Category Archives: Engen Books

Jesus Needs Help @ Hal Con 2011

Jesus Needs Help
I just don’t know what to say about this.

I left this one out of my initial coverage of Hal Con 2011, but as the holiday season is upon us, I feel that maybe it was time to give it mention. Jesus Needs Help is a indie-press comic that was sold next to the Ink’d Well Comics booth at Hal Con 2 (2011).

The reason I left it out is because I know literally nothing about it. Nothing, save the title and this one promotional gimmick. I don’t know the premise. I don’t know the story. I don’t know who published, wrote, or drew it.

I know nothing about this comic.

But just the image and poster demand discussion, don’t they? I mean… Look at it. Jesus Needs Help, and there he is, looking nervously at scary shadows. I can’t even imagine what this is about. Are they devils? The Romans? Scientologists? I don’t know.

And the promo poster. “If this book actually converts you to Christianity, you get a full refund! (baptismal certificate required)” That’s just compelling. I love ads like this, mostly because it makes me want to do them. Ask Ellen, I’m actually insane enough to buy this book, get rebaptised, then return to next year’s con with the certificate and demand my money back. Just to see the look on their faces.

And with fans of Ink’d Well saying “I found salvation through Ink’d Well Comics” right next door, it was just a strange funnybook religious presence.

Is it wrong that this book offends me? I shouldn’t say offended. I’ve done much harsher. And I haven’t read it. I guess I’m just aware that some people I know would be offended and in empathizing / channeling them. And that makes me feel bad. I feel like those people who wrote hate mail to Kevin Smith over Dogma without ever having seen it.

So if anyone wonders why I didn’t buy this, it simply leaves me unsure of what to feel and that makes me uncomfortable.

Maybe I’m not as progressive as I think.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

My Writing Process: Description

Description is Key
Description is Key

It’s a new year and whole new crop of virtual writing panels, and I’m going to get back on track doing topics that, I feel, really matter. A big one for me regarding how I do what I do involved description.

Basically most of my core writing habits, good and bad, come from advice I got at a young age. With description, I can trace the origin back to my grade seven home room teacher. He was talking about then-mega popular novelist RL Stine and his Fear Street series of novels. He said that people liked it because it was very visual… That it appealed to all readers because it was so richly described that people could see it. I believe his exact words were: “People can see the head hitting the floor.”

So when it came time for me to put pen to paper, I described everything… And I still do. Later on during my late teens, a great mentor of mine named Elona Malterre mentioned something similar, but said that we should remember to describe with all five of our senses whenever possible.

I think this is how I got labelled a horror/thriller author. When you describe leaves you’re just a writer… When you describe an evisceration, you’re a horror writer. I describe everything. At least, everything I see. However the pictures in my head get to me, they aren’t perfect. But I’m trying to communicate them to you as clearly as I can, so I’m going to use all the tools at my disposal.

That’s kind of what the “A Thousand Words” panels are about. For instance, look at the picture accompanying this post. What do yo think it is? You presumably don’t really know, but how would you describe it? Orange? Octagonal? Would you spend much time on the raised pattern in the centre? If you had to describe this picture to someone who couldn’t see it, what words would you use? Because if you can do that, that’s what writing is. That is the essence of it: taking a picture in your brain and explaining it well enough that the same picture is in someone else’s. Then, just like early animation, you follow it up with another picture and another to make it move.

The picture is actually the Peteo-Can hall at Memorial University, taken during the Lorna Goodison reading I attended. They are the sound proofing pads above the auditorium. Neat though, huh? I’ve never seen ones so thought out and intricately designed.

For describing this it’s easy to JUST use sight, and that’s fine… But you could do more. Do they have a smell? Does the auditorium have a smell? If I could touch them, what would they feel like? Or taste like?

If you’re drafting your manuscript, think these things through. Describe the world around you characters. Make it real, bring me in to that world. If you’re done drafting, re-read the story and ask yourself: have I given enough information that people can see what’s in my head?

