Chasing Furies (Theme Music Monday)

 

Chasing Furies: probably the best band you’ve never heard of. They were together for one year, 1999, and made one album, With Abandon. But what an album it was. Loosely defined as “alternative rock” (whatever that means), their songs ranged from almost-sappy “Wait Forever” to the achingly melancholic “Fair Night’s Longing” to the unsettling, powerful “Writhe for Hearing.”

“Writhe for Hearing” is the song I most wanted to talk about. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it on Youtube. I’ve linked to the lyrics, but we all know the lyrics only tell half the story. If anybody finds this on Youtube, Vimeo, or a similar site, please tell me and I’ll post the link.

The song speaks of the desperation of holding on, of keeping faith (in this case, in someone, the unnamed ‘you’ of the song), even when it seems like madness … and the desire-beyond-words of finding some proof, some body, to tell you that you’re not insane.

“I writhe for hearing lunge for seeing/Someone else that I’m not hoping/I’m not crazy/I’m not joking/I won’t let you go”

The chorus expresses this powerfully, as Sarah MacIntosh’s clear voice races through discordant guitar riffs like Alice through a Wonderland hedge maze.

So how does this fit with my writing?  This is Theme Music Monday, so what’s the theme?

For those who don’t already know, my Red Lands series features six normal people dragged out of our world into the darkness between the worlds.  A seventh, Garrett Maines, finds them and guides them west, into the greater danger of a dead world.  His goal is to break into the Red Lands and defeat their master, to save the life of his ex-girlfriend.

This stranger is going toward darkness, into the depths of madness and sorcery, and he’s taking them with him.  But he’s their only guide, their only way home.

Garrett feels that this quest he’s undertaken is right. He believes it. But he doesn’t know it, not in any objective, measurable way. It’s so far out of the real of the normal, out of what even seemed possible, that he has trouble believing it himself sometimes.

But he has to believe it.  When hope fails, so does everything else. When hope fails, we fall into desperation and despair.  When hope fails, we lose sight of the far-away goal and seek what little comfort or escape is at hand, regardless of the long-term consequences.

If The Red Lands has a ‘message,’ it is this: hope is not only powerful, it is necessary.

Needless to say, Garrett has trouble explaining his mission to anyone else, even if they’ve passed through the darkness and into the dead world, even if they’ve seen the impossible, too. And even when they believe him, they sometimes think he’s crazy. Who risks his life to save his ex-girlfriend, someone he broke up with, someone who broke his heart?

Who does that?

Garrett has to stay strong if he’s going to protect his new friends, get them home, and defeat the master of the Red Lands. Staying strong means facing and overcoming his own doubts. Overcoming his doubts means facing up to the madness of risking his life for someone who broke his heart, someone he has no intention of going back to. And “Writhe for Hearing” embodies that struggle.

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Did I Have a Dream? (Theme Music Monday)

I’ve always been inspired by music.   I get a lot of story ideas while listening to music, whether I’m inspired by a lyrical fragment (almost always taken out of context) or the overall shape of the soundscape.  I almost always listen to music when writing.  I make a new playlist for every series and listen to it in my car, which always gets me in the mood to write.

Music been a pretty solid constant in my creative life since before I was even really writing fiction.

Right now what I’m focusing most on is Strange Fire (Book Three of The Red Lands).  As many of you know, The Red Lands spans the worlds, beginning on our Earth, continuing through a nightmarish liminal space (the road between worlds), through a dead world already conquered by the sorcery of the Red Lands’ master, and into the Red Lands themselves, a mad purgatory forged by the will of its master, the Red Knight.

Garrett Maines, the main character, sometimes finds himself doubting his sanity.  He stepped into this nightmare journey willingly, to save the life of the woman who broke his heart, the woman he walked away from.   He has to believe that the nightmare is a reality, and that it is a reality he can overcome.

I’ve got several songs on my Red Lands playlist, but the one that stands out most, the one that sums up everything The Red Lands is about is Nocturne by Rush.  Listen to the song, and you’ll get a feel for the madness, darkness, and hope of The Red Lands.

Massive Productivity as a form of Procrastination? Indeed.

Well, there’s nothing like the difficulty of doing something that scares me a little (like writing a short story) to inspire me to get other work done.

In the last two days I’ve written roughly 7,500 words and completely planned out the plot for Red Lands Book 3 (Red Lands Book 2, City of the Dead, is currently with the trusted first reader getting checked over).  I wrote a lot of dialogue (as I tend to do when I’m outlining), and planned out several specific scenes.

