Returning for Hal-Con 2011 this year were friends and cohorts Ink’d Well Comics. I say cohorts because both Ellen and I got a little piece of the comic action this year, with each of us contributing prose stories for their new charity book What the Wild Things Read. Jay says he actually plans on making this a yearly production, which is just awesome. All the proceeds go to “Free the Children,” which (Heidi has informed me) is not a charity that removes children from their homes, but one that frees third-world country children from oppression and cruelty. Definitely a worthy cause. Everyone should go pick it up and feel good about themselves.
Actually there’s a small bone of contention I have with WTWTR, but it has nothing to do with the book itself. It’s because I always wanted to write and draw my own comic story, and I had it all worked out, and just couldn’t get the art done in time. Boo on me. I met Ink’d Well artists Ariel Marsh and Nick Orme while I was there this time, and now have tremendous amounts of respect for what they do and how quickly they do it. Well, I always had respect. Now I have more.
I’ve picked up Jay’s newest book Infantasy, and will be letting everyone know what I think once I get a chance to breathe again after the flight.
One of the many authors featured at Hal Con 2011 was Engen Books’s own Darren Hann, author of the short story Holy Troll for More Sci-Fi from the Rock as well as his own self-published novel Time Diamond, printed through his multi-media production company Hann-Made Productions.
Darren was also selling copies of Bunker-6, a pilot for an un-produced television series that was actually written by Ellen and I.
He was actually really great at this con, providing lots of energy and enthusiasm. I think he went over really well. Can’t wait to see him at next year’s event.
When we last left our hero (sarcasm) he was just beginning to pen the first Black Womb novel.
I’d like to keep in mind that I was never intending, at this point, to write a series… Or even a novel, for that matter. No, I was just writing, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to just do that… For enjoyment.
That said, these posts aren’t a writing process series… That’s what the “My Writing Process” posts are for. This is the how and why of Black Womb, and I’m going to try and articulate where the inspiration for each element of the story came from.
Let’s get this out of the way: everything comes from somewhere. There is no magical Muse that puts random thoughts in your head, it all comes from somewhere. In On Writing, Stephen King talked about how his first book, Carrie, was inspired by two thoughts (telepathic phenomenon and the memory of a poor girl from high school) coming together. That’s fine. Two ideas merging to create something new is what life and procreation is all about, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just make sure it’s not blatantly plagiarism. Taking one small element from another source is one thing, taking everything from that source is quite another.
Okay, so now that we’ve admitted that everything comes from somewhere, let’s talk about where everything came from. It sometimes seems as thought all my readers have their theories, but they’re typically just… Wrong. So here’s the truth to set it straight.
Names: This is a big bone of contention for some, who have noticed coincidental patterns in the names. Xander is a big one, because there are so few fictional characters named it that it’s easy to see the strings as it were. So, for the record, yes it was inspired by the Buffy character. However, in my defense, while I eventually became an avid fan of Joss Whedon I wasn’t at the time. I had named the character in my previous stories and liked it because someone had told me it meant “hero of the people” and I thought that fit well, so I wanted to use it again but also didn’t want to be repetitive, so I was trying to find some other permeation of it. Someone had given me a novel called “The Xander Years” assuming I was a Buffy fan. It was just a novelization of a few episodes, but when I started reading it I quickly discovered that Xander was short for Alexander and adopted it. That simple.
Harris is Mike’s last name and Xander’s last name from Buffy, but that’s innocent as well. There was a politician here in Newfoundland and the time named Mike Harris. I already had Mike’s first name and when trying to come up with the second name that one just popped in. It wasn’t until years later that someone pointed it out and I realized where I’d gotten it from that I recognized what I’d done, and laughed tremendously.
Similar story with Sara’s name. I was wondering what went good with Alex and kept going “Alex and… Alex and…” and the name Sara kept popping in, so I used it. Didn’t realize until after that my cousins were named Alex and Sarah (both girls) and that’s typically how we referred to them… That’s why it sounded so right together. Sarah has since said she doesn’t mind.
My fellow author Steve Lake believes no matter how many times I tell him otherwise that Sara is named for Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy fame as well. Sorry, not the case, although I imagine he won’t believe me even now.
The Womb: There are also a few Womb elements that are borrowed, though not from Venom like people always say. Part of it is the Black Man dreams as I explained in the last post in this series, but other elements come from somewhere very different.
