Why yes, my book does have a theme song….

Reflection meme*Apologies to anyone who got an unfinished version of this post earlier today. It’s been a long day and WordPress was playing with me…*

People often ask about a writer’s process. From what word processing program you use (Word) to do you ever write longhand (yes, with a fountain pen) to what’s your writing schedule (lately 5AM to about 1PM, and no I’m not happy about it). But one of the questions writers get asked most often is “Where do you get your ideas?” There are many possible answers to this. I believe Stephen King said “I have the mind of a small boy. In a jar on my desk.” How very. . .Stephen King of him. (There’s a reason I don’t read horror) Personally, my problem has never been finding ideas, it’s been fighting the new ones off so I can finish the current one.

Sometimes it will be something I see or hear, an image or a phrase, that will spark the creative synapses and, if I’m lucky, turn into a usable idea. And if I’m really lucky, that idea may spark others. Music is a critical part of my process. Sometimes it’s general, a certain piece of music invokes an emotion that gets translated into feeling of the story. But in the case of my Hawk trilogy, just re-issued in gorgeous new print editions and e-books by Bell Bridge Books, it was much more specific.I can tell you exactly where and how each book was born, because each one came from music. Particular music, either written or performed by the same person.

But first, one of the question I always get about this trilogy is “Why are they backwards?” And I get it, truly, to some people starting present day and tracing the story back in time does seem backward. But that’s the way they came to me, and Wild Hawk, the contemporary, was already sold when the idea for the rest came, so there in fact was no other way to go but backwards. (and if you want to wait and read them in reverse but chronological order, I’m fine with that, just saying that’s not how they came. . .)

That ‘splained, back to inspiration. A very dear to me friend happens to be a singer/songwriter of some note. If you were listening to country in the nineties, the name Hal Ketchum might ring a bell. Hal’s been down some long, hard roads, but he has persevered through it all and come out smiling. I have told him he drives me crazy because he can encapsulate in five verses what takes me five hundred pages. And it is one of those verses that I found the core of Wild Hawk.

The song is called “Drive On,” and while the entire song fits, the verse that began it all is this:

Somewhere back in the good old days

I missed the last train home.

Mastered more than a million ways

Turn my heart to stone

I have taken love, I have taken trust

Given little in return

I have held a match to my careless dreams

Stood and watched them burn.

From that verse the character of Jason Hawk sprang, fully formed, and all that remained was to backtrack and figure out why he was who he was. Which was probably the beginning of backwards.

I can’t write to music with vocals, at least, not in English, I get caught up in those words instead of my own. (Not in Spanish either, for that matter; I understand just enough to try to figure out the rest. . .) But that song, played as I was getting ready to write, got me back into the world I was creating in less than four minutes. (My friend, writer Eve Gaddy has a great term for this, she calls them “trigger songs”)

And if you’d like to hear the song, here’s a link:

And then Hal added a cover of an old Steely Dan song to his live shows. It’s called Do It Again, and is about a man who goes after a water thief with a gun, kills him, is caught but the hangman isn’t hanging so he goes free. (After one night’s tangled introduction, this song was forever after known as “The gunbiter song.” Hence the dedication.) And thus was born the second book of the trilogy, Heart of the Hawk, about gunfighter Joshua Hawk. I’d never done a western, or historical for that matter, and since I love them it was fun to do all the research. I’ve always loved the reluctant gunfighter mythos, and it was great to be able to play with it. And while Hal never recorded this one, I do have a rough (very rough) live recording of it, if you’d like to hear it:

Of course once I’d done that, I needed to go all the way back and trace the origin of the magical book that ties the stories together. So I went back to a magical time and place that never really existed for the foundation of both the magic book and the Hawk line. This became Fire Hawk, and once again music was key. In this case it was not just a song, but a particular version of a song. One that Hal had put on his very first album release on a small Texas label, and then re-cut later in his career. But it was that first version, called Bobbie’s Song (later recut as She Found the Place) that inspired me, in particular the incredibly evocative mandolin arrangement of Paul Glasse. It was the quintessential trigger song, all I had to do was hear that song and I was back in that made up time and place, and ready to write. If you enjoy the book, listen to the song, it’s all there. And vice versa, if you haven’t read the book yet, listen to this first; the essence of the story is summed up in the lyrics, in fact in the first couplet:

She found the place where I’ve been hiding

Have I the grace to let her in?

