All posts by matthewledrew

The Man with the Hole in his Head official launch!

The Man with the Hole in His HeadThis Saturday (August 21st, 2012) at 5:30pm at the Grand Bank Regional Theater, join Engen’s newest author Kevin Woolridge is celebrating the release of his first novel The Man with the Hole in his Head.

Be one of the first to pick up this adventurous and witty supernatural thriller and meet the creator of The Little World himself, Kevin Woolridge.

The event will be held at 16 Water Street, Grand Bank, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Link to the Facebook event here.


Kevin Woolridge joins the fold

20120708-100732.jpg Okay, the contracts are signed an everything is good, so we can finally say that this August brings the newest Engen book: The Man with the Hole in his Head by “Little World” creator Kevin Woolridge.

The novel takes place outside regular Engen continuity, and has me really excited. It’s honesty the best thing I’ve read this year.

It’ll also be the first Engen book to have a simultaneous digital edition along with the print edition. Yah the Future!

Check it out:


Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

History of Smoke and Mirrors

So you may have noticed a pause in the “History of” blog posts. That, largely, is due to Smoke and Mirrors. Because it is really, really hard to talk about this book without ruining it and the two that came before it.

I’ve confused people before by saying this was the second book I wrote. But it is. Transformations in Pain was shoved in the middle long after the fact. So, this is the truest sequel to Black Womb.

I think it goes way back to a dvd or VHS special again or something. At some point, somebody told me that what people wanted in a sequel was the first movie, again. I disagree with this on principle. I think people want a continuation of the same story, and that’s what Smoke and Mirrors is.

I was also aware of the popular conception the sequels were not as good as their originals, and was trying hard to not let that happen with my series (as young as the series was at this point).

So, armed with these two philosophies, I wrote SAM (as we call it around the office now). It was written to be a direct continuation of the original story and not suck.

Despite what people will tell you, it failed on both counts (keep reading, I’ll explain).

When reviewing Smoke and Mirrors, Jay Paulin said:

…easily be the best book – thus far – in the series. As it stands, it may be the most entertaining.

He’s wrong.

I say this because nobody has read the original Smoke and Mirrors. It came out a year after Transformations in Pain because I was so unhappy with it I literally rewrote the entire thing. Not one word is the same. All the events are the same (mostly) but the way they’re presented is like night and day.

The new Smoke and Mirrors, as it saw print, is considered one of the better books in the series. While other books are my favorite, I can certainly see where people are coming from. In moves at a good clip and has a great little plot. I recommend it. 😉

Conceptually speaking, there are two “new” characters in this book: Megan Greene and Natasha Mayer. Both are lawyers, and both are based (very loosely) on women I went to high school with (they’re women now anyway, and I’ve been told the term “girls” can be derogatory). I think they both had aspirations of becoming lawyers. I know one of them became a nurse. Anyway, their plots are unique, but both read early editions if Black Womb and provided helpful comments along the way. 😉 And, just like the characters in Black Womb, they quickly grew to be nothing like their real-life counterparts and “characters” in their own right.

I really can’t talk about the plot. Go read it, people. Lol.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

Character Development: A Great Main Character

So I was browsing through my old blog posts and trying to find some inspiration for this weeks (easy to do by clicking the archive button above!) and I stumbled across the list of the four intended Virtual Writing Seminar outlines I gave to you guys almost a whole year ago. The one for Character Development read like this:

Character Development: what makes some characters pop and others just fizzle?

