Category Archives: Engen Books

My Writing Process: Be Prepared

Iphone: never need a pen again!
Iphone: never need a pen again!

Great, now I’m going to have that Lion King song stuck in my head all day.

This is another relatively obvious post, but perhaps so much so that I feel it often gets ignored. I know I did for a long time. Put bluntly it’s the act of always being prepared when inspiration strikes you. To sum up: carry a pen and pencil.

Blog post over? Not quite. There’s a little more to it then that. Basically what you’re “being prepared” for is inspiration. While many writers, especially those trained to produce under deadlines by jobs and school like me, can power through periods of dry creativity, there’s one thing nobody can fake: the divine spark. The idea.

Let’s explain. Once you have your novel outlined, most people can still force out some content even if they’re having a bad day. But nobody can force that initial idea that comes and inspires the novel to begin with. Nobody. I don’t care who you are.

This idea can come at any time, so you have to always be prepared. Muses are fickle things. Sometimes they’ll come while you’re sitting at your desk and ready for them, but other times they’ll come when you’re in line for coffee or getting your eyes checked.

So the old pad and pencil. But that’s not very convenient either, is it? Thankfully we live in a digital age. Send yourself a voicemail. Or an email. Or (my personal favorite) use the Notes app on my iPhone (this will be the only time I describe a helpful app on the iPhone). Do anything to get that idea down. Because while sometimes the idea is preserved seamlessly in your mind (I’ve had the opening scene to a book called Black Womb Returns perfect in my head for over a decade), other times it’ll evaporate within seconds. And there’s nothing more frustrating or painful for a writer than realizing you’ve lost what you’re sure would have been a best-seller because you didn’t have a pen.

But as a point, don’t go into too much detail. You don’t need to stop in the middle of Starbucks and write an eighty page outline. A) that’s time consuming and b) if the story never evolves further than the first idea you’re in trouble.

Take the note above, which I jotted down in iPhone Notes:

“Stuck on an elevator” novel
Man hits on woman,
They get stuck in an elevator together.

You don’t get much simpler than that. And the novel, whenever I get around to writing it, might never be like that. Or I may never write it. It’s so loose an idea that it’s just there to remind me. To spark the fires of inspiration when I’m near my keyboard. Like a string around my finger. It could be anything by the time it’s done. Or started.

So yeah, that’s my ramble on being prepared. If you find an idea, find a way to get it down. Don’t let it evaporate.

Make sure to give your idea the best chance at life you can, because only you can do it. And I’m sure it’ll be great.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew


Character Development: Habitus

Okay, there’s this contemporary theory in anthropology that was pioneered by a someone named Pierre Bourdieu around 1980 called Habitus. According to his article Structures, Habitus, Practices, Habitus is the durable, transposable dispositions a person has that are predisposed to function a certain way and are the principles through which we govern our actions. And that we adapt to their outcomes, though not necessarily consciously.

That’s a bit of a mouthful. But it basically boils down to the theory that all people are the sum of what has happened to them up until that point, and to a lesser extent, the product of everything that has happened anywhere up to that point.

This theory is particularly true and applicable when writing good fiction, with emphasis on character development. I’ll try to explain what I mean.

In a novel you don’t need to reveal everything there is to know about a character. Were they ex-military? Brought up in an orphanage? Deeply attached to their older sisters? All three? These are elements of the characters history, and (according to Habitus) they affect how the character will act when confronted with different situations. In this way a characters backstory can be implied through actions without being stated outright, and also helps to form more thorough, well-developed characters.

Although Habitus puts extreme emphasis on events that happen earlier in life and they’re importance, it also states that all events contribute to a person’s Habitus. For an overt example: you are different for having read this blog post, and will act differently to relevant situations in the future all the time.

This ensures good character development. All the events of your novel will affect your character, even if in only minute ways. Remember in T2 when the Terminator learned to check for the car keys in the visor? That tiny thing was a huge moment in the film. That’s a great example of character development through Habitus. When not only the events of the novel, but the events of the story make the character different at the end of it than they were at the beginning of it.

Hope this helps.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

Character Development: Stealing

No, this isn’t an admission of guilt. Quite the opposite in fact. This is a part of the writing process that I feel often gets overlooked, to the point where the general populace (and even some writers) don’t really acknowledge its legitimacy. It’s stealing from real life.

Now, that’s a bit of a misnomer. Stealing from real life (ie: your life) isn’t stealing at all. It’s already your life. You own it, and you can use it as a tool for your art when need be. Nobody would question a painter painting the view of the Eiffel Tower from his hotel while on vacation in Paris. Why would writing about it be different? It isn’t.