Let me know how you do with it. Whether you describe everything or save it for the special bits, I’m sure your story will be great.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

My Writing Process 11: TRUTH

Let’s talk for a minute about truth.

Truth is the single most important thing any fiction writer can learn. It’s the answer to every question and the defense to any criticism. It is why we do what we do.

Let me get new-agey for a moment. If you write, you’re not just creating that from nothing. Any writer knows this. There’s a muse or a divine spark in your head that feeds you those transmissions from the great beyond, and even though it’s fiction, it happened to somebody somewhere.

That’s laying it on a bit thick, but you get my point.

Anyone who has ever known a liar in their life knows that the truth just sounds different. There’s a ring and a hum to it that resonates within us all… Even if that truth lies within a secret plot by Martian’s to invade Ohio. Just Ohio, nothing else.

The key lies in the logic of your story and the reflexivity of your characters. The first is bendable, the second isn’t. But both have to remain consistent to successfully suspend your readers’s disbelief and engage them in your story.

FireflySuspension of disbelief is a very real thing, and if it isn’t obeyed than nobody is going to pick up what you’re putting down. I’ve seen gaffs that can’t be followed in premises as simple as a romantic comedy. I’ve also completely believed epics on other planets, such as Firefly.

Whether your world is completely made up or just a fictionalized version of our world, you have to establish the rules of your world and never break them.

People cannot return from the dead in the Engen Universe. We will never break this rule. To do so would undermine everything Ellen and I have created. On the other hand, people have noticed that everyone in Coral Beach tends to heal a little faster than normal people… This may be a plot point, but it also serves as narrative convenience. Just because Mike gets hurt in book 2 doesn’t mean I want to deal with him in crutches for 10 books.

Once the rules of your story are in place, it’s up to your characters to respond to the events therein appropriately. If Jimmy Five sees an alien spacecraft fry a pedestrian, don’t have him say “Gosh!” (And I’ve seen almost that exact thing happen, with that reaction). If your characters don’t react realistically, your readers will become “aware” of the story.

But if you obey your own rules (whatever they may be) and have the characters react in realistic, character-specific ways than the reader will follow you anywhere. AND you’ll find after a while that you are “seeing” the movie through the cosmic projector in your mind. And you’ll just be telling it like it is.

It’ll be the truth.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

My Writing Process 11: Writing as we Speak

A lot of authors like to pepper their work with what we like to call ‘local color’… That is, phrases and idioms that are specific to a certain region in order to increase it’s level of realism.

Being from Newfoundland, I see a lot of this. It seems like every local book published by Breakwater or Downhome are peppered with “Newfie Speak” (a term I despise, by the way). Even my good friend Kenneth Tam over at Iceberg Publishing does this. His His Majesty’s New World series about Newfoundlanders in an alternate timeline is chalk full of Newfie-isms. And he does it quite well. Most do. And I’m sure that every other region of the world has their own brand of local color that their own local authors use. Novels like The Color Purple are famous for it. And sometimes again, local color is used by people not native to the area (like me writing about Americans) to create an illusion of authenticity.

Here’s the rub, and it’s where you have to be careful: sometimes it can be offensive. Now while I strongly believe that you should never pussy-foot around when it comes to writing, there’s also a point where you’re just being insensitive. Personally, I opt to simply say that a character has a certain accent, rather than attempt to portray in phonetically. But that’s your call.

There’s also the possibility that nobody (not even people from the demographic presented) will be able to understand it. For instance, in outport communities here in Newfoundland people tend to remove the letter H from where it should be and install it other places. So rather than: “That house is orange,” it would sound like: “That ‘ouse is horange.” But I wouldn’t write it like that. I might describe it, but writing it would be confusing and possibly offensive. On the other hand, many Newfoundlanders say “B’y” at the end of their sentences. That I would keep, just because there’s not really a non-phonetic alternative and it’s an authentic part of our speech.