That sounds like a simple enough mission statement, right? And yet I’m realizing I didn’t quite deliver on that. The existing VWS’s on Character Development have been great, but they don’t quite reflect my original (flawed?) intention of the series. So that got me thinking: what does make some characters pop while others are just stale? I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I have spent the better part of my life examining and dissecting what makes one particular character great: Xander Drew, star of the Black Womb series. So let’s take a look at that and see if we can see what makes him “pop,” and along the way maybe we can see what makes main characters pop in general. VERSATILITY One thing that I think works great to Xander’s benefit is that he has the ability to work well in many different situations and in many different genres. So many characters in fiction aren’t versatile enough to be put in different situations. They’re humorous characters that don’t work in serious situations or serious characters that don’t work in humorous situations, or any number of other bad combinations. Not only does this limit the character, it’s not very realistic. Nobody in real life is just one things. Almost everyone is capable of behaving in different ways. People are capable of even behaving out of character, even though that’s traditionally chalked up to bad writing in literature. Xander isn’t like that. While he can be both funny and serious (often at the same time, taking a cue from my own personality), he’s also versatile in many other ways as well. It wasn’t planned this way, but he can function and even thrive in almost any genre or situation (in my humble opinion). He can work in sci-fi stories, action stories, crime dramas, fantasy / horror stories, and even straight up dramas and romances. The only type of story I can’t imagine him in are westerns, and that’s only because Ellen has used her power as partner to veto time travel stories within the Engen Universe. We’ll see what the future holds. 😉 This not only means that he can be believable in no matter what scenario the reader finds him in, but also it helps you. I don’t understand how one writer can write the same story (or a close facsimile) over and over again. Whenever I get bored with the type of stories in the Black Womb series I can simply change what the series is. Life is free and flexible. So should your main character. If they are, your series can be too. The Everyman You’d think this would stand at odds to the last point, but it doesn’t. People like a character who is an Everyman. People like a character with humanity. They have to be relatable to the reader(s) and have relatable problems. As dramatic as it can be to have your character save the entire universe from exploding, it’s not something that John and Jane Q taxpayer can really relate to. Not saying that that means you shouldn’t write your universal-explosion story. It does mean that it probably shouldn’t be in your first chapter though. That’s why Xander starts out fairly normal, and why most of the books start out with some shred of normalcy.

Relatability is key to creating a great main character. I think the opposite of this would be a Mary Sue (a term I only learned recently). Because even lucky people in life (Brad Pitt, Ricky Gervais) still have days when they think nothing is going their way. We all do. They even may feel like nothing goes their way, because sometimes that’s the way a person is. I imagine these people get told off by their friends if they exist. I know I do. Anyway, off point. If your character is too perfect and too often amazing than its hard for people to relate to him, and they need to be able to relate to him to be properly engaged in your story.


Okay, for those that don’t know, when you feel “bad” for a character, that’s pathos. This isn’t necessary, as there have been many anti-heroic or just plain mean characters that don’t generate pathos in me and I still loved the book. That said, there are also plenty of anti-heroic and mean characters that have generated pathos in me. Want an example everyone’s heard of? Gregory House. He’s an ass, but we feel bad for him.

Pathos is a great thing, an is one of the only “real” emotions you can get from a reader consistently (I find). It doesn’t mean the character has to be upset or weepy all the time, it just means that people are going to feel for them and their situation.

In Black Womb, a great deal of the pathos comes from Xander’s relationship to Sara. He’s Young and he’s got the ultimate case of unrequited love. Everyone has been there at some point in their lives, and may even be there at the time of reading the book. This also goes back to Relatability. See how it all links up?


I can’t take credit for this. Actually, I can’t take credit for any of this, as these concepts all go back to Robinson Curusoe and the first novels. But this one, as many have noticed, was learned through a childhood fed mostly on the work of Stan Lee.

He seemed to like giving his protagonists failings. Major ones. Among them: guilt complexes, uncontrollable rage, romantic difficulties and physical impairment. Or all of the above. Life was not easy for his characters. And that is great for pathos and reliability. These things really are one giant thing, which is why they’re all in one post.

I’m ruining myself by saying this; but Xander has yet to have a “pure” victory. Did you notice? He’s either sacrificed his personal life for his professional one, his professional for his personal, or he’s just plain demolished both. While I don’t plan on this happening forever (he is young after all, he’s learning), it is easy to get behind the underdog. I think Stan Lee knew that, and it’s one (of many) lessons I’ve learned from growing up on his writing.

