Monday, February 1, 2016

Immortalizing Your Inspiration

I was reading recently that J.J. Abrams designed Captain Phasma in the new Star Wars movie in tribute to Phantasm, one of his favorite horror films. It got me thinking about the many references I've made to movies, music, people and places in my own work.

For me, one of the most satisfying aspects of being an author is the ability to pay homage to the things that inspire me in my stories. The horror movies and metal music I grew up with. Writers like Poe, Chambers, Shelley, Smith and Lovecraft who laid the foundation of horror. The places I've lived, worked, vacationed. People that have come into and out of my life. All of these things inspire every story I write, and I love finding ways to immortalize them in my own work.

Take for instance the apartment I lived in after I graduated from college. It consisted of the second and third floor of a beautiful colonial in Springfield, Massachusetts. I loved that apartment--LOVED. And even after I moved out of it to move in with my wife-to-be, I never forgot that apartment. So, when I was writing the first draft of Courting the King in Yellow back in 2008 or so, I gave that apartment to my main character. And as the Parted Veil series head toward its fourth installment, that apartment is just as much as character in that series as anyone else now. It will live forever, and I get to keep spending time in it, which brings me great joy.

An apartment my wife and I lived in for a while also makes a short appearance in Courting the King in Yellow.

The school that Fela Barton attends in Lovecraft's Curse and Lovecraft's Pupil is loosely based on my alma mater. Fela's best friend Connie works in the library, just like I did when I went to school there.

In the recent novel Harrowed that I wrote with Jolene Haley, we paid tribute to one of my favorite actors of all time, Tom Atkins. He was a staple of horror films in the '80s (The Fog, Halloween III, Maniac Cop, Creepshow), but my favorite movie of his will always be Night of the Creeps. Our character Detective Ray Atkins is a big nod to Ray Cameron, the character Atkins played in Night of the Creeps.

The diner and the record store in Harrowed are both places that Jolene and I frequented in real life. Not to mention, there are tons of '80s movie and music references in that book. Tons.

And then there's Orchard Pointe, the new series Jolene and I have been working on. We'll be talking much more about the setting and characters soon, but I will say the setting is partially inspired by places I have vacationed since I was a small child. It's also inspired by a great deal of other things, but we'll be talking more about that soon enough.

Anyway, I think it's pretty cool to include nods to the things that inspire you in your stories. I'd love to hear what sort of people, places and things that some of my fellow writers have immortalized in their work.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Queensryche Rocked the Worcester Palladium

A little bit of snow didn't stop prog metal icons Queensryche from rolling into Worcester Massachusetts Saturday night and putting on one hell of a show. This was a special one for me, as not only was it my first time seeing them with new singer Todd La Torre, but it was my son's first metal show. I couldn't have picked a better one, because Queensyche delivered, and proved they have moved on just fine from the Geoff Tate era.

Before Queensryche took the stage though, we got to see YouTube drumming sensation Meytal and her band put on a great set. Meytal's percussion is definitely the centerpiece of the band, but singer Eric Emery and bandmates Doc Coyle (rhythm guitar), Travis Montgomery (lead guitar) and Anel Orantes Perero (bass) were never overshadowed, as they're all great musicians in their own right. Their set was full of energy and they had the crowd in a great mood by they time they finished.

When the lights went down for Queensrcyhe, the crowd came to their feet, eager to see the new lineup live. While singer Todd la Torre has been around for a few years now, hearing him on an album is different then actually seeing if he can bring it live. I'm happy to report he confidently handled a variety of hits from the back catalog, as well as belted out some of the tunes he helped write for the last two Queensryche records. The setlist included classics like Queen of the Reich, Screaming in Digital and Take Hold of the Flame, as well as a slew of others.

Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson all sounded as good as they did when I last saw them over a decade ago, and guitarist Parker Lundgren (who's been with them since 2009) formed a perfect tandem with Wilton.

When the band finally closed out the show with "Eyes of a Stranger," any non-believers in the crowd had long since been won over. Queensryche proved they're still going strong, and there is plenty of life left in this band, which has been completely rejuvenated with the addition of La Torre.

