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.

To Wish Impossible Things

You’re probably asking; what happened to you, man? Where you been? What happened to June? You were doing so well with the updating more frequently thing.

All true. I had planned a June update but as Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park said, “life uh, finds a way.” Stuff happened. Work stuff. Life stuff. Book stuff, including a meeting with my agent, editor, and the marketing and publicity people at St. Martin’s Press.

We’ve all been busy. And it’s been paying off in spades:

Magicians Impossible is a mind-bending page-turner! A brilliant and unique mash-up of spells, myth and magic, once it got its claws in me I couldn’t put it down. Like a veteran stage magician, Brad Abraham has created a hip thriller that turns convention on its ear with misdirection. A must read for enthusiasts of edgy and extreme fiction.” ―Don Coscarelli, director of Phantasm, John Dies At The End

“Urban fantasy hasn’t felt this fresh – or this compulsively readable – since Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Abraham has conjured a pitch-perfect fever dream of myth, magic, intrigue, and pulse-pounding action, set in a vividly imagined underworld of dangerous cabals and supernatural espionage. It’s a spell you won’t want to break.” – April Snellings, author, Food Chain

“From the first sentence, Abraham pulls you in to a darkly magical, energetic world where anything can happen … and pulls the rug out from under you when you least expect it.” Rodrigo Gudino, Founder, Rue Morgue Magazine

“Crackling prose and kinetic characters make Abraham’s debut a winner.” Pierce Brown, NY Times best-selling author, Red Rising

“A thrilling novel brimming with memorable characters!” — Jason M. Hough, NYT bestselling author of Zero World

“An action-packed, thrilling fantasy with surprises around every corner and behind every door!” Erika Lewis, author, Game of Shadows

“Part hard-boiled thriller, part magical mayhem, Magicians Impossible is a page-turning adventure where the stakes are high and the magic is mind-blowing. It’s urban fantasy at its very best.” – Lisa Maxwell, NYT bestselling author of The Last Magician

From the first page, Brad Abraham’s Magicians Impossible is a high-wire act that doesn’t let up the excitement for even a paragraph. Simply put, Magicians Impossible is a book I wish I’d written.” – Libby Cudmore, Author of The Big Rewind

Those are the blurbs, and I want to thank each and every one of these immensely talented writers and artists who took the time out of their busy schedules to read my work and say nice things about it.

I’ve known Don Coscarelli almost 20 years now, and he took time out of a very busy spring when he was working on both Phantasm Ravager and the 4K restoration of Phantasm with JJ Abrams to read the book.

I’ve known Rod Gudino almost as long, and was hired by him to write for his then brand new magazine called Rue Morgue – a gig I stuck with for over ten years.

Through Rue Morgue I met the immensely talented April Snellings who has continued her involvement in helping my career along, encouraging me to join International thriller Writers alongside her and so many other talented authors.

I don’t even know Pierce Brown, but this NYT bestselling author was gracious enough to read and blurb the book anyway.

I met both Erika Lewis (my “book-mate” at St. Martins Press) and Lisa Maxwell (who just became a NY Times bestselling author) through Twitter, and they were both kind enough to carve out some time to read the book as well. Erika’s Game of Shadows and Lisa’s The Last Magician are in bookstores now.

Last but most certainly not least is Libby Cudmore; mixtape enthusiast, journalist extraordinaire, and author of The Big Rewind. We’ve had many an interaction online and by email over the last while ans I’m especially thrilled to have her endorsement on the book.

As a creative person you really stand on the shoulders of giants.Please click on the links, visit their websites, and buy their books/movies/magazines.

As far as Magicians Impossible is concerned, here’s some excerpts from the first reviews:

“From its action-packed opening [Magicians Impossible] is a cinematic, fast-paced debut.” – Library Journal (STARRED Review)

“An amusing and captivating adventure.” – Book List (STARRED review)

So that’s been happening, as has the planning of a certain author book tour happening this fall. That’s still coming together but here’s what’s happening as of right now.

September 14th, I will be appearing at Turn of the Corkscrew Books and Wine in Rockville Centre, New York.

I’ll be at Book Carnival in Orange, CA, just outside Anaheim, on September 27th.

September 28th, I will be at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, CA.

As far as Canadian dates, right now my publicist is setting up an in-store in Toronto. No firm date yet, but I will be in Toronto the week of October 9-13 for Bouchercon, so expect something around then. It’s a hometown crowd, so I’m very excited to see who shows up.