So, those are my theories on what makes a good main character. Hope you found it helpful. I also hope anyone out there who hasn’t given Xander Drew a chance yet will so… He deserves it, in my opinion. 😉

But then, I’m biased. 😉

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

Is it a Series? : A Continuing Narrative Part 3

So for those new, we’ve been discussing ways to write multi-novel stories. We’ve talked about cliffhangers and my distaste for them, but there are still lots of other ways.

nothing makes a reader more inclined to pick up the next book than if the book they just read is great. Thats better than any tease or cliffhanger any writer could come up with.

If the book in hand is amazing, other kinds of teases may not be needed, but won’t hurt. If the book in hand is only okay, teases might help ensure further readings.

If your book is bad no amount of teasers or hooks or hangers will bring people back.

The simplest tease is the ad. Every Black Womb book has an ad for the next book in the back. Hopefully the title of the next one is compelling and makes readers want to read it, and the blurb that follows is always written to intrigue and excite. It provides hints about the great events of the next book… I only mention the exciting bits. Not the whole chapter that Xander spends styling his hair. I leave that out of the blurb.

But we’re not really here to talk about my advertising ability. Although those blurbs are ridiculously hard to write.

No, these are virtual writing seminars. So let’s talk about more ways to tease your reader.

The best tease of any kind is consistently great entertainment. Build up enough momentum and enough of a name as a writer, and you can even ride that through the darker parts of your career. Like a car you just let coast after giving the gas for so long.

But just in case you’re not sure you’re doing that, there are alternative ways.

I like using a slow build. That’s like the Tommy plot in Black Womb. It’s a collection of scenes or interludes not necessarily related to the main plot of the novels in which they appear that build anticipation of a story or big event to come. I usually build these over an arc to prepare the reader for the final book in the arc, which I like making especially epic.

This can be done wrong. Fans have pointed out that I did it wrong in Ghosts of the Past. The tease itself was fine, but it’s presence at the climax of the story left some readers feeling cheated of a true resolution. Thankfully there were other teases placed, like O’Toole’s hypnosis sessions, which were much more effective. 😉

Once we’ve built the anticipation to epic proportions, we pay it off with the climax novel. The end of the arc. I liken these to the “season finales” of serialized shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I’m sure you can all think of good examples.

These aren’t sub plots. People all them that. They’re teases. Sub plots relate to the main plot and typically resolve near the same time or at the same time. It serves the main plot of the novel, not the arc. A subplot can set up and tease a future novel though. The titles are complicated. Screw them. Learn to write, not the writing terms, I always say.

Another teasing technique is the Easter Egg. That’s dropping a small hint or plant a clue, but keep it seemingly unimportant. These are the most subtle teases. When the meaning of all the eggs is revealed, it leaves the reader with the impression of a cohesive book in which everything matters. That in itself is a powerful, motivating factor to keep reading.

So that’s it! The riveting three part virtual writing seminar on how to write three part stories comes to a close! Lol.

Hopefully what I’ve said help. If it doesn’t, remember, feel free to chuck it. Chuck anything that isn’t helpful to getting your story told.

And Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

Is it a Series? : A Continuing Narrative Part 2

So we’re continuing our talk about writing multi-novel stories. Although I’ve been reminded that they needn’t be novels. These tips go for comics, too, like Jay Paulin’s work over at Ink’d Well Comics. Or my friend Steve Lake’s continuing series of Full Moon short stories.

Anyway, a second approach to a story that continues over several novels (or whatever) is to construct each issue as a complete story, each story being a part of the tapestry of the overarching story. No cliffhangers. Just strong, one-issue, related stories adding up to a bigger story.

I love this approach, and recommend it whole heartedly. It makes it so each novel is accessible for new readers but rewards long-time readers. Win-win. It’s also easier to get into reading these types of stories.