This is a touchy subject with me, but I’m trying to be as honest as I can.
Around the time I was sitting down to write the first Black Womb novel, my grandfather had developed a nasty bout of pancreatic cancer. He has since died, though not of the cancer… He beat that. I miss him very much. Becoming was dedicated to him.
Though I’ve never been good at externalizing my emotions in healthy ways, what I write is typically a good indication of what I was feeling at the time. At this point I was very worried that my Grandfather would die of cancer. I remembered an old episode of the X-Files (my father and I often watched it together) in which there was a black creature that was apparently made of cancer. It was cancer embodied and made sentient. This appealed to me greatly. I think some part of my teenage mind wanted to make cancer something tangible… A physical villain I could punch like the heroes in comics. So the Black Womb suit became a skin of black organ. The Black Womb, in original conception, was cancer. He’s not anymore, but that’s how it started.
When my Grandfather went in for an operation to try and remove as much as the tumor as possible, and when they did they discovered that the cancer had eaten part of his rib. If anyone notices, there’s a scene during Black Womb where that exact thing happens.
During a chemo treatment something amazing occurred. My Grandfather’s appendix ruptured and shot poison throughout his body, or at least that’s how it was explained to me. I’m not sure on the actual science, maybe Heidi Paulin from over at Ink’d Well Comics can make a post to educate me. In any event, we almost lost him right then and there… But when they flushed the appendix poison or whatever out, they discovered that the poison had killed the cancer. It was gone, at least for the time being.
If anyone wonders why the Womb’s power lies in his appendix and that it gives him miraculous healing abilities, you can trace it back to here. That one miracle gave us ten more years with my Grandfather, and helped inspire to course of my life.
This is how Black Womb was formed. The rest, the plot, is all me. Everything else is just story that came together around these elements of my life. I’ll try to delve into the other books as well, but I doubt any of them will have as much impact on me as the History of Black Womb.
Sometimes one of the greatest hurdles when it comes to writing a novel or short story comes from deciding the method with which to tell it. And although you’d think that was fairly straightforward, sometimes it’s not.
To get this out of the way, most stories are told from a point of view that we call “Selective Omniscience”. This is a form of non-participant third person narration in which the narrator knows everything that happens in your world, but chooses not to tell you it all. This is the style that all the Engen novels are written in to date, with the exception of select passages (ie: Mandy’s journal). In this, the narrator can skip time, go back in time, see what’s in a characters head, and switch the camera to a different narrator at any point it chooses.
It’s often confused with regular old Omniscience. The key difference is that with Omniscience, that narrator knows everything and actually tells you. This works for epics like the Odyssey and Beowolf, but not for everyday fiction. Can you imagine a murder mystery that started with the line: “David Nesbit looked suspicious, for he had just killed his wife Debra.”
It doesn’t work. So, our omniscient narrator is selective in what he tells us, for all our benefits. So, we’re clear on this.
Now before I get a bunch of hateful comments, I’m aware that this may not be the most used form of narration. Sorry if that was confusing. It’s simply the type I use most. There is a third type of non-participant narration that also gets used a lot called Objective narration, in which the narrator is basically a camera in the room that coldly and dispassionately records the events going on. This isn’t my favorite method by any means, but it will get the job done.
Other forms of narration exist in participant narration. This is when the narrator is actually a character in the story, and is typically told from the first person. It can be done via a major character (Bag of Bones) or a minor character (One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest). It doesn’t matter. It’s your story.
There are of course many sub-forms of narration I plan on tackling, like letter narration and monolog narration, but I just kind of wanted to introduce this more academic explanation early on. The thing to remember here is that you aren’t limited. It’s your story and you can do, really, whatever you want with it. So go nuts.
Skipped up today. I attend classes at Memorial University of Newfoundland in addition to all my other activities. Somewhere between ENGL 2004 and ANTH 2411 I found my way down to Roasters and had a coffee. I was smart enough to put 9/10ths of it decaf and the other 10% vanilla cream though, so I don’t feel I’ve cheated too bad.
Had enough soda last night at poker to drown a horse though. 😦
Yes that’s a real term, and no I didn’t make it up.
K-Mart Reality is a funny term for something we all know very well: the inclusion of real-world name brands and products into your fictional setting to make your world more believable.