So we add a new layer to your writing. Not only is it an accumulation of your knowledge an creativity, but it’s an extension of your life from your point of view. The people and events from your life will find their way into your pages whether you like it or not, so we might as well be up front about it.

So the question becomes, how much is too much? Well, I’d never pinch a main character. Even if they wanted me to. I’ve got this friend named Adam Bruce that’s been reading my stuff since the first word, and I’m sure he’d love it if I wrote a novel that revolved around him. But that would just be too much. Also, I think it’d be hard writing from another real person’s persona like that. Every main character has a little of the author in them.

I’d also steer clear of tertiary or “stock” characters. We’ll get to stock characters later, but basically these are the characters that fill your world but not the spotlight, not even for an instant. A good example from my work is Sud from the Black Womb novels. The reason not to use people from real life here is there simply isn’t enough with the fictional characters to work with. It’d almost amount to a weird, cryptic code that only you and the referenced party could understand.

So, as you can imagine, that leaves secondary characters. Secondary characters were made for depiction by real life people. Because when you think of it, they’re already playing that role. Everyone sees themselves as the star of their own life’s story (as well you should) so therefore all the other important people in your life become secondary characters by consequence. So letting them transition into fiction should be fairly painless.

Infinity, Matthew LeDrew & Ellen Curtis, 2010 edition, Engen BooksThe joy in this is when it makes the writing more enjoyable to you. In Infinity the character of Koy was based on a real child in my life, and many of the side-plots or scenes with her evolved from real memories and experiences with her. I also think my love for her translated onto the page, and maybe even rubs off onto the reader a little (from the feedback I’ve gotten). It also paints a picture of the man looking after her, Chad. “Stealing” in this way can be an extremely rewarding process.

Another great thing to steal is experiences. Again, everyone does this. Why do you think so many Stephen King novels are set in Maine? Settings and moods are things colored by the lens’s of your eyes, and are entirely subjective. When we write we share that subjective point of view with the world. Whether they agree or not isn’t relevant to the story narrative. There’s no right or wrong, merely accurate. That seems like a contradictory statement. Sometimes that happens, too.

Most importantly, don’t let any non-writers tell you this type of writing is wrong. Because everyone does it, even if they don’t realize they do it. Referencing King again, he says in On Writing that it took him some time to realize he was writing about himself when he was writing about drug addicts and alcoholics. It’s like his subconscious was trying to warn him. So don’t fight this, it’ll come out anyway.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

History of Black Womb 4: Transformations in Pain

Transformations in Pain
Transformations in Pain, 2008, Engen Books

Should I call it that? Or should it just be “History of Transformations in Pain?” Or just “History of Black Womb 4?” Really, I want to know. I want to get this right.

This one’s going to be shorter. It’s by no means a three-parter like the account of Black Womb was, because in many ways Transformations in Pain was a much simpler book.

Part of it came from the JMS run on Amazing Spider-Man. And by some, I mean next to nothing. I liked his title to issue #471: Transformations, Both Literal and Otherwise. At the time I was also big into listening to DVD commentaries and I recall on one for a movie sequel (I honestly can’t recall which one, might have been Back to the Future) the writer/director said he loved getting everyone back together for a sequel.

So, armed with a cool title and the concept of using all the main players from the first book again, I went about writing Transformations in Pain (the title is explained in the prolog and I won’t reproduce here).

It was initially only supposed to be a short story. I’ve often said the third book, Smoke and Mirrors, was the original sequel to Black Womb. This story was simply supposed to bridge the gap between them. But it ended up being novel length, so it became the second book.

I liked this book so much it inspired me to fill in all the “gaps” in the series. I used to put months long gaps between each book, but after this I went about filling them in.

Amazing Spider-Man #471

As for the “subject matter” of the book, it was simply something I hadn’t really written much on to date. Which is strange looking at my current body of work.

Curious side note: the first chapter of this book was originally the last chapter of Black Womb. How messed up is that?

So yeah. For better or worse, this book in largely all right from my head, being inspired only by a passing comment on sequels from another writer.

Hope everyone’s keeping warm.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

My Writing Process: Multiple Threads

Okay, here’s another one from the good people over at Hal Con. During my the November Con, in one of my writing panels, a young woman asked me what to do when you have too many ideas. We were discussing writer’s block at the time and what to do when you can’t come up with ideas for stories and characters. She had a different problem: she had too many different ideas for what to do.

I responded at the time with something like: “that’s a wonderful problem to have.” Which is true and got a few laughs, but I feel maybe I could have done a better job answering it. So that’s what I’m trying here today.

The problem as I understand it is that you have two (or more) different things you want to do with the character that contradict each other, each with their own unique plots stemming from it.