Now, granted, I had been thinking about Book 3 for a long time, but I’m glad to finally have a solid grip on it.  My problems in writing Book 2 (City of the Dead) all came out of trying to make it something the series isn’t.  I wrote too many “character interaction” scenes that didn’t have sufficient personal conflict to keep the “fist of broken nails” pace and feel of Book 1 (Toward Darkness).  Once I finally figured that out, I was able to fix it. I don’t think that will be a danger in Book 3 (which I haven’t named yet).

But, to adapt a phrase from Bruce Cockburn, “I was writin’ this stuff to keep from writin’ something else,” namely, the short story challenge I set myself up on.  I don’t know why I’m so nervous about writing short stories, but I am.  But hey, if 3600+word days are the result of my procrastination, I’ll take it.

So, have you ever had that situation, where dodging something unpleasant led, not to laziness and stagnation, but massive productivity?  Is it even worth pushing through to write the short story, or should I just milk it for every massive word-count day I can get?

As in a Glass, Darkly

Part of being a writer, especially one who writes, rather than one who spends most of his time rewriting and revising, is taking time after each finished piece to reflect on what you’re doing, what you’re doing right, and what you could be doing better.

I’m at a good place to do that right now, since I have just finished beating Red Lands Book Two (tentatively titled City of the Dead) into submission.  It’s been incredibly troublesome, and I’ve had to break my own rule about not revising.  Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, but I can’t build the rest of the series if Book Two is all wrong.

It’s not that I’ve never had this much trouble writing a story.  It’s more like I’ve never actually finished anything I’ve had that much trouble with.  I honestly don’t know whether to feel frustrated or triumphant.  Back when I still revised, I got caught in the event horizon of a couple of “black hole novels,” endlessly revising, finding I had more revisions to make after each revision pass than I had before I started. It killed the joy of writing, and it pretty much guaranteed I wouldn’t have a career.  Spending a year revising a novel, only to find you’re no closer to “done” than you were before?  I shudder just remembering it.

So I’m trying to take Dean Wesley Smith’s advice: learn from my mistakes, make the next story better, and keep moving forward.  The only way to get better at writing is to write, and write with purpose.  Or, as he said it, “You have to write new material to learn.  No one ever learned to be a creative writer by rewriting.  Only by writing.”

Which leads me back to my between-stories reflection.  I have a tendency to sometimes write very long sentences, with multiple clauses, separated by commas, semicolons, colons, and even parentheses:  this may be a problem (You see what I did there?).  Books that flow more quickly tend to use shorter sentences.  They’ll usually mix it up and use some longer sentences as well, but most of the sentences will be shorter.  It’s not so much the length of the sentences as their complexity.  Adding too many clauses to a sentence can make it unwieldy.  I think I should spend a little time reading my stories aloud, possibly recording them and listening to them later.  I don’t think this is a fatal flaw, or that it makes my writing bad.

Honestly, I still think my writing is good.  I just think that I can and must improve my writing.  If I’m the same writer in five years that I am today, I’ve failed.  Stagnation is death, especially creatively.

The Red Lands series begins … now!

My newest Novella, Toward Darkness, the first book of the Red Lands series, is now up on Kindle and Smashwords!  It’s a worlds-spanning dark fantasy about a man who walks beyond the borders of our world to find a cure for his ex-girlfriend, who’s in a medically inexplicable coma, haunted by a red shadow.  The series will eventually take Garrett and the other survivors he encounters through the road between, through a dead world, and, ultimately, to the Red Lands themselves, where the threat to Lynette’s life lies.

I’d finished writing it some time ago, but I held off publishing it for two reasons.  First, I was grappling with the second book in the series, really trying to figure out what I wanted to say with it, where I wanted it to go, and I wanted to hold the first book back until I was confident the second would work.

Second, I was never quite satisfied with the cover, until now.  I found a public domain image from Wikimedia Commons of a run-down city street, then modified it heavily to give it the look of a moonless, darkened street lit only by the glowing light of red-eyed monsters.  Here it is:

 

And here’s the promotional text.  Tell me what you think!

How far would you go to save the one who broke your heart?

For Garrett Maines, the answer to that question will take him beyond the ends of the Earth. 

Three months ago, Lynette Collins broke his heart.  Now, she lies in a coma, oppressed by a red shadow that drains her life with every passing night.

To lift her curse, Garrett must step into the darkness and travel the night road across the borderlands of the worlds, braving the creatures of darkness that mark his every step.  In that dark place he finds a small group of survivors, dragged into a nightmare against their will.  Now, he must guide them through the darkness to the Red Lands, where the cure for Lynette’s curse must lie. 

Five unholy knights stand against him, leading dark armies, armed with blood and death and madness.

Will Garrett succeed, or will his lost love – and perhaps his entire world, fall under the curse of the Red Shadow?  And what price will he pay for setting out on the night road and walking Toward Darkness? 

 

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