October Song

What a month.

Magicians Impossible hit stores September 12. Today is October 24. Time enough to talk a little more about it.

First up, CALIFORNIA.

Short version: I had a blast.

Longer version: I had a blast.

I also sold some books!

I got to visit (and shop at) some very cool bookstores run by some very friendly people, I got to see the sites, I got to visit places I’ve never visited before, and I of course got to do a LOT of driving. That didn’t bother me so much though; traffic in California is comparable to the sprawl and congestion of Toronto coupled with the nuttiness of New York drivers, minus the sudden unannounced stops followed by the appearance of four-way flashers (the bane of any NYC driving experience).

A few days after returning from California, I had an event at The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, which went VERY well too.

Reviews also been pretty solid. People have generally liked it, with mostly three, four, five stars on Goodreads and Amazon (and a share of ones and twos) The mixed-negative reviews really don’t bother me though; if anything they make the glowing reviews more legit.

I’ve come to discover that writing a book is like building a house. Your blueprint, your specifications, your taste, number and size of rooms, amenities. It’s decorated and furnished the way you want it. It’s your house, but you did all this work for other people; your guests. They move in and inhabit the house. Some stay a few days, some for a week, some for a month. And they all have a different reaction to it. Some will like the entrance and foyer, maybe it opens up into a spectacular living room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking a lake. They’ll move through the house, room by room. Some will love the kitchen, some will think it needs more counter space. Some think the floor tiles are ugly, some don’t like the drapes. Some find the bedrooms too small, some think the bathrooms could be bigger. But in the end they all stay however long they need to and when they move out they have an impression, and an opinion. They say they liked it, but had a couple of issues. Other really liked it aside from a couple minor caveats, but they would recommend it to other friends. Some love it, and not only would they recommend it to others, they’re looking to re-up for another stay, or if you’ve got another house on the street, want to stay there too. And for some it just wasn’t what they were looking for, period.

That’s book writing. And that’s also book criticism.

An example of this is my current read is Stephen King’s It – a book I first read back in 1989, the same year as the setting of the recent blockbuster film adaptation. I was roughly the age of the characters in the book – the “Loser’s Club” of kids – and back then naturally I gravitated most strongly to the sections of the book detailing that fateful and fatal summer in Derry, Maine. The sections set in the then present-day world of 1985 with the kids all grown up were less than compelling. At that young age I had no inkling of what awaited me in the adult world. The successes, the failures, the disappointments. But reading It now it’s the adult sections that cut much deeper. Maybe because I’ve grown up as well, but all the things the adult Loser’s grapple with are things I or my friends have had to face as well.

A book is probably the most intimate form of entertainment there is, because of the time it demands. It’s not like watching a 2 hour movie or an hour long TV episode (or several, consecutively, if you’re a binge watcher), or listening to an album full of songs. A book will demand hours, days, even weeks of your time. Who you are and where you are in life will have a huge impact on how you respond to something; the fact I’ve had two very different experiences reading It would point to that.

But in the end Magicians Impossible is no longer my book; it belongs to everyone who has bought a copy. If you’re one of them, thank-you.

Now for some random bits of news:

I’ll be appearing at Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto on Saturday November 11th at 3:00pm. Hometown store, hometown crowd; I’ve spent a lot of money at Bakka over the years, starting with their Queen St. W location in the early 1990s, so I am honored to be appearing there.

For those who missed the NY and California signings, due to time or location constraints, Turn of the Corkscrew, Book Soup, Book Carnival, Mysterious Galaxy, and The Mysterious Bookshop all have author signed copies on hand and will be happy to sell and ship them to you. Presumably, Bakka will as well, after November 11th.

And that’s pretty much it. I’m busy working on my next book, having just passed the 2/3rds mark of the first draft and am hoping to be done that by the time I depart for Toronto. It’s been going … well, though there’s a HUGE story behind it I’ll spin some day. But for now I’m just enjoying all of it; the book, authordom, the whole dang ride.

And the sunsets are nice too …

Impossible Song

This is it.

As of this writing there should be copies of Magicians Impossible sitting on the shelves of your local bookstore. If they don’t have it they’ll be more than happy to order you a copy. As of today it’s no longer my book; it belongs to the people who read it. They may like it, they may love it, and some will probably hate it because a book is its own thing and can’t be everything to everybody.