Sums up a lot of stories, doesn’t it? And I have a special soft spot for this one, not just because it won a RITA Award and put me in the RWA Hall of Fame, but because it has one of my favorite secondary characters, whose story I hope to write even after all these years.
And here’s that one, just listen to that mandolin! Beautiful.

So that’s how it happened, why the trilogy is backward, and why the trilogy is dedicated to Hal and his music.

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Redemption: Even in fiction it’s tough

Redemption

Webster makes it sound so easy….

Redeemable. That’s a big word in fiction writing. When you create a character, sometimes you don’t want them redeemable. You want a villain so evil people stand up and cheer at their fate, a la Dolores Umbridge. (Sorry, I wanted that woman to die more than I wanted Voldemort dead!) Sometimes you want people to understand why they are the way they are, to perhaps feel a twinge of understanding. Sometimes you want the character to be puzzling, so readers can’t quite decide if they’re completely evil or not.

All of this, of course, presupposes you have A Plan.

blueprint

See how nicely it all comes together when you have a plan?

But life–and writing–being what they are, sometimes things just happen. Like an editor buying what you assumed would be a standalone book, and then, when it’s too late to change anything, asking for a spinoff. And realizing that only one secondary character truly stood out enough to be the main character in said spinoff. And that character just happens to be…well, darn near irredeemable. As in one of Those. Yes, she’s a b*tch.

Bitch-pups

Dogs are for the most part nicer than people anyway, right?

And I don’t mean this kind, loving, loveable, and generally sweet. No, this female, unlike the one above, hasn’t got a nurturing bone in her body. But at the time I’m young, still a newbie, and foolish. I think I can do anything. I mean, how hard can it be to turn somebody around, right? I’m the writer, in that world I created I’m God, I invented her, didn’t I? Besides, the heroine of the first book, who was absolutely heroine material, had been friends with her once. So there had to be something good about her, didn’t there? I only had to find it. So, I set myself to the task. And how did it go? Kind of like this:

 

Frustration

Whose idea WAS this, anyway???

It wasn’t long before I was pacing the floor, yelling at myself for being an idiot. Why on earth–or any of the worlds I was writing about–had I ever thought I could save this woman? What had possessed me to choose her as a heroine? How on earth was I going to make this woman in the least heroic, let alone loveable?

I finally realized there was only one way to do this. I had to go back to the bones. I had to tear this woman down and try to rebuild her into something heroic. And I had to do it so thoroughly that readers would believe that it was possible for this woman to achieve that redemption. Had I realized what I was letting myself in for, I probably would have rethought it. But as I said, I was young and foolish and probably a bit cocky thanks to landing on the fast track my first published year and having sold a ridiculous number of books quickly. Ha. That’ll learn me, as my uncle used to say.

So I began. And for a long time my life felt like this:

construction - roofing

Wait, where does that stick go again?

And nearly 600 manuscript pages later, it was done. Whether I succeeded is not really up to me. Whatever I think, it is the reader who ultimately decides. Although I will happily accept the assessment of reviewer extraordinaire I mentioned in the last post, Melinda Helfer, who gave SKYPIRATE that rarest of accolades, one that has since been retired–an actual 5-star review in RT Magazine. The book also won a Reviewer’s Choice award, a Reader’s Voice award, and along with its predecessor, LORD OF THE STORM, was on the RT top 200 of all time list. So I guess maybe I did succeed. But I swear I will never try that again. Next b*tch I write stays one.

Heroes, on the other hand…..

 

LORD OF THE STORM and SKYPIRATE, re-released and available now in both e-book and print! Links on the book page, here: http://justinedavis.com/booklist.html

 

 

 

Frustration: Tanya Little https://www.flickr.com/people/50965643@N06 via Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

 

The true story behind an award winner

contract

The holy grail, back in the day…..

