My Writing Process

(Article originally written for Fangtastic Books)

 

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Novels are hard. If you’ve ever tried to write one, you don’t need me to tell you that. If you’ve never tried to write one, just imagine falling out of an airplane at night and somewhere between the plane and the ground is a parachute. Oh, and there’s about a thousand backpacks along the way with nothing in them. That’s page one.

The trick is to figure out a writing process that makes this as painless as possible. The trap is that there’s as many processes as there are writers. And every single one of them is right.

Without a process, what happens is you spend all day thinking about writing – thinking while you read, thinking while you watch just one more episode of Alf, thinking while you eat more ice cream than any human should consume in a week. Then the day’s over and the night of self-flagellation begins.

Oh, and once you find the process that works for you on this project, there’s no guaranty it will work at all on the next project. Did I mention that?

In any case, here’s the process, more or less, that I currently use:

The first thing I do is go to bed the night before at a decent time. This is so when my alarm goes off at 6AM I won’t say silly things like “Blergh con muh-shuff” and an arm won’t come swinging from the other side of the bed with deadly accuracy.

I dodge the cats and all the furniture they’ve moved around in the night and stumble to my coffee maker. I have a Keurig, because it means I’ll only have to wait a maximum of 30 seconds for my elixir of life. Then I stumble down to my desk in the basement.

I’ll spend a few minutes checking emails, facebook, twitter and checking the rankings of my books on a couple sites. After some swearing and headshaking, I’ll open whatever I’m working on in Word and read over what I wrote the day before. This isn’t for editing, but to remind me what the hell I’m currently writing.

I should note that the program I open might not be Word. I have a habit of trying other programs ( Scrivener, distraction-free editors, etc.) at the beginning of projects, but eventually I give in and just transfer everything over to Word. I don’t really have an explanation, it’s just what I do.

In any case, I’m usually doing some actual work by about 7AM. I wear headphones and find some playlist on Spotify to listen to since that’s when other people start bumbling around over my head. This isn’t a really productive time for me, but it’s necessary so when I get to the next session all the air bubbles have been squeezed out of my brake lines.

Somewhere in the next hour or so I’ll stop and either get some breakfast (usually a fruit/spinach smoothie) or just get some more coffee.

Then it’s back to my desk. I’ll write until I hit my day’s quota, at least. My normal quota is 2,000 words. If I’m feeling the mojo, I’ll keep going for a while. Quota or not, I’ll usually stop around 11:30. If the words are flowing, it usually takes me about two and a half hours to get my 2,000 words. This is all new stuff. The grunty work or errands come in the afternoon.

When I’m done my morning, I’ll try to hit the treadmill or workout for a while. Then I’ll have some lunch and shower.

The afternoon is admin, promotion and planning. I’ll do stuff like work on my website, maybe schedule some guest blogs, podcasts, etc. I’ll do some reading, outlines, proposals and such, if I need to. This is when I do most of my non-personal social networking, emails, etc. Sometimes I track my writing and sometimes I don’t. (I need to work on that.) If I’m in a tracking cycle, I’ll make some notes about the work I got done that day. Usually in a spreadsheet or just in a notebook.

Depending on the day and when I’m done all this, I’ll start thinking about dinner or I’ll take a nap. Whether I write at night or not depends on what my fiancé’s schedule is like (she’s active in local theatre, plays guitar and paints, but works during the day as an Optician, so the night is the only time she gets to a lot of that stuff).

Weekends are mostly free-for-all’s, but there’ll usually be some writing and promotion work in there amongst going bowling or pillaging.

And somehow with that mess I get the first draft of a new book done about every four months. Sometimes I don’t even set it on fire and throw it in the neighbor’s yard.

How I wrote an A.I. character

“What is the meaning of life, Mikawa?”

Maggie eased up behind Jonathan and whispered. “What are you doing?”

Jonathan ignored her. He took the machine gun off his shoulder and handed it to her, then he walked around the other side of the tub. He found it curious that Mikawa hadn’t answered yet. All the other answers had come very fast.