There’ll also be various events through the fall, most likely sticking to the Northeast. This will included an appearance at SMP’s booth at New York Comic-Con.

If you own/manage a bookstore and are interested in hosting an appearance you can contact me directly through this website (info in my bio).

And of course, Magicians Impossible arrives in bookstores September 12, 2017. You can order it at fine bookstores everywhere.

Fit To Print

 

There comes the point in the writing process when your work is finished, and the book is out the door. But there remains an emptiness, that a thing you toiled on for so long is no longer an active part of your life.

That all changes when the galleys arrive.

Just holding a physical book with your name on the cover and your words on every page is quite an experience. I began working on Magicians Impossible in April of 2014. that was three years and a month ago, and now I’m holding the (nearly) finished book in my hands. This is the uncorrected proof, so it’s got some spelling errors and formatting screw-ups. I actually sent in my requested changes as these were being printed – changes that will be incorporated into the final version of the book.

I have eight of these galleys, and my agent has the other two. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with these. I know some authors like to do giveaways and contests, but I’d rather save those for the proofed version of the book, not one that needs fixing. Right now it looks like I’ll be saving them to fill in gaps with publicity and promotion. SMP’s publicity and marketing departments are first-rate, but there are always going to be things that crop up requiring a galley copy – that podcast interview, that radio show.

So where do I go from here? Well, onward and upward. I have a novel I’m currently drafting, and just sent my agent a proposal for another book project I hope to do. I’m not one for self-reflection on work I’ve done. I don’t even own copies of the film/TV projects I have written that were produced. For me it’s always about the next project, the next story.

But having these around? It’s nice. really nice. I can’t wait to add more to my shelves.

Where It’s At

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I have finally, FINALLY finished Magicians Impossible.

I think.

Yesterday, after two and a half weeks of review, I finished my pass on the copy proof – that’s where the publisher sends you your book as it will look on the printed page.

What, you thought I was going to show you an actual page from the book? Sorry, you want to read it, you have to buy it first.

What the author does is read it, front to back, checking for typos, improper punctuation, minor tweaks and such. Despite the author (hopefully) proofing, then the editor, then the copy editor, then the author again, stuff still falls through the cracks.

I am pleased to report that the copy proof edit wasn’t too severe. Mostly it was correcting punctuation, flagging some miss-spelled words, flagging some missing ones, correcting a couple minor story errors (necessitating the removal of a single paragraph that was a little redundant to only the slowest of readers by that point) and catching some word and phrase repetition – stuff that the writer and probably no-one else will notice. Each chapter ran two to three fixes. I went whole stretches of five to seven pages without error. The ones that required a little more work were the ones that had undergone some heavy revision during the copy-edit phase.

According to the publisher’s documents this was  the “first pass” with three more on the way (assuming the book needs it). I’m told a copy editor will take a look at it next to catch what I missed. then it’ll come back to me for the third pass to approve their changes. There’s even room for a final pass, but I think we caught most if not all of it by that point.

Then it goes to the printers.

Then it’s sent to bookstores.

Then it hits shelves.

Then people read it.

Then it’s finally, finally finished.

Except the publicity.

Except the signings.

I can’t remember who it was who said it, but I am in agreement with them that “art isn’t art until it’s seen. Until then it’s just indulgence.” Magicians Impossible, all 390 pages of it, i might add, will be released September 12, 2017. It will be reviewed (favorably and unfavorably I expect because you can’t please all of the people all of the time), people will buy it. Hopefully enough to make the experience all worthwhile.

[Some late-breaking news was that the audio book rights for Magicians sold for double what St. Martins’ was asking for and expecting. When I have more details I’ll pass them on, if audio-books are your thing]

What’s next for me? More writing, obviously. I’m trying to get my follow-up book into shopping shape sooner than later. I’m also hoping to take some actual time off this summer to not work, but with Magicians pending I have a limited window to strike.

That’s why I recently became a member of the ITW (International Thriller Writers) and have plans to attend their big annual meet-up this July in NYC.

I also have a new book proposal I’ve started sketching that, if it happens, will be something of a fulfillment of a childhood dream.

But that’s a story that will have to wait for another day.

And if we’re really, really lucky, we’ll even get to read it.

On The Road (With Apologies to Kerouac)

On Friday, February 26, 2017, I delivered the final edit of Magicians Impossible to St. Martins Press. It is finally, FINALLY finished, and it has been the most difficult, most lengthy, and most rewarding project I have ever undertaken. The stats on that: I first sat down with editor Brendan Deneen to talk about the book in April of 2014. Now, three years less a month later, the journey is over.