I’ve been quite busy in the lead-up to release. Interviews, podcasts, blog posts current and forthcoming. Check the new News/Media section for the latest updates to that effect.I’ll be adding them as they appear.

Magicians Impossible has a page at Goodreads as well where you can post your rating and review (and read other reviews). I’m trying not to obsessively check in to see how it’s doing, but overall people seem to be enjoying it (and the ones that are hot-and-cold still seem to like it). Regardless of how it’s received I’m proud of it. It’s the first thing I’ve ever written that feels 100% mine and mine alone. Every storytelling decision, every edit, every revision was mine to make, and I made them.

My book tour kicks off this Thursday at Turn of the Corkscrew Books in Rockville Centre, NY. I’ll be in LA the week of September 24th, with events at Book Soup, Book Carnival, and Mysterious Galaxy.

There will also be another NYC event sometime in October, date and location TBA.

I also hope to be able to announce some Canadian dates soon. We had one tentatively scheduled in Toronto during BoucherCon on October 14th but that fell through. Once a new date and locations(s) are announced you’ll find them here.

Magicians Impossible has been a very long road. I started working on it in April 2014. It’s now September 2017. Despite the release it’s not really over either; there will be lots of promotion over the weeks and months to come. but for now I’m celebrating the release. I hope you all get a chance to read it.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

B

Why We Write

NOTE: This is an updated version of a post I wrote five years ago, about the writing process, or at least “my” writing process. As we near the release of Magicians Impossible I wanted to revisit this piece, and add some additional flavor. 

I’m not much for talking about my “process”. There are plenty of places you can look to read about “process”, and there are plenty of people who are happy to share what their process is. They’re all interesting and informative, and also contradictory and probably of little use to you. That’s because they’re talking about their process; they aren’t talking about what process works best for you. Some insist on powering through the first draft and revising after it’s finished; others swear by revision as you go. Some obsess on word count or pages per day; others are concerned only with “good” pages. Some brave souls rise at 5am and write for three hours before starting the day proper; others write in the evenings when the day is done. Some say you need to write every day; others say weekends are fine. They’re all right … and they’re all wrong.

So here’s a piece about my process. Please feel free to ignore it.

For me it all starts with the idea. Sometimes it’s a detailed idea; other times it’s just a rough sketch. From there I think about whose story “my” story is; the characters. Male or female, child or adult – I’ll try various combinations and complications before settling on POV. From there, assuming the story I’ve put together is any good, and the characters I’ve conceived are going to be interesting enough to follow, I clear the decks, close my door and start writing. I outline before I draft, I treatment after I outline, I look for leaks and plug plot holes the best I’m able, and once that’s done, I start writing. Because if I don’t, this happens:

Pictured: What happens when you don’t plug leaks, or when your manuscript/screenplay hits an iceberg.

But before I do any of the above … I listen to music. Music may in fact be the most important part of my process. If I haven’t decided on what music I’m going to write to, chances are I won’t be able to do any writing, and what I do write will be shit.

Okay maybe not shit, but difficult.

My favorite approach to this is to assemble a playlist or mixtape to accompany whatever particular project I’m working on. This is music that gets me into “the zone”, but more importantly into the character’s heads. I’ll tailor a playlist to a specific character, and use the songs I choose to illustrate their personalities, their hopes, their fears, their everything. I’ll create several such playlists for any given project, and I’ll listen to them when I’m focusing on a particular character or subplot.

Pictured: my soundtrack

There are a couple of reasons for this. The first I already mentioned; to get into the characters and the world they inhabit. But the second is more basic; to get me going. Because some days you just … can’t … get … into … the writing part of writing.

You have lousy sleep or a lousy day. You’re at one of those points in the story where you’ve lost the plot. You want to do anything but write. Every writer has days like this. But since I started creating playlists those days are fewer and come further between.

That’s where the playlist comes in. Because you’ll sit there and you’ll listen to it, or you’ll throw it on your iPod and go for a walk, and pretty soon the story will come back to you. And once the story comes back to you, you’re able to write it down.

Now, this music doesn’t have to be of the period the project is set in; in fact I’d strongly advise against that. The reason you create a playlist is not to be authentic but to be real. To connect with the characters and the story on an emotional level. So unless you grew up listening to Civil War era grassroots music, using that music to score your Civil War era story is going to make it a dry museum piece. Ask yourself what your characters would listen to if they were alive today (and seeing as they are your characters they are alive). Would they be into rock? Punk? Country? Hip-hop? Put yourself in their headspace and assemble a list of songs that relate to them, their trials, and their troubles. See them as living, breathing people, not just words on the page and an idea in your head. Once they become “real” to you, they will be to the reader.