Last post I told the story of revisiting a world I created two decades ago, to write a new, long-awaited story set in that same world. Now I’d like to tell you about how it all began. You see, there I was, a newbie writer (yes, I had several books already sold and a couple published, but I still felt like a newbie. Heck, to this day I feel like a newbie!) with a signed contract in hand, deadlines, obligations, and the promise of payment to in turn pay for things like food and shelter. I was working a full-time job that often morphed into more than full time–you don’t walk out in the middle of a hostage situation with shots fired–so my time was very tight. And yet….

An idea struck. Actually, more like an entire story, full-grown and feathered. (I blame the release of Star Wars at a very impressionable stage of my life) Scenes fully formed, characters I knew inside out, strange places, odd words that were unfamiliar yet clear (no glossary required, something that will turn me off many books), it was all battering at me. This had never happened to me before. I promised it I would get to it, as soon as I could. I placated it, begged it to leave me alone until I finished this contract. It would not. This story was nothing my current publisher would or could publish. It was pure self-indulgence, I told myself. It would be a book without a market. But it haunted me, day and night, until finally, when I had a vacation coming from the day job (which was really the night job, but that’s another story) I decided to use it to get this thing off my back. I warned my husband, closed the office door, and began.

It started like this:

Fire_close_up_texture

Wow, this is hot! In more ways than one….

But before long it was going like this, like taking dictation, and my fingers could barely keep up with my brain:

fire-speed

Where is this coming from???

It turned into a frenzied white-heat of writing, a string of twenty hour days that lasted…..three weeks. Yep, three weeks. And that is something I waited a very long time to publicly admit. As award-winning author Cindy Dees recently observed on Facebook, “Decades ago, authors were thought to be hacks if they turned out more than one novel a year. That was also before the advent of computers and the Internet which greatly streamlined the writing process.” But I’ve found a lot of that mindset lingers even after the ability to quickly create, edit, and communicate. And so I was hesitant to admit how quickly this book came.

What did it take to convince me it was safe? This:

???????????????????????????????

Okay, maybe it is safe to admit.

And that’s not even all of the honors LORD OF THE STORM accumulated. I don’t live and die for awards, but I won’t deny the satisfaction and gratification of receiving them. It is a tremendous honor, whether they come from fellow writers or readers, although I tend to think continuing to buy and talk about my books is the best award any reader can give me. And in this case, after the book received all these accolades and awards, I finally felt brave enough to admit how quickly it had been written, and that it was published virtually unchanged from my final manuscript. I probably wouldn’t worry about it that much today. Having sixty-plus books/novellas under your belt gives you a bit of confidence, I guess. But at the time, it was a Big Deal.

And I can’t talk about LORD OF THE STORM without acknowledging the godmother of the book, the late, much-missed Melinda Helfer, RT Magazine reviewer extraordinaire. Melinda read this book in manuscript form, and insisted it would be huge. It was Melinda who hooked me up with Hilary Ross, an editor from NAL/Penguin who happened to be looking for just such a story as this. The rest, as they say….

And so that is the story behind the book that will be re-issued this June by Bell Bridge Books, in both print (and they do gorgeous print books!) and e-book. But the tale doesn’t end there. (I’m a writer, of course it doesn’t…) Stay tuned for the next chapter, about the second book I never planned on, and how many times I kicked myself for even thinking a certain character was redeemable enough to be a heroine.

Twenty years in the making

Shack_house

Wow, when did THAT happen??

So, I admit, I’ve neglected things here of late. And yes, my house does kind of look like that picture at the moment. But you know something? I don’t care. I don’t care, because I have now finished the main draft on a book I’ve been waiting nearly twenty years to write.

I had my doubts about whether I could get my mind from its current place back to the entirely fictional world I had created all those years ago. It had been such a unique experience, (more about that in later posts) one that I sometimes called channeling, because it was the only way I could explain how that first book came to me. Would that they were all so clear and sharp and quick!

In this case, I wasn’t just starting with a blank, earthbound landscape like this:

Triotian grass

Hmm, that’s quite a moon there. Picture fits better than I thought!

