Last week, Jennifer Brinkmeyer participated in the My Writing Process Blog Tour, and she invited fellow writers along for the ride. Jennifer is seeking representation for her paranormal post-apocalyptic dystopian debut and blogs regularly on topics that dip into horror, pop culture, and writing. Thank you for the invite, Jennifer!
The My Writing Process Blog Tour is a blog hop – writing’s a solitary craft for the most part, unless you’re willfully workshopping and offering up your book baby for autopsy, for the most part we seclude ourselves and get busy in solitude. The Blog Tour encourages writers to post about their process, reach out to others in the field, and share their tools of the trade, their habits, and foster a sense of community. Read all the way to the end to see how you can participate.
Let’s get to it then, shall we?
What Am I Working on?
Wake the Dead
I’ve just completed the first draft of a young adult horror novel whose working title is Wake the Dead. While still technically in development because the manuscript is pre-revision, the barebones version is that this is a story that spans several eras, delves into the supernatural and arcane, and relies heavily on themes of retribution, redemption, and remembrance. Sitting at just over a hundred and forty thousand words, Wake lives in a world where necromancy, alchemy, and spiritualism sit at the elbow of the everyday; slightly out of sight, but would be present in your peripheral vision if you were to look over your shoulder.
The working summary is pretty rough, so bear with me:
Set in contemporary London, Detroit, and New Orleans, Wake the Dead follows the sequence of events set about by the arrival of Eden Pearce — seventeen years old, furious for being displaced to London by her father following yet another expulsion, she orchestrates her escape with a stolen field hockey stick and a few smashed windows. Caught in the path of a creature bent on revenge as he’s finally found the monster he’s hunted for the past century, Eden is thrown into a world steeped in darkness, magic, and the spirited dead who’s memory is sometimes more persuasive than the bones they’ve left behind.
When the world ends for Eden, it is not with a whimper, but with the blare of the Sex Pistols playing through her headphones.
Nothing will ever be the same.
After a few hours following the draft’s completion, wandering around my apartment feeling directionless and getting depressed, I took the good advice of my muse and sat back down behind my computer. Loaded Scrivener again. Started something new.
Not writing results in a loss of spirit and purpose. I worked at Wake for so long that it’s become a necessary part of my routine to maintain my sanity. I thought I’d take a break for a bit, but even a day or two off hurts.
I’m referring to Shine as my “summer project”: a little story about good and evil set at a boarding school in Connecticut. It’s starting off with the intention of being a young adult novel, but the protagonist, Lucas Morgen, has already made it clear that he has no compunctions against violence or excessive cursing which might set the book for an older audience.
I wanted to attempt a first person perspective in present tense with an unreliable narrator. Shine‘s coming from a place where the lines between right and wrong get a little bit blurry, the night terrors wake up with you, and everything — everything — is questionable.
We’ll see where it takes me.
How Does My Work Differ from Others of Its Genre?
I think I write protagonists who are very self-aware. There’s a consistent underpinning of pop-culture which oftentimes prohibits the typical recourse for character action in the genre (“Hey, let’s split up and I’ll go check out this creepy noise coming from this dark room.” I’m not so into that, and neither are my characters. “You go in first, asshole. I saw Texas Chainsaw. I know how this plays out.”)
Horror for me is rarely about the shock factor, the blood splatter, the dismemberment. I’m not a fan of gore porn, and without question I prefer a resilient scare that takes the time to develop and manifest. “Low-key” horror; the sort that resonates because it relies on the fear of the unknown, and not on a cheap scare. The sort that sticks to your ribs and goes to a sleep for a time, only to resurface years later. It happens. The stories that scared me as a child became latent fears later in life, and I hope to offer the same service to others.
I embrace the words of the eminent Ellen Datlow when it comes to writing this particular genre: In the end, darkness prevails.
Why Do I Write What I Do?
I have a boundless fascination with the occult, taphological studies, cemeteries, commemoration of the dead in various cultures, mythology, classical literature, gothic horror, anthropology, history, monsters — I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I’ve never fit anywhere but the weird.
That life and death are persistent preoccupations of historians, mythic and epic poets, the brightest minds who wanted to explore the monstrosities of the human spirit through art and literature — I think we like to forget that Caravaggio painted his own portrait into the shield bearing the decapitated head of Medusa; that Dante’s journey to find Beatrice took him through hell; that Ophelia floating amongst the lilies, painted by Milais, depicted her suicide because Hamlet didn’t return her sentiments.
It’s there in so many aspects of contemporary culture, that fascination, but a lot of people spend their lives avoiding the dark. Dark things. Dark subjects. It’s makes them uncomfortable. It’s not part of their natural dialogue to engage in subjects that are disruptive to their sense of control.
The confrontation, for me, is unsettling, uncanny. It makes the light shine brighter when you finally look away.