Well, not OVER over. There’s still the the matter of the release of the book on September 12, and all that comes with it. Magicians is going to keep me busy through the fall and probably into next year, especially when the paperback is released. But the writing journey is over. I’m on the next project already, and have pages to deliver to my agent this month so she can run with them, which will be a journey in itself.

Now, with “journey” on your tongue, a pop quiz. What do …

And …

Along with …

And let’s not forget …

And, finally …

All have in common?

They’re all places I’ve been to, and they all feature prominently in Magicians (which you haven’t read yet), but they do figure into the story, some in very significant ways. I bring them all up because they’re all part of what I believe is the key to good writing, or at least the authentic kind.

Joe R. Lansdale, one of my favorite writers, once said (and I paraphrase) that “you can tell when a virgin’s writing a sex scene.”  Likewise, you can tell when someone’s writing a story with no idea what they’re actually writing about. Like they never experienced the place, the feelings, the emotions of what they’re describing. To me, that is one of the most important aspects of writing; the part most writers fail to mention.

Travel. Adventure. The whole “step away from your desk and experience life” thing.

A lot of writers go on about their word counts, or their endless rewrites, or writer’s block. I don’t see many going on about an adventure (or misadventure) they had. Some object d’art that inspired them. Some unexpected journey that gave them an idea they nurtured into a story. Some wrong turn that ended up being the best mistake they ever made.

I first visited Paris in 2011, as part of a post Fresh Meat victory lap. My wife and I spent our Christmas there, renting a charming flat in Montmartre, and spending the entire week in the city. We hit Versailles, the Catacombs, stumbled upon Francois Truffaut’s grave in Montmartre Cemetery, shopped the Galleries du Lafayette, ate lots of cheese and drank an alarming amount of wine … and visited the Louvre, where we fell in love with its beautiful sculpture garden …

And this statue in particular.

Not to spoil anything, but a central portion of Magicians takes place within the walls of the Louvre, and this sculpture garden in particular. Now, it goes without saying I never would have conceived the idea if I hadn’t gone to Paris and to the Louvre. But the idea of staging something in the Louvre was born that day in late 2011 – five years ago, and two years before I began Magicians.

This is another example. All characters need to come from someplace, and when I was developing the backstory of Jason Bishop, Magicians’ protagonist, I knew I wanted him to have grown up in the village of Cold Spring, NY, which is an hour and a bit by train north of NYC. My wife and I spent a wedding anniversary weekend up there back in 2012. We saw the sights, we hiked, we ate very well, and it was on one of those walks that I first glimpsed Storm King Mountain, just across the river and a little further north. Something about the name Storm King just stuck; it made me think of the Night on Bald Mountain sequence in Disney’s Fantasia, and an image of a wizard’s battle on the road that winds along its side popped into my mind. So, when I was trying to find a place for Jason Bishop to have spent his childhood, Cold Spring was a perfect fit. Had I never visited, it would have been someplace else. But over drafts of the novel I realized just how important Cold Spring was to the story. In the end it is probably the most important locale (and I ended up getting my wizard’s battle on Storm King after all).

Ditto Jason’s place of work. The location of The Locksmith bar in the book is just below Dyckman Street on Broadway, a spot occupied currently by the Tryon Public House. But the layout of the place is actually based on a bar further north once called The Piper’s Kilt (now the Tubby Hook), and takes its name from a bar further south that used to be called the Locksmith. I picked the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan to park Jason at his job because it’s a neighborhood I’m familiar with. Any time I needed a refresher on some detail all I needed to do was go for a walk.

There are other real-life places that figure into the book, but those are the major ones. So to me, anyway, travelling is the most important thing I don’t hear a lot of writers talk about. It’s authenticity. The idea of experiencing things off the beaten path, to use a cliché. It doesn’t even have to be an overseas trip; sometimes just walking down a different street in your city or town can give you an idea.

Even if Sci-Fi or Fantasy is your thing, you can still benefit from travelling outside your comfort zone. Go to a place where they speak a language different than your own. Try and sample the local cuisine. Get lost. You don’t even have to go far; even the next town or state over can reveal wonders. It’s amazing how many people rarely venture outside their home town or city or state or province. Only 36% of Americans even own a passport; they’ve never set foot outside of their country.

So, if you’re a writer, aspiring or otherwise, I strongly encourage you to step away from the desk, step outside your life, and see what’s out there. Your next story could be waiting for you as close as the next street over. All you need to do is find it.