Some examples: my first (unpublished) novel was a murder mystery set in Renaissance Italy. It was written primarily to 60s British Invasion and 90s Britpop. There are two main characters, each with alternating perspective chapters. One was 50-something, the other a 20 year-old. Any time I was writing for the older character I lived on a steady stream of Rolling Stones, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, and the Yardbirds. For the 20 year-old, it was Blur, Oasis, Elastica, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, and so on.

Squadron, a TV series I’m developing with Copperheart Entertainment, was largely written to early 90s alternative; grunge mostly, but a lot of Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, early U2, Depeche Mode, and Duran Duran. I wanted to capture a feeling of excitement in the lives of WWI flyers, all young twenty-somethings taking to the skies to vanquish their enemies. Because a substantial portion of the story deals with the after effects of being the most famous killers in the world, I balanced fast paced rock with more introspective music for the quieter moments.

There are other examples. A suspense thriller I wrote some years back (also unsold – see the pattern?) was scored to a lot of Madchester-era music, which is appropriate given the main character has walled herself off from the world and is living in something of a nostalgia bubble. It made sense for her to be into the music she was into as a teenager, like she never grew past 2000. A thriller I wrote for a prod co about an EMT on the edge had a lot of 70s Punk in the mix – The Diodes, The Demics, The Clash, The Ramones. Music that reflects the thoughts of a main character living on the edge.

And there’s Magicians Impossible.

The Magicians Mixtape (which will be released on Spotify September 12) is pretty eclectic, featuring Metric, The Kills, The Dread Weather, T. Rex, David Bowie, The Jam, The Vaselines, XTC, The Human league … the list goes on. That playlist is distilled from about seven separate ones I created, each focusing on a major character or moment in the story. Because a novel has more working parts than a screenplay or comic book, I needed to go into greater musical depth. The end-result 50 track mix loosely follows the plot of the book and is a great accompaniment (though I recommend you listen to it after reading the book).

That all being said if your particular project is of a period where music – contemporary music – is available, use it. If there’s an emotional component also, even better. The novel I’m drafting right now features music as a major plot point; specifically one-hit wonders of the 80s and 90s. The music the main characters – all teenagers – would have grown up listening to because that was the music of their parents’ generation.

So that’s it, really. That’s my process and it probably only works for me. But maybe it’s worth a shot if you’re stuck on a plot point or something with your story that just isn’t working for you. If you can’t figure out where your character goes next, why not think about the music they would enjoy and the memories that would be associated with it?

In the end, you need to find what works best for you, and stick to that. Don’t let people like me or anybody else tell you what you’re doing is wrong because it’s not wrong; it’s right for you. As long as what you do works for you it’s better to stay on that track than try and write like someone else.

Because they can already do that. Your job is to write like you.

Wild Wild Life

It’s finished.

On January 6, 2017 I delivered the revised and final draft of Magicians Impossible to St. Martins Press. There’s still copy edits to come, but the draft I delivered is the one you’ll read when the book arrives this summer. I just received word from my editor that the galleys are being printed which means within the next couple of months I’ll have an ARC (that’s Advance Reader Copy) of my book in hand.

So Magicians is, for lack of a better word, finished. And right now I’m trying to figure out where I go next.

I learned a lot about myself, and about writing overall, during the creation of Magicians Impossible. It was April 2014 when I first sat down over lunch with Brendan Deneen at SMP to talk about the book. It’s January 2017 as I write this. I’me taking a brief respite for some downtime – something I didn’t get over the holiday break because I was on deadline. Then, I get back into the next writing project.

So, from now to the book’s release I’m going to be shifting gears on this website, and spending the months leading to publication talking about the process of writing this book. What I learned. What I did right. What I did wrong.

The biggest thing I learned though, was that in the challenge of writing a book while raising an 18 month-old, was that time away from writing can be as important, if not more important, than time spent at my desk. It used to be I could hit 2000-2500 words a day, but with my child’s needs, I could only hit around half that.

And that ended up being just fine, because on those walks and visits to the playground, and the library, I found I could spend more time thinking about what I’d written that morning, and on what I was working on that afternoon, than the actual writing of it. That way when I did get the child down for their nap, and had a nice 3 hour block of time to write, I hit that daily goal much quicker and with greater dexterity.