As for my son, the second the lights went up after the show, he turned to be with a huge smile and said "That was awesome!" Awesome, indeed, and I'll never forget watching him be completely immersed in the experience. That memory will last a lifetime.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Percolation is One of My Favorite Problem-Solving Tools

Whether you're a pantser or a plotter, when you actually get down to writing your story, you'll eventually get to a point where something just isn't working the way you wanted it to. It could be a scene, it could be a character's arc, it could be anything. But when you you hit that point, it can kill the momentum you've been building up to that point.

An example came up for me this week while working on the first book in the Orchard Pointe series. Jolene and I have a wonderful villain for this story, who has been maneuvering behind the scenes for some time to this point. This villain's plans are becoming more bold as we head toward the inevitable confrontation with our main character. All of that is working out very well, but there is a particular piece of this villain's story that is not as good as it could be. This issue needs to be addressed for our villain to be the best version of the character we envisioned from the start.

Now, when I know there's a nagging issue out there, my brain wants to fix it. And if I don't do something to tell my brain that things are okay, I will only think about that one nagging issue, thus killing my writing momentum. BUT, only focusing on the nagging issue rarely solves the problem, because if the issue was easily solved, the answer would be more readily apparent.

So, I have to let it percolate.

Other people probably have plenty of names for this process, but I like percolation. One reason of course is because I'm obsessed with coffee. But another reason is that it actually captures how I envision the process.

So, for my story percolator, I need "idea grounds." For the Orchard Pointe character I mentioned before, these would be any ideas that Jolene or I have generated that could potentially address our problem. Some of these could be from the original outlines and brainstorming docs we created for the character, but many of them will be new ideas we generate either together or separately.

I put all these ideas into our outline doc, so they're all documented in one place. But I'm not choosing any one of them right now as the solution. Because most likely, one of those ideas alone will not be the solution.

So, I put these in the back of my mind and let the story we've created so far percolate through those ideas. As that process is happening, I go about my writing, continuing to work on the overall story. As I'm doing this, all of the potential solutions to our story problem are circulating through, until finally, the solution becomes apparent. This could be a few days later, or even longer, but in my experience, it doesn't usually take longer than a week or so.

The "heat source" in this scenario is continuing to write. By continuing to work on the story instead of stopping until I figure out that one piece, I'm providing the creative "heat" that drives the percolation process. This reinforces the concept that I have to keep creating if I want to solve the problem.

This may sound like a bunch of gibberish, but it's the best way I can explain how I tackle a story problem without letting it derail me. I gather all the ideas--no matter how crazy they seem--and let them percolate until the right answer filters through.

What's your problem-solving process like?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie Will Inspire Forever

David Bowie released a new album called Blackstar on Friday, his 69th birthday. He passed away two days later, after fighting a battle with cancer that he kept secret. The man was creating right up until the day he died, and he will continue to inspire forever.

Blackstar itself is an amazing album. It's hauntingly beautiful, made all the more so when you realize it's essentially a chronicle of Bowie facing his own mortality. The album is filled with lyrics where Bowie is addressing his own death, his legacy and what comes after. It's also filled with the type of experimentation that Bowie was known for throughout his multi-genre-spanning career.

And speaking of legacy, when you stop to think about the one Bowie leaves behind, it's almost overwhelming. More than two dozen studio albums, over fifty music videos and some of the greatest solo and collaborative efforts ever heard in music. Oh yeah--he was a movie star as well.


For me, Bowie will always inspire me to take creative risks. He symbolized creation without boundaries or limits. And how he faced death might be his most inspiring work of all.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Jolene Haley Brings the Love with the Shine Bright Gang

My good friend and co-writer Jolene Haley launched an amazing project this week, called the Shine Bright Gang. The project is all about positivity and self-love, and remembering what makes you awesome.

Jolene launched the SBG site with a very powerful blog post about depression and how it isolates you and turns you against yourself. In dealing with her own struggles, Jolene is creating a resource and a community where others can support each other as well.

Jolene is the most positive person I know, and the energy she brings to our writing projects is what makes it so fun working with her. Even when she isn't 100%, she is always supportive and encouraging to everyone around her. I am proud to call her my friend, and I'm extremely proud of what she's doing with SBG.

The Shine Bright Gang is a wonderful project that you should be checking out. You can download the first issue of the SBG zine for free over at the site right now.