I understand the frustration. Imagine if you have Jane and Tom in a relationship and you have two story ideas: in one Jane dies and the story is about Tom’s emotional journey. In the other Jane lives and the story is about their relationship struggles while visiting relatives in Cape Cod.

Clearly you can’t do both. At least not unless you’re doing a very strange Scifi story. But assuming you aren’t, let’s go from there.

I call this problem “Multiple Threads,” after a comic-book concept of alternate realities. Basically the concept goes that with every choice you make you create an alternate reality: one in which you made the choice, and another in which you didn’t. The same is with you, dear writer. It’s Shrodinger’s cat. Until you make the choice, Jane is both alive and dead… And you’re stuck.

For my money there are two main causes to this.

The first is indecisiveness. It’s a tentative nature on the part of the author that prevents for the making of big choices. My advice is to make them. Because the alternative is a story where nothing happens, otherwise known as an anti-story. And they lose appeal fast. Just make the choice and never look back. If you’re worried about making readers mad, just remember: if you don’t finish, you won’t have readers.

The other cause is less severe. It’s a lack of characters. If you’re worried about, again, say killing off a character because you won’t be able to tell certain types of stories, perhaps you haven’t fleshed out your supporting cast enough. Just because Jane is dead doesn’t mean Tom can’t eventually find love.

If you’re out there, I hope that helps.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

Artist Profile: Ariel Marsh

Okay, so while I was at Hal Con 2011 I met this great artist name Ariel Marsh. She works with my friend Jay Paulin over at Ink’d Well Comics on titles like Infastany and What the Wild Things Read, and has this great kid-friendly, cartoony style that is just amazing in its simplicity and ability to convey story in a great manner. That’s what her art is great for: telling a story. It’s not the hyper-detailed what am I supposed to be looking at -style that dominates a lot of big comics publishers. It serves the story well, and that makes her a great comic book artist.

So as I said, I met her at Hal Con. I don’t get to see Jay and Heidi much, so afterwards the four of us went out for a frate (friend date). Had some great laughs, lots of fun.

Apparently Jay lent Ariel his copy of Black Womb, because a few days later I got this message:

Good Afternoon!

Jay and Heidi lent me their copy of Black Womb #1. I started to read the
book on the train ride home. I’m really enjoying the book!

As soon as I had finished reading the prologue, I had to draw something
from it. It was so intense! It’s a pretty messy sketch but I do want to
properly ink and colour it soon. Working on this has been a lot of fun.
The subject is so different from what I usually draw (bright colours and
cats everywhere haha!).

Hope you dig!

It was great to meet you and Ellen at Hal-Con. What a blast Sunday night was!



Isn’t that awesome? I think it’s awesome. I was on her website ( )and it says she does commissions. I think this proves she’s got more in her than just cute stuff, though there was nothing wrong with the cute stuff. This just proves she’s a versatile artist.

I can’t wait to see what other images the book might inspire.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew



My Writing Process: Alternate Worlds

So a few months ago when I was at Hal Con 2011, a very nice person in one of my writing panels asked me: “Once you’ve created an alternate world, how do you work those details into your story?”

I apologized and told her I really couldn’t answer. I prefer to write things that take place in a version of our reality where some strange things can happen… “urban horror” it’s been called. Regardless of the title, all my stuff takes place in present day Earth.

I felt bad that I really wasn’t qualified to answer the question, but I wasn’t about to make something up either, so I went to the horse’s mouth to get the answer.

Kenneth Tam is an accomplished Canadian author of over twenty science-fiction alternate history novels. His best-known works include The Equations Novels and the Defense Command series. He is the son of fellow Canadian author Jacqui Tam. He is a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, Ontario. Kenneth has been an author guest at the Polaris Science Fiction Convention for seven consecutive years,and a guest at the Sci-Fi on the Rock convention for its first three years and a major guest (and my partner in writing panels) at the first Hal Con.

He seemed like the guy to ask. 😉

So I did. He says:

Seems to me the most important aspect of layering the details of a different world into a story is just trial and error. Too many details too fast and you’ll drown the fish, so to speak. Too little and people won’t be able to follow.

So isolate the most important facts that are essential to your story and make sure they’re layered in early, along with some less-important facts to disguise the important ones (in case you’re afraid of telegraphing your plot).

As to how, avoid stilted expository dialogue. Don’t be afraid to tell your readers what they need to know as the narrator. Again, just a matter of trial and error to figure out how much is tolerable, and how much is too much.

That seems like a smart answer. I agree completely.

If that aspiring writer was listening, I hope that helped.

Look Beneath the Surface,
Matthew LeDrew