No, I had to get my head not just back in the clouds, but back into space. Into the proverbial galaxy far, far away. And frankly, it had been so long I didn’t know if I could do it. At least, not with the completeness this particular book would demand. Because this was one of two books that readers have been asking me for for all of those two decades. And I take that very seriously. That people would remember so clearly, for so long, and bother to write me and ask, even beg me to revisit this place, was so incredibly moving and inspiring. But the stars (pardon the phrase) seemed to conspire against it. Until now.

So I re-read the original two books that led to this. I loved them as much as I always had. This was a good sign. And it got me here, about halfway there:

Fenceposts Across the Universe

I can see it, I just have to get there!

But I needed to be out there, no longer earthbound. And the only way to do that was to jump in. And find out once and for all if this was going to work. So…I took the leap. And to my thankful surprise, the story took off like a runaway one of these:

runaway train

Whoa, this thing is going FAST!

It was going so fast, I couldn’t help thinking that trains that go too fast often end up like this:

derailed

Ooops.

But I was having too much fun to worry about it, and before long, I was so completely in this Other Place that it was hard to come back to reality. Old and new (and boy was one of those a pleasant surprise!) friends, old and new enemies, I lived in their world(s) and loved it for 125,000 words.

planets

It’s as much fun as ever!

It’s nice to know I still have a “big book” or two left in me. That part of my career got derailed (again, pardon the phrase) a while back, but it’s back on the tracks (oh, dear, there I go again) now. And thanks to a great new publisher (Bell Bridge Books, more about them later, too) this story people have asked for for all these years will finally be done.

And leading up to that day, Bell Bridge will be releasing in both print and as ebooks the two books that led me to this one, LORD OF THE STORM and THE SKYPIRATE, beginning this June.

I hope you’ll join me on this adventure!

****************************

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Of Storytellers and Mastodon Bones

Caroline Bonarde Ucci via Wiki Commons

I’ve always admired Russell Crowe as an actor. (I don’t do celebrity gossip, don’t care if he’s a jerk, I’m talking talent here.)

When he received a 2002 Screen Actor’s Guild Award, he had this to say:
“You know, I’m a storyteller. We are storytellers. And ours is an ancient tradition, contemporized by the cinema and the capturing of light. And we should all be very proud of our place in society. On any given night, millions of people across the world buy a ticket for adventures that only we as storytellers can provide. We release burdens, we galvanize emotions, we make people laugh, we make people talk over breakfast. This is a great job and I want to encourage every one of you in this room to give everything you can to the story. God bless narrative. God bless originality.”

I’m with him. He’s speaking, obviously, of films, but it applies to books just as much. Perhaps, in some ways, even more. Or at least, differently. Because we tell the story in a way that requires the participation of the reader. They must activate their own mind and imagination to process the words we present into the story being told. You can’t read and do anything else, except maybe—and dangerously–eat. (Well, I can read and knit, but that’s another story.) At least, not with any amount of concentration.

There’s an old tale about the origin of storytelling. When primitive men returned from the mastodon hunt, and gathered around the fire, someone would tell the tale of the hunt. In great, exciting, bloody detail, he would relate exactly what happened. Was he the first storyteller? No. The first storyteller was the guy who stood up next and told the tale of the one that got away and the hunt that might have been. The one who first used his imagination to build events that didn’t really happen, but seemed as if they could have. The one who created, in his listener’s minds, broader horizons, more amazing creatures, and more heroic hunters.

There’s been some resistance, indicated by lack of success or expansion of the idea, to enhanced e-books. And a lot of speculation about why. My theory is that it’s because they are two different processes. If you want a visual experience, you watch TV or a movie. If you want to read a story, you want to read a story. You want to visualize those characters in your mind in your own way, not that of a casting agency. (Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher? Seriously??) You want to picture the surroundings in your own way, perhaps furnishing it with things that are in your own experience, imagining that that painting of a landscape on the wall of a character’s home is very like the one on your own wall. The connections in reading occur on many levels, perhaps simply because we are one human being telling a story to another. We may not have a lot in common, but the connection is made for that simple reason—we are all human beings, and we share the joy and the pain that that brings.

Do you find this true? Are you sometimes in the mood only to watch, and sometimes find only reading will do? And if you’re a Lee Child/Jack Reacher fan, who would YOU have cast? (I have my choice, and I promise he would have been a much better fit!)