introduction 5
Acknowledgments 6
The Mea Culpa Document of London 7
The Mirea 19
Poor Lord Ritchie's Answer 25
The Mirea – A Beginning 42
The Mirea - The Decision 53
The Mirea - Fade’s Summation 55
Thirst Divine 57
The Mirea - Fade’s Reality 66
Harbinger 69
Marking Time 90
Rosebud 109
"Sweet Jane" 124
The Mea Culpa – Vaughan’s Theorem 131
Going Home 195
The Mirea – Caught 206
Quantum History 207
Life Blind 243
Sarah 330
Gumdrop City 358
In Memory, Yet Crystal Clear 377
The Conqueror Worm 402
Japheth, Ishvi and The Light 430
The Mirea – The Shade Arrives 467

Here is the incomplete format I have just reworked:

Title page

Preface 4
Introduction 5
Acknowledgments 6

[This next section are all the pieces of the frame. The "Mirea" is the being within the short story I wrote on one page and called "Perception". These pieces of the overall tale, these short short stories, will need to be appropriately placed within the book, with the primary short stories, several each, between each of these story frame fragments.]

The Mirea
The Mirea – A Beginning
The Mirea - The Decision
The Mirea - Fade’s Summation
The Mirea - Fade’s Reality
The Mirea – Caught
The Mirea – The Shade Arrives

[The Mirea is made up of special individuals, there is a primary character and four minor characters: Fade, Blue, Cause, Fear and Sane. They have these names for a reason, obviously, that will be explained by time you reach the end of the book.]

In the process of trying to figure out which character goes where, in what order and what short story they should be next to, I built this list:

boys and monster
cia and insane girlfriend
haunted child
demon parents get daughter
angel lust and crazy guy
angle of death
Alzheimer's twilight zone
horrible wife and crazy husband
paranormal iraq war
diabolical witch hunter
child murderer
insane computer man
insane serial murderer
 Hitler clone

[The list above may change, but it gives you an idea of what I am doing.]

[The short stories order at this time, are:]

The Conqueror Worm - Fade / boys and monster
Rosebud - Cause / cia and insane girlfriend
Thirst Divine - Blue / angel lust and crazy guy

In Memory, Yet Crystal Clear - Sane / insane computer man
Harbinger - Fear / angle of death
"Sweet Jane" - Cause / horrible wife and crazy husband

Life Blind (Andrew) - Fade / haunted child

Gumdrop City - Fear / child murderer
Quantum History - Sane / Hitler clone
Sarah - Blue / Alzheimer's twilight zone

Marking Time - Sane / paranormal iraq war

Going Home - Blue / demon parents get daughter

Vaughan’s Theorem - Fade / insane serial murderer
Poor Lord Ritchie's Answer - Fade / insane time lord
The Mea Culpa Document of London - Fade / diabolical witch hunter

CUT - Japheth, Ishvi and The Light (this is my newest short story and I decided it may not be appropriate for this book as it is a zombie story and that too severely alters the format of the book.

Being that I have built a frame for these short stories, the frame begins in the introduction and or preface (these are things to perfect later), which I may change. Now the first short story will draw the reader in and hopefully help them to be interested to continue. I thought I already did that, but I can see where it may have been problematic, now.

Then the frame stories which is an ongoing long short story broken up, will begin and continue between each, or ever so many stories. Each story will be assigned to one of the five individuals and have a flavor related to each one of them specifically. Finally the book will end with the closure of the frame where all will be understood and all loose ends tied up.

And that is where I am now. You're up to date. Hopefully, the execution will be easier and more pleasant than trying to explain it, which isn't that unusual (not in my world, anyway).

I still have to further refine and work this format out. I have to order the stories in the book in the right timeline. Finally, I have to do what we call, "massage" the text. That is, to rewrite and rewrite the text until it is perfected and flows well.

Once I get that in a reasonable form, I will resubmit it to the publisher and explain my work to them. I believe this will be a much more enjoyable book for more people and a far better platform for my short stories.

It's not often that you get this kind of an insight into a book, as I've done here, before it gets published. When I thought about typing this up and putting it here, I considered how I would feel as a reader to have this insight before I read a book and I thought, "Hey, that's kind of cool, maybe I should do that." Or, how I would enjoy reading this after I read a book I liked.

And so, either way, here it is.


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