I used this method for a Black Womb storyarc we called “Peterson Syndrome,” which took place between books 4-7. Collectively, they tell the tale Julie Peterson and Xander Drew’s relationship, as well as the introduction and storyarc of Julie’s cousin Mandy Peterson. Each book has a complete story devoted to a phase of the relationship, and to the evolution Of the characters into their new roles after the hellish circumstances of the original Black Womb trilogy.

As I said, there were no cliffhangers. There were hints and teasers, but thats different. The closet I came to a cliffhanger was the end of Ignorance is Bliss, but even that wasn’t a hard cliffhanger. Just an ominous ending.

Another approach I adopted during this arc was to have multiple sub plots going in each book, integral to the overall plot of the arc but not that novel. In each novel I started at one storyline, I had the conclusion of another storyline involving other characters, and had the second act of yet another storyline. I would not have been able to do this without a great and eclectic group of characters. And not all plots received equal “page time.” Tommy’s plot has been burning over nine books.

And there’s nothing saying you can’t mix and match / combine methods.

To Be Continued…!
Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

Is it a Series? : A Continuing Narrative Part 1

Alright, so I think I’ve finally come up with a valid post to fly under the flag of the “Is it a series?” series of Virtual Writing Seminar posts.

This was going to be a part of “my writing process,” until I realized it isn’t a part of my writing process. It’s a part of my planning process, and the reason I plan in this way is because I want my stories (chiefly in the Black Womb series) to function as a continuing story as well as individual novels. So today, we’re going to be talking about the process of crafting good endings, continuing narratives, and cliffhangers for your stories. 😉

And the illusion wouldn’t be complete unless the blog post itself was also a multiple-parter. So it is. 😉

I’ve always been of the mind that stories should be somewhat self contained. If someone planks down 10-30 dollars for your story, it had damn well better be a complete story. If for some reason your story must continue beyond the confines on the novel, make sure you end with a cliffhanger. A good cliffhanger. One that actually makes the readers’s jaw drop.

I know this sounds obvious. But if it were really obvious I wouldn’t read so many continuing series novels where this rule is butchered, beaten, or otherwise ignored.

But if you honestly believe the cliffhanger is the best choice on how to end your story (against my advice) lets do it right.

The first way is to simply end at the climax. See below:


Point 3 here would be the climax. So up to this point you’ve introduced yours characters, their various individual and sub plots, established the conflict, and built that conflict up to the point where your characters and the situation are at their climax. Now, stop.

You can see why that’s not popular with me.

But if you’re set at doing it, make sure in the sequel you also introduce your characters, their situations, their plots (they should have things to do in the continuing narrative as well). The trick here is to resolve the climax from the previous novel in such a way that either the threat is amplified or a greater threat is introduced. Otherwise there’s nowhere to go. Then you need to bring this new threat to climax and resolution… Unless you’re cliff-hanging this one too.

I must advise not to do this in continuous succession. Readers will grow tired of it quickly, I know this reader does. And the longer you make me wait, the bigger and better you’re going to have to make the final payoff.

The only really good examples I can think of for these are the old Marvel novels from the late 90s. Greg Cox wrote the ones I’m thinking of, I believe. One example was Time’s Arrow: The Past, which ends with the heroes saving all of time… But with Spider-Man and Bishop trapped in 1892 in the process. Then the following novel features a completely different story with them escaping to an alternate world and having to get home. The two stories have vastly different plots, tones, and narratives, yet they complimented each other perfectly.

The other example, also by Cox, was in the second novel of his Gamma Quest trilogy. The whole novel the heroes (mainly Iron Man, if I recall) were battling a cadre of intelligent robots, and at the climax finally defeated them… Only to discover that they were “walking, talking, gamma bombs!” and that defeating them had activated them!

Great example of how to use cliffhangers right. However, these were trilogies, each with their own other cliffhangers. I remember those being not so great, and in each series the formulae had bored me by the third book… So beware….

To be continued!
Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew