Sunday, July 28, 2013

Themes and A GIVEAWAY!

As you've seen in my last post, besides a writer, I'm also a musician. So it only follows that music has an influence on my writing. I draw parallels from certain songs, and when I started writing, it occurred to me that certain characters and scenarios kind of had their own theme songs.

I tried listening to music while I was writing, but that didn't work. All too often, my mind would wander to the song being played, and I would focus on the lyric instead of what I was trying to write. So I'd get all caught up and swept away by what was supposed to be inspiring me. I don't know if any other writer runs into that same thing. But on the other hand, I have to have some kind of noise going on in the background or I can't concentrate. TV works great for tat, because it's not lyrical as rule.

Anyway, back to what I was talking about, let me show you what was happening in me when I was writing The NADIA Project. I stared out without a theme song, but as I passed the halfway point in Becoming NADIA and the bottom line message of the story came floating to the surface, what also came to light was Natasha Bedingfield's song Unwritten:

My goodness, it just summed up Nadia's character so perfectly, I played it constantly on my car to finish the book out (Notice how Nadia loves to feel rain on her skin?). So Nadia h her theme song.

And when I was writing Unalive, it was right about the time someone introduced me to Within Temptation. This time, two songs stood out, one as a theme for the overall project, and one just for Jenna Paine's character, kind of as a toll to sculpt her:

What Have You Done:

and The Howling:

Actually, it's kind of hard to tell which one is for which element. But you can see they both give us a sense of Jenna, and a long-ago loss of innocence.

Critical Mass  and Lies and Paine came together about the same time. As a matter of fact, Lies and Paine began as the first chapter of Critical Mass. but it kept going in a direction I didn't want for the novel, so I spun it off into the novella. So I didn't delete it. I just pruned it off so it could grow on its own, and I'm glad I did, because the series feels complete with its addition. The theme from those two works was a slam dunk, and that was Halestorm's I Miss the Misery:

That song just seemed to capture Jenna's barely-focused rage, where throughout Critical Mass  we see her riding the edge of cold justice and blind vengeance, falling first on one side and then the other, and compromising right and wrong in the process. Like I've said to anyone who's asked about her, by the time you finish Critical Mass,  you're either going to love Jenna even more, or hate her guts.

As you go through my work, I think you can probably see the influence that each of these songs has exerted on the overall story. And I think my work is better for it. Does your music influence your writing, or do you listen as you rad and let it filter into the story as you read? Let me know.

From the comments, I'll pick a random winner and they can get an eBook from my series (our choice!) So make sure you leave your email address when you comment.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Story is a Song

Greetings, fellow castaways!

I was listening to some music the other day and it hit me. I was really getting into the piece that was playing at the time, and when the next piece came on, it just punctuated my epiphany.

So pardon me if you already got this, but it's a big thing to me. A story is like a song.

The music I was listening to was from Rush's album Moving Pictures, specifically YYZ and The Camera Eye:

It's a challenge for a songwriter to create an audio panting in one's brain. There must be breaks, changes, segues, alterations to keep one's brain stimulated and interesting. This is especially true when there are extended instrumental passages like the pieces I mentioned above, and I hope you checked out the links to see what I mean. If not, feel free.

As writers, we also want to vary things through our stories to create the same kind of stimulus. We vary the pace by creating slower passages and breaks in tension. We tease by only revealing our world a little at a time. We drop cliffhangers and hooks in your visual path, making connections between your eyes and brain in the same way a musician creates a connection between your ear and your brain. And I think we're stimulating many of the same areas.

We may open with a mind-blowing chase or a fight, or with a slow, easy introduction to a day in the life of our main character. But sooner or later, things have to change. The tension must be either ramped up, or spooled down. New elements need to be brought in. The pace has to change.

Sean McMullen's novel The Centurion's Empire  is an excellent example.

The story begins in a storm on the Mediterranean Sea and a shipwreck that leaves our main character awash on a far shore. McMullen goes from there to a mysterious chamber in another land, where ancient, timeless beings have been watching our young centurion for their own end. The pace actually stays pretty slow for the first half of the book, but McMullen teases is with so many loose ends, we're dying to find out how they all fit together.

Then, when they do come together, he ramps up the pace and tension to a blood-pumping pace with international chase scenes, high-tech weapons and clever spy-gags that officially have us hooked. The pace continues in this rapid pace until the characters force a slow-down and a revelation that literally made me point at the page and say, "I never  saw that coming!"

The main reason I picked that particular book as an example, is that the author staggers the pace and does things in such a different way, it seems to go against what we've become used to in a book. He uses so many different tools and techniques, and brings them all together, bending them to his will like a composer for a complex music piece.

And the thing is, if any piece isn't doing its job, the whole suffers. If Alex Lifeson puts his guitar down and walks off to the nearest pub letting Geddy and Neil carry the tune, folks would surely notice.

So, as writers, this may come as a challenge, to look at your work in a new way, to create prose that slides through your reader's brain not like a lyric, but as a bass line. Make your scenery a drum beat. Make your characters the lead solos that give us the melody.

And if you're a reader, look for these elements in your favorite book, so when you come to that special part, you hear the story's own special song in your mind, and come away with a new appreciation for your entire library.

See you next week.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

You Are Brilliant.

Even when you feel like a lump of green matter found in an armpit one midsummer's morning.

I don't know what it is, but most people I know have problems believing in themselves. Yours truly included. There may be a crack in our souls that lets our self-belief leak out. Okay, I'll grant you, some folks have no problem with self-esteem. Hell, some of us have exactly the opposite problem. You know the type. They change a light bulb by just holding it up and let the world revolve around them.

But I'd bet even they secretly go off somewhere and wonder what the hell they're doing and why.

When my first novel got accepted for publication, I had no idea how to handle it. When it won Best Thriller at EPICon 2012, imagine one tongue-tied man wondering what I did to deserve something so nice happening. I still have trouble accepting the whole thing. I mean, why should I of all people have something good happen to me?

Then I have to remember this: I was made by my God. And my God doesn't make mistakes. Granted, I'm as far from perfect as an aardvark with three butt cheeks and mange. I didn't say I was perfect. I said I'm not a mistake. And neither are you. You have a gift, and that gift makes you the only you on the planet. And believe it or not, the world needs what you have.

You see, you are the only one who can give the world the gift that you have, and if you don't give it, the world is missing it.

That's why we all have a dream. Some of us have more than one. When I was little, I wanted to dig dinosaur bones with Roy Chapman Andrews.

Okay, so it might have been weird for a four-year-old to dream of being a paleontologist. It's not any more weird than a four-year-old who can read and pronounce "paleontologist." I could even name every species of dinosaur that appeared in Fantasia. It never occurred to me that maybe I was born just a little late to dig with O'l Roy. He was my hero, and science was my passion. That, and being outside. Roy was an adventurer, an outdoorsman, and  a scientist. That rocks. I don't know why I never seriously pursued paleontology. I think maybe the math killed it. I create a giant sucking sound whenever I try to figure out mathematical problems. My brain just isn't configured for it.
Then I hit my teens. I heard Rush for the first time, and my new hero became Geddy Lee. Geddy Lee isn't a scientist, so he doesn't have to know math. He knows bass guitar, and how to put on a show with one.
The reason I picked Geddy was because Geddy plays bass, and everyone else wanted to play guitar. One of the reasons I really liked Rush's music was because everyone else I knew hated them, except maybe a handful of other misfits like me. I think I just gave my rebel side away. I taught myself how to play bass on a detuned six-string. Of course, I later got my own bass, which I still play forty years later. I'm probably not a s good as Geddy Lee, but I have fun. I was even in a band for a while, and we made a pretty good stab at making music. We even got our band name written on the men's room wall at the local oyster bar. But that's as far as we got.
My latest dream was to become a published author, and I chased it with everything that was in me. That was the one that finally took. That's how you tell a dream. It's something you pursue with a passion. You may not know right now what your dream is, but dearest, you have one. Believe  me. If I can have three, you can have one. I sincerely believe that every single person on earth has a built-in dream, and that dream is what you are meant to be. If you have nothing else, have your dream, and chase it. Because the world needs your dream.
Because you are brilliant. God doesn't make mistakes. He makes dreamers. And when they find their dreams, He laughs with happiness, claps his hands and tells all of Heaven how proud He is of them. And that, my friend, includes you.