So it’s kind of a mixed bag. It’s important, like all these writing processes, to take it with a grain of salt and to decide for yourselves. Let me know what you think… And if anyone has any local speech patterns they want to post, do so. Let’s have fun with it. 😉

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

My Writing Process 10: When your lead is not your lead

So we’ve been talking a lot about lead characters lately. And while they’re always important, sometimes they’re not the most important. There’s another school of thought than simply: the popular character is the lead, in which the central character involved in the plot is the lead.

This is a case in which the character traditionally viewed as the lead isn’t the lead, they’re simply a vehicle through which we view the story. It’s hard to explain. Let me try with an example:

Back to the Future
In Back to the Future, the “main” character is generally regarded as Marty McFly. Which makes sense. He’s the top billed character, he’s the one who causes the plot… But he’s not the lead. George is.

Follow me here: in three act structure; there is an inciting incident, rising action, and then a climax… And the character is different than they were before. Marty’s a great character, but he’s basically the same at the end of the story than he was at the beginning. But George goes through drastic changes over his three act structure, and his life in 1985 is better as a result. The bits where we see him in 1985 serve as a prolog and epilogue to his story, and are basically the exposition of the film ( if we’re comparing this to a novel, which we are).

Marty is simply the vehicle through which George’s story is viewed. He’s almost a narrator, though we see it through his POV rather than spoken narration.

Side note: I think that’s why the second film struggled to find its voice. There really was no main character at all. In the third film, it’s Doc Brown, and once again Marty reverts to his role as vehicle.

Batman Year OneThere are other examples too. Batman: Year One is a great one, whereas Batman is basically the mcguffen that allows for the arc of Commissioner Gordon’s story to take place. And it works to great effect.

I use it in later books a lot. It’s also helpful in Infinity: just because there are multiple characters, they each get their own arc. The strongest of these, by default, is the lead… Victor (arguably the only character involved in all 4 stories) should be the lead, but he’s not. He’s the vehicle.

So yeah, this obviously isn’t all the time. Xander is typically the lead of the Black Womb books, and there’s no attempt to hide that. But when you’re writing, think about the three act structure and who is getting development. If its not your main, make sure your plot and scenes reflect that, or the story may run the risk of falling flat.

Above all, make sure there is a lead.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

My Writing Process 9: Scene Construction

Okay, so here’s one I get asked a lot: how do you construct a scene so that it has good energy. So that it pops, and seems like it’s coming off the page at you.

First off, I don’t think there’s any one way. In fact, I’m damn sure there’s no one way. But the way I learned has served me well, and I’m happy to pass it along:

Begin after the scene has began, and end before the scene has ended.

That sounds confusing and trite, but it works. Basically starting scenes in medias res (or in the middle of the action, for you English-speakers) makes it more interesting and more dynamic. It pulls the reader in an eliminates the painful exposition that often punctuates a scene.

An example:

Xander entered the room through the door against the North wall. Julie had been waiting for him, standing by the window and looking out upon the trees surrounding her house. Her room was small and pink, and he always felt comfortable in it. Mike had told him once that it was his maternal complex, but he’d ignored it.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” she said, stroking her arms with her hands.
He looked hurt, although she didn’t see. “You knew I would.”
She spun around, her eyes hot with the anger he’d come to associate with the women of the Peterson family. “You’ve got some nerve. All the times that you’ve let me down, and you have the balls to say that! F*** you!”
He ignored her, stepping forward and placing his hands on the clammy flesh of her arms.
She glared at him at first, then softened.
He held her there until she was calm, then they both walked downstairs together.

Okay, that’s a decent scene (that doesn’t really fit anywhere in the series by the way, for anyone trying to figure it out). But let’s cut away the exposition at the beginning and the end:

“I didn’t think you’d come,” Julie said, stroking her arms with her hands.
Xander looked at het with hurt, although she didn’t see. “You knew I would.”
She spun around, her eyes hot with the anger he’d come to associate with the women of the Peterson family. “You’ve got some nerve. All the times that you’ve let me down, and you have the balls to say that! F*** you!”
He ignored her, stepping forward and placing his hands on the clammy flesh of her arms.
She glared at him at first, then softened.