There’s a definite difference in quality, I found, anyway, between the pre-child chapters of Magicians and the post-child ones. Of course, pretty much every post-child chapter was completely binned and rewritten from scratch, but that’s a story for another day.

I’ve long felt that writing isn’t just the time you spend at your desk. It’s not your word count. It’s not volume. It’s everything but that … and that’s something I’ll get into on our next installment.

Your not-so-subtle reminder: Magicians Impossible is available for pre-order now from Amazon, Chapters-Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and your local bookseller. I’ve been told that some have had difficulty pre-ordering in person; some systems haven’t updated to include the book in their pre-order sections. So maybe what is better is for you to call or visit your local and ask they reserve a copy, or give them the book’s ISBN number (ISBN: 9781250083524).

Knowing Is Half The Battle

I’m about to drop a major truth bomb on you. Sitting comfortably? Good. here it is:

Writing is work.

Yes, there’s art, yes, there’s craftsmanship to it; but make no mistake it is work.

Say it again:

Writing. Is. Work.

It’s hard work too; anybody who tells you otherwise is probably the same person who says “Oh, I always wanted to write a book or a screenplay – they seem easy enough,” but waffle on why if it’s so “easy” they never bothered to try.  Writing is deadlines. Writing is submissions. Writing is rejection. Writing is redrafts and notes and edits. Writing is being handed your check and shown the door and someone else taking over and rewriting you. It is a job, and some days just getting the job done is the victory.

One question I like to ask the aforementioned who say “I just want to take a year off and write” is this even simpler one; “why”? What’s the end-game with your imagined year-long sabbatical?

Get your book published, obviously. Get your screenplay produced. Get your play performed.

And when that doesn’t happen, what then? Do you take another year off to write another? Or do you chuck it, and say, “this is bullshit”, which it often is (but you get used to the smell after a while).

Believe me, I know of what I speak. I just sold my first book. I created a critically acclaimed book series. I’ve had two screenplays produced, along with a mini series, and been a hired gun on three different childrens’ TV series. That’s my last 18 years so to speak (if you look at iMdb).

What you don’t see are the rejections. The passes. The turnarounds. The rewrites that obliterated my screen credit. The film/TV/comics/novels that didn’t happen.They were all hard soul-crushing, back-breaking work, and they’re all currently gathering dust.

Which brings me … to G.I. Joe.

joe1

Now I’m going to divert from the main thread for a moment. It’s all because of my son, really. He’s at the age of exploration right now which means he gets into everything. And by everything I mean everything. So it was only a matter of time before he discovered what was in those longboxes I had in the living room.

Yep. My comic book collection, which has followed me around pretty much everywhere since 1984, from Toronto to Greensboro, to Brockville, back to Toronto (and through 4 apartments over the space of 12 years) to Niagara-on-the-Lake, to St. Catharines, and finally to NYC.  So it was only a matter of time before grabby hands got his little mitts on them.

The damage wasn’t too severe; some were creased and folded, but I managed to get them away from him before the damage was permanent. And really, I’m not one of those “must remain mint” types. There are 30 years worth of comics squirreled away in those boxes, but today I want to talk about one title specifically.

From roughly 1984-1986 G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (w: Larry Hama for the most part, art: various, including Herbe Trimpe and Marshall Rogers, Todd McFarlane and Andrew Wildman among others) was my favorite comic. It was actually the comic that started me buying comics on a regular basis. More astute readers – ones “in the know” who for their part will agree “knowing is half the battle” – will likely agree that 1984-1986 was the heyday of the toy and comic line. I had a pretty solid collection of the comics – the first 50 issues – but by the time I moved to Brockville in 1986 I was falling out of love with the Joes. I had other interests – music, girls, movies – so the exploits of these Real American Heroes were less important. I still bought the book though mostly out of loyalty, but even then my comics buying had changed and I was gravitating more to Swamp Thing and Hellblazer and The Shadow and Sandman. Judging by my collection as it stood I tapped out around issue 70 , save for a minor buying-binge of issues in summer of 1993. But after I re-sorted them, I realized I was pretty close to completing the set. And I thought to myself; with eBay and other resources, why not finish the  finish the series? So what I did, and over the last couple of months, completed the set. And I then read them, all of them, start to finish.