“What is the meaning of life, Mikawa? Answer the question.”

“To live forever.”

~

When I was still in the planning stage of The Tomorrow Heist, sketching out my characters, I knew I wanted to have an A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) character.  But that was about all I knew.  It didn’t have a personality and, at the planning stage, didn’t even have a name.  The entire character sketch consisted of two words: disembodied voice.

It wasn’t going to come into play until well into the novel, so I had time to think about it.  As I wrote – and thought about it – I considered the A.I. characters in other works that I liked.  First and foremost, of course, was the epitome of A.I. characters for me – and probably the first one I ever read – the HAL 9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  HAL has been listed as one of the top villains of all time, despite being a computer.  HAL spoke softly and emotionlessly, but always with an underlying neediness.  While I liked HAL’s quiet malevolence, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

Similar to HAL, and from around the same time period, was the Nomad space probe from the Star Trek episode Memory Alpha. I liked the human elements of this one: the way it was confused, needy and how it revered Kirk as its father. And like HAL, there was an underlying malevolence – a significant price to pay for disappointing that need.

As I continued thinking about it, I thought about the computer from the movie WarGames. The WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) was a super computer of the time, but humanized by having the persona of Dr. Falken’s late son Joshua overlaid on all that intelligence and power. Joshua was naïve, confused and, by the way it stalked David once he logged in as Falken, needy for a father figure; reminiscent of Nomad and even HAL, to a degree.

The thing I found interesting about all these is that they were humanized and, basically, looking for love/approval.  They were childlike and, usually, confused, but underneath it all they were deadly and like a programmed soldier, they would stay on point to their mission’s final goal, no matter what.  They were looking for someone to be a role model and to teach them how to be more human.

I loved that aspect of it, and within the context of The Tomorrow Heist, it allowed me to flesh out not only what my A.I. was, but who they were. And, arbitrarily more important, what the price everyone would pay for disappointing them.

Based on this, I realized that for me they weren’t villains; they were victims. And once I realized that, I knew who my A.I. character was and what it wanted. Just like any normal character in a story. And Mickey was born.

Casting Couch

Only 10 days until THE MONARCH steals his way into your hearts, so you know what that means — let’s cast the movie!

I’m just going to share my picks for the top characters so I don’t give anything away. You guys can tell me if you agree, who your picks are and how you’d cast the rest of the book after it releases on December 2nd.

So here we go!

bakula

 

Starring as our main hero, Jonathan, is Scott Bakula! A bit younger than his current years, but hey, the dude can time travel!

Mark Valley

 

 

 

Next, as the devil-may-care Lew, Jonathan’s partner in crime, is Mark Valley.  I’ve loved Mark’s work ever since his short-lived television show Human Target.

Jessica Chastain

 

 

As Emily, we have Jessica Chastain. You may remember her from Zero Dark Thirty. Interesting note, I originally wrote this character with a young Emma Thompson in mind, but as the character grew and took a life of her own, Jessica made much more sense.

 

Gregg Henry

 

As FBI agent Joe Wagner, we have Gregg Henry. I’ve loved Gregg’s work ever since Payback (you remember, the movie Mel made before he went bat-shit crazy). Gregg can be seen in Guardians of the Galaxy as Grandpa Quill. (Special Easter Egg here…if anyone can tell me what THE MONARCH and Guardians of the Galaxy have in common, I’ll send you a signed bookmark.)

 

 

 

Irons

 

And finally, our villain, Mr. Nathan Kring, is played by the wonderful Jeremy Irons.

I’d list all Mr. Irons’ work that I love, but we’d need more pixels.

If I had to pick a couple, it would be Dead Ringers, Die Hard With a Vengeance and, of course since I’m a writer, The Words with Bradley Cooper.

That’s it for now.  So if you want to see these fantastic people (and more) together on the big screen, remember to buy THE MONARCH on December 2nd. (And become a producer and spend millions of dollars, but let’s not split hairs.)