I used to think I was a bit of a closet goth, but I came to realize over time that it’s not a product of breeding that’s pushed me into this field. (My dad still asks me, “Why horror?” It took a while to be able to finally say it’s because I like to see my characters harrowed.)
I want to test the bounds of the human spirit. Horror is rarely about the monster with the fangs or the claws or the tentacles; often, horror is about the inability of human kind to overcome. It’s about the failure of spirit. It’s about giving up, and giving in to that impulse that most people veer away from.
You know the one.
And you know, I could be writing romance and settings would probably still be cemeteries where the protagonist would be considering their inevitable ends.
Love and death, man. Wanting and absence. It’s the eternal dance.
How Does My Writing Process Work?
The best work arrives without over-thinking, without planning, it’s an idea that is delivered — that wakes me up in the middle of the night, or that I fall asleep with and lingers in the morning. Those are the stories that eat at me until I settle in to put them on paper. They don’t damn well die. I like to call them “haunters.” (Okay, no I don’t. But I should.) And they all start with a glimpse into some other world that reveals a seedling so real I want to force my way in and shuffle things around so I can see a bit more of it.
It’s an image of drooping Spanish moss swaying against a grey sky like forgotten laundry. A girl in a hoodie carrying a field hockey stick bearing someone else’s name towards a car on a desolate street. A boy who thinks the broken umbrella trapped under the azalea bush on the front walk is someone’s lost property, until he takes a step closer and eyes slide into focus.
My best first drafts don’t benefit from a plot outline at first go. It feels like getting strangled. When I meander, the characters reveal themselves. Of course, this entails a lot more cleanup at second pass, but the exploratory element is the kernel of joy in creation and I am not about to go crushing that into a pulp by trying to make things fit. That’s what revision is for, especially if you’re world building or if there’s a historical element that needs research and consideration and timelines to make sure that things add up.
I tried plotting. I tried it with Wake. Twice.
This is what happened:
- I read a book called the Plot Whisperer.
- It said put a board up with a plot arc drawn on it where I could set my action markers and the ascending action and quarter the damn thing up so I knew where the first, second, and third acts fell.
- I put up a whiteboard on the wall in front of my bed and I filled it with pictures and post-its and things meant to inspire. I woke up to it. I went to bed with it. Friends came over and made appreciative noises and pointed out the heart where the protagonist and supporting character are supposed to stop ripping into each other and smooch (didn’t happen as I planned.)
- I ignored just about all of it and ended up writing based on scene-and-sequel and the stupid decision making of my characters, working in the bits and pieces that crop up at random when you’re up to the elbows in dishwater or worse, in the shower (that leave water spots around the apartment because you went running to find a pen and a notepad to drench while completely forgetting the towel that is hanging right next to you.)
I’m taking down the board this weekend. I have plans to put a bunch of “Things You Must Fix in the Plot” as they come to me while the revision gestates.
I do a bunch of things you’re “not supposed to do while writing a first draft”:
- I research while I’m writing. It generates ideas and adds texture to setting and character.
- I go back and edit scenes five times over until I’m satisfied with the dialogue.
- I post regularly about my progress on Twitter and Facebook, making a nuisance of myself (but also setting benchmarks and fielding questions about Scrivener, the Cult Of which I am the grand mugwump.)
- I tell people I’m writing a book, then they ask questions and tell me they want to read it someday (and I thank them and wring my hands a bit because really, really, there’s some nasty stuff that makes its way to the page and I’m still deeply concerned that this will be interpreted as a reflection of my mental and emotional stability.)
- I do compare myself to other authors I hold in high esteem, and sometimes I get very sullen, and other times I’m inspired to do more; do better.
I also do some good things while writing:
- No music
- No television, in spite of a week-long binge rewatching Buffy. TV off.
- I blog about it. It’s cheap therapy.
- I don’t talk about the book. Don’t ask me what it’s about until it’s done because I will probably give you a very vague five word answer that will not compel you to buy it once it’s out in the world.
- I read like a motherf*cker. Fiction and non-fiction.
- Just sit down and open it up. Everyday. Just give it three hundred words and see what happens. (Usually good things.)
- Just sit down and open it up… even if you’re drunk. Just give it three hundred words and see what happens. (Sometimes very hilarious things.)
My Writing Process Blog Tour: The Handoff
Hey, guys, I’m hollering at you:
- Meghan Schuler: The esteemed Ms. @ExquisitelyOdd
- T.A. Brock: The indomitable @TA_Brock
- Suzy G.: Newcomer to @Mdnight_Society and totally kicking ass, @ItsMeSuzyG
To participate, write a blog post next week and…
- Acknowledge the person and the site who invited you into the tour (that’d be me and you’d link back to this post.)
- Label your post as part of the My Writing Process Blog Tour.
- Answer these same four questions about your writing process in the post.
- Nominate and link to up to three people to participate who would then post their answers the week after yours.
- Let me know in the comments if you’re going to participate, so I can add your link to this post.