This has been an interesting morning so far, mostly because I’ve know what I wanted to write about since before crawling out of bed, and with coffee in hand I’ve been getting myself worked up towards said writing of post by tuning into the Brain Salad Surgery, more specifically track one of this recording, which is Jerusalem. In case you’re not aware of that song, it was originally a poem written by William Blake in 1804, and later turned into a song by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. And when you’re recording one of the seminal albums of the 1970s, why not open with your own version of an English hymn?
It’s from this song that the expression “Chariot of Fire” comes, and I’m certain you’ve all heard that one at some point, usually with Vangelis playing in the background. It’s also where I get the title of today’s post, which has nothing to do with darkness, mills, or even Satan. No, it has to do with a reader question, and this comes from one of my Facebook Hodgepodge Crochet buddies, Debbie Wisely, who asked the following:
Do you have characters in mind and then build a story around them or do you have a story in mind first and fit your characters to the story? How do you pick what city/state or country they reside in? Do you write or type the original work?
This is sort of a crazy question, and I’m going to answer the last question first, because it’s the easiest. No, I don’t write by hand: I type everything, If I didn’t type I’d still be working on my first novel from over twenty years ago, because my handwriting is Teh Sux. I can also type a lot faster than I can write by hand, and given I can’t spell worth a damn, or that I’m always making mistake when I’m writing, I’d be lucky to churn out a few hundred handwritten words a day. So typing it is. There you have it.
As for the other two–oh, boy. Those are good. So let’s talk about one of my other novels that some of you might remember me writing, but which hasn’t seen the light of day.
I’m talkin’ Suggestive Amusements.
This was written from 31 December, 2012, to 26 March, 2013, while I was in the process of doing something before publishing Her Demonic Majesty. I blogged about the writing of this novel back in the day, and I remember the finishing of the novel was memorable because of a dream I had when it was all over, a dream I can still remember today–but that’s not why we’re here, yeah?
How did this start? Well, I had time on my hands because I’d just finished NaNoWriMo 2012, which I’d won by writing Kolor Ijo. I was thinking of things to do, and if you want to know how I got this story going, it was with a vision of two people, a man and a woman, sitting in a living room. The man was on a computer writing, and the woman was on a sofa looking at the guy while she was crocheting. Seriously. That’s the genesis of Suggestive Amusements: guy writing, woman crocheting.
But who were they? They guy writing–that’s pretty simple. Or is it? There’s more to his story, sure, there has to be, just like how at that time there was more to my story. I drew on my own experience as a programmer/writer and sorta made the male character in question the same kind of people, only single, untroubled by gender issues, and a huge-ass slacker. There you have him: Keith.
Who’s the woman then? Ah, well, that’s easy: she’s there to inspire him. She’s . . . I know! She’s a muse, a real muse, like thousands of years old, creature without a real beginning, being that’s there to bring you inspiration muse. That’s Erin. Not her real name, of course, just like her sister’s name–Talia, who you get to meet in the story–isn’t her real name. but do you want to call them by the Greek names by which they’re remembered? Nope, it’s too much of a mouthful. So Erin it is.
Something else was needed, however. I mean, come on, we know what’s needed: a love triangle! I need another woman, and she shall be called Elektra, because I like the name. And since we’re dealing with these ancient muses who are known mostly through Greek Mythology, why not stay with that Grecian naming motif? So there you are, Elektra.
With this novel–with most of my novels–I have the characters in place first. I get to know them, who they are, what they need, what they’re looking for, and once I know that I start building the story around them. I have the basic idea of what’s going on with the characters, so it’s now a matter of building the plot–
But as the second part of the question indicates, how do I know where the story takes place?
And the answer there is whatever strikes my fancy. In this case I wanted a place that I knew something about, but not a great deal. And that place was Las Vegas, because what hit me was, “I’ve never written about the desert area, and just about all the stories of Vegas revolve around casinos, gamblers, the mob, and Nic Cage drinking himself to death with help from a friendly whore. Why not build a fantasy there?”
That’s how Las Vegas and the areas surrounding the city became the setting for the novel. But wait! While writing the story, I started to think about Elektra’s backstory, and realized she was like a lot of people in the city, she came from somewhere else, and she blew into town with a lot of baggage. After a lot of thought and consultation with Google Maps, I decided that Elektra was a New Mexican woman from the Alamogordo, a place known as “The Friendliest Place On Earth” and the home of a whole lot of giant ants. And in that process of knowing where she was from–and trust me, I knew–I set up an adventure for her, traveling from one end of New Mexico to another, before eventually heading into Arizona and onward into Nevada and my main setting.
I came about all these places because I just felt it was right. I knew, because by that point I knew my characters, that this is where they were from, and why they were here. I do this with everything: when I’m setting up places for my characters I start looking at maps and I wonder, “Where would these people live? Where would they work? Why are they here?” And little by little I start putting it together until my thoughts reach a critical mass and it becomes real. Just like I did with my current story: why did the Salem Institute for Greater Education and Learning end up where it did? Because it is supposed to be there. I know this because I know this.
And now you know how I usually start putting my stories together. Maybe not the same way every time, but close enough that if you wanted to know how I get the writing party started, you now know.
And I leave you with sunlight breaking through to the dark Satanic mills, because the alternative was giant ants, and no one wants that.
One last thing, however: while I was working on Suggestive Amusements, a slight break in the action occurred in the 1 March, 2013 post titled The Sofa by the Hearth. And there you’ll find mention that I was missing a couple of characters from my life, and I was thinking about an event that happened to them every weekend, and, well, maybe it was time I started writing about them–something I’d start doing in earnest eight months later.
That was truly the moment, almost two years ago, that I’d decided to begin work on their story.
If I’d only known then how that was going to turn out . . .