Nowadays people look at this stuff in movies and yell “product placement!” But I usually think these people are conspiracy nuts. While I know that product placement does clearly exist, sometimes it’s just the writers / set designers trying to make their story more real. Pepsi is everywhere, ergo if your world is noticeably devoid of Pepsi, is would seem weird.
**A note on the conspiracy nuts: I’ve actually had one claim that I got funding from Coke because I often mention that the girls of Coral Beach like drinking Cherry Coke… What the heck is wrong with these people?**
Regardless, K-Mart Realism is a good thing. It can suck your reader into a story and make your story real, and I employ it more and more.
Beyond that, using substitutes for real-world products can be very jarring and distracting for the reader. We’ve all read those futuristic novels set in the year 3000 where the characters are eating at an obvious McDonalds resteraunt that the author refuses to call McDonalds, and it just becomes irritating. Just call it McDonalds, you hippie. I can almost guarantee you that if fast food still exists in 3000 AD, so will McDonalds.
But I’m guilty of this myself, to a degree. When I first started publishing books in 2007 I was worried that if I mentioned certain products a giant lawyer foot would descend from the heavens and smash Engen Books to bits. But that’s just not the way it works. Like with product placement, retailers like getting their products out there.
Two examples: In the first Black Womb novel, Xander and Mike seem to be obsessed with a game called Marble Mutant Warriors… And just about every 20-something man out there understood that this was the Marvel Superheroes arcade game. I was worried Marvel would be pissed… But why would they have been? I’m showing people loving their games and characters.
Another example is in Roulette. Mandy Peterson is trying to get the gang to go to a movie. The movie playing is a triple feature, all three Defense Command movies.
Now, this is both a cover-up and a nod to my friend and college, Kenneth Tam. He writes a series of fictional memoirs called the Defense Command series, and even within the series, the events happening have been made into movies. So I thought that would be a fun nod. However it came from my not wanting to mention the Terminator franchise. That’s why she says the third movie sucks. Because Rise of the Machines sucked.
So anyway, this is my plea to you all that K-Mart reality is a good thing. Honestly and for true. Get out there and use it to make your world a more believable place, because if we buy into your world, any other madness you throw at us will be accepted.
So by rights I should have been doing this from the beginning, but it honestly didn’t occur to me until now. I’m hoping to chronicle my defeat of my one last vice: coffee.
A little context. I have a very addictive personality. That’s a good chunk of the reason I’ve never done any drugs. Not only are they hazardous to your health, but I’m self-aware enough to be aware that I would very quickly dial the use of them up to 11. That’d be a problem, so I don’t.
However, in order to learn that, I had to become addicted to something. And sweet Jesus, was it bad.
I started smoking at the ridiculously-stupid age of seventeen. I was working at a restaurant at the time and noticed that you didn’t get a break unless you smoked. So I started bumming them and not inhaling (not that I could at the time, I’d hack up a lung), claiming that I’d been a smoker in the past. Then one day I bought my own pack, and was surprised to find that I didn’t cough while smoking them… And that was it. The horrible beginning.
By the time I quit five years later, I had broken the insane limit of two packs a day. I was smoking two and a half packs a day easily, which is just horrid. I tried many times to quit, but everyone I knew smoked, an it was hard. It wasn’t until one of them quit that I was able. Cold turkey. Still remember the last one, and what I was doing at the time.
Smoking is very situational, and I constantly found myself in situations where I would want one. So I instituted a substitute: I drank coffee whenever I wanted to smoke.
It worked, and I still consider it a good choice. Caffeine is by far less dangerous than smoking, but drinking nine cups of coffee a day isn’t good either.
After trying several times to kick it, it took Ellen moving in to finally tip me over the edge. If I have too much coffee my blood pressure goes up and I’m irritable to her. If I drink too little I have what I can only describe as a caffeine-flavored nic fit and get irritable again. And that’s not a nice thing to live with, so it was time to stop.
So I started eating two packets of oatmeal a day to bring my blood pressure down, drinking two glasses of blueberry juice for the antioxidants, and (most importantly) substituting green tea for my hot drink each day.
I still get irritable if I try to cut out caffeine completely though. And just like how I still, five years later, crave a smoke every day; I still crave coffee. Hopefully I can keep it kicked though.
I’ll keep you posted, and please post if you have any health-tips for high blood pressure and irritability.