Reading them through an adult perspective, what was really amazing to realize now is how much of the series was informed by the Vietnam War, and Hama’s experiences there.  It’s hard to remember now but in the 80s Vietnam was everywhere – a decade after the war ended America was finally starting to come to grips with it, and with how it treated its veterans. You saw this in movies like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, and TV like China Beach, The A Team, and Tour of Duty. Even Magnum P.I. was a ‘Nam vet.

But Larry was the one who introduced me and my friends to Nam, making its most popular character Snake Eyes a vet, along with Stalker and Storm Shadow. And that was a thread that ran through the entire series run, up to and including issue 155, the final issue, in which Snake-Eyes pens a letter to the son of a former colleague planning to enlist in the army. The war was the thru-line of the entire series; it kept on changing lives years after it ended.

It wasn’t always pretty; by maybe 5 years into the run it became formulaic; new characters were introduced, they got a moment to shine, then you never saw them again. A catastrophically ill-conceived crossover with the Transformers in the 90s pretty much killed the series, which limped to its conclusion a year later. The readership, which began as kids in the early 80s were in college now, and they’d moved on. I know I had.

But you can’t fault Larry and his team for the missteps. They had a job to do and that job was to support the toy line. They were handed the characters and story-lines to use, and they did the best they could. The fact GI Joe lasted 12 years is a testament to their great work. It was one of Marvel’s top selling books for a time, and the back issue market was ridiculously expensive.

If you own a copy of this, congratulations on being rich

If you own a copy of this, congratulations on being rich

What it all boils down to is Larry had a job to do and he did it, to the point that when IDW picked up the GI Joe license, they invited Larry back to continue the original line from where he left off at issue 155. With the toy line pretty much dormant he has the freedom to tell the stories he wanted. But that doesn’t denigrate his work on the 80s  run on GI Joe at all. His task was herculean and for GI Joe to remain so good for so long, that takes talent. That takes work.

So what has G.I. Joe got to do with writing?

Because writing is about getting the job done.

It’s about telling a Robocop story that satisfies network and fan expectations, while working in some personal stories into it at the same time. it’s about charting the end of the world in all its ridiculous SyFy carnage while still telling the story you originally wanted to; about a person who devotes his life to crazy conspiracy theories and finds out one of them is coming true in the worst possible way.

It’s about the work.

The reason I’m most excited creatively about Magicians Impossible is because it meets the criteria of a personal project and a mainstream one. It’s got a major publishing house in its corner, it has a great team of editors and designers aboard, and it’s being released next summer.

But it was hell to write. Easily the most difficult thing I’ve ever undertaken. And that was before our child was born, roughly mid-way through the writing. Then it became nearly impossible. I look at that first draft and I can pinpoint the exact moment I became a parent. The quality of writing drops precipitously and never really recovers. Still, I soldiered on, even when in the act of creation I realized what I was writing was not working, that there was a much better way to tell the story, and somehow between the endless overnight feeds and chronic fatigue, I managed to figure out just what the story was about. Even when suffering a major back injury that meant the longest I could sit and type was an hour before the pain became too much, I still wrote. And in the end, Magicians Impossible is by far the best thing I’ve ever written, and the one I’m most proud of.

I did the work because writing is work, and it is my job.

That’s the lesson I take from reading these old comics with new eyes. Because sometimes getting the job done is the point.

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

001

*UPDATE: Someone asked me if I included GI Joe Special Missions (the short-lived spin-off from the main title, published bi-monthly between 1986 and 1989, focusing on stand-alone missions) in my big read-through. Not initially and not as part of the overall run. But after I finished G.I. JOE I decided what the hey, and went thru the 15 or so copies of Special Missions I owned. Boy am I glad I did! G. I. Joe: Special missions are consistently closest to “Classic” G.I. Joe stories – darker, more violent, more intense, more realistic. Plus nearly the entire series was drawn by the late great Herb Trimpe – who for this guy anyway remains the quintessential Joe artist. I’m in the process of tracking down the remaining issues of G.I. Joe Special Missions now.

**UPDATE UPDATE: after some mulling over (and on the advice of a fan) I decided to pull the trigger and start into the TPBs of the IDW continuation of the series, written by Larry Hama, which picks up after the events of issue 155. I have to say this was a great decision. It’s like Larry, free of the demands of introducing new characters and vehicles every couple of issues, is finally getting to tell the GI Joe stories he’s always wanted. Reading these new stories is very much like catching up with old friends. And after the year we’ve had, sometimes old friends are the best ones you have.