See? There’s energy there. There’s still flaws. We miss that description of the setting and the jab that Mike made at Xander, but the fight is stronger. So you have to look at it both ways and decide which way fits your theme and tone better. Was the point the mood created by the description? Or is it about Xander and Julie’s relationship? These are choices that can be made during editing, but eventually it becomes a part of your writing habits.

Now, this is a short scene on purpose. Had this been for a story it would have been much longer. Also, I have no idea what they’re talking about… Hard to make two characters fight without context… Though if anyone could do it, Julie and Xander could.

Hope this helps.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

Hal-Con 2011

Alrighty guys! So I’m back in St. John’s after a wonderful weekend at Hal-Con 2011, and let me tell you, it’s hard getting back into the swing of things!

First off, a re-cap of the weekend.

Friday we landed, Matt jetted off to the convention centre and I jetted off to bed. The day had taken a lot out of me before we even left Newfoundland; getting all the last minute details ready, almost being killed by a crazy lady who decided it would be cool beans to cross over three lanes of traffic when she got off the off-ramp and send us peeling out of her way into what would have been oncoming traffic on any other day. Yeesh. Anyway, where were we?

Right, Friday night. I slept, woke up bright and early to Hal-Con Day One! Let me just say, the sheer amount of people at 9 am when doors opened was impressive. Lots of love there.

Matt and I did our staple panel on writing, but thanks to the packed room, it quickly turned into question and answer, which is fine by me seeing as people commented that it was more helpful. At the end of the day, being helpful is my job ;).

Anyway, moving along. Around 5 pm Matt and I jotted out to get ready for the Stargazer Soirée. After a long day of running around and sitting pretty (read: awesome, exciting times!), the bacon wrapped scallops and lamb chops being carted around for our nom-ing pleasure were much appreciated, as was the company and city view from the top of the WTCC. Seriously a stunning little venue.

Day two saw more fun, but unfortunately in an effort to get me home bright and early I had to leave all too soon. I still managed to pack lots in before my flight (read: most hellish experience of my drama queen life). There was lots of fun to be had with Jay and Heidi of Ink’d Well Comics for the What the Wild Things Read launch (one of the highlights of the weekend being able to give back through charity! Kudos to them for getting the ball rolling and putting out such a lovely finished piece!). As well, Hal-Con 2011 marked Engen Books re-launch of Compendium to the international market as well as the launch of Black Womb Book 8: Inner Child.

After all that fun, I still managed to find time to get whisked away for gelato (Italy, if all goes well, I’d like to be back by 2016, fingers crossed!). Seriously the best gelato this side of the pond. Had a scoop of lemon-lime, a scoop of passion-berry and a scoop of rose hip flavoured gelato. The rose hip flavoured gelato was by far the most heavenly thing I have ever tasted. It is damn good I only manage to get by Halifax once a year because I would be so freaking fat living off the stuff.

From gelato, I only got a few more hours at the con, being whisked off for my “early” flight home. I should have gotten home 11:30 NL time. Should have.

It was my first time flying alone, and waiting for my flight left me a jittery mess. I’ve flown plenty of times before, just never without someone else, so naturally I was freaking out like a crazy. By the time we boarded and took off however, I had managed to calm down. Then came mechanical failure.

Seriously folks, when you’re in a swifty little plane directly over the Atlantic, you do not want to hear “we are experiencing mechanical failure and will be turning around at this time”. You panic more than a little.

By the time we were back on solid ground (after a very bumpy landing and some turbulence) I was ready to swim back home rather than get on a plane, especially when we could watch through the window as they yanked all the parts out of the plane one by one. After more than an hour of watching them do this, with no idea of what was going on, the flight crew finally clued us all in that we’d be taking another plane around 11:30, about half an hour after we should have arrived home initially.

Let’s just say, the delay in posting has had a lot to do with catching up on some severely missed sleep, but that it was all worth it, because as usual Hal-Con 2011 was a blast. So, before Matt attempts to kill me for keeping him up any longer, I better sign off. More to come though in the coming days. Look forward to posts about